The Devil’s Advocate as a Godsend

June 29, 2009

i-want-you-speak-up-copyIn the workplace, there are a lot of tough decisions that get made every day.  Any project has turning points, any idea meets resistance, and any announcement will be taken differently by different people.  But some of the tougher decisions are made at the personal level, and they can affect the entire company.

One such decision is what I call the naysayer’s paradox.

Here is where this decision comes from: You are part of a team at work that is developing a new product or service, or even just a new strategy.  The boss is clearly looking to you for wisdom and insight, but wants to get this project moving forward sooner rather than later.  So an idea is developed and gets approved, but you are not a big fan of it.  Either you see some fundamental flaw that others have ignored or you think doing it a little differently could work better.  You know your boss just wants you to get behind the idea and push it along, but you feel the need to voice your “negative” opinion.  What do you do?

It’s a very difficult position to be in.  On the one hand, keeping quiet and getting the job done will put you in better standing with the team, with your boss, and with the company.  And though it may not be the best decision for the project, it might lead to higher morale, and maybe more money for you.

On the other hand, speaking up and playing the devil’s advocate might lead to a better product or service.  It might spark more discussion, iron out some of the flaws, or make the team more efficient.  But at the same time, it might not put you in the best position with the boss or the rest of the team.

In many ways, you may get rewarded for keeping your mouth shut, even though it means the project does not go as well as it could have.  This is an uncomfortable situation to be in.

But those people that do speak up are doing their company a service.
Though the short term affect may be negative, the long term impacts that getting the project done right will have far outweigh anything else.  Company’s benefit from opinionated employees who are looking out for the interest of the company as a whole instead of only their own career, even if the “bosses” can’t see that.

There is always a time to keep your mouth shut, but innovation happens when you open it.

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Heritage of Innovation Podcasts

June 25, 2009

HP-LogoThis morning, I was informed of a series of Podcasts entitled “The Heritage of Innovation“.  The podcasts will feature interviews with employees of Hewlett Packard discussing various innovations and creations from over the years.

The first in the series is an interview with Dave Cochran, the product manager of the groundbreaking HP-35 calculator.  This was the first calculator that could perform all the functions of a slide rule, and it could fit in a pocket – an achievement that was incomprehensible at its time. Dave shares a lot of experiences and anecdotes about his work with Bill Hewlett and David Packard, along with stories about other team members including Steve Wozniak.

Take a moment to check them out here.

Marketing in an Age of Endless Needs

June 24, 2009

518SD2MD3VL._SL500The following is a small piece of dialogue from the movie, Roger Dodger, a favorite of mine.

Roger: You can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad.

Nick: Why not?

Roger: Because it’s a substitution game. You have to remind them that they’re missing something from their lives. Everyone’s missing something, right?

Nick: I guess.

Roger: Trust me. And when they’re feeling sufficiently incomplete, you convince them your product is the only thing that can fill the void. So instead of taking steps to deal with their lives, instead of working to root out the real reason for their misery, they go out and buy a stupid looking pair of cargo pants.

The movie is about a young man learning how to attract women from his womanizing uncle.  Check it out if you haven’t seen it.

In the movie, Roger works for an ad agency.  His belief about advertising is captured in the short back and forth featured above.

What this post is about is the dilemma that this theory creates.  As marketers, are we creating the need that our product fills, or fulfilling an actual need?  This is a question that you need to answer before any type of marketing campaign, because it will change your entire strategy.

If you are advertising something completely new, something we may not even know that we need yet, you are going to have to work a little harder at educating us.  Make us realize the need before you tell us how your product or service fills it.

If you are advertising a new version of an existing product, or some type of upgrade that fulfills an existing need, then don’t bother educating us.  Just sell us straight up.

It makes a huge difference, and could affect the success of any product launch.  So one of the first steps you should take when drafting any new marketing plan is to identify which category that you fall into.  Are you creating a need, or just filling one we already have?

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What Do You Know about Your Customers?

June 22, 2009

the_more_you_know2Probably not enough.

Do you know when their birthdays are?  Do you know how they heard about you?  Do you know why they chose you over a competitor?  Do you know how their experience with your product or service has been since they purchased?

You can never know enough about your customers, because the more you know, the better suited you are to serve them, to sell to them, and to create for them.

Track everything.  When did they purchase, why did they purchase, when are they likely to purchase again?  Keeping track of this type of information will make it easy for you to see trends and habits that have always been there.  And once you have the information, put it in a place that makes it easy to view, search, and sort.  The key to obtaining the information is the ability to use itJust because its there does not mean that it helps you.

Give the information to your sales team so that they can offer them new products and services, or upgrades of the things that they already have.

Give it to your customer service department so they know exactly what is happening every time they pick up the phone to deal with an issue.

Give it to your marketing department so they know how to better position themselves to attract more of the same type of people.

The best companies know as much as they can about their customers.  They are able to serve their needs before a customer even knows the need exists.  They keep channels of communication open at all times, not just went they want to sell something.  And the customer responds to this.

The more you know, the better position you will find yourself in.  So start learning today.

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Fostering Innovation through Internships

June 18, 2009

baby-businessIt’s that time of the year again when companies are starting to take on summer interns.  College kids all over the country are looking to gain valuable work experience in the industry they plan to work in, with hopes of the added cash bonus to survive the summer.  And companies all over the country are looking to fill minute holes they have at the bottom levels of the business.

It’s the typical cycle. They will get hands on experience, you’ll get someone to fill out paperwork, and come August or September, everything will go back to normal.  Nothing changes.

Now, what if you rethink what an internship is all about?  What if you let yourself believe that summer interns could actually do something important?

Think of it in a couple of different ways.  First, there is the “fresh eyes” perspective. Interns are brand new to the company, and unlike those employees that have been working in the business so long, they have not been trained into routines and habits.  They can see things as they really are, everything that is good, and everything that is bad.  Throughout the summer give them opportunities to voice suggestions, open complaints, and communicate back and forth with employees on every level of the organization.  This gives the interns a real voice within the company, which is very valuable to them.  But it also gives you a chance to see the company from the outside again, and will open up some very real suggestions of how things can be improved.

Second, there is the “do something new” perspective.  You’re company works without interns.  So now that you have the interns here, why not use them to do something that you were not doing before they got here.  Have them test out a new system or product.  Have them handle a series of focus groups, design surveys, contact old customers.  Maybe there is a new market that you are looking into.  Send them out with a top level employee to do research and analytics.  Use their motivation, curiosity and desire to learn to open up new doors for you and the company.  There is always ground level work to be done in any new venture, so why not get it done while you have the extra man power.

View summer internships as an opportunity not only for them, but for the business as a whole.  You can get ideas rolling, new projects off the ground, and create a whole team of brand evangelists by giving them real responsibility and creating an opportunity for them to grow.

It’s time to rethink internships.  They are only around for a couple of months, but they are the future of the workforce that you are grooming.  Treat them that way and the company will be all the better for it.

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Direct Comparison Ads: Do They Work Best?

June 16, 2009

49d620c72962eAdvertising works when it is done right. There is no question in that.  Companies spend millions of dollars on ad campaigns trying to target the right market and convince them of something.

I have always been somewhat of a self-appointed critic of advertising.  Partially because of my fascination with the industry and partially because I have very strong opinions.  I love investigating what the ad is saying, where the message is coming from, and whether or not it is successful.

Sometimes you see an ad on TV and you think to yourself, how did this make it out of the original brainstorming discussion?  Other times you see something that blows you away and you wonder how someone could dream it up.

Lately there is an intriguing trend that I thought was worth analyzing.  Direct comparison ads are becoming quite popular, and companies are sticking with them for an extended period of time.  So one has to think that they see better results.

Direct comparison ads, for the sake of this post, are any advertisement that calls out the competition blatantly and says why one product is better than the other.  Some companies that are currently running these type of ads are Microsoft (vs Apple), Apple (vs PCs), 5 Hour Energy (vs Energy Drinks), Time Warner (vs Verizon Fios), Dominoes (vs Subway/Quiznos), and Total Cereal (vs Go Lean).  There are many others as well but that is enough to prove my point.

This has long been a popular style of advertising, going right after the competition and trying to lure away customers because of a claim that you are better.  That are rules and guidelines surrounding it, and you have to be careful about what you do and do not say about the competition.  But, if executed well, these companies have seen that the effects can be strong.

For a long time Apple ate away at the market for personal computers with their “Mac/PC” ads showcasing how easy Macs were to use.  Now, Microsoft has countered with ads featuring “real people” looking for new computers and choosing the more affordable, just as useful, Dell or HPs with Windows.  And those ads have resulted in a spike in purchased of those PCs over Apple Computers.

My only issue with this type of ad campaign is that you run the risk of sounding bad.  Personal attacks against other brands can come back to bite you if A) They are found to be incorrect or B) The competition changes something to top you.  Personally, I have found that Time Warner makes some useless claims in their direct comparison ads (such as comparing the ease of reading the bill with that of Fios).  I have Time Warner, and the bill is confusing.

What do you think?  Do you find direct comparison to be effective?  Let me know why or why not in the comments below.

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One Year Gone — June 12th Returns

June 12, 2009

cupcake1One year ago today a movement started.  One year ago today the words were uttered for the first time, Be Innovation.

It’s June 12th, 2009, marking the one year anniversary of this blog.  A lot has happened over the past year as the theme and purpose of this blog continues to grow and get stronger.

Thank you for taking the ride with me.  I hope you will continue to read as I continue to write.  I hope you will continue to believe in real change, on every level.  We can continue to spread the word of new and innovative ideas that can affect the whole world.

Invite your friends and colleagues to join us as we move into the second year and beyond.  Subscribe to receive updates via email, or add Be Innovation to your blog reader.

I wanted to end this post with links to five of the most popular posts from my first year of writing, as well as a link back to the first post published one year ago today.  Thanks again!

1.   What Could You do with 200 Million Users
2.   From Simple to Complex and Back Again
3.   13 Ways to Make Google Adwords Work for Your Business
4.   Don’t Get Caught in the Recession Trap
5.   If You’re Selling Something, then SELL It
6.   Be Innovation (The 1st Post)