Archive for January, 2009

Successful Product Introduction (4) - In Summary!

Monday, January 26th, 2009

This post is last in the series on successful product introduction. So here they are, the three key ideas/ pointers for successful new product/ concept introductions:

1. World-Views - we all live in our own independent worlds, with our unique set of predispositions (read world-views). But each new experience that we undergo has the power to shape/ color our existing world-views - resulting in a dynamic of constantly changing, evolving worlds.

So how do you Ms. Entrepreneur or Marketer, make your new product/ concept an integral part of these evolving worlds?

2. Forward Thinking - provides the answer. Fresh, unconstrained, outside-in thinking, resulting in a Remarkable Story framed in an existing world-view of (and for) a narrow group of customers. Envisioning , Intuition, Observation and Learning as You Go - are some of the operative phrases to build out your business scenarios/ use cases here - leading up to the creation of highly relevant and remarkable stories.

3. Shaping Experiences - the fact that how a customer chooses to react to a certain story/ concept can not be predicted beforehand…but a relentless and unceasing focus on & observation of these initial set of experiences (or satisfactions) can help you fine-tune your stories in a way that you start impacting (read ” training” and “shaping”) the experiences of not only your initial set of customers (read early adopters) but also the mainstream.

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To end, here are some relevant questions highlighting each of the ideas indicated above:

What things (objects and experiences) ”constituted” your world 10 years back? 5 Years back? Last month?

What category or industry Apple Computers belongs to? Technology? Music? Media? And how did they choose to become a part of these industries/ categories?

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What percentage (and demographic groups) of Americans were supporting President Obama when he started out as a candidate? And which key (demographic) groups joined in as his supporters in the months that followed? Why? What did he specifically do to make that happen?

Think about it.

Successful Product Introduction (3): Shaping Experiences

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Who came first - you or the world around you? Obvious answer is the World.

But that just might not be true after all. We Create (and sometimes with lot of effort) our own world around us - at least at the psychological level.

The fact that we tend to view the world outside of us through our own  “lenses” - colored by our conditioning and experiences - means that from a psychological standpoint at least, we all live in (and have created) our own private worlds.

Purely from a scientific view though - by design human beings behave like Perfect Learning Systems: we use our sensory inputs (the data) to train our minds (the system) on a continual basis - creating/ shaping our worlds as we go.

It follows then if we (read our sensory organs) are exposed  to an alien concept long enough - chances are that we will end up training ourselves (read getting favorably predisposed) in the new concept in quick time. And this “training” overtime becomes what we call as our Experience or - the very World we live in!

This truth is also the central idea (and also the Pointer # 3) for any new (and successful) product/ solution introduction.

So what can you - the entrepreneur and/ or the marketer -  do to ensure that your product/ widget is “in and an integral part” of the world your potential customers are “creating” around themselves?

The answer lies in the “Incessant and Singular Focus on (and Observation of) the Experience” of your customer when they are exposed to your product - and that only. Period. 

Successful marketers - always design their products (read messaging) to SHAPE the experiences of their potential customers. The exercise starts as an experiment with a “high potential” set of customers (also read my other post on Forward Thinking) - which keeps getting fine-tuned with an ongoing feedback collection from these customers - until the product (starts to) becomes part of the world (and of the repository of favorable experiences) of a much broader set of customers than you intially started with.

If you watched President Obama take his oath for the Presidency yesterday - with millions watching (with misty eyes) from around the world - you’d know what I am saying!

Successful Product Introduction (2): Forward Thinking

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

“Ever worked on a (existing) Solution looking for a (new) Problem?” How often do you get sucked into this black-hole of retrofitting (read redefining or repositioning) an existing solution/ product/ service into new business scenarios (read target segments) - and then wait in vain for the phone (and cash registers) to start ringing?

As you can tell it’s very tough indeed to make a success out of an existing dud. I am sure there are many exceptions out there - but none that could be associated with any meaningful “break-throughs” or “disruptions”.

Which brings me to Pointer # 1 for Successful New Product Introductions: “Forward Thinking” (have written on this Concept in one of my previous posts).

When working with an existing solution/ product, it is very difficult (if not impossible) for a marketer  to detach herself from taking the product/ business centric (inside-out) approach, and do a genuine blue-sky, outside-in type of thinking required to be able create highly ”relevant” and “remarkable” stories.

Which is why most “recastings” of old stories are doomed for failure right from the start - or at best help the marketer to extend the shelf life of the product/ line (typically through what is called as line/ brand extensions).

Forward Thinking Concept, in a stark contrast, is driven by fresh, unconstrained, outside-in view of the marketer - leading to the creation of highly relevant and remarkable stories - and not the other way round.

Unlike the product centric thinking (which leans heavily on the past data), a Forward Thinking marketer or entrepreneur almost always starts with an INTUITIVE feel of a certain trend, or the hint of a change in the worldview of a narrow segment (or a class of customers).  Followed by a quick hypothesis of the needs/ requirements,  and a matching story (read product/ feature set) designed to appeal to the world-view of this “class of customers”.  

The marketer then proceeds to take the story to a few of these customers (read sponsors/ visionaries) to test out the hypothesis.

If the story works then the concept is taken to a broader customer base, if not then the story is fine-tuned or even killed…and the marketer starts over. And the cycle repeats again. 

 In summary, Forward Thinking Concept for New Product Introductions flows something like this:

Prevailing Worldview/ Experience –> Potential Needs/ Requirements (driven by Intuition/ Personal Experience of the Entrepreneur/ Marketer) –> A Compelling Story Framed in the Prevailing World-view (Product/ Service) –> Shaped Experience/ Altered World-View (because of the “story”)

As you’d notice, Forward Thinking for a successful new product introduction starts from an existing “world-view”/ experience of a customer (group), and ends with a permanently changed/ altered “world-view” of this (and overtime much larger) group.

Think Sony Walkman. Think Apple iPOD. And very recently - President (Elect) Obama.

Think Again.

Struggling with New Product Introductions?

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Why is it so difficult for a marketer or a business to come up with a successful concept/ product launch?

One answer comes from the world of psychology. It was Sigmund Freud (I believe) who argued that ”There are as many Worlds in this Universe as the number of People.” Which means - contrary to what we imagine - we all create, live (in) and experience our own independent worlds!

How do you then, the marketer, create a product/ concept that appeals to so many (perhaps billions) different worlds (or worldviews) at the same time?

Well, it’s not easy by any stretch of imagination, but yes - it’s possible.

Think Apple iPOD. Think Disney. Think Google. Think Nike. Think President (elect) Obama.

NB: I plan to offer a series of pointers on this interesting subject in my next few posts. So please do come back to check out this space!

Ethics, Morals & Values: Oxymoron All?

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

In a stark reminder and throwback to the Enron story - Satyam Computers, one of India’s largest (and highly rated) IT  services firms, in a stunning disclosure  yesterday said that they have been guilty of overstating their financial numbers for the past many years - an amount which is easily in excess of billions of dollars!

In one stroke (and one day) - over 50,000 employees, millions of Satyam shareholders, India’s global reputation, and the sanctity of the whole regulatory mechanism in India (board, auditors, institutional investors, government) stand at the cross-roads today.

It has been a steep fall for Satyam - from sublime to ridiculous. 

What makes it more shocking is that the Indian IT services industry (including Satyam) has been the role model/ poster child for corporate governance, ethics, meritocracy and professionalism for entrepreneurs and businesses of all types for over a decade now.

Having been part of the Indian IT industry, personally I am both shocked and angry. But what I find more unsettling is that - just as the ”quantum of blind risk” taken on by the Wall Street Banks surfaced only after the subprime bubble had burst - had the global markets not tanked, no one would have known, bothered, or even cared if there was anything wrong going on at Satyam!  

Which means the dictum - “you are not a thief unless you are caught stealing” - continues to drive the ethical/ moral compass for many of us - apparently including the Founders of Satyam.

And that raises an interesting observation - between “what is legally right” and “what is morally right” lies a huge grey area. And businesses (and the decisions they make) usually happen within the boundaries of this grey area…

While we all could easily and objectively agree on ”what is legally right” - but “what is morally right” is far more personal and complex…as what is morally right for you - is perhaps right for you only!

Business Resolutions for 2009?

Monday, January 5th, 2009

This is my first post of 2009 - so here’s wishing you all a very happy new year!

As every new year brings in the hope of a fresh start - it is in order that we begin with some business resolutions/ ideas to get our clocks ticking:

1. Conserve cash - I know it’s an old hat but it’s importance can’t be overstated. Has someone also spoken to you about the ill-effects of deflation lately?

2. Do NOT stop investing - now this might sound counter-intuitive especially in context of the point above - but “less money” if invested “rightly” could achieve far more (more in point # 5 below)

3. Revisit your marketing strategy on a PRIORITY - which basically means refine/ rework the story you are taking to market - we are operating in a far different world (read world-view) than what it was a few months back

4. “Frugal” is in fashion again…cut your costs but with one CLEAR exception - any costs incurred that result in disproportionate gains in incremental revenues are good costs…

5. Make the test of “disproportionate increase in incremental revenues” an investment philosophy - pass everything through this lens: R&D, marketing, customer service, and even HR?

6. Do cut on your training budget but NOT on the training. Switch to other low cost options such as ASP/SaaS style elearning  or online training.

7. If you MUST lay-off people to get your cost structure in line with the contracting demand - start at the very TOP, you can achieve a lot in one fell swoop here!

8. Start a PURPLE COW (remarkable new products for the very edges of the market) FUND - one sure fire way to hold back your stars and potentially land up with at least one block-buster by the time the market turns.

9. Invite your stars and odd-balls, entrepreneur types currently hidden in the woodwork of your company to concieve, create and launch remarkable new products for the enthusiasts/ early adopters at the edges of the market.

10. Depending on what your context is - well thought out new stories/ products around Health, Wealth and Kids would always do well - recession or not. Period.

11. Better still…launch something cool for women - but please insist on a woman running the business for you!

12. Get Tom Peters or a Seth Godin to address your executive/ sales teams! There is no better time than this to have these guys ignite new energy/ fire in your top teams - but if you can’t manage it, then at the very least - buy their books and have your teams read them!!

13. For starters - read (re-read if you’ve already read) Tom’s Reimagine and Purple Cow by Seth Godin. These are extraordinary books and I guarantee you that they will change your perspective on business and perhaps life.

14. If you are in India or any other emerging market - focus your energies (read launch some purple cows)at the Bottom of the Pyramid. Countries like India are still banking on a growth of over 7% this fiscal purely on the strength of BOP!

15. And lastly, worst might not be over yet - so pace yourself if you are an early stage firm burning huge pile of cash every month…the cash registers may not start ringing in a hurry!

And Yes we Can! Have a great year!!