Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The mind of the strategist

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

In the classic - The Mind of the Strategist, Kenichi Ohmae argues that ”insight”  - the intuitive and creative element of the human mind - and NOT the “rational, numbers driven view of the analyst” - is often behind the strategies that have extraordinary impact in the marketplace. He also avers that this natural, instinctive strategist is a dying breed, pushed to the sidelines by numbers oriented strategic and financial planners!

I can not agree more.

In some of my earlier posts, I have written extensively about concept of Forward Thinking - which points exactly to this capability as a qualification for an organization to be able to launch remarkable products and services in the marketplace.

So, an early Intuition - when tested on the ground in the marketplace - yields to what Ohmae calls as ‘Insight’. Often highly disruptive of the status quo.

Just do it!

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Too many marketers spend too much of their precious time laboring over a grandiose, cumulatively exhaustive, integrated marketing plan (!),  before they could do anything about it. In my experience, most of it stays on their spreadsheets without ever seeing the light of the day.

What might work better though is that once you have figured out a general sense of direction - then beat that inertia and quickly start running. Which simply means: run that email campaign, spruce up your brochure, make those calls, do that event, upgrade a webpage, round up some sales guys to chat about that new offering…however tactical it might sound. Because this, and only this, is your moment of truth - making touch with people who pay to keep you in business - day after day.

Seth Godin also has a one line advice on this subject. And I can not agree more.

So get over that vague feeling of “have I got it right yet” or “I am sure there’s more to it” right now - and just do it!

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The thing about segmentation

Monday, February 16th, 2009

I was in the city of Kolkata last week moderating a panel for an audience largely consisting of Heads or Principals of the leading Schools. Among other things, I also noticed that most of the School Heads in the audience knew each other very well - fairly evident from the bonhomie and back-slapping in view during the coffee and lunch breaks.

If you were a business, marketing your story to the Schools in Kolkata, you don’t need an MBA to tell that as soon as you sign up your first client from this community - others will generally follow as long as you execute well on your story. Why? Because your story is so clearly and immediately referenceable in the context.

What if you went after schools based in another part of India - say Bangalore (in the State of Karnataka) with Kolkata Schools as your only clients? Would it be as easy to secure an entry into this group? I doubt that. For the simple reason that the Bangalore Schools have no way to get a “credible” and “immediate” reference of your story. But with some struggle (read good sales effort) you could still manage it as - however dilute it may be - the story is still referenceable at least from a cultural standpoint. 

But what happens if you train your sights on Schools in China? or the States? The model breaks completely. Your Indian story may not have any referenceability with the School community in these regions.

The ‘ability to reference’ then becomes a critical data-point for every marketer to test the veracity or the consistency of their ”target groups”. Which means if you find that a customer/ cluster from a certain target group can not credibly reference your story with some one else in the group, it could well be a red flag indicating a broken segmentation exercise.

Even In the world of Internet or online marketing, marketers typically use what is called as viral marketing  (using a sticky concept with a pre-designed hook/ idea virus) to ”zero-in” or uncover a high potential target group - which is nothing but a segment or community that is able to reference your story with each other! Same idea but a different application.

Human Frailty and Marketing

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

My young toddler asked me an interesting question the other day: “How can Lord Hanuman (a Hindu God and a Noble Hero) carry the whole mountain on his hand?”

It is not important what I answered him, nonetheless, here is an interesting observation: until he asked me this question or sometime before that, he was probably not aware of the fact that he can NOT lift a mountain - or that only a God can perform such a feat!

If he’s not already, very soon he will also realize that he can not fly without wings, walk on the water,  can not reach the stars…

For most of us growing up means - discovering our limitations and frailties every day of our lives…

Wonder what were folks like Graham Bell, Wright Brothers, Edison, Lincoln, Gandhi and more recently Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and President Obama, thinking when they did, what they did?

Great marketing or entrepreneurship always starts by challenging an existing point of view or a belief, and in doing so, necessarily transcends all the frailties or limitations associated with the human mind around that concept.

And that , by the way, is also the 101 for a course in performing miracles or doing great marketing!

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.

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?

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.

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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!


Monday, December 29th, 2008

It’s tough to be out there in the market right now. It does not matter if you are the CEO of a billion dollar global organization - or  are managing a 10 person shop offering the window cleaning services for the high rises in the neighbourhood.

One simple search on Google will bring up hundreds of articles/ blogs full of all kinds of advices and prescriptions - from management gurus, economists, professors, journalists - basically anyone with a point of view on the subject. And most of these are relevant, well researched, accurate and  well meaning.

But make no mistake about it - much as these are “insights” into (and for) the future, they are also in the HINDSIGHT. And hindsight as you know, is usually the right-sight!

To put it differently, is it possible for us to bank on the past to reliably predict future outcomes?

Businesses of all types and sizes, have traditionally relied on the analysis of the past data to predict future trends. The bigger you are, bigger your staff teams of analysts, consultants, marketers and accountants -churning out reams of reports and slides - dishing out the best and worst scenarios for the executives to plan the business.

Most of our current management thinking is also well steeped into this reality -  institutions such as business schools and Fortune firms breed and train brilliant analysts/ strategists thriving on the past (and the availability of) data.

And that’s partly the reason why most of us are feeling like the deer caught in the headlights in the current market scenario.

To be sure, businesses still need the best practices and other management tools & techniques as we head into a new phase - but what we need most in the current situation is what I call as the “Forward Thinking”.

And as any entrepreneur (or anyone with that bent of mind) will tell you - forward thinking is tough.  How tough - the events unfolding around us for the past many months have given us some good hints.

Forward thinking does not mean that you need to switch to the tarrot cards to run your business!  What it means though is that all bets are off. You will have to take many decisions that have no precedence, no hard data & analysis to draw support from - and even if you are left feeling a little cold, vulnerable and out on a limb - you will have to still make a call, press ahead and execute.

Forward thinking also means that the much vaunted data driven thinking becomes but an input to largely a seat-of-the-pants/ intuition based model - with a very strong emphasis on the execution.

And this new normal is mostly about courage, emotional fortitude and an appetite for handling tremendous amount of uncertainty.

If you are an entrepreneur - this might seem very familiar to you. And this might be indeed the time for the “entrepreneur type” to get into the corner office and steer the business. I do believe that Businesses/ Institutions, that have made huge investments in building the entrepreneurial talent and culture in the past will thrive - while many others that have not - will flounder, and many will completely disappear from the marketplace if they don’t get the right people at the top fast enough.

Many have spoken of the new world order in the past - and the need for transforming ourselves to be prepared for that.

Well, it’s now or never. The operating model just changed from “aim-ready-shoot” to “shoot-shoot-shoot”!

Welcome to the new world of business.

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