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  • Aravind Ravichandran

Evangelising Earth Observation: What can we learn from Apple?



In my last post, I explored the analogy of Video Streaming and Earth Observation. One of the major differences between the two I discussed is the the lack of awareness of Earth Observation outside the EO community along with the complexities involved as well as the unstandardised business models. How do we increase the overall awareness of EO whilst also growing sustainably? 


The Macintosh and Technology Evangelism


It was 1984. Two days after the famous “1984” commercial, Apple launched the Macintosh, the first computer ever to have an integrated mouse and an operating system based on a Graphical User Interface (GUI) — the visually interactive computer that we are used to today. The Macintosh came with two software applications: MacWrite, the word processor (a very early version of Microsoft Word) and MacPaint, a graphics editor (a very early version of Microsoft Paint). It was, undeniably, one of the most innovative products of its time. However, there was one big challenge:

Most applications in 1984 were text-based, command-driven software applications, meaning all of them had to be completely redesigned and rewritten for the Macintosh.

Apple now had to convince the developer community to create GUI-based software applications for the Macintosh. It was a complex task; creating applications for the Macintosh required developers to learn new concepts, redesign their approaches and code in graphical programming languages, all of which they have not done before. So, Apple hired Guy Kawasaki to promote the Macintosh, persuade these developers to join the Apple community and get them to develop new software and hardware. Well, we know how it turned out. Apple would successfully pull this off and not only become one of the most successful companies in the world, but also the most popular brand. And, Guy Kawasaki became Apple’s Chief Evangelist.


A Primer on Evangelism


The word “Evangelism”, has its origins in the Greek language, and means “to bring good news.” Evangelism, made popular by Guy Kawasaki (a few thousand years after Jesus Christ), is vastly different from traditional sales which aims “to bring something for you to buy.” According to him, evangelism is the purest form of sales, where the emphasis is on the customer (to educate and empower the customers for their benefit) rather than on the self (to reach a given sales quota and receive commissions for one’s own benefit). It is also very different from traditional marketing — instead of getting the customers to buy what you sell, evangelism focuses on getting the customers to believe what you sell. The result happens to be long-term loyalty rather than just a short-term transaction.

In the perfect case, evangelism creates more evangelists 


Evangelism and Earth Observation 


Earth Observation, as a technology, is very much in the same phase as the Macintosh was in 1984. Even for the interested user, it is complex to understand and requires a lot of convincing. The EO sector is still very nascent, and even some of us, within the community are still figuring things out. Following Guy Kawasaki’s playbook, evangelism offers some insights on how to increase the awareness of EO whilst also improving its uptake.


Bringing the Good News


Guy Kawasaki and his team would go from developer to developer to spread the good news about the Macintosh. They would promote how Macintosh can improve the developers’ creativity and productivity. They would promote how Macintosh can create an ecosystem of GUI-based applications (what would later become the App Store). Not selling, but just educating.


Similarly, EO data has a global, scalable coverage, providing the ability for people to go back in time, detect and monitor changes on areas of interest. EO data is extremely useful when conventional data sources are insufficient, not up to date or if data is not available. There is plenty of good news with EO, we just need to start spreading them more!


Simplify, Not Revolutionise


When I discovered Earth observation a few years back, I thought it was revolutionary and was going to “change the world.” However, I realised that most of our to-do lists do not contain any task “to change the world.” The lists are mostly filled up with tasks aimed at figuring out solutions for day-to-day professional challenges. Very few people are willing to reinvent the wheel and even fewer, to pay for it. Apple made the mistake with the later versions of Macintosh, asking early customers to completely overhaul their IT infrastructure (powered by IBM at that time), telling them that the new Macintosh would revolutionise computing and change the world. By the time Apple learnt the lesson to simplify their pitch, Microsoft would successfully develop a similar GUI-based operating system (Windows), simplify two problems — word processing and spreadsheet calculations and develop the Microsoft Office Suite. 


Apart from traditional users of EO such as the military and governmental institutions, integrating EO data, with all its complexities, seems daunting for most other sectors. They do not want to reinvent the wheels, they do not care that space is sexy, they would just like something to make their day-to-day job easier and perhaps, more efficient. Although, I personally believe that EO will be revolutionary as we move towards a big data economy, I find myself constantly reminding myself that this is a consequence and not the goal. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that people just want to know how EO can make things better for them, and perhaps, allow them to take a “first safe step”, towards making an investment. An evangelising approach, for me, seems appropriate for an emerging, complex, less-understood technology like EO. Perhaps, it’s too early for the traditional sales and marketing approach.


Conclusion


While entities are working towards making data access easy and efficient (Aggregators / Marketplaces), converting data to information and providing insights (Insights-as-a-Service) and advising companies on strategies to adopt EO data (Consulting firms), there is also a need to evangelise EO. But, how do we do it? Should HR be looking to hire evangelists? Should the marketing team develop specific content for evangelising EO? Should the business development and sales executives focus on an evangelising approach for selling EO data and products? Or, should everyone in a company be evangelistic? I am not sure if there is one right answer. From Apple’s case, it’s clear that it’s not only possible to successfully sell new, (seemingly) complex and innovative technology, but also acquire millions of followers and become a religion. Every religion has its evangelists and EO needs them too — to just bring the good news! 


Until next time!


I would like to hear from the EO community. Do you place emphasis on evangelising EO? How are you implementing it? If not, would you consider it?

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