Category Archives: Marketing

Software is Eating the World and Journalism too!

Marc Andreessen’s seminal 2011 piece Software is Eating the World explains how almost everything is being digitized, strengthening the agile and slaying the slow.

eatingthe-world
And in 2015, news publishers agreed to publish their articles directly on Facebook. Oops?

So how do news organizations avoid becoming the next Borders?

Is it to stick to their knitting and focus primarily on their print assets as media columnist JackShafer argues in his piece “What if the Newspaper Industry Made a Colossal Mistake?

newspapers-made-mistake

While the stick-your-head-in-the-sand-and-pray strategy might seem nice, I think Jack Welch’s quote  “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” highlights the small flaw in this argument.

So why is it that news organizations, some of the earliest adopters of the World Wide Web, are struggling the most?

For the same reason that Kodak, the inventor of digital photography succumbed to digital photography. Instead of adapting their organizations to the new technology, they tried to adapt the new technology to their existing organizations.

In the case of Kodak, this meant going from being a chemical company to a software, camera and ultimately mobile computing company, an almost impossible feat. The chemical plants that used to be their greatest assets, became anchors that drowned them.

So even if news organizations have developers and designers and deliver mobile-first content, they’re still stuck pursuing paper-based strategies in a software and Internet world.

So why are news organizations still stuck in the past?

new-york-times

Two hundred years of history is hard to change. Regardless, of the adoption of mobile, video or virtual reality the basic approach to news hasn’t changed in over 200 years. The news business is a slave to a business model built on the Tweet of the 19th century; the article.

Before the printing press made distribution relatively cheap, there was no such thing as an article, only books, letters & legal documents. Then along came the printing press, and suddenly the idea of private citizens creating throwaway publications as a way to deliver information became a thing. And the article was born. First accompanied by drawings and then later by photos.

And with the advent of radio came audio stories and recorded sounds. Finally visual news came into being via theater and later TV.

The defining traits for all these technologies are:

  1. One-way communication platforms that require experts manning expensive equipment to create and distribute content
  2. Limited space, personalization and sharing
  3. Non-existent search, linking or ability to take action within the platform

So how did these constraints define news and journalism business?

With space being limited to 30 minutes of airtime or 30-60 print pages the entire product was built around disappearing content with no regard to long-term reuse/access since the content viewing and storage mechanism were the same, i.e. the story was both stored and viewed on paper or TV screen.

In the physical world, the costs for adding each additional page or minute of airtime are fairly linear, so the goal is to maximize the limited space with enough high-quality content that people engage with the product but not so much content that it impacted the profitability.

The other key factor about the news business, is that it’s based around disposable/disappearing content. Since the distribution mechanism is also the storage mechanism, i.e the paper or news program, there is little to no value to build long-term content since it either goes in the trash or disappears when the segment is over. As a result, “news” has been defined as throwaway content with little thought about creating content or an information architecture designed to support reuse.

Since space was limited and needed to be constantly refilled,  and since  high-quality content was required to attract and retain customers then it made sense to pay people, journalists, to write stories. Since the primary skill required to fill the space was to be able to tell a story in text or moving pictures, journalist and writer became synonymous.

journalist

Allowing the non-paid public to write anything more than a letter or an occasional op-ed piece meant devaluing the concept of being a journalist and the product they sold. Since the barriers to entry were so high, companies were able to transform the businesses into local and national information monopolies, duopolies or triopolies to be managed for maximum profitability not growth.

And since the technological underpinnings of the business didn’t really change for decades there was no real need for a product management/development organization.  So by the 70s  newspapers and news in general had become culturally-inbred cash cows focused on continuity and maximizing profitability, not growth, for investors.

And then along came the Internet….

The key technological traits of the Internet era are:

  • Infinite personalization: Every screen and item can be personalized just for you.
  • Unlimited space: Every news article ever created can be fit on a single hard drive.
  • Endless interconnectivity: Anyone can connect with anyone anywhere. Distance doesn’t matter.
  • Almost effortless sharing: Words and images can be copied and shared by anyone anywhere without any costs and capture the value of your work.
  • Simple self-service publishing platforms: Any amateur can publish professional quality stories, images & videos
  • Instant Interactivity: The Web doesn’t just deliver information, it enables action, ordering a toaster or organizing a mob.
  • It’s the platform  stupid! Static content can be copied but server-side software can’t.
  • The Network Effect: Each additional person, company and system added to a gravitational platform increases the gravitational pull in an ever-self reinforcing cycle.
  • Active participation: People are no longer content to just be passive participants ingesting pushed information but want to be active contributors to conversations and drive change.
  • Interactive Analytics: Instead of static reports, you can filter and query to see information just the way you want

And just like in every other industry built on outmoded technologies and business models, software is eating journalism and the news business.

The current response: Building faster, better & cheaper buggy whips

buggywhipsad-300x251Given the cultural inbreeding and the institutionalization of what news and journalism are both in academia and in newsrooms, the inability to respond effectively is not surprising.  To date, the changes by news organizations have really been around leveraging technology to do more of what they have already been doing but faster, better and cheaper.

Faster: In the past news organizations competed on speed, trying to beat their competition by getting the story first.  Unlike Wall Street where milliseconds can mean millions, being a few minutes faster than the competition on a commodity story generally won’t reap significant financial rewards.

Better: Since Journalism is all about telling stories, news orgs are adopting new expensive story-telling technologies such as Virtual Reality or building a multimedia experience ala Snowfall to compete against the ocean of free content.

Cheaper: Leveraging AI to write stories ala the AP using AI to generate sports stories (actually innovative) or more frequently cutting staff and wages to drive down costs while pushing their people to write more, blog more, tweet more, etc. more.

The problem with all of these approaches is that they are all about optimizing horse-and-buggy businesses,  instead of developing new automotive-enabled industries. In the IT world, it’s known as paving the cowpath, using new technologies to enshrine old approaches to the world, instead of changing the organization and processes to get the most out of the new possibilities.

If you can’t fight em, join em! Embrace your status as a solutions and information technology organization

The Germans didn’t just demolish the French and Brits at the beginning of WWII because they had tanks and planes, but because they had people who could think differently about using them and saw how they could redefine the battlefield to surprise the enemy and play to their strengths.

So instead of figuring out how to optimize outmoded technologies and processes, news organizations  need to adapt their missions and organizations to the new information battlefield.

The first step to fighting back and winning the war for both the public good and and corporate profits is to embrace the fact that you are in the solution and information-technology business whether you want to be or not.

And in order to be successful as a solutions/IT company, news organizations need to expand their mission and  playing field to capture the new opportunities and defend against irrelevance.  

Move beyond content to enabling insights, action & community collaboration to capture new opportunities and avoid irrelevance

Once you move beyond just documenting the world via articles to providing solutions your opportunities expand a thousandfold.  Take advantage of the gifts that technology gives you and shift your primary mission from just documenting the world to becoming public-service platforms enabling insights, action & community collaboration to make the world a better place.

Why Public service? If you’re not in it for the public service, then you’re nothing but a PR and advertising firm. Journalism at its core is all about public service and the moment that that gets lost, then nothing else matters.

Why Platform? The battle is not about the individual article or one newspaper or another, it’s about competing platforms. Anyone can publish, but the platform determines the user experience, profits and impact. While text, images and even videos can be copied and shared almost anywhere, software platforms provide the  additional interactivity and value required to be economically viable and socially impactful. Relying on Facebook’s platform means they control the conversation, your future and profits.

Why enabling insights? The goal of almost any article is provide insights, to help your audience to understand a little bit more about the world and make decisions about where to live, travel, send their kids to school, what medicines to take, who to vote for. In the past, the primary model has been through the publication of an article, video or even infographic, but modern analytics tools provide so many more ways to help people make decisions. Unfortunately, while news organizations use business intelligence tools internally they’ve almost completely failed to adopt them to provide insights to their audience.

And even when news organizations create decision support tools, since they don’t view themselves as being in the analytics & information business, they fail to monetize and support these products as products.

Why action? When I wrote about kids killing kids or about how the lack of local witness/victim-protection programs force people like “Jose” (not his real name) to live in fear with a bullet lodged next to his brain   while his shooters walk free,  it wasn’t because I just wanted people to go, “that’s interesting.”  I wanted them to take action and make a difference. Software enables you to transform enragement into action, whether donating online, reaching out to their representatives, sending complaints, expressing their gratitude, etc…

Why community collaboration? We are a social species and so not only does the Internet allow us to take action by ourselves but it enables us to organize our friends, neighbors and countrymen to work together to make a difference. Instead of just writing articles about people coming together, we can actually help people come together to create better communities.

Together, this combination provides fills an unmet need, delivers an incredibly powerful value proposition and represent a massive market opportunity. Instead of being content companies competing against every other publishing platform and anyone who can write, you are now providing value Facebook doesn’t and competing  in a fragmented space against primarily homegrown, smaller software companies.

Coming soon: How to go face to face with Facebook and succeed in the conversation business

 

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Why I hate the term product manager

Product managers are supposed to be the voice of the customer and the market, but in most companies that’s a lie. Why? Because a product manager by definition is first and foremost responsible for their product – which is inherently internally focused. As a result, when they look at the outside world it’s almost always through the lens of their specific product.

Instead of looking at how their product fits into the customers’ ecosystem, processes, etc… they look at how their customers fit into their product – and then can’t figure out why adoption rates are so low.

And since in larger organizations each PM typically looks at the world through their product silo, it’s difficult to figure out how each of the pieces fits together.

So what can organizations do?

Create market, customer, persona or process advocates

Organizations need customer or persona advocates that aren’t tied to a specific product but instead responsible for becoming the subject matter expert on the markets, customers, personas or processes served by the company.

In some companies the UX department handles this but oftentimes the UX group is more focused on the screen design usability without understanding the larger context.

By making individual PMs responsible for being customer advocates it should help force the product managers to be more customer centric and drive collaboration across the organization.

Map the customers’ customers journey

I’ve read a lot about customer journey mapping but for the most part it’s always been in the context of the customer’s journey with your company. For B2B companies, mapping the customers’ customers journey may be even more helpful as it forces you to understand what your customers’ processes are and how you potentially fit or don’t fit into their processes as your number one goal is to help your customers be more successful.

By mapping the customers’ customer journey you should be able to spot opportunities to develop new products or better position your existing products to meet your customers’ goals.

Tell me what you think.

Newspapers: Problem child or cash cow?

I still remember my first day at the Orange County Register back in July 1994.

I assumed, now that I was going to work at a real paper, I’d have access to the latest and greatest technology and could use my hard-earned statistical analysis and computer cartography skills to do some Pulitzer-prize winning computer assisted reporting.

Then I saw my workstation, a PC XT with 4 MHz of computing power and no floppy drive – incredibly archaic even by 1994 standards.

The next two years were both thrilling and demoralizing, as I tried to make sense of the contradictions between newspapers’ huge profits and their almost complete lack of investment in technology, training and adequate news resources.

It was always a source of grousing amongst us reporters, as we couldn’t understand why such a profitable industry paid so poorly and invested so little in new initiatives.

Then, I left the newspaper industry, became a product manager and learned about the “Boston Box.” And suddenly, I understood why such a profitable industry invested so little in its people and products.

The Boston Box, also known as product lifecycle management, divides products into four basic categories.

Boston Box

  • Problem child/Question Marks: A new product that requires significant investment to grow and become profitable, e.g. new Internet initiatives.
  • Star: Assuming the product crosses the chasm, it becomes a star – characterized by high profits and growth. A star needs to be carefully nurtured and given the investment required to continue growing.
  • Cash Cow: At a certain point the product reaches maturity and is no longer growing in market share and or revenue stagnates and begins declining. At this point the goal is to maximize profitability and milk the cow for as much cash as possible.
  • Dog: Finally, the decline steepens and the goal is to profitably retire the product before it begins sucking resources from new replacement products.

Can you guess which category traditionally newspapers belong in?

You guessed it. The cash cow. Lets see stagnate revenues and gradual declines in market share over the last 20 years as circulation declines. So what does a “smart” manager do? Minimize investments and maximize profitability. They focus primarily on cost reduction to maximize efficiency, instead of investing for growth.

Whenever possible they merge with thecompetition to create a monopoly (product quality isn’t as much of an issue) and eliminate “redundancies.”

The problem with this thinking is that if they focus primarily on cost cutting, the quality of their product deteriorates and the customer base flees, resulting in yet more cost cuts and lost customers, accelerating the downward cycle.

On the other hand, if investors view the business as a cash cow and are expecting it to deliver 20% net profit margins, it’s hard to make significant investments without upsetting the “street.”

The problem newspapers and local TV news face now is that in order for them to make the transition from the old to the new, they need to invest heavily in new ventures that will initially take away from their profitability. And not only that, but now newcomers are using market shrink strategies to grab market share, e.g. Craigslist, and stealing revenue from newspapers.

So are newspapers cash cows, problem children – or dogs? And what’s going to happen next?

Your thoughts?

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

User Experience 101: How to create a great online experience

User Experience: What is it?

“The overall experience, in general or specifics, a user, customer, or audience member has with a product, service, or event. In the Usability field, this experience is usually defined in terms of ease-of-use. However, the experience encompasses more than merely function and flow, but the understanding compiled through all of the senses.” – www.nathan.com/ed/glossary/

  • Look and feel: Does it reassure you or repel you? Do the images, colors and typography encourage the user to bond with your site?
  • Workflow/Information Architecture: How easily can you achieve the required task? Is the information arranged in a way that makes sense to the end user?
  • Interactivity: Does the system react appropriately? Does your site make use of technology to deliver the right information at the right moment?
  • How did you feel about your experience? Happy, frustrated, angry???

User Experience: Why it’s important?

Clothes cover you. Cars move you from place to place. Yet while we care that products have some basic features, all things being equal we choose the one that delivers, or at least appears, to deliver the user experience we desire.

Websites are no different. All else being equal, we’ll choose the Website that helps us achieve our desired experience. In more concrete terms, a good user experience will:

  • Increase conversions: Successful redesigns can increase conversions by up to 100% or more.
  • Increase adoption: Empirical research shows that perceived ease of use and usefulness are primary drivers of technology adoption.
  • Enhance customer satisfaction: A good user experience will increase customer satisfaction and therefore drive repeat and referral business.
  • Key differentiator: Apple elevated the user experience to a high art and look what it did for them.

How to create a Great Online User Experience

Creating a great online user experience requires the following ingredients:

  • Talent: Visual design, interaction design, information architecture, writing and engineering are just few of the different skill sets required to create a great online experience.
  • Focus: Trying to do everything for everyone is sure-fire recipe for failure. The tighter the focus, the easier it is to understand and deliver a great user experience – so be crystal clear about identifying your markets, users, and objectives.
  • User Intimacy: Once you’ve identified your users, the next step is to try to get inside their heads and figure out what drives them – so that you can be their advocate.
  • Process: Research. Design. Test. Then do it all over again as early and as often as possible.
  • Alignment: Make sure your organizations goals and Web site are aligned with your customers’ needs and expectations.

Talent: It takes a team to build a great user experience

Leonardo Da Vinci could write, paint, sculpt and engineer – but unfortunately he’s dead – so rather than try to find one person who can do everything – find the right team. It’s not fair to expect that any one person will have all the skill sets required to design and develop your Web site or even the user interface.

Just like the building profession features civil engineers, architects, interior designers and a multitude of other trades, interfaces require different skill sets. They include professionals skilled in: (Definitions courtesy of Sean Van Tyne and http://www.UXSIG.org)

Information Architecture: The art and science of organizing and labeling Web sites, intranets, online communities, and software to support usability and findability;

(http://iainstitute.org/pg/about_us.php)

Visual Design: The field of developing visual materials to create an experience. Visual Design spans the fields of Graphic Design, Illustration, Typography, Layout, Color Theory, Iconography, Signage, Photography, etc. and any medium, including online, broadcast, print, outdoor, etc. Visual Design is concerned with the elements of visual expression and style.

(http://www.nathan.com/ed/glossary)

Interaction Design: The field and approach to designing interactive experiences. These could be in any medium (such as live events or performances, products, services, etc.) and not only digital media. Interactive experiences, necessarily, require time as an organizing principle (though not exclusively) and Interactive Design is concerned with a user, customer, audience, or participant’s experience flow through time.

(http://www.nathan.com/ed/glossary)

Even more important than raw talent and skills, is attitude. I’ll trade someone with an advanced degree and 10-years experience for a virtual novice with an open attitude and a customer-centric approach.

Focus: Less is More

One of the most common problems I encounter in product and Web development is the lack of focus. “Our target user is everyone!” they say and then proceed to use very industry-specific terms and tools that require advanced programming skills.

While everyone is a big market, it’s much easier to develop a great online experience by focusing on one or two key segments and giving them exactly what they want – than trying to create a generic experience for everyone. So identify your target markets, users and business objectives first and you’ll save yourself time, money and headaches while enhancing your probability of actually creating a compelling experience.

User Intimacy: Know Your Users!

The more you know about your users the more likely you are to meet their needs. And remember don’t confuse the user with the buyer. Oftentimes, especially in big companies, the buyer, the big boss guy who signs the check, and the end user live in entirely different worlds.

    • Identify target users: Who are they? Go beyond demographics and try to understand what drives them to do what they do?
    • Describe their environment: While people have innate needs they may want to fulfill, their environment drives much of their decision making and habits – so don’t just focus on the user, learn about where they are when their interacting with you.
    • Define their business objectives and concerns: What do they want to achieve and what are they concerned about? Do they want to purchase something online and they’re concerned about not wasting time? Or do they just want to research a product for purchase later? And remember the same user may have entirely different objectives and concerns depending upon where they are in their purchasing lifecycle.
    • Create scenarios: Use your knowledge of the users to create a series of stories about them and their needs that your team can use to define the site’s requirements.

      Scenario 1 : The VP of marketing and sales has told the Marketing Manager he needs to increase site leads anyway he can – the budget for new Web marketing initiatives is pretty slim – but before they spend a penny, the VP wants to see a presentation why XYZ strategy is the right one – and he wants an answer by next Friday.

      Scenario 2 : The Marketing Manager is looking to switch marketing vendors because she is unsatisfied with service from existing pay per click firm. Based on her poor experience with her current vendor she is less concerned about price than service.

The two scenarios involved the same position – but the two users have entirely different needs based on their experience and environment.

Align your site to meet your users expectations

Inevitably there will be conflict between your organization’s desires and your customers’ requirements. The goal is to create a win/win process so that each party achieves their primary objectives as frequently as possible.

First, define and rank your business objectives. What are you trying to achieve, increase subscriptions, generate more sales leads, cut costs, etc.?

While you may have lots of business objectives, it’s critical to identify your primary objective – otherwise it’s easy to lose focus and let secondary desires get in the way of your primary mission. And at the end of the day, your success will be measured on your ability to deliver on the primary objective.

Second, what can you do that will help your users achieve both their goals and yours? Create potential solutions that solve key problems outlined in the scenarios.

Finally, use your primary objective as the decision-making filter: Does the task, information, technology and design help you achieve your primary objective or not?

A frequent conflict is the desire to collect as much information about the visitor as possible. While you may want to know more about your prospects, your prospect may not be ready to share that information with you. So how do you decide between the two desires?

If your primary goal is to increase sales and customer satisfaction, e.g. then the answer is simple: Do whatever will help you achieve that goal – and that typically means removing anything that reduces your conversion rates, such as filling out lengthy forms.

Process: Research. Design. Test. Then do it all over again.

Before you start redesigning your site willy nilly, it’s important to understand what already works and what needs work beforehand. The following are a few simple ways to understand where you need to focus your efforts

  • Design review: Ask a small group, 1 to 10 target users, to attempt a task and observe them. Goal is not to tell them how to do it – but identify issues.
  • Create score card: Rank issues in terms of criticality and frequency. Did the issue prevent the user from completing the task, decrease their desire or just annoy them?
  • Web Analytics: Where are customers abandoning your site? What are your current conversion rates?
  • Why?: Survey existing users. Can display a pop-under survey when leave site – asking why?

While Web development is fairly new, the architectural process is incredibly ancient – and worth copying. In a typical project, before the first block is laid – the following happens:

  • Architect identifies the target users,
  • Learns more about their needs, desires and budget
  • Sketches some sample designs,
  • Shows them to the client/users,
  • Client gives feedback,
  • Architect revises designs adding more and more detail to each revision
  • Repeat steps four through six until design passes muster with users

Once construction begins, making significant changes becomes very expensive – both in construction costs and time delays – so it’s critical to identify the right design as early in the process as possible.

And while it always seems tempting to shorten the design process, inevitably skipping this cycle of research, design and test inevitably extends the actual construction process and degrades the user experience.

The following are a few simple prototyping tips:

  1. Sketch out workflows: Use the written scenarios to create potential workflows and explain what the user will get in reward for their efforts.
  2. Create Wire frames: Very simple prototypes designed to just show workflow – can be on paper, in Powerpoint or HTML. The “rougher” the appearance – the more feedback you’ll receive, as users oftentimes don’t want to criticize something that already looks finished.
  3. Test: Use colleagues to test initial concepts on. Just someone not involved in the development process. Then test with target users. You don’t need a statistically valid sample – the most critical issues will rapidly be identified within the first few users.
  4. A/B Testing: Test different designs. There’s more than one way to skin a cat – so test different approaches to see which works best.

Once the site has been deployed, then it’s critical to track whether it’s living up to it’s stated objectives and to keep tweaking and testing to identify possibilities for improvement.

If you liked this article, I think you’ll like this presentation as well!

Send me an email kevin@myrepresentatives dot com or a tweet @kevinjmireles and let me know what you think!
Thanks!
Kev

My Top Ten Tips for Developing Successful Products

Are you about to invest your life’s savings into developing a new product or just a few million of your company’s cash?

Then take a few minutes and read this article to learn how to avoid the half-baked product syndrome, crush your competition and captivate your customers.

While there are many different approaches to product development with lots of fancy buzzwords, the reality is most products succeed or fail because of the following ten items.

So read on, learn and give me a call if you have any questions.

1. Get the organizational buy in to do it right.

Getting organizational buy in to do it right is by far the biggest challenge, since doing it right generally requires committing additional up-front resources, time and organizational heartburn (i.e. change) for a vaguely quantifiable longer-term payoff.

If you are in senior management, this means challenging your troops to try new product-development tactics and committing the required resources. You have to build an atmosphere and culture that accepts change, welcomes outside ideas and incorporates learning into every facet of the organization.

For middle managers and below, the challenge is getting senior management buy in. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that senior management will agree to commit the required resources – or as I’ve had to learn over the years: “Middle management and below proposes. Senior management disposes.” The only saving grace is the fact that it’s a Dilbert world and that most of your competitors are in exactly the same boat.

2. If the problem’s unclear and the benefits fuzzy, then you’ve got a Wuzzy.

What’s a Wuzzy? I don’t know. And I shouldn’t start building anything until I figure it out.

You must be able to clearly articulate the problem you are solving and the expected benefits to the user. And most important, they must make sense to your customers.

If they don’t, then you’re either targeting the wrong customers, building the wrong product or need to clarify your marketing message. If after a few go-rounds it still doesn’t make sense, then it’s time for the next step.

3. Don’t be afraid to a kill the product.

If you’ve got a Wuzzy or you can’t get senior management buy in to do it right, maybe you should kill the project sooner than later. Or even if you are doing everything right, you may discover that the product will never make significant revenue or will just cost too much to do it right. Whatever the reason, it’s usually better to kill the product sooner than later – even if you have already sunk six or seven figures into it.

The reality is that most products wind up being distractions that siphon resources and focus from the primary moneymaker.

Of course most corporate cultures would sooner kill the messenger than a pet project or product, so tread gingerly.

4. Admit you don’t know what you don’t know.

New technologies and markets often require new approaches. One reason why most companies fail to the make the transition from one market or technology successfully is they try to apply their existing skill sets and processes verbatim, rather than ask how or what is different than before.

The classic example is software companies transitioning from Mainframe/DOS products to Web products. In the command line world, there was no need for a design department since the user interface was a black & white command prompt. No pictures. No pointing. No colors. No need for designers. In the Web world, it’s all about using design, color and content to improve the user experience. As a result, developing a successful Web product requires different approaches and skill sets that traditional engineering organizations lack.

5. Borrow, buy or partner whenever possible. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to.

Chances are the majority of what your customers want already exists. There is very little that is truly new –it’s mostly just innovative uses of existing technology or processes. So look in parallel industries for similar products that with only slight modifications can meet your customers’ needs.

Focus on what makes you truly unique and adds value to your offering. Anything else, borrow, buy or partner for. Customers don’t care whether you developed the code or created the mold, they only care whether it meets their needs. And the best way to meet their needs is to:

6. Ask questions of your customers and observe the users.

Your opinion is worthless. What matters are what your customers think and users do. Customers may not be able to envision the solution to their problem or even clearly articulate their pain, but interview and watch enough of them at work and you should be able to identify where they spend their time and money – and whether it’s in activities that provide value or distract them from their ultimate goal.

Asking customers isn’t enough, because most people don’t even notice nor track much of what they do. Observation, and not just once but multiple times at multiple locations, is the only way to ensure you understand the issues facing them.

Just because you understand the problem, doesn’t necessarily mean you have a workable solution. The only way to know that is from prototyping.

7. A picture is worth a thousand words.

The beauty of the written or spoken word is that rarely do two people interpret them exactly the same way. That means there are typically a thousand different ways to implement the same requirements, no matter how simple, clear or detailed the initial document is.

Prototypes are cheap ways of identifying whether your product meets the market needs without building the actual product. In addition, it enables you to refine the requirements – the must haves from the nice to haves – and eliminate the what- were-you-thinkings before investing significant development or manufacturing resources.

The goal is to do the minimum amount of work required to elicit the maximum feedback. After all, if you develop a product that is missing a key feature that is only identified after it’s in production, you’ve not only wasted a lot of money but you’ve probably pissed off a few customers and lost critical time/opportunities.

8. Identify the key features – the absolute must haves that make the product sellable.

The phone is a great concept. And there are endless possibilities for features to add to the phone – conference calling, call waiting, caller ID, etc. but a phone isn’t a phone without a speaker and a microphone.

While that seems incredibly obvious, then why do so many companies build products that are the equivalent of a phone without a speaker and then wonder why they don’t sell?

They never took the time to identify and separate out the absolute must haves from the nice to haves. Instead they viewed all the requirements as being about equal and committed enough time and money to develop a phone with a microphone and call waiting, but put off the speaker till the next version.

Surprise! Surprise! The initial version flops and then investment is yanked because the “market wasn’t ready for the concept.”

Market research, prototyping and proofs of concepts help eliminate these oversights.

9. Identify and address the changes required of your organization to successfully develop, sell and support the product.

Execution is everything. It’s not enough just to have a good product, since success in the marketplace is generally the result of multiple factors. Again, identify successes in other industries with similar products and ask both the customers and vendors what was required to be successful.

In enterprise software, the implementation, e.g. change management, systems integration, etc., actually determines the success and value of the product. If you view yourself as strictly a software company or just lack the skills to successfully implement enterprise software and that’s your new market, you will most likely fail, even if you have a great product.

On the flip side, don’t forget rule # 5: Borrow, buy or partner in order to offer the complete package your customers want.

10. Get the word out!

You’ve now built a better mousetrap. It’s just a matter of time before customers and investors start throwing more money at you than the dancers at Dirty Dan’s.

Not so.

Two of the most critical components that most technology companies overlook are marketing and sales – believing the old adage if they build it, they will come. Sure, and money grows on trees.

Your message to the market should already be highly refined at this point if you followed steps one through 9. Therefore, you will just need to focus on delivering the message.

First you need to find out where to reach your audience. Second, what do they want to see, hear or feel in order to buy, try or just take the next step in the sales cycle.

Different audiences will want different types of information in different types of formats – so provide a variety of options, e.g. an ROI calculator for the CFO, a Flash presentation showing the actual user how easy it is to use or a case study illustrating how someone else succeeded with the product.

In reality, there is very little difference between executing your marketing and creating a successful product, almost all the steps illustrated above apply to developing a successful marketing campaign.

You’re Done! You can relax. You’ve successfully launched your baby.

Not so fast. Now it’s time to gather feedback and work on the next version. No one is perfect – and despite all the prototyping and proofs of concepts, there will be unexpected kinks to work out.

Most importantly, you need to carefully nurture your new product so that it can begin generating significant sales and revenue. All too often products are pushed into the market and abandoned while the company runs off in pursuit of the next big thing.

Finally, take some time to celebrate your successes and identify items for improvement and then move on. And if you need any help with steps 1 through 10, give me a call.