Product Management

Top 3 Questions to Ask to Identify if Your Product or Business Idea is a Winner.

When the time comes to evaluate your business or product idea, with all the tools provided and research available, there is plenty infomation to make an assessment. Alternatively, it all comes to the bottom “3 questions”, according to Graig Stull et al, the authors of recently released product management masterpiece, TunedIn: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities That Lead to Business Breakthroughs.

1) Is the problem urgent?
Make sure your business addresses a real “burning”,hot need, which can be exemplified via incurring significant costs, losing value of time and money. The book talks about the ticket resale market, StubHub – where the urgency is very visible.
2) Is it pervasive in the market?
Size matters, especially when it comes to your potential market. If the problem you solve is common and can be found in a number of scenarios or buyer personas – go for it.
3) Are buyers willing to pay to have this problem solved?
This is the key: if your potential customers are not willing to part with their cash for your service, why bother? Check all alternatives that compete with your solution and test its “marketability”. The good news is: if the urgency relates to monetary costs, your chances of charging “what-market-can-bear” grow significantly.

Ask these top 3 questions, run this “pick-the-winner” acid test, when you think about your product!

Want to Start Your Own Business? Launch a New Service or Product? Find Unresolved Problems and Get Ahead.

Thinking of starting your own business? Launching a new service or product? Become an anthropologist and start observing people using existing products and services. By single virtue of watching people do things, you are empowered to discover unmet needs – your business opportunities.

The so-called “unmet needs” exist in two variations: expressed and silent. The former are easy to spot as users of a product under surveillance would state their issues and difficulties. The latter are more challenging to discover: users cannot articulate those. This is where you start observing and journalizing your “show”. And it goes without saying that you must observe the user in their normal state of consumption. Perhaps, it is worthwhile not to mention what you are doing and play a secret agent role for a while. Then, try to practice a curious child role, when you constantly ask “Why?” and “Show Me How You Do It Again”.

Keeping a list of ideas that enter your mind at various points during the day and night is also a valuable practice. This list can cover challenging, time-consuming or pleasant experiences you notice about your users under the observation. Ultimately, your new product or service will either solve some pain or deliver a pleasant experience to make it in the market. Think about ways of completely eliminating the pain and extending the pleasure. Write down the words your users utter at moments of consumption and times it takes to fulfill the need or want.

Expanding your vision beyond the current users can bear fruits to new applications of the existing product or service or new markets. Journalize the alternative use (not the primary function) of the product or service and you will have another source of ideas for business opportunities.

Finally, while you are immersing yourself into this ongoing observing activity, spice it up with creative getaways, fun experiences and “timed reflection sessions”. Focus on keeping your thought process on the observed event and become a user for a while. Or try to think about it while you are doing something exciting that drives your emotions to blend with the thoughts. Remind yourself to escape into “thinking about this point” sessions when you are “stuck” on a plane or driving long distance. And, when you find the unmet need, start writing down, yes “writing down” the next steps to make it happen.

P.S. Added 3 days later: A good article from provides a few ideas on everlasting businesses that “market to the 7 deadly sins“. Those businesses lust no matter what (economy, technology, evolution): the skills for having power over people, aphrodisiac food, wine, connoisseur experiences, and on-demand personal assistant to pick up/clean up your slack! Dah!

Good Marketing Leads to Profit. Skip it and You Are Stuck with Loss.

Marketing, as a business activity or profession, has a bad reputation. Most people think that anyone can do marketing and there is no need for professional training. From my personal experience in large and small companies, there are dozens of people who think they are good marketers. But, alas, they are not. Like in any industry, there is a certain percentage of people whose work is effective and worthwhile emulating. The rest are poor examples or attempts to mock something like it (“marketing”) in haste.

If we think of the best practices, successful product launches would illustrate the idea behind the quality of good marketing. It goes without saying that a product should be of value to the customers too, but its benefits must be communicated and marketed aggressively to succeed. The best products will not sell themselves, but a strong marketing effort, a well-targeted approach and efficient after-sales service will do the magic. This is where marketing planning comes into play: well-integrated, properly-targeted, proficiently-resourced and well-executed.

So, what is good quality marketing?

The top four qualities include:
1. Good marketing starts with a development of a marketing plan as an integral part of the new project or product process.

2. Good marketing means planning early and properly, identifying all the potential risks and opportunities before the execution of a campaign or a start of product development. Design cannot be started before its requirements are established, the target market is identified and positioning strategy is finalized.

3. Good marketing is only possible if you define its objectives clearly and early before execution. What do you want to achieve with your efforts? How does success look like? How are you going to track it? Measure, measure and measure your marketing to bring profitable results.

4. Good marketing is only as good as the market intelligence you have access to. You need that crucial information to build your game plan. Skipping on it – is going to cost you.

According to the studies by Robert Cooper, as listed in his book “Winning at New Products”, one of the persistent themes when it comes to problems and pitfalls of products that fail – is “that many marketing activities are seriously deficient….Many key activities are simply left out altogether”, especially the commonly critical ones like market research studies, trial sells, detailed business and financial analysis. Lack of market information remains the number one cause of product failures! Another trend showcases that marketing spend is only justified at the end (launch stage), when the product is designed. But this is where you are wasting the dollars if your assumptions are subjective and not supported by good marketing. This is where pieces of bad reputation are assigned to marketing as a discipline.

Learn on the mistakes other people made, do your homework first! Do your marketing planning first and you will reap profits from every dollar you spend.

Managing Mature Products – Revitalization Strategies

The other night, I saw an ad from Kraft Foods on a “new” cereal – just bunches! Though, not a consumer of this tasty meal, the ad story got my attention immediately. What stroke me – is the way the plot unfolds in the ad – it does depict a process when adding a new value can revive an existing product or come up with an extension. All you do is magnify one feature or functionality (like increasing a TV screen produced a market for home theaters), or eliminate a feature (like with the above mentioned Honey Bunch Oats, no flakes – just bunches).

There are three core strategies that can  be examined in the market to demonstrate revitalization:

1. Adding a new value – usually this is the way to look for creative opportunities to redefine the product. Sony executed this strategy when it created the Walkman, while it replaced speakers with a headset. The minivan combined the benefits of a station wagon and a van. In can even go way further into creating a hybrid from two products that are so unrelated, but when merged create a “new” niche product.  Michael Gibbert and David Mazursky call those category revolutions or “cross-breeds” in their article on combining two categories to come up with new products.

2. Repositioning – involves creating a new competitive position in the minds of the consumers.  Many a times, it can be classified as a bit controversial or far-fetched from the status quo.  Examples include utilizing some social trend in a reverse manner – with a wireless technology being built in various products – some coffee shops or service establishments chose to create a demand for anti-technology while jamming some sections of their establishments to provide cell free and wireless free zones for its customers. Or like the mentioned Ikea store experience, where no sales assistance store experience is accepted by customers in lieu of other benefits (specific ambiance, cafe, etc).

3. Extending the base – implies increasing the adoption rate, usage rate or entering new markets. To figure its feasibility, product managers would profile the customers that tend to buy more than average or consume more than average and find out what causes them to do that.  Another way to do so is to find unusual customers or product usage patterns that lead to defining new segments.  Example of this approach is Superior Clay Corporation that reacted to its clay sewer pipes being replaceed by plastic.  It did discover a new niche for decorative chimney pots and fireplace flue liners.

Whatever strategy one might apply, sometimes killing a product could be the best solution. Thus, it is critical to assess its performance, demand and potential costs before exercising any of the above-illustrated options!

What Do Product Marketers Do?

The definition for Product Marketing seems to be quite different, when one tries to draw the scope of roles and responsibilities. In some companies, it a very strategic multi-dimensional position, in some it is shared by a number of people.  There are functional overlaps with Product Management, there are functional overlaps with Market Research. So pondering on the scope of work or some sort of viable range of activities, I plunged on the journey to define the role myself. Why is that relevant on this blog? Because knowing the difference can actually redeem the value to the type of work Product Marketers do and  clarify the myths and misconceptions.

To start, I turned to wikipedia’s definition: “Product marketing frequently differs from product management in high-tech companies. Whereas the product manager is required to take a product’s requirements from the sales and marketing personnel and create a product requirements document (PRD),[2] which will be used by the engineering team to build the product, the product marketing manager can be engaged in the task of creating a marketing requirements document (MRD), which is used as source for the product management to develop the PRD. In other companies the product manager creates both the MRDs and the PRDs, while the product marketing manager does outbound tasks like giving product demonstrations in trade shows, creating marketing collateral like hot-sheets, beat-sheets, cheat sheets, data sheets, and white papers. This requires the product marketing manager to be skilled not only in competitor analysis, market research, and technical writing, but also in more business oriented activities like conducting ROI and NPV analyses on technology investments, strategizing how the decision criteria of the prospects or customers can be changed so that they buy the company’s product vis-a-vis the competitor’s product, etc..

In smaller high-tech firms or start-ups, product marketing and product management functions can be blurred, and both tasks may be borne by one individual. However, as the company grows someone needs to focus on creating good requirements documents for the engineering team, whereas someone else needs to focus on how to analyze the market, influence the “analysts”, press, etc. When such clear demarcation becomes visible, the former falls under the domain of product management, and the latter, under product marketing.

In other words, Product Marketer is a hybrid between Product Management and Marketing Communications? It also appears, that Product Marketers will pick up from the first “P” in charge (Product Manager) the developed product and translate its functionality and usage patterns for the communications specialists. They will also match back the functionality against the competitive products and validate the value with the customers that they chose and identified. In short, Product Marketers will take the product message and bring it to channels by working with communications and sales. Still blurry if described in words.

To my luck, I stumbled upon a new post on Steve Johnson’s blog, where he shared a new ebook that clearly defines functional lines between Product Management and Product Marketing.  But what I liked the most is the functional org chart he shared in the ebook where the roles not only well-defined, but also shown as a team with dependencies based on qualifications and expertise.  As an example, according to this ebook: “The Product Marketing Manager – (PMM) provides product line support for program strategy, sales readiness and channel support. This position requires close interaction with Marketing Communications and Sales Management.  Strong communication skills are a must.  Duties include converting positioning into key market messages and launching the products into market. The PMM owns:
- Defining buyer personas and determining market messages
– Maintaining product launch plans
– Identifying best opportunities in lead generation
– Creating standard presentations and demo scripts
– Writing white papers and technical communications
– Facilitating direct sales and channel training
– Supporting trade shows and other company-sponsored events
– Limited online channel support and phone assistance

The author also brings into the picture Technology Product Manager as another functional hybrid. 

 In conclusion, both sources (wikipedia and Pragmatic Marketing ebook) and even Geoff Moore referenced in the latter agree on the external focus of Product Marketer, who “usually talks to the market”, while Product Manager “listens to the market”.  The role is well-defined!  


What’s in the Name? Naming New Products and Re-branding

Coming up with a new product name, creating new packaging and staying loyal to the master brand could be quite a challenge, especially when multiple stakeholders are involved. So, what helps us go through this creative process? What can we already apply for our benefit that was tested and lived through? – Provided that we look at every product launch as a truly unique experience (which it is), here are some nuggets from my research to share on the subject:

I. The branding signals beyond the name
II. The necessity to change names and logos when strategies change
III. The beauty of the unique names

Firstly, Allen Adamson in his book “BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed” points out the concept of bringing brand signals beyond the name. In other words, there should be some sort of a unique customer experience that reinforces your product name and transfers its meaning even further: instant perceptions of a product experience. This information can be of great value when you are to change the name of the service, product or even a corporate name. He calls these experiences – “power signals”. Examples of those signals could be:

1. People behind the brand – like FedEx employees delivering “reliability”. Before its expansion into the global markets, the brand had a name of “Federal Express”. It served well for a while till the company moved into a broader service scope both functionally and geographically. Federal Express became too limiting and not succinct in expressing the brand power and did not allow “capitalizing on what became a positive fact of life. “FedEx became a ubiquitous term everyone used for an overnight delivery. In 1996, FedEx was formally adopted as a brand name which followed the logo change as well. Moreover, FedEx is a fast, confident and super-efficient brand, so its employees! You have to deliver on the promise you have in your brand name –already!

2. Exclusive product placement –like Gatorade, can be another power signal. Its placement into the football game –“dunking of the winning coach” – almost became a very recognizable association. The trick though not just in the right placement at the right media and the right place – it truly evolves around the authenticity of the product benefit – it is created for the athletes and it does improve performance. So, it just makes sense to be endorsed in the football game placements.

3. The speed at which the brand is recognized – the power of the icon, can be very effective to communicate your meaning. KFC managed to get the attention of folks speeding at the interstate by using its recognizable icons. Originally, it used to be fully spelled out as Kentucky Fried Chicken with a pretty sizable image of Colonel Sanders. When the brand team had a re-design challenge, they first shortened the name to KFC AND increased the speed of service. Then, they reduced the size of the image to the postage stamp. What happened later is very interesting: customers perceived the change in the name (shortened version) as sensible, but interpreted the loss of sizable image as the indicator that the meal is no longer home-cooked quality. They wanted the image back. Colonel’s face was equal to Micky Mouse ears – highly recognizable.

4. The power of the first impression or a first mover – Genworth – (a spin off of the GE) – can be effective. The company utilized the parent cache of the GE brand and solved the challenge of getting to the market fast by differentiating itself through the parent company heritage (excellent management and credibility), leaving the GE in the name and by coming up with the “generation- worth-assets” meaning – Genworth.

5. Advertising – could rule? Couldn’t it? Yes, it could. The U.S. Department of Transportation had a success campaign “Friends Don’t Tell Friends Drive Drunk” utilizing the four fundamental principles of effective advertising: grab a viewer’s attention, communicate to the right audience, persuade and stimulate the action and be effective overtime to build the recognition. This was a vivid example of that.

6. WOM – Word of Mouth – was utilized by Blackberry to develop a community and a cult movement of Type A personalities: people who make things happen in the professional world. The functionality this communication tool provided directly appealed to the emotional need of those professionals to stay in touch –always! If your product integrates well into your customers’ lifestyle – you might use this power signal very effectively. Just launch a community campaign, make it interactive and integrative of the customer experience with the product.

7. PR – used by Dove – capitalizing on the simple benefit and an authentic statement (providing soap which consists of ¼ of a cleansing cream). Testimonials became the strongest part of the branding campaign: there was evidence to its claim to make women beautiful every day. However, the most effective research fact the company used is expanding the definition of beauty for its customers – that made more women feel beautiful! It showed variations of beauty in its ads further on, thus increasing the 2 % of confidence to potential 10%! Brilliant!

8. Experience, as was implied before in the previous items, can be quite differentiating: Ann Taylor maximized the retail space to provide a unique experience to the professional busy women: it always provided high quality, high coordination items – thus appealing to a broader demographic. It is like a friend who will always give you a sound advice on clothing! If you go there next time, pay attention to the fact how well the retail space is designed to make it a fast and efficient shopping experience when a busy woman can run there at lunch and have a perfect outfit in 15 mins due to its consistent layout.
Sephora did the same by redefining the experience of make up shopping by brining it to customers for play!

Secondly, Joan Schneider in her book “New Product Launch: 10 Proven Strategies” shares her extensive expertise and experience with the new product launch strategies. This is a great guide to the topic with solid cases. The ones, I particularly liked referred to Compaq and British Petroleum. The former used to be a 1000-dollar mini computer brand that expanded into other markets. It had a perfect name for its initial products, but failed to see the need for image change when it brought other products through acquisition. The old brand (name, logo, etc) did not coexist well with the new strategies, thus bringing confusion. Eventually, Compaq was bought by HP.

British Petroleum on the other hand, had a success story when the need for re-branding occurred. It already moved strategically into global markets and it did expand on the energy offerings beyond oil. Leveraging the brand cache of BP (initial letters) and integrating the “beyond petroleum” strategy, BP had an effective repositioning. Perhaps, it is a synergy between the senior management support and true marketers.

To the third point, Seth Godin proposes to use the strategy of making the names up as opposing to turn to the benefit-description techniques. He points out that the unique name not only moves you forward in the differentiation game, but also develop its secondary meaning in a short period of time –initially internally and later externally. “The entire point of “secondary meaning” is that the first meaning doesn’t matter at all (especially since you picked a name with no meaning to begin with). Over time, a surprisingly short time, your unique word, especially if it sounds right, will soon be the one and only word.”

And this is just a tiny glimpse into the magic of brand perceptions world! A combination of art, psychology and common business sense!

Summing it up:

1) It is imperative for you to understand that bold moves pay off if you set them right with solid strategic planning.

2) It is important to look at the entire initiative as a “gestalt” or a “whole” integrative movement (like in a chess game): where all your communication pieces are in play: logo, product name, brand cache, and power signals embedded in the product experience. This allows you to choose a wining strategy based on the wealth of available product launch and re-branding knowledge that is still highly focused on your unique brand case.

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