If You Force Me to Change, I’ll Fight You

May 28, 2009

newspapersWe have seen it time and again in business and in society as a whole.  If you force someone to change their behavior for whatever reason, they will fight back.  They will resist what does not come naturally, and they will hate you for pushing this change on them.  Lots of them will simply look for a new alternative that will allow them to keep up the status quo.

Governments can force corporations to change
the way they act by enforcing new laws and taxes and business activities.  And those businesses that can afford to do so, will fight back.

Companies can force consumers to change by reinventing a product or service that we have come to know.  Many times customers will fight the change, because it is new, and look for any way to get the products that they are already used to.

Companies can force their competitors to change
by shifting the way their industry behaves or creating a new model for success.  And those business that find themselves behind struggle to turn things around.  They fight the innovators, claiming that they are cheating or that they’re wrong.  They fight with politicians to get some protection.  And they fight with their own customers to avoid losing them (see if that makes sense).

Enter the printing industry in all their luster.  Enter newspapers and magazines and major publishers.  Enter paid content providers.

We are in the midst of a content revolution.  Advertising markets are down everywhere you look.  Major media companies that have relied on newspaper and magazine circulation to thrive are losing money in a hurry.  People don’t want to pay for their information, and advertisers don’t want to pay not to be seen anymore.

Too many online content providers are succeeding in a free model system.  The issue is that the publications that have been around and successful for so long as pay services don’t know how to react.  So most of them fight the change.  They ask the government for help.  They ask consumers to make difficult choices.  And they spend all day firing back at those free content providers that have made it work.

Publishers are being forced to change, and because of that, they are fighting that change.  It’s time to rethink distribution, rethink salaried reporters, rethink free vs. paid models, and rethink consumer behavior.

I can get free information on technology and small businesses via TechCrunch, on business and investing via Bloomberg, on the law via Above the Law.  They have made free information work by making money on other ventures or in other ways.  They are valuable to me, more valuable to advertisers, and they are winning.

Change has come.

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Celebrating Milestones with your Public

May 26, 2009

Milestones_sideThis post takes something personal, and expands it to an idea that every business can follow.  I noticed earlier today that a comment on my last blog post by Jake Samuelson, author of the blog My Geeky Side, was the 200th comment that I have received.  Though that is not a stat that I actively track, it is nice to see that the conversation aspect of my blog is picking up as more readers continue to come to the site.  It was a stat that I wanted to share with you because it is exciting to see a growing readership contribute more ideas.

With regards to that, I strongly believe that sharing company milestones with customers and the general public is a great way to build your brand, market yourself, and generate a dialogue with the press and the people.

When a company announces that they just reached 1 million customers, or just sold their 500th widget, etc. it tells people something.  It gets them involved in the company, letting those people that are already customers know that their business is valued.  It lets potential customers know of your success.  “If 10,000 other people are using their service, it must be worth while.”

Sharing information publicly, either on the website, a corporate blog, with a press release, or company newsletter, gives you strong outreach.  It is marketing, without coming off as marketing.  It makes people aware of your brand and aware of your success.  It is the best way to grow based on past success.

Celebrate these milestones, not only with an announcement, but by giving something back as well.  Tell people that when you hit 1,000 units sold, you will have a special free or discounted offer.  “So many people like this that we have decided to give it away for free on this day.”  Promotions like that, based on current and projected success, spread the word.  It adds to the story that your company is telling, and defines what you are all about.

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Crowdsourcing Products and Services: Trendy but Boring (Part 2)

May 21, 2009

crowdOn Tuesday, I wrote a post about the pros and cons of crowdsourcing with respect to choosing styles and services based on feedback from an entire community.  After listening to some feedback from readers both in the comments and via email, I wanted to write a follow up post to address some other aspects of this rising trend.

I love community feedback. I think the fact that the internet and social media has made it possible for companies to connect with consumers and vice versa as is apparent by many previous posts on the blog.  What I am afraid of, as far as crowdsourcing is concerned, is that a company will rely too much on the opinions of its users or customers.

As was pointed out to me by Kevin Pruett, Facebook has done a good job at both getting and acknowledging feedback, as well as sticking with internal design and functionality decisions.  They made a lot of people happy by opening up their Terms of Use Agreement to a vote.  At the same time, they pissed a lot of people off by changing the design and functionality of the home page to accommodate advertisers and corporate users.  When it comes to that type of decision, they know better than the sum of their users.

Some other companies have found smart ways of using modified crowdsourcing strategies to achieve a nice balance of feedback and ingenuity.  A website may lay out 3-4 different options and have the community vote to choose the best one.  However, taking that strategy leaves you in what some might consider a poor position. One, you are locked in to that vote no matter what (see TIME’s top 100), unless you want to risk community backlash.  Two, those people who voted for something other than the winner may resent the final outcome.

Additionally, as Paul Miser pointed out, crowdsourcing is not for everyone.  There are companies that should do it, and companies that should continue to break boundaries and innovate on their own.  Why?  Because they are good at it.

Ford invented a market with cars for everyone, Apple invented the market for MP3 players for everyone, and Amazon’s Kindle invented the market for e-readers for everyone.  The masses won’t help you create a new market, because many times we don’t know what we want until we have it.

If there are companies out there that are looking to use some form of crowdsourcing to build community awareness and activity, I encourage them to try it.  But beware of the risks associated with this strategy because it may be tough to avoid them once you get started.  More to come…

Thanks for those people that reached out to me after Tuesday’s post.  To follow this blog series, as well as the rest of the posts on Be Innovation, subscribe here.

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Crowdsourcing Products and Services: Trendy but Boring (Part 1)

May 19, 2009

crowdOne of the hottest trends that the web has brought us this year is the idea of crowdsourcing.  The basic idea, for those that are not yet aware, is to make design and functionality decisions on products, services, and websites based on feedback from a community.  Facebook recently tried their version of this with their new Terms of Use Agreement.  They left it up to a vote by the community on whether or not they would rewrite certain parts of the document.

An ex-Google designer made noise by claiming the reason he left was because Google left too much of their design decisions up to data from the site’s users, essentially letting the whole world decide what designs worked and what had to go.  And today, over on Springwise, there is news about this company trying to start a crowdsourced fashion label.

While I do appreciate the innovative nature of this trend, allowing the end consumers to essentially design their own products, I think there is a downside to this growing fad.

One person may be creative and stylish, and another person may be quirky and willing to try anything, but the masses are boring.  The large majority of people are looking for something safe, easy and conservative in most of the products or services that they plan to use. Bringing the topic back to fashion, despite all the trendy labels out there, the majority of people will choose the more conservative appeal of a Gap or an Old Navy.

The problem that develops with the crowdsourcing approach is that the more people who get their input heard on the style of a product, the more boring it will become.  If 100 people lean to the left and 120 people lean to the right, the crowdsourced outcome of this product will be very close to being right down the middle.

When you try to please everyone, you end up being plain, and wowing no one. To build a successful brand, you have to wow someone, and boring just won’t do it.

Of course that is just one man’s opinion, I want to know what you think.  Is crowdsourcing going to lead to more popular products and services, or is it the end of creativity and stylistic flair?  Leave your comments below and I will follow up with a future post on this same topic.

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If You’re Selling Something, then SELL It

May 15, 2009

call2actionToo many companies are making money online for you not to be one of them.  And forgetting everything but the simple art of selling, there are a few simple things that you have to be doing to convert potential customers into paying customers.

When I get to your website, I usually got there on purpose.  Either I clicked on an ad of yours that looked appealing, or I searched for what you sell in Google, or someone told me that I would like what you’ve got so I cam there directly.  You are already winning the battle.  But there are ways that you can blow it, so don’t assume that just because I am there, the battle is over.

Strike. Hit me with some solid information right away.  Don’t make me look for it, because the attention span of someone searching the internet is short, and getting shorter everyday.  Catch my eye with headlines, have clear website navigation, allow me to search for exactly what I need.

Educate. Give me value in descriptions.  Too many companies put the same boring descriptions of the products that they are selling.  If your competitors description is the same as your description, you are not making my decision process any easier.  If you need to hire an expert copywriter for your site, do it.  Any thing to get a unique, value-driven message across that will entice me to buy.

Leap. Take a risk.  If you are afraid to take risks in business you will lose.  At this point, you have my attention, I have gotten to the product that I am interested in, and all it will take is one small thing to sway me one way or another.  So do something different.  Show me customer ratings, comments, descriptions.  Show me the prices of your competitors compared to your own.  Offer me a special deal as a first time buyer.  Make it easy and make it different, and you will have an easier time convincing me.

Lead. On every single page, put a call to action.  And make it stand out so I know exactly what it is I am supposed to be doing.  After all, your goal all along is to make a sale, so lead me down the sales line throughout every step of the process.  If I get lost, then your sale is lost.

Strike, Educate, Leap, and Lead.  Take a look at the pages on your website.  If you have a page that looks like it was made from a carbon copy of one of your competitors, you are losing.  If you have a page with no call to action, you are losing.  If you are not taking risks and being unique, you are losing.  This is a new era of selling online, and you need to keep up or lead to win.

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Looking for Inspiration? Do This

May 13, 2009

nicegraphIf you are an entrepreneur, or working in a company that needs to rethink or redesign processes or products in order to move forward, there are many places to look for inspiration.  In this post, I will name just a few things to look at/read/think about to get all the ideas you need.

  1. Visit a Pret-a-Manger Store. If possible, look up a local Pret and take a trip there during lunch time.  Take in the customer friendly servers, notice how fast the lines are always moving, read the displays underneath every item of food, and check out the unique seating area.  Pret has developed a fun, healthy, and unique brand of fast food.  They have a story to tell, and they tell it in a way the keeps customers coming back time and again.  They make it easy to be healthy, and they make the food buying/eating process fun.
  2. Take a look at JetBlue’s Twitter Page. Go to www.twitter.com/jetblue and read through a couple of the responses and conversations there.  They have fast become one of the better companies to use Twitter, and they do it through updates and customer service.  It is designed for anyone to ask their reps a question and receive a quick answer on flight times, delays, security information, and other miscellaneous facts you may need before a flight.  They are one of the few companies getting this right.
  3. Read an article on Zappos Corporate Culture. Zappos is fast becoming a prime example of how to run a company.  From the way employees are treated, to the initial hiring and training process, to the customer service, Zappos has built a company that people know is fun and generous.  Their employees are taught up front that customers come first, and everyone is in the customer service business, from top to bottom.  Their shoes are not the cheapest, but they have built such strong brand loyalty among existing customers, that the model works.
  4. Go into any TD Bank. TD Bank, after their purchase of Commerce, became “America’s Most Convenient Bank”, borrowing the motto from the bank they acquired.  And if you have ever dealt with one of the branches in any way, you know this is true.  If you belong to the bank, visit with a customer service complaint or question.  If not, visit because you are “thinking about opening a new account”.  And even if you don’t have time to visit, call up.  Recognize how quickly you are greeted and served, and take in the truly personal interactions that you experience.  Things are made easy, and everything you need to get done is done fast, and with a smile.  They make a name for themselves through service, and live up to it every time.
  5. Attend a MacWorld Conference. Apple has done an incredible job creating a following of cult-like loyal customers.  People hang on every word of every announcement they make, and people will buy into products long before they are even made available.  Visit one of these conferences, and even though Apple is no longer officially the focus, you will experience this first hand, and get a chance to hear about and try some of the newest innovations in technology.  It can be a very eye opening experience.

Those are a just a few highlights of what some companies have to offer.  Notice how each one is about a couple of main things: customer service, brand awareness, and loyalty.  These companies have developed their brand through attention to detail and interactions with customers that are above and beyond our expectations.  There is a lot to be learned by experiencing the things that superior companies offer.  What can you do to match this type of success?

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A Case of the Mondays

May 11, 2009

office-spaceA surefire way to bogged down by routines is to come in every Monday morning after a nice relaxing weekend and do the exact same thing you always do.

Most people use the better part of Monday before noon to clear their inbox of all the emails that have accumulated over the weekend, update yourself on the to-do list you carried over from last week, and catch up on some work that you left over from Friday.  And before you know it, you are moving through your week the same way you do every week.  And even though this is what feels comfortable and efficient, it will never create the need or desire to create or innovate.

So here is a thought.  In order for your business to thrive and grow, you need to be thinking outside the box.  To help spur new thoughts and creative vision, you need to do something different.  Use Mondays as routine busters, because if you take the time to throw yourself off a bit, then your mind will have more freedom to roam and create.

Take your breakfast at a place you’ve never been before.  Stay away from the computer.  Read a magazine article.  Take a pad and a pen and just start making lists.

Keep your mind active, but also free to wander. Take a walk, listen to music, keep your distance from work.  If you have the ability to stay out of the office, this is the time to do it, though you can certainly do these things at the office as well.

I know that eventually you have to get to your emails, you have to finish those boring, endless tasks that you’ve been chipping away at, but there is plenty of time for that as you move through the week.  A little time to think on a Monday morning can be just the medicine you need to help avoid the weekly routines and help you concentrate on the big picture.

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