Thursday, November 19, 2009

What's Happening? Who cares!

Until recently Twitter prompted us with a question "What are You Doing?", which is personal and so common that it automatically challenges a reader into reaction. This question has been replaced now with a more distant phrase "What's Happening?", which is less personal. It also does not draw as much attention as the first question did.


Because it is not about me - the average user and because I do not care what is happening, unless it is happening to me.

It is true on the other hand that Twitter has grown a lot since its beginning. It has been used for many different purposes from personal status updates to all kinds of marketing and social networking. Looking from this perspective, the old question looks a bit narrow, but I think the authors could have come up with a better question.

Let me give some suggestions what would work better and still be aligned with today's multipurpose social hub that Twitter certainly is.

What is Happening to You?
What do You Have to Say?
What would You Like to Share?

These questions are focused on the user. They show interest in the user's opinion and they want to hear his/her particular statement. Questions like these are much more likely to generate (enthusiastic) response than the new official question.

What do You think about this article?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trade Shows, Why are They (Still) Here?

If you are coming from IT industry, then you have probably already heard this claim, "Public business events are going to be replaced with internet technologies like web, webinars and social media."

And yet trade shows are still here. Why?

One thing is true. Internet technology offers strong means for almost any company to present their products and services to the world. Besides presentation there are also several options available for promotion like sponsored links, banners and promotional video clips. In most cases a company can build a technically more convincing presentation on the web than at the trade show. A promotion on the web can last forever. Usually, a web based promotion costs less than a public appearance at the trade show.

But trade shows have one unique advantage, which could never be replaced with web. They are personal, first hand, human, if you will. They are more aligned to a human nature than internet technologies. People go to trade shows not just to see products, but mostly to meet people, potential business partners and customers. Intuition and intangible quality play a major role here.

That is why I think trade shows are still around and they will be here for quite some time, until we discover a way to transfer authentic personal touch over the web - if ever.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Competitive Edge is Really an Edge

This post is a bit more formal. It contains some definitions and graphs. Generally I try to avoid abstract language, but in this case I found formal explanation to be very suitable to carry my message across to you. I hope you will find it useful and inspiring too.

Start-ups and companies undergoing radical reforms at one point or another start thinking about their product portfolio. The most mind-boggling questions are; Which capabilities should I turn into products and offer to the market? How wide should the portfolio be? How will I satisfy my customers who want the impossible t.i. the best products (not just good!) for all their demands?

Since I was recently involved in similar processes several times, I have given a lot of thoughts to this matter. I found out some clues which, I hope, will help you design your product portfolio.

Let us start with some definitions. Say your company operates in some particular field of business. Let us denote this area with D - domain of your business. Domain D represents all the possible products you could provide for your customers. In other words, D represents all possible needs or problems your customers could have.

Your company, which operates in this business delivers products, which satisfy some of the customers' needs. Some needs are better addressed than others, but in general your offer for the market could be represented as a function of added value over your domain v(d). See example in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

The curve in Figure 1 shows that you are covering approximately one third of customers' needs and that you are particularly good at solving problems near the peak of the curve. Let us denote the problem for which you provide the largest added value as D0. In other words D0 represents your company's competitive edge. See Figure 2.

Figure 2.

If provided value V0 is one of the largest in the market, then you are probably the market leader for product D0. But what if this is not the case? What if there is a competitor providing much better product than you are? Let us denote your competitor's added value for product D0 as VM and let us say that this is the current maximum value provided for the market. Therefore your competitor is also a market leader for the product D0. This situation is sketched in Figure 3.

Figure 3.

As you can see in Figure 3, the value provided by your company is much smaller than the value provided by your competitor and market leader. To make things even worse, this is happening where your biggest strength should be - at the peak of the curve. Obviously, you need to "grow" the peak to match your competitor.

Can you?

Yes, you can!

Here is how. The area under curve is your company's capacity, which is constant. The capacity, let us call it C, is limited by the resources of your company. These are people, knowledge, brands, capital, etc. See Figure 4.

Figure 4.

Therefore, you can not expand the capacity, but you can modify the curve as you like as long as you preserve the area under curve. For example, you can decide to widen you product portfolio (Figure 5) or you can decide to shrink it (Figure 6).

Figure 5.

Figure 6.

Which one do you think will reach the customers? Offering lots of (under) average products or offering a small set of exceptional products?

My bet is the latter.

I would go even further and I would not settle for "just good" products. Just good is not good enough. It is too risky. I would squeeze the value curve as much as needed so that the top would stick out of the current best offers. Today, in globally connected world, it is really hard and risky to offer "just good" products. The customers have lots of information and relatively easy access to any company in the world.

Now, let us say you specialize. You focus and dedicate your resources to the product you are the best at. Unless you are a giant multinational corporation, your value added curve looks similar to that in Figure 6.

When you visit some customers, you find out that they expect the best products, but at the same time they expect you to address a majority of their demands. Let us sketch their expectations with a value added curve. See Figure 7.

Figure 7.

That might seem scary at first. Your company clearly cannot realize their expectations, since the capacity in Figure 7 greatly exceeds your realistic capacity. Compare Figure 6 and Figure 7. Area under curve in Figure 7 is much larger than that in Figure 6.

What now? Did we get it all wrong?


It is time that you get partners t.i. companies which deliver the best products; products which you intentionally left out to be the market leader for D0. Look for companies, which are similar to you, which have a narrow added value curve and which curves do not overlap too much with your curve. This should not be hard now. Almost every company, which operates in a niche wants to cooperate with the best companies which help it complete its portfolio just like your company.

Imagine how impossible this would be, if you had a wide, flat added value curve. Like that drawn in figure 5. Do companies want a partnership with another company which offers (under) average products? Do they want a partnership with another company which offers competitive products besides a little bit of everything that it does? I guess not.

When you go looking for partners, make sure they are the best at what they do and that their product portfolio does not overlap too much with yours. Only this way your company and your partners can realize your customers' expectations. Figure 8 shows an example. See how this figure is getting closer to Figure 7, which shows customers' expectations.

Figure 8.

Connect as much partners as needed to complete customers' vision, but be very conservative when thinking about delivering some new product far away from D0 yourself.

Friday, July 31, 2009

When Challenged Use the Chicken Argument!

Today's topic is not a new one. I decided to write a few words about it, because I still face this issue from time to time. It is about speaking the right language, knowing your customers and knowing who is on the other side, when you are trying to get the message across. The problem was extensively studied by several authors Adele Revella, David Meerman Scott, Steve Johnson and others.

So, what is it all about? Years ago, when I started my work as a product manager, whenever somebody asked me if I can create a presentation of a product, I immediately knew what to do. My presentation was done in a very short time; it required no particular input from colleagues or customers (I knew it all, I was a product manager!) and it spoke a magnificent persuasive language.

Which language?

My language.

There was a problem with that. The customers were not product managers. They saw the product through their eyes. They were expecting answers to their problems, not an expose of my beautiful achievement. The message did not get to them, because there was no message for them.

I figured it out, eventually. In order to be listened to, I needed to convey the value of the product from the customer's perspective. Although there was a single product, there were as many perspectives as there were distinctive market segments. I needed a customized presentation for each market segment.

Since then whenever somebody asks me to prepare a presentation of a product, I immediately ask back "Who will be listening?" In some cases I still get a strange look questioning me "am I trying to avoid the task by asking annoying questions?" In these cases I need a simple persuasive argument to explain why knowing a listener is so important. Here is what I am using. You can try it too.

"Let us say you would like to present the value of corn to a farmer. How would you do it?

Further on, how would you present the value of corn to a cook?

Would you be more persuasive with two presentations or just one for both of them?

If you still think that corn is corn and there is no reason to present it differently to a cook as you would present it to a farmer, try this one -

- How would you present the value of corn to a chicken?"

Long pause.

"Are you kidding me?! You need a break - soon. Here is your customer profile."


Monday, July 20, 2009

How I Fought 12 Buyer Personas and Survived

Bottom Up Approach to Market Segmentation Using Buyer Personas

My latest post on buyer personas caused quite a strong response from you - the readers. I guess this is a hot topic and a lot of you are involved daily in tasks which require some kind of market understanding. Buyer personas help us understand how our market is segmented and what kind of distinctive problems do buyers from different segments have.

If you want to have a good understanding of the market, the number of personas has to be just right. Have too much personas and you will not see a thing (a pattern) about the market. Have too little personas and your communication will be too general and nobody will listen to it.

When first managing a project involving buyer personas I had two questions in my mind: How do I know which is the right number of personas for my market? Is there a methodology which would lead me to a good number of personas?

I discovered that in my case buyer persona identification is a two dimensional problem. The first dimension is represented by the industries that we want to address and the second dimension is represented by the business roles that buyers have inside industries.

In my case there were four industries and three business roles. Three business roles are quite common, if you are working in B2B market. Usually you need to convey value to three distinctive roles in an organization: commercial buyer, technical buyer and user.

I did a simple sketch, showing my personas in a grid.

A quick look at the grid and a simple math told me I am facing a huge task, if I would really need to create and maintain 12 buyer personas.

With confidence that there must be something along the way to help me overcome this number, I started with buyer persona profiling project.

Luckily, I found out through the process that there are some persona profiles which should be merged, because they represented buyers with equal problems and they also spoke practically the same language. It turned out that technical buyers from all four industries could be effectively represented with a single buyer persona and also that end users from the first three industries had a single persona. I updated my grid immediately like this.

In this stage I had 7 buyer personas. Therefore, I managed to cut initial number almost in half without losing the specificity given our market structure.

During this process, it was also decided that we were going to address industry D through industry C, which removed additional two buyer personas, so I was left with a manageable size of 5 buyer personas.

In conclusion let me answer my initial two questions in short. Start a buyer persona identification process so that each industry and each business role from that industry is represented with an unique buyer persona. Look for similar profiles and merge them. Stop when you cannot find any more profiles to merge without introducing impurity in descriptions of their problems or solutions to their problems.

This method worked well for me, I hope you will find it useful too.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Buyer Personas and a Practical Dilemma

I got the opportunity to devise a new marketing strategy for my current employer, which is great, by the way! We decided to use buyer personas to gain insight into our target markets. The concept really works well in practice. It gets people, who are involved in marketing process, thinking and focused on real issues t.i. understanding the customer and his problems. Another good thing is that it provides a method, which is usually missing in marketing. Marketing is too many times perceived as a tactical process, although it should be exactly the opposite. Marketing should result in a deep intelligence about the customer and should provide a strategy for sales process.

One of the things you could use buyer personas for, is design a product's web site. This approach would give you a quite unique web site. The content would be mostly focused on customers, understanding their problems and presenting solutions for their problems, which you would hopefully have. Looking at your competitors' web sites, you would notice that they are quite different. They would focus on presenting their company, their products and solutions and they would talk very little about customers. This is at least true in our case.

And now the dilemma ...

What do your customers really want? How would they be satisfied? By finding what they expect to find on a product page, because the industry has trained them for years to sift through lists of products, features and system schemes or do they want to recognize their story on the vendor's page and look for answers to their problems there. In other words, while it is clear that the right, properly targeted content answers the questions more quickly for the customer, he may be more satisfied with the conventional way of presentation of products and he may find searching for a solution as an essential part of his buying process. And to make things even more complicated, this preference may change over time as more and more vendors use customer based presentations on their web sites.

What we will do? I do not know at the moment, but you are welcome to check out in the near future. Feel free to comment this post, I am very interested in your opinion.

Monday, May 11, 2009

We have not seen a real video Twitter yet!

You are probably aware of the popular micro blogging service Twitter. It differs fundamentally from other blogging services, because it shifts focus from individual posts to a stream of micro posts. Instead of well constructed, essay-like posts it captures tiny pieces of information, which are collected over time by each individual. It is functionally similar to a TV station. Each user is a broadcaster, who broadcasts his own micro packets of information. The reason for extreme popularity of Twitter is in its alignment with a modern lifestyle. Most users today find it hard to take time to write long stories, but a lot of them are willing to dedicate micro time gaps of their available time to post micro blogs.

With Twitter, each user is a broadcaster, who streams his own stream of information which can be regarded as a channel in TV analogy. There is one big difference to a TV channel though. Twitter channels are text based, whereas TV channels are video based. There is an obvious question, which poses itself "Can Twitter be upgraded to support video broadcasts?"

There are some services, which are already offering, what is believed to be a video version of Twitter, and I believe this not to be true. These services are offering an alternative of Twitter, which supports video the same way Twitter supports text. Instead of focusing on the user experience, these services focus on upgrading Twitter. I am not saying that these services are not useful. On the contrary, each of them offers an interesting service and already hosts several users. What I am saying is that these services are not providing the service in video domain which is analog to Twitter in text domain. What would be a real video Twitter service then?

Let us take TV analogy again and let us look at TV service from a user's perspective. A TV channel is a constant stream of video content. It is live, always present and broadcasted to a wide audience. Twitter is providing such a service for a text based content. It even extends the TV paradigm by including each individual as a broadcaster. On one hand each user is streaming out his own text stream and on the other hand he is receiving a mash of streams, which he is subscribed to. A real video Twitter should do just that for video content. This means each user should stream out his own video channel - a real, live channel, not a list of text posts with video attachments! The content in these outbound streams would be quite sparse over time. The inbound channel of each user would be a time mash of channels he is subscribed to. In case there would be more than one post at a time to the inbound channel, the content would be queued and streamed out sequentially. The final result in user experience should be the user being able to tune into his inbound channel, sit back, relax and enjoy personalized video content.

I firmly believe that this will be the big next thing in the domain of social media. Entrepreneurs, if you are looking for a new business opportunity, please contact me, I am open for further discussion on this topic.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Marketing, Reductio Ad Absurdum

These days I had an opportunity to talk with several top managers about the role of marketing in their organisation. There is something important I noticed that is worth sharing, I think.

If your field of interest is marketing and you are looking for a job in ICT sector, I do not advise you to present yourself as a marketing person, because you will receive a bunch of scepticism and zero respect for your knowledge and experience. Now, being curious enough, I was not satisfied with a simple fact, I wanted to know why this is so.

I think that at the roots of this problem there is a big misunderstanding and a bad current practice. If you talk further with top management you will find out that in many cases they equate marketing to marketing communications, where in fact the latter is just a small fraction of the former. In some cases even worse, marketing is regarded as a sales support function. For these companies marketing is a part of the sales process. Looking from this perspective, it becomes obvious why marketing is perceived as a relatively simple, straightforwad and uninfluential process in an ICT company.

If you go further and ask why are they looking for a marketing person anyway, you are told that they would like to be a more marketing oriented company, so they figured out it is best to have a separate person to prepare collateral for their sales personnel. Besides the fact that this proves the perception of marketing as a sales support role, it is also clear that they are missing the most important role of marketing, which is listening to the market and responding with real value products or services.

There is also something wrong in saying "to be marketing oriented". Actually, marketing does not matter at all. Marketing is a business process inside the company. Being marketing oriented would mean focusing on internal process, which is probably not what the company wants. What matters is the market. The company should strive to be more market oriented instead.

What should you do, if you are a marketing person at a job interview? First, please do not say you are a marketing professional. This is like an oximoron to many companies in ICT. Take this as your first task, which you must perform perfectly with the right marketing approach to get respect and position in this company.

Instead of decribing your "features" listen and talk to your customer, khm... employer, about the issues they might have in the company. Suggest improvements, show them how you can bring a substantial value to the company with your knowledge and experience.

For example, you may bring out the issue of knowing what the market wants and knowing what valuable the company can do for the customers in this market. Remember, top managers are very smart people. They know what is needed to run a successful business. They are just not used to talk to a marketer about these issues. If you address their real problems, they will listen.

After all, finding out what their real problems are is your job. If you can do this right, you have good chances to get the position, because you really are good at what you do.