Archive for category Marketing

New Product Development: How Twitter was like Ice-Cream

In a recent New Product Development lecture I gave at Tec de Monterrey, I expanded on my previous examples about consumer-centric innovation. In past lectures I’ve emphasized how most successful new products address a consumer need, pain-point, or desire, whether articulated or unarticulated.  I also discuss how engineers (the field that kicked-off my career) have a tendency to innovate or design for the sake of invention vs. with consumer or market needs in mind.  A question arose in the past – is that always a bad thing (to create something just because you can).  My response was no (with a caveat), and I used Twitter as an example.

The first time I met Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, was at a tech conference at my alma mater, UC Berkeley in 2009.  During his keynote address, he talked about some of the criticisms of Twitter when it first launched. The main criticism he faced was that Twitter served no useful purpose.  Mr. Stone’s response (quoted loosely from memory) was “Ice-cream has no useful purpose either – does that mean we shouldn’t have created ice-cream?”.

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Needless to say, Twitter has been tremendously successful since it’s founding in 2006 with roughly 271 million active users (out of over 500 million total worldwide users) today. The reason for Twitter’s success is that it satisfied latent and mostly unarticulated needs of most of its users. Companies and brands discovered an almost costless tool for marketing compared to other media. They could now directly communicate with consumers about their products, services, and brand offerings, while also hearing directly from them to address consumer issues and continue driving innovation through new and improved products that leverage the voice of the consumer. The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were largely coordinated through Twitter, as organizers and protesters didn’t start off with a direct connection to each other. In the case of disaster relief, Twitter was used to provide information to emergency response teams, find lost loved ones, and provide real-time situational updates. Politicians use Twitter to speak and hear directly from their constituents and launch/promote their election campaigns. Music artists announce music and concert information directly to their fans.  And celebrities, of course, continue to build and promote their own personal brands through Twitter, with a direct line of communication to their fans.

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One of the best definitions I’ve seen of true innovation is perfectly captured in the Venn Diagram below; true innovation comes at the intersection of consumer desirability, market viability, and technological feasibility.  So while Twitter may have just started as an exercise in showcasing what could be possible, the reason for its success is that it also satisfied the consumer and market variables as well.  This is, of course, far easier to accomplish when the product in question is a platform and its ultimate utility will be determined by developers and users over time.  It’s much harder to accomplish as a stand-alone product. (For this reason I predict the “Yo” app, which has received similar criticism to what Twitter received in the beginning, will not be much of a success).  So while certainly feasible to have a success just by focusing on technology, it’s certainly not the most efficient way of innovating.

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I also talked about the Pet Rock as a separate example, which I’ll expound on in a separate post.

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Thor–The Goddess of Thunder; Why Marvel’s Change is Brilliant and Lazy

Thor Goddess of ThunderToday I read that Marvel plans to completely reboot the Thor franchise and transform the son of Odin into the daughter of Odin, a hammer-wielding Goddess of Thunder. One of my first thoughts when I read this was that this is a brilliant but lazy business decision.

How is it brilliant and how is it lazy? Well, the reasons are intertwined in the decision itself.

[[UPDATE: After reading the Time article about Marvel’s decision that describes more elements about the story, I’ll backtrack somewhat on the lazy part.  This is not a reboot as some of the articles online have described, but a continuation of the story with a female who now wields Mjolnir, with the original son of Odin no longer wielding the hammer and calling himself Thor.  With respect to the creation of new female heroes and hiring female creators as outlined below, I would still say it’s somewhat lazy, but the decision actually goes into more of a creative direction than I originally thought.]]

Marvel understands the growing purchasing power and influence of females in geek culture. Ticket sales to comic-based movies and comic conventions and video game sales are ever increasingly coming from women. Thor - Lady Thor Cosplay Toni DarlingGoing even further, female cosplayers acting out their favorite comic characters have millions of followers on social media and are a marketer’s dream (as a matter of fact, the artists at Marvel can simply use popular female cosplayer Toni Darling’s interpretation of Thor as the basis for their concept sketches). Marvel has stated that the purpose for the change is to bring new readers and to appeal to women and girls whom have long been ignored in comics. Thus, they’ve properly identified this audience as a target for expanding their business.

So, to tap this audience, they have multiple avenues they can pursue. They can hire more female staff writers and artists and invest in creating powerful female characters with their own unique back stories, powers, and story arcs. However, developing new heroes takes significant time and marketing dollars to build awareness, interest, and fans. It also takes a greater commitment to follow through. The other option is simply to turn a popular male superhero with a pre-existing fan base into a female. The awareness is already built in with both the fans and, if the character is popular enough, general audiences with some pop culture knowledge. The marketing is also far less expensive, as the likely controversial decision will garner significant news coverage and discussions on internet forums, being buzzed about until at least the launch of the first comic. Additionally, they are likely using the same team members so they don’t have to hire anyone new for a completely new line (I noticed in the Marvel announcement that the writer, artist, and editor are all male – Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, and Wil Moss, respectively).

Having worked in the video game industry and participated in marketing and business meetings to identify strategies for expanding to the female audience (many times in rooms filled only with men), I can almost envision what happened in the corporate meeting rooms at Marvel before they came to this decision (note: the dialogue below is pure speculation based on experience):

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Marvel Exec: “Team, we’ve all already identified that we need to appeal more to women and girls. I want suggestions and I want a plan coming out of this meeting.”

Pat in Marketing: “We’ve developed a ton of conceptual ideas for a new line of female superheroes, powerful characters that can be great role models as well. We’ll weave their story arcs into pre-existing franchises like Spider-Man and X-men to build credibility and awareness. We’ve also got several job openings for artists, inkers, and writers and we’ll target hiring as many women as we can for these positions to further build the credibility of the characters and stories. The headcount will cost about half a million dollars a year and we’ll need at least three million dollars in marketing for the first year to build awareness and promote these new characters throughout different channels”.

Marvel Exec: “Whoa, that’s steep. Any other ideas?”

Bob in Marketing: “We can add ‘Woman’ to the end of an existing character and we won’t have to spend as much on marketing. Say, ‘Iron-Woman’?”

Marvel Exec: “No, it’s been done and we know those franchises don’t even come close to the sales of the main character’s franchise. Look at She-Hulk and Spider-Woman. Even our friends at DC haven’t had much success with Super-Girl. Is that all you folks have?”

Jesse in Marketing: “Well, we can just change an existing male character into a woman. You know the forums are already blazing with misogynistic guards of the old order battling women and their male supporters, so the change will add fuel to the flame, generating lots of potential stories and social media references. We’d require very little if any marketing dollars. ”

Marvel Exec: “Hmm, we won’t have to hire anyone new since we’ll just convert the existing team to work on the new character. The controversy will be good for building positive PR, buzz, and awareness. We’ll probably lose a portion of the fan base, but we’ll make up for it on that portion that is curious about the change as well as the new readers, plus we’ll be darlings in the industry for promoting positive change. Excellent, excellent!! ”

Jesse in Marketing: “It would have to be a character whose name doesn’t end in ‘-man’ or already have a female counterpart. So, Ironman is out. Preferably a character that we’ve already developed into a movie franchise to get the halo effect of general public awareness. Someone like Daredevil? No, no, wait, that movie was a miserable failure, we can’t tie it to that. Maybe one of the Avengers? They already have huge mainstream popularity from the movie, so a ton of people outside of comics already know about them. Hulk is out, so maybe Captain America or Thor?”

Marvel Exec: “Great thinking. Captain America outsells Thor, plus he’s the First Avenger, so we can’t take too much of a risk there. Additionally, he’s based on a Captain in the US military during the second World War. More people know about that than they know about Norse mythology, so Thor is the better bet here. Alright team, we’ve got our plan! Jesse, go tell the creative team about our decision and have them sketch up a concept so we can draft a press release. Let’s GO GO GO!”

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When I was a kid, I mostly knew Thor because I was a fan of ancient mythologies, including Greek and Norse. I had very little money and had to make trade-offs on buying small indulgences, so I split my purchases between comic-books and D&D books. Thus, I only bought comics about my favorite heroes including Spiderman and the X-men and I probably only have one or two Thor comics in my entire comic collection. While I’m not yet a fan of this change to the character, I will likely go out and buy a few copies of the first comic-book of the new female Thor out of both curiosity and because it may be valuable in the distant future – making this the first Thor comic book I’ll purchase in about 30 years.

As I said, lazy, but brilliant.

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Product Management Certification Proposal

With roughly 15 years of experience in New Product Development, including over 5 years as a Global Product Planner and Product Manager in the Xbox group at Microsoft, I spent some time thinking about whether I should pursue formal certification in Product Management.  Here’s a proposal I put together for my management team to evaluate.  Any Product Managers interested in proposing something similar at their companies can feel free to leverage this proposal and modify it for your own purposes, as long as you share some stories about the process and your results in the comments below 🙂  For others who have already gone through the process, some questions include (1) did you get support from your company to pursue certification? (2) what was your process to get approval?  (3) have you seen a clear benefit in your role/company after going through the certification process?

Proposal ——————————-

Hello [Insert Manager’s Name Here] –

Here is a proposal for the Product Management Certification Training that we discussed during our most recent career planning discussions.

Objective:

Obtain formal training for Product Management certification to learn best practices in the field across industries, enhance Product Management skills, develop professionally, leverage enhanced skillset in our business group, and share best practices with the rest of the team.

Background:

I’m involved in several organizations that promote the sharing of best practices and professional development of Product Managers, such as the Product Management Council.  Some of these organizations, such as the Association of International Product Marketers and Managers (AIPMM, http://www.aipmm.com/ ) offer formal training courses and certification in Product Management that leverages knowledge across several different industries.   I have done an internal search on Learning Central (http://learningcentral) for Product Management and have not found any formal Microsoft training programs that offer the depth of knowledge and breadth across industries offered by these external organizations.  Most of what I’ve found in learning central is software development focused, and mainly around Project management.

The certification process for Product Management focuses on some of the following areas  (list taken directly from AIPMM Certified Product Manager exam website):

· Building case studies
· Writing business plans segmented for each major function
· Market planning
· Competitive analysis
· Project plans for each major activity
· Product specifications
· Develop product launch plans
· Product Life Cycle Project modeling
· Phase-Gate Process modeling
· Product/Market Data modeling

Additionally, other levels of Product Management training that I’ve found further develop skills and the ability to (list taken directly from UC Berkeley Product Management website):

· Appropriately allocate resources among products
· Prepare a meaningful business case
· Price products to optimize product and product-line profitability
· Determine the most effective methods for obtaining and integrating market feedback to drive product decisions
· Effectively manage your product team, even without direct authority
· Influence all stake-holders in your products
· Develop a top-notch launch plan
· Optimize the marketing mix
· Develop profitable products customers will love

Programs and Fees:

There are several programs that I’ve found that fit within the career development plan I’m proposing to achieve the objective stated above.  My proposal would be to take one or two of these courses/conferences, not all of them, to help control costs.  The programs include (costs vary and are highlighted below):

· UC Berkeley Product Management Executive Education; May 9-13, 2011 ($6,300) – http://executive.berkeley.edu/programs/product-management/details.html

· Product Management Education and Certification Conference, ~ May 2011 ($1,590)  – http://pmecwest.com/

· Product Management Certification through Pragmatic Marketing ($2,590) – http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/seminars/certification

· AIPMM Certified Product Manager Self-Study and Certification through 280 Group ($1,295) –

http://www.aipmm.com/html/certification/selfstudy.php

http://www.280group.com/productmanagementcertification.htm

· Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) New Product Development Professional (NPDP) Certification, April 5-6, 2011 ($1,689) – http://www.pdma.org/certified.cfm

Benefit:

After getting a thorough understanding of the best practices and tools across industries in the field of product management, some of the benefits for me and Microsoft include:

· Develop professionally in my role within IEB

· Gain the ability to improve the tools and processes we use on a regular basis at Microsoft

· Enhance interaction with other groups, including hardware development team

· Share the training and best practices with others in the team to support the commitment of building a world class Product Management/Marketing culture.

I look forward to hearing how I can proceed to add this to my career development plan.

Thanks!

Richard Velazquez

Sr. Global Product Manager – Xbox

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Kinect and Xbox 360 Setting Records

250GB-Kinect-Bundle As the Product Planner for both the Xbox 360 Kinect (originally called Project Natal) and the complete redesign of the Xbox 360, I was thrilled to read the latest news about these two amazing products:

1) Kinect sets the Guinness World Record for the fastest selling consumer electronics device in history, selling 8 million units in its first 60 days and over 10 million units to date, beating out Apple’s iPhone and iPad (read the source material directly from Guinness World Records here and The Hollywood Reporter here).

2) Xbox 360 has its biggest non-holiday month ever in February 2011, up 27% from last year, ahead of both Nintendo Wii and Sony PS3 (read the source material from cnet News here and from Joystiq here).

As a business case study for New Product Development and Product Management, this is a great example of the results achievable when two things happen.  First, the overall Corporate Strategy, in this case, to broaden the appeal of interactive entertainment, drove the Product Strategy. Second, aligning all of the internal resources to execute on the Product Strategy to create a holistic and compelling consumer experience (in this case, the hardware, the games, the user interface, and the services all align to bring together the “magic” that is Kinect).  A great piece that captures this is available from Wired Magazine’s article – Kinect for Xbox 360: The inside story of Microsoft’s secret ‘Project Natal’.

To further share this story, I’ve organized an event entitled “Microsoft Presents: The Engineering Behind Kinect and the New Xbox 360” scheduled for this Wednesday, March 16, 2011.  Full details are available at the registration link (http://kinect-shpe.eventbrite.com/).  The General Managers for both the Xbox Hardware Division and the NUI (Natural User Interface) HW team will be presenting the technical development of these products to local engineering students and members of professional organizations in the Puget Sound, including:

  • ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers)
  • SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers)
  • SWE (Society of Women Engineers)
  • NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers)
  • CIE (Chinese Institute of Engineers)
  • NSHMBA (National Society of Hispanic MBAs)

Congratulations to the full team on the success of both Kinect and the new Xbox 360!  It’s been an honor to work with a great team of outstanding individuals to develop these products that are being enthusiastically embraced by millions of happy consumers around the world.

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MyTake on MySpace Logo Change

The internet is abuzz with two recent corporate logo changes; MySpace and The Gap. I won’t touch on the Gap’s new logo in this posting and will solely focus on MySpace (for a good post on The Gap, visit Tom Dougherty’s Blog). I’ve read many articles on the logo change for MySpace so far, and would recommend the following articles from Fortune and TechCrunch:
http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2010/10/11/myspace-new-logo/
http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/08/new-myspace-logo/

For reference, below are the old and new MySpace logos.

MySpace Original Logo

MySpace New Logo

As noted, the new MySpace logo was announced at the Warm Gun Design Conference in San Francisco and the philosophy behind the change was expressed by MySpace VP of User Experience, Mike Macadaan: “MySpace is a platform for people to be whatever they want, so we’ve decided to give them the space to do it.”

It certainly is a bold new direction; I cannot argue with that. I also understand the underlying concept, which is to engage the users with the brand by allowing them to fill the “Space” of MySpace with whatever is most important to them; user generated artwork appears in the space when one hovers over the logo with their mouse (see the TechCrunch article for images).

I do foresee a couple of challenges with the new logo.

First, you typically do not want to create a brand or logo that is open to interpretation.  As an example, if you recall the Tom Hanks movie, “That Thing You Do”, the band originally started off with the name “Oneders” (as in #1 ders) instead of “Wonders”.  Of course, the group’s name constantly gets butchered by the public, being called “OH need ders”, or “OH Ned ders”, until their manager has them change their name to the simpler and recognizable form, “The Wonders”.  The new MySpace logo opens itself up to similar confusion…. MyBlank, MyUnderscore, MyGap, MyBracket, etc.

Additionally, it creates a bit of confusion on how it should be represented in the media (typeset).  As another example, we can all recall when the artist Prince changed his name to a logo that could not be pronounced or typed out, so years of “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” ensued.  This symbolic representation of MySpace opens up similar issues; do you still type out MySpace, or does the media now have to type out “My_____ “?

While my first instinct is that I would not have made this logo change, it’s obviously hard to tell how this logo will play out without the overall context of the user experience on the MySpace website with the logo.  Everyone made fun of Nintendo naming their new console, originally codenamed Revolution, the Wii.  After a very successful launch, a massive wave of articles followed claiming the Wii brand as genius, perfectly encapsulating the social experience of the new console.

The challenges I mentioned above will likely remain, but could the new experience prove to be such an incredible hit with users that the new logo becomes another genius move?  Only time will tell.

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