Momentum

Secret Number 2 to Branding Technology

I talked about the first secret to building a technology brand, aspiration, in my post last week.  I described aspiration as the emotional hook to get your target customers on the line.  The aspiration of your brand is indeed critical, but if you don’t follow it by delivering something meaningful, your customers will drop you like a hot potato.  Deliver something meaningful: sounds easy enough.  But how do you know that a new technology is meaningful?  And more importantly, how do you make sure it stays that way, so you can keep selling your stuff?

The more addictive a product is, the more meaningful it is.  Think of the addictive qualities of your smart phone, your Fitbit, your Facebook account, your Twitter feed, your Netflix views, your Pandora station, your favorite apps.  There’s something inside these products that makes you continue to come back to them and want more.  They are sticky.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 5.53.49 PMAnd that’s the second secret to branding technology: stickiness in the product.  Stickiness is a quality that, for customers, is simply too good to miss and too good to keep to oneself.  And if the stickiness produces the “network effect,” all the better.  It is stickiness that enables a product to go viral.

Don’t think this applies just to consumer products. B2B technologies need to be sticky as well, perhaps now more than ever.  In this BYOD world, you are selling your stuff to people, whether they are wearing an employee hat at the time or not. Products that are clumsy to use, don’t deliver value and create drudgery aren’t long for the B2B world.  They will be supplanted or disrupted by products that are easy and cool to use. If they aren't sticky, they'll be replaced by products that are.

viralHow do you get stickiness in a product? Sometimes (but rarely), it’s luck.  But it should be strategy.  In fact, it’s your job to make it sticky.  Of course you need to be able to identify the appropriate market, describe the product in the most compelling way, figure out how to go to market appropriately and then create some awareness.  Of course you need to connect your brand to the aspiration I talked about in my last post. But before you do that, you should be deeply engaged in the product itself, and build it on a complete understanding of the market and the target customer.  As a marketer or an executive, your job isn’t just to take the product from engineering, give it a good tagline, and then talk it up in the press.   Your job is to make the product sticky.  And to make it sticky, you have to know what the “main addiction” is and test and refine it until you get it right.  If you haven’t read The Lean Start-Up, it’s time to do so.

Here are ten questions you can ask yourself to check the stickiness of your product. 

  1. What is the main addiction?
  2. What is its addiction potential? Have you tested it?
  3. Is it ridiculously easy to use?
  4. Is the design or UI elegant and attractive?
  5. Does it align with a current trend?
  6. Does it continue to deliver more and more over time?
  7. Is it affordable?
  8. Does it create pride of association?
  9. Can it be easily shared with others?
  10. Does it produce a network effect?

If you know the main addiction of your product and understand that potential, and if you can also answer each of the remaining eight questions with a “yes,” knowing why you’ve answered that way, you are well on your way to having a sticky product and going viral.  Not so hard at all. Certainly worthy of aspiration.

Measuring Your Company Value - a Holistic Blueprint

True story: A wise CFO was meeting with the rest of his small start-up team, eighteen months (and a few pivots) into the group’s journey as a business.  He was about to report to them on the firm’s financial situation.  “Everything we do is about increasing value for all our stakeholders,” he began.  “Let me show you how we measure that we’re doing that.”

Up came a slide with sixteen simple words:

  • Revenue growth
  • Profit
  • Cash flows
  • Ability to obtain new business and deliver it profitably
  • Intellectual Property

He landed there only briefly, just long enough for the team to grasp the five obvious and easily measured items the slide contained.  Then he flipped to a second slide.

“And then there are the less easily measured, more subjective value drivers,” he said.

The team read the long list together:

  • Size, depth, and breadth of the sales pipeline
  • Share of potential market penetration
  • Quality and depth of the customer portfolio
  • Volume and breadth of the customer portfolio
  • History of repeat and loyal clients
  • Skills, experience, and specific expertise
  • Contacts and network of the team
  • Delivery methods and operating efficiency
  • Reputation
  • Succession plans

There were nods all around the room, a stated appreciation for the holistic approach to defining value, and some good discussion about the group’s resulting priorities.

My immediate impression on seeing this list was to write it down and share it here as a strong example of a business measurement scorecard – applicable to both start-ups and the largest enterprise teams. (Mind you, I’d only moments before it read Paul Graham’s good thoughts on the importance of start-up teams’ focus on doing things that do not scale, so holistic nurturing was on my mind, anyway.)

Are you measuring the health of your business – and the value you deliver to every stakeholder you serve – in terms of this extensive list?  Are you pausing from time to time as a team to discuss performance across the span it represents, and not just looking at cash flows?

Do you have a recommended amendment or addition to this list?

Large Companies: Are You Losing Your Innovation Mojo?

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Leaders in enterprises, is "disruption" keeping you up at night? If so this post is for you.  Sometimes it feels as though the only companies getting attention these days are startups.  That today's established companies are dinosaurs and, except for a handful of large companies who are consistently succeeding – the rest are increasingly at risk.   If you fear that you are drifting toward the latter category, this blog is for you.   It might require a change in how you look at your people and how you get things, especially product development, done.   I am here to offer encouragement.

Let's start with three fundamental truths: 

  1. First, I hope we can all agree that the primary role of a company is value creation.  Yes, companies need to create products and services.  Yes, they need to engage and 'delight' customers -- even build communities of interest sometimes.   But these are all business model decisions in the context of some value creation system.   He or she who creates and monetizes the most value wins.
  2. Second, barriers to creating value have never been lower.   If your company's value is either created or enhanced "digitally" ( its becoming increasingly difficult to find one that isn't these days), your world has been changing around you. You have to move - fast.
  3. Third, the path to end-users has never been more direct.  Almost everyone has a smartphone.  Almost everyone is a part of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram - pick one or two.   And they all get the news and information they want from Google.  There is no longer good reason to allow others between you and those for whom you are creating value.

What does all this mean?  Well, for one, small companies -- startups, more specifically -- have some important inherent advantages over big ones. They have not institutionalized business processes made obsolete by today's "401(k) world," as Thomas Friedman calls it.  In his recent NYT opinion piece, Friedman says that, "more people can start stuff, collaborate on stuff, learn stuff, make stuff (and destroy stuff) with more other people than ever before."   As Friedman points out, this has all happened in the last ten years or so, and many of us are not well suited to succeed in these new operating conditions.

Startups don't have to "unlearn" or "work around" the old ways of doing things.  They can pivot quickly on feedback gleaned from real prospects in real purchase situations in real-time.

So, what's a large company to do?

It all begins by remembering that the only reason for your existence is to create value.  In this context, your role as an organization is to efficiently do two things:

1. identify and qualify new value-creation opportunities, and

2. rapidly deploy the business models to monetize them.

How to identify new value creation opportunities

With respect to the first imperative, large companies do have an advantage: a highly attuned sensory network of employees and partners, all focused on today's business, channels, customers and everything we do to create value for them.

Think of them as thousands of iron filings through which a big magnet has been pulled. No other company has a collection quite like yours.  And it got you where you are today.  You just have to employ it more efficiently in the context of identifying and qualifying business opportunities.

This is where 'innovation crowd-sourcing' or 'social problem-solving' comes into play.   Treat these communities as an idea-generating asset - one which can be systematically harvested for new value-creation ideas.  They are smarter and more attuned than you think.  In other words, the time when all the good ideas come from the strategy team at HQ is well behind us.

How to rapidly develop new business models

On the second imperative, big companies need to harness the principles of Lean Startups:

  • Trade in 3-year business plans for Lean Canvases.
  • Cultivate a culture of Testing Hypotheses.
  • Quickly deploy Minimum Viable Product prototypes.
  • Employ the Build=>Measure=>Learn cycle.
  • Encourage fast failure and know how and when to Pivot.

In short, start treating your employees like entrepreneurs.  Give them the tools, training and environment to behave like a part of your value-creation system.  (We can help.)  Remember, the world hasn't changed in favor of more nimble start-ups.  What has changed are the conditions for success. There is nothing keeping you from being a part of that change, right?

Bring Your Innovation to Market in 2013 - Let's Talk

After decades of running PR and marketing communications firms and helping to bring some of today's most household-name innovations to market, Andy Cunningham had a vision.  She was seeing too many brilliant engineers, scientists, and finance leaders struggling to reach their deserved tipping points because they were misdiagnosing their marketing problems as "PR problems" or "Web site problems," when in fact they faced fundamental strategi marketing problems. She knew there was a better way to scale these promising CEOs with the right strategic marketing focus. In 2012 she transformed her vision into a new kind of marketing consultancy -- one that marries the rigor and leadership of management consulting with the strategic marketing function of technology companies.  Meet SeriesC.  Our team of veteran technology marketing strategists helps companies bring their innovations to market through experienced leadership in business strategy, positioning, product strategy, customer development, market segmentation, go-to-market planning, and more.

Get in touch with us to talk about how SeriesC can help get your innovation to its deserved tipping point.

SeriesC in 2012

For a Fortune 500 company, we reorganized the worldwide marketing department, helped hire the right CMO, simplified a large and diverse brand naming architecture, and helped build a market feedback loop into the product development process.

For a growing multinational consumer internet company, we crafted new positioning to prepare for international expansion, and led misaligned executives into alignment around a new strategy for international growth.

For a start-up technology platform, we led development and launch of a critical developer program, educating leadership on best practices for building the program and developer community.

For a start-up consumer software application company with four years and four products launching, we counseled on product launch and made introductions to right-fit launch partners to fuel growth.

For an early start-up, we authored a business plan that resulted in $5M in venture capital financing.

For a stealth start-up with a disruptive big-data technology, we developed detailed product use cases, and crafted a simplified positioning architecture and a relatable narrative of the value proposition.

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Dogs are Colorblind, Executives Are Busy - Communicating Effectively to Stakeholders

Are you communicating to your stakeholders the way you should be, to ensure they know what they need to know? Doing so is critical in taking your innovation to market. Here are two stories that illustrate why it matters: 63964_10150099790541756_4217314_nMy husband and I recently moved from our apartment into a home with a giant backyard covered in lush green ivy. Our dogs are in heaven. Hugo, the playful one, is all about chasing his favorite toy, a bright red bouncy bear named “Bear.”

I’ve heard before that dogs are colorblind, but it didn’t really register until I started tossing Bear in the yard, and noticing that when it bounced into the green ivy, Hugo couldn’t find it. Bright red Bear stood out so obviously to me, but Hugo would scan it from inches away and still miss it.

I Googled dogs and colorblind, and confirmed that indeed dogs see a much more limited color spectrum than humans, and cannot distinguish red from green the way humans can. Yellow and Blue do stand out for dogs from other colors. So why is Bear red?

It’s because red stands out most for humans.  Humans buy dog toys, not dogs! But humans will also only buy a red dog toy once. Bear was the last red toy we bought; now we look for yellow and blue ones.

Now, consider a team of PR leaders I know, working for a C-level executive who was dissatisfied with the amount of earned media coverage he was seeing, and hired consultants to turn the situation around.  The PR team was perplexed; they had been doing significant good work garnering global media attention, and they had been sending him their coverage updates by email weekly like clockwork. What wasn’t he seeing?

They were throwing a red bear into a patch of green ivy for a colorblind dog.

When under the guidance of the CEO’s hired consultant the PR team shifted its reporting to be more brief, more visual, more selective, grouped by key message theme, and delivered in person rather than by email, the executive said he was seeing a lot more momentum from the group. Their work hadn’t changed. The way they communicated to their intended audience had.

To a savvy dog owner and loyal dog toy buyer, yellow and blue matter. To an employee who wants an executive to be informed and a communicator to executives? What matters is what the executive wants to see, how they want to see it, and how often.

Do your stakeholder communications meet the goal? Or is it time to ask some smart questions?

PS, The omniscient master question answerer Cecil Adams wrote a great “The Straight Dope” column on cats’ and dogs’ colorblindness. Worth a read, for the omnicurious.