Successful Product Introduction (4) - In Summary!

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.

Successful Product Introduction (3): Shaping Experiences

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

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?

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?

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?

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!!


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.

2009: The Bold New Plan

December 20th, 2008

Noticed Tom Asacker’s  Predictions for 2009  on Tom Peter’s blog. Insightful stuff.

The sudden turn of events in the markets across the globe have created what Tom (Asacker) calls as “the collective pause” in the hearts and minds of people.

In a way the “pause” presents us with a unique opportunity (and a possibility) to dig a little deeper to find out what it really is about. What really excites us. Fires us. And what we really do care about.

That means 2009 - the dawn of the new year, might actually be the time for some of us to get behind the wheels and “create a new way of living” - instead of just “making a living”. Amen!

Still early days for 3G

December 18th, 2008

I was at lunch today with an entrepreneur friend who runs a mobile content service in India.  Among other things the discussion centered on to the 3G (third generation mobile network) launch in India (refer to my earlier post). Here’re some of the key points from our discussion:

1. These are still early days for 3G in India - and no one is expecting a wind-fall in a hurry. Not in the short to mid term at least. 

2. The operators are going to start by offering 3G services to their existing high end customers. And these customers will potentially drive most of the projected 3G revenues - at least until a killer-app/ service diffuses to the center of the market.

3. SMS/ Text messaging will continue to drive bulk of VAS/ data/ marketing revenues.

4. One area that could get hugely impacted by 3G is UGC (User Generated Content) . UGC model in India is currently limited to text based content - driven largely by SMS. 3G could help service providers bring in the rich media into the mix - and help drive up the current (low) usage exponentially.

5. 3G also means that the customers will be able to access services through their broad band connections directly from the content providers ( picture WAP sites streaming rich media/ content directly onto the 3G devices).

The last point seems quite interesting. The growth of a “Direct to Consumer” style business model - outside of the “Walled Gardens” (operator controlled customer access) might just provide the balance of power in the ecosystem which is skewed acutely in the favor of operators in the current context!

A gambler’s game

December 17th, 2008

Not sure of the source - but this one just bubbled up from the memory bank:

“Courage does not mean absence of fear. Courage means moving ahead in spite of fear”.

Interestingly, the attribute “courage”  is also common between an “ace” gambler and an entrepreneur.

Just like an entrepreneur, a good gambler is keenly aware of the opportunity (big stakes), has the skill, passion and courage to make each of her moves count, a sharp demeanour/ presence that can inspire awe & confidence on the table, an astute understanding of the risks at hand, and lastly -  she always plays to win.

But for one key difference:

An entrepreneur - instead of playing to always win - always plays win-win.

Entrepreneurship is inclusive. Entrepreneurs take the risk to seize new opportunities, develop/ find required skills, build an entire ecosystem from ground up, execute relentlessly, create new markets, and by virtue of which, share the wealth across the whole value chain (inside and outside of the business).

But what about many of us (entrepreneurs) who like to keep all the aces close to the chest while playing the game?

Well, gamblers do win at high stakes games all the time. But that just might not be entrepreneurship.