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DrumBeat’s Value Proposition

Last week, I relaunched my consulting business under the name DrumBeat, with a sharpened focus on analyzing the market for people with disabilities. While I continue to offer services in general marketing strategy and financial analysis for businesses in the disabilities market, my specialty will be marketing research and analytics for businesses that want to do a better job of selling to this growing segment of the U.S. population.

Marketing research and analysis is taking on greater importance today, with demand for these services growing at a time when the disabilities market is also expanding. While people with disabilities have always had significant representation – census counts and other surveys put the number at 15%-17% – aging baby boomers and increasing numbers of veterans with disabilities will push the figure to approximately 20% by 2050. In real numbers, it is an increase from ~50 million to ~80 million.

As more people use the Internet on an increasing number of devices – desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones – a staggering amount of data on consumer behavior is being generated by millions of users surfing the Web, engaging in social media conversations, and purchasing items and services online. This provides unparalleled opportunity for marketers and advertisers to better evaluate the preferences of their customers, and deliver more effective, targeted marketing campaigns that result in higher sales and stronger brand equity.

The defining characteristic of the disability market is its high level of segmentation, with thousands of different types of disabilities, yet research in this market is less developed than in other markets. For a market that represents a large part of the U.S. population, and with new technologies and medical advances making it possible for more people with disabilities to enjoy the same quality of life as their non-disabled peers, understanding this market can yield fascinating, lucrative opportunities for businesses. When a business uses newly-researched data generated from Internet usage and other surveys to align its marketing strategy with the specific needs of its target market, its customers are served with better products and services, and the business can generate higher sales. Consumers with disabilities, who often experience poor customer service and a perception that many businesses do not completely understand their specific product needs, would be true beneficiaries of a research revolution that dispels preconceived notions about their buying abilities and product preferences. In other words: better consumer choice for the disability market.

It’s not just a better wheelchair, or an iPhone that doubles as a virtual cane for a blind person. Of course, product innovation for the disability market is essential to increased productivity and participation for these consumers in society. Yet, it’s more than that: when more products and services are made accessible, consumers with disabilities are not the only ones that benefit. Everyone else benefits. Everyone just wants an easier way of using these products.

This is what I hope to do through my work, by blogging about these topics, and working with clients to build stronger relationships with customers with disabilities through market research and analysis.

Michael Janger Consulting is now DrumBeat Consulting

Logo of DrumBeat, spelled "db"As many of you know, on my Michael Janger Consulting website, I keep a blog titled “DrumBeat,” where I write about the disability market. As of today, DrumBeat is no longer just a blog: “Michael Janger Consulting” is now renamed “DrumBeat Consulting.” And a new web address to match the new name: drumbeatconsulting.com.

DrumBeat will focus on marketing analytics and research for the disability market. I am excited about the new direction of this business and look forward to continuing the work of helping businesses market themselves better to people with disabilities.

All content pages and blog articles from my Michael Janger Consulting website have moved to the new website. My michaeljanger.com address will automatically redirect to the DrumBeat Consulting website, so you can keep either the old address or change your bookmarks.

And last, but not least: DrumBeat is on Twitter and Facebook! Follow @DrumBeatCo on Twitter, and be sure to “like” DrumBeat’s Facebook page.

Many thanks to my friends and colleagues who gave me so much invaluable advice on the direction of my business and the design of the new website.

As always, if you have feedback or suggestions, contact me here.

Suing In The Name of Accessibility…Or Profit

Drawing of man in wheelchair opening a door to an accessible store

Source: ada.gov

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – over 20 years old – has left a positive imprint on the state of accessibility in the United States, and yet it has had unintended consequences. As yesterday’s New York Times article tells it, New York City’s small businesses have been hit by lawsuits for violating the ADA, such as lack of ramps, high shelves, and narrow hallways. Many of the lawsuits are filed by just a few lawyers, often using the same plaintiffs who collect several hundred dollars for each suit while the lawyers pocket thousands more in legal fees. Are they suing in the name of accessibility, or in the name of profit? Are they doing a service to the disability community by increasing access, or doing a disservice to honest, hard-working people with disabilities who have their own legitimate accessibility issues?

Whatever the merits of this debate, one thing is clear: there continues to be a low level of awareness of the economic benefits that accrue from being inclusive of people with disabilities. Many businesses’ view of the disability market is compliance-based, not demand-based. By focusing merely on meeting ADA regulations, businesses lose sight of a market where 1 of every 6 Americans has a disability. When a business is forced to comply with the ADA through a lawsuit, it can be tempting for business owners to express displeasure with the imperfections of the ADA, when they should really be asking themselves: How big is this market? Can we increase sales in this market? Will they be interested in our product? How can we modify our product to excite these customers?

The disability market is often viewed through the prism of needing to help someone with a disability, or needing to comply with laws that require access for people with disabilities. The best-performing businesses in the disability market do not see it that way: like any market they serve, they look at the demand drivers of the disability market, and develop, manufacture and sell the products that connect with this market. In a time and age when baby boomers are experiencing age-related disabilities, and the political discourse inevitably turns to health care and medical technology, businesses must adapt to this crucial reality.

Yes, even a business that “gets it” in the disability market will still get sued under the ADA for some reason or other. In most cases, it will be an honest mistake that customers, already familiar with the business, will be quick to forgive, and the business will keep on selling to this market.

If there are more of these forward-thinking, profit-oriented businesses, there will be less opportunity for some lawyers to leverage ADA regulations purely for profit. The ADA was created in the spirit of providing the same level of access for people with and without disabilities. If businesses are committed to the same accessibility credo that spawned the ADA, then they have gained access to nearly 20% of the population of the United States.

Blind Man Hops Into Car, Drives Himself To Taco Bell

Author’s Note: This article is cross-posted on Brandchannel.

Google just posted a fascinating video of Steve Mahan, who is blind, driving to Taco Bell on his own, using Google’s pioneering self-driving technology. (It is captioned for the deaf, and audio-described for the blind.)

Google points out Mahan drove this car as an experiment on a “carefully programmed route.” Still, it is a brilliant and necessary application of a technology that was developed with the goal of making driving safer for everyone, eliminate traffic jams, and bring people to their destinations without getting lost. Just as the automobile changed the world at the beginning of the 20th century and introduced the so-called automobile culture, self-driving cars will impact how we live our lives in the 21st century.

Today, people who are not able to drive safely on the road – like people with vision loss, people in wheelchairs, or elderly people with age-related physical or cognitive disabilities that make it difficult to operate a car – are limited in their ability to live independently the way the rest of us do. They must rely on alternative technologies or services to achieve the sense of independence and control so they can be less of a burden to their family and friends.

When a car has the capability to take a person anywhere anytime, without operating a steering wheel or pedals, it removes a significant accessibility barrier for those whose disabilities limit their ability to operate a car.

Self-driving cars are going to be a game-changer for everyone, most of all people with disabilities.

Author’s Note: This article was originally written for Brandchannel.

Screenshot from AT&T Relay Service Home PageIn the wake of the 2009 arrests of 26 people for Video Relay Services (VRS) fraud and their resulting convictions, the Federal Communications Commission implemented procedures for stronger oversight of its Telecommunication Relay Services program for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. VRS and IP Relay operators have, in turn, tightened their policies and instituted systems to ensure compliance with FCC directives.

These directives seem to have failed to reach AT&T. This week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against AT&T for improperly billing the FCC for calls made by Nigerian scam artists on AT&T’s IP-Relay service. The lawsuit charges that AT&T failed to follow a 2008 FCC requirement that relay providers register their users and verify their identities, and that up to 95% of AT&T’s call volume since 2009 was originated by fraudulent foreign callers taking advantage of the free calls. The cost of these improper reimbursements: $16 million.

For two decades, deaf and hard-of-hearing people have benefited from the Federal program for relay services, which enable them to communicate with anyone using a special telephone or videophone, or on their computer. Without these programs, many deaf people would be unable to call their family and friends, or do business over the phone. Even something as mundane as calling the credit card company about a lost credit card would be, at best, an hour-long call.

The Nigerian relay scam is fairly old news, dating back to 2002 when the IP Relay program was launched. Attracted by the prospect of making free calls to unsuspecting American victims, scammers based in Nigeria took advantage of the IP-relay services to target Americans. Until the FCC instituted procedures in 2008 to block these types of calls, it was difficult for IP relay operators such as AT&T to keep Nigerian scammers out of its network, while simultaneously ensuring that legitimate calls from deaf consumers go through.

The FCC, since 2008, has required telecommunication providers to register its relay program users and confirm their identities. According to this week’s lawsuit, AT&T set up a registration system that “did not verify whether the user was located within the United States.”

AT&T’s public response to the lawsuit is notable for the way it preferred to focus on legal issues than on the benefit its program supposedly affords its deaf and hard-of-hearing users:

AT&T has followed the FCC’s rules for providing IP Relay services for disabled customers and for seeking reimbursement for those services. . . . As the FCC is aware, it is always possible for an individual to misuse IP Relay services, just as someone can misuse the postal system or an email account, but FCC rules require that we complete all calls by customers who identify themselves as disabled.

Many VRS and IP Relay companies have followed the FCC directives by investing in procedures and systems to prevent the kind of fraud that Viable was charged with in 2009, and which AT&T is apparently being sued for this week. To a large degree, these investments are geared toward winning the hearts and minds of deaf consumers, who want the comfort of knowing they are able to make a phone call anytime, anywhere. When resources are being diverted away from deaf consumers toward servicing others who are not deaf, or who do not identify themselves as deaf, in the name of collecting more revenue, it undermines trust in the system. And when the money collected is from the Federal Government, repercussions inevitably follow.

By doing lip service to FCC regulations, as AT&T press release implied, rather than going beyond and ensuring that deaf consumers are satisfied with their phone calls, as most other relay service providers are doing, AT&T risks significant damage to its brand.

An Olympics-Paralympics Merger Unlocks Economic Potential

Poster of amputee athlete Oscar Postorius, "Don't Look At The Legs. Look At The Records."For decades, the Paralympics were perceived in popular consciousness as the forgotten cousin of the Olympics, held in the afterglow of the main event, after the tourists, TV cameras, and journalists have left. Yet if recent trends are any indication, the Paralympics could soon share the same pedestal as the Olympics. Granted, it is more rumor than reality, but not out of the realm of possibility.

With technological advances that give athletes with disabilities more tools to stay fit and become ultra-competitive in the sporting world, and the increased recognition of the incredible resources and energies that Paralympic athletes put into their work purely because of their love of sport (Oscar Pistorius, Aimee Mullins, and Jonas Jacobsson are some examples), the Paralympic Games are beginning to attain the status of star attraction. This has strong implications for marketing to people with disabilities: these athletes make for compelling TV viewing, redefining the way the disability market is portrayed among marketers and advertising agencies.

This year, the Paralympics in London will be held from August 29 to September 9, after the Olympics, in the same sporting venues. The head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, will open both the Olympics and the Paralympics. Given the significance of 2012 in the Queen’s reign, with the Diamond Jubilee festivities celebrating her 60th anniversary on the British throne, and the Olympics following one month later, it is a credit to the Queen to honor the Paralympics on the same level as the two other state occasions on her schedule.

In fact, the official London 2012 website has information about both the Olympics and Paralympics, with web accessibility features incorporated into the layout for those with disabilities who have difficulty navigating the website.

Most provocatively, there is talk afoot about merging the Paralympics with the Olympics. While the structure of a merged Olympics-Paralympics arrangement is not clear (most likely, the Paralympic events would be hosted in the same venues as Olympic events, on the Olympic schedule), this would be a recognition of the athleticism and passion of the Paralympians.

As expected, there is skepticism on whether this arrangement would work, as a BBC World Service poll, published today, shows. The poll results portray an interesting pattern: respondents in countries with higher gold-medal hauls were generally less supportive of an Olympics-Paralympics merger than respondents in countries with fewer gold medals. Even Britain’s most successful Paralympian, Baroness Tanni Gray Thompson, is opposed to the idea, fearing that the Paralympics would “disappear off the face of the earth.”

My response to the possibility of an Olympics-Paralympics merger is, “Why not?” Yes, it means more athletes filling the stadiums and the Olympic Village, resulting in more outlays and more infrastructure. Yet, think of the possibilities a merged event would create: more accessible design features in the Village, across all the sporting venues, and on the Web. This elevates the business case for accessibility since these features can be reused and/or copied elsewhere, providing access to up to 25% of the population who would otherwise be denied access both physically and economically.

The Olympic motto is “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” Athletes with disabilities strive for this motto, just as able-bodied athletes do. They deserve this level of recognition on the same stage, under the same bright lights, in front of the same crowds, as able-bodied Olympians do. This recognition can rewrite the cultural view of people with disabilities, by eliminating negative perceptions of this significant segment of the world’s population, and effectively increasing the segment’s economic potential.

Deaf Jews: Hear The Word of God

Logo of the Jewish Deaf Resource Center, showing three different-colored stripes flowing over "JDRC"My article about Jewish law barring those “who cannot hear” from having the full rights of a Jew has been published in the Jewish Deaf Resource Center’s blog.

The Jewish Deaf Resource Center (JDRC) builds bridges between Jews who are deaf and hard-of-hearing and the individuals and organizations serving the Jewish community
throughout North America.

Netflix Logo with closed caption that says "Closed Captioning Not Available"

Photo courtesy of westlawinsider.com

On Wednesday, Netflix put out an announcement on its blog that it has “reached its captioning goal for 2011, when more than 80% of the hours streamed in the US were of content with captions or subtitles available.” This, according to Netflix, was up from 40% in June and 60% in September.

Nice number. Wrong metric.

With its Qwikster fiasco, and its clumsy attempts at increasing its pricing plans, Netflix has demonstrated a consistently ham-handed approach to its sizable home-viewing market. In that context, its announcement of the 80% captioning goal is a perfect example of how Netflix says one thing while its target market says another thing.

If you read Netflix’s announcement closely, it says captions are available on 80% of the hours streamed to its audience. Not whether captions are available on a movie. Or whether people actually watch captions.

So if you watch a very popular movie several times through video streaming, and it happens to have captions, then the total number of minutes viewed all count toward the 80% goal. But view a movie that does not have captions, and it does not count. In other words, Netflix’s metric is skewed toward popular movies, which typically include new releases.

The metric the deaf and hard-of-hearing community is looking for: how many instant-watch movies and shows have captions. In this case, the number is 50%.

In the first comment below the blog announcement, Mike Chapman – who, along with Phlixie and FeedFliks, maintains a list of captioned Netflix instant-watch movies on his site – pointed out this discrepancy. He headlined his comment with “Netflix Lies!” and scolded Netflix for its attempts to mislead deaf consumers.

Netflix’s reply to Chapman’s post was telling in its tone-deafness to the deaf community:

The 80% is based on the content that people actually watch, and my specific language is precise and correct: “more than 80% of the hours streamed in the US were of content with captions or subtitles available” because we have focused our effort on the content that gets a lot of viewing.

So, Netflix focuses its effort “on the content that gets a lot of viewing”!

This comment is rich in contradiction. A major element of the home-viewing experience is the ability to pick any movie you want, and view it anytime in the comfort of your own home. Netflix grew by leaps and bounds for years on its ridiculously simple business model: pay a cheap monthly subscription, and we’ll mail you a DVD and you keep it as long as you like. Netflix’s key value proposition bears repeating: pick any movie you want, and view it anytime. Not “content that gets a lot of viewing.”

Netflix was long aware of the encroaching threat of instant video streaming, and to its credit, made proactive efforts to counter this threat by setting up its own instant-streaming business. Yet while its strategy was there, its execution was not. As a result, as Netflix alienated its viewers with its Qwikster fiasco and its unpopular pricing increases, other video content providers such as Hulu, Amazon, and iTunes invaded Netflix’s pioneering value proposition: pick a movie anytime, and view it anywhere for as long as you like. In mid-2011, Netflix’s stock sailed to nearly $300. Within 4 months, which included the Qwikster fiasco, it fell to $64 and is now treading water at the $100 mark.

Deaf viewers want the comfort of knowing that the movies they picked – whether it is this year’s popular drama “The Descendants” or a rarely viewed Western movie from 1952 – have captions. It is a major inconvenience when you click “Play,” wait a few minutes while the credits roll, and then the dialogue starts, only to find out there are no captions.

Netflix now provides viewers the ability to search for movies with captions. Yet this feature does not assuage the deaf community’s desire for equal access to the movie database. Hearing viewers can pick any movie from the movie database, because they can understand the dialogue. Deaf viewers do not have that luxury.

So why should deaf viewers care if 80% of streamed minutes have captioning available? They do not measure caption availability by that metric. All they want to know is, “Is THIS movie captioned?” Period.

The most useful metric, in this case, is the number of movies and shows in Netflix’s catalog with captions. According to Mike Chapman, that number is 52%. If foreign movies – which typically have subtitles – are not included, this number drops to 46%.

Gabe Gagliano, a Tech of the Hub blogger, put it succinctly:

Netflix appears to subscribe to the 80-20 rule or the Pareto principle. The 80-20 rule serves businesses well most of the time. As a way to prioritize which titles to caption, focus on the most popular titles. However, judging success on accessibility shouldn’t be measured by the 80-20 rule. Accessibility needs to be 100%. While 80% of the hours streamed is a significant milestone, it’s not mission accomplished. On top of that, the long tail of content is one of Netflix’s differentiators. Ironically enough, looking at the numbers by the “hours streamed” metric is biased on some level. Some titles were watched less often since they weren’t captioned to begin with.

Rule of thumb: make sure that the metric you are pursuing is what the target market measures you by. Deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers care that they should have access to any movie they want to see. The most appropriate metric is how many movies in your database are captioned.

This is yet another example of Netflix’s continuing inability to listen to its customers. Netflix is being sued by the National Association of the Deaf for failing to provide adequate captioning for its deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers on the instant-streaming plan. With DVDs – which typically have captions available – fading from the popular consciousness, captions have to be provided on the instant-streaming equivalents, but that requires entering the captions all over again for technical reasons. When Netflix introduced its instant-streaming-only plan at a reduced price, and raised the prices on all its DVD plans by one dollar, there was fury in the deaf community over the fact that they would be forced to choose a more expensive DVD plan because of the need to view captions. Activists likened the price increases to a “deaf tax,” a powerful term that had resonance in the deaf community.

Netflix’s prior communications with its deaf market on these topics were sparse, and when they did announce their progress on captioning, delivered very little information that was of use to deaf viewers.

In the same blog post announcing its achievement of the 80% goal, Netflix goes on to say:

Our goal is to provide more and more content with captions; however, viewers should expect the gap on the last 20% to narrow more slowly than in 2011, since it includes a large number of titles that are rarely watched, so each hour of captioning added adds less and less to the overall metric.

This is a convoluted way of saying “only 50% of our instant-watch catalog is captioned.”

The more appropriate blog post by Netflix would have been, “We have hit the 50% mark in the number of instant-watch movies with captions. While this is a milestone in itself, we have much to do to ensure that the last 50% is captioned. We welcome input and feedback from the deaf community as we work hard toward meeting the 100% goal in our Watch Instantly catalog. We do not care if that is mandated by law. We care that you, the deaf community, have access to any movie you want to see.”

That would have resonated better with the deaf community. Unfortunately, until this is achieved, Netflix is going to face roadblocks not only from its deeply distrustful deaf viewers, but also from the rest of us who have been shortchanged by Netflix’s price increases, its missteps on Qwikster, and its ham-fisted attempts to head off competition in the instant-watch space.

Captions Now Searchable on YouTube

Another reason captioning adds value beyond the deaf and hard-of-hearing market it was intended for: YouTube has announced new and improved capabilities for its captions. In addition to new formats and languages, caption text is now searchable. Type “Frankly my dear, cc” in the YouTube search bar (“cc” filters the search) and see what you come up with!

As I wrote last year, searching for specific movies, TV shows, and other videos is more efficient when caption searchability is included. It takes search to a whole new level, beyond text and images – another feather in the cap for search king Google.

Oscars: Stuck in the Past, Or Back to the Future

Meryl Streep on the stage accepting her 2012 OscarJohn Anderson asked this rhetorical question today on CNN.com, “Are the Oscars stuck in the past?” The New York Times headlined its Oscar review, “Even the Jokes Have Wrinkles.” Is it because the Oscars were not forward-thinking, as Anderson suggested, or that Hollywood is merely responding to a trend that is already evident in political discourse: the growing impact of the baby boomer generation as it gets older?

Perhaps it would be more relevant to ask the largest segment of the U.S. population – the baby boomers – what they thought of last night’s Oscars. Last year, the Hollywood Reporter quoted CBS’ chief research officer in its article on shows for baby boomers: “The fact is an affluent 58-year-old is certainly more valuable than a 22-year-old who is just getting by.” Even the New York Times wrote last week about how graying baby boomers are influencing the way Hollywood and the movie theater chains deliver the movie experience.

CNN’s Anderson did not do the country’s largest market segment any favors when he wrote, “Why would the show’s writers and producers characterize the idea of going to the movies as something quaint, nostalgic and on the way out? Time and again, participants reflected on moviegoing as something they remembered fondly from their childhoods. They might have been talking about the Civil War.”

I am not a baby boomer, but as a consultant who is aware of the economic pull of the baby boomer market, I thought the Oscars were fun to watch. Anderson should talk to a Hollywood marketing research expert.