Archives for category: Strategy

Time flies when you’re having fun. It drags horribly if you’re bored.

Sometimes you need more time and it seems to slip away quickly. Paradoxically, I’ve found that the harder you work, the slower the time seems to go past. Let me offer an analogy.

When you’re running on a treadmill, and you’re jogging or running more slowly – perhaps in your recovery phase – the time seems to gallop past. When you run faster and really work on the treadmill, the time seems to crawl past.

When I’m up against a deadline I find that if I work harder it has the effect of slowing down the time. Now, of course, you could argue that the harder you work the more you can get done in the same time – just as you can cover more distance in the same time on the treadmill – but the point is you feel more in control of the time rather than it being in control of you. This approach also works if you’re bored.

So there you go, work harder to slow down time if you’re busy, and work harder to speed up time if you’re bored. You heard it here first. Or maybe you knew it already.

As a marketer I like to participate in market research if I’m asked, and if I’m allowed – people from a marketing background can sometimes be excluded from participating in surveys. I know how hard it is get intelligence on a market.

Generally it’s a very short call, which is fine. Sometimes, I get called by a big research house in Dublin to help with a state of the market survey they do periodically. How’s my business doing, how do I think it will do, and so on. I avoid their calls these days.

Here’s why: it’s an unfair exchange. Firstly, the call is always about 15 minutes long, which is far too long and contains loads of repetitive questions. 15 minutes is a really long time to tie someone up on the phone. Secondly, I get nothing back. Not a copy of the research, nothing. In fact, it’s not just an unfair exchange, there’s no exchange at all. It’s all one way, coming from me.

Many companies doing research will offer a voucher, or a copy of the research, or entry into a draw for a device, in return for your time and attention. These guys don’t. They just persist with the phone calls.

If it’s not a fair deal for both parties, it will never last. It will simply cause resentment and close doors for good.

 

In this last post, for now, in the mini-series on product marketing in agile environments, I offer you my third thought on what has worked well for me. In fact, I talked about it briefly at the end of my second thought.

The third thought is this – and how difficult is that to say for a non-native speaker, with 2 voiced ‘th’ sounds and 2 voiceless ones! – leave the detail until the end. The detail is the filler, the proof points, the things that are only needed when the audience has engaged and wants to go deeper.

In your earlier iterations of the content to support your new product or enhancement, you focused on the high level, the really important stuff that resonates with your audience, the reason why you developed the product in the first place. People are busy, they are subject to a constant, heavy flow of information. They don’t have perfect memories; they’re only going to remember one thing you tell them, if you’re lucky, and you’re probably going to have to tell them multiple times anyway.

This is a good thing, because in an agile environment the exact detail of what you’re offering isn’t decided and baked in until the end. So your job is to build up the interest and demand with high level, highly distilled and focused messaging which helps your personas self-select. Once they have engaged and want to know more, then you can hit them with the detail which you now have.

This is the third post, and my second thought, as part of a mini-series on what to focus on in product marketing where the software development is agile and releases are small and quick fire, rather than traditional, infrequent and sometimes slightly ponderous.

My second thought is this, and it borrows from the agile philosophy itself. Approach your content and your communications in iterations. It’s no good disappearing into your bunker at the beginning of the creation process and coming out right before launch with the finished article before anyone’s had a chance to comment on it.

You need to iterate, and iterate often. Quick fire drafts get your thoughts out early and give key stakeholders the chance to sense check the direction you’re heading in and feed back so that you can adjust if necessary. Reviewers can track their changes in your documents so that when you evolve your work for a second and third look they only need to focus on the new stuff and not re-read everything again. Your job is to make sure that each new version still hangs together, makes sense and is a coherent, unified piece of work.

This is how I approach almost all of my work, including product marketing assignments. Do the homework, collate all the information, get a sense of the patterns, distil everything down to the key messages, and do a first pass. The early, high level draft allows you to align everyone’s thinking and affords you the time to change accordingly. The detail can wait til later, when you’re closer to the finish line.

 

In a previous post I introduced a mini-series offering thoughts and experience on how to do product marketing in an environment where agile software development creates a sea of small releases rather than a desert with a few major milestones affording you time to circle the wagons.

My first thought is that you should stay true to the principles of what you’re trying to do. Faced with a barrage of product enhancements and releases of all sizes and shapes, you have to prioritise in terms of your audience, your audience segments, and their personas.

What is most important to them? What will attract their customers and keep them loyal? What does your enhancement or release do to help them help their customers? Answering these questions should drive what you devote to building a story about, and, perhaps more importantly, what you choose not to focus on.

When you wear this special lens which focuses on what their customers care about, you can develop messaging which helps your customer solve these problems or capitalise on these opportunities. It’s never about your products’ features and functions, unless they uniquely guide your customers to an understanding of how you can solve their real problem, which is sometimes not the problem they think they have.

Don’t get bogged down in the iterations of your solution, get bogged down in why your customers should care about where you’re heading.

I thought it worthwhile to do a short series on product marketing in an agile environment.

Many product marketers are used to gearing up to perhaps 3 major releases a year. They have runway, they can plan with an end goal in mind, and they have time to align the resources and get the detail right.

When faced with an agile software development methodology, however, they find the traditional approach more difficult, since the cadence is now ‘sprints’ every two weeks and a release every three weeks, or something of that order. It requires a different approach.

First, however, some definitions are probably in order. By product marketing I mean the process of influencing customers to buy – and enabling sales people to sell – business-to-business products. Agile software development is the process of developing software in iterations and a bit at a time, allowing for flexibility and course correction on the way, rather than traditionally going from a start to a finish line in one big go. Noice that I’m not talking about agile marketing, which is essentially doing marketing activities in a way that borrows from agile software development.

What tends to happen to marketers not used to agile are the following symptoms:

  • You’re not sure what you’ll be getting in the end product
  • You’re not sure when you’ll be getting it (stifle your sniggers if you can make that argument for traditional development…)
  • Stuff happens and the product is out there before you’re ready or before you even know about it

What product marketers generally prefer is a small number of large meaty releases that they can get their teeth into. With agile you can sometimes feel you’re faced with a roadmap littered with lots of small releases, all vying for attention.

It’s against this background that I thought the subject warranted a mini-series. Stay tuned if this is your bag. If not, feel free to click away…

Well, they’ve finally done it. They’ve enforced the algorithm. The party’s over.

Let me explain. With Ryanair you pay a base price and then you can pay for optional extras like priority boarding ahead of the plebs, choose your seat, insurance, car hire, extra bags, that kind of thing. You can check in early if you pay to choose your seat, or you wait til 5 days before departure and take pot luck on seat choice for no extra bucks.

If you were travelling with someone, however, and had booked your flight in the same transaction, although Ryanair always said that there was no guarantee you could sit next to that person for free, you always did. Until now. Well, until a few weeks ago, when they obviously tweaked the seat allocation algorithm.

When I checked in, those few weeks ago – 5 days before my flight with my daughter, who’s under 14, I went straight to the boarding pass stage, eschewing the pay-for-your-seat option and – lo and behold – she’s at the back of the plane and I’m at the front. What’s more, both of us got middle seats. Ryanair and sitting together no longer applies unless you pay. There is no more base price if you want to sit next to your friend or family member.

I wonder if the algorithm would still apply and they would split us up, were my daughter 3 rather than 13…either way, it’s a case of Ryanair further squeezing the rag to get another couple of drops out of it. Bearing in mind a few years ago they were making about €11 profit per traveller, another €4 for a chosen seat is a tidy uplift. I wonder how much customer goodwill will leak as a consequence.

Sport is in many ways the descendant of the gladiatorial contents from ancient times. You have your protagonists, or your actors, and you have your audience. The job is to entertain the audience of paying customers.

The other day I took my mother to a cricket match near where she lives. It was a match between England and Ireland, what’s called a One Day International, and the first of a 2-match series. England, as I write this, are the world leaders in this version of the sport, and Ireland are fast coming up on the rails into the top tier of international cricket. England’s pool of players to draw upon is massive, Ireland’s is tiny.

This was a 50-over match, so each team receives 300 deliveries from the opposition to score as many runs as they can. Whoever scores more runs, wins. A lot rides on the toss of the coin as to who decides to bat first or bowl first. The decision hangs on many things, like ability, confidence, the pitch condition, and the weather. Ireland has beaten England once before in a memorable ‘ODI’ in the World Cup over a decade ago.

Ireland won the toss and decided to bat first. ‘Uh oh, I said to my mum, ‘that could shorten the day considerably.’ Ireland were duly skittled out for about 130 – 300 is a good score – , lasting barely half the 300 deliveries they were entitled to, and England knocked off the runs required with about 200 deliveries to spare. Instead of the match being scheduled to finish at 6:45 pm, it finished about 3pm.

I was furious at what I considered to be arrogance on the part of the Irish captain to opt to bat first. He obviously felt he could win the match, but generally it’s better to bat second, because you know what the target is and you know the run-rate you need to get there. In my view, his thought process should have been: ‘You know what, this is a big step up for us, and a big chance for us to shine. It’s also the first game in the series, and there’s going to be an adjustment period as we step up. Let’s put England in, they’ll probably score about 300, and we can give ourselves a chance and not panic.’

What he also should have said was, and this is going to sound like heresy: ‘You know what, we’re in the entertainment business, and there are 15,000 paying fans out there, 90% of whom have come to see England play. They’ll get more value out of the day, and we’ll have more chance, if we bat second.’

We can’t forget that sport is in the entertainment business, with the emphasis on business. If you’re David against Goliath, you should let him do his thing first, give the crowd a show, see what he’s got and then you might see a weakness and sneak a win. You’ve got no chance otherwise, and people will stop paying to see what looks on paper like a one-sided show. After all, look what happened the last time?

The other day I posted on Facebook a sentence lifted from a BBC sports report into a match featuring the professional soccer team I follow. The post went like this:

‘Story of the season, in fact story of most teams I’ve followed, ever: “Wolves were competitive throughout but lacked a cutting edge.”

A cutting edge is a wonderfully graphic phrase which has been so over-borrowed over the last decade that it now risks becoming a sporting cliche, along with ‘we’re taking it one game at a time,’ and many, many others.

It occurred to me at the time, and it still resonates with me now, which is why I’m telling you about it, that having a cutting edge is a vital requirement in so much of our working lives, especially in business. It’s no use being competitive if we lack a cutting edge. In other words, if we’re not executing on our plan, if we’re not getting it done.

I’m not talking about the kind of cutting edge or leading/bleeding edge you hear trotted out with technology companies. We’re on the cutting edge of nanotechnology. Purlease. Indeed, in that context it’s another phrase so well-worm as to be threadbare.

Lacking a cutting edge in sports and business means we’re not sharp, we’re blunt, unsophisticated, ham-fisted even.

So what gives you a cutting edge? Focus, practice, skill, anticipation, commitment and timing. These factors combine to allow you to capitalise, not capitulate, on opportunities.

 

 

I came across a new word the other day, courtesy of a link from a friend of mine that I also am lucky to work with occasionally. It’s called deloading. It’s taking proper down-time to recharge the batteries and ensure that when you get back on the horse you’re still super-productive.

The link is here. It’s written by a chap called Tim Ferriss, who many of you will know as the author of the 4-Hour Work Week, and other books on a similar theme. I thought he was a good bit older than he is. Not that he looks older, but that he seems to have packed an annoyingly large amount of stuff into his CV already.

You might know from my own blog that I’ve been an advocate of deloading for a long time, although I can honestly say I’ve never referred to it by that term. I guess I’ve always been practising the exercise of taking regular breaks, but not time-wasting breaks, from more run-of-the-mill activities like writing, work or study.

I guess you could boil it down to the time-honoured phrase that a change is as good as a rest. There is so much to be said for the productivity benefits of taking regular time out. It seems counter-intuitive that you can get more done in less and with less. Perhaps that’s the reason why many employers and managers are keen to get as much work time from their people as possible. But’s never been about the hours you put into work, it’s about the work you put into the hours.