Friday, August 24, 2007

An easy prediction: Product fails due to packaging

Ick! What happened to my water!? Is this some sort of practical joke? Nope - sealed bottle... must have been contaminated and then sat in the hot car for several months and started growing...or... wait... maybe it's actually not water? Maybe it's an actual water-like drinking fluid intentionally colored to look like skunk juice! No way... Is it? It is!! Why didn't I figure that out sooner.... Why was I so quick to judge this poor product as water gone bad? Maybe because it's IN A WATER BOTTLE! What marble head decided to do that - to put a ghastly green tinted, skunked-out-water-looking substance in a container that has become synonymous with bottled spring water? It makes me almost sick just looking at it, how would I ever bring myself to drink it? The failure here, or my prediction of failure - to be fair, is in the packaging only, not in the product. The product could be the absolute best Green Tea drink on this side of the universe, but nobody will ever know. I can only think of a few paths which brought our targeted product manager to the decision to use that water-bottle container:

1 - Mr. Efficient: He saw no need to create a whole new package when they've already got warehouses full of those handy plastic bottles.

2 - Mr. Impatient: He was in a huge hurry after tasting this breakthrough refreshment (from a vat, no doubt, certainly not from the container in question) that he needed the fastest path to market... and was told "we have this warehouse full of containers from the water division..." and took the fast path for fear that competitors might discover green tea as a marketable refreshment (?).

3 - Mr. Wrong: He actually thought that the container itself was the breakthrough. Calling the whole team together one morning, after months of trying to figure out how in the world they were going to unload all this disgusting green tea, and said "I've GOT IT! We'll ship it in water bottles! Water Bottles I tell you!! That will make people think 'Refreshing! Clean! Tasteless!' - Brilliance, I tell you! Brilliance!"...

4 - Mr. Victim: He created the best drink product he possibly could, but has no involvement whatsoever in the packaging decision... his own forehead is red from how hard he slapped it the first time he saw his own product on the shelf.

I can't even bring myself to taste it... so don't ask...
If I turn out to be wrong, and this drink becomes the new Monster Energy drink phenom, I promise to drink a bottle of it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

More product insight from the 6-yr old

"Dad", he said, sitting in front of the Mac at home, which is right next to his admittedly older hand-me-down wintel laptop, "Macs are the best computers, aren't they"... It wasn't a question at all (hey, Steve, are you listening? or are you sick of all this praise?). He was just looking for acknowledgment that he was right. "What makes you say that?", I asked, conveniently forgetting that I have an apple sticker on my wintel notebook 'as a statement' (that's the answer I gave about 5 times over the past week when people mentioned it's presence).
Now, if you read this far, you may as well pay attention, because here's the insightful part... He said, "Well, the Mac takes, like, not even a minute to turn on, but the laptop takes, like, forever!"
I was hit with that "oh yeah" brick in the head with that simple insight - that something as simple as boot-up time might actually be the differentiator for some people... in fact, it might end up being the differentiator for me. When I want something fast off the web, and neither machine is on, I pop on the Mac - and that happens more and more these days.

I was about to give him the "some people think Macs are best and other people think..." and then stopped myself and said "You're right"... realizing that speed - actually, convenience - really does drive customer perception and brand value...

"Give the Governor a harumph!" - Hedley Lamarr

Monday, August 20, 2007

Quick Blogger Tip: Post Date is actually Create Date

I noticed this once before, but it got me again on my prior post... so figured I should pass it on to other users... If you post an entry from a previously saved "Draft", the date of your post will apparently be the date you originally saved the Draft rather than the date you actually posted. This could cause some of your posts to appear out of order... like for me, where my "How long can you live..." post was posted after my "Plane Boarding..." post - but drafted earlier - so their order in my blog was the reverse of what I expected... I sometimes put a post idea in draft form a week before actually posting it - so this is relevant to me.
You can actually change the Post Date of a post... so it's an easy issue to fix... which I'll go do now ;)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

How long can you live? Ask your broker...

Most mutual fund companies and brokerage houses (Fidelity, Schwab, etc) offer their customers a full service review of their portfolio - basically to help them understand their current finances and to suggest changes to help them meet their financial goals. If you can spend the time to outline all your expenses and a few other details, it's a pretty useful service. So, someone I know did this with Fidelity last week and got a full report - most importantly showing her that she can live off her income and assets, given what she told them about her expected future expenses, until the age of 86. Not bad...

But later that same week, she was showing me the report online, which used updated (ahem, lower) stock prices to give a more accurate value of her portfolio...and things, uh, changed...
"Huh, will you look at that.. now I can only live to 84!".

If you think it's stressful watching the value of your portfolio change day-to-day, imagine watching your financial longevity change day-to-day. Maybe this would be an effective method to treat addicted gamblers... "That bet just reduced your lifespan by 3 years"... nah... that wouldn't work... they would just keep trying to bet their way to an eternal existence...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Plane Boarding - great comedy, bad process

This is a story of poor customer service and process change (or lack thereof)... not just comedy...

"I'm sorry, if you are not Elite, you'll have to step off the blue carpet"...
This, the words from the serious Continental employee who was trying to follow her employer's rules regarding their never-changing plane boarding process. You can see the customer is thinking "Seriously? You want me to board the plane 5 feet to the left because otherwise I've just wiped out the only benefit you give to frequent flyers, which is that they can walk on the blue carpet?"

A long time ago, they came up with a process of boarding planes by row, starting with the back of the plane, so that Mr. Oblivious - who needs to stand in the middle of the aisle while he inspects his blanket, finds a non-existent pillow and unloads the specific items from his carry-on before finding the perfect place for it in the overhead - won't hold up the whole production of passengers getting seated so we can take-off within an hour of our scheduled time. The idea was reasonable. Execution often fell short, but that's expected when you have virtually no control over your customers. But, then, they added another bright idea - that is, giving special boarding priority to customers who fly often. They call them "Elite" (ahem... I've seen them all, and I could easily attain that status, and believe me, we are all far from Elite). What they didn't plan for was the incredibly high percentage of flyers who would attain that status... seems to be 50-80% of all passengers on flights I've taken. So the boarding process starts with "needing assistance" and "travelling with children" and then, they open the special walkway with the blue carpet and call "We are now boarding our Elite customers"... Stampede! Virtually everyone in the cow pen rushes to the little blue carpet thinking they are part of a select few... trying to tell the people in front of them "excuse me, I am Elite"... only to find out that the whole stockade is filled with Elitists... and now, after the Elite majority have experienced the soft feel of the 6 foot long blue carpet and lined up in the walkway to the plan, the airline employees smugly close the blue carpet entrance and ask people to go through the non-elite entrance... and call "Rows 675-699 only"... as if it matters at this point to load the plane "by row, starting with the rear of the plane", with everyone now waiting in the jetway for Mr. and Mrs. Oblivious Elitist to do their little routine.

omg... there are so many solutions here... but there's no incentive to implement them. Imagine a single Continental employee saying "this is crazy - we'll board the Elite people first, but by row"... there would be an uprising from the Elite person whose got row 7 and the empolyee would probably be saddled by the FAA with all the blame for anything that went wrong on that flight for not following procedures.

There was value in the whole process though - comedy.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bet you didn't know MIT was in California

Last night, I participated as a panelist on a discussion on "Enterprise 3.0"... (I'll get back to that title in a minute). The MIT club of Northern California (organizers of the event) keep the east coast university alumni connected on the opposite coast - and there are plenty of 'em (MIT alum) in the Valley... Every few weeks, the club hosts events with a panel of relevant speakers on a certain topic in one of many categories. It's a good mix of casual atmosphere with a professionally organized and moderated discussion. Audience involvement is encouraged and the events are open (and very cheap)... This event was moderated by Sramana Mitra - a very smart "entrepreneur and a strategy consultant in Silicon Valley since 1994".
A few people have asked for the list of points I used during my intro discussion, so here it is in raw form... at the risk of it being irrelevant and useless without the context of the discussion ("then why post it JR?".... ). The other panelists - Cliff Reeves (Microsoft)[update 8/20: Cliff posted about the event], Tim Harvey (Webex) and Tom Cole (Trinity Ventures) were all very interesting.

Back to the name of this event... I was somewhat critical of the terminology used in the title of this event (as was a more often read blogger), as I feel that while "Web 2.0" was a useful stake in the ground on a significant shift to robust, web-based applications, and "Enterprise 2.0" was clearly just a conversion of terms to express corporate use of such applications & technologies, the term "Enterprise 3.0" makes a leap into something that will only get lost in definition conflict (which seemed to begin when Eric Schmidt was asked in public to define/predict it - which I discovered thanks to Orli). I feel that Enterprises are just now starting to tackle the movement to web 2.0 apps and are therefore just now helping to shape enterprise 2.0... so defining 3.0 is more simply stated as "What's the next huge shift in how businesses will apply technology and when will it occur". In hindsight, maybe that is easier (shorter) to just call Enterprise 3.0... nah.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

New product is ready for distribution

The analogies of garden growing to product development turn out to be pretty good - the only difference being that you don't need too much experience, training or skill to achieve greatness in the former (I know some of you might say the same for the latter). In fact, in about 60-80 days, and without much more than about a day or two up-front investment (dig!) and about $25 acquisition cost (to improve my time to market - I could have started with $1.99), I had produced the most incredible tomatoes. What a great confidence booster! From virtually nothing more than dirt, water and some labor, it turns out you can produce something that tastes great with a bagel and cream cheese - and looks good too!
I'll have to try this at work... If the analogy is right: some up-front design (just layout and spacing), promotion (dig), some positive energy (sunshine), some incentives (water), checking up every couple of days (yeah), some bug eradicating (uh huh), some hand-holding (stakes to keep them from falling over)... and bam! A Great Product!
Now - how does all this work in the winter?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pity the marketers - part II - with a vengeance

This post will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I think of "products" regardless of the situation, location or activity. Unfortunately, it might also cause some of you to just stop reading my blog. oh well.
The other day while I was ... well... you'll figure it out, I looked down and saw a LOGO INSIDE the "potty on the wall" (as my son used to call it). There was a corporate logo conspicuously printed on the screen that both deodorizes and prevents foreign objects from entering the drain of the urinal in the public men's room. (yuck, I know, forgive me).

So - why does Rochester Midland Corporation (RMC) want their logo in the toilet? I guess if your product is made for the urinal, and you are the unfortunate fellow responsible for marketing it, you take whatever opportunities present themselves. Poor marketer.

Too bad for RMC that they can't sell that ad space to other companies - and luckily for us... I think it would ruin my day to see a "Drink Budweiser" ad in the urinal... but it would be relevant, I guess ;)

So - looking a bit more into this (why? I have no idea.), the competitive market for these bathroom products is actually fierce! If you do a search for "urinal screens" (omg - this is now in my search history!), you'll see a full and competitive list of advertisers who want your... uh... business. Seems they're paying $2.50 - $3 per click on those terms... and while there's enough data to see search trends on the term "urinal" (go ask the Aussies and Romanians why they lead the pack on that search term), it pales in comparison to the search volume on the more generic term "bathroom" (where the UK pulls ahead in search volume).

Then, of course, there are many definitions for that pair of terms "urinal screen" - just ask, whose tagline in their ads is "Because no one wants to see your hiney".

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Pity the marketers - or envy them...

You like this little critter pictured here?
I don't... but that's only because I know that he's a dressed up, smirking, wise-ass peice of snot (literally). When I found him under the drivers seat of the mini-van, I recognized him from his commercials (but, no, I could not name the product, until I turned him around to find the product name happily advertised on his eensy weensy, tightly-fitting, booger-soaked sport shirt)...
I asked my wife very skeptically "How'd he get here?"
Turns out, she was surveyed upon exiting the local drugstore about her knowledge of "Mucinex" - the drug which little-snot-man represents... Luckily, she knew nothing of it.... but as a "gift" for her troubles, the marketing rep doing the survey gave her "Mr. Mucus" (his actual name). Actually, the rep handed him to our 15-month old in her carriage - and I can just imagine what my little baby was thinking ("AHH!! get it of me! get it off me!).

Anyway... I was sure this would be a post about how some marketers are so clueless about what sells, and how I pity the poor souls who are tasked with inventing campaigns for products which are associated with unfortunate bodily fluids - but now, I'm not so sure. A couple of days ago, I read the "Hits and Misses " column in the June issue of Business 2.0 - and sporty little mucus man was pictured and marked as a HIT!
Mucinex has soared like loosened phlegm to the No. 2 spot in the cold-medicine market. The success is largely due to memorably gross advertising that personifies congestion as "Mr. Mucus,"

If you read that whole column, it's not clear that the marketing genius who thought up the scheme of dressing up a blob of mucus, and naming him, is responsible at all for the success of Mucinex - but the drug is successful.... so the campaign certainly didn't turn off people as much as it did me...
I wish I could get Seth Godin (marketing master) to give his opinion on this one.