Archive for the 'Marketing' Category

Trends You Need to Know

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

The June 2008 PMI Network magazine lists 5 business trends we all need to know about … or else. Future survival gets my attention. The thing that stood out to me was how important the ability to understand needs will be for all 5 trends. To me that means increasing value for the kind of “voice of the customer” skills we practice going beyond customer research. Let’s take a look.

A technical skill shortage is developing across all regions and markets. Even the low cost talent pools in India and China are drying up. Looking forward that means companies need to get better at two things:
— recruiting top talent
— managing talent internally

Well, if you want to attract good people, you need to understand what makes them tick, what they need and want. Then to keep them you also need to understand and meet their needs. So VOC skills are an advantage coping with this trend.

Emerging markets are the part of globalization that is breaking growth records. Most companies don’t do a good job of understanding their domestic customer as it is. Then they hope to develop products for, and sell to, a different culture? Good voice of the customer work is even more important and more tricky in this context.

For example, Breakthrough NPD supports foreign clients but with a catch. Unlike the U.S. & Canadian markets where we will do everything if requested, we only do certain parts of VOC work overseas. We train our foreign clients in VOC methods and we will coach them, even being in the room as they conduct customer interviews. The key difference is that a native familiar with the language and culture must conduct or lead the customer interactions. They must ask the questions and interpret the answers. Keeping bias out of the process is hard enough and would be much harder with the filter of outsider bias in the way as well. We can provide a neutral and unique perspective that ads value to the interpretation but should not be driving the work.

This boils down to using Web 2.0 tools to incorporate customer needs into your business at every level. That is, from core business strategies and project goals to testing new product concepts and getting feedback on your existing products and services. Examples are having your own internet forums, blogs, social networks, on-line communities, customer advisory boards and so on to better understand customer needs. This essentially means expanding what we do now to define new products and their requirements to also help guide the business and improve operations.

This is taking responsibility for the impact of company actions on communities, stakeholders and society. Social responsibility is going from a “nice to have” PR stunt to standard operating procedure for good business reasons. This involves a wide range of things from labor practices, living wages, health and safety, civic infrastructure, environment, etc. I’ll admit that the link from VOC skills to this trend is weaker but they still will give you clearer vision of your impact on everyone else.

Globalization has pushed companies into 24/7 schedules and operations. With this comes the push for quicker returns on investments. Obviously this is about running faster. Less apparent, it is about being more clear on what you need to achieve. You can do more with less if your goals are clearly defined. That means continuously tracking the needs and goals of the end user, establishing methods that allow your teams to react to changing business needs, and prioritizing what can or should be done in view of the larger context. The best way is to involve customers, stakeholders, and advisors throughout your projects. Again, skills to acquire input and understand your customers will be invaluable.

A medical device case study in the article illustrates that this goes beyond getting the specs right. I think this quote from the company involved makes that case well, “customers jumped at the chance to participate once they saw we cared about their needs.”

Let me emphasize the “we cared about their needs.” The bottom line folks is that it is all eventually about the people. It is about the individuals whose lives are benefited or burdened by your offering.

Do you believe these trends are real and will affect your business? If so, you should also see that getting better at understanding the voice of the customer, (broadly defined), will be important to benefiting from rather than being buried by these trends.

For more on the trends:
“Pay Attention,” Sarah Fister Gale, PMI Network, June 2008 ps 35-41.

Up and accessible!

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Ok, the web site is finally up! It was a longer road than anticipated. Now for a first blog post. I guess I’ll start by talking about the site. One objective was to show that it is possible to make an attractive site that complies with the accessibility standards. That is, make a site that works well for the visually impaired as well as for everyone else. We weren’t purists about it but hope we came close. It wasn’t easy finding a good web designer who understood the accessibility and W3C requirements. Our thanks to David.

We focus on unmet needs because we care about people. Our mission is to create products and services that make lives better, that delight users. So an accessible website is one way for us to show our social responsibility. But, there is also a business side to this too. The more accessible our design, the wider browser compatibility we should have. We are in business so nothing should stand between our message and our clients, especially not any browser quirks. Hence, no dancing babies here. We are not in the media business so that stuff doesn’t help. If it messes up in someone’s browser then it hurts. The KISS principle is a good place to start.

Because of bugs in the browsers, particularly IE, some annoying tradeoffs had to be made to stay compliant. It turns out it is not possible to be perfect on all browsers without embedding many complicated browser-specific hacks. (For example, the IE 3-Pixel Float Bug.) That hurts robustness and maintainability. We went for the latter, so apologize for the minor quirks that will appear to some of you and hope those disappear with the newer browser versions. The benefit is that you should never have a problem getting the content.

If you want an accessible web site I can suggest the following links. We used them early in our research. Good luck with it.

~~ Alan

Introductory help on accessibility and browser compatibility:

Catalogs of resources:

Helpful advice:

V 1.0 Techniques
Core techniques
HTML techniques
CSS techniques

The view from England…

A site for testing your pages:

Update (May 20th)
Wordpress has a very good article on accessibilty. Though oriented toward blogs and gets into more detail than I wanted to see it has good explanation of the basics and ways to be accessible.