Archive | March, 2013

Are You Ready?

29 Mar

I ran a focus group yesterday to record product users (in this case 18 year olds) giving our product glowing endorsements.

What I captured on film instead is two of the most opinionated teenagers you’ll ever meet bashing our product.

These outspoken attendees called the product trivial, degrading, insulting.  You can hear the tension in my voice on the recording, the strain of me nodding my head and asking “explain further…” when all I wanted to do was lash back.  They’re wrong and I know it.

But it doesn’t matter what I know. Or what I think.  I seethed for hours after the focus group until I realized how naive I was to expect a love fest of a focus group.  How silly I was to think I could control the feedback they gave me for the camera.

Focus groups attract two types of people: those in it for the money, and those who want to be heard.  The second group is the only group that matters, and they’re often critical.  You’re not going to like everything they say.  The point isn’t to control their feedback.  It’s to have their feedback control what you do.

feedback

Be sure you can answer yes to all of these questions before you run a focus group:

Are you ready to listen?

Are you ready to be criticized and instead of arguing, push your retorts deep down into the pit of your stomach?

Are you ready to make changes?

Feedback is coming.  Are you ready for it?

 

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The Story of The…

26 Mar

These mantras were pulled from the website of a well-known company:

  1. We perform comprehensive microbiological testing to ensure that all products meet our high quality standards.
  2. All employees sanitize their gloves and equipment every time they enter our work product areas. Employees leaving these areas for any reason must re-sanitize their gloves/equipment before reentering our facilities.
  3. Air entering our facilities is purified by air filtration systems designed to remove potential airborne contaminants.
  4. Using an independent certified laboratory, we conduct our own internal product audits at all of our facilities to ensure that our standards are never compromised.

Microbial testing.  Air filtration systems.  Independent certified laboratory.  Can you guess which company website these standards are taken from?

Kimberly Clark and its medical equipment?   Dial and antibacterial soap?

Nope.  These are from the Boar’s Head website.  We’re talking about sandwich meat. 

Boar's Head 2

NYC is a city with a deli at every street corner.  Walking the streets this weekend, I had a revelation: nearly every deli advertises its use of Boar’s Head cold cuts in its front window.   And then I had another: I can’t name another company that makes sandwich meats.

Can you?

Maybe Boar’s Head has become a meat monopoly because its high standards means its bologna just tastes better.   

But maybe it’s the Boar’s Head story we’re tasting when we take a bite.  The quality assurances, the rich history on the company website,  the obsession with brand control.

Why is Boar’s Head synonymous with cold cuts?  Because it’s mastered the story of the sandwich.  What’s your story?

The Bad Idea Revolution

21 Mar

Bob Marley.  Les Mis.  America.  Revolutions are sexy.  Which is why I’m hesitant to write this blog post.  How to kill the bad idea revolution.  But here it goes.

I love my colleague.  But recently, he had an ill-founded idea for a new product feature.  When I found out about it, I vowed I’d soon voice my concerns.

“The time to stop a revolution is at the beginning, not the end.”  –Adlai Stevenson

But I didn’t act for a few days.  Things got busy and talking to him kept on slipping down my to-do list.  By the time I did, my colleague had already converted two disciples and drafted an initial plan.  I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was decided.  The bad idea revolution was in motion.

Bad ideas are just ideas until one of three things occur:  

1)      The bad idea attracts at least one follower.

2)      The revolutionary has time to develop a concrete plan.

3)      The tiniest of first steps is made to start executing the plan.

These three things take time.  It might be two hours or two weeks before a colleague with a bad idea can attract a follower or devise a plan.  The key is to confront the person with your concerns before these events ever happen.  If one of these events does occur, you’re no longer fighting just an idea.  You’re fighting a bad idea revolution.

revolution

If a bad idea does becomes a revolution, here are two additional tactics to try:

1) Convince another colleague of the risks inherent in the idea.  Ignoring one colleague is easy.  Ignoring a group of colleagues is not.

2)  Use the two for every one rule to come prepared with alternatives.

It’s not as sexy to kill a revolution as it is to start one, but sometimes it’s just as important.  Act swiftly to kill bad ideas, before others become committed to them.  You’ll create space for other, important ideas to breathe.

My Marketing Haiku

13 Mar

Marketing is a smile

Red-robed impression

That allures, excites, disarms.

But the product talks.

smile

Two For Every One

10 Mar

“Criticizes the ideas of others without ever offering an idea or solution of his own.  Drains the room of energy.  Not a forward thinker.”

That was me.  No wonder my colleagues left me out of group lunches.

criticism

But after reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, all of that has changed.  In his book, Lehrer describes “plussing,” the act of  bringing a new idea or tweak to the table after you criticize someone else’s idea.  Your idea, “the plus,” softens the criticism and provides a new or altered plan.  I’ve taken plussing a step further: I now hold myself accountable to the two for every one rule.

It works like this.  Every time I criticize a co-worker’s idea, I have to offer two ideas of my own.  The ideas can be tweaks on the plan I’m criticizing or entirely new solutions.

Why is the two for every one rule game-changing?

1)      It leads to idea generation.  When a plan is shot-down without any new ideas surfacing, everyone involved leaves depressed.  The two for every one rule guarantees that when an idea is axed, new ideas are generated.

2)      It creates a team atmosphere by forcing everyone to try to find a solution.  We can no longer criticize a plan and then remain aloof, leaving the work of finding a solution to others.  When we’re forced to offer two new ideas for every criticism, we’re committed to trying  to solve the problem, not just point it out.

3)      It puts everyone on the chopping block.  By forcing everyone to offer their own ideas, it opens up everyone to criticism and critique.  When everyone is exposed, no one person feels ganged up on.

 

It’s much easier to point out flaws in the ideas of others than come up with your own plans, which makes following this rule is extremely hard.   But I’m slowly but surely implementing the two for every one rule across my life.

The early results: I’m an idea-generator like never before, colleagues ask for my opinion more often because I offer compelling and constructive feedback, and people seem genuinely happy to see me at meetings. 

imagine

Hungry for Knowledge

7 Mar

 When I want takeout, I use Seamless.  One password, one time entering my credit card number, food at my door in 25 minutes.

In the new age of higher education publishing, students will exclusively purchase access codes to online content.  Why should they have to visit four different publisher websites to purchase their course materials for the semester?  Create four different passwords?  Enter their credit card information four times?

Publishers are still stuck in the stone age of brick and mortar campus bookstores.  In the stone age, we shipped our books to the bookstore, and students bought them off the shelf.  With the rise of digital content, students now must navigate our often poorly designed websites, pick just the right online bundle of content among many similar choices, and then go through a lengthy purchasing process.  We never had to worry about our bounce rate until now, but I have no doubt that we lose customers because our digital purchasing is too complicated.

Free and open courseware, the de-emphasis of the textbook by instructors, and our pricing models have already damaged sell-through.    At the very least, we must eliminate barriers to purchase by coming up with a simpler way for students to find and buy our products.

The solution: one website on which students can search and purchase the digital content of all publishers.  Students create one password and enter their credit card information just once. 

A Seamless for course materials.  Our products contain so much knowledge, but we have a lot to learn from our favorite take-out spots.

 

Chinese Takeout - With cookie and blank fortune

The Little Man That Sits On Your Shoulder

1 Mar

The little man that sits on your shoulder is usually a mischief maker.  He whispers naughty things in your ear and urges you to do no good.

Shoulder Devil

But a different kind of little man is described in The Art of The Start, one who doesn’t tempt you to make trouble, but keeps you on track during your presentations.

When I present, I’m constantly reminding myself that what others get of my presentation is my #1 consideration—that the audience is all that matters.  But when we start talking, it’s VERY easy to lose sight of this.  We begin to ramble, the focus on our audience disappearing.  We say everything we want to say, not just what the audience needs to hear.  Soon, the session is more about us, and less about everyone else in the room.

Here are two guards against this mistake:

  1. Write an e on the back of your hand.
  2. Guy Kawasaki’s little man trick.  When he gives a presentation, Kawasaki imagines that there’s a little man sitting on his shoulder, asking him “So What?” after everything he says.  “How does this help the audience?  Why is it important?  How can they use it?”  If the talking point is important, it’s worth explaining further and making crystal-clear.  If it doesn’t help the audience in some way, cut it.  Simple as that.

Two little tricks, same result: a presentation that’s not only focused on your audience, but moves others to action.  I use both now.  So should you.

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