2.0 Mania?

By the way this is Gopal Shenoy 2.0 writing this blog? I felt that if I don’t have a 2.0 next to my name, I am going to be considered old. There is a 2.0 behind everything these days – Web 2.0, Marketing 2.0, Where 2.0, Business 2.0, PR 2.0, XYZ 2.0, you name it. Brings back memories of late 90’s. Was’nt this when we experienced a similar craze of .com and we all know how that one went.

I am a big proponent of Web 2.0 principles, but this 2.0 behind everything is driving me crazy. 2.0 by itself anything is not going to get us anywhere. 2.0 behind inefficient processes is not going to be a magic wand. But it sure feels that way – “2.0” has surely become a buzzword now. Customers have not changed their needs overnight from the 1.0 days to the present 2.0 day. Yes, they have new needs, but there are certain things that have not changed.

1) Customers are still looking for products that solve their needs the right way.

2) Businesses have to be profitable to have long term success. (Ok, youtube did not make one cent before they got bought out by Google for a zillion dollars, same thing with flickr. I could list similar acquisitions during the .com craze too and hence I am not going to use these successes as the new way of doing business)

3) Customers are still looking for companies that will treat them with respect, listen to their new needs and solve them.

4) Businesses need to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the competition.

None of these fundamentals of doing business have changed. “2.0” to me is a new way of doing business, new way of reaching out to customers, new way of empowering customers (wikis, blogs, forums etc.) and a new way of listening to the authentic opinions of customers. Doing all this requires a fundamental cultural shift in companies. Unless this shift happens, no “2.0” or “100.0” methodology is going to make one bit of a difference. In fact, failing to make this cultural shift will leave companies behind.

One of the larger shifts “2.0” has brought to the table is that consumers are now in control of what word gets spread about a product. Vendors can no longer control what gets said about their products. Consumers are now looking for authentic user opinions on products, avoiding vendor websites where rosy pictures of products are presented. Unless companies are willing to embrace this feedback, listen to it and take immediate action to fix the issues, they will fail. This is a lot more of a cultural and less of a technology shift and hence is a lot harder for some companies to digest and change.

As a consumer, I love it. As a marketer, I need to be ready to make the shift myself. Embracing 2.0 without a game plan to quickly fix what annoys consumers will not work. “2.0” has given consumers the biggest megaphone they could ever hope for and companies better embrace and act quickly or be fearful of being left behind. Products need to work as advertised, your service needs to be courteous, timely, otherwise the whole world will soon know.

“2.0” principles are solid, but I sure hope this mania will not end the same way as the .com mania.

Handling social media – Authenticity is the key

Social media – no matter what you read, you are bound to hear this term. It is the popular “phrase of the current times” – is it a buzzword though? I do not think so. Given how blogs, user reviews have influenced my purchasing decisions over the last couple of years, I am true believer that is indeed a trend that is beneficial to the consumer. I do not buy products without reading user reviews (not company’s product review or some expert analyst’s review) on multiple sites. If a product does not have a real user generated review, I am skeptical about how good the product is.

Given this trend, now companies have got into the act as well by using social media to their advantage. Press releases are issued with search engines in mind, employee blogs are on the increase, CEO’s are starting to write blogs…. But if this is not done right, this will backfire. Companies cannot do all of this with their marketing agendas in mind – “authenticity” is the key. Consumers can sniff out “marketing agendas” in no time. The right way to do this is by empowering the users to get started and then sitting back and be willing to listen to good and more importantly the bad news. If there is something “bad” that is mentioned about your company or products, quickly take action to fix the issue and then report back to the user community. This will buy you tremendous credibility because you now have the social media as a large “megaphone” to broadcast to the entire world that you listened, took action and fixed the issue.

Unless companies are willing to embrace the “authenticity” in social media, they cannot expect to use this to their advantage. Rules have changed, users now control your marketing and PR, it is no longer in the hands of your marketing or PR departments. Come to terms with this, embrace it and turn it into a competitive differentiator and you shall succeed.

Incremental Product Innovations that wow you!!

You come across certain incremental product innovations that make you say “Wow” and then make you wonder “why did’nt anyone think about these before?”. Here are some of them that have come to my mind where I have said the above:

1) Hotel check-in self service kiosks that also allow users to print boarding passes for flights. I just experienced this for the first time at Hilton New York and I was so pleased.

2) Handles on the 5 gallon water bottles that you use on the water coolers. Imagine how difficult it was to place a new water bottle when they did not have a handle? Now this innovation has appeared on other products such as paint cans.

3) Ketchup bottles that sit upside down so that it is easy to dispense ketchup. Again, this now appears on toothpastes, body washes etc.

Ketchup bottleBody wash bottle

Again, as I said these are in my opinion incremental but very effective product innovations. These are so obvious improvements to someone who just observes users trying to use these products before these improvements were made. But what is important is that the observation had to be made.

Industrial designers have mastered the art of ethnography, software industry is way behind. When it comes to software, it is very easy for us to say “user error” or classify the user as an incompetent user. This has to change and I am positive it will.

The other point I want to emphasize is that all product innovations do not have to be revolutionary. You do not have to invent another “ipod” like product to innovate. After all, there are more evolutionary product innovations than revolutionary innovations. All one need to do is get out of one’s office and observe real people using your product.

Web Innovator’s group meeting

I attended my second web innovator’s group meeting held last night at the Royal Sonnesta hotel in Cambridge. The event is hosted once every two months by David Beisel, who now works at Venrock (VC firm) in Cambridge. There were maybe about 150 people in attendance – felt like the crowd was a little smaller than the last time (blame it on the Sox – Yankees game?)

The things I like the most about the event are

  1. Getting to see some latest products/technologies companies are working on
  2. The networking – you get to meet some great minds to talk about what is going on in the tech world.
  3. The format of the event.

There are two main presentations called “main dishes” (I think they are 2 minutes each with 2 questions at the end) and there are about six “side dishes” – six startup companies that have booths around the perimeter of the room to show off their products to attendees. This time the side dishes got a 30 sec slot to pitch their product on the main stage. I think this was a welcome change so that the side dishes also get on the main stage even if it is 30 sec (hey, helps you polish on the elevator pitch).

The main dishes this time were:

  1. Geezeo – They demoed their personal finance mobile application. Basically you get to set up all your bank accounts and credit card numbers in one account with Geezeo and then be able to check your balances and available credit from your mobile phone. According to Shawn Ward, their co-founder, the pain point they are trying to solve is the customer not running up overdraft fees because they overdrew from their bank account or because they went past their credit limit. Apparently, the banks and credit card companies made $53 billion in overdraft fees last year alone. They work with CashEdge, a leading company that deals with financial transactions and authentication services for banks [My thoughts – Interesting idea, but will I be comfortable in having all my accounts in one place? – this fear of security would probably be the biggest hurdle Geezeo will have to cross to convince the public that this is safe. Thanks to TJ Maxx, the consumer confidence in terms of stolen credit card numbers has hit another low. I need to look more into their model to see how it works, what it stores in their database etc.]
  2. DNSstuff.com – Now this was really geeky stuff which I don’t think I can clearly explain what they do, but I will try. They run about 56 tests to check for configuration problems of your DNS servers. They claimed that they have 12 million users using their services. This was a free service, but now they are going to be charging for the service. Their extensive reports seemed to be the claim to fame. [My thoughts – none. I have no idea how all of this DNS stuff works nor do I really care – I will leave that to my geeky network admins to figure out.

The side dishes were EnjoyMyMedia, VideoAdFactory, TownConnect, Youhavenotchangedonebit (now that is a short name and a URL to type in – I am not sure what they were thinking) and iMoondo. I did not get a chance to look at any of these because I was busy networking.

I felt that the event in March was more interesting than this one in terms of the products. But the networking was of course fun. I would definitely recommend this event to anyone in the tech space to attend. You get to meet some great friendly people to chat over a glass of wine or a bottle of beer.

The next event is on Monday July 9th, same place, same time (630pm).

Herb Chambers Honda Complaints- Worst ever customer experience

I was under the belief that car dealerships had got their act together these days because of the internet. I was under the belief that the days where they could play hard ball tactics with customers and get away with horrible customer service were gone. The underlying reason why I believed in this was because of what I thought of the strong influence that customer reviews on the web have on people’s purchasing decisions.

This past weekend, I had a rude awakening that told me that car dealers are still the same. They still have horrible customer service and think customers who walk in through their doors are people who can be easily taken for a ride. The past weekend I had to get my Odyssey repaired for some electrical problem. I got a call at 4pm saying that the car was ready to pick up. The guy told me he will call me back in a minute with the exact cost of repair. He never called back and when I show up at the dealership an hour later, the paper work is not done, he tells me that the car is being vaccumed while it is sitting in the lot. After I asked that I get to speak to the service manager, things got rolling. There were other customers waiting there with complaints similar to mine.

After all this, I find that there is a long scratch on the sliding doors that was not there when I took it in. Now I have to go back there to get this buffed. Imagine how pissed off and frustrated I feel.

When I got home, I did a check on the Internet to see if there were any reviews on this dealership. Sure enough, there was and every one of the reviews rates this dealership as one of the worst Honda dealerships.

I guess the car dealerships still have not learnt about the word of mouth marketing on the web or is it because the customer reviews are still not mainstream as much as I think they are or is it because every one of them is the same that consumers have no choice but to put up with such shoddy service?

Word of Mouth – #1 influencer in B2B purchasing decisions

Keller Fay Group last week released the results of a study on influencers in B2B purchasing decisions. The study was based on an online interviews with 700 executives in the US and UK conducted between March and April, 2007. The results indicated that the #1 influencer in B2B purchasing decisions was Word of Mouth (surprise, surprise).

What surprised me most was that 75% of these “word of mouth” recommendations among executives was happening “offline” as opposed to the digital world. Emails only contributed 3% and blogs just 1%.

The study also calculated the net advocacy scores (% of positive recommendations – % of negative or mixed recommendations) for some major product categories such as Financial products and services, Computer hardware and software, wireless hardware, telecom providers and cable companies, automotive and healthcare.

The lowest advocacy score was for computer software (score of 3) and the highest was for financial investments (52).

More details can be found at Jack Morton’s website.

Presentation skills – do you care about your customer needs?

One of the key tasks that a product manager has to do is evangelize your product to customers, prospects, industry analysts, partners etc. You have to sell the benefits of your product to these audiences. Having just returned from another conference – the Enterprise Search Summit in NYC, I continue to be dismayed as to how bad people’s presentation skills are. The conference was filled with presentations from subject matter experts, but there were only about five effective, persuasive presentations. Rest were powerpoint slides filled with text and these experts were quite happy to read from these slides.

If you want to be effective, you cannot do this. If the industry standard for presentations is so dismal, you have a golden opportunity to create a differentiator for yourselves, your product and your company. Your good presentation will be remembered and talked about. One of the presentators at the conference got an ovation when he said he was not going to use powerpoint – the audience is craving for such presentations, they are indeed tired of powerpoint. Given that your job is to have a pulse on the market needs, take note – the audience is craving for good presentations.

I had written about this topic “What’s in it for the audience?” in my old blog. I am including it below as well.

What’s in it for the audience?

Can you think of a recent presentation that you have attended where Powerpoint has not been used. I don’t know about you, but I have not gone to one. I regularly attend conferences and listen to a lot of “so called” subject experts. There is no doubt that the speakers that I have listened to are very good at what they do. They indeed are experts in their subject matter. But what about their presentation skills. That is another story. In my perspective, presentation skills of even these experts are very low. It continues to amaze me as to how many presenters just read off the slides, have nothing more to say than what is on the slide. So why do people who are very good at what they do, struggle when it comes to presenting? Public speaking after all is not an easy task. I would not be surprised if even the best speakers get nervous speaking in front of a large audience. The fear of “what if I forget what I have to say”, “what if I say the wrong thing” is there in most of us mortals.

To fight this fear, we have found a perfect savior in Powerpoint. It lets us write all of our thoughts into slides and then read them out. We no longer have to remember anything, we no longer have to fear saying the wrong thing or ever having to forget what we want to say. It is all there right on our powerpoint slides. But with this has come a mammoth shift. Presenters no longer fear anything, but it is now the audience who fear having to survive Powerpoint presentations. The problem folks is we have gone from speakers to readers. Speakers, by the very nature of the word, have to think about what they have to speak about. Readers seem to want to read what they have written on the slide. Readers have now conveniently forgotten about the audience – why are there here, why should they listen to us, what is in it for them?

I took presentation training myself and before this, my presentations probably would have stood a chance of making into an “How not to do presentations?” article as well. I would by no means claim to be an expert in presentations, but I have picked up some valuable skills through my training that I would like to share with you.

First of all, think of some great speakers you have listened to. Take radio broadcasters for example. Do they use Powerpoint? What about politicians, do they use Powerpoint when they are on the election trail – they in my opinion get it – they know what the audience wants to hear – OK, they will tell you what you want to hear – but at least they think a whole lot about their audience before they get up to speak. Convince yourselves that Powerpoint is not absolutely needed for a presentation.

Here are some tips that you could use for your next presentation:

  1. What is your message for your audience? What is in it for them? Why would they want to listen to you? If you are presenting at a conference, the audience have likely spend a lot of money and taken time off from work to come to listen to you. You owe it to them to deliver a great presentation. (When I am presenting at a conference, in some cases, I have been able to get a list of registered attendees before hand and through a survey have been able to find out about what they may want to hear. This also helps you to advertise your presentation in a way).
  2. What are the three things you want your audience to walk away with? Just three, any more and they will likely not remember anything. Start from there, then figure out your introduction (not how you are going to introduce yourself, but your message) and then fill in your supporting visual aids.
  3. Start with the assumption that you don’t need Powerpoint at all and see if you can live without it. You have to convince yourself that without Powerpoint slides you will be less effective in delivering your message, before you choose to include them.
  4. Text on a Powerpoint slide is your competition – humans can read text faster than they can listen. So unless you are speaking to non-humans, your audience will naturally read what you have on the slides and not listen to you. Use images instead of text. “After all a picture is worth a thousand words”.
  5. Repeat to yourself “Powerpoint slides are not my presentation, they are my visual aids. I am the presentation”
  6. Practice, practice, practice. No, you cannot wing it. This is not an extempore. You are hear to convince someone with your message. If you want your message to stick, you will need to practice and iterate.
  7. If you are required to write a speaker introduction (like at a conference), write one that leads into your message. The audience is not really interested in knowing all the degrees you have, where you got your degrees from, how many awards and other accolades you have received etc. The audience is there to take away your key messages and not to become experts on your credentials (Don’t get me wrong, credentials help build your credibility, but the intro does not have to be your entire resume).
  8. Evaluate how well you did right after your presentation. In some cases, I have asked the audience right there and then on how well I did. Tell them you are looking for their honest feedback. It is another way of telling them that you care if your presentation helped them.

Getting better at presentations is a gradual process. You have to continuously work on it. I hope you found the above tips helpful, if not I would like to know. Good luck for your next presentation !! Go get them with your message !!

The Nine Biggest Myths of the Workplace by Penelope Trunk

Guy Kawasaki interviewed Penelope Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success on the nine biggest myths of the workplace.

Here they are:

  1. You’ll be happier if you have a job you like.
  2. Job-hopping will hurt you.
  3. The glass ceiling still exists.
  4. Office politics is about backstabbing.
  5. Do good work, and you’ll do fine.
  6. You need a good resume.
  7. People with good networks are good at networking.
  8. Work hard and good things will come.
  9. Create the shiny brand of you!

For more information, read it at Guy’s blog.

Transferring from Vox

For the last 7 months, I maintained a blog on Vox and now I am leaving Vox to start my blog here. If you want to find my old blogs, please visit them on Vox. The main reasons for me to decide Vox were:

1) Anyone who has to leave comments on my blog have to create a new account with Vox. That is not going to work for me. I cannot advertise my blog to others and have them comment on my articles with such a barrier to entry. Sorry, Vox does not get it.

2) There is no way to embed a video say from Youtube or GoogleVideo into the blog like I have done below. It has to be a hyperlink. Old style. OK, this is lesser of the two reasons.

So here, I am starting my third blog on the blogosphere. I did my research this time, and everyone I asked (so called experts on blogging) unanimously recommended WordPress (listen marketers – there is Word of Mouth for you)

Gopal