by Ronald Brown
One major problem is what we choose to measure. Cities count things like the number of new startups or engineering graduates. Companies track the amount of money spent on R&D or the financial return of new products. Teams focus on the number of ideas generated or time to launch or project costs. These are metrics driven by “hard” data, and there are dozens of them. They are easy to monitor.
While they’re all valuable at some level, none answer the most basic question about innovation, which is “How do I make the next product I build and send out the door as successful as possible?” If you can’t answer that one, none of the rest much matters.
Here’s why: If you dig through the last 60 years of industry research, you’ll find the reasons for product failures are heavily influenced by customer “fit” issues. That means there is a mismatch between what the customer wants and what the product offers. The pricing might be wrong. Or the product might lack clear differentiation. Or it might lack an important feature, or be too difficult to use. While it is true that products fail for a lot of reasons, it is also true that most products fail simply because customers don’t see value in them. The value proposition is weak or non-existent.
The Concept of Product ViabilityWhen something is “viable
,” it is capable of not only germinating, but growing. In product development terms, viability means that a product not only gets purchased, but it performs well enough to be recommended to others. Its popularity spreads organically, or virally. You want a product that both initiates a sale and generates word of mouth.
There are formal research tools designed to get at the issue of viability, with familiar names like concept testing, prototype testing, test markets, and focus groups, but they can be complex, expensive and time-consuming.
There are also Agile teams
. One of the hallmarks of an Agile team is regular and direct customer interaction by developers themselves. This is principle number one in the Agile Manifesto
, and third-party research is rarely a good substitute.
In the Agile world, after team members interact with customers they bring back what they learned to the group, implications are discussed collectively, and product enhancement decisions are made very quickly. This sets the stage for yet another round of iteration. This decision cycle moves at what I call “Agile Time,” (read: fast) and any supporting tools or techniques have to conform to or accelerate the process. These decisions are made using “soft” data, and mostly gut instinct. They are not easy to monitor.
Measuring Product ViabilityTo quantify this soft data, some innovative companies are creating simple surveys, designed not for the customer, but for the developer. They don’t want to change the way team members interact with customers, but they do want to add structure and a methodology for keeping score. Keeping score allows for continuous improvement and repeatability — the holy grail of new product development.
Does “quantifying the subjective”
make sense? Sure, it’s done all the time, with stellar results. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a good example. I can’t think of input that is more subjective than personality types, yet the MBTI has proven its value to businesses around the world. The same goes for public opinion surveys, and a host of other tools. Here are the basic steps.
- 1. The first step is to create a list of critical success factors. To get started, consider the structure of a transaction since customer fit issues are always tested at the point of purchase. There are five basic categories: the customer, the product, the transaction itself, and the surrounding influencers related to the category and the environment. Each product will have its own list, made up of both common and unique factors. When you’re done, you should have 30 or 40 factor “statements.” Here are some examples of what to consider:
What would you want in an ideal product? You’d want it to exceed the customer’s expectations. You certainly would want it to have a clear value proposition. You’d want that value proposition to solve an important problem. You’d probably also want a product that leads to repeat or follow-on sales, one that requires little support, and one that doesn’t get returned very often.
What would you want in an ideal customer group? Well, you’d want a large number, so you have headroom to grow. You’d want to be able to find your customers easily. You’d want to be able to reach them with low costs. You’d want them to have money to spend on your product. And it’d be nice if they liked your brand.
What makes for an ideal transaction? To use a word from the last decade, it should be as frictionless as possible. Transactions should generate high margins. Your product should be easy for customers to find.
What about the category? It’d be nice if there were few competitors. For sure you don’t want an 800-pound gorilla breathing down your neck. You’d want low entry costs, a well-defined beachhead, and high growth rates. And you’d want to be able to find employees with relevant experience.
In terms of the environment, you’d want as few regulations as possible, and a booming economy.
- 2. The second step is for individual team members to use this “checklist” of 30 or 40 success factors as a guide for gathering and reporting customer input. Each team member scores each factor statement on a scale, usually from one to ten. A total score is calculated for each individual.
- 3. The third step is to combine all the individual scores, creating a team score. This represents the collective wisdom of the group about how viable a particular product is at a particular point in time. It’s not meant to replace face-to-face discussions, but rather provide an important framework where everyone’s point of view is included and product problems are readily apparent. I once sat in a meeting where it seemed only one person felt the product advantage was not clear to customers. Much later, I found out that others felt the same way, but did not speak up (it’s common for strong personalities to derail brainstorming sessions).
- 4. The fourth step is to plot the team score on a trendline so you can see how things change, for better or worse. It can be a simple graph produced using Microsoft Excel. Many teams compare their score against a goal: Today, they may be at a 2.3 while they plan to be a 10.0. If half the time has expired and you’re at only 20% of your goal, you’ve got some major issues.
by Jeff RundlesMcDonald’s used the social proof of “Over 1 Million Served” in the 1950s, by cyberspace and social media outlets have taken the influence of popularity to dizzying heights
DENVER, CO – When it comes to a marketing coup, one of the most influential factors in boosting a brand’s sales is simply the fact that the brand is popular.
Take automobiles, for instance. Being the best-selling car of the year can actually boost sales even more – some experts say as much as 3% -- from a factor known in the trade as “social proof:” the fact that so many people have gone that way says to other potential buyers “They must know something I don’t.’
This validation among peers groups, this social proof -- among, in this case, car buyers – has catapulted sales of the Nissan Altima from 229,263 units in 2010 and 7th place on the best-selling list, to 243,005 units and 4th place for 2011. The Altima leaped over Honda’s Accord and Civic, and the Toyota Corolla, perennial favorites, and is thisclose to Number 3 Toyota Camry, the best-selling passenger car in the country in both 2010 and 2011 (the top selling vehicles are the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks, #1 and #2, respectively). There’s a lot of jockeying for position and deals done to move up the list for no amount of traditional marketing can make up the power in the social proof that one is the best.
This social proof phenomenon is nothing new. Indeed, McDonald’s became the Number 1 purveyor of hamburgers by touting the fact that they had “Over 1 million Served” as long ago as the mid-1950s. How could so many people’s taste buds be wrong? By 1960 the sign on the Golden Arches read “Over 400 Million Served.”
Social proof, however, is even more important these days in an era of social media, and while social proof remains an important sales tool for the mom-and-pop-shop on the corner, for ecommerce social proof may be the very foundation of success.
The key to a buying decision is often based upon an influencer – in the old days this was simply called “word of mouth” and it was based on friends and family in one’s immediate proximity. The web has elevated this strategy to “word-of-mouth-on-steroids” by hitting on the goodwill of one customer, and extending the influential reach exponentially through such social media outlets as Facebook to that person’s friend and family, to all of their friends and families, and so on. Pretty soon there are thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people with social proof staring them directly in the pocketbook.
Moreover, online merchants are posting Facebook “Like” links on their sales websites – even on particular product pages – and when the number of “Likes” starts getting into respectable territory it builds a social proof of its own: e.g. “that many people must know something that I don’t.”
Social proof also works in other ways. People tend to gravitate toward things that might be limited, so many ecommerce merchants have built in comments and admonitions on their product page to “Hurry: supplies won’t last,” or something like it. There are also features in online shopping cart technologies, like Magento, which point out, on a product-by-product basis, “ that “5 other people have this item in their shopping cart” and “7 people have it on their wish list” – with only the slightest suggestion that perhaps the visitor should act quickly lest the deal be over or the inventory depleted.
Urgency is a strong component of social proof. Take such social shopping sites as Groupon or Living Social: when you click into a deal shows how many have been purchased and how much time is left before the deal expires, both strong social proof motivators. In psychology this is sometimes referred to as FOMO – “fear of missing out” – and the term is taking on a life of its own as a bona fide cyber addiction related to all of modern life’s connections opportunities; it’s the crackberry moved up to the meth level.
Ecommerce merchants would be wise – very wise to make sure their websites are positioned for social proof as much as possible. Here are some of the basic steps that should be taken:
- Get accounts for as many of the social network sites as is necessary, with some understanding of demographics (e.g. MySpace skews pretty young) – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace, Google+, Tagged.
- Post places on your site – home page and individual product pages – for such boosters as Facebook “Like” clicks to help build a community.
- Brag. If sales are booming or if you have high scores in customer surveys, display such information prominently on your site.
- Have your website linked with Facebook through its Social Shopping Cart feature where Facebook friends can not only share their opinions on product, but where online retailers can interface their own shopping carts to facilitate sales right off of the popular networking site.
- Create and maintain a customer feedback “forum” feature on your website and urge customers and visitors to post comments about their experience which can be shared with all visitors.
- Send out press releases – to local media if that is the marketplace, to industry media if that would help in a specific trade, on PRWeb or other mass distribution PR services. This will build links throughout the web and mentions in any other media, online or print/broadcast, will build social proof momentum.
- Go for endorsements. Just about every sales category has a popular blogger or a hundreds of them, and traditional an online media are important. If you can get favorable product (or service) reviews, you can tout it on your site, and even link to it. This builds social proof and also street cred.
- Many industry trade publications hold awards competitions for “best of” categories, and many general business magazines have “Top Minority Businesses” or “Top Women-Owned Business” or “Top Small Business” features, rankings or competitions. Winning one, or being ranked in one – even if it’s in Albuquerque -- will pay social proof dividends everywhere. People like what they perceive as popular products.
- Build in a feature in the shopping cart that says “People who bought this item also bought…” Some studies show that such information can boost the sales of the second product by 12% to 15%.
- Build in the feature on the individual product page that says “5 other people have this item in their shopping cart” and “7 other people have this item on their wish list.” This will suggest urgency, a social proof strongpoint.
- For sale items, closeouts and special offers create urgency with such copy as “While supplies last,” or “Until midnight tomorrow.” Also urgency.
Some of the social proof features can be added to your site through a Content Management System, like ExpressionEngine – things like blog posts, news releases, forums, etc. And adding social media buttons is a relatively easy task. Also, the best shopping cart technologies – the Number 1 is Magento – either have many of these features and services built6 right in or they can be obtained and integrated easily as sponsored or third-party extensions to boost the power of the technology. The lesson here is that putting social proof marketing on your website will prove to be an evolving process that will have to be tested and updated (additions and deletions) on a fairly regular basis to maintain Best Practices.
And also keep in mind that social proof can also work negatively – if the crowd suddenly senses that the crowd is moving away from something, social proof could dent or destroy sales even faster than it built it up. Experts advise to, obviously, have a top-quality product but to always work diligently to have a top-notch shopping experience, a no-hassle purchasing process, and an exceptional shipping and delivery expectation and fulfillment. Any glitches without immediate and forthright resolution could cause negative comments that will rage as social proof.
Unleaded Group of Denver is a premier website design and development firm, with complete SEO and social media capabilities, which specializes in building ecommerce websites using the Magento solution, the top shopping cart technology in the world.
by Hollis Thomases
Managing Google AdWords campaigns is easy, right? You just pick a bunch of keywords, establish budgets, enter your credit card and you're done.
Sure, but you're probably on your way to helping Google maintain its stock price while wasting a lot of your own money heedlessly or losing out to more savvy competitors.
Executed well, AdWords (and other similar "pay per click," or PPC, campaigns) can effectively drive qualified traffic to your website–which in turn can generate new leads and sales for your business. The best-run campaigns have a clear strategic directive, established benchmark metrics, and analytics in place to measure everything.
But the key phrase there is "executed well." What my company often sees instead, when we're called in to audit or take over these DIY campaigns, is a whole lot of aimless setup, general mismanagement and under-utilization of features that could otherwise help overall performance.
If you're managing your own PPC campaign in-house, make sure you understand these essential rules.1. DO Understand How Your Ads Get Shown
There are multiple factors influencing how your ads appear on Google: your daily budget, your maximum cost per click (or "CPC") per keyword, your competitors' max CPC on the same keyword, how popular your search phrase is, and Google's Quality Score. If you don't understand how Quality Score works, get familiar
with it pronto!2. DON'T Send All Users to Your Home Page
You need to think about your PPC campaign as a direct-response experience. If your ad succeeds in getting users to click, why dump them onto a home page without telling them where to go next?
Instead, steer them more clearly into the response you want by creating a unique "landing page." Google has deemed these pages so important that it has implemented "Landing Page Experience" into its Quality Score rating.3. DON'T Rely on Broad or Generic Keywords
Search engine users have gotten savvy over the years; many search queries now tend to be a few words long, rather than just single words or pairs. Bidding on very broad or generic keyword phrases is likely to be expensive–because of either the bid price itself or by dint of sheer search volume–and the traffic yielded may be lower in quality.
Unless you monitor these terms closely for performance, they can wind up generating negative ROI.4. DO Organize Keywords Into Tightly Themed Ad Groups
There are many benefits to having relevant keywords organized within their own ad group:
5. DO Utilize All Match Type OptionsMatch Type settings
- Keywords can easily be used in your ad copy since they are relevant to the ad group.
- When the ads are more relevant to the audience, your click-through rate (CTR) will increase (and that is the goal, after all)
- Higher CTRs help your Quality Score, which in turn will lead to lower click costs for the same position.
for each keyword help control how Google triggers your ad. If you don't specify a particular Match Type, Google defaults to Broad Match–which generally works in their favor, not yours.6. DON'T Overlook Negative Keywords
Negative keywords are those have no bearing on the context of your keywords or words you want to be sure are not associated with your campaign. For example, in a campaign advertising windows for the home, you'd want to avoid anyone also searching for the word "Microsoft."
Ensuring that these words do not appear in your campaign can also help improve your Quality Score–since you're not generating unnecessary ad impressions that garner poor CTRs.7. DO Separate Your Campaigns
Google's default settings at the campaign level include both Search and Display together, and do not separate out Mobile.
You should manually "opt out" of having your search keywords run on Google's Display Network–especially if you want to preserve your budget exclusively for Search. I'd also suggest that you set up a separate search campaign for mobile users, to help optimize your visibility and click costs there, too.8. DO Use Free Conversion Tracking
Unless you are running a branding initiative and don't care how much money you spend, you'll be flying blind if you run a campaign without conversion tracking to tell you how well your clicks convert into action. Use Google's free conversion tracking code
to give you more insight and help you prune and optimize your campaign.9. DO Test Different Ad Versions
Even after you put all this effort into your campaign setup, you shouldn't assume you know what ad will actually attract the right audience. Instead, test different versions of ad copy or offers: Run three tests for each Ad Group for a week or so, determine the winner, and delete or tweak losers based on the results.10. DON'T Stick With Under-Performing Keywords
Keywords that produce clicks but don't convert eat up your budget and drag down your Quality Score. Routinely review your campaign and get rid of them!11. DO Take Advantage of Ad Extensions
Google now gives you more than just 90 characters of ad text, if you know about and use Ad Extension options
. With Ad Extensions you can show products, give locations and phone numbers, or list additional links, all associated with a single ad.12. DON'T Forget to Connect AdWords to Your Google Analytics Account
When you connect your AdWords account to your Google Analytics account, you can analyze your AdWords campaign data directly within your Google Analytics dashboard and see how an AdWords visitor affects your overall website activity. To learn how, read item No. 5 in this list
When every ad dollar counts, you really cannot afford to miss these simple but crucial AdWords optimization techniques.