So… who’s really your customer?

One of this year’s “hottest” ad campaigns is for Procter & Gamble’s 72-year-old Old Spice brand.   During February’s Super Bowl, P&G launched a 30-second spot featuring the strapping actor Isaiah Mustafa, a former NFL wide receiver, as pitch man for P&G’s fledgling men’s shower gel which was running a distant third to Axe.

The spot, produced by Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, Ore., went viral within days and has drawn more than 16 million views on YouTube alone.   CBS News aired a report on the campaign in advance of a second ad launched during the World Cup… again featuring manly Isaiah.

So… what can product managers learn from an advertising sensation?

Before I answer, take 30-seconds and have a look at the spot.

The most striking thing – aside from Isaiah’s abs – is that the pitch is aimed directly at woman… or should I say, “Ladies?”    Why would P&G speak to women about a man’s personal hygiene product?

The answer is simple.

Market research indicated that as much as 70 percent of men’s shower products are purchased by females who live in the same household.    In market research, 70 percent is a very significant pull.    Since women make the majority share of buying decisions… they are the real customers for men’s shower gel.    Men only apply it.

Similar distinctions were discovered decades ago in the retail paint industry.    Market research indicated that gender also played a role in the selection of residential paint.    It turns out that women choose interior paint more often that men do and base their selection criteria on colors available within a brand.    Men, on the other hand, make the purchasing decisions on exterior paint… and make selections based on durability and price.

An interesting aspect of this research was that painters had no role in the selection process even though they understood the chemistry and attribute differences of the brands and were best suited to select a paint brand for any particular need.

Painters, it turns out – like men in the shower – only apply the product.

So here’s today’s lesson; understanding stakeholder role distinctions is invaluable to a product’s design and subsequent marketing.    And remember… it’s not always obvious who’s REALLY your customer.    Good product managers understand this.

Why I’m a Cow on Twitter

57226892Last week a colleague relayed a story about a friend of his who was applying for a job. On the application was a box to attach a photo. Apparently my colleague’s friend wasn’t aware that she needed to bring a photo. Therefore in an honest attempt to return a complete application she sketched her likeness in the box under the heading “image of applicant.” She didn’t draw a stick figure… she had real artistic talent and sketched a high-quality image. It wasn’t a photo-realistic image of her face, but was an image of who she intended to be on the job. (In listening to his story I got the impression that the sketch included either a cape or mask.)

She didn’t get the job. And she never found out if the rejection was due to her sketched “picture.” If creativity was a skill required, however, I suspect her application ranked high among the other candidates.

Self-portraits are always instructive; they paint the artist both as he sees himself and as he wishes to be seen. Self-portraits can at once expose and obscure, clarify and distort. They offer opportunities for both self-expression and self-seeking. And, to product managers, the fact that people self-describe is one of the most valuable aspects of social media.

On the internet, everyone knows you’re a ______. (fill in blank)

Today self-portraits are crafted from pixels rather than paint. On social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, self-portraits feature background music, carefully manipulated photographs, stream-of-consciousness musings, and lists of our hobbies and friends. They are interactive and invite viewers not only to look, but also to respond. These “portraits” can hold a wealth of information… more than a photo-realistic image.

One of the most popular courses at Stanford last spring was “The Psychology of Facebook.” The course was so admired that a book will be published summarizing the research findings of the class. One of the interesting aspects of the course was to explore the concept of self description… “when a person uploads a profile picture…or lists attributes about him or herself… what persuasive goals drive the selection?”

Social Media = finding your tribe

The idea behind Twitter can be hard to grasp. Facebook is easier… upload pictures of Mr. Sprinkles or the weekend snapshots of the kids and a newsfeed alerts your friends to look and comment. While Facebook is simple to use and understand, Twitter has far more value for product managers.

Twitter is a SMS-based service that allows you to micro-blog using 140 character communication fragments in near real time. People “follow” you on Twitter. That is, they opt-in / opt-out of your Tweets (read: comments) without introducing themselves or asking permission. Followers merely hook on to read your haiku-length thoughts as you travel through the day.

I think Twitter is best illustrated by a scene from the 2003 film Bruce Almighty. Bruce Nolan, played by Jim Carrey, freaks out on live TV, is fired and then offered a new job by an unknown person. At the interview Bruce meets God, played by Morgan Freeman, and is given god-like powers. Later, Bruce starts to hear the voices of people praying (read: “tweeting”). All the voices of people praying were available for Bruce to hear should he decide to listen (read: “following”). Simply put, that’s Twitter… people saying whatever comes to mind and other people choosing to listen.

Companies are playing God, too…

Companies like Zappos are using Twitter to actively pay attention to their customers. When someone mentions in a Tweet that they may be shopping for, say, new a handbag… magically, a tweet back containing a URL to Zappos.com for a discount coupon for Kate Spade handbags appears. Zappos might not be playing God but they sure are listening to their flock.

I do this myself… I’ll type in a keyword like “Red Sox” on Tweetdeck… and anytime someone mentions “Red Sox” I get an alert and can opt to join the conversation or merely observe. All in real time.

Criticism has been heaped on Twitter recently. In the Boston Globe, Tom Davenport, who holds the President’s Chair in Information Technology at Babson College remarked that Twitter is a fad similar to CB radios. Davenport’s main thesis is that you can’t say anything meaningful in 140 characters.

Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff and co-author of Groundswell, a book on social media, disagrees; “I still hear a lot of skepticism about Twitter, but not from marketers.”

Precisely right, Josh.

Amid the ordinary tweets of “I just ate a mango…” are many genuine comments that provide unedited insight on a vast array of topics. There are now services that track in real time keyword topics ….twitter icon

Social media’s value to product management is based on the psychological reality that people are inclined to self-describe and tend to naturally cluster into communities based on common interests.

Social scientists coined the term “ambient awareness” to describe a sense of emotional closeness to people who are physically distant but share digital connections. The glue for pre-digital communities was physical proximity. In the digital world it is common interests that create and sustains communities. Physical proximity is becoming less important.

Okay, so why is my Twitter avatar a cow?

It’s a reference to Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow which is required reading for product managers. In a digital world where most of my followers may never meet me in real life a photo of my face has less value than a “portrait” that describes some important attribute. So you all have homework… and the answer can be found in the Purple Cow.

Everyone has an opinion… which is precisely the problem.

Successful product innovation is always based on the voice of the customer. Of course, the trick is to make sure that product managers hear the Right customer voices. With participatory requirement gathering techniques, it’s never obvious which of your current customer’s product needs should drive future product direction.

Think about the creation of the automobile…

If Henry Ford’s product decisions had been directed via a customer focus group on transportation, he would have never created the automobile. He would have merely bred a more reliable horse.

Social media technologies are providing product managers with the opportunity for more authentic conversations with product consumers – methods that allow greater collaboration.

However, these less structured, “opt-in” approaches to customer collaboration don’t come without issues. Research at McKinsey has suggested that Web 2.0 technologies may actually give less meaningful results unless managed.

There are countless product innovation attempts where companies have tried to generate new product ideas by tapping suggestions from visitors to corporate websites. Many companies concluded that participants didn’t have the background, the skill nor the knowledge to contribute to meaningful product innovation ideas… and so the quality and yield of new product ideas proved to be very low.

Recently, I had a similar experience when I wanted to purchase new headphones for my iPod. To help select the best product for my needs, I thought it would be smart to research consumer reviews for the new Apple in-ear product. (After all, these are people who opted-in… a Tribe for Apple ear buds! )

The first customer review from Toronto was entitled, “Awesome headphones Apple!” The second review from “JB” is Brooklyn headlined… “A shocking miss for Apple.”

And the product reviews continued in a similar fashion… ping-ponging back and forth between joyous raves to complete trashing. I walked away wondering if these people were actually using the same product! What I realized was that the variability in the reviews wasn’t due to product… it was that the consumers weren’t using the same set of criteria as measurement. So it was impossible to get an effective read of how well the product actually performed against a set of quality metrics.

I think that social media companies like Communispace [Go HERE to their website] have the right approach to data collection for product innovation. Their approach is to create private communities where users are selected based on pre-established criteria and then invited to join the community. And like any community, people are allowed to opt-in and participate whenever they have interest in the current conversation.

The difference with a private community is that much of the outlier noise has been pre-filtered by making sure that the voice of the customer is one that has the highest probability of value creation. Without the proper selection of participants, Web 2.0 technologies may offer feedback that is no more effective than any other methods.

If I had a hammer

Comedian Kathleen Madigan has a routine where she describes the objects that a single woman has in her household toolbox. As you might imagine (since it’s a comedy routine) there’s nothing in the toolbox used for the purpose it was orginally designed. The “hammer,” for example, is a man’s shoe.

This might be humorous to many people but to my product manager sensibilities Madigan’s comedy routine is closer to a horror show… like the scene in Psycho where Anthony Perkins cuts short Janet Leigh’s shower. (eeet!..eet!..eeet!!)

I’m quite sure that some commission-oriented salesman thought it was, well, “okay” to sell a shoe for a purpose it wasn’t designed. In product speak – the salesman sold the product outside of its target market segment.

What’s wrong with selling outside the target market segment?

hammer2
Selling to consumers who intend to use a product in ways it wasn’t intended to be used creates a very scary scene.

Let’s fast forward to a client conference where shoe consumers attend a voice-of-the-customer session to provide feedback on which features should be modified or added. So, what does the toolbox owner request for new product features for her “hammer”? New leathers, or colors or perhaps softer soles? Unfortunately, no.

She feels that her product needs a handle so it would be easier to grasp… a metal insert on the heel so it would drive the nail with more force… and the laces should be removed completely since they don’t have any function. Of course, all this makes complete sense because she is using the product outside the segment for which it was designed.

There are very good reasons why markets are segmented in product management. Customer market segments define product features which in turn drives the product design for that segment.

All products are designed for a specific target market – a specific set of users who have similar product requirements and who use the product in a similar manner. Selling a product outside of the defined segment boundaries is dangerous… and is guaranteed to create a horror scene for product managers. (eeet!…eet!…eeet!)

How Sticky are your Products?

Why do some ideas succeed while others fail?

Stanford professor Chip Heath has spent the last 10 years asking that very question. I just finished his book (co-authored with his brother Dan who owns a business that specializes in innovation) in which Heath published his findings.

The ability to create winning products (note: products are manifestations of IDEAS) may sometimes feel like dumb luck but there are patterns in why some are more successful than others. Heath’s book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, identifies six traits that help ideas endure.

Jack Welch is renown for communicating ideas that inspire and yet other business leaders are often frustrated that their ideas are too soon forgotten.

What is a “sticky” idea?

A sticky idea is one that everyone understands when they hear it… is memorable… and changes some fundamental concept. While sticky is a straightforward concept, it doesn’t happen too often. (Think back to the last presentation you saw… How much do you remember? Did it change your behavior in any way? Probably not.)

I liked Heath’s example of an abstract message “employees should maximize shareholder value.” ( Okay, we’re all on board… that sounds like a good thing for employees to do.) But what specific behaviors should employees change to respond to this message?

Contrast the message statement above to an example of a FedEx driver who couldn’t open one of his pickup boxes since the key was back at the office. His deadline was tight and he knew that he wouldn’t have time to go back to the office and return with the key to make the deadline for the plane. So he got a wrench, unbolted the whole box and slid it into the truck. He knew he’d be able to unlock it back at the office.

Telling FedEx drivers to “maximize shareholder value” just leaves them hanging. But a story gives them a visualization of what the message really means.

Here are Heath’s six traits for sticky ideas:

1. SIMPLE – Messages are most memorable if they are short and thoughtful. Proverbs are short but also deep enough to guide behavior.

2. UNEXPECTED – An idea that sounds like basic common sense won’t stick… it must be unique.

3. CONCRETE – Anything abstract doesn’t leave sensory impressions… only concrete images do. Compare “get an American on the moon in this decade” with “seize leadership in the space race through targeted technology initiatives and enhanced team-based routines.”

4. CREDIBLE – Will it sell in Toledo? Trying to convey an idea which is outside the listener’s realm of experience won’t stick… even if experts are used to validate the idea.

5. EMOTIONAL – Case studies that involve people are sticky. Heath says that we are wired to identify with people… but yet have no emotional attachment to ideas.

6. REPEATABLE – We use stories every day to convey ideas. Why? Heath says that rehearsing a situation helps us perform better. Stories that are easily repeated act like a mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

As you develop your products, try using these concepts. It just might help make them a bit more sticky.

What’s your pledge?

With the undeniable spirit of optimism that swept our country this week as part of the inauguration of President Obama… this post is dedicated to advancing this sense of renewal.

As our new President challenges: “…let us summon a new spirit of patriotism…of responsibility… where each of us resolves to pitch in… to look not only after ourselves… but each other.”

what are YOU going to pledge?

Share your pledge below… I’d like to know.

Then go make something happen.

In today’s Economy… is “Tactical” more important than “Strategic?”

Are companies delaying strategic product investments (i.e., where product returns are realized in future years) for investments that provide returns in 2009?

Tom Nicholas from the Harvard Business School published in The McKinsey Quarterly an article which says that executives who take a “wait and see” approach to innovation investment during downturns may be putting their firms at a competitive disadvantage. “Companies that delay these investments may forego significant growth opportunities when uncertainty subsides and the economy recovers.”

In the 1930’s, DuPont R&D produced synthetic rubber and nylon. Radio Corporation of America (RCA) focused on a new technology called Television… And Hewlett Packard and Polaroid were start-ups back then.

The lessons on innovation investment in downturns is very pertinent today. The market will improve and those firms that continue to invest strategically in the down economic cycle will likely see a product advantage over competitors once the cycle improves.

So, are strategic investments taking a back seat during this downturn?