What’s Next for Your Product? A Tree Can Help you Get it Right!

Iterate early and often? Absolutely. But each version change to your product (or products) has the potential to move you further and further from your brand’s core. Eventually your brand looks like a copy of a copy of a…well, you understand. Your messages lose resolution. Your mission lacks clarity.

How do you keep that from happening? We like to use Innovation Games(r) to solve problems, and better yet, to prevent them. In the case of the problem we’re considering today, our clients love it when we play Prune the Product Tree to work through their product roadmap or brand strategy.

Imagine the trunk of the tree is your brand. This is your core. Your heart. Your promise. The thing that supports everything else you do. It should be immutable and unchanging. As you add leaves, flowers, or fruit…make sure they fit with your trunk. If your company is a birch tree, you aren’t going to turn out any apples. Once you’ve mapped out your “where’s next?”, think about the roots of your tree. They’re all the systems and structure that keep you upright, supporting your trunk and enabling everything you do. If your root system is insufficient, the leaves and blossoms will wither…and eventually even the trunk will succumb.

This simple but powerful metaphor is one of the most useful games in our toolkit – it’s helped us help many of our clients stay true to their purpose, and it can help you, too.

Solidly yours,

Megann and Steve

Planting the seeds of success

Spring is gradually sneaking up on the east coast of Canada.  One day it’s 10°C and the next it’s snow flurries.  It’s interesting trying to guess what’s coming around the corner.

We are, at Panoptika Central, currently inundated with greenery.  There’s a new garden to be planted and we don’t know what will grow, so we’re trying many different things.

It’s a bit like the start-ups we’ve been following this year through the Dalhousie Faculty of Management.  They are working with an approach we’ve talked about before, the lean canvas.  The principal being that you have an idea, or several; you look at the 9 key dimensions fleshing out your idea; you formulate hypotheses to test your assumptions; and then you test your hypotheses, either validating them, or invalidating them.  Either way, you end up knowing more about your idea and its potential utility.

Then your idea lives or dies by real world conditions, but not after you’ve sunk everything into it!

To use our garden analogy, we could have invested our entire budget into planting potatoes.  We like potatoes; they grow them in Nova Scotia; but will they grow in our garden?  So instead, we have invested in a series of small tests to see what will be the most successful.  Then, having facts to go on, we can pivot in the coming years into things we can grow successfully and that we like.

Maybe we should write a book…Lean Canvas GardeningJ

Here’s to making your personal garden (or idea) grow successfully!

Start it now!

Do you have a project you’ve been hoping to implement – a new initiative or some sort of change in process or procedure, but you just can’t seem to get it going in the summertime? It’s easy to let things slide in the summer, when offices frequently take on a slower pace. You deserve a rest, right? Besides, half the people you need to get that project off the ground are away on holiday! So why not just let it go until after Labour Day?

Here’s why: when those team members return after the holiday, they’ll have loads of catching up to do. They may not be interested in taking on something new. Despite the perception that a “back-to-school” mentality exists in September, the reality is that many of your co-workers may feel like they need a vacation to recover from their vacation backlog.

In fact here are three reasons why it may be better to simply start that project now:

  1. It will give other colleagues a chance to stretch themselves by taking on unfamiliar tasks.
  2. Fresh eyes often result in more creative solutions, rather than status quo.
  3. Those who step up in summer may be more committed to the project than those who do it just because it’s another obligation.

We have a host of new initiatives on the go right now, and it’s invigorating! By September we hope to be reaping the fruits of our labours.

Rolling up our sleeves,

Megann and Steve

Fleas and Elephants: What Happens When a Market Niche Grows…and Grows

There’s an old joke that says the difference between fleas and elephants is that elephants can have fleas, but not the other way around. So what happens if your inexpensive little marketing tactic suddenly becomes very costly because the niche it is targeting has changed dramatically in scope? Whereas you were reaping a great benefit by adding lots of low-cost value, now your margin is the flea – and your costs are the elephant.

Banks across the country developed special rates and packages to attract and retain seniors more than a decade ago. But now that the big boomer bump is casting a large shadow, all that “free” doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Many seniors expect the costliest level of service – face-to-face. Yet they aren’t seen by their banks as covering the costs of providing that. So rather than pass along the cost to their other customers, financial institutions are quietly cutting out their no-free privileges to this demographic. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened quietly enough to avoid the attention of the press – which is resulting in some interesting stories about penalizing senior citizens and lifelong customers.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying, despite the pace of change accelerating the way it is these days, it’s still worth looking at your market strategically – thinking about long-term scenarios and deciding how you will respond if things don’t quite turn out as you’d planned. Come to think of it, if strategic decision-making had happened, maybe this surprise wouldn’t have happened. And it begs the question – marketers are developing all sorts of free products and services now, with the intention of monetizing them later. If you’re their target, which free things will you be willing to part with, if they’re not free any longer?

Looking for elephants disguised as fleas,

Megann and Steve

I’ll Have Another Running a Different Race?

This week’s race at Belmont was a disappointment for a host of people on the I’ll Have Another team – including owner Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill, and jockey Mario Gutierrez. But there’s a solid business strategy lesson to be had in the retirement of the winner of two jewels in the Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Sure, it’s possible Reddam’s team could have raced I’ll Have Another on Saturday. They might even have won. It’s easy to say on paper, that you should sacrifice the opportunity for a huge tactical win, in favour of your company’s long-term strategy. But in the modern economy, where the long-term planning horizon grows increasingly shorter, this can be incredibly difficult to achieve. Will you as a manager forfeit a huge, immediate payoff in favour of a long-term goal that may not be achieved until you’re no longer even with the company? Suddenly it doesn’t seem so simple.

The folks backing I’ll Have Another got it right. They decided it wasn’t worth causing undue pain and suffering to the horse. But there’s more. Clearly they thought about the opportunity cost as well. Had they risked running the race, they might not only have lost, but may have injured I’ll Have Another sufficiently to ruin his career as a valuable stud. So maybe I’ll Have Another was just running a different race.

Next time you’re tempted to over-reach your risk tolerance in favour of a potential short-term gain, make sure you’re not just betting on the right horse, but on the right race.

Improving the odds on your business,

Megann & Steve

Distilling the Meaning for Better Research

This week, we’re in the midst of planning for our annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner. But Last week we attended a full-house meeting of the OPMA, where Hélène Moore gave a high-energy talk on new perspectives in brand strategizing. Professor Moore also pointed out that the days of the 200-slide research deck are over. How can you avoid having your Research partner show up with one of those yawn-inducing behemoths? Since we have research and St. Patrick’s Day on our mind, we thought a triple-distilled Irish Whiskey might yield some clues…

Choose the Recipe Carefully

Every great Irish whiskey starts off with a closely guarded recipe. Like this, your team can begin with clear, well-formulated set of research objectives. Invest in a great presentation at the outset – by making sure everyone who will be contributing to the process and receiving the results buys in to the objectives, right at the start. Beer and whiskey can’t come out of the same cask at the same time, no matter how hard you try.

Don’t Pollute the Batch with Excess “Fixings”

“Add-on-itis” can happen when there’s a legacy questionnaire (think tracking study) that has been around for so long, no one remembers why some of the questions were asked in the first place. Yet, fearful of missing something important, no one wants to pull the plug on outdated lines of exploration. After you’ve taken time to select a recipe, beware of someone sneaking extra fixings into the mash. Be a ruthless editor – cut everything that doesn’t contribute to the objectives of the research, and if someone wants to keep something that doesn’t fit, ask them to justify how it does.

Distillation Takes Time

There’s plenty of information out there to be had in the public domain. We’re so used to simply plugging in search terms and coming up with quick answers, that it’s easy to forget that just because the results are in, doesn’t mean the answer is ready. But if the information you need is precise enough that you need to ask the source directly, don’t settle for data. Look for meaning. A great research partner will sort through those 200 slides and distill the meaning. Jameson’s, that great Irish Whiskey, is triple-distilled for a reason – because taking time yields a better result.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day,

Megann and Steve

Will you Get Engaged in 2012?

Many of our projects involve having discussions with our clients’ customers. Occasionally, we interview those customers more quantitatively – like a survey. But the projects that really seem to add the most value are those where our clients actually engage with their customers. While it’s true that some investigations are best-served by a little professional distance, it takes courage to actually roll up your sleeves and get in a room with your customers. There’s nowhere to hide. You can’t laugh at their responses. If they don’t like their product, you can’t talk behind their backs and agree with your colleagues that they’re just “stupid”. (Yes, we’ve heard that).

Customer advisory boards are a great way to really get engaged in the customer conversation. They can work with the people who buy your products, but they can also work with internal team, like your salesforce. Here are some success tips we’ve learned and developed for a successful engagement:

  1. Know what questions you’re trying to answer, before you start. Otherwise your discussion may be aimless (or worse, pointless).
  2. Go into the discussion with a plan – and don’t consider the conversation finished until you have one. That doesn’t mean you have to make commitments to customers without adequate thought. Make sure your roadmap allows time for synthesis and action planning, so all your work will be worth it.
  3. Some engagements are better with a matchmaker. A trained facilitator can help you step aside and see each other’s best qualities. Observers who are not active participants in the discussion can make connections that may not be obvious within the group.
  4. Set some ground rules, like this one: ifs and ands are okay…but no “buts”. The word “but” is a real conversation stopper. It means, “I’m not listening, I’m just waiting for you to stop so I can re-state my position until you give in.”
  5. Think carefully about who needs to be in the room. It’s easier to understand the impact of your decisions if you include the implementers in the discussion from the get-go.

Here’s hoping 2012 will bring a happy engagement for you and your team,

Megann and Steve