Archive for the ‘Product Management’ Category

Using Baseball Fans to Explain Web 2.0

As a web evangelist, I cheer the widespread adoption of the latest web techniques and technologies. As a business person, I am a little confused by the widespread use of 2.0 label on everything; Sales 2.0, Recruiting 2.0, Pizza 2.0, Beer 2.0, etc. Everything seems to become 2.0.

As a product manager, I cringe when I see a 2.0 label slapped onto something that is vague and unclear. Even worse, many are now moving towards 3.0 to discuss semantic web. For many people, they are still getting their arms around the what web 2.0 is let alone things like mashups, mobile marketing, online communities, social networking, semantic web, etc. For those of you confused, here is my baseball fan analogy to help you understand…

First there was the baseball uniform, then numbers were added, then names. Eventually, the jerseys were mass produced which the fans could take home from the stadiums. This was the equivelent of HTML.

Then the fan favorite jerseys were then sold at local retailers. This was the equivelent of email marketing. This of course led to the development of fake jerseys sold everywhere. This was SPAM.

When a buddy organizes a trip to the park and buys a 10 pack of cheap outfield tickets for his friends to tag along and drink. This is a social network. As an aside, when he bought them online, this was ecommerce.

Now, Major League Baseball does not allow you to build and order your custom named jersey(imagine a couple with Chug-a-lug & Beer Goggles on the back), but if they did, the jersey would be XML and the experience would be Web 2.0.

Imagine if MLB would imbed RFID tags in the jersey tied to an acount that would allow you to just walk into the stadium without tickets. This is RFID. If you don’t know RFID, there is the technology they have been using to track packages, groceries, and warehouse pallets. If the ticket was on a phone that was bar coded, this is mobile commerce. (Yes, they are doing it now)

Take this further and imagine that MLB took your online account of when you came to the stadium and combined it with a weather chart to figure out if you were a true “fair-weather” fan. This is a mashup.

If MLB, then took this information and sent you a 50% off promotion on your phone inviting you to attend on the next rainy day, that is mobile marketing. 

If they took that information and the next time that you came to the game, they ejected you from line because the system automatically figured out that the team had lost the last 4 games that you came to the park, that is semantic web.

You could call all of the above Baseball 2.0…

In all seriousness though, web 2.0 and the like terminology is confusing for a lot of people. I know first hand how hard it is for people, who spend their every waking working minute immersed in developing a new technology/product and/or company, to remember that everyone else doesn’t have the vocabulary or the frame of reference to “get it”. For many in the technology business, it is hard to imagine that AOL still has 6 million dial-up customers. For those of us who run marketing & product management organizations, our jobs are first to build a fantastic customer experience and then make sure we make it easily understood. Of course, it should go without saying to get it widely adopted, but that is still more art than science.

Social (Marketing) Must Evolve to Survive

A friend of mine recommended yesterday that I rewrite my BIO to reflect my expertise in social marketing. I appreciated the feedback, but it also highlighted an identity crisis that I have been struggling with since before I started this blog.  

I am looking for a strategic marketing role that leverages my experience over the last few years in product managing, evangelizing, and consulting around social media platforms for marketing. I have also been consulting in social marketing and I am getting considerable recognitition for my thought leadership in the space, but I never saw my future as an independent social marketing consultant. I haven’t figured out the consultant’s dilemna; balancing sales with delivery.

Here is my real dilemna… although I am consulting on social marketing, I really see that social marketing as an independent discipline will eventually go away. If it is succssful, I believe that ALL marketing disciplines will be socially enabled thus social marketing as a term will become redundant. I suspect that it will take a while. So for my social marketing colleagues, you can rest easy that you will have jobs for a while.

I see that Social Marketing will be elevated in the marketing portfolios to become a strategic discipline reporting to the CMO akin to Product Marketing, Product Management, Marketing Communications, Marketing Operations, and even Web Marketing. But, I also see that each of these discpilines will need to become proficient in social marketing and understand how the changing dynamics on the web will impact their individual disciplines. I think that social marketing represents a fundamental shift in buyer behavior which will require a rethinking of the marketing function at large. Social media is a catalyst, but it isn’t the actual change. Buyer expectations around information, relationships, and the very nature of transactions are evolving. I see this as another phase (in a long line) of the changes driven by deeper internet integration and evolution.

Product Marketing & Brand Management – Today, the product value proposition is designed for multi-channel, but how do you design for user generated content where you cannot control the location, context, or delivery? Social media and marketing represent a shift in the direct communications of marketing messaging to the indirect. Product Marketing will have to package product messaging to become more compact (sound bites), reusable, and repurposable to ensure sufficient distribution through social media channels; ie. blogs, social networks, digg, delicious, Youtube, etc. 

Product Management – We are already seeing the trend in Web 2.0 product management to build “lite”, component applications that are driven more by adoption that overwhelming features. These applications are built to be a point solutions, but can be scaled easily and as modules. The reasoning is that for many potential users, more is less… attractive. We are so overwhelmed with information that taking time out to learn a complicated application  is not attractive. Building just-in-time functionality to meet specific pain with the ability to add more functionality later is attractive. In reality, you are seeing agile manufacturing of web applications. We are also seeing that happen in manufacturing, services, and distribution across society. This puts more pressure on Product Management to understand the customers, identify the segments, build targeted functionality prioritized to their needs, and delivery the right experience. A much more complicated and fluid environment made more difficult when the potential markets can self identify and congregate virtually. You can miss the mark and it will be much more readily visible.

Marketing Communications – Advertising is in full retreat from the recession, but also from the fact that more messages do not translate to more sales. Actually, the inverse. SPAM has overwhelmed our email infrastructures. The key to marketing communications now is multi-channel, targeted, and coordinated messaging that catches attention, engages, and provides a specific call to action. Social media empowers the audience to tune in or tune out the message as they see fit. Marketing communications needs to adjust to the power shift in this relationship. Marketing Communicatiosn firms are even more vunerable as many of them are transaction oriented (campaigns) where the newer channels are relationship oriented (long-term, one-to-one mass customization of relationships). Marketing communications needs to evolve to more of a pull strategy versus a push strategy.

Marketing Operations – CRM, Multi-Channel Marketing, Enterprise Content Management, Measurement and Reporting, etc. all get impacted. When does a lead start? How do you measure a fluid environment? How do you manage corporate information assets that aren’t in your posession which are designed for reusablility and redistribution (blog posts are an example)? How do you measure all of the activity to develop an ROI? (This one I can answer: you should build the ROI based upon your traditional metrics. Force social marketing to justify why these activities will lead to more effective marketing, not create justification as to why you should do social marketing)

Web Marketing – Where does Corporate Online Communities come into the equation? SEO and SEM? How do you balance the shift from search to social media? How do you manage the transition from social networks to your own onlne community? Engagement, Interaction, Adoption, Momentun?

Ironic that a social marketing evangelist is advocating the end of social marketing as a discipline. However, as a marketing executive first, I believe that social marketing is really about applying the fundamentals of marketing to a new environment.

Is Your Marketing Like Teaching A Dog to Read? Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I shared a story about a professor who taught his dog to read… obviously, the dog could not read at the end of the semester, but the professor “taught” the dog. Unfortunately, this is very common in marketing, especially in emerging growth companies. The companies have very “pretty” marketing materials; website, collateral, powerpoints, but when you cannot really understand the audience, value proposition, or why they are different.

The litmus test for marketing materials is whether you can use your competitors name in your materials and it would apply. Or you could insert a company name from another industry and it reads just fine. Finally, you could insert any company name and no one understands what you do.

The real challenge is that the organization did not go through a structured exercise to map the value chain: audiences to benefits to functionality to features. Here is a high-level process to do just that:

1. Focus on identifying the market & associated segments

2. Fnd the pain – immediate call to action – for each segment; ie. this is the problem or opportunity you address; your solution = benefits

3. Communicate in the language the market understands – means you need to have a market SME, customer advisory board, or perform lots of prospect interviews to understand their needs in their language.

4. Test your messaging – social media participation, sales calls, speaking events, networking events, advisory boards, analysts, etc. Frequency and time allow you to polish your messaging. I know that I am ready when I can get through the 1st several meetings with a prospect or an investor without them finding holes in my presentation and Q&A. Doesn’t mean your offering won’t have challenges in due diligence, but if you are targeted to the right audience with the right solution, the first two meetings should be about concept, relationship, and “fit”.

5. Model your marketing on the sales process – each stage is idenitfied and marketing’s support required – One of the biggest challenges to getting the marketing materials “right” is identifying the scenarios under which it will be used. If your sales process is to work through partners, then providing a generic sales presentation won’t work. If you are selling into a specific vertical, then understanding the buying process may mean that you have to have 2 different presentations; one executive and one technical for different meetings. Collateral and sales support materials are very expensive to produce (opportunity costs) so focusing on a limited number of high-quality tools versus having a checkmark for materials is critical.

6. Focus on how to speed up the sales process – optimize, accelerate, replicate – momentum, reselling, bridging – One of the biggest challenges in any sales process is the “porpoise effect”. You build momentum and then it subsides, you resell and build momentum, and then it subsides. Most qualified buyer sales that seemingly look qualified with a need, but don’t get beyond the initial sponsor die due to lack of momentum. Either the sponsor could not sell internally or lost focus… The ability to empower your sponsor to be an evangelist will assist you in maintaining momentum. Everything in sales support should be around how do we help the potential customer make a decision faster. You will close more sales this way.

7. Participate in the early sales – look for objections – price, package, credentialling, references, technology, features/functionality, language, benefits, positioning, competitors. My biggest beef with some marketing communications people is that they don’t understand the market, customers, or the products. I want to get in front of the customers and interact with the market. I need to understand the buyer behavior and get feedback to fine tune the messaging.

8. “Save your powder” – the first set of sales to early adopters doesn’t require big marketing; focus on sales support, business development, online marketing, andPR; expensive marcom, tradeshows, events, and brochureware after the message has been tested. Save the marketing dollars till you have proofed the model and are ready to grow big. My approach to marketing budgeting is like “rolling a snowball downhill”. Make a small investment to credential your sales process;  when the market is proofed, build upon the foundation.

9. Build a customer lifecycle early. Know where you are going and how you will get there. Build towards a critical mass of referencable customers. Shrink the product’s functionality & features to slightly beyond what your target market requires. Also, make sure you set customer expectations so that you can exceed them. Make sure the roadmap is clearly articulated and scales with your customer expectations and your identified new market segments.

10. Your first set of references and referrals are the most expensive & the most valuable. Focus the organization on wowing the customer and tie all organizational goals to customer satisfaction.

Making sure your marketing “dog” can actually read is critical to scaling your business. If you have to personally evangelize to every new prospect to get them to understand the concept of your product and the value for them, you will have a very expensive sales process. Even service companies need to package their services to scale effectively.

Part 3 will address the challenges of Mid-Market companies.

Part 4 will address the challenges of Established Brands.

Web Marketing: Leveraging First Mover Advantage on the Web

Since I did a MBA research project on First Mover Advantage on the Web in 1996 for a hybrid Micro Economics & Marketing class, I have approached marketing on the web with an eye to the economic impact that the low (near zero) cost for distribution on the web would have on competition.

We have seen it in multiple online vehicles; first it was email, then application distribution, ecommerce, blogs, online communities, and now social media tools like Twitter. My research was about the challenges first movers have in creating sustainable barriers to entry for subsequent market entrants. The ability to create entry barriers for competitors directly impacts their ability to maintain profit levels (reflection, in part, of customer acquisition costs) as subsequent companies enter the market.

We are seeing in the IPhone market with applications. Someone creates a popular application and then there are four similar applications. The challenge is that there is very little in terms of barriers to entry for the competitors. The first mover can get a very limited runway to market themselves with a unique offering before the market is established. The subsequent buyers cannot really differentiate in quality. The only barrier to entry for later entrants is the number of users of an application (popularity) which provides a small advantage for the first mover.

Now, a first mover can take advantage of the web to solidify a lead if they can combine entry barriers with exit barriers. If I can get into the market before others, create a differentiation that is hard to duplicate, and find a way to make it even harder to switch (for cost or niches), then you can build upon the lead.

First mover advantage, even in that situation, is not absolute as there are large numbers of examples where later entrants, with deep pockets and brand equity, were able to catch up to the first mover. The reasoning is pretty simple. you are the market leader with a large percentage of the market, but only sell to 5% of the available market. The competitor buys 80% of the next 10% of the available market that actually buys & they all of a sudden they can catch you and become the market leader.

Here is the lesson for early stage technology companies & the tie back to the title.

  • Because the internet allows you to communicate cost effectively to large number of people, this means you have a relatively low barrier to entry into a market.
  • At this point, a potential buyer will not be able to differentiate the quality of your offering or the credibility of your firm.
  • If you pioneer a market and prove successful, you have validated the market for potential entrants.
  • If those entrants have an existing customer base & available dollars for marketing to the market, you do not have a very sustainable barrier to entry.
  • Hence, you will have to spend more of your dollars as you grow to obtain customers because the market will be more competitive & the economics of scaling communications on the internet. It is exponentially harder to get 1000 people to listen to you versus 100, and exponentially harder to get 100,000 versus 1000. Economies of scale work against you on the internet due to the messaging noise.

Ok, so if you are introducing a new product, how do you protect your advantage?

  1. Word-of-Mouth Marketing = Lower Customer Acquisition Costs – You have to drive an effective referral program over the web. Social media allows you to do that if you can get a core set of evangelists. This is fundamental to lowering your AVERAGE customer acquisition costs. Free referrals balance your costly marketing and sales costs. Don’t count on word-of-mouth marketing, though, very few companies get homeruns. Hope for the homeruns, but be prepared to manufacture runs to stay in the game until you see the right pitch.
  2. Offering Value = Adoption – you have to meet & exceed the customers expectations around the value of the offering with something they cannot get anywhere else easily. That means you cannot satisfy everyone, so target an audience who will appreciate your offering. Make sure you get them to be raving fans. This gives you a core group of evangelists. Provide features and functionality that are must-haves, not nice-to-haves. This will involve a great deal of market research to understand the difference. This means investment in technology, automation of processes, unique approaches, patents, etc. Differentiation is not absolute, but it the starting place….
  3. Pricing & Packaging = Competitve Positioning – Assume that you will have competition and that they will be strong. You need to plan on an aggressive pricing and packaging strategy that creates both barriers to entry for competitors and barriers to exit for your customers.
  4. Partnerships = Distribution – the right “big brother” partner can enable you to leverage their customer base and brand marketing power to lower your average customer acquisition costs. Partnerships are difficult to build and are time consuming to manage. If done right, you will seed the market for the partner, provide them with sufficient channel support, and assume that you will have to do most of the heavy lifting in terms of closing sales until they see success.
  5. Creating Long Term Relationships = Barriers to Exit – This is the tricky one as there is a fine line between providing customer value & building in barriers to exit; ie. contracts, location, ability to export data, feature breadth, etc. Barriers to Exit can be perceived by customers as barriers to entry with a vendor. My belief is that companies should strive to be “easy to do business with” and they should focus less on building artifical barriers to exit, but rather more on the true barrier to exit for a customer which are value-based pricing, planned commoditization, continual innovation & service. At the end of the day, if a company can provide competitive pricing for the basics, unique differentiated functionality, and provides world-class service; why would anyone switch?

My next post on this topic will be for companies who are entering an established market with a new, differentiated offering. How do you leverage the web to displace entrenched, but less capable competitors.

The Triple Crown of Web 2.0 & Online Application Development

From a product management perspective, the three major critical success factors for building online applications are Adoption, Distribution ,and Value. Notice that functionality is not on the list & I will explain why. Also, you may think I am having a product management conversation, but as with any good marketing, it has to be rooted in economics. More importantly, focusing on customer acquisition costs. 

Unless you have are building your online application as free-ware without a way to monetize the relationships (there are a good number of Silicon Valley garage & VC backed companies still doing this, also a good number of IPhone apps), then eventually you have to figure out how to make money from the application that you are building. Even if you are creating a free application to drive distribution, but you assume that at some point that you will sell something, upsell something, or advertise something; then you probably need to have thought though these issues.

1. Adoption – in a previous post, I discussed why adoption trumps functionality in Web 2.0 applications https://rosenhaft.wordpress.com/2009/05/21/in-web-2-0-software-adoption-trumps-functionality/ Bottom line is that without users, web 2.0 collaboration cannot occur. You can look at the ecosystem of twitter or facebook apps to get an idea, but it works on a micro-level, as well. If you don’t get a significant percentage of your available population to use your application, it isn’t very valuable. With near zero distribution costs on the internet, the real price is customer awareness. You have to capture their attention and interest; otherwise the value of collaborative applications is marginalized.

2. Distribution – If you are distributing your application, you would assume ubiquitous distribution, but the problem is that so does everyone else. I had coffee with a CEO recently who told me that there wasn’t a great deal of competition for their application, but when I went online to do research, I found at least 25 or so competing applications. The direct competitiveness was questionable, along with the quality, but even if you gave it away for free; it would be difficult to break through the noise without significant marketing $’s OR a partner that could distribute the application. In essense, you need a “big brother” partner to assist you in breaking through the noise so that you can overcome the barriers to market entry. The partner provides the ability to differentiate from the crowd, gain awareness, and creates an assumption of quality. This can be a technology platform vendor (Iphone, Facebook, Microsoft, Sony, etc) or it can be an industry brand that the customers already buy a complimentary offering. Giving away a free application to drive distribution is also a good strategy, as long as it is part of a larger strategy.

3. Value – you have to provide more value than the prospective user will give; whether its there time, money, attention, relationships, etc. This sounds simple, but when you take into account market segmentation, competitive factors, and other market noise, it isn’t as easy. Let’s assume that you are servicing a vertical market with a very cool web-based application that allows the customer to save 20% off their transaction costs & shave 2 hours per user a week on a particular process. No brainer, they should value this application at least $1,200 per user per month, we should charge them $600. We are done, let’s go to market…. right? Wrong!

Pricing the application is more complicated than that when you take into account the switching costs from things they are doing today, competitive offerings, customer acquisition costs, exist costs, etc.

  • You find out they are using an old windows application that they have been using for 12 years. 20% savings doesn’t really mean much to the people using it day-to-day.
  • The business owner has an annual contract for support that has another 9 months left on it so the 20% isn’t as attractive as you would think.
  • The legacy application does not have the ability to easily export the 12 years worth of data to your web application. So, even though you have used the latest technologies for creating your API, it requires professional services to transition them. Wipes out the 20% savings in the first year.

I could go on, but when you begin to think about how to launch a new web 2.0 application, even though it seems like a game-changer for the market, there are legacy issues that need to be thought through. “Build it and they will come syndrome” has tripped us a good many new improved software applications.

It is hard and costly to simplify the adoption, distribution, and value proposition, right? Yes and no. If you ask the market and potential customers, you will incur costs and time to understand and overcome the potential roadblocks, but the risk mitigation is priceless.

Some simple advise to close on:

  • Go where customer is, not where you think they are… Customer perception is your reality…
  • It is easier to sell to companies that have money… don’t be afraid of competition or large markets, but do your homework. Smaller, niche markets also can produce more revenue is the pain is greater.
  • Customers buy from the company that is easiest to do business fromwith… registration, price, package, etc.
  • Distribution on the web is about finding relationships to reach likely customers in buying mode…
  • Value is identifying pain, “must have” versus “nice to have” – we are all overwhelmed with choices, where do we focus is prioritized based on our perceived needs. Even opportunities are based upon perceived pain.
  • Emotional connection play a large part in impulse, attention, switching costs, substitutions, opportunity, & empathy – all of which play a part in buyer behavior

The single biggest mistake I see companies make in launching new online applications is that they do not think through the factors outside of their immediate control. If you had enough warning that you were going to crash your car, you could change direction or avoid a potential wreck. Involving distribution partnerships and customers earlier in the product development cycle is exactly the way to identify potential “app killers” and allow you to make that “killer app”.

In Web 2.0 Software, Adoption Trumps Functionality

The last several years have seen the greater adoption of social media and other Web 2.0 software components. These component software tools provide users with a more interactive experience, personalization, with the ability to create their own content, links, tags, navigation, etc. Additionally, you are seeing the growth of the “connected web”; web services, RSS, embeddable code, ubiquitous meta-tagging, widgets, consumable data, etc.

The proliferation of these software applications has migrated to every sector; consumer, enterprise, SMB, etc. What used to take NDA’s, sharing and modification of API’s, and endless meetings now can be accomplished with a snippet of code.

As the web transitions to more semantic driven applications and less user-interface driven, you would think that functionality would become increasingly important in applications.

In my experience, the trend is towards the opposite and that ADOPTION trumps functionality. The challenge is that we have too many options on the internet; too much data, content, search results, websites, applications, etc. The word I hear over and over is “overwhelming”.

So, if you have a very limited window of attention from your audience, why would you throw extraneous “stuff” at them hoping something would stick. Instead, take advantage of the Web 2.0 technologies and provide them with a tailored experience with just-enough functionality.

More importantly, focus on what is their motivation and interests. Not all potential buyers are the same. Don’t provide a generic website experience that meets 80% of 80% of the visitors and satisfies none. Instead, focus on identifying what a 100% of a smaller audience that you know will buy and add additonal functionality to support additional segments over time. Customers provide unsolicited referrals when you exceed their expectations and provide them a WOW! experience. This is the heart of word-of-mouth marketing. EXCEED CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS!

If you cannot exceeed the whole group, then focus on a small enough group that talks to each other and build from there. You see countless blogs and articles about how to launch products on the interet. This is the reasoning behind the axioms. You need a critical mass of associated happy customers that will tell others about it.

It is about numbers. If you satisfy 1% of a large group, that doesn’t make much of a market impact. If you satisfy 80% of a small group, you own the market. Bottom line, adoption of your solution is more critical than providing everything, including the kitchen sink.

Of course, the secret is prioritizing the “right” functionality to satisfy the customer which takes someone asking them….