Practice Pitches -- Much More Than Delivery

I was telling an entrepreneur friend that at the Batchery we put much emphasis on practicing startup pitches with founders. She replied "I guess it's good to polish the slides and practice how to stand if the founder is about to do the rounds of angel groups or VCs." "Woa!" I said, "practice pitching goes wayyyy beyond presentation style".
Pitching is about much more than raising money. Founders pitch their companies in various ways many times a day. They pitch to attract employees or contractors. They pitch to make service providers understand the business and give them more attention. They pitch to potential partners to build new relationships. They even pitch at social events, including their kids' soccer games -- partly to be sociable and partly in hopes the person they are talking to has helpful suggestions or network connections.
Effective pitches set the hook in the first minute or two. Sometimes that is all the time they have. It keeps the speaker from becoming a bore. But most times the opening lines are critical to getting the attention of the audience ... to keep them from looking at their phones, leaving to take another call, or looking around the room for someone else to talk to.
Packing the core story into the first minute or two forces precision about what is unique and important about the company. It prevents the spray-and-pray technique of listing multiple things the company could do in hopes that one of those catches the attention of the audience. "Stop me when I say something you like."
The pitch must make it clear who is the target market, their current pain points, what the product does, and the core value proposition. Answer the question "why does this matter to someone?"
How many times have we heard "if we get just 1% of this $10 billion market we will make so much money for our investors" when the product may not be the first choice for any customer? Or "we are part of the (insert word: cloud/security/mobile/solar/etc.) revolution that is doubling in size every year" when the company is not doing anything distinctive in that market? One useful (and sometimes hilarious) test is to substitute the name of another brand (such as McDonald's) into the pitch and see if it still mostly makes sense.
The product-market fit is so important to a company that most founders we work with end up redefining their target market (usually narrowing the definition), modifying their product specifications, and tightening up the value proposition statement as a result of working through practice pitches. They often iterate the offering many times. Some product features deserve to be part of the headline, some are key supporting points, and some once thought important fall to the six-point font on the back page of the brochure or slide deck.
At some point in the pitch explain why the product is better than the competition. Most savvy audiences groan when they hear founders say "we have no competition". Everyone does. There are always other ways to solve a problem, including ignoring it. Every successful product solves a problem better than the alternatives. Be sure to explain it.
Refer to the market traction and the team, and other particularly strong suits for the company. Traction with customers is a great indicator of market demand. A strong team has several advantages, including: capable people have other options for where they can work, so by choosing to work there they must believe in the company; capable people attract and hire the best employees; and a great team will know how to change the strategy if they encounter new changes in the market.
Once the founders have the story right they can focus on the delivery. Punchy slides. Eye contact. Standing in the right place. And so on. All these are important, but only after getting the story right.
Practice those pitches!

Management Communication in Our New Workplace

Family_watching_television_1958.jpg

Many of us have heard the lamentations of the entertainment and advertising industries as they try to cope with the new age of entertainment. In the old days the entire family would gather around the TV at a specific time on Sunday night and watch the Ed Sullivan Show or something similar, with all its commercials, then talk about the show at work or school the next day. But today the industry must deal with video streaming, binge-watching, live tweeting, PVR ad skipping, and ad blockers. The audience watches the programs at different times, so it is difficult to create a buzz.

But that is not the only industry that has changed with the advent of new technologies. Many dimensions of management in all industries have changed as well -- but the changes have crept up on us because there is no single industry group to point it out. Think about management in the days of the Ed Sullivan show. The boss would call a weekly, in-person meeting of all the staff. Someone would take notes of the action items and share it via a memo or email. Staff members would sort out details with individual meetings in offices or hallways. And the boss' work would get done.

Significant Changes in Our New Workplace

Those good old days are gone. Most of us have experienced major changes in our new workplace, including:

  • More Global. Team members are up to 12 time zones away from each other, so travel for face-to-face meetings is time-consuming and it is difficult to find a good conference call time during waking hours for all. Some team members speak English as a second language so find it difficult to jump into the middle of hot verbal debates. 
  • Remote Team-mates. Even in the case of people working in the same country, team members are often in different locations. They may be in different cities or some may be working from home. It has been a long time since I heard of someone doing a "corporate move" for a new job, and instead more people choose to stay in place with their families, and work remotely.
  • Flatter Organizations.  Organizations are flatter and many projects are run by a team of equals. In the old days the boss would lay down the instructions. Today organizations want project teams to arrive at a consensus.
  • More Partnerships. Frequently project teams members work for different organizations. That removes much of the hierarchy of the past, and requires real collaboration. Teams might consist of people in companies that formed an alliance, representatives from vendors, or contract staff. Who's the boss?
  • Multiple Roles and Tasks. Jobs used to more straightforward. Workers would have a handful of clearly-defined tasks to complete. Today most individuals are involved in a wide range of projects and task forces, playing the roles of leader, member, contributor, or observer on different teams. That complicates the job of communications on those teams because the needs differ widely.

With these changes alone the old fashioned ways of communications are no longer effective. Face-to-face meetings and even remote conference calls are difficult to do. Email was once effective and is still a universal solution -- but has now become a torrent of unorganized information with people talking at each other rather than iterating on earlier work, recipients forced to sort through all the emails to associate them with projects and urgency, threads that go 25 or more levels deep, topics shifting without changing the subject line, inconsistent management of "to:" and "cc:" among team members, and many other well-recognized problems.

How many times have you been handed an action item buried deep in the email chain that has the subject heading "lunch on Friday?" Or how many times have you seen someone email a PowerPoint presentation to 20 team members and say "Please share your thoughts", only to result in a flurry of conflicting email responses ranging from comments about slide 5 to others simultaneously marking up their version of the deck and sharing competing versions back with others.

The challenge is many senior executives today had their biggest successes in past decades and the implications of these workplace changes have crept up on them slowly. They have missed out on a whole generation of communications tools and norms. Now what should they do?

Need for New Forms of Communications

The good news is that with the new communications tools available today, team members can effectively communicate on their own time in context to collaborate and iterate on ideas. Some examples include:

  • Comment within topic areas on Slack or a similar messaging app. Today it is possible to set up many communications channels for a project, and have the discussions take place in context. Users can set up different alerts, so it is easy to get a pop-up for important channels (such as ones they lead) and monitor progress more casually in less-important channels. This gives the control to the recipient, which is where it should be. It also avoids topics drifting within an email thread. This approach also makes it possible to invite new team members to a project and expose them to the complete discussion history -- rather than forwarding them a stack of unintelligible email links. 
  • Make edits, additions, and comments on a collaboration document. It is far more productive for a team member to make a proposal within collaboration tools such as Google DocsGoogle Slides, or a wiki -- then have other team members make edits, additions, or comments within the draft -- at the point where it is relevant. This enables a team to iterate or build on their ideas without having to join a meeting. It avoids members tossing fragments at each other through email, often losing the connection to who, what, or where in the prior note they are referring. Say goodbye to cryptic email messages that follow robust back-and-forth exchanges and say something like "I disagree with you. I don't think that is going to work in our case."
  • Comment within a project management tool. It is also good practice to organize projects using tools such as Asana or Trello, then share ideas, progress, and commentary within the appropriate tasks. This puts the comment in context, builds on the work done to date, moves tasks forward without meetings, and enables inclusion of new team members. 

Most of these tools work on smartphones, tablets, and all the desktop operating systems. There is no reason to be out of touch at any time of day. Many of the tools (among many others) are linked to each other, so they can facilitate discussions across teams and tools. And some of the tools, such as Glip and Zoho combine several of the collaboration elements in one.

* * *

So the next team you receive an email thread on a collaborative project that confuses more than it illuminates, just think back to the days of the Ed Sullivan Show and remember the sender may come from simpler times. Then tell them "send me your comments via our collaboration tools." It will work out better for all.

Towards Needs-Based Segmentation

Most companies try to segment their markets, and most do it badly. So many work for months to create a "universal" segmentation scheme, only to make things worse. Here is a better way to think about segmentation.

First segment customers differently than prospects. It makes sense to segment customers based on factors such as 1) total revenue for the account, 2) higher versus lower price plans, 4) products purchased, 4) potential revenue growth, and 5) length of time as a customer. These factors may reflect the different needs or value of customers. These types of segmentation can help the customer service team discriminate by the level of service -- phone versus email-only support, phone center hours, phone wait times, etc. Segmentation for prospects should help target the right messages at the right buyers, so separate prospects based on needs. Prospect segmentation can also help define which marketing channels to apply to which targets, which is more a measure of the revenue potential.

When thinking of needs-based segmentation, this article and video from Clay Christensen offers great advice. He calls his talk "Milkshake Marketing", and poses the question "for what task does the customer want to 'hire' the product or service"? This approach requires some fundamental thinking about the role of products, and goes way beyond traditional demographic analysis. It can lead to new insights about customer needs, and can target messages more accurately.

At the same time, marketeers must ensure their segmentation schemes are actionable. This may run counter to some of the Milkshake Marketing insights. But in the end segmentation needs to drive action programs, or else it is purely an intellectual exercise.

Strategy Statements - Avoid Getting Wrapped Around the Axle

Just about every company goes through a process of creating their vision, mission, and strategy statements. Start-ups especially must do this to attract investment or document their latest pivot. Sometimes the companies hire consultants. Sometimes they arrange a one- or two-day offsite meeting with senior management. Sometimes the CEO hands the strategy down to management.

Most of the time though companies end up with a big PowerPoint deck that contains many $100 buzzwords, describes their role in tectonic industry trends, but fails to come to a point. The leaders celebrate the completion of the document; they present it to management and staff; and everyone continues doing what they were already doing before the exercise.

Keep in mind that planning is important despite these misadventures. Dwight D. Eisenhower said: "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." So by all means plan.

Here are my top seven guidelines for writing effective planning documents.

  1. Write a Strategic Intent Instead. Avoid the pointless discussions about what elements fit in the vision, objectives, goals, mission, values, or strategy documents. Write a single document that includes them all -- from where the company wants to go to how it plans to get there. Call it a Strategic Intent document.
  2. Keep it Short. Several good blog posts on the topic, including Forget the Strategy PowerPoint and The Art of Crafting a 15-Word Strategy Statement make a strong case for fitting the planning document on one piece of paper. That forces clarity and conciseness. And it is easier for the staff to understand.
  3. Make Choices. The reader should understand what the company will and will not do. Be specific about the success measures, target markets, time frames, technology platforms, make-versus-buy-versus-partner choices, and go-to-market channels.
  4. Solve Problems for Target Customers. The best strategies meet market needs, rather than describe actions in a vacuum. Meeting a market need requires specifying a target customer, a use case, some need or pain point, and how the company plans to meet the need. Otherwise, what makes the company unique?
  5. Specify Action. Passive voice kills strategy statements. Something important just magically happens? Good strategies describe clear action programs. 
  6. Leave the Tag Lines for Don Draper. Having an "elevator pitch" is helpful, especially if it ties in consistently and logically with the whole strategy. But a strategy is not the place to create the catchy, 2- to 3-word catch phrase. That is for the ad agency or the marketing types, once everyone agrees on the overall strategy.
  7. Plan for Phases. Just as Generals say "no battle plan survives the first shot being fired", strategists say "strategy ends when the team takes the first action, and the rest is tactics". Strategies should contain big dreams as well as near-term plans. Think big and act small. No one can predict the market or competitive conditions for phase 3, so there is no need to be highly specific about the strategy for that phase.

 

Create Demand for Your New Category

I often get pulled in to marketing discussions about whether to lead with brand or with category. We usually go round and round, and never resolve it. 

However, the book Origin of Brands puts this argument to rest and provides great advice around building a brand. The authors are Ries and Ries, the senior of which co-wrote the seminal marketing book Positioning.

Their premise is that brands (like species, thus the title homage to Darwin) are constantly splitting. For example, about 70 years ago computers were a single category. Now we refer to desktops versus tablets, and 7" tablets versus 9" tablets. Every sizable category may split if there is customer demand. 

As a result the authors recommend that marketers build their brands in the following way:

  1. Name and create your new sub-category. Identify a sub-category that meets a need better than the original, broad category. 7-up did this when creating the "un-cola" sub-category for people who want a soft drink but not a cola. And Google did this by creating the 7" tablet sub-category, for people who want the tablet format of an iPad, but in a size that fits in the hand.
  2. Promote your category. The authors recommend using PR rather than advertising for this. But I am confident they would recommend Social Media as well today, with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. The key is to get the audience to want to buy they new sub-category. The authors use the example that a TV viewer goes into the kitchen to get a light beer, not a Coors Lite; they select the category they want, then grab the brand that best fulfills it.
  3. Deliver on the promise as the best product or service in that category. Be the best company at delivering on all the customer expectations for your category. Make sure you are number 1 in reality as well as perception, and you never let that slip. 

By so doing, companies can win the "top rung" on the positioning ladder -- the core theme of Positioning. Owning the top rung of a substantial new sub-category is far more profitable than being an also-ran within a larger-but-established category. Some would argue that a new product should be 10X better or cheaper than the current options, or else there is no reason to launch it.

I believe this lays out an effective blueprint for marketing. Many of the examples in the book address consumer marketing, but I find the approach applies equally to business marketing. 

This approach also gives a real purpose to the use of social media. Many companies today lack focus for what they want to do with social media. Engage with customers? Promote their features? Share funny cat videos? The primary role of social media should be to create demand for the sub-category, rather than pump out the equivalent of product brochures on Facebook. That is why so many marketeers today embrace the idea of content marketing, which delivers value to the audience. 

What sub-categories have you created? Are you creating demand for your new sub-categories?

A Far Better Way to Write Documents

How often do you sit through presentations that contain so much text that the font size is unreadable from even the front seats? Then the presenter turns his or her back to the audience and reads the slides verbatim? 

How often do people share their slide deck as a record of the meeting, but no one can figure out what it says a few weeks later because the deck is full of pretty pictures and vague bullet-point topic sentences? 

How often do you sit through a meeting that is supposed to be collaborative but the presenter runs out of time just presenting the deck, with a slow reveal of the insights or recommendation?

Most people would answer "frequently" (if not "always") for each of these questions. In some cases the writer should take the blame for poor writing or communications skills. However, the real underlying problem is different circumstances require different document formats. A good presentation should provide minimal graphic support, so the audience pays attention to the words and makes eye contact with the presenter. By design, such a presentation makes for a poor leave-behind. In my days at McKinsey years ago company policy forbade us leaving a copy of the slides as the only documentation. We had to either write a complete text document to describe our findings and recommendations, or annotate the slide deck to make it more descriptive. 

Yet so many presenters today try to split the difference. They put enough on the slide to satisfy the documentation need, but still have graphics to make the presentation more interesting. They end up accomplishing neither. I almost scream each time I hear "I am sorry this slide is so tough to read" or "I apologize for this eye chart".

This paper on SlideDocs by Nancy Duarte impresses me. It is an interesting read. It is a game changer. I am already putting this approach to use in my businesses.

The key points are:

  1. Most people should share papers in advance of the meeting, so the group can use the time for discussions rather than presenting.
  2. We live in a visual time, so the visual impact of photos, graphs, tables, etc. are important in a document. We should borrow lessons from visual media such as Wired Magazine and Flipboard.
  3. The document should work as a stand-alone, which requires the more detailed text to tell the story. If the presenter wants to show some or all the pages in a presentation later, then he/she can remove the text and rearrange the graphic elements for visual appeal.

Duarte suggests people use PowerPoint or the equivalent. I believe Google Presentation is a better choice. It has nearly all the graphic functionality of PowerPoint. Teams can use the collaboration tools to create and edit the document together. The audience can view the presentation on just about any device with a browser, with no need to own or open the PowerPoint app. The presenter can share a web link with the audience members, so they do not have to open a file. And the presenter can make adjustments to the presentation before the rest of the audience views it, in case an early reader points out some typos or the like. 

Give it a try. My bet is most of us will be using the term "SlideDoc" before the year is over. And our meetings will be more effective.

Lead With the Pain Points

I frequently share Dave McClure's rant about pain points (link to article) when I talk with CEOs and CMOs about messaging and value propositions. He points out the importance of taking the perspective of the customer and the need to consider the customer's pain points

Too often marketing presentations and pitches focus on the product features or the team. The pitches take the perspective of the presenter, rather than the audience. Sometimes they describe a big trend -- such as social or mobile -- suggesting everyone who rides the trend will win. Even when I see a list of benefits, they often lack context about the target customer, the use case, and the pain points.

Instead I encourage people to write pitches following this outline:

  1. Who is the target customer, and what is the use case and current pain point? Think of this as a qualifying question, that the audience will be interested in hearing the rest of the presentation only if they match that target and can related to the pain point.
  2. How does the product or service address that pain point? Specifically map the product benefits and features to the pain point. Avoid throwing in some pray-and-spray features hoping to broaden the appeal. Matching product to need is more important than providing a sea of benefits. 
  3. Why is your company uniquely qualified to provide this product of service? Specify the experience, assets, or qualifications that tell the audience you will deliver. 

Give it a try. It takes some hard work. And it takes courage to aim each pitch at a specific target.

The Future of Email

Here is an answer I posted on Quora.


I am betting what we know of email will become more of a notification service plus a way to communicate with people outside our regular networks

Facebook and Google+ are our networks of our friends and family. Twitter is our network of interests and associations. LinkedIn is our network of professional contacts. And project workflow tools (such as Asana, Trello, LiquidPlanner, Basecamp, MavenLink, etc.) are networks of people in our projects. Instant Messages work for our closest friends/family/coworkers with whom we have the permission to interrupt them.

We will want more of our communications to be "in context" with our particular network. That will lead to appropriate sharing and limit the number of documents emailed once and hidden on some person's hard drive.

Gmail already facilitates this separation of types of emails with their tabs -- to keep primary correspondence separate from network notifications and from email promotions/SPAM.

This blog about AngelList says it well: No email at AngelList. Note the instances of email:

First, when we need to communicate with people outside the company.
Second, when we need to have a conversation with an ad hoc group of people inside the company. HipChat is not great for ad hoc groups that only need to discuss a single task like, “how should we negotiate this deal.”
Third is laziness and stupidity (guilty).

The challenge will be to undo the reliance on business email among +/- 30-40 year olds who started in business with email so prevalent but who are also reluctant to adopt new tools. They are today's and tomorrow's business leaders, and will set the tone for many years.

I'm Back!

I have been distracted for the past several years as CEO of a start-up called Trust.MD, so have failed to keep up with my blog. It has been an interesting ride, and I found I enjoyed the CEO role.

Just the same, the role sapped all my attention. I learned first-hand with a start-up that there is always at least one more thing to do -- potential sales contact, administrative item, meeting to plan. I cannot recall q time I pushed back from the table and said "I am done, for now".

It has also been interesting in the Health IT marketplace right in the middle of the 2012 election, where one side wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and then through the implementation. The whole industry is spinning, trying to guess where things will go next and trying to build capabilities quickly in these complex ecosystems.

I will be sharing some of my experiences and lessons learned in upcoming blog posts.

State of Collaboration: Return to Essentials

There is much hype about new collaboration tools and "collaboration 2.0" approaches.  Indeed more of us are spending more of our time in collaborative efforts with others.  But our recent survey of collaboration experiences points out how much of successful collaboration requires some back to basics approaches to team management and proper use of well-established tools. The survey report  at All Collaboration points out the following:
  1. Complexcollaboration is already a significant work activity for many people, andwill only grow in importance. Most respondents have multiple collaborative projects underway at any given time. The purpose of these collaboration projects spans virtually the entire spectrum of enterprise needs. Collaboration efforts extend well beyond a group/department to include collaboration with other departments, partners, vendors, and customers. Collaboration is viewed as being essential across the board in the future, significantly more than the reality today. Individuals as well as organizations believe that they need to collaborate substantially more than they do currently.
  2. Successfulcollaboration requires mostly the good principles of project managementapplied to dispersed teams. Getting the old-fashioned basics right is critical. Most important advice from the respondents on effective collaboration is to: i) Define goals, roles, timelines and deliverables clearly, ii) Communicate the process and progress frequently and clearly, and iii) Select team members who bring real knowledge and expertise. Key challenges to effective collaboration include organizational culture and priorities, and collaboration process and tools.
  3. Keepit simple on the collaboration tools. Email, audio and web-conferencing, and file sharing are rated the most effective tools for collaboration. Wikis, IM, video conferencing and discussion forums rank low on effectiveness for collaboration. Selection of right tools and proper training are identified as potential areas for improvement.
If collaboration is a big part of your work life, I suggest you visit All Collaboration and read the survey report.
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Google Needs "Public Editor" Like at NYT

Normally I love all the new releases from Google.  I give them the benefit of the doubt, and know they will refine them to make them even better.  However, the release of Buzz indicates that sometimes Google can get ahead of itself. I appreciate the intention of Buzz and can see how powerful it could become.  At the same time I found the user interface awkward because it was never clear to me with whom I was sharing an entry.  Now the recent news about how Buzz was making my contacts list public caused me great alarm.  My biggest fears were realized. I immediately turned off the service (bottom of the Gmail front page). This latest slip adds to the growing amount of concern I hear every day about what Google does with its data.  We all know they make lots of money from selling advertising on their sites, based on targeting ads according the data.  But what does that really mean? I believe Google would be wise to borrow a concept from the New York Times, who have appointed a Public Editor to listen to the readers, be an advocate for the public, and essentially keep them honest.  As a regular New York Times reader I have been impressed with some of the dust ups the Public Editor has taken on, and my overall impression is the role has improved the paper's credibility. Google's watchdog would need a different name, such as Privacy Advocate, but the intention could be the same.  The advocate would consider the user's data privacy and security concerns, review all Google offerings and practices for compliance, and speak out loudly when there are issues.  The most important thing would be for the person appointed to have the credibility, fire in the belly, and independence to do the job well and instill confidence.
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First Broadband Olympics?

This might be the first Olympics where I spend more time watching online than I do on television.  Kudos to NBC for a great web layout and IPTV! With their web coverage I get to follow the stats and watch the clips that matter to me.  I am bummed about the delays, to give first priority to the TV telecast.  And I wish I could see more of Bob Kostas online, giving his balanced commentary.  But now I get to focus on the sports, countries (not just USA), and events that matter to me. And I am OK with the pre-roll advertising and might even pay a premium for this type of custom access.  But please post the Tom Brokaw profile of Canada from Day One. This Olympic Games coverage seems to be the boldest step into the internet age.  It raises the question of which Olympics will we experience greater web viewership than TV viewership, perhaps measured by minutes of exposure.  And perhaps even before that crossover point, advertisers will see greater advantage reaching out to the web audience (targeting, attention span, measurability, etc.) than through TV advertising.  NBC (or whomever hosts future games) might be wise to cover their best with bosth media for the next 4-8 years to capture it all.
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Mobile Internet Growth Validated

Back in June 2008 when I wrote my blog and presentation about the The Mobile Internet Revolution is Here, there were some detractors who said that others had predicted that for years with little results to show.  In that presentation I applied the principles of the Tipping Point. The latest data indicates explosive growth over the past year.  The Fierce Mobile article about a Quantcast report points to 148% growth in the mobile web usage in 2009.  According to this source, mobile page views represent 1.3% of all web page views for North America. The report seems to focus just on page views from browsers, so misses all the other mobile internet traffic generated by client software on mobile devices that receives and sends email or Twitter messages, pushes news stories, etc. The Mobile Internet Revolution is indeed already here.
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Security Imperative for Cloud Computing

The recent New York Times article, Is Our Data Too Vulnerable in the Cloud?, points out the real concerns and risks of our storing all our data in "the Cloud". While some of the commenters point out that many of these security concerns apply as well to data stored on enterprise servers, laptops, and desktops -- the perceptions and fears are real.  Any further hiccups in cloud computing can set back the growth of these services, as a result of low user confidence. As evidence consider how many people we all know still fear paying bills by internet. What is needed  is for cloud computing service providers to display the equivalent of a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" to certify their data security is up to the standards of the best enterprises.  This will help consumers and CIOs feel more comfortable leaving their data in the cloud. To be effective this certification needs to address network and physical security, and also needs to apply global standards to meet the different needs of different jurisdictions.  For example the theory of cloud computing is that we should not care where in the world our data is stored; but EU enterprises have stricter privacy rules than many others and need to know their data security is up to EU standards regardless where it resides. Who will provide this certification? Perhaps auditors? Perhaps anew entity that creates a trusted brand? Someone ought to. Soon.
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Viva Data Liberation Front!

I am often amazed by how much Google understands and practices good business logic.  The latest is their support for the Data Liberation Front.  This is a group of employees dedicated to "Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google's products.  Our team's goal is to make it easier to move data in and out." There is much evidence that Google wants to be leaders in cloud computing.  And they seem to realize that cloud computing is attractive only if it is possible to make our data portable, cost effectively, and easily.  The old web strategy of trying to create "Stickiness" usually involved having customers invest much time and effort to add their own data and meta data, and thus make it difficult for them to move.  But instead, Google has realized that many people might be reluctant to invest themselves totally in cloud computing (such as in Google Apps) if it is difficult to get their data out somewhere down the road and move to another service.  Fixing this increases the trust level. I wholeheartedly support this approach.  I have found myself checking on several cloud computing sites (PBWorks and Evernote to name two) and have invested in their use only when I saw I could get my data out in some common format -- such as XML files. Good for Google!  May this initiative set a standard for others to follow.  And may it help cement Google's leadership.
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Wake up music industry!

Glen McDonald's well-reasoned open letter to the music industry bears some study. It is getting linked all over the net.   He is a music fan who is willing to pay for music, but is sick of all the tricks and nonsense -- like many of us.

Wake up music industry! Oh, and the movie industry needs to pay attention too.

Over and over we marketers see the advantages of giving customers what they want, and the perils of not meeting their needs.
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Right and Left Brain Advertising

Always On posted an interesting article about the growing need for marketers to apply both their left and right brains to advertising.  This is further evidence of the broadening role of marketing.  Not only is there a greater need for creativity (right brain) to craft compelling value propositions and break out of the pack, but with the growth of narrow-casting media and micro-marketing it is important for marketers to be scientists (left brain). 
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Caring for Customers Through the Full Cycle

Most marketers invest much time, thought, and energy in acquistion of customers.  And many (but perhaps too few) pay attention to current customers, especially in recurring-revenue businesses.  But how many even consider how to treat customers as they want to leave, in hopes that a positive experience might make it easier to bring them back in the future?

Think about it.  How many times have you heard the horror stories about customers trying to quit?  How often does that turn a mildly-dissatisfied customer into a raging anti-customer?  I just had an experience trying to quit a music service via an online connection, it took three tries, and it was painful.  There was a rumor several years ago that the only way to quit AOL was to use swear words in a chat room and get kicked off; my one experience with AOL was less extreme but still an unpleasant exit, even during the trial period.

As businesses mature this needs to be a higher concern for marketers.  Holding customers becomes more important than winning new customers.  And having a positive reputation through the entire customer life cycle is even more important.
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Subscription versus Ownership?

One of the most significant open issues regarding internet-delivered content (music, videos, etc.) is ownership versus subscription. As I have raved about the Yahoo! music service to my friends, I have been surprised to learn how many insist on owning their music. Even David Pogue, a respected New York Times writer lands firmly on ownership in his Blog posting.

I lean toward the subscription model for most run-of-the-mill content because (a) I see how much money I have wasted on music and DVDs I enjoyed only once and (b) I like the ability to switch to a new service provider that has a superior offering. In fact I look forward to the day when much PC software (such as Microsoft Office) is sold on a subscription model.

Perhaps it will take time and earned trust for more users to believe that with the subscription model they will always be able to find their favorite things. Or (more likely) we will find that service providers will need to offer both flavors for their customers.
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Yahoo! Music Unlimited Gets it Right! On the First Try!

I am impressed.  Normally I expect big companies (like Microsoft) to need several releases to get new products and services right.  That is the failure of marketing versus internal politics.

Yahoo! has broken this trend with their release of Yahoo! Music Unlimited.   I have become a fan of subscription music, and have tried most of the new services. Listen, from Rhapsody, was doing a good job for me for awhile. Then today I tried Yahoo! and was amazed at how much they got right on the first try. They have an impressive music catalogue. The use interface makes sense.  They have some good personalization.  And their transfer to other devices is very straight forward, as well as a nice bonus.   Note that I like it without even mentioning the category-killer price of $6.99 /month for pay-as-you go.

 Although I have signed up for the month-by-month service, I already feel I will stick around a while.   Good job Yahoo! marketing and technical teams!
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