Story Telling

Don’t we all pride ourselves as storytellers! Truth is that most of us are not, the reason being that when we tend to tell a story that ends up being an unfocused ramble instead of the awesome attention grabbing story that we had in our minds. I was always intrigued by this, a story sounds awesome in one’s mind but most of the time it falls flat when delivered to an audience.

So is storytelling an art or science, and can it be learnt? It is definitely not science but for sure an art, I strongly believe it is an innate ability like painting, drawing or singing which can be polished and perfected but not learnt from scratch. If not a natural storyteller it becomes contrived and painful to both the teller and listener.

Good storytellers understand the target audience, and tell the story so effectively that it just not captures attention but appeals to their sensibilities, kindles their emotions and challenges their imagination. It is never an easily discernible task to understand the audience’s mood, doesn’t matter if it is just one person or a large group, unless storyteller is a natural.

Example of great storytellers past and present:

There is no question about Steve Jobs being a great story teller but read an article that Edwin Land was his storytelling model. Is it possible for Steve Jobs to imitate or copy someone without himself being a natural? If we read his biographies both official and unofficial, we can clearly see a great storyteller who can easily appeal to people’s emotions, agreed we can also see that he can easily turn off people due to his obsessions but for the most part we’ve to agree he is one of the best storytellers of our time.

It was fascinating to read Benjamin Franklin’s biography [by Walter Isaacson, who also happens to be the official biographer for Steve Jobs], where he comes across as an enterprising entrepreneurial storyteller.  I’m still reading, but was able to see his innate abilities where he was able to create consensus and  achieve great heights both personal and professional.

I’ll continue to explore this intriguing topic…

Posted in Story Telling

Value of Personal Data

Marketing was far simpler in the earlier times, with few products in the market; a reasonably functional product supported by mass advertising efforts, easily (relative to current market conditions) got consumer attention and people eventually came around to buy it. And also the products carried a quality based brand value, and in the process companies built loyal customers. But things have changed, with quality becoming pretty much the standard the value is more on personalization. Personalization can happen only when there is information on target consumer base. Marketers need user data that can be processed into usable information.

Data, particularly user’s personal data, is slowly but steadily becoming the new oil, with intelligent processing and mining it can not only be used to make business decisions but can also be monetized. User data helps in creating personalized services, products or solutions. In the earlier times, the only way the marketers acquired user data was through manual surveys and interviews but this all changed with the advent of internet and digitally available data. When user data became easily available, marketers acting like a child in a candy store, went heads on to maximize the use of the available data but in the process used questionable means to acquire them.

Marketers still in the mass marketing mentality took a head on approach to monetize digitally available data. The data was manipulated to either persist the consumer with a product they don’t need or even worse mislead the consumer into actually buying it. This practice became a menace which naturally caused panic among consumers and governments regarding user privacy. There needs to be a balance where the consumers and marketers can exist in harmony – is there a way it can be achieved?

Consumers felt like they are being stalked by robots that track their online activities. It got even weirder with the free email systems where the robot crawlers scanned the emails and popped up advertisements based on keywords present in the email. But still people continue to use them because they were getting a value! Same is applicable for social networks. We can see that people are willingly allowing privacy interference when there is an acceptable reward. With more and more privacy laws being introduced, marketers are being forced into requesting consumer permissions to use the consumer’s personal data.

Unless the users will share their personal data to the marketers there is no easy way around the privacy concerns. So, the question is – Will consumers willingly share data with marketers for a value? And is there even a way to put a value on personal data? I came across a site (http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/what039s-your-personal-data-worth.html) that interestingly assigns a value for pieces of personal information. To overcome privacy and user permissions, and make it easy for the consumer the challenge lies in the ability to make shared information available anonymously at a single location, with the user should having complete control over their personal data – instead of the user sharing personal information to multiple companies creating numerous copies of personal data which would be close to impossible to manage. We can get more sense on this if we read the book “Pull” by David Siegel and “Permission Marketing” by Seth Godin.

 

Posted in Product Development and Marketing

Mobile Penetration and Marketing

Worldwide mobile phone sales are growing in leaps and bounds, and there is a huge increase in the percentage of smartphone sales. The availability of reliable mobile data networks has encouraged mobile equipment manufacturers and service providers to develop and distribute low cost feature rich smartphone phones. Consumers are adopting smartphones for everyday use more than ever before and studies assert this increase in adoption to quality devices and fast, affordable data networks. The increased adoption of smartphones has converted the wireless environment into a viable marketing communication channel similar to internet, print or visual media.

Recent reports on smartphone sales in Gartner show that Android has made a huge leap to become the market leader in the smartphone world market followed by Symbian, iOS, Blackberry OS and Windows mobile. We know that Apple, even though a late entrant to the smartphone market space has truly become an innovation leader followed by Android. Blackberry’s market presence is mostly focused in the corporate space. Windows on the other hand is slowly making a market presence and this might get a boost with Nokia’s move that pretty much abandons Symbian OS for window’s mobile platform. With the advancement in innovations and increased adoption of smartphones, feature phones are slowly phasing out, but still it will be quite a while before they become obsolete.

The increase in mobile phone adoptions makes perfect business case for organizations to make their presence in the mobile space. This development has opened the doors for the organizations to use mobile space as a marketing medium to reach customers directly. An organization’s strategy to reach its targeted consumers can be as varied as building a mobile application to using other mobile apps as vehicles.

There is no second question or thought on smartphone adoptions but organizations or marketing agencies should not be carried away with the idea of only focusing on smartphones, as the smartphone worldwide distribution is uneven. There is a large global feature phone consumer base, so depending on the target market there should be consideration towards this market too. It might be easier to capture consumer attention but the challenge, for the organizations or the marketing agencies, lies in keeping consumers engaged within a small real estate? Customers can be reached by means varying from a simple SMS to a rich interactive user experience. Marketing strategies should include feature and smartphones, with consideration to the target market.

The other areas that should be covered when strategizing mobile market presence are: smartphone application development, mobile commerce opportunities, permission marketing, mobile enterprise application, mobile content management and social network integration.

Posted in Mobile

Marketing Message

How to get consumer attention in a market filled with zillion products? Effective marketing is the best way to get consumer attention – easier said than done! Marketing is just not just having a large marketing team or hiring agencies that would build a run-on the mill traditional plan and go berserk on mass media. It is more than that, it is the ability to package: the core idea of the product, identifying the core market and using right medium to reach that market with a well defined clear message.

Ideas, good or bad are dime a dozen, but the challenge is in the productization (not a word, yet) of the idea. When all stars line-up, and when the idea productized, multiple groups or individuals with different vested interest get involved in the process and the idea of solving a simple problem usually turns out to be a complex product that tries to do multiple things. Now, when the product is blessed for launch, the problem starts: what is the go-to market strategy and what is the marketing message? Everyone wants a say (engineering, sales, marketing, PR etc…)

An ideal situation would be: not only having a control over the productization process but also the marketing team and the company leadership collaborating to choose the right messaging mediums and crafting a simple message to reach the target market. Due to lack of major problems to solve, most of the new products end up in competition to an existing product. In the rat race to exceed the value of an existing product, the new product or enhanced product is filled with features that can either be confusing or may not be of value to the end consumers. In order to reach more customers the product is also mass marketed and the marketing message tries to tout each and every feature of the product – ultimately confusing the consumer rather than helping. In this new age, it must not be forgotten there is less and less scope for mass products, since large conglomerates and companies have taken that space and are having their own price wars to get customer attention.

The smartness of product developers lies in effectively using the results derived from SWOT or competitive analysis as a guide rather than a motivation tool to cover the gaps or weaknesses. Instead of spending time to fill in the gaps, the focus should be on refining the target market definition and improving the on product strengths for that market. The goal should be to develop a product that solves a focused problem, and not develop a cluttered product that says it can solve the problem X and by the way it can not only solve problems A, B, C but also E, G and M. Intention should be to help the niche market consumers solve the problem with the product and crafting a simple message that would exactly say how the product will solve for the problem.

Will cover “how to craft a marketing message” in a follow-up blog…

Posted in Product Development and Marketing

Importance of Differentiation

The market space is crowded with products, and consumer attention span is very limited. So, what differentiating factor will entice a consumer to pick a brand product from a score of similar products? The challenge is in developing the differential factor that will make the product stand out.

In traditional product development, the methods are focused to do competitive analysis or SWOTs to evaluate the strengths and weakness, and dive head down in covering up the weakness rather than improving the strengths. The product runs the risk of becoming homogenous with microscopic differences in comparisons, and this will naturally trigger price wars rather than creating a differentiating leader.

I like the way Seth Godin talks about products and marketing in his book Purple Cow, how being different actually creates a purple cow that would stand out in a crowd. How true? Unless the product has the strengths to stand out, it is doomed to fail or be steamrolled by a competitor. The success of a product is not just limited to how great the product is designed or functional but also how effectively the product is marketed.

The general wisdom is mass marketing is good as more the number reached better chances for conversion, but it cannot be far from the truth with respect to today’s consumer attention span. It must be remembered that consumers are bombarded with advertisements and it is very hard to get their attention and even harder to hold it. Also, the conversion rate is not proportional to the marketing spend; even worse, it can be inversely proportional in some cases.

It is known that consumers are categorized into one of these categories: early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. When a well designed usable product that has a focused problem to solve is given to a good marketing team – what should be done? The marketer’s first line of job is to reach out to the early adopters to get the product introduced, instead of wasting resources including hard cash on trying to reach all consumer segments. Since, the early adopters are the ones who are willing to try; there is no reason to waste resources on other segments that do not care until the product has generated some value and buzz in the market space. At least this gives the marketer the benefit of seeing the value of the product and acceptance, before binge marketing to the mass. It must not be forgotten that the product acceptance in the mass market will be very slow, and also many times it does not matter whether the product is accepted in the mass market as a company might be able to make more than enough profits just sticking to an accepting niche market.

The art of a marketer should not be limited to: when and where to introduce the product but also lies in the ability in tracking the product in each consumer segment and varying the methods of marketing. Also, the marketer should be able to identify and recommend end of life for a product based on market decline. Integrated Marketing Communication will be another interesting discussion topic as a follow-up to this posting.

Posted in Product Development and Marketing

Strengths and Weakness

When weaknesses are identified the general proclivity is to amend the weakness and somehow convert it into strength. I was one of those people who believed that weaknesses can be converted to strengths. The question that I started pondering was: is it worth the time and effort spent to improve a weakness? From my personal experience and from that of people I know of – even though it is anecdotal, answer is a definite NO. I strongly believe that time spent to improve weaknesses would have been time better spent on improving strengths.

The title:”Different: escape the competitive herd” caught my attention at a bookstore, after reading, I realized that the author has a point and it is applicable at multiple levels (personal, professional and product development). The author, a teacher, mentions that when the students are highlighted about their weaknesses in a subject the immediate reaction was to improve the weakness. So, with almost everyone in the class focusing on their weakness the class almost became a homogenous group, and losing its originality and creativity in the process. And, the author logically extends this perspective to product development and products in the market [this will need a separate post].

Imagine the situation in a work environment: the annual review where the employees are given performance feedback. The evaluator tends to spend more time talking about the weaknesses and asking the employee to focus and improve on those areas. This insistence on improving a weakness gets even worse when the evaluator needs to justify for a lesser pay raise. Employees will not only be more obsessed about their weakness but will also get demoralized – which will in turn affect productivity. The goal should not be to create a group of similarly performing unsatisfied automatons but an energetic and confident group that contains individuals complimenting each other by filling in the weakness gaps.

Humans in general want to be well rounded without any flaws, and tend think in terms of weaknesses rather than strengths. Successful leaders in any field: sports, business or politics, are the ones who played to their strengths, and seldom displayed their weaknesses. This is what differentiates leaders from the rest.

Are weaknesses supposed to be totally ignored? In the book “Truth about you”, the author says that weaknesses cannot be converted to strengths since they might be inherent to the person, but they can possibly be neutralized. I’m not sure how weaknesses can be neutralized, but I totally agree with the author about having strong strengths that would pale any weakness.

The smartness lies in the ability to identify the true strengths and weaknesses and intelligently using them as parameters that differentiate and not homogenize.

Referred books:

  • Different: escape the competitive herd  – Youngme Moon
  • Truth about you – Marcus Buckingham
Posted in Strengths and Weaknesses

Organizational Structure and Behavior

Reading about organizational structure and behaviors as part of business courses gave me the false gratification of understanding corporate structures. Working at corporations, over the years, I was able to somewhat relate to the readings but was unable to correlate information to make any progressive judgments. How do organizations function, there should be some kind of reason behind the madness otherwise the whole structure will collapse. In any organization we can see large swarm of employees who are mostly unsatisfied and that can be seen in their impatience for the weekend, cribbing on Mondays and feeling a sense of relief on Fridays. Also, we can see that employees complaining about an undeserving team member moving up the ladder while they toiled hard. But everyone continues to do their jobs albeit with a grudge, complaining day in and day out. Apart from paychecks, I always thought there should be something more to this madness. I’ve worked in different organizations across industries but the experience has been the same irrespective of the organization’s size.

In the process of trying to understand this behavior I accidently stumbled on a blog called ribbonfarm.com which had an excellent blog series about Gervais principle. Note, this article also references Peter’s (Peter J Lawrence) and Dilbert’s (Scott Adams) principles which I was totally unaware of. Thanks to Venkatesh Rao of Ribbonfarm.com for not only blogging about this in such an extensive way with reference to The Office (I was one of those viewers who simply followed the show without understanding behavior intricacies of the characters until I read his blog) but also introducing me to other schools of thought about organizations.

Rao’s use of Hugh McLeod’s organizational structure pyramid along with the The Office’s characters to explain the Gervais principle is what made it to stick for me. It definitely makes sense to be believe that an organization is made of Losers, Clueless and Sociopaths (McLeod’s pyramid), as without them an organization will seldom survive.

These articles have definitely brought some measurable sanity when I think of organizations and people in general. I strongly recommend to anyone interested in organizational structure/behavior to read them [included links that connect to reading materials].  When talking to a friend about this, the first question was what is the value in understanding these principles? For me it was personally enlightening, and I certainly think that knowing where one stands in an org structure helps to understand the state of affairs and why things are happening in a certain way within an organization, and may (please note “may”) help in seeking ways to move in a different direction.

Links to blogs:

Posted in Organization - Structure and Behavior