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Strategic marketing framework

The ultimate building block...

Want to know the seven commandments of influence?

The father of influence, Robert Cialdini, will show you the way...

Injecting some Maslow into your Marketing

... ouch! (but it's well worth it)

What is customer segmentation?...

...and pass the aspirin while you're at it...

Your product stinks but your customers LOVE it! Huh?

"But how could that possibly be?  And even if our product has a few flaws, if our customers don't seem to mind, what's the big deal?"
-Former Product Manager of $250mm product line; currently busboy at favorite childhood diner 

Surfing for your blind-spots with your product (My product's got flaws?  What flaws?)
Bottom line is that you & your customers have come to accept many of your product's and your product category's limitations - the parts of it that, well, are a drag... but a tolerable drag.  The scary thing is that you and most of your customers are not even aware of these "drags" because they've simply always been that way.

<beginning of annoying analogy>  It's kind of like if you were a fish... and since you grew up in the water, and all you've ever experienced was living in the water, would water really exist for you?  Would it not ostensibly be "invisible" to you, Mr. Fish, since it has always been there? <end of annoying analogy>  

So given that many of your product's flaws are invisible to you & your customers, it's usually not until someone else - nearly always someone from outside your industry - introduces a new product or innovation that leaves your product in the dust, that you come to realize how blind you have been.  Think Apple and digital music, Netflix/streaming video and movie rentals / cable TV, cell phones and land-line phones, IKEA and traditional furniture stores... you get the picture.

At some point in our careers, we are all guilty of falling asleep at the wheel...  and even perhaps with a little drool on our chins...  these "leapfrog" innovations redefine the dimensions by which you & your customers come to evaluate the products in your category.  And sometimes the very definition of the product category itself may shift.

The challenge is that you can talk to your customers until you're blue in the face about your products and about their needs and desires, and chances are that none of your customers will point the way towards product-leapfrog stardom. Why?  Because your customers are as blind as you are.  Like you, they can't see what has always been.  If all I've ever experienced is cars having steering wheels, how could I ever consider the possibility of cars not having steering wheels?  I.e., that there could be other means by which one could maneuver a car.

How to Identify Your Product Blind Spots
The first thing you need to accept is that you will not be able to identify your product blind spots.  That's why they're your blind spots!  So, what you need is a little help... to borrow the eyeballs of an outsider - someone who is completely alien to your product or category.  Globalization has no doubt made finding such eyes more difficult, but you don't necessarily have to travel to the other end of the globe to procure such vision.

All you have to do is locate folks who have never experienced your product or product category, and are thus not "handicapped" like you and your customers are.  And how do you locate such people?  Often times it's as simple as looking at the typical profiles of your customers and identifying people who have wildly different profiles from them.
For example, if your product is typically consumed by teens and tweens, go talk to folks at an old age home (seriously!). If your service is most used by urban families, go talk to childless families who live in rural parts of the country.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but you will gain access to a new way of viewing your product that was previously unavailable to you.  The great thing is that in many cases you can leverage the wonders of the Internet to connect with such "misfits" and access a new way of seeing from the comforts of your tidy little pod at work.  And, once you've aggregated the insights and alternative perspectives you've gathered, you can then share these ideas with your customers... and stand back while some truly innovative concepts begin to formulate.  It's pretty amazing what can evolve.  
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts or questions.

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How well does your product speak (SCREAM!) its value to customers?

Shy products are losing products.  Your product must SHOUT! its value to customers on an ongoing basis.  Whether your product is an app, an insurance policy, an energy-saving service or providing IT support, it is essential that you develop a strategy to communicate the value your product is providing customers on a recurring basis, particularly as part of a customer's bill.  This is especially true for products that’s value is often “invisible”, easily “taken for granted”, or simply “forgotten over time” by customers.  And there are many, many products that fall under these categories... many.

Case Study: the Clean Master Android smartphone app 
While I would only give the Clean Master app a B+ on the “Value Shout-Out” scale, it serves as a solid example.  Clean Master is one of the many apps that cleans out your phone’s junk files and boosts your phone’s memory - it’s actually one of the best such apps available.  

Best Practice #1: communicate the value your service is providing to your customer on an ongoing basis.
Clean Master’s junk-file cleaning feature does a pretty good job here.  It clearly indicates before pressing the green “clean” button how much space will be freed up by deleting the junk files from my phone - 284MB. (See figure 1 below)

Fig 1: Clean Master - pre-cleaning junk files


After pressing the green button, I receive confirmation that the cleaning was successful.  Importantly, I'm told not only how much junk it hauled away - 284MB - but also how much TOTAL junk it has cleaned for me since I started using the app - 1.62GB (see figure 2 below).  For many "invisible" products this TOTAL lifetime value provided by the product to the customer can be an essential communication touch point.  

Fig 2: Clean Master - post-cleaning junk files

Best Practice #2: make the value provided tangible, easy to understand, and motivating.
This practice is one of the reasons I give Clean Master a B+ vs. an A when it comes to the “Value Shout-Out”.  It’s critical, critical, critical! that the value you communicate to users is expressed in terms they can relate to and that they will find motivating.

One method for uncovering this is by looking at the value you've ascribed, putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, and asking, “So what?  What does this mean?  Why should I care?  How does this benefit me?”

Turning back to our Clean Master example, where Clean Master falls short is the 284MB of junk it just cleaned from my phone and the 1.62GB in lifetime phone garbage-dumping may very likely mean little to me.  For many users, megabytes (MBs) are an abstract concept, and could easily leave them thinking, “OK, you cleaned 150MB of junk from my phone… so what?  Why should I continue using this?”

Now if Clean Master communicated what the freed-up space enabled for the user, then we’d be talking.  How about a faster phone?  How about longer battery life?  Translating MBs into more tangible things like more space to hold songs, videos, or apps would also help bring to life why “Mr. User” should care about the 150MBs that were just freed up…  the more specific, relevant, and motivating to the user the better.

Best Practice #3: be sure your billing statements are choc-full of value communications.
This practice speaks to the most important "When?" for communicating the value your product has provided to customers.  When people are asked to part with their money in return for using your product or service, it's crucial this "painful" experience is counterbalanced by clear communication that shows & reminds them of the value they are receiving in return for the money they are paying.  This is one of those "moments of truth" in which your customers will implicitly or explicitly weigh the benefits they're receiving from your product with the money they're paying, and you want to help them close the door on this internal dialogue as swiftly as possible.

Best Practice #4: take advantage of cross-selling opportunities.
This final practice is one that the Clean Master app tends to do a good job with, and that is cross-selling other relevant partner products or features of the product itself after communicating the value it has provided.

In the example provided below, after hauling away my phone’s junk and providing me with the “CLEAN” check-mark, Clean Master “cross-sold” its App-Manager feature.  App Manager is a terrific feature and is also highly relevant to its junk-cleaning feature.  The feature allows me to further free up phone space by easily identifying apps that I haven’t been using and uninstalling them.  Very valuable, and very much on-point.

Fig 4: Clean Master - post-cleaning junk files - App Manager

That's all for now.  More on communicating product value to come.  As always, let me know your thoughts, questions, and please share examples of products you feel do (or don’t do) a good job of communicating their value.   I look forward to hearing from you!

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Getting to know your product

There are few greater career levers in marketing and product management than having a deep understanding of your products & their consumers.  When colleagues, partners, and management see that you've gained such mastery, your ability to influence & drive business decisions grows substantially.

One method I've found for quickly infusing yourself with a healthy dose of product insight is running your product through what I've dubbed the ProductBuddyTM tool (think of it as the equivalent to a nice cuddling session with your product).  ProductBuddyTM can be especially powerful for helping you quickly get up to speed on a new product.

ProductBuddyTM is powerful because it not only equips you with critical insight into your product's category, but also provides you with:
  • Ideas for making product enhancements & innovations 
  • Ideas for improving your marketing strategy & marketing programs 
  • Visibility into aspects of your product where you require greater insight & understanding

ProductBuddyTM Tool & universal product attributes 
The ProductBuddyTM tool is used for assessing your product category across a number of universal product dimensions & attributes – by universal, I mean those dimensions & attributes that can be used to describe any product or service category, from productivity apps for your iPhone to vacation rentals and dish-washing detergent.

Examples of universal product dimensions & attributes include:
  • Consumer interest level.  Cars would represent a product category with very high consumer interest levels while car oil would be on the very low-end of the scale.  
  • Ease with which consumers can experience the product's value.   Insurance products would be on the “difficult” end of the scale as compared to pain relievers such as Tylenol or Advil on the “easy”-end.  
  • Aesthetics & design importance.  I'd put sneakers on the high end of this scale and home-repair tools on the lower end.  When was the last time you purchased a wrench because of its vibrant hue and charming shape?   
  • Pleasure producer vs. pain & stress reducer.   Restaurants & televisions would go on the pleasure-producing end of the spectrum in contrast with mental-health therapy on the pain- & stress-reducing side.  

Example of the ProductBuddyTM tool in action: College

ProductBuddy: College Example

While I've only included a sample of universal product attributes in our "college" example, just from looking through the scoring you can immediately get a feel for the dynamics of the college “product category”:
  • College: a difficult, high-stakes, extremely pricey purchase with profound influence upon one’s identity and sense of self.  Now imagine running a product category like "toothpaste" through the same exercise... same product dynamics as college?  Certainly not.   

List of universal product dimensions & attributes for ProductBuddyTM Tool
While the list below is by no means exhaustive, it includes enough different types of product dimensions to provide you with a well-rounded understanding of the dynamics of your product category.

A few important notes about universal product dimensions & attributes before you start scoring your product category using this list:
  • Some are very much associated with specific stages in the consumer/purchase life-cycle (demand/interest, research & selection, purchase, installation, usage, maintenance, re-purchase, disposal, etc.)
  • Some are more relevant to internal, organizational considerations while others are externally focused on the consumer and the market for your product.
  • Some are more relevant to certain product categories than to others.        

Universal Product Dimension / Attribute Relevant Stage(s) in Consumer Lifecycle
Consumer interest level (cars vs. car oil) NA
High/Low price point NA
Number of scenarios / use cases in which product is used/needed NA
High/low purchase frequency - e.g., car vs. toilet paper NA
Social pressure / reflection of one’s identity related to product category (e.g., type of car you drive vs. brand of rubber bands you use) NA
Most important reasons consumers become interested in product (key triggers)  Demand/Interest
Importance of aesthetics & design (form vs. function) NA
Provides Pleasure vs. Reduces Pain/Stress/Risk/Loss  NA
Number of options/different features  NA
# of different pricing configurations NA
Predictability of demand for product NA
High/low effort - physical / mental energy required Relevant to each part of lifecycle
Speed & ease-of-access to information would want to have/know Research & Selection
Ease of communicating benefits of product Research & Selection
Cost of channels that can effectively market product Research & Selection
# of specific features that drive bulk of purchase selection decisions Research & Selection
Easy to assess/research pricing; ease of making product comparisons Research & Selection, Purchase
Importance of Price in determining purchase decision Research & Selection, Purchase
Emotion-based/Logic- or Functional-based Research & Selection, Purchase
(Perceived) Risk & consequences of making a bad purchase (e.g., purchasing a used car vs. a piece of fruit) Research & Selection, Purchase
Ease of making & completing purchase Purchase
Cost of channels that can effectively sell product Purchase
Steepness of product learning curve  Research & Selection, Usage
Easy to use/complex Usage
High/low post-purchase costs & maintenance Usage
Speed at which product fills given customer need/achieves customer goal Usage
Value derived by product per unit of effort (mental or physical) Usage
Speed in which value can be derived from product (e.g., eating chocolate vs. SEO) Usage
Level of pleasure derived while using (mental, physical) Usage
High/low-touch Usage
Ease of receiving & setting up product Usage
Ease-of-seeing value provided by product Usage
Cost of channels that can effectively service product Usage
Diversity of consumption patterns for product - does everyone use or consume product same way or is their great variability? Usage
Ease of repurchasing product Repurchase
# of ways consumers can currently repurchase product Repurchase
Main reasons why consumers do not repurchase product Repurchase
Ease of disposing of product Disposal

How should I use this list?
  1. Copy the list into a program like Excel, and score your product across each dimension. (Feel free to skip those dimensions that are not relevant to your product category)
  2. Add more dimensions to the list and score your product across those as well. (Just by going through the list you'll come up with additional dimensions for assessing your product category) 
  3. For each dimensions, ask yourself whether there is an opportunity for enhancing your product or improving your marketing or operations.  For example,  

...and before I go
Please, please let me know if you have any questions - shoot me an email, leave a comment below, etc. More to come on this topic. Getting to the essence of your product -- to that the juiciest part of the steak -- is where the greatest opportunities await.

Recommended books for getting to know your product better


Also, check out all of my business book recommendations.

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Can you afford your new brand positioning? Ask HSBC, the former "World's Local Bank"

It happens time & time again... some bright, creative marketers or agency folks devise a clever new brand positioning for a company or product... so far, so good... The problem, however, is that the clever new positioning rarely gets vetted, analyzed or market-tested to determine the associated benefits and costs (one-time and ongoing).  And, of course, the bitter irony is that the more successful the new positioning is the more money the company may lose as the operating costs associated with the new positioning run out of control.

Case in Point: HSBC -  fka "The World's Local Bank"
HSBC invested millions and millions of dollars back in the early 2000s to "plant a chip" in the minds of consumers that it was, "The World's Local Bank".  And, the bank was quite successful in its campaign as evidenced by the millions of people who would pass by an HSBC branch and instead of saying, "let's stop off at the HSBC ATM," they would utter, "let's stop off at the ATM of the world's local bank" (okay, perhaps I'm embellishing a bit, but the new positioning was quite successful).

But only a few years later, HSBC discovered something rather unfortunate.  The ongoing investment in marketing & operations to support HSBC's "World's Local Bank" positioning was outweighing the benefits. The negative ROI of the new positioning was going to cause the global bank to become much, much smaller. Think "The World's Local Bank" without the word, "World".
HSBC: The World's Local Bank.  
Not pretty, especially to shareholders.   The company was gushing money, and, in a post-Lehman Brothers world, even bank's like HSBC which had successfully weather the financial storm-of-the-century were still extremely vulnerable.

What?!?  My local HSBC branch has no phones?  The Cost of Branding Success...
HSBC's "World's Local Bank" brand positioning was so successful that even a few years after ditching it, many people, including fifteen-year customers like myself, still thought HSBC was the undisputed king of glocal* banks (i.e. the world's local bank).

Which brings us to a few days ago when I needed to call my local HSBC branch to find out whether the only branch employee with the power to guarantee signatures was in the office.  Despite my best Google ninja-searching, the only phone number I could find was HSBC's general customer service number - i.e., the 800 number that connects customers to low-cost call centers typically located 1,000+ miles from my local branch in New York City.  As I learned from my subsequent joyful visit to my branch, local branches no longer provided contact numbers to their local banking customers.

How could The World's Local Bank not provide customers with the phone numbers of its local branches?!?  I was outraged... and as I found out only a few hours later, the answer was quite simple.  HSBC was no longer the world's local bank.  It was just another huge, impersonal bank with a new brand positioning that was apparently so powerful, so captivating that I cannot even remember it.  And, of course, just like any other enormous, impersonal bank, the whole notion of local anything, including the phone numbers of local branches was no longer necessary.  HSBC now has a new image to uphold - one of "global impersonalism". Local phone numbers begone.

Recommended reading

*In case you're wondering, yes, it was painful for me to go with an over-used business buzz word like "glocal," but how much better the sentence flows with its inclusion :)

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21 Great Questions to Generate New Product Innovations

As I always say, if you can't beat 'em, re-publish 'em - with the proper sourcing, of course :)   With a career that has focused deeply on product (management, marketing, development), I'd like to think I'm quite the connoisseur of the finest of writings on such topics.  Below is a terrific set of questions for getting you out of your box and into your mind's innovation lab.  The questions were first published in an HBR article in December 2007.  Enjoy.

21 Great Questions for Developing New Products
“De-average” buyers and users
  1. Which customers use or purchase our product in the most unusual way?
  2. Do any customers need vastly more or less sales and service attention than most?
  3. For which customers are the support costs (order entry, tracking, customer-specific design) either unusually high or unusually low?
  4. Could we still meet the needs of a significant subset of customers if we stripped 25% of the hard or soft costs out of our product?
  5. Who spends at least 50% of what our product costs to adapt it to their specific needs?

Explore unexpected successes
  1. Who uses our product in ways we never expected or intended?
  2. Who uses our product in surprisingly large quantities?
  3. Look beyond the boundaries of our business
  4. Who else is dealing with the same generic problem as we are but for an entirely different reason? How have they addressed it?
  5. What major breakthroughs in efficiency or effectiveness have we made in our business that could be applied in another industry?
  6. What information about customers and product use is created as a by-product of our business that could be the key to radically improving the economics of another business?

Examine binding constraints
  1. What is the biggest hassle of purchasing or using our product?
  2. What are some examples of ad hoc modifications that customers have made to our product?
  3. For which current customers is our product least suited?
  4. For what particular usage occasions is our product least suited?
  5. Which customers does the industry prefer not to serve, and why?
  6. Which customers could be major users, if only we could remove one specific barrier we’ve never previously considered?

Imagine perfection
  1. How would we do things differently if we had perfect information about our buyers, usage, distribution channels, and so on?
  2. How would our product change if it were tailored for every customer?
  3. Revisit the premises underlying our processes and products
  4. Which technologies embedded in our product have changed the most since the product was last redesigned?
  5. Which technologies underlying our production processes have changed the most since we last rebuilt our manufacturing and distribution systems?
  6. Which customers’ needs are shifting most rapidly? What will they be in five years?

Recommended reading

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