Product Marketing

Intensify Customer Experience by Interruptions – But Do It Right.

“Interruptions? “- you say. “How come? Aren’t we supposed to provide a seamless and consistent experience? “Yes, you are, but add some “time away” for the consumer to start missing that pleasure.”

In two new studies, researchers who study consumer behavior argue that interrupting an experience, whether dreary or pleasant, can make it significantly more intense,” – says New York Times, Research columnist, Benedict Carey. The cause is rooted in the necessary opposing duality of our experiences that help us sharpen and distinguish among our perceptions. In other words, if you always lived in luxury, you might see it as a norm that gets boring and so “everyday”. Examples, would be occupational choices of people, who grew up wealthy, to pursue the lives of pioneers in underdeveloped countries or people who grew up in small towns, striving to live in “megapolislike” cities.

The concept is as old as the world, but why do we forget about it so often? Because, as marketers, we are so focused on listening to our customers, “who actually do not know what makes them happy most of the times”, and let our own thinking guard disregard the basics of consumer behavior and psychology.  Even here, the balance is the key, psychology findings and consumer insights must be “interrupted” & “diluted” by each other’s informational value that we can use in our marketing efforts.

 “Over the years, psychological research has found that people are not always so clear on what makes them happy. When reporting on their own well-being, they exhibit a kind of equilibrium: After a loss (divorce, say) or a gain (a promotion), they typically return in time to about the same happiness level as before. Humans habituate quickly, to hardship and prosperity, to war and peace. Yet even modest pleasures — a cup of coffee in the morning, an afternoon walk, a Scotch before bed — seem to follow a law of diminishing returns.”

 So if it is natural for us humans to ride the waves of ups and downs, as consumers we would be so happy to follow the pattern.  Though, this research is primarily focused on commercials and TV programs as products “to miss” – try to reflect this concept against the general consumption of your product or service. 

What are the product management strategies available to play on that evolutionary phenomenon?

- Launching “exclusive” editions to make the supply very much demanded. But, do as you say – do not make exclusive editions available for all – otherwise, the tactic will not work.

- Adding novel experiences to the product use, or purchase experience. Start selling your service online or make it available on mobile phones. Integrate it in some other product.

- Setting “usage levels” to basic, professional and advanced accounts, with features and benefits exponentially increasing in accordance to product price.

What are the marketing strategies available to play on that evolutionary phenomenon?

- Changing the advertising themes & channels – mix it up, change colors, a spokesperson and music to your ads.

- Use “pulse” schedule for your product message publishing – it will add the excitement and even save your advertising/publishing dollars.

- Frame your product usage message around an opposing life event – use the contrast to enhance the value perception of your brand.

There could be a limitless number of ideas generated if you dwell on this concept for a while and see what you are doing today for your product and service and how you can evolve it in the future. Make it a part of your marketing and product management reviews and you will keep your customers in a delighted state much longer.

All in all, take your customer’s wish at a grain of salt, especially when they say “I just wish I never had to watch a commercial.”

P.S. If you want more detail on this study, find this paper in the Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 36, August 2009.

All You Need to Know About Selling Online Today from Top 100 Online Retailers

If you sell online or think of doing it, the first question you might have: “What are the best of online retailers do?”. Scouting the web for a few hours might bring you great insights. You will even save a number of favorites. Sounds a bit tedious? But, guess what – there is already a good source publication that did a comprehensive analysis for people like you and me. You will learn all you need to know about selling online today from the top 100 sites of 2009 and apply ideas shared for your site.

The recent article by Internet Retailer on America’s Best Retail Web Sites (Hot 100), provides wells of useful information for online retailers that delight its customers and sell more, segmented by the industry (apparel and accessories, books/film/music, computer/electronics, flowers/gifts/jewelry, food/drug, housewares and home, mass merchants, specialty and sporting goods). It is worthwhile to both study the article and visit those sites if you want to increase your conversions. No doubt that not all strategies shared might work for you and your customers, but at least this list will spike up your creativity.

The first four (4) strategies common for all 100 are as follows:

1) Create your own
Customization, or to be precise, personalization is well-received by the audience and goes beyond creating mini sites. You would say – well, who has the time to play with the site all day long? There are shoppers that love doing it, and there are ones that use those customized reviews or pages for their own needs. As an example, Spanish – speaking users of BestBuys.com, notably bring the printouts of other customers’ reviews to the store to make a purchase. TheKnot.com makes the whole bridal experience unique and self-well-planned!

2) Consumers have their say
Of course, social networks rule these days. “You tell me where you got that. As I want it …and I will tell a bunch of my friends and some. I might as well share about it on my Facebook or create a fan group”. People love sharing their purchase and brand preferences as well as bad customer experiences! People love extending their personality through the products they consume daily to connect more to the rest of the social circle! Use this opportunity with caution – by simply letting your customers do that – add “Share This” application on your pages – and the trick will happen! People want to know the opinions of their social network when it comes to buyer behavior. They love bragging about the best deal! Make the word-of-mouth easy for them! Reward them for the evangelism! Example – Popcuts.com, rewards its customers that buy early the tunes that become hits.

3) Beyond the site
Make the purchase feasible beyond your site – via text or other widget! American Eagles capitalizes well on the teenage seem-to-be-only-way-of-communication texting. Again, Facebook widgets and applications, YouTube widgets – all help to drive the magic of human capital. Capitalize on blogs – see what people are saying and deliver suggestions. They might outweigh all your PR efforts! Install live chats and instant-representative-call! See what happens.

4) The personal touch
This is my favorite: Borders.com allows its employees review new book arrivals and utilize their own expertise to share those. Skis.com posts videos of its employees trying on various merchandise and commenting on the experience! Imagine the possibilities! You can not only document the customer service value that your employees provide, you turn it into a personalized library and marketing material! Plus, both employees and customers enjoy it! Work and marketing benefit in-one.

The other best practices include:
a) Address a niche customer, make the design speak to a very particular audience, not all customers you can imagine. If you need, create a number of variants – you will sell more and return your web development costs very fast. “Serve your target, but serve it well!”

b) Simple is chic, and it does brings a buck. Make your audience online shopping experience easy from getting the need and desire to fulfillment. Make returns free and time-manageable, or to be correct time-feasible (45 days vs. 2 weeks). Simulate the try-on/usage experience – get the need started, visualized. Make it easy to share, save and review. Moreover, strive for a one click buy!

c) “Got 2 have it”, applies text messaging templates with merchandise codes for your customers (especially teenage or heavy users’ “tribe”). Influence the buyer behavior! Smart!

d) Visually rich, implies presenting your products in various formats, catering to diverse and ever-changing shopping experience a user might have. Use category menu, simulated try-ons, mix and match suggestions based on the browsing history. Brilliant! “Today, I know what I want and I go straight to the skirts section, tomorrow….I am just browsing and you might sell ideas if you help me see them!”

e) Use inspiring real-life imagery (related to the product, of course) to support the buying intent. Athleta did that well while illustrating that fashion and fitness go well together. Instead of using stunning models in exotic backgrounds, they used real-life women! Dah! Talking about the basics of personas and the benefits of good quality UI!

f) Connecting every day, allows you fortify relationships with your customers, keep them involved about new arrivals and deals! Do not forget to make it very personal, tailoring to their needs based on the purchase history. They left without a purchase since they had not found what they wanted! Alert them when the appropriate product arrives, win them back.

g) Online video demos go YouTube and all, provides you with an opportunity to make your audience watch it. Ok, you would argue – “But I will lose my traffic, I only want people come to my site!” Well, by loosening up controls, you can scoop more traffic from the most trafficked sites. This is what Roxy did, a site for women surfers – a niche, so underserved and unknown. By posting a video on YouTube, their site got 500,000 extra views in 48 hours.

h) Got a complex product? Educate your customers with free articles, dictionary references, and make it even customizable by expertise level (easy, hard and harder). See what Scholastic.com did! Take the stress out of buying and provide all-you-need-to-know-about-product content!

i) Power up your site search! Make it user-friendly! Try to use the same basics you use to bring traffic by your search campaigns, foresee search terms for your users – capitalize on our basic instinct to use a search bar! Dah! Moreover, segment the search outcome by low/high end options. Or segment your inventory at the minimum.

j) Speak the language of your customers, namely use the terms and “corky” copy to connect to their hearts and wallets. ThinkGeek.com did just that and made $33 million easily in 10 years.

k) Share your brand logos with your beloved customers to create personalized calendars, photos and greeting cards! That’s where your legal counsel might “irk”! But wait, remember when was the last time you really wanted to have your face on a T-shirt with your favorite “blank” product? See what MyMMs.com did.

l) Take a new look on navigation. Innovation does pay off and Overstock.com illustrates it well with its efficient site navigation. They synthesized online browsing and search experience! This is so breakthrough. If you have web design budget – replicate this valuable find within the next 6 months.

To learn more, you DO need to read the whole article! It will power your idea pool and make your online shopping experience so delightful as it did for me!

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 Entrepreneour.com 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.

Creative Brand Awareness Campaign for a Good Product

When an existing product is revived by a new use case – miracles happen! Tide-To-Go exemplifies a stellar product already – it cleans the spots when you need it – right at the moment when they happen.  The product has been in the market for approximately two years if not more (according to my own discovery of it in 2006). However, it is only now that its powerful benefit will be known to the masses!

The new campaign – “Silence the Stain” illustrates good quality, creative marketing. It surely brings the product benefits to life in a humorous yet persuasive manner: a dirty spot becomes so distractive as it almost comes to life.  Brilliant theme and consistent messaging of this campaign are the standards to adopt while practicing the power of marketing! Check the ads for yourself and see which one speaks to you. My favorite – is the job interview clip.

Silence the Stain – Job Interview

Or the the marriage proposal:

or the date:

next one is a stop by police:

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!  

 

Suggestions to Marketing Folks (Brand Managers) at T-Mobile Directly from My Customer Experience

Today I faced with a reality of being a tiny customer for a giant company that does not care enough to get the feedback on how they can improve their service and make their customers love them more. It happens very rare when I blog about a user experience from my personal experiences, but I had to devote a post for that as not only my customer dignity was lost, but my professional advice was disregarded.

I truly believe that T-mobile marketing folks would appreciate some feedback from the actual customers coming to them directly, perhaps even in a form of a packaged idea. Or maybe not! The worst has happened already – as a loyal customer, today I felt duped and almost helpless. I was trying hard to deliver my feedback through the customer service rep and she kept on repeating that no one is going to care about my suggestions. I guess in the worlds of giant corporations a tiny customer‘s voice is just a nuisance. I have to use my blog for that as there is no other channel that exists that can provide that kind of a feedback for them. The rep confirmed that my feedback is useless and no one is going to check and she has no way to pass my suggestions through. I just have to deal with it! On the other hand, it made me think a lot about how much does a brand value matter to the fellow marketers at T-mobile in relation to one but still an eye opening experience from an average customer? Thus, the purpose of this post is not to bash the brand, but to try to deliver my feedback to the folks that can make a difference in the customer experience. Or not, as they can always disregard it. And lose me and lose a few more of the customers like me one by one.

So, I went back to the corporate site and I had a hard time finding a mission statement with the values! I guess, the assumption that the customer is right and important was my imaginary assumption. The company never made a promise to serve me well. That does not help.

I always did not pay much attention to the ads that show how big telecommunication companies treat their customers as opposing to the emerging internet-based providers. Heck, as a customer I was quite irrational while making a choice who is going to be my cellular carrier. I just liked Katherine Zeta-Jones and the coverage seemed to be national, so I chose T-mobile. Very typical irrational, but short-cut based decision. Now, having experienced the reality, I think twice who I should have chosen. Going back to the commercials, I never related till today to the jokes that are played on major carriers with multiple rules. In fact, I was ok to comply to those rules as I always felt I will be heard – till today! As an example, Vonage has a great piece of an ad that makes fun of the giant communications providers. It is pretty new and only available on TV. Other examples include the following videos.

Now, I am thinking about switching to Alltel, who cares about $200 cancelation fee when they never notify me on the overage and I might as well save the trouble?

My complete T-mobile user experience story
To depict the situation better, here is my actual description of the experience as a T-mobile loyal customer. The customer that was not cared for…
Yesterday, I renewed my contract with T-mobile and felt pretty happy to get a new phone and play with it. As a user I had positive feelings about the brand. Today, I could not understand why my phone was so silent till I realized that my service was suspended due to overages of $150. Ok. Could T-mobile notify me with a text message prior to my overage or even prior to suspending my service when I lost an ability to connect to my clients and lost $$? How do I know about the overage? I never check my minutes as a user! Do you ever check you minutes on the cell phone? I never do. In fact I care less. I have yet to meet someone who checks their minutes all the time. Yet, the customer service rep told me that it is my responsibility and they care less about it. Ok, I might have talked too much on the phone this month and the past month and I am ok to pay the overage and I am ok to switch to the more minutes plan. But, there is no way that the T-mobile can devise a program, can create an automated text messaging system to people when they go over their minutes! There is no way it can happen and there is no way to suggest this idea to the customer service to pass along to marketers! I felt as if I was speaking gibberish and the customer rep could not understand my suggestion and passion behind passing the idea how they can still keep my loyalty as a customer if they make those changes – create either email or a text message system that notifies me about the minutes and overage before I have to pay $200. I can pay that, money is not a problem these days – but it appears that T-mobile would rather charge me overages all the time and let me know explicitly that I have to check my minutes! I do not want to check my minutes. I have no time in my life to do that. Why not you as a brand and as a service provider – make it easy for me to be loyal to you? Why not you prevent a trouble of overpaying for me for cell phone usage and notify me about the overages with a text message? How costly is that? Cheaper than a commercial! Or even a customer service call! And I will keep being your customer longer than a contract! Now, I am seriously thinking of switching. I feel cheated. I do not care. I am not loyal any more because you felt that it is ok to keep me in the dark and ignoring my suggestions! Pursuing the lock-ip strategy is not a long term strategy that insures success. At some point, your customers and your competition will figure out how to get away from this bad relationship. Do you care as a brand? Or you don’t?

My suggestions to T-mobile marketing folks:

1. Listen to your customers – create a channel where they can share their suggestions before you lost them!
2. Make it easy for them to be loyal to you! Create an automated communication program (text message or email that notifies your customers about overages beforehand)! Or keep collecting the short-term profit of an overage and lose a lifetime value of steady income.
3. Make sure your customer service rep communicates the customer voice to you directly.

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.

What I Love About Marketing: My Definition of Marketing

One of my favorite questions to ask is “What is your passion?” The answer allows me to learn about a person so much more…It allows to learn about the object of passion (a professional occupation or interest), so much more. At the same time, I was numerously asked as well: Why Marketing? Why not Finance or something else? So, it would be only fair to share my own definition of it.

Marketing for me is not a matter of pure message crafting and information repackaging. It is not about creative eye-pleasing presentation…It is not about selling and convincing people into a purchasing decision. I say that without discounting the monetary value this function brings to the bottom line. There is no question that marketing initiatives have to be accountable and measurable, add value and contribute to ROI. But, the true motivation is not of dollar value.

Mainly, for me, marketing is connecting with people and understanding what makes their hearts and minds resonate. It has to do with the emotional aspect of social interaction that brings change or moves forward even the most logical planning and strategy. You need emotion to bring change to life. You need emotion to instigate progress.

As an occupation, marketing is:

- Flexible: it allows adjustments in the flow of events; it is applicable across industries, geographies and cultures! You practice and transfer it anywhere in the world! People will consume and trade as long as we exist!
– Dynamic: it is never boring! Constant change what can be better?!
– Broad: the scope of jobs to do, projects to accomplish and specialties to immerse into is as large as the ocean, enough for a life time!
– Deep: one can find 3-5 specialties and become very knowledgeable about them and still enjoy the challenge of change.

On the other hand, being a marketer allows playing so many roles! When I was little, I was dreaming to be an actress (so typical). Being a marketer provides so many opportunities to act and I love it every time I learn something new (play a new role)!

My favorites are:

- When I do market research, I become a detective, a CIA agent, “sometimes under cover”, trying to understand what makes those foreign species (new target market or user) tick…what makes them happy? What connects them? What drives them? What makes them laugh? What makes them “them”?

- When I do competitive assessment and strategy, I become a warrior, General with an army to lead and ability to predict the next steps of the contender.

- When I engage in writing and planning ads or event management, I become a producer, an entertainer and even a magician depending on the mystery level the audience craves for. Mystery does not necessarily exclude clarity and simplicity.

- When I engage in business development, I become a connector, a merchant that fuels the trade of information, opportunities and people.

- When I develop promotions, I exercise my creative mind and imagine myself being a painter that aims to draw a well-balanced masterpiece that brings harmony and evokes a following. Or, I could be an alchemist that works hard on the new recipe of the multiplying substance that has the ability to grow exponentially…

Thirdly, the challenge to curb this trade (marketing) and make it more intelligent, accountable and measurable provides lots of room for thought, experimentation and testing. Marketing can be and should be intelligent. Marketing should be supported not only by emotion, but logic (data, information).

Marketing is the driving force for change in consumer behavior. It is not a self-serving influence and persuasion; it is effective communication that drives our actions through emotion, connectedness or affiliation with the other humans and places our market choices based on common sense.

Why This BluFly Ad is Different from Others

Using sex appeal in ads always works and we all see it for various products. Clothes advertisers always have that reference. However, I think this ad captivates not only with a catchy episode, but a nice closure – copy ” a new way to change your clothes”. Every time when advertising can actually make a difference and change consumer behavior is when its persuasive power is exercised. The last sentence is strong enough in context and in the way it appeals to modern women. It works well and I would say, nurtures the self esteem of any woman. It makes us think…yes..why not use blufly.com? Why not get new clothes like that every day? It made me go and check the site and actually browse through some items. I wish they deliver clothes like pizza = fast, not within 1-2 business days but in a few hours. Hmmm, maybe in 2010…if so, imagine that you can have your favorite styles that always work and you order as you travel. But this is all dreams for now!

A Word on Trends in Brand Management

It is very exciting to see big brands engaging with the customers through social media to carry the brand message. South West Airlines had a recent contest on the best video ad for “Wanna get away” campaign, while Frito Lay gets free market testing/product testing info on a new chip flavor. Apple does not have to ask, its users engage themselves into creating ads and parodies for brand characters. I wish the same contest started for Geiko “Caveman” campaign (my favorite!).

Another cool application of interactive web or social media, whatever its best description, is when bloggers can test brand value on a high level like “If this product/company drops from the face of the Earth tomorrow, would we care?”.  Brand Autopsy blog recently posed that question for Wells Fargo in the “would you care series” and hopefully someone from Well Fargo managed to pick up the feedback. Even if they did, would they try to ignore it or deal with it?  Sears got the best remarks and one can see how much experience matters in brand perception.  You have pleasant experiences while consuming the product or being in the purchasing decision process, you flip those like a favorite photo album. You have a bad experience (customer service as in the Wells Fargo example), you care less and perhaps try avoid experiencing any transaction at this point with such a brand. Thus, emotion and ambiance are tied into the brand perception as well. The examples with South West Airlines and Frito Lay add a community aspect.

So what are the top 5-10 aspects/parameters of a solid brand? Any literature on brand management that is fresh and at the same time timeless?

One Minute Business Plan Pitches That I Got A Chance To Observe at Angel Oregon

Today, I got a chance to attend a session of one-minute pitches at the Angel Oregon 2007, hosted by Oregon Entreprenuers Network. Very interesting crowd! It was very educational to see how a number of presenters compete for the attention. The idea is to communicate how your product is going to solve pressing needs and how it will return your investment in spades.  At the same time,  the secondary thought would be to be able to infuse your own enthusiasm into angels’ hearts. Some presenters used visual aids, some used strong openings, some dressed up in costumes. I must say that being original helps, at the same time, you have to make 3 major points why your company deserves an investment. Some folks approached it by starting with a problem (using voice pitch and intonation to stress the urgency) and weaved into their product that resolves it. Some painted imaginative pictures of a perfect future their product can create. I think I only remember those just because they involved emotion and engaged one’s mind as opposing to the majority that “gunned” their 1 minute spill. Another interesting element is how visual aids are used: only a few, perhaps 4 out of 20 (random number based on observation) utilized this opportunity. Cards with numbers, posters and product samples showed up today. I really liked the idea of cards with $ numbers or market size estimates (all crucial info) that can engage angel’s attention.  Finally, the most important part is being a strong speaker: being able to express the idea with confidence, clarity and passion.

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