Learn to fail. Fail often. Fail fast. Does this sound familiar? Failure is the current focus in many schools of “entrepreneurial thinking”. We contend that it is of no consequence whether you failed – rather, it’s what you learned that’s important. For us, “You win or you learn” is the key to keeping going when things don’t turn out quite as we had anticipated.
Seeking the “why” of any outcome will build your understanding of the processes, paradigms, or procedures that got you there. That kind of insight will improve your future outcomes, regardless of whether you won – or learned.
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?
Today would have been Marshall McLuhan’s 100th birthday. The Canadian author, academic, and expert on all things communication is perhaps best known for coining the phrase, “the medium is the message”. He saw the arrival of machine printing as having had the equivalent effect of an atomic bomb on language and discourse. He foresaw a world where we would all be interconnected. But most of all, McLuhan saw a world where our devices would define us, almost more so than what we expressed by using those devices.
Was he right? Is your team spending more time talking about how and where to express your message, than the message itself? Are they asking, “Do we have an app for that?” or “Shouldn’t the field force be using tablets instead of documents?” We’d bet these kinds of conversations are taking place in your workplace, just as they are in ours. So it bears repeating that there are some simple rules of thumb that will help make sure your message is an effective one:
Does it clearly differentiate your product or
service from the competition?
Is the benefit explicitly stated, or can it be
simply decoded by the customer?
Have you taken time to understand which medium
is most appealing to your target, to deliver it where and when they need to
What is the action you are calling the consumer
Are you sure you’ve let them know how to answer
that call to action?
Hats off to Marshall McLuhan. We’d like to hope if the medium changes us; it will be for the better.
Last night we went to a launch meeting for the Canadian Augustinian Centre for Social Justice. The Order of St. Augustine is a United Nations NGO dedicated to justice and peace, and the Centre will act as its Canadian Commission. After a kick-off by hosts Brian Dwyer, Lisa Romano-Dwyer and Emeka Obiezu, Regis College’s Jack Costello, shared some very moving thoughts on what’s changed in our world and why we need to change our thinking on homelessness. Stephen Gaetz, told us about the Homeless Hub, and some research that shows the impact of homelessness on our youth.
What’s all this got to do with my business, you might ask? It’s a question of faith. Not just “big-F” faith, or religious faith, but a belief that problems can be solved, or that challenges are surmountable. Everyone in attendance last night didn’t agree on how homelessness could be addressed. Each had their own ideas. But everyone agreed on one thing: that the lack of a basic human need such as shelter, in a country as rich as Canada, should be resolved. They all left the room full of hope, ideas, and a will to do something.
Now fast-forward to whatever challenges you’re facing in your work and imagine…a new product to be launched in complex market? Declining margins in the face of new economic realities? Customers who are looking for a solution that you can’t figure out how to provide? Imagine bringing your team together in a room. If you can agree on the over-arching principle that your problem can, and should, be solved, that’s faith. Bring together a committed team of individuals who believe something can be done, and it will, even if you can’t yet see what that solution is.
People who know us well also know that we like to keep an urban farm in the backyard. Oh, we’re not raising livestock like some folks. But we do like the idea of doing some of the work of feeding ourselves, instead of just leaving it to the real farmers.
The interesting thing about combining our food-growing habits with a travelling lifestyle is that things will just spring up when we’re not looking. Suddenly, that lettuce that we planted from seed is up, and it’s already a couple of inches high, big enough to use in a baby-greens salad. Or the seeds from tomatoes that didn’t quite break down in the compost have pioneered in some sunny spot in the corner. In the work world, this can happen too. Are there some areas of your work that you’ve been ignoring, because you’re too busy on a project, trying to land the next big assignment, or fighting another fire? Take a look in those corners…something might be growing there. And if you’re lucky, it might even be something you’ll be able to use to feed yourself (metaphorically speaking, at least).
Recently we were running around town with a friend, helping him finish some last-minute errands before he headed back to the UK. We decided, being a hot day, we should have a cold one and watch the final round of a golf tournament we’d been following. We popped into Beer Bistro, near Toronto’s Financial District. It’s a great spot, nicely appointed, with a great combination of bar, restaurant, and patio. But what really amazed and delighted us was the fantastic customer service experience we had. It wasn’t just that our server, Lauren, was friendly. She was authentically so (and not in that smarmy, “I’m your friend in anticipation of a great tip” way that seems to persist in some places, despite pubs, restaurants and cafés closing, hand-over-fist). Everyone else we met was affable as well, even if they didn’t seem to have anything in particular to gain. They just seemed to know what hospitality really means. There was more than niceness that made our experience really stellar, though. Lauren had fantastic product knowledge, which she shared enthusiastically, all while asking a few careful questions leading to excellent product recommendations that suited us to a “T”.
We know that servers aren’t usually highly-paid, and that tips are down everywhere. Yet here was someone who was willing to study, to learn everything she could about the products she was promoting and serving, and to find a way to turn that into a recommendation that would make the customer happy. She was affable, competent, and confident. And she never once gave the impression that she had better things to do than to provide us with some amazing beers to try, and share a bit of conversation. All of that added up to a tremendous customer experience.
So hats off to Beer Bistro, and if you’re in the hospitality industry and looking for ways to make customers come, stay, and spend more money, just follow Lauren’s example.
Make people comfortable and let them know you’re glad they’re there.
Know your product inside out, but more importantly, think about the connections between each product and the kind of person who might like it.
Ask customers about themselves, really listen, and offer them something that really reflects their interests and tastes.
Megann and I are big supporters of the Toronto Product Management Association (TPMA), www.tpma.ca, a group of interested Product Managers and those who support them active in the Toronto area. We first became acquainted with them through our friend Alan Armstrong, who was one of the founders.
They are great believers in sharing information and best practices in order to develop better Product Management people and processes. The primary route for doing this is through monthly meetings, which are inexpensive and usually well attended.
Some of the members of TPMA are involved in a new adventure to roll out in September: ProductCampToronto. This is modelled on BarCamp, and seeks to bring Product Managers, and those interested in advancing Product Management, together for a one day “unconference” in Toronto. The date is not yet set, but you can check it out at http://barcamp.org/ProductCampToronto.
We hope to be there to contribute our story about understanding your customers as part of the Product Management process.