Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Color Simplicity and Laura Ries' Dirty Mind

Laura Ries has a funny and informative entry on her blog about brand names and colors. She maintains that colors can be powerful aspects of a brand, and that focus and simplicity in color schemes is generally better.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Let Your Brand Die

What do you do if you have a mature brand that is well-known and perceived positively, but the products that it stands for in the mind of the consumer are obsolete or no longer valuable? It's tempting to try to preserve the brand but attach it to a new product that isn't obsolete.

According to Al Ries and Laura Ries, however, you should let the brand drown and possibly launch a new brand and product.
If the tide is against you, the best strategy is to let your brand drown and launch a new brand to take advantage of the next wave. Smith-Corona should have launched a personal computer with a different brand name.
Smith-Corona was once a powerful brand in the typewriting business. The advent of personal computers and word processors made typewriters - and the Smith-Corona brand - obsolete. Trying to launch a Smith-Corona line of personal computers would have been pointless.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Requirements Concepts

Confusion over product requirements terminology and concepts is pervasive. Companies are producing MRDs, PRDs, and SRSes without even understanding what "requirement" means. Despite this wasteful and unnecessary requirements document proliferation, companies are neglecting key nonfunctional requirements.

To help educate the product management and development community, I have put together a comprehensive model of concepts relating to requirements. To view or download the full-size conceptual model, click the image below:

(See my post on conceptual models if you have trouble understanding the diagram.)

A sampling of the terms that the conceptual model explicates:

  • functional requirement
  • nonfunctional requirement
  • attribute
  • constraint
  • metric
  • specification
  • condition
  • user
  • stakeholder
  • use case
You are free to distribute, copy, or print out the diagram, but please do not remove the copyright information on the bottom right.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Free International Calls

With Future Phone, you can make international phone calls for free (or the cost of a call to Iowa). You simply:
  1. Dial a gateway access number (either 712-858-8883 or 712-945-1111).
  2. When the gateway answers, enter 011 then the country code and number you want to reach.
  3. Wait a few moments for your call to ring through and then enjoy your free call.
I've added Future Phone as a contact on my mobile phone.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Marketing Equals Margin

According to Wendy White, Motorola's director of global technology marketing and communications, Motorola has a healthy view of marketing.

She equates marketing with margin:
People here like to think of marketing as equal to margin—which comes from enabling brand premium and creating demand.
She also describes Motorola's attitudes towards marketing:
In many companies, it's easy for marketing to be seen as a service organization: Non-marketers are thinking, "We'll do the work; you make it pretty." At Motorola, we focus marketing on discovering what's important to the customer and then positioning our offerings based on those distinct needs. It has also helped that our new CEO comes from a high-tech marketing background and has further revitalized perceptions of marketing. Now, our marketing team seems like one unified function, compared to the more fragmented feeling we had earlier.
Via MarketingProfs.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Asking Questions Sideways

Crafting a customer survey is not as straightforward as it seems. You shouldn't simply ask the questions you want answered, as I've mentioned. The most valuable information usually comes from analyzing the correlations among the answers to the survey, not from merely looking at the responses to individual questions.

Susan Abbott tells us about sideways questions:
If we really want to find the answer to this question, we are going to have to come at it sideways somehow. Most commercial survey research uses multivariate techniques to tease out these kinds of findings. Like connecting the strength of your agreement with attitudinal statements (e.g."it is important to belong to prestigious business organizations") with your stated likelihood of renewing your membership.

In qualitative research, we cook up exercises of various sorts, instead of just asking the literal question directly. [It's also because most of us really like to play with colored markers and Post-it notes, although that's just a corollary benefit.] Sometimes, we may just ask what you think others do, not what you yourself do.
She goes on to describe how to use the randomized response technique to obtain the answers to uncomfortable personal questions.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Irregular Reinforcement

Seth Godin reminds us that
Irregular reinforcement is a hugely powerful message sender.
Last year, I called it surprise rewards. If it's too expensive to surprise and delight every customers every time, surprise them randomly. Send one of them a remarkable gift for no reason at all.

The reason surprise rewards are so powerful stems from congruity theory (which also is the primary reason you shouldn't choose a descriptive name for your brand). Congruity theory states that encounters incongruent with expectations cause people to apply inordinate mental effort to resolve the incongruency.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Implicit = Nonfunctional?

One of the product development community's favorite bloggers (and mine, too), Johanna Rothman, recently wrote about a negative experience she had with a product:
Even though I managed to accomplish the tasks I needed, the time it took me to accomplish them and the foreign approach to the UI made me not happy. Implicit requirements are still requirements.
Is the time it takes to accomplish a task really an "implicit requirement"? I think not. It's one of the primary metrics we use to ensure usability, and hence a standard nonfunctional requirement.

I have little doubt that most product managers neglect this metric in their requirements documents. But that neglect isn't due to the requirement being "implicit". It's due to the general tendency of product managers to pay excessive attention to alleged functional requirements that are in fact functional designs, to the exclusion of nonfunctional requirements that drive them.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Peanut Butter and Focus

CNET News tells us about an internal company memo at Yahoo. A senior VP at the company warned in the memo that the company lacks focus:
"We want to do everything and be everything--to everyone. We've known this for years, talk about it incessantly, but do nothing to fundamentally address it. We are scared to be left out..."
The internal memo, dubbed "The Peanut Butter Manifesto", continued:
"I've heard our strategy described as spreading peanut butter across the myriad opportunities that continue to evolve in the online world. The result: a thin layer of investment spread across everything we do and thus we focus on nothing in particular. I hate peanut butter."
It takes tremendous discipline to maintain focus in your product and its marketing.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Paul on SMEs

Paul at the Product Beautiful blog hits the nail on the head:
First, develop to your average user, not your subject matter experts. SME’s will feature pack your product with interesting features of dubious usefulness to the rest of the Market. Worse, they will mutate core features (armor and firepower) to the extreme, and you’ll end up with a scenario where you have important features that should solve user’s problems but are so bloated that they are unrecognizable or hard-to-use (Macros in MS Word, Adobe Download Manager, the HTML blink tag, etc). BTW, Engineering/Development are super-SME’s, so don’t let them define the product - ever!
SMEs are a valuable resource, but the primary source of requirements should be buyers and end users, as I have mentioned.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Pat Buchanan and Ali G

Funny exchange from the Ali G show before the 2004 election:
ALI G: "Does you think that Saddam ever was able to make these weapons of mass destruction or whatever, or as they is called, BLTs?
Mr. PATRICK BUCHANAN: "The--was Saddam able to make them?"
ALI G: "Could he make BLTs?
"Mr. BUCHANAN: "Yes. At one time, he was using BLTs on the Kurds in the north. If he had anthrax, if he had mustard gas..."
ALI G: "Whatever he put in them."
Mr. BUCHANAN: "No. No, no. If he had mustard gas, no."
ALI G: "Let's say he didn't have mustard and the BLTs just was plain. Would you have been able to go in there then?"
Somehow Ali G tricked Pat Buchanan into referring to WMDs as BLT sandwiches.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Conceptual Models

One of the most useful tools for explicating the terminology of customers is a conceptual model. Conceptual models depict the concepts in the problem domain and their relationships.

At Cauvin, Inc., we compose conceptual models in the form of static structure diagrams. Conceptual models resemble glossaries (in that they define the words in the domain), but they are richer and more concise.

Here is an example of a conceptual model:

Conceptual models in this format contain the following elements:
  • Concepts. Each rectangular box depicts a concept.
  • Links. A line between two concepts shows that an association exists between them.
  • Association. The name of an association is shown on or next to a link between two concepts.
  • Multiplicities. Multiplicities show how many instances of the concepts participate in the association. An asterisk (*) means that an indefinite (potentially infinite) number of instances participates in the relationship.
  • Specialization. A specialization is a kind of association with a hollow triangle connecting the link to a concept. The concept on the triangle link is the general concept. The concept on the other end of the link is its specialization, which means it is a kind of the general concept.
The example diagram thus directly implies the following statements:
  • A product is sold in zero or more markets.
  • A market is divided into zero or more market segments.
  • A segmentation method is a method of segmenting a market.
  • Regional segmentation is a kind of segmentation method.
  • Regional segmentation segments a market by zero or more regions.
Building a conceptual model helps a product manager understand the language of the customer. The process often exposes inconsistencies or inefficiencies in the terminology that a product manager can eliminate by explicating the concepts as she composes and refines the diagram.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Explication is the process of analyzing the usage of a word or phrase and formulating a logically consistent definition that clarifies its meaning. Product managers explicate the terminology of customers to settle on the most effective way of wording product requirements and communicating with customers.

Conventional wisdom dictates a product manager should communicate in the "language of the customer". Unfortunately, there is no such single language. Different customers use words in different ways and use different words to describe the same thing. A product manager must therefore navigate this terminological landscape and determine the best words to employ in requirements and customer communications. The product manager should explicate the various alternative terms and, after deciding on an operational meaning for each alternative, select the ones that she judges customers will most readily understand.

For example, imagine your company provides Internet data centers to customers. It focuses on customers looking for high availability in their web sites. A frequently-used word among customers is "server". Yet different customers mean different things when they use the word:
  • Customer A means "the program(s) that process incoming requests and reply with content".
  • Customer B means "the computer(s) that process incoming requests and reply with content".
  • Customer C means "the conceptual aggregate of load-balanced computers and programs processing incoming requests and replying with content."
In your product requirements, how should you define "server"? In the brochures you hand out at trade shows, how should you define "server"?

Explicating the term yields the answer. However, you can only explicate a term in relationship to other terms. In my next entry, I will describe a powerful explication tool that some product managers use to model these relationships.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Marissa Mayer on Quick Response Time

Google's Marissa Mayer told an audience at a Web 2.0 conference last week that quick response times are a critical - possibly the most important - contributor to usability. Response time is the amount of time it takes for a product to respond (provide useful results or feedback) to user requests. Slow response times lead to user frustration and less usage of your product.

For example:
In a survey on search, Google asked people how many results they would want by default; they responded that more is better, Mayer said. So the company conducted an experiment, providing some searchers with 30 default results. But it took, on average, a half-second longer to get those results than when the default was 10 results, she said. Out of frustration, people conducted fewer searches.

"This indicated extreme unhappiness," Mayer said. "It was clear that we weren't going to make this change."
A half-second increase in response time resulted in a large increase in frustration and consequent reduction in product usage.

The anecdote also supports the notion that giving customers what they say they want is not always a good idea. Sometimes, you can't know what people want until you observe what they actually do, and what they like, in a given situation.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Michael on UI Design and Requirements

Michael recently wrote on his blog:
Right after gathering and prioritizing high-level requirements, get to the User Interface (UI) design. Do this before you complete your MRD or PRD. Yes, before!
This suggestion supports one of the reasons for employing an agile approach to product management. You can't specify all the requirements up front; BUFR is inefficient and unrealistic. When you design a user interface, you "test" the initial stab at requirements and uncover additional usability requirements that nobody had considered.

I would go further than Michael and suggest that organizations produce a "releasable" iteration of the product; i.e. work not only through UI design, but also technical architecture, some detailed design, implementation, and testing. (In some cases, GUI mockups can be the output of the first iteration.) See this entry for more details.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Brandon on Leaders

Brandon writes about two different types of leaders:
  1. Motivational. Communicates vision and strategy, not detail oriented.
  2. Operational. Implement the processes and nuts-and-bolts decisions, detail oriented.
Brandon observes that most organizations are strong in one form of leadership but lacking in the other.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Zune: The Name

CEO Steve Ballmer, commenting on the name of Microsoft's new media player line, Zune:
It means nothing; it's just a cool name.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Dumping the Mac Guy

Is Apple dumping "the Mac guy", Justin Long? Yes, according to Jackie:
Justin Long, the actor who plays the Mac in Apple's latest rather mean-spirited series of commercials, is no longer doing the ads.
And at the Strategic Name Development Product Naming blog, William Lozito tells us:
I wonder if Microsoft has grasped just what an incredible breakthrough this is for their brand name - Apple has had to register the fact that very few Apple people want to talk about, and it’s this: Apple users are irritating to the rest of us and even to other Mac users.
Looks like I and others are being vindicated.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Four-Second Response Time

Akamai and JupiterResearch came out with a press release this week stating, among other things, that:
Four seconds is the maximum length of time an average online shopper will wait for a Web page to load before potentially abandoning a retail site.
Much of the time, web surfers do not find what they want when they are browsing. Consequently, they are loathe to tolerate slow response times and pages that require a lot of time and effort to figure out.

Keep your web pages simple - simple so they don't take too long to load, and simple so that users don't have to invest too much time figuring out what to do.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


"CAPTCHA" stands for ""Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart". You've likely seen them; web sites use CAPTCHAs to verify that a visitor is human (rather than a computer).

Here is an example of a CAPTCHA:

CAPTCHAs are an attempt to prevent computer-generated spam and other hijinx. Unfortunately, they cause several problems of their own:

  1. They decrease usability by adding to the amount of time and effort it takes for users to accomplish their goals.
  2. Some are difficult for humans to read.
  3. Some computer programs are better able to read them than humans.
Avoid CAPTCHAs if you can find an alternate way of preventing spam.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What Women Want

In a recent New York Times article, "What Do Women Want? Just Ask", Mickey Meece contends that female shoppers are causing innovative changes in the marketplace. For example, a homebuilder that used to build cookie-cutter homes modified its strategy after listening to female customers:
The kitchens in the company’s homes, the women said, were all wrong. The pantries were tiny, and the sinks needed to overlook a window so kids in the backyard could be monitored. And the mudrooms! They shared space with laundry rooms, meaning that dirty floors might sit right beneath clean laundry. (“It’s called a mud/laundry room?” one incredulous woman asked.) After that, Shane Homes subjected designs to similar grillings — before they were built — and adapted them accordingly.
A change in the demographics and psychographics of home purchasers created a market opportunity. Shane Homes tapped into this market after conducting qualitative market research.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Field Trips and Career Days

Part of facilitating a successful product team is to have developers that buy into a market-driven vision for the product. Developers have a natural tendency to be motivated by cool technologies and features that may work against a product that solves real problems in the market. Company executives and the product manager can work together to overcome this tendency, but only by building consensus in the development team for a market-driven approach.

One way of fostering buy-in for a market-driven approach is field trips. On top of the normal prospect visits he should be making, let the product manager bring developers to customer sites to observe and experience use (or non-use) of the product in real life. Better yet, have career days in which each developer actually sits in for a customer and plays her role for the day. You will have to get permission from customers, of course, but you have two strong arguments to convince them:
  1. Your team, for free, will do your customers' work for them.
  2. It ultimately benefits the customer for your developers to understand the user experience.
Use the field trips to draw attention to the problems that the product is supposed to solve. Use them to gather new information that developers learn.

A product manager's role is to understand the market and communicate that understanding to the product team. To get buy-in from developers, it's not enough to throw market requirements documents at them. Field trips give developers the perspective they can get only from first-hand experience.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Descriptive Trademarks

Every once in a while, I feel compelled to reiterate certain counterintuitive marketing principles. One of these principles is that generic or descriptive names make poor brand names.

In his latest blog entry on trademarks, Seth Godin states the truth starkly:
The best trademarks are 'fanciful', words like Yahoo! or Verizon. Next down the list are words that [are] a bit descriptive, like Woopie Cushion, Wikipedia or JetBlue. The worst kind of words are descriptive. Yes, you can trademark the brand American Motors, but don't expect it to be particularly valuable or long lasting.
Trademarks can be names, words, phrases, logos, symbols, designs, or images. Choose trademarks that are abstract, not descriptive. See this August blog entry for a summary of why abstract names are superior.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Sticky Toffee Pudding Ice Cream

Haven't yet tried Haagen-Dazs Sticky Toffee Pudding Ice Cream? Go getcha some while you have a chance. Wikipedia says it will only be available until January 2007:
Sticky Toffee Pudding was the winning ice cream flavor in the 2005 Häagen-Dazs contest, submitted by Judiaann Woo. Sticky Toffee Pudding ice cream is slated to be produced from July 2006 to January 2007.
It's the best ice cream I've ever eaten. Better than Ben & Jerry's Half Baked. Better than Haagen-Dazs Triple Chocolate. This morning, I bought five pints of it from HEB.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Usability and Single Page Checkout

A company called Elastic Path Software has released a single page checkout technology. Most e-commerce sites lead online shoppers through a sequence of pages to complete a purchase. This framework supposedly uses AJAX to consolidate the sequence into one page.

I haven't seen a site that uses the technology, so I don't know if it really improves the user experience. But how would we measure the improvement in user experience? Are the standard usability metrics enough to capture any purported improvement?

Via Cote.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fix Your Product's Broken Windows

In a March 1982 Atlantic Monthly article titled "Broken Windows", James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling advanced a theory that minor acts of vandalism, such as grafitti or breaking of windows, escalate and tend to increase the incidence of more serious crime. Prevent the small, cosmetic crimes, and the frequency of more serious crimes will decrease.

A similar concept applies to your products. You should focus your product on solving the key problems the customers in your target market face. However, you also need to prevent and fix the "broken windows" in your product. Perceptions of minor, cosmetic glitches in your product can mushroom into a lack of trust in its overall quality. As I've mentioned before, image should reinforce substance.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


In Why Rebranding Often Fails, Galen De Young notes how challenging it can be to change your brand. He enumerates five reasons for rebranding failure:
  • Lack of true change.
  • Making too big a leap.
  • Lack of Internal alignment.
  • Failure of the CEO to champion rebranding
  • Failure to clarify positioning
Rebranding is usually a bad idea unless your existing brand is too muddled or broad. You're usually better off renarrowing your brand or creating a new brand instead of changing an old one.