Second Stage Boosters…Ready

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Let me state this as a hypothesis:

new product <> disruption

Or in words, having a new product is neither necessary nor sufficient to create market disruption.

I recently had an interesting exchange with Judi Sohn at Web Worker Daily (a new favorite of mine) about GrandCentral, which gives you a single number that can reach you anywhere you want. GrandCentral is getting quite a bit of attention and generating lots of buzz.

I had to ask: Why? Everything GrandCentral offers, I’ve had from VoicePulse (my VoIP provider) for years. Other than the obvious price (GrandCentral is free, VoicePulse is not), I can’t find anything that GrandCentral can do that VoicePulse can’t. So why is GrandCentral holding the position of “it’s YOUR number – it’s attached to you, not your phone/device/location” which in today’s highly mobile multi-device world is important?

Pretty simple, actually. When VoIP started (VoicePulse, Vonage, 8×8, etc.) the selling point (key message in marketing-speak) was “this works just like your phone”. You got a little box and connected it to your home network. It had a standard phone jack and you connected your phone to that just like plugging it into the wall. You picked up the phone a dialed just like a regular land-line POTS phone.

Sure, you could do all this other cool stuff that got me and my geeky friends all excited, but the mass-market sell was “it’s simple – it’s just like what you do today, only cheaper and cooler”

This is a classic way to sell new technology: First, make it fit the existing model; second, show how it changes the model. GrandCentral is making the move to the second stage of technology adoption.

GrandCentral has taken advantage of the general awareness of VoIP capabilities and the fact that people in the market (mostly early adopters) no longer need to make it work just like their old POTS phone, they want all the capabilities that a network-based service can offer. So GrandCentral has gone to market with the selling point that “you own your own number.” It’s a powerful message, and it appeals to the people who were eager to move to internet telephony and wanted the capabilities to move forward.

Their service isn’t really new or innovative (OK, their exact brand is, but I bought the same exact service 4 years ago), but GrandCentral has turned on the second stage ‘boosters’ and is now moving the market forward – I expect pretty far forward. While for now it’s only the early adopters who will sign up, someone will figure out how to move this to the broader market pretty quickly.

And it is changing that market. Completely.

My question is: will the traditional VoIP providers take advantage of the opportunity to re-take their lead? Or will they, as so many technology companies before them, stand there complaining “but we’ve had those features for years!” – and go nowhere fast while their market escapes them?

What would your company do?


Staying Creative

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In order to be disruptive, you have to stay creative – constantly creating new ideas – disruptive ideas. What inspires you is very personal, but for me, there is nothing that inspires that creativity in my work quite like a Tom Peters book (or article or whatever).

So my advice (FWIW): (re-)Read something by Tom Peters (post-McKinsey!!) or something Tom-Peters-like (apologies to both Tom and my mother) every 3-6 months. It will keep you from becoming complacent.

Then go create something disruptive.

[My position: I disrupt. I create extraordinary opportunity. (6 words)]

BTW: my BHAG: I want Tom Peters to be my mentor.


Listen to the candidates debate

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Earlier this week I heard a news report about the latest forum for the large and growing field of Democratic presidential hopefuls. The report said “…and as you would expect, the front-runners played it safe while the lesser-known hopefuls took more risks…”

Are you thinking risk doesn’t really work well in politics? Making a bold statement can certainly alienate entire groups of people, but it can also make all the difference. Think back to Newt Gingrich and company and their “contract with America.” That led to a change in control in both houses of congress. Or think back to the 2004 presidential campaign and Howard Dean’s railing against the Iraq war. That changed the conversation in the Democratic party and eventually led to the change in opinion across the country and another change in control in congress.

Marketing 101: Your brand is your identity. It is your point of view.

Disruptive Marketing 101: The point of view you add to the conversation not only matters, but can change the whole conversation. In other words, you (as an individual or a company or whatever) can disrupt the conversation and the market.

Is your point of view interesting enough and different enough to be disruptive? Are you willing to overcome the fear of risk and add your point of view to the conversation?

If you answered yes to both questions, you might just be ready to start disrupting your market.


Are you listening?

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I don’t like Don Imus. Never have. And while this post has nothing what-so-ever to do with Don Imus, his horribly offensive comments and subsequent firing got me thinking…

Change from the insideHave you ever had someone in your organization unexpectedly try to tell you that there’s a completely unanticipated and dire threat to your business? What did you say? Did you investigate? Or did you ask them to investigate? Or did you assume that it was the warning of a less experienced (and therefore less knowledgable) wolf-crier? (with the corrolary assumption that you’ve already planned for any relevant threats)

I’ve been in that position several times – both as the deliverer and the recipient. I’ve ignored serious threats (I don’t anymore) and I’ve even been fired for raising the topic repeatedly when I thought the situation was dire. You’ve probably guessed that since I’m writing about it, I was right. And I learned that it was surprisingly unsatisfying to watch from outside as the business dissolved.

It’s been my experience that nearly every day someone in your business is raising a red flag. Sometimes, it’s just an opinion. Sometimes a well-founded belief that doesn’t apply – or even better has already been anticipated (and, I hope, planned for). But sometimes, more often – no, far more often – than we’re willing to admit, the wolf-crier has actually seen something coming that poses a real threat to your business.

When these alarms come from unexpected sources, the first thought should be: “this could be disruptive.” But usually the first thought is more like ”          .”

Warnings of truly disruptive threats – like the threats themselves – often come from the most unexpected places. If you don’t listen – and pay attention! – you risk ignoring a disruptive threat. Maybe it’s nothing.

But are you willing to bet your business?


Blocking and Tackling

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There’s just no excuse for fumbling the message.

I’m going to go slightly off-topic today with a little rant about what I think is an absolutely embarrassing ad campaign – one that makes me think the creators have simply forgotten some of the basic principles of marketing, and holds a reminder for me (and I think all of us) that whatever your are doing to be different and innovative – disruptive – you simply can’t forget the basics.

Creating edgy, unusual and attention grabbing TV ads is almost a requirement for many brands. So it came as no surprise to me that when I saw the Comcast ads (there are several series advertising different services) that they played on a slightly warped and unusual sense of humor to attract attention.

But one of these series stood out. The ads are for Comcast digital phone service. One shows a young man who has recently been told by his ex-girlfirend never to call her again. He calls her, trying to convince her that things are different now because he’s calling on his Comcast digital phone service. Of course, she’s not convinced. Another ad shows a man calling tattoo parlor insisting that the tattoo artist can now say “yes” to removing his tattoo because he’s now calling on his Comcast digital phone service. And there are a few others in the series.

Are these funny? Probably (I don’t really find them funny, but I can see how someone in their target demographic might). Are the edgy? Maybe.

But here’s what gets me: The main message of these ads is:

Your horrible, crappy, miserable life will not get any better if you buy our service.

There’s no positive association with the service. There’s no message in that ad about how the service helps or what it does for you. After the vignette, there is a low-price promotion, which makes me think that what Comcast is selling is price, which is fine, but they’ve just told us that we can get to keep our miserable lives by paying less for a service (not really true if you compare phone services).

Is that really the message thy want me to remember? That nothing in my life gets better if I buy from them? Will I really buy a service based solely on the fact that it’s cheap and the ad entertained me for 15-20 seconds? Maybe someone will, but I’m guessing (given the competition in that market) not many. I suppose Comcast thinks enough people will.

My conclusion, the ad is certainly Comcastic! (full disclosure: as a result of a series of horrible experiences with Comcast, what Comcastic! means in my house is rather different from what their marketing department would like it to mean – and here’s some fun reading on Comcast nightmares other than my own).

To my point, stupid marketing tricks like this remind us that as we try to be different, to distinguish ourselves in the marketplace, to use new an innovative techniques to gain attention we simply cannot ignore the basics of marketing. You still have to give your audience a good, positive reason to pay attention, and a good, positive reason to buy from you.


Staring at your navel

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David Armano, author of Logic+Emotion, gives some highlights of a Bain & Co. study.

Executive anxieties about losing touch with their customers is driving higher and higher usage of customer tools such as CRM and segmentation. These tools have moved from below average use to second and third place, respectively, in the 10 years since Bain has included them in the survey:

  • 84% of executives are now using CRM
  • 82% are using segmentation to tailor their marketing programs and offerings to groups of customers who exhibit common patterns of behavior
  • New tools are emerging. Use of loyalty management is at 51%, and the use of ethnographic methods to observe customers in the real world is becoming more mainstream, at 35%. But in 2006, each of those tools rank below average in terms of executive satisfaction.

There’s more on his post.

Don’t mis-read my commentary: I’m not discounting or dismissing the value of CRM or loyalty programs. In fact, I use those and simliar tools to get to know my customers better also. They are valuable, and they are also very consistent with the approach that businesses have long taken to marketing.

But the concern that these executives expressed is that their companies – meaning the people in their companies – are out of touch with their customers.

Which made me think: Are they talking to their customers? or, more importantly, are they listening? and are they listening where their customers are talking? (you can listen to your market research, but does the blog-commentary of your customers tell a different story?)

People who’ve worked with me will know that I am the first to jump into the data. Mine the CRM system. Find new segments and new demographics. Make the data tell stories it never has before.

But there’s a very large element of this data focus that makes me feel like I’m staring at my own navel and drawing conclusions about the world around me. Data can say alot. But data can’t speak for a person. Or a market. Or a community.

I’ve had the privelege to work with some companies where everyone in marketing talks to customers regularly. And so do all of the executives. We still mined the data, but every conclusion we drew, we validated. We asked actual people. We read what actual customers and prospective customers were saying about us in unsolicited ways. We had that very elusive sense of the market.

I’ve also worked with companies where talking to customers is, at best, discouraged and generally never happened. The inevitable result was that there was a lot of talk about how out-of-touch we were, and a lot of hand-wringing about how to get closer to the customer. System were put in place. Data analyzed. But still no one talked to an actual person. In one recent case, the conversation in the blogosphere was discounted as irrelevant.

You can guess which companies were more successful.

Being in touch with your audience matters. Data matters. Research matters. But unless you have something interesting to say, and can engage your market community in conversation, all the data in the world will just leave you staring at your collective navel.


Engaging Conversation

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From the Business Week article It’s the Conversation Economy, Stupid

Marketers are finding themselves in an increasingly frantic race to get people talking about their brands. The desire to produce something “viral” is nearly ubiquitous in the marketing world. But it’s unclear who exactly “consumers” are these days. We don’t even know what that word means any more. Can consumers be producers? Yes. Can they be users? Yes. Can they be active participants, members of niche communities, or even critics capable of effectively mobilizing others? Yes, yes, and yes.

The article goes on to talk about the “2.0” technologies that are changing the nature of the conversation (and yes, includes Twitter – their marketing folks must be proud!).

Really? I thought the “2.0” tools are making the conversation possible. Looking at this from the perspective of a marketer, the “2.0” tools are making it possible for consumers to become producers (of content at the least) and participants. They allow us to “hear” from our market not only in new ways, but to hear things that just 10 years ago we could not hear at all. Reading blogs about your product (and hoping it’s not on the blog) gives you a perspective you could not have had just 10 years ago.

Yes, markets are conversations. It’s the buzz phrase of the week, but it’s been true before this week, and will be true after next week.

The fact remains, when I meet a new friend, I hope the conversation is engaging. As when I meet a new member of my market community, I hope that what I have to say is interesting enough to be engaging.

The point being that the conversation is important, but the conversation has to be engaging. You still must engage your community, your market, your potential customer.

The difference is that now we have to do it by actually being interesting. Being bright and shiny just isn’t enough. Are you saying something interesting?


Mass collaboration?

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From Buzz Marketing for Technology:

Capturing this institutional knowledge and leveraging it across the organization is the power of Enterprise 2.0. Enterprise 2.0 tools are designed for individual contribution and grass roots, bottom-up type development. They must be simple to use in order to draw users to swarm around key pieces of knowledge, tagging and posting blogs and wikis.

This is in fact what many Enterprise 2.0 initiatives are based on, or are at least counting on. Knowledge management as a function or capability has had its ups and downs, but the reality is that all of us so-called knowledge workers count on access to incredibly large amounts of information and knowledge to do our jobs. If the tools work, and the knowledge not only gets captured through participation, but also grows through the synergy of collaboration, our jobs get easier, and we work better, individually and together.

The opportunity here is to extend this outside the enterprise. I don’t mean suppliers and partners – though that’s useful too. I mean to customers, prospects and everyone else who is part of the community to which you are trying to speak. I can ask the age-old marketing question “what can you learn from your customers?” but what if you can not only learn, but engage your audience in mass collaboration to make your offering better…and maybe your marketing too.


Leaders and Followers

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Here’s the assumption: Leaders, generically, are the people who are out in front, who are in some way taking charge, and setting tone, trend and direction. In terms of following trends, they are the people most of us tend to follow. We listen to what they think is cool and interesting, and then go look for ourselves (or even take their word for it).

Followers are the rest of us. Generally, everyone who listens to what the high-profile leader says and gives it some credibility.

I’m starting to question that assumption. Does the advent of a community-based (aka more collaborative, contributory) world around us change how we lead and follow? And does it change how perceptions are set?

Let me go back to the Scoble talk last week. He said that he gets bombarded with lots and lots of new and allegedly cool ideas every day. Not surprising. But he pays no attention to any of them…here’s the key…unless his friends (those people whose opinions he trusts) tell him it’s worth a look.

My first thought was that’s completely the opposite of me. Taking the difference in fame out of the equation (can I do that?), even when people look to me to opine on the new, cool thing, I still prefer to do the work to discover that cool thing and form my own opinion (which you can listen to or not…) than to rely on others to come to the collective opinion that it’s worth my time.

Both approaches are perfectly good, and both work for different kinds of people.

But doesn’t the first one (Scoble’s approach) sound like a follower? Someone who is listening to those who are more famous, higher profile, or to whom we attribute some “inside” knowledge? But isn’t Scoble just such a high-profile insider?

So this raises the question: Who is the thought-leader? is it the person with the new idea? or is it the person who relies on the wisdom of the crowd to raise the good idea? Is it the inventor or the reporter?

I can’t offer a more definitive answer right now other than the oft-quoted “I know it when I see it,” but when you are looking for the trend-setters in your market, don’t count out the followers.