Can Muhhamad Ali teach us a thing or two about online products?

7 07 2010

My, my. What a way of returning to the post pace, don’t you think? Let us tackle the elephant in the room first: I was neither dead nor unconcerned about my blog. What happened is that Tobías Felipe was born (April 27th, 2010) and I had the marvelous idea of starting my MBA there for strangling my schedule. Ok, enough with the mumble on with this post’s scope. Have you heard the phrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”? It is actually Ali’s boxing style and his most remembered quote. Waddya know?  I think it can summarize an online strategy!

The Greatest -Muhammed Ali- by achimh

The Greatest -Muhammed Ali- by achimh

Float like a butterfly

You have dwelt upon your product, designed a fulfilling experience and actually developed it. Still … there you are drumming your fingers and not a single visit around the corner. Ok, ok, let us tone down the drama: at least not as much visitors as you expected. What to do? In comes the butterfly: your product might have followed a clear design path and it actually fulfils an unattended need, still you need to show it around town. Make yourself acquainted with where your audience abide and expose your product, let them know you’ve heard their pain and create the remedy.

You say there is not a single spot where your birds perch? Don’t worry, use the old marketing/publicity amalgam:  produce a message to be portrayed in different venues (the ones most likely your audience will hang around) where your product is depicted and its claim clearly stated.

Sting like a bee

This will resonate with you. A great marketing campaign with a memorable pitch and a clear claim that actually tackles an unsolved problem you’ve been fighting with. On you go to the site and…..emergency break! WTF!!!! After so much noise you are face to face with a poor experience, an over pitched product or worse: you cannot make head from tail of what you are being shown. Hmpf. Enter THE BEE. Your product exposition, even more than its proposal, should be simple and compelling, something your intended audience will find not only easy -transparent? KISS anyone?- to use but something that actually delivers what it promised: the sting.

Pd. This post is actually dedicated to my dad. Old man lots of things you taught me did stroke a cord deep inside me, thing is, it takes some time to realize it.

Pd.2. The butterfly, bee, 1,2-2,1 (it works backwards too) dance might actually apply to other things in life for example relationships!





Know thy costumer and you’ll stuck

29 06 2009
Know thy costumer and you’ll stuck
Sound like I went insane? Hell yes I am! I am tired of trying to bite my own tail every once in a while. We have heard the imperious call to know our costumer, the need of understanding the why and then when they use our products, the continuous quests to define what are their needs, their goals and how we can acknowledge and cover them.
All of the above is good if you want your preach to captivate your audience; you better understand them as well as you know thyself if you want to cross the chasm.  Without doubt, creating persona profiles or needs and goal maps will help you up this road; yet, in the end you’ll end up staring at your own navel –or your competition’s for that matter-. Your whole strategy will be aimed at keeping an intact user base (i.e. minimizing churn rate) and capturing as much audience as you could form your competition (i.e. maximizing competition migration).
Let’s read that again: you’ll MINIMIZE churn rate and MAXIMZE turn around. Hmmm, it sounds like you’ll sooner or later end up with an audience ceiling, a point by which you will not grow –or as aggressively as in the past- since you’ll have eaten up the whole cake and there is nothing left. I am not against using costumer identification techniques to adapt your product and your message to a loyal base, but what about those who are not yet users of your products, your industry? What if you want to keep your base growing?*
Lessons from the past: What were the things you did before launching your product?
Chances are some of you might have just dipped into the water without understanding the whole context, but that will be another post: when to dip your body or your pinky-, but if it was an opportunity with a bit of risk involved, you will have understood what you were jumping into: who were the current costumers of the product and who might be the future ones, and correctly aimed your message toward them.
By knowing your prospects as well as your rapt regulars you are buying tickets for growth, your strategy will be laddered instead of chain based:
Bring new people into the wagon: those who are users but not costumers as well as those who are neither users nor costumers but whom our proposal will help. Understand how to bridge the gap between “we are not interested” and “I’ll give you a chance”.
Keep your costumers spellbound:  don’t let your audience down; their needs change over time, competitors quickly match up your so called differentiators. Continuously understand what needs to be changed to accommodate their goals and desires.
* Arguably you could also keep your base growing if your adoption rate is greater than your churn rate and some lines of business might need just this, it all depends.

Sound like I went insane? Hell yes I am! I am tired of trying to bite my own tail every once in a while. We have heard the imperious call to know our costumer, the need of understanding the why and then when they use our products, the continuous quests to define what are their needs, their goals and how we can acknowledge and cover them.

All of the above is good if you want your preach to captivate your audience; you better understand them as well as you know thyself if you want to cross the chasm.  Without doubt, creating persona profiles or needs and goal maps will help you up this road; yet, in the end you’ll end up staring at your own navel –or your competition’s for that matter-. Your whole strategy will be aimed at keeping an intact user base (i.e. minimizing churn rate) and capturing as much audience as you could form your competition (i.e. maximizing competition migration).

Let’s read that again: you’ll MINIMIZE churn rate and MAXIMZE turn around. Hmmm, it sounds like you’ll sooner or later end up with an audience ceiling, a point by which you will not grow –or as aggressively as in the past- since you’ll have eaten up the whole cake and there is nothing left. I am not against using costumer identification techniques to adapt your product and your message to a loyal base, but what about those who are not yet users of your products, your industry? What if you want to keep your base growing?*

Lessons from the past
What were the things you did before launching your product?

Chances are some of you might have just dipped into the water without understanding the whole context, but that will be another post: when to dip your body or your pinky-, but if it was an opportunity with a bit of risk involved, you will have understood what you were jumping into: who were the current costumers of the product and who might be the future ones, and correctly aimed your message toward them.

By knowing your prospects as well as your rapt regulars you are buying tickets for growth, your strategy will be laddered instead of chain based:

Bring new people into the wagon: those who are users but not costumers as well as those who are neither users nor costumers but whom our proposal will help. Understand how to bridge the gap between “we are not interested” and “I’ll give you a chance”.

Keep your costumers spellbound:  don’t let your audience down; their needs change over time, competitors quickly match up your so called differentiators. Continuously understand what needs to be changed to accommodate their goals and desires.

* Arguably you could also keep your base growing if your adoption rate is greater than your churn rate and some lines of business might need just this, it all depends, but it will be an expensive venue.





How not to fall in the cliché of the web 2.0 site.

8 01 2009

Don't fall in the cliché... stand out!Many companies feel they’ve got the need to go viral. They want to take their product and create an online revolution. Some people like Blendtech’s CEO made it possible. He took an ordinary household appliance like a blender and transformed it into Internet’s WOM for quite a while. What did he do? He started making videos of himself blending different kinds of stuff with his products. See willitblend.com for further reference.

This guy a several others pulled it off; it does not mean, however that you will. Ok, ok. Before you start calling me a buble-popper, give me a chance to explain myself. What I really mean is that if you want to pull it off, you have to know what to do and what NOT to do.

Now a days people are talking a lot social networks, web 2.0, bla, bla, bla. The truth of the matter is that most of them are an obvious attempt of driving traffic to a site without promoting them thorougly enough. Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking. You could be talking about a mini site like Quilmes Verano or a promotional site. Sure, those are ok. The thing is that more and more I keep hearing about those wanna-be networks that never pull it off.

Ok, so how do I get one of them to work, you ask? First of all, you can’t be obvious. In most cases, these type of sites are made for promotional purposes only. That’s fine, just don’t let the user see that at first glance. An easy way to spot this type of network is when you don’t really need a network for your newly released product but you’re launching one anyway.

A good example of a properly launched network is Adagio Tea’s tea forum called Tea Chat. I don’t know why they named a forum a chatroom, but they sure seem to know their stuff. What types of tea are good for losing weight, upload photos of your teacups, etc., etc. You’ll always find good ideas, and if you don’t, your users will probably find them for you and post them.

Break the cliché!
Bring fresh not default templates into your site’s look & feel. If you have to, pay someone to design a wordpress or joomla theme that no other site has. Put some effort into your designs and break the a-dime-a-dozen type site.

Another good way of avoiding the cliché of the web 2.0 site is with some kind of extra advantage for the user. For instance, some sites obstaculize the posting procedure with logins, post pre-moderations, etc. Those aren’t particularly bad ideas, but they can play against you. If your site is completly new and not really different from other more established ones in the same niche, then you probably shouldn’t give the user a reason not to post. Avoid putting obstacles in the posting path at least at the beggining until your site’s a little more established and you should do just fine.

More on how to not fall in the cliché of the web 2.0 site on upcoming guest posts.

Dario Manoukian





Excessively searching for inner harmony?

6 01 2009

 

Dwelling in insipidness.

Most of us run shy from the battle meetings that some times burst out at the office. We lament the moment someone steps into someone else’s toes and hell breaks loose; that is, when someone finds a pitched product lacks and offers an unbiased critic. Though the intention might have been good, we all know most people tend to take things personally, so what was an impartial argument was really a “my idea is better” fire cracker. 

... fight off the Furry trio of foxes by jillallyn

... fight off the Furry trio of foxes by jillallyn

In this kind of meetings -generally product or functionality definition reunions- arguments are rapidly fired back and forth, escalating in tone and reducing in value, swiftly reaching the screaming point. And suddenly magic happens! Tones go down to a civilized volume, arguments are organized and the meeting ends with an action plan. Time for joy?

Why then, is everyone who was in that room leaving it with contorted faces and the pitcher is mumbling incoherently?  Chances are someone at the meeting with a leadership position suffering from reunion-battle aversion stood up and tried hard to tone down the meeting thru several maneuvers that will end dismissing and superseding research findings and crafting a false sense of participation.

Why invent the wheel?

When you hear this or something by the lines it means your managers or the leaders of your organization are giving up, are growing very tired of facing every argument and prefer to find an easier route out of the problem. I am not talking about time proven procedures here, what I am thinking of are the times when you having understood your audience needs and aligned them to your business goals have produced a new feature design and someone else says: I prefer to copy cat. 

Oh sure, copying what others have done in your industry will help you reduce design time, and it might even produce something useful for your audience but then you’ll be just one more grain of sand at the beach. You might have rationalized why your competitors have developed such a feature; yet, what you’re copying today might be aimed to a similar audience with similar needs to your own but otherwise it is another set of people and will soon leave you clueless as to what might have gone wrong.

Democratize the process

Maybe the arguments, the shouts and the screams were because someone felt like they were left out of the decision process? Asking everyone to cast their vote would help them feel part of the process, wouldn’t it? Perhaps some of your employees and coworkers will fall for this stunt, but sooner or later they would realize it was a vain attempt, something that neither establishes a culture for participation nor adds value to the processes by itself. Voting on functionalities or priorities gives everyone a chance to have their say and will produce a warm feeling of order; however, the final product will be a produce of everyone’s gut feelings, a blend of what Tom from accounting thinks is important with what Alice from operations thinks her costumers need. 

Instead of wildly gathering votes unexpectedly, organizations should institute ways by which the people designing their products/features leave their ivory towers and aside from hearing the costumer voice, mingle with their coworkers, understand their needs and assess their great ideas. As for how to settle priorities and defining what to work, organizations could introduce a method by which every feature and product could be evaluated against business indicators (how they will be affected), brand stance and audience needs –easier to say than to follow-.

Even though these methods, and others, might prove useful from time to time when the hordes are running wild, I believe if they are used frequently you are playing for consensus instead of giving people on decision making roles the chance to proof their worth. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand a harmonized office environment works marvels for everyone involved and it is part of managers’ role to keep a close watch on it, but when the priority is on making everyone comfortable at work instead of producing kick ass products something is really unbalanced out there.

Continuously struggling to bring consensus to the decision table will cut the sharp edges from your produces, eliminate their singularities and with time make them just something anyone else can offer. You will end with a very harmonic working environment but with an undifferentiated product. Why wait for a final meeting to find the stressing points, instead work on serializing the decision process (establish check points during the design phase) in which people who must have a saying could have it in an organized way thus producing a product in which everyone who had to collaborate did and ingrained it with sharp edges.





The trip so far.

17 12 2008

It has been two weeks since I resigned and started working on my own venture, two very high geared weeks I might say; yet, at the same time, I’ve come to realize that the most amazing part of riding to your own vantage point is that you can, from time to time, roll down the window and gorge at the view as it gets more and more interesting. 

My view has twisted from very common to remarkable. People who were weeks ago not more than coworkers, turned out to be stepping stones on my journey (continuously asking how I am doing and giving help when needed). Acquaintances I’ve made via a virtual interaction –yes, twitter and linkedin again- have made some quite interesting critics about my project and have kept encouraging me all over. And finally and most surprisingly, things that I thought were a given on the Internet industry, turned out to be more part of a fiction most companies think they live than the reality, thus amplifying the opportunities of my venture.

Tornado! by askin

Summer holiday, day 27: Tornado! by askin

Naïve was I to think this would be a bumpy ride: the journey has proven to be a blend of a rollercoaster, a vacation and a rodeo. I’ve found myself missing the office ambient, the water cooler chats as well as the professional discussions (even though they some times resembled kinder garden encounters) with people outside my area of expertise, while at the same I have found out solitude is a good companion, the copilot you need to point at the good and bad things you were barely passing by while day dreaming at the office. 

The one thing no one who I talked with before jumping into the water and while giving my first laps anticipated and warned me about is this: the worst enemy while following your own quest is your anxiety.

It turns out, as an employee one unwarily gets used to getting a quick feedback and results of your work. Why is that? Your work, even and R&D role, is part of a whole that lies within a strategy, you are expected to turn something out at the end of the day, week or month and as an employee you’ll never be really alone there is always someone overseeing, managing or expecting you to pass your homework to start theirs.  

Things are quite different to someone who is at the same time designing his journey and traveling: results and feedback get a lot longer to get to. Whether it is a return call from a client prospect, a document review from a probable partner or a critic of your idea from a friend, the timing of things are no longer dictated by established machinery, they have a live of their own for real. One has to get accustomed to it, learn how to control part of the timing and keep reviewing the plan, while at the wheel, since from time to time you’ll need to get the occasional detour.





Just call me salmon: from bystander to actor.

11 12 2008

As far as I know, we all live in the same planet, the very same that went berserk about a month ago and started experiencing what some cal the worst financial crisis of the past 60 years. It comes to my mind, that since I was born I’ve been living from time to time several events with “worst” as their top adjective.  Well, hear me you all: enough is enough! I will not accept as truths what others tell me will be the future; I am now, willing to harness my skills and charisma and walk the road, face the monsters and define my own adjectives for the events I live. How about this for starters: lively?

Waiting by conorwithonen

Waiting by conorwithonen

As most of you might already know, last week I ended my 8+ year relationship with my former employer (Dridco). When told or asked for advice, some of you thought I was suffering from a malady, I sounded nutty, anxious.  In the past 6 months several events occurred*, some of them by accident and others by my own will, which ended adding to the same effect: freeing me up from my comfortable witness position and throwing me into the arms of endeavor. 

You can match my decision to that of millions of teenagers worldwide (and not so teen) daily take: even though they find themselves quite happy and sumptuously living at their parents “hotel”, they have a car, their parents ask them for advice, they have a 24×7 all you can eat and no direct expense;  yet, they feel something is amiss, they have the hunger to eat the whole world, the need to walk the roads, make mistakes and learn more: the need to learn who they are as individual and be themselves from the on.

Spot on with my personal believes –yes I am evangelizing here- regarding idea sharing and value creation I would like to share with you my endeavor, you are welcome to rip, add, criticize, laugh and even: I defy you to start this going somewhere else. Ideas are free. What differentiates you from the competitor: YOU (who you are, the way you build, act and learn). 

Enough rumble, this is the project: develop a consultancy, a boutique of sorts, by which companies can asses their current and future online products against industries, revenue models, technological platforms and users goals. Sounds common? Well, it has a glint on it. Are you curious enough Alice? I plan to share under a Creative Commons By Attribution License part of my knowledge and research base. Caveat: project my change due to externalities,  I am not a stubborn donkey, if opportunity knocks at my door and is in line with my passions and needs, I’ll go for it. 

As yesterday, I’ll like share with you one of the sources of my inspiration. Hörtjur Smárason, an acquaintance of mine built via twitter, was one of the people who I consulted before jumping into action pointed me to his ebook and politely suggested me to read it. What could I say? He is behind IfThe WorldCouldVote.com blockbuster, is a well known personality regarding online marketing and user engagement, and after all a U$ 25 price tag for something he authored is a rip off. If you feel tremulous and don’t want to jump into the water before tasting its temperature, read his blog and you will acknowledge that any advice coming from his side will be a good one.

The book is a swift, empathic review of the decisions most companies will now take based on the current financial crisis, how many of those decisions will run against common sense, and what tools you can use (hence the Marketer’s Magic Chest title) to exploit the opportunities exposed by a crisis. After all, Hörtjur is from Iceland; if someone knows about how to survive adverse conditions the icelandics kick ass.

Pd.  If you want to further talk about my project or are interested in reaching me out, feel free to contact me via linkedin or drop me a comment and I would get back to you.

*Brief account of the events that might have caused my recent flare-up:

  • Dario Manoukian introduced me to twitter.
  • Guy Kawasaki invited me to review his now published book “Reality Check” and acknowledged my grain of sand.
  • Started working with Digbang as a software development provider, and confirmed corporations can also have goodness as their mantra.
  • Answered a question on “Linkedin Answers” and ended up with a new pen pal, marketing director of a huge corporation.
  • World went nuts in terms of financial environment.
  • Met Kathy Sierra, Joesys, Patricia nd several other interesting people who openly provide advice if asked for. 




What has changed on the Internet since ’96? (Part I: what has not)

21 10 2008

A week ago, while talking with my friend Carl Boehlke –via MSN of course- we found ourselves discussing about the changes we have seen and lived on our competence arena since 1996, year by which both of us were entangled with Internet, and he suggested me to share part of the discussion on my blog. I will divide the discussion in three parts: what has not changed, what has changed and what I think lies ahead of us.

What has not changed?

Identity on the Internet is still fragmented, either by the established model or by user decision. Different products and utilities can be used by the same person posing different parts of her self: the ones that are more meaningful for the product, the product audience or for the utility goal.

Tough there have been some efforts to amalgamate users online identity; nowadays, as in 1996, almost every web portal requires new users to register and specify different aspects of their selves; which would be used, arguably, to provide the best experience possible while using the product. This might be caused by the interest on providing users with the best experience possible (e.g. it helps to make available personalized content and features, moderate the product community, etc.) as much as by the sheer interest of captivating an audience (e.g. for future monetization efforts).

Let us not forget that online identity fragmentation is not only an effect of disparate registration processes, but it is also a consequence of the way people present themselves online and the manner they use each product, even when different products might share common spaces. For example, assuming Facebook and MySpace provided a shared registration; users might still make different use of the products: load diverse groups of friends, indicate different presentation texts, show different kinds of photographs/videos, etc.

Why? Because each individual goes thru a personal analysis by which she decides what aspects of her character she would like to expose to the product audience, based on the product personality (e.g. is it hipster, geeky, formal, etc), and what kind of people she wants to allow into her parlor, based on her privacy level and the risk associated with exposing certain aspects of her persona to strangers and related people alike.

Further Reading
Social Classes and Social Networking (Jason Falls)
Popego
OpenSocial
OpenId

Whereas it augments information availability and building relationships around it, in a manner that is not available using other technologies, it also amplifies the opportunities in which individuals can engage in antisocial behavior. Anonymity and unverified identity credentials are part of the Internet DNA, therefore there are a galore of chances for individuals, that otherwise might be scared of by offline measures, to perform pranksters against fellow internauts or even fall into more questionable activities (e.g. use online tools to prepare for an offline crime such as a fraud, assault or even worse activities) protecting themselves behind an identity cloak and an unexplored legal territory.

Why it is that it seems easier to perform such deeds online? In my opinion it is because with the internet you have access to more granularity and specification around an individual than you will have offline. For example, and pardon my crudeness, on a dating site you will not only be able  know a lot about someone’s character, appearance and interests but also you will have the opportunity discern what kind of people she might be attracted to, hence being a Preti dish for social predators.

Does this means I preferred this kind of sites, or others, to disappear? Definitely not, what I am fighting for is companies –and hopefully governments- to commit and acknowledge these pre existent conditions and develop content, tools, and functionalities to help their users protect against the minority loathing to fall unto the dark side.

It is not a mere question of whether this kind of developments will boost product usage or sales, it is an ethical pledge other industries have incorporated into their DNA around “environment” pre existent malevolent conditions (for example automotive industry and safety measures for passengers, television and parental controls, etc.)

Further reading
The Lucifer Effect (Dr. Zimbardo)