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.





What did I learned from a mere pair of pants?

22 05 2009

The fearful costumers’ unspoken expectations

Well is known the fact that we learn easier from lived experiences than from academic rhetoric. Several months ago, actually on my new job early days, I decided my attire required some intervention so it could match up the expected standard of a corporate environment. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think a specific brand would make me look hipster or worthier of professional admiration; it is just that usual clothes were a little over worn and by investing more than usual on my new attire I would not only pimp my look but would also get a new extended period for them (value for money anyone?). After reviewing my modest knowledge about clothing brands, I decided Lacoste was my best bet: it projects comfort, capability, quality, and status without being out of my league.

So there was I shopping all by myself and trying out a hodgepodge of different clothing until I came up with the combination I wanted: two pair of pants and a nice collar shirt. Fast-forward 60 days. Picture me entering my boss office with a huge smile, feeling secure about what I was going to talk about and suddenly feeling a cool gentle nice autumn breeze on my hip. While smiling, I looked down to see what was the divine source of this gift and dreadfully found out my pants were totally worn out right beneath where my belt went! Geeh! Sorry boss, I would need to talk in a while since I need to grab something to wear over my pants and stop scandalizing the cubicles!

Inspiration: Lintmachine by Evil Erin

Inspiration: Lintmachine by Evil Erin

Enter unspoken expectation number 1.

Somewhere during my assessment on Lacoste’s brand promise I came to grip it pledged quality on their produce, or was I wrong? I thought they deserved a second chance, after all the other pair was still as snug as it was the first day I worn it, haven’t shown any signs of deformation whatsoever and we all make some mistakes from time to time don’t we?My dear wife offered herself to go back to the shop and ask for an immediate replacement. And as you might have already guessed she was told a substitution was indeed called for but …. Oh no, there it was again, that apprehensive word that lurks at the corners for its victims! We had to wash the pants BEFORE we could get the replacement.

Does anyone see the mistake here? Say what again madam? You actually showed surprise when you saw the bad torn on the fabric and the evident way it showed the shabby state of the pants was not caused by misuse. Yet you ask us to wash them –they weren’t that dirty if you ask me- before we receive what we are entitled for? Why? Why do some brands, companies and certain human beings when found in the wrong tend to acknowledge their mistake but at the same time have the guts to make you feel some how guilty? Yeez! Back came SWMBO* with the mix feeling of having succeeded but with the opinion she was cheated.


Enter unspoken expectation number 2.

After two full wash cycles (hey don’t blame us we didn’t wanted the dirty police to turn us down a second time), Marina went back to Lacoste’s shop only to find out she was actually being unashamedly cheated! She was gaily told by the same woman she would have to expect a call from Lacoste telling her if they were actually given us the replacement or not. She told her it was standard procedure and in no way she could have ever suggested the replacement could be made instantaneous since a fabric expert must do some forensic analysis on the torn and state its real cause.

Why do some brands, companies and certain human beings after promising something to their costumer back up and completely change their stance? Where is their trustfulness? Are they playing with the odds someone actually commits to their weird requirements?

Dear Lacoste,

Once I fell in love with you. I came to dream of me wearing your brand in those astonishing landscapes you portray at your tv ads and even thought the crocodile was not only cool but a great mascot to summarize your claims as a brand. But you know what? I learned the hard way you were only an array of shiny mirrors covering  your bad manners and misguided promises.

Thank you for opening up my eyes and letting me learn something new about claims and unspoken promises, I would try to do my best not to fall into your same mistakes. It was good flirting with you for a while, but hey … at close sight you look shabby and even smell bad!

I’ll go back to my usual brand, after all they don’t produce promises they will unmet. They might not be as pricy, don’t have a tv ad or a mascot of sorts; but, their products will endure common use for some few years and the brand and their stakeholders would acknowledge their mistake right on the stop without play or hushes behind my back.

Zara I am sorry, here I am back again.

*SWMBO: She who most be obeyed





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. 




The inflection point: social networks and the impact on B2C relationships

10 12 2008

Some days ago, while reviewing my upcoming endeavor blue print, I found my self diving into a plethora of information regarding crowd sourcing, social networks and community engagement. Oddly enough out of the blue someone with an enigmatic nickname started following me on twitter: memeticbrand.

After asserting there was a human behind the nick (bots are becoming a daily nuisance) and some @ and dm’s between Michael Cayley and me, I was politely asked by him to read his book “The Wizard of Oz is a carny. Follow the yellow brick road” a.k.a the Social Capital Value Add (SCVA) book. Oblivious of what lied behind I read it and found lots of points that resonated either with my beliefs or with my project cornerstone: produce and publish content related to product development usually distributed commercially under something close to a GPL license.

In a big stretch, I will summarize the book as follows: a fast, rabid and objective review of the changes that occurred on the online ecosystem due to the explosion of social networking that ends with an academic approach by which companies can evaluate social capital tools to boost their brand reach.

The smile of a man with a wild fan base by notsogoodphotography

The smile of a man with a wild fan base by notsogoodphotography

From start to finish, Cayleya proofs to be an inspiring source to anyone interested in understanding the aspects surrounding the outburst of social networking tools and how those said tools can help companies build new and stronger bonds with current and future stake holders. From the intro and up until page 40, you are bombarded with facts, metrics and numbers that support three aspects: broadband increased  share as the origin of a more engaged online consumer, how social networks are shaping a new medium: the individual; and, finally an assessment of how the changes that occurred online are defining  new ways by which a brand can reach and connect with individuals.

From then on, Michael elaborately builds the means and ends of a valuation method (SCVA) to be used to establish a dollar value on the most promising social capital available to a company. SCVA, mainly provides a new indicator by which any organization can establish how different network structures, methods and tools impact their goals.

Although complex, if read carefully and with previous knowledge of the “Wizard of Oz”, SCVA book is unquestionably a must have for anyone either already on the coliseum arena or planning to enter it.

As for me this book has opened several new lines to explore: how could social capital evaluation impact businesses with a huge footprint –if not all of their assets- on the media arena? Will SCVA proof to be a useful tool that could help amplify the reach and effectiveness of actions outside the profit world (e.g. government policies, community engaging, social responsibility)?