Category Archives: General Stuff

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Beyond Squares & Points: Using free-form shapes to search Google Maps and other applications

Map showing examples of searching for travel information such as eateries and hotels using freeform shapesToday you can search for places using a square or a circle – or an existing boundary such as a city, but what about when you want to search for something that’s doesn’t fit in a square easily, e.g. searching for vacation rentals along the coast of North Carolina?

You can’t! So as a result you have to search city by city or include areas that outside the area you really want.

The solution: Searching with free-form shapes AKA polygons. In the old days, you needed specialized software to create boundary files, e.g. city or state boundary. Now you can create boundary files right from your Web browsers at sites like http://www.openstreetmap.org.  The next step is to make the functionality truly easy to use and embed it directly into Bing, MapQuest or Google Maps so that users can easily draw an oval or whatever shape they want and then find what they’re looking for.

Hopefully, SimpleGeo, a startup out of San Francisco will add that functionality to their service, so organizations can easily embed it in their applications.

And you should be able to do the same thing on your phone – but with your finger, just drag your finger on the screen to define the area you want to search.

The next step will be to embed the functionality into any of the many sites that help you find real places, e.g. Yelp, HomeAway, Air BNB, Realtor.com, etc…

Below are my favorite potential uses, what would yours be?

  1. Travel Information: Hotels, home rentals, eateries, etc… I rarely travel in a square or a Zip Code, I generally travel in a line and want to know what’s available along a stretch of area.
  2. Real Estate: Often times we want to search in specific pockets – not just by Zip code, e.g. around a specific school.
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Going in reverse: Hispanics disappearing in the Mireles household

The census shows we Hispanics are growing faster than ever as a percent of the US population. Ironically, the exact opposite is happening in my family, we are becoming less “Hispanic” over time.

My dad was the first Mexican-American professor at East Los Angeles College and active in the Chicano civil rights movement. My mom is from Argentina.  I belonged to MECHA in college, edited a bilingual Spanish-English newsletter and integrate beans and hot sauce into my food whenever possible.

On the other hand my wife is French; and my kids dream of camembert, crepes and tarts – and ask, “What’s a Hispanic? We’re not really Hispanic are we?”

To which I have to answer, “Sort of – not really. You’re French American with a bit of salsa and Chimichurri sauce mixed in.”

My kids, like so many other generations before them are becoming less “Hispanic” and more “American.” And in the process, America is becoming more Mexican, Puerto-Riqueno, Vietnamese, Chinese, etc… as well.

So when I see statistics about the growth of the Latino population and the projections for the future, I have to wonder how many second and third-generation Latinos – especially those descended from multiple ethnicities will even think of themselves as Latinos? And what will the term Latino really mean anyways?

Product Adoption: Lessons on how to maximize product adoption and avoid common pitfalls

Imagine developing a product that encapsulated the best practices from the best minds in the business. A product that could increase your customer’s revenue by anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 annually for only a few hundred dollars a month?

And best of all, it only took a couple of additional steps to use and could save time in the long run.

Given that type of ROI and rave reviews from early adopters, I figured marketing and selling the product would be a “no brainer.” So envisioning myself semi-retired and swirling Mai Tais on the Mexican Riviera, I signed on the dotted line, taking equity and deferred compensation in lieu of salary.

Two years later, my bank account is now a blank account—but while certainly not wealthier, I’m much wiser. So what happened? Why didn’t a “proven” product with a great ROI spread like wildfire—and instead just smoldered? There are many reasons, but the biggest reason was that the product required extra work to receive the extra benefits—and most people won’t do extra work no matter how big the potential future benefit is.

In this article, I’ll explain how you can incorporate that fundamental tenet of human nature into your product planning and marketing to increase adoption and sales.

The problem: The road to hell is paved with good intentions

We all agree exercise is good. In fact, it’s critical to our health, yet the majority of us don’t exercise enough or at all. Why? Because for most of us, it requires taking additional time and effort.

However, given the right support structures, e.g. a personal trainer, child care to watch the kids, etc. the probabilities of us adopting and maintaining an exercise ritual will increase dramatically. And soon, what was considered the “extreme” soon becomes the norm.

So what does this have to do with software?

Simple, no matter how good a new product is, if it requires the user to change their routine, it may meet resistance. And if you expect the user to take extra steps to get the extra benefit, then you must expect a large percentage of users will be unwilling to do the extra work, no matter how big the end gain.

And even if they want to change, many won’t unless you provide additional, and often seemingly irrelevant, services. So it’s critical to incorporate this knowledge into the business plan, product design, marketing and implementation process in order to increase your probabilities of success.

Technology adoption

Technology moves blindingly fast. Adoption is another story altogether.

Every product manager is familiar with the product adoption lifecycle and crossing the chasm. While the steps are the same regardless of the product, what varies dramatically is the time frame. And since time is money, the most important thing is to figure out how to shorten the adoption lifecycle.

The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) is a great first step to understand why people adopt (or not) new software. Wikipedia ® states:

“The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) is an information systems theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_systems ) that models how users come to accept and use a technology. The model suggests that when users are presented with a new software package, a number of factors influence their decision about how and when they will use it, notably:

  • Perceived usefulness (PU) – This was defined by Fred Davis as “the degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would enhance his or her job performance.”
  • Perceived ease-of-use (EOU) Davis defined this as “the degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would be free from effort” (Davis, 1989).”

In other words, what’s the benefit and how easy is it to use? Traditionally ease-of-use has always played second fiddle to more features, but per the TAM, ease of use is just as critical to adoption as usefulness—so the first lesson is keep it simple.

In fact, less is often more from a user’s perspective. While some will want all sorts of “cool” features, most people just want to get their job done quicker and more easily.

We don’t need no stinkin “Best Practices”!

Best practices can take decades to adopt. Invariably, best practices means doing things right, which usually requires more work up front, and since most of us are busy and are used to doing things the way we’ve always done them, consistently following best practices is a challenge at best.

For example, CRM/sales-force automation systems promise all sorts of benefits to the sales person and organization, but it has taken two decades and billions of dollars in failed implementations to get to a state where most sales people are comfortable with them and willing to enter their sales information into the system.

Management systems in the collision shop market are another example. Despite the proven benefits of using a management system, reducing cycle time, increasing productivity, profits, etc., it’s taken nearly two decades to achieve a 50% penetration rate.

Why? Because mass adoption has required dramatic economic and cultural/generational changes in the industry. The best practices encapsulated in the management systems had to move from the extreme into the mainstream. And for the most part, that meant people literally changing jobs and bringing the new tools and ideas with them.

In many cases, those new ideas and tools were rejected. But over time as more and more people were exposed to the new technologies and ideas, and a new generation of employees never knew that there was another way to do business, management systems have become standard equipment in the majority of the better shops.

On the other hand, think about the Web. In many cases it simplifies and eliminates the need to physically search for something, e.g. when was the last time you went to the library for a research project? As a result, the adoption curve has been incredibly dramatic.

So remember, if your solution requires significant extra work for extra benefits, know that the adoption lifecycle will most likely be long and arduous. Do anything possible to simplify the workflow and/or be absolutely indispensable.

Understand the market

How often have you heard or said “How can we go wrong, it’s a virtually untapped $X billion market?”

I know I’m guilty of that and have personally paid the price. The real question is, what percentage of the market is realistically likely to adopt your product? And are you automating the exceptions or the norm?

For example, you’ve created a great new window-washing tool that can clean windows 50% faster and 200% better than your standard squeegee!

Every house in America has windows so just imagine the incredible market! But how many Americans regularly clean their home windows? Not many. You really have two markets.

  1. The window washers of the world: They already believe in the virtue of clean windows and regularly spend time cleaning them. For this group, you’re subtracting from their work and therefore giving them the gift of time and delivering better results in the process.
  2. The rest of us: I know I should probably clean my windows more often but heck they’re going to get dirty anyway. (Yes I’m married and drive my wife nuts with this kind of logic.) First, you have to persuade me of the value of sparkling clean windows and then you’ve got to convince me your product is the best for the job. And finally, you’ll most likely need to cajole me into actually using the product since it will require “extra” work on my behalf.

And that was the problem we ran into with our product. For the 1% of the shops that regularly double-checked their work, the product both simplified and improved their processes.

For the other 99%, it was a much more challenging sales and implementation/adoption process. In some cases, the users took to it like fish to water and now can’t imagine not having the product. But for a large percentage it took endless cajoling and handholding, and then as soon as we left, they stopped using it.

Better versus good enough

Growing up, I thought whip cream only came out of a can. Then I tasted homemade. One creamy spoonful and I swore I’d never go back to the can.

Now, three kids later I still love fresh homemade whipped cream, but sadly 80% of the time I rely on the can because it’s quick and easy and lasts forever in the fridge. I know my pie or hot fudge sundae would taste better with the “real” stuff, but I usually don’t want to take the extra five or ten minutes to make it and clean up. Besides, my kids, the primary consumers, don’t even notice the difference.

Even though the stuff that comes out of the can is clearly inferior to the homemade, I use it because it’s good enough and requires virtually no effort to use. And, since it’s a should have (some would even claim a nice-to have) I’ll often skip the extra benefit altogether rather than take the extra time and effort.

The same is true with software. Users will often choose “sub-optimal” solutions because they’re easier or not use anything at all because they don’t like the extra work –even if it makes the difference between just okay and great.

Product design

The most successful software combines extra benefits and eliminates steps. The spellchecker in Microsoft ® Office Word is a great example. Why? Because the product highlights the errors as I’m writing so I don’t have to take the extra step to run the spellchecker.

The lesson is to eliminate as many steps as possible and provide the tightest, most seamless integration possible that delivers benefits sooner than later. One of the most common errors is the creation of yet another application that the user has to launch.

This is especially true in the business intelligence/management reporting space. All too often, these companies expect the users to launch the application and then spend their time querying the system to get the value they paid for.

What typically happens is that the software sits unused like countless pieces of gym equipment gathering dust in homes across America. As one user remarked after we showed him our reporting software:

“I’m busy. I’ve got ten things I absolutely need to do. Twenty I really should do – and at the end of the day, I’ve only done three or four of them. So just email me a report that tells me what’s on fire today and how to fix it. And if you can eventually tell me what’s going to catch fire tomorrow and what I can do to prevent it, great! If not, I don’t want it and I’m not going to use it.”

Whenever possible, push the information directly into an existing application so the user doesn’t have to actually do anything to receive the benefits, e.g. instead of forcing the user to launch a separate reporting application, deliver the reports right into their email.

Sometimes what people want is really a service rather than a product. So if you can convince people of the end value, but you can’t get them to actually do the work required, you may have more success bundling it into a service. After all, isn’t that why people hire window washers?

Piggyback marketing

Once you’ve built the product, focus your marketing and sales efforts on the most likely early adopters. The best way to do that is to find prospects that are already practicing what you preach. Otherwise, you’re going to waste a lot of money and time on unqualified prospects who even if they buy your product may actually never use it.

I recently had this challenge with a client that has a really great product for analyzing open-ended feedback. The company believed we should try to convince everybody of the value of collecting customer feedback and then why open-ended comments were more valuable than closed-ended structured data. Under that scenario, a sales person would spend a lot of valuable time convincing a prospect why they should implement best practices in customer feedback—and then how our tool could improve the process. Talk about a long and arduous sales cycle!

My recommendation was that the company should identify companies that had already adopted best practices and focus their efforts on selling how the solution could simplify and improve what they’re already doing. Instead of trying to create an entirely new initiative, the company could piggyback upon an existing corporate project that already has executive sponsorship, corporate buy in and committed resources.

So whenever possible, identify “hot” best practices methodologies that already have significant traction and integrate your product and marketing into that existing market. Now instead of competing for attention with Six Sigma ® or NetPromoter, you’re an enabler that can feed into the larger ecosystem.

It may take you years and decades to focus on marketing “best practices” to industry influencers and thought leaders in order to grow the potential market for your product.

Implementation

While it would be wonderful to sell only to incredibly motivated customers and users that don’t need any assistance, the reality is a large percentage of your customers will both be implementing your software and best practices for the first time.

It’s not enough to train users how to use the software—you need to show its value and get their buy in.

In fact, I learned a very painful but important lesson during my first product management job:

Success of product/project = quality of the product/plan x the % buy in

So if you’re going to force change on an organization or users, here are a few suggestions:

  • Get the buy in at both the top and the bottom. It’s not enough to think that getting the CEO to buy in will lead to user buy in. If enough users squawk and the CEO begins viewing your product as too disruptive, the product will usually be ejected.
  • Start slowly. Don’t overwhelm the users with too much in the beginning. Help them get comfortable with the basics. It’s important that they feel they’re getting as much pain-free value as possible.
  • Move the cheese. Talk is cheap, compensation is golden. If you want your users to do something different, compensate them for the perceived extra work. Nothing guarantees failure faster than when an employee is told to do one thing and rewarded for something entirely different.
  • Change the org chart. New technologies require new processes and positions to leverage and support the new infrastructure.
  • Create standard operating procedures. Work with the users to create new standard operating procedures that they agree to and can easily follow. Don’t expect them to magically figure out how best to incorporate the new technology into their organization.
  • Be there. People hire personal trainers because they know that particularly in the beginning, a little extra push and encouragement to overcome their inertia is needed.

Empathy

I’ve worked in seven different verticals at four different companies, and I always hear the same complaint from product managers and engineers. “Our users aren’t like other customers. They’re technologically unsophisticated laggards.”

As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that our users aren’t the ones who are different, we just happen to be in love with computers and our products. So every time I hear complaints about our users’ IQ and how easy our product is to use, I ask, “Can you explain how to forward a phone call?”

In all my years, I’ve only met a handful of people who actually know how to forward a phone call. Most of us just tell the caller, “Uh, I’ll try, but if I lose you, call his direct line.” and then we press some buttons and hope the call went through.

So remember for product success, have empathy for your users and don’t expect them to be as enthusiastic as you are about your product and willing to go the extra mile (or inch) to make it work.

The bottom line

Just because something is good for you, doesn’t mean people will do it. Don’t get blinded by the potential ROI of your product. Get out from behind your spreadsheet and start thinking like a typical user who’s got a thousand things to do and just wants to get home to see their kids.

And remember:

  • The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions which is why people often say one thing and do something entirely different.
  • Understand whether you’re automating an existing standard or enabling a yet-to-be-widely-adopted process to accurately identify the size of your market.
  • Subtract, don’t add to your user’s work, otherwise you’ll increase your implementation costs and reduce your adoption rate.
  • Piggyback your marketing and sales efforts on existing methodologies and markets instead of trying to position your product as something entirely new.
  • Change takes effort above and beyond just teaching people what buttons to press, so be prepared to provide professional services.
  • Be empathetic. Try to imagine yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask yourself, “How can I make their life easier?”

And finally, while it’s hard to be dispassionate about the benefits of fresh whipped cream, realize that for most people “fresh” from the can is good enough–and as a result better generally loses to easier in the marketplace.

Check out the presentation for a few laughs and more tips!

Let me know what you think! Drop me an email at kevin@myrepresentatives dot com or a tweet @kevinjmireles
Thanks!
Kev

Generating New Revenue and Readership from Old Archives

Newspapers are like icebergs. The visible content represents a small fraction of the actual content available.

Think about it. The daily newspaper represents 1/365 th of the year’s content – and since most newspapers have been around for 50 years or more, each day’s content only represents about 1/20,0000 th of the total content available for mining.

While the Internet makes information instant – it also makes it timeless. So an article written in 1886 (once it’s been digitized) can be just as easily accessed as one written in 2006. Newspapers just need to come up with creative ways of mining what they already own.

As a result of the news media’s traditional focus on what’s new, they’ve given short shrift to making their archives easy and enjoyable to access. Readers can search the archives for articles but unless a reader is searching for a specific article or as part of a research project – the archives are neither easy nor inviting.

As a result, newspapers are missing a key opportunity to:

  • Create a new category. Local history is an entirely new category that nobody currently owns.
  • Differentiate themselves. While Yahoo! and Google, can deliver news from around the globe, newspaper archives are one of the few sources of local history and contemporary perspectives on historical events.
  • Increase readership. Done right the archives can both increase the total number of readers and page views.
  • Add low-cost short and long-term revenue. A news story typically has a week-or-less half-life, with the vast majority of readership occurring on the first day. Historical content can generate readership and revenue for years without significant ongoing investment.

So what can you do to leverage the underside of the iceberg?

First, temporarily forget about the “new” part of newspapers –and think about what people might want that you have? Browse through bookstores, the Web and other places for examples of the type of information you already have or people might want.

Second, think about how and why people read newspapers and visit news sites. Do people pick up newspapers searching for specific articles? Or do they browse the individual sections looking for something of interest, something surprising, something they didn’t know before? While we occasionally search for specific items of interest, most people are browsers – and that’s why newspapers are divided into sections, etc. to facilitate the finding of content by browsing. So why should it be any different for your archives?

Third, find the right resources to make it happen. You need someone who understands storytelling, business and technology to transform ideas into profitable products. Someone who can step outside of the traditional newspaper paradigm and look at your content with an entirely fresh site of eyes.

Fourth, start small. Since the majority of the content has already been created, you can easily test ideas and see what works without investing vast resources into the project

In order to help jump start the process, I’ve come up with a few ideas – some very simple to execute and others that will require years to complete and unprecedented cooperation between papers.

Thematic Access

While the archives are a treasure trove of information and sellable content, currently readers are forced to use crude tools to search them and lack the benefit of any kind of thematic structure to guide them.

Just as papers have created different sections of the paper, and books have chapters to guide readers – archives need to have themes, timelines and other tools to engage and guide readers to their destination.

Whether you are wandering through a bookstore, searching a library database or reading a textbook, they are all designed to help you find what you want even if you don’t know exactly where you want to go. They are all facilitating your discovery process by logically grouping and presenting content in such a way that the journey is a key part of the user experience.

Newspapers need to think about their archives the same way.

A good starting point is to find a particular topic that’s hot and has deep historical roots or an upcoming anniversary event, then find stories in your archives that give local contemporary perspectives on the issue, and finally create a subsection with links to the content.

Or think about current issues, whether immigration or land-use and find stories from over the years that highlight the changing perspectives and issues, etc. Just this weekend, a story in my local paper referenced a 1957 disaster to highlight how 50-years later California is still discussing the same problem.

It would have been fascinating to be able to read some of the actual stories – instead of just references to them.

All that’s required is to find matching stories in the archives – both online and on microfilm. Given all the tools today, it’s easy to convert the microfilm to either text, JPEG or PDF for viewing on the Web.

So for just a few dollars, a newspaper can re-use their existing content to create compelling stories. And once the themes/sections have been created – they can continue to generate revenue for little or no cost.

Cataloguing

Keyword searches are very crude ways to find what you want. Especially since reading newspaper articles is often more of an exercise in browsing – than searching for specific content.

For example, I tried a search on the Latimes.com site for the “civil rights” between 1950 and 1960. It returned 6,250 articles – which is just too overwhelming.

Now imagine if someone systematically reviewed and catalogued the articles so that the term “Civil Rights” also had timelines and was further subcategorized by race/ethnicity, segregation/desegration, etc. – just like a library database or the Yahoo! Directory.

Now people can do a combination of browsing and searching to find the articles they want – providing a much better user experience and encouraging many more page views and ad dollars!

And rather than every paper recreate the wheel, why not work together to create a standard catalogue that can be used to classify your content. That way users will already be familiar with the structure and more likely to use not only your archives but other papers as well.

Sharing

Once enough newspapers have created a standard, then they can enable users to search not just their archives – but other participants’ archives as well. So someone could search for Civil Rights Act of 1964 and see articles from multiple newspapers.

Imagine being able to read articles and opinions from the New York Times, The Atlanta Constitution, the Birmingham News and dozens of others – referencing the same civil rights issues. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to be able to effortlessly glide between articles from the South and the North about key events?

Marketing the Archives

Newspapers are always looking for ways to reach younger readers. Teachers are always looking for ways to make history come alive.

Since textbooks tend to be either national or regional in scope – for most of the country the civil rights struggle is something that happened somewhere else, i.e. the South, instead of something that every part of the country has struggled with.

Growing up in Southern California, I always assumed legalized discrimination didn’t exist. Especially since the textbooks treated the civil rights struggle as something that took place in the South. So I was shocked to learn that many houses had legal restrictions preventing Blacks, Jews, Hispanics and Asians from owning them – and that some of the earliest desegregation cases took place in Southern California.

What better way to personalize a historical issue, than by creating localized lesson packets for students and teachers that point them to your archives – so a teacher can supplement his/her lesson plan with local stories.

When I published a community newsletter, I once had a group of local high school students research and write a series of articles about the local history. They were fascinated, amazed and filled with pride that their local neighborhood, known more for crime and poverty, at one time was a hang out for the stars.

So create lesson plans that leverage your archives and then use your Newspapers in Education program to publicize them in the schools. Now you’re not only getting younger readers to interact with you and training them to use you for historical research – but you’re helping educate them as well – enhancing your image in the community.

Get Personal

My father was born just two weeks after Wall Street crashed in 1929. He like thousands of other New Mexicans migrated to Los Angeles in search of opportunity. Over the course of his 76 years, he has either witnessed or played a role in many of the events that shaped Los Angeles, the Southwest and the country, including seeing the flash of the first atomic bomb and becoming the first Mexican American professor at East LA College.

Of course he’s not alone in having great stories to share. There are millions of other people that have just as many tales to tell – so why not encourage them to participate and give them the ability to submit writings, recordings, videos and photos to the archives.

What better way to give your readers a personal stake in your publication than by allowing them to share their stories? Again, by reaching out to the schools, you can transform the students from just readers into reporters and have them interview their parents and grandparents about specific issues and upload their stories to the Archives.

Of course, once people upload their own content, they’ll want to share it with their friends and family. Suddenly, newspapers now have their users marketing the site for them and creating a community.

Given all the hype and cash surrounding community sites, doesn’t it make sense to take a lesson from their playbooks?

Local Sponsors for Local History

How often have you heard the term, “Your local bank, car dealership, etc….” in an ad?

Give local advertisers the opportunity to sponsor local history. Instead of just running a typical banner ad that has nothing to do with the page, the ad can be tied to the content, e.g. “Local History Brought to You by Your Local Bank, XYZ Inc.” – without breaching the firewall between editorial and advertising.

The advertiser is now the sponsor of a cause – bringing local history to local students. Award them with a plaque. Thank them in ads announcing the site. Make them feel good about what they’re doing for the community and what sponsoring does for their brand – instead of just thinking in terms of CPM or CPC.

While Google, Yahoo! Craig’s List and others can duplicate much of what newspapers do – only newspapers have history. So dust off your archives and make them work for you.