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Escape the Box: Three Great Ways to Use the Petal Diagram for Strategy

One of the most perpetually valuable parables I’ve come across is the Indian story of the six blind monks and the elephant. Presented with the creature, each of the six was asked to touch the elephant and describe what kind of structure it has based on what he felt.

“It is a sturdy pillar,” said the one who touched only the leg. “It is a smooth, hard pipe,” said the one who touched only the tusk. “It is a thick tree branch,” said the one who touched only the trunk. “It is a coarse rope,” said the one who touched only the tail. “It is a broad, thin fan,” said the one who touched only the ear. “it is a firm wall,” said the one who touched only the side.

Of course, they were all right. By combining their perspectives they were able to achieve a more complete truth about the elephant.

I think of that story when I use the trusty “Petal Diagram” tool to help someone think through a competitive analysis of their product or company. The diagram places your unique company or product in a center circle, and then surrounds it with petals, each one containing competitors in a distinct category adjacent to the company. It forces the person using it to look at the problem of competitive differentiation from each of several distinct perspectives. To illustrate the concept, one of our team members put together this quick and abbreviated example using Slack, which calls itself “a platform for team communication.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 1.34.54 PM

Steve Blank introduced the Petal Diagram approach in 2013 as a better way to assess the competitive landscape when a start-up is “trying to re-segment existing markets or create new markets.” Blank’s point, in my own words, was this: Any new category (or category in the midst of redefinition) is surrounded by several intimately adjacent and distinct categories; to understand your differentiation and value—and identify your ideal hypothesis first customer—you need to look at all of them.

This is the kind of analysis that leads to a-ha moments.

This isn’t just fit for start-ups. And it’s not just fit for CEOs or CMOs. In fact, it’s not even fit just for competitive analysis. It can benefit leaders from tiny, visionary start-ups and from the largest of enterprises, across roles in marketing, product, strategy, HR, marketing, you name it.

Here are three ways you could try using it today.

1. For competitive analysis by people who don’t have "competitive analysis" in their job description

Enterprises: Say you’re the CMO, head of innovation, or Chief Revenue Officer of an enterprise. What about a product manager who’s dealing in day-to-day feature granularity and customer interaction? How might she know that one of her decisions is pulling – or could pull – the product, or even the company, into new revenue terrain? How does she best position that fabulous new feature, given that it pulls the product toward a different petal than the product competed in before? Try completing the petal diagram competitive analysis and having workshops with your teams in product management, customer service, marketing, communications, sales, and other arenas to make it come to life for them. Ask them to be mindful of how decisions they make impact the company’s stance relative to each petal on the diagram. Invite them outright to bring ideas to you for how the business might encroach on any petal, given what they know about how their products or customers are evolving.

Start-ups: I’m looking at you, too, start-up CEO. Especially at you. You’ve got a hot idea and a big hypothesis on where that idea will have the best market fit. One of your employees might be the first to discover an improvement on your hypothesis. Do they know how? Do they know what tangential innovations are happening just beyond the obvious direct space from which they came? Have you engaged them in thinking about your business in the context of the world around you? If not, it’s time.

2. For predicting customer needs and desires 

What are your customers going to want next? Before Meerkat and Periscope introduced always-on live-stream broadcasting to the social media realm, celebrities and 15-year-old girls didn’t know to ask for it from WhatsApp, SnapChat, or Twitter. The same kind of thing happened in smartphone hardware. Mainstream consumers didn’t know they needed touchscreen mobile devices until Apple taught us that we can’t live without them.

Obviously, companies have a competitive edge when they better predict what their customers will want, maybe even before they know they want it. The best companies predict this through their own vision, which comes by knowing themselves, their company, their customers, and their position in the landscape. They don’t predict it just by watching the competition. But the petal diagram competitive landscape can be a great way to organize an ongoing conversation about customer needs with your leadership. Complete the petal diagram, and then, petal by petal, ask:

* What are the leaders in this petal doing next? What’s new there? * How does their customer base seem to be evolving? * What value that they deliver seems to be getting the most attention from the marketplace? * When their customers get the new and emerging things coming from these companies, how will that change their expectations for what we provide? What are the advances in this petal teaching us that our customers might want? Do this petal’s advances impact our value? Do they create new opportunity? Do they spark ideas?

3. For evaluating what you need from your next executive hire

First, consider who you’re looking to hire. You likely do the following exercise intuitively, and completely in your head, when you shape the role and evaluate people. Doing it with a Petal Diagram on a whiteboard could help refine your thinking and align your team.

Put the role in the center, and on each petal, put the name of an executive with whom the new team member will work closely. Then, petal by petal, ask:

* What are this person’s biggest strengths? * If I could add one dimension or skill to this person’s petal, what would I add? * Thinking of the role in the middle, what could the person in this petal adequately cover, if the person I hire can’t? * Is there anything that the people in the petals have in common? Is it important that I bring that common quality in with the person in the center?

And second, consider from where you’ll recruit. Go back to your competitive petal diagram, the one with other companies on the petals.

* Are you trying to encroach more on one petal’s terrain than another? * Are you changing the game for a petal’s players? * How important is it to complement your existing leadership team with expertise in this petal’s domain?

As with any model, this circle with some other circles around it could be used in any number of ways. It just takes thinking to use it, and understanding the benefit of trying something beyond the two-by-two grid we all fall back on.

It’s easy but dangerous to walk up blind to something, put your hand down, and declare that you know what you have in front of you. Don’t fall victim to tunnel vision. Look around you all 360 degrees. Talk to all six monks about their point of view of the elephant to get to a more complete truth.

The Apple Watch: It's More - and Less - Than I Thought

Like Tim Cook, I've always felt that the wrist was "interesting." I've worn a watch since I can remember, starting with a Texas Instruments LED watch when I was in grade school. It was a 1970's-era brown watch with a gold accent that required a holding a side button down to display time in glowing red. It was futuristic for a kid that was baffled by TV schedules looking for Space:1999 reruns on the local PBS station. TI LED Watch

After a couple of digital watches, I moved to analog quartz watches when I entered the workforce. While I went through a period of appreciating high-end watches like expensive cars, I never owned any of them. Watches have been pretty functional for me. Until recently, the most expensive watch I ever owned was a mid-90s Seiko Kinetic. I liked it enough to use it until it stopped working, but I developed a wrist shaking habit that took me over a year to overcome.

When the first "smart" watches appeared, I started following the category. I was even interested enough to buy the Tik Tok strap for my 6th gen iPod Nano (wore it for a day). And when the Kickstarter for the first Pebble appeared, I jumped in. When I started using it, it was… ok. I paired it with my iPhone and I tried the new watchfaces and a few apps. I could never get the apps to work reliably - the Bluetooth integration with the iPhone kept dropping, and I could never get the marquee apps like Yelp to work.

And, really, it wasn't the most attractive thing on my wrist. But I soldiered on for a good year and a half before I gave up and sold it on eBay. I went back to my combination stainless steel watch for everyday and my Casio G-Shock for fitness.

Why am I giving you all this personal history? It gives you context to how I'm thinking about the Apple Watch that's been strapped to my wrist right now for the last four weeks. I gave some early thoughts to PR Week after the Apple Watch was announced, but I now realize after wearing one how much more - and less - it is from what I was originally thinking.

iPod Nano+Apple Watch

It's an Accessory

Rather than being a standalone platform - which was the impression we all had when we found out that there would be apps out the gate - it really is an accessory for your iPhone. Part of it stems from the fact that most of the apps for the Apple Watch aren't any good. In fact, I've uninstalled most of the Watch Apps, and am constantly annoyed with the new appearance of apps, even though I have it set to not automatically download (need to file that Radar).

But what an accessory it is! What sets the Apple Watch apart is really the tight integration with the iPhone not only through Bluetooth but also Wi-fi (surprise!). On my Pebble, with its unreliable connection to the iPhone, I didn't even want to try apps that updated scores or told me the weather, because the stuck temperature would taunt me every time I looked at my wrist.

With the Apple Watch? Bring them on. Load up those watchfaces with complications galore. Weather? Yes please. And while you're at it, put my calendar right there too.

What's interesting though, is how potentially ephemeral this advantage is for Apple. I'm expecting, as are others, that the Watch will eventually become a standalone device with its own cellular radio so it doesn't need to tether itself to your phone. Perhaps there will be an opportunity for a company - maybe Pebble if it can hold on -- to design appealing alternatives when the technology gets mature enough. But right now, from a strategic standpoint, Apple has a pretty strong moat around its iPhone-Apple Watch ecosystem.

Fitness and Health

Not much more ink needs to be spilled on the fitness features of this watch. Is it compelling me to walk more? Yes. Am I standing up randomly in meetings? That too. I never owned a Fitbit or any sort of device like that, because I needed a better reason to worry about another piece of technology. I came close to getting a Nike Fuelband with a clock, but the whole NikeFuel thing was too odd, not that I think the calories measurement on my Apple Watch is any more accurate.

This watch experience is telling me that fitness and health features are just that - features for a watch. Is it as good as other, more specialized devices used by more serious exercisers and athletes? No. But it's good enough for the mass market. That being said, there will always be room for specialized (i.e. niche) devices for specific use cases, but for the rest of us, I think we're good.

Surprises (for me)

I've been surprised by some of the features I originally dismissed when I heard of them. No, I'm not using the camera app and I have no desire to view photos on my wrist (though it makes a great demo). However, there are a couple of features that I'm using more than I expected.

I'm really surprised at how much I'm using the turn-by-turn directions (and taps) on my wrist, even while driving cars with built-in navigation. I don't feel that I need to have a map in front of me telling me where I am - the directions on the wrist is enough.  Better yet, I don't have to have to deal with a brutal touchscreen UI or infernal iDrive menu navigation to enter the address I already have on my phone when I'm idling. Just touch the address on my calendar or email, and go.

Buffalo Stance

Another feature I've been using, of all things, is the Phone app. I thought It was a Dick Tracy gimmick, but having it gives me the freedom to walk away from my iPhone at home or in the office. As long as I'm not annoying people around me, I can adopt a buffalo stance and talk without searching for my headset. It's a speakerphone that follows you.

And, as someone who has had mixed results with using Siri on my iPhone, my experience with it on the watch has been wonderful. Its accuracy for texting has been nothing short of amazing.

Looking to the Future

Keycards

What I'm looking forward to the most on this watch is what will happen with the RFID capabilities of the Apple Watch. Right now, what we have is Apple Pay (yay, for someone still rocking a 5S) and SPG (which I'm dying to try out). I think what Apple has is a killer real-world physical identity platform that can help me get rid of all these access cards. I'm waiting for Disney to put out an Apple Watch app that complements or replaces their Magic Bands.

I also can't wait for native applications, which would help put even more distance between the iPhone and the Watch. Even with the health and fitness functionality operating independently, I still have to jog (slowly) with my iPhone. I can't wait for the time when Marco Arment can get Overcast to sync podcasts over to the watch.

And finally, I'm sure that Apple is working on improving how "smart" the notifications are on my wrist. Right now, I see hints of it where it appears that notifications appear — or not — depending on whether I'm using my iPhone at that time. Of course, that may be a bug, but I'm hopeful that there's work being done.

It's the Only Option for Apple Customers

If you are firmly in the Apple ecosystem, there's really no other real option out there right now. The OS-level integration is something that no other vendor can do right now - it really is what sets this experience apart. I can't speak to Android Wear and its integration with Android phones, but I Apple has set the bar pretty high with what it has today between iOS 8 and the Apple Watch.

Ironically, the more I wear it, the less I "use" it. What I mean is that my Apple Watch has settled into being what I hoped it to be - a damn fine watch experience. It proactively notifies me in the way that I want and information is quickly available when I glance at my watch. It's great.

Uber Magic for Enterprises - Four Ideas for Capturing the Secret Sauce

Enterprises have a host of competitive strengths, but Silicon Valley magic isn't usually one of them. It's not all magic though, and the sauce isn't necessarily secret. Every time I listen to a smart start-up entrepreneur talk, I find nuggets that could benefit enterprises, from the C-level down to the functional department managers. Recent case in point: at a May 2015 StrictlyVC Insider Series event, Uber's Director of Global Expansion Products Tom Fallows talked about his experience at the company since he joined it from Google a few months ago. The interview wasn't about enterprises or what they could do better, but for enterprises who want to act more like start-ups, there were four big ideas worth taking away:

1. Mine adjacent categories for new opportunities. Always. 

Your business is in a category. Adjacent to that category are a bunch of other categories. Who in your company is dedicated -- dedicated -- to understanding how your products and services could serve as competitive assets in adjacent categories? Uber has that in Fallows. And Fallows has a team. He told StrictlyVC,

"Obviously, we have the mainline business of offering transportation to people; [my job is largely looking into] how do we expand into new opportunities. Uber for Business is one of my projects, for example, and that’s just building an enterprise version of Uber so that companies large and small can use it for their business travel. I have six different teams that are working on new projects all the time.... The Uber Eats [food delivery] product has expanded into several more cities and I think the market has been pretty strong. We’re doing well with Uber Rush, which is a [bike] courier service [that Uber rolled out in New York a year ago]."

So you're an enterprise who [does something] to help [someone] solve [this problem].  What are your adjacent category opportunities? Let's look at how Uber solved the problem, based solely on the few extensions Fallow mentioned above:

  • Uber began with [transporting] [people] in [cars that were idle].
    • Q: What other kinds of people could it transport? A: business travelers
    • Q: What could it transport besides people? A: food. courier packages.
    • Q: What could it transport things in besides cars? A: bikes.

And you can bet that Uber's execs are applying these same questions to the verb "transporting." What could Uber's dispatch software and other technology be used to distribute? You name it: if it's a resource, it's idle, and it could be deployed more efficiently using the Uber model, there's a possible adjacent opportunity there.

Get yourself to a whiteboard and play Uber's game with your own definition. If that feels too big -- or too high-level to bear any fruit -- try zeroing in on a single product. Our [specific software product] [does this specific thing] for [this specific audience] to [solve this specific problem]. Take it one bracketed word or phrase at a time. Feel free to think freely without interrupting yourself with "yeah-but's" and excuses as to why things might not work.

2. Did you notice that word in Tip #1? "Dedicated." And to what? "Understanding business opportunities."

Let's not gloss over something Fallows said about how Uber is managing its growth strategy:

"[...my job is largely looking into] how do we expand into new opportunities.... I have six different teams that are working on new projects all the time..."

You have an R&D team. Perhaps you have a head of innovation. And, hey, you're big, so you probably have a business development team leader, maybe an M&A team to boot. How are all those people collectively working together to serve the one function Fallow serves at Uber?

  • Whose job is it, day in and day out, to understand emerging opportunities in adjacent categories?
  • Who has the skill set and experience set to do that at each product and/or service level, and not just at the company level?
  • Who's asking questions about adjacent business opportunities with every new products, services, and features that is released? (As in, how is our value proposition in adjacent categories evolving?)
  • Who has the skill set and experience set to understand the adjacent categories -- who's competing there, and what customers need and think there? Who gets it?

In Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are so often born from product and engineering backgrounds. The best of them know to complement themselves with experts who lend sales, customer, and business strategy DNA. (VentureBeat published a solid piece about this called "The rise of the Chief Revenue Officer: Silicon Valley's new secret sauce" in April -- I recommend it.)

So, if you're not happy with your answers to the questions above, or if you're noticing a lack of diversity among the people in your answers -- say, if they're all in product, or they're all steeped in your existing category, or they're all operating at a high-level only -- consider a new hire or a team shakeup, and don't be afraid to recruit from outside product and from outside your industry.

3. Stop thinking everything has to take so long.

Describing how Uber is different from Google, Fallows said,

"...at heart, [Uber is] still very much a startup with an action bias. In my first couple of weeks, we’d be talking about a new feature and inevitably in that conversation, the question would arise: How long would this take to get out? And someone would say, 'I think it’ll be two to three . . .' And in my head, I’d just default, think weeks. And they’d finish, '…days.' And I think, what? [Laughs.]"

Uber's faster than Google. How can you be faster than who you are today? Think in months, not years. Think in weeks, not months. Ready for a real challenge? Think in days, not weeks. Doing this with technology probably feels impossible, juggernaut that you are, but what about doing it with conversations and ideas? Your enterprise is inherently slower than a start-up. The point is not to defy the physics of your culture. It's to push the boundaries. Find ways to break free. Enable your employees to do the same. Small victories matter.

The need to break free of slow-pace culture is part of the rationale that drove Xerox to establish PARC as its research center in the 1970s, and Konica Minolta to launch five independent innovation centers last year (one in the Bay Area, note). If you think in smaller terms, how could you create a micro-culture for a team within your business?

4. Axe what isn't working. Cut it off.

Of all the nuggets in this brief interview with Fallows, this is my favorite:

"...in a healthy ecosystem way, projects that aren’t working get wound down or swallowed up and resources [are] diverted."

Organizational psychologists could fill books with the reasons why this particular start-up secret is hard for enterprises.

For one thing, killing a project can simply be logistically complex. Meanwhile, there are more leaders involved, and because of that, more people to persuade -- people who may have trouble letting go of sunk costs despite their MBA training, people who may be emotionally invested in the idea on the chopping block, people whose bonus might be continent on a P&L that might be contingent on revenue that might be contingent on the product coming to life...

But if enterprises want a piece of Silicon Valley magic, if they want to move faster and operate leaner, this is a discipline they need to master. Google, an enterprise but Silicon Valley magic to the core, showed us how to do this with Google Glass.

All of that from just one interview by one Uber guy at one event. Keep listening, enterprises. There's so much to learn. And magic, any magician will tell you, is a skill.

(C) 2015 SeriesC

Andy Cunningham's Insights on Enterprise Transformation as CMO at Avaya: Culture, Brand, Positioning

Andy_Cunningham_w2012SeriesC's innovation-to-market engagements with our clients frequently become interim marketing leadership arrangements, perhaps none so prominent as our current work for Silicon Valley-based Avaya. Our founder and CEO Andy Cunningham is embedded in a long-term CMO position at Avaya, where she is leading the charge to rebrand and position the company -- and transform its culture -- in the midst of a sweeping business model shift.  Her mission? "My challenge was pretty straightforward: How do you take a company that has its roots in the old telco world and make it relevant in the 21st century?" Recently, Andy sat down with the team at FleishmanHillard's TRUE online magazine to share her insights and process so far, about eight months in. The piece, which blends video and text, talks about how she realized Avaya's new market position, how she's working to help Avaya's 13,000 employees believe Avaya is a cool place to work, and how she sees Silicon Valley's current trends shaping the futures of enterprises.

Read and watch the full content here.

Have We Entered the Uncanny Valley in Big Data and Digital Marketing?

Luncanny valleyast week, I attended both the Re/code’s code:mobile and Constellation Research’s Connected Enterprise 2014 conferences in Half Moon Bay. It was a pretty interesting experience having two very different conferences back-to-back, with code:mobile decidedly consumer-focused and Connected Enterprise more about IT. I did have a jarring experience right off the bat at Connected Enterprise. At code:mobile, there was plenty of talk about privacy, most notably by Nico Sell, the CEO of Wickr and DEFCON organizer. The first session at Connected Enterprise was a pitch by Double Dutch, who built the mobile app for Connected Enterprise (News to Re/code - check out Double Dutch, because the code:mobile app was completely useless, which is ironic for a conference about, uh, mobile). Double Dutch demoed the potential of beacon technology for marketers, which identified individual attendees by name.

Whoa.

It speaks of the tension that’s emerging between consumers and the companies that sell to them regarding all the data that’s being collected and how it could be leveraged. There were multiple sessions talking about CRM (it’s either dead or it’s now called Customer Experience) and Big Data, and how companies are building “relationships” with their customers.

These sessions prompted a great lunchtime chat that I had with Kimy Tran of CapGemini and Chris Reyes of Dell, where we discussed these “relationships” that companies are supposedly building with their customers. Counter examples were abundant, including the Target example in NY Times Magazine. With all this mess of data, do we really have a good enough picture of customers to have such a relationship?

Or have we entered the Uncanny Valley of Big Data?

For readers who don’t know what the Uncanny Valley is, it’s a phrase that is often used with animation or robotics that are designed to look human — too human, but not human enough that it creates unease in the people that view or interact with them. The classic example of the uncanny valley is the movie The Polar Express, where the animated characters gave audiences the creeps.

And creepy is a word that people are increasingly using with a lot of things coming out of this big data work. Building a relationship in the real world is always in context of societal norms — something that marketing people in the digital world should seriously consider. In America at least, asking if someone is pregnant before they have shared that information is not usually well-received. Target should have made their marketing campaigns related to pregnancy opt-in — wait for customers to self-identify that they are pregnant before sending those coupons. This example also highlights the current limitations of inferring customer identity, which reminds me of the Rumsfeld quote: “there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know.”

As we get more data on consumers, it behooves us as marketers to start incorporating more real world factors, like societal norms, into designing campaigns and managing data. Otherwise we risk the "relationship" that we hope to build with them.

Are You Following the Letter or the Spirit of Product Development? (Five Signs It's Time to Reset Your Process)

51DK80KD19LOne of the go-to business books in the 1990s was Reengineering the Corporation by Michael Hammer and James Champy. At the time, Business Process Reengineering was all the rage, and the book became the bible for thousands of consultants crawling around large companies looking to cut costs. Its impact to industry at the time was like the impact today of Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank and Lean Startup by Eric Ries combined. I was reminded of this book when talking with some clients this past several weeks about innovation and their product development processes. In their cases, they were aware that their product development process had grown too bureaucratic and complex.

Having been a product manager at multiple levels at both large and small companies, I have come to view the product development process primarily as an exercise in mitigating risk in strategy, schedule and/or technology. Generally these processes grow organically as a company matures, incorporating additional metrics, documentation and meetings to address issues that have cropped up in past releases.

Unfortunately, that's where the problem begins. As the development process blossoms into something more and more complex, it starts addressing corner cases — issues or situations that occasionally occur. Soon, product managers have 40+ page PRDs to write, engineers spend an increasing amount of time in meetings rather than developing, and marketing becomes an afterthought in the whole thing. Releases become gigantic burdens, and start to feel unmanageable.

Agile development and lean startup were in part a reaction to this overloaded waterfall approach to development. However, what I'm starting to see is that even companies that begin with lean philosophies are slipping into using aspects of the heavily-documented waterfall approach, because, well, that's generally what happens when issues aren't caught during the release cycle.

I get it. What companies want is predictability in the product development process. However, when the measurements are focused on the process (the how) and not the product (the why), you end up with incremental "innovation" with dubious prospects in the market. What's being done is primarily for the sake of the process, and not for the success of the product itself.

The people involved focus on following the letter of the process rather than the spirit.

Where we should be focused is on whether the product being developed is the right product with the right features for the right market.

How do you know when you have gotten to that point?

  1. People tout the large number of releases they have done in a given time period
  2. Long, complex templates that are rarely read in detail by the people who approve them
  3. Massive documentation for the process that requires a lot of resources to maintain it
  4. Marketing strategy and launch seen as only a handoff at the end of the process
  5. Regularly scheduled, epic hours-long meetings with spotty attendance to review status and signoff on too many product releases

And when you get to that point, it will be time to step back and reengineer your development process.

Five Ways to Market Your Tech When You're the Underdog

We were recently challenged by a client to re-position a mature product, a table-stakes part of a suite of B2B services.  The company’s sales and marketing teams believed the product was falling (or had fallen) behind the competition. Great development plans were in the works, but with delays and shifts, it didn’t appear there’d be much new to talk about in the coming six to nine months. That got our team to talking.  What’s the best way to market a technology when you know you’re the underdog in the marketplace? We shortlisted five of our favorite ideas, all of which we’ve tested with success in the course of our marketing careers.

1. Confirm, don’t assume. If you suspect you’re behind, confirm it with customers and prospects before you believe it as truth. Avoid the inferiority complex trap that can be very common, especially among weary and overwhelmed sales forces. Even when your product is terrific, sometimes all it takes is one competitor trumpeting boldly about their newest bell or whistle—however strategically unimportant it may be—to put your marketing and sales teams on the defensive. A non-confrontational way to learn what your customers and prospects truly think is to ask them these four simple questions when you talk to them next:

  • What are the features/functionalities of your current solution that you couldn’t live without?
  • What is your favorite feature/functionality of your current solution?
  • If you could change one thing about your current solution, what would it be?
  • Knowing what you know about our solution, would you recommend it today to a colleague?

These questions will give you insight into not just how you’re perceived, but also why people might think you’re behind, and what they most value in a solution.  If you find you are in fact competitive, a dose of sales training about your product’s strengths and differentiators could go a long way.

2. Change the product, or change the target market. It’s a beautiful thing about human beings: We don’t all want or need the same things.  What is “must-have” to one customer may be overkill to another. If you’ve confirmed your product has fallen behind in the eyes of your target market, then it’s time to change the product – or change the target. First, identify your product’s strengths. Perhaps it’s the price leader. Perhaps its differentiated by strong personal service and relationships.  Perhaps its more customizable. Then look at a gap analysis of what you’d have to build to re-emerge as a fierce competitor, and where.

  • Can you build a strong business case to invest in changing the product to close the gap and compete for your existing target market?
  • Is it more effective to shift target markets?  Consider if there is a different market segment that might rank your product highest based on your particiular strengths, at the product and company level.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 4.28.44 PM3. Forecast your strategy to customers—boldly, rationally and transparently.  Develop a crisp point of view about what must be true about solutions in the future to meet your target market’s needs.  Then find ways to elevate the conversation to that strategic point of view, and to your intention to make all those things true.  Also, show them, don’t just tell them, what the future state might look like. If you have a concept in development that’s a year or less out, consider investing at least a small amount in conceptual user experience mockups or other visualizations. (Frankly, these could double as an aligning force for your development and product teams.) If something is more than a year out, conceptual artwork and thought leadership pieces, such as white papers, might do the trick. WARNING: Don’t be irrationally exuberant! If you promise something at a specific time, and you don’t deliver, you’ll do more to harm your credibility than any marketing may be able to repair.

4. Focus on your strengths.  Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that your company is not all things to all people, and that your product cannot immediately be made to do all things.  Own up to your shortcomings when challenged by a customer. Then emphasize what does differentiate you—either with the product or with the way you deliver it: your people, your service, your processes, your accuracy, your consistency, your price, your geographic scope, whatever it may be.   Talk about your priorities, and discuss how they serve your customer’s needs best.

5. Play the Co-Opetition game. Ready to get really strategic and brainy about this?  Check out the classic ideas behind Co-Opetition, the game theory approach that Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff (of Harvard and Yale respectively) brought to the market in the mid 1990s.  You can shape the game, not just play the game, by using what they call the PARTS framework, which is explained pretty succinctly here.  This one takes some study and discipline, but it’s a great holistic exercise that could help align your executive team on the strategic priorities in front of you.

Learn something new from the Mad Men era: The "radical" idea of customer-centric marketing plans

Since the days of the Mad Men era, the advertising industry has embraced a distinct discipline known as "account planning." It is, in essence, a focus on customer -- their motivators, their values, their needs --  (oh, and on actual data as well) in order to craft ad strategies that work. It was radical when it was first brought to life, but in today's world of big data its logic is glaringly obvious. A reputable head of planning for a major ad agency recently gave a talk about the status of account planning as a discipline in the advertising industry, and the need to radicalize it again.

Why should you care? Especially if you don't buy advertising or work with any large firms that create ads? Don't miss it! The talk contains valuable advice and perspective if...

* You're a technology entrepreneur who wants to think more smartly about your entire outbound marketing and communications strategy. Take a minute to learn from a smart leader today how to put the customer at the center of that plan.

*  You're in a position to hire an advertising agency. Read this to understand the planning function and know how to vet your potential agency partners for their perspective and skill at this vital discipline.

Read the full text of the talk here. It's by Martin Weigel (@MWeigel), head of planning for Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam.

The first of two secrets to branding technology

Spending three decades in marketing at the epicenter of technology has taught me a thing or two about how we think here in Silicon Valley and what makes us who we are.  "Innovate or die," as the saying goes.  But recently, I reached a new understanding, and figured out the two secrets to branding this stuff.  By “branding” I mean establishing an innovation in the marketplace and building a brand.  Which, of course, is the goal. Today, I'll share the first of those two secrets. But first a little background. We celebrate our engineers here in the Land of Innovation, but when these guys release their version or product or app or device, it’s the marketers who have to get traction with customers.  So how do you do that?

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 11.39.09 AMI think it’s important to recognize, first off, that technology people are different.  We like to try new things.  We embrace change. We participate in crowd-funding of projects and companies.  We early-adopt new devices.  And we have patience with failure, our own as well as others, their companies and their products.

Secondly, we must understand that a customer buying a technology product early in its lifecycle is a “technology person.”  Ok, she probably isn’t an engineer, or a technologist or a rocket scientist.  But you can bet if she’s laying out cold hard cash (or mobile payment of choice) for a product that is touting something new, she “gets it.”  She gets that she’s part of a grand experiment, a Beta tester of sorts, a guinea pig.  And she likes it that way. Being the first to try a new product, to show it off to your co-workers, to brag about waiting in line to get it is all cool.  If you’re a technology person.  In fact, it is so cool that it actually confers admission for you into a sort of virtual “club” for innovators.  And of course, if you’re in the club, the people with whom you hang are likely to be in the club as well so they will also think it’s cool.  Word of mouth ensues—the Holy Grail for technology products.

So, if you’re on the selling side of a new technology, it stands to reason that you will want to sell your widget to other members of the innovators club who will think it’s cool because it’s new, who will be patient with its functionality and who will tell their friends about it.

As a marketer, you’re going to want to capitalize on the natural order of things in this situation.   You’re going to want to get people to try your product and you’re going to want to create word of mouth among other technology people.  Because if you amass a circle of innovators who love your product and tell their friends about it, you will create a bigger circle of early adopters, and if you’re lucky and the product is sticky enough, the word of mouth you generate among early adopters will spread beyond technology people, outside the innovators club and into the real world.  At this point, you’re reaching what we marketers call the early majority, or the mass market.  Success!

But the question is always this.  How do I get members of the innovators club to pay attention to my new technology?  What makes it cool?

Here’s the first secret.  Aspiration. 

MatterhornThe reason innovators and early adopters are attracted to some products and services that are untested in the market is because in some way, they establish an emotional connection with the buyer, one that usually offers the promise of positive change.  The buyer believes that the product or service will change her life in some way and quite possibly the lives of others as well.  Remember, technology people embrace change.  That’s where the aspiration comes in.  If you build a brand that reaches out enough to be aspirational in nature, that promises to change the world in some way, you stand a better chance of attracting innovators and early adopters to it.  And of course if you are successful in attracting innovators and early adopters, you are more likely to make it to the early majority.

Oh, and one more thing.  Technologists innovate to change the world.  They think in terms of vision.  How will the world be different because I was here?  How will my product or service change the way people do things?  The way the world operates?  So if you’re a marketer trying to help a company get its innovation to market, remember that you’re not only selling to innovators and early adopters out there in the marketplace, you’re selling your marketing strategies to the very same kind of technology people you are trying to reach in the real world.  If you start with an aspiration, a goal of changing the world in some way, you will connect with your engineers as well as your target customers and set the stage for building a technology brand.

In my next post, I'll explain the second secret to branding technology. Stay tuned!