Blog Archives

Forms sells function

“Form follows function.” Designers have said this for years. And in the learning world, it is equally true: The learning initiative or environment (form) must be shaped to achieve its goals (function).

 

But the most successful product developers know another truth: “Form sells function”. The product can be designed to be perfectly functional, but if it doesn’t look beautiful, no-one will buy it. Case in point: Smart watches. For a few years now, it has been possible to buy a watch that allows you to surf the internet, play media and control your smartphone. But they aren’t beautiful, so only the geeks buy them. As Apple brings out its own smart-watch, you can expect a change in this market. Because it will be beautiful.

 

What does this mean for the learning world? If we follow the watch analogy through we see that, yes, effective learning professionals create functional initiatives. But when it comes to something new, do they forget that form sells function? Or are they making beautiful products like Apple?

 

If you are working on a new approach to learning in your organisation, don’t forget that your buyer is not the learning geek who will immediately see the functionality of your new product. The buyer is someone who is used to his “perfectly functional watch” and “can’t see why I’d need a new one”. So you have to make it beautiful too.

 

To make things beautiful, we can learn from both the designer and the marketer. Design creates beautiful objects; marketing creates a beautiful brand or experience. Design makes sure that what is in the box is awesome; marketing gets you to the box. Design ensures that what you take out of the box is durable and effective; marketing creates the unboxing experience.

 

If you are starting the New Year full of functional learning resolutions, please don’t forget to put some beauty in the form.

 

Thanks for reading

@dan_steer

 

Mindreader Sally Hogshead shows me my value so I can define my personal anthem

Sally Hogshead says she can help up to fascinate people with the perfect words in 9 seconds. As I have traditionally steered away from vendor presentations at the conference, I rather arrogantly (although privately) put the Award-winning American advertising copywriter to the test immediately by offering her 9 seconds to keep me in the room. I’m still here 🙂 Let’s go for session TU118 of the ASTD2014 International Conference and Exposition

 

Sally Hogshead says that many people underestimate their ability to fascinate people, but that in today’s environment we need to grab people’s attention and show value immediately. She promises me that by the time I leave the room she will give me the perfect words to describe myself. I will walk out of the room more valuable. Sounds nice!

To kick things off, we heard the story of a ride at the Disney Epcot Center where visitors are offered a choice between a green or orange ticket for the ride. If you take the green ticket, you sign up for a safe, easy ride (think kids and grannies). If you take the orange ticket, you are warned about the possibility of injury, adventure and sickness. The people who go for the orange ticket ride were seen taking pictures of themselves about to go on the ride, tweeting and sharing the experience and coming back for more, telling their friends how awesome it was. The green-ticket people just went in and came out. No fuss, no fan-fair, no brand loyalty and championship. But in fact, both had the same ride!

 

The greatest value you can add is to show more of who you really are

Hogshead says that people will pay more for someone they like and trust. The product and the service comes second – what counts is the person you are doing business with, the brand and the perceived added-value. In my role as a presentation skills trainer and with ideas from my life as a marketeer and brand-namer, I think talk about being FAB and showing the real WIIFM. So I’m sold on the importance of (personal) branding already. Our speaker today says that the best high performing people provide a specific benefit, they are worth more than they are being paid and they over-deliver on expectations. And if we know who we are and what value we can add, we can communicate that.

According to our speaker, many of the personality and preference tests on the market focus on who you are and how you perceive yourself. But her company offers a test to show how others see you. With that knowledge, you can choose the right words to show your value. When everyone knows what their highest value is and how to show it, they feel more empowered and work better.

 

At this point, I started to get cynical: On one hand, we need to show our unique value. We need to create a personal anthem (tagline) that shows the benefit of our strengths to the world. But on the other hand, Sally Hogshead says she can help me find me archetype from a pre-set matrix and give me the words to use. Surely if everyone does this, we are going to have every LinkedIn profile looking the same and full of the same anthems?!?? Where’s the uniqueness in that? So I (again arrogantly) challenged Sally on this and this is what happened:

1. She invited me up to the stage. More on this later…
2. She described me to the rest of the participants. Almost perfectly and very complete. We had only met 30 minutes before (my first challenge…. I feel so bad!) but her description was spot on: What turns me on, what turns me off. How I like to interact with people and how I like to add value…
3. She gave me words to use to describe myself: “I’m an innovator who likes to inspire people to find new ways to do things.”

 

49 personality archetypes

How did she do this? Sally’s answer: I gave off very distinct cues (that she picked up on) that fit into her matrix of 49 personality archetypes. 49! Not 4. It was like a magic trick, or mind-reading. She got me in an instant.

20140506-110957.jpg

 

But what about this idea of fascinating in 9 seconds??

To show value to others in 9 seconds, you need to be able to tell how you are the perfect solution to their problem. To get this right, the participants were first offered the chance to take the test on HowToFascinate.com to see which of the 49 archetypes they had. Here’s mine:

20140506-115104.jpg

 

For each of the 49 archetypes, Sally Hogshead’s matrix offers a set of adjectives that best describe you. Her book also offers a set of nouns. Add one of the specific adjectives for your archetype (whichever you prefer) to the right nouns (see the book, page 365) and you have your anthem. Here’s mine:

20140506-115225.jpg

(Coming back to what I said earlier, I guess Sally invited me up because when I first met her (coming in the room) she picked up on my prestige quality – I haven’t read the book yet, but I when I hear “prestige” I also hear a need to be in the centre of things….)

So I’m a progressive ideas man. That sounds OK to me. What I plan to do now is to build this descriptor into something a little more sexy, a little more FAB and a little more me.

Watch this space!

Thanks for reading
D

Stop this obsession with price-based competition and marketing

The 1107 words here lead to and underline some questions you can ask yourself about how you bring value to your customers and what you are going to do to survive market changes… It is a long rant and potentially a little naive. I’m not a financial expert and maybe not the best strategist. But still…

 

It strikes me that we live more-and-more in a world obsessed by price. Or rather: “Cheap”. Given “the current economic situation”, credit-crunch, budget cuts, unemployment and austerity measures, I suppose this is natural. People want to get the best for their money. But that doesn’t make it good. Since when did “the best” equal “the most for the cheapest”?

In my recent visit to the UK, I was shocked by the apparent extent of this obsession. Everywhere I went, everyone was competing on price. Supermarkets that used to offer the best quality food ingredients now focus on “3 for 2” offers and “any 2 deserts for £2”. The motorway diners that used to boast “authentic fully-cooked English breakfasts all day” now have posters several miles before noting that “the whole family eats for £5”. And for some reason, my father has taken to supplementing a benefits-driven overview of his latest purchase with “…and it only cost me …”

 

But competing on price is not sustainable and doesn’t create a real value image in the long-term. Sometimes it can even destroy hope of having a long-term future, as is famously the case with HMV right now or, less in the public eye, the little DVD-hire-shop down the road from me.

Take the first example: HMV. The first HMV branded store was opened on Oxford Street, London, in 1921. Facing competition, it won the game by offering newer, bigger stores with the best most complete collection of music and film. When I was growing up in the 90s, if I wanted the latest number-1 CD I would pop into my local “Our Price”. But if I really wanted to shop for CDs, to find something a bit more obscure or to listen before I bought, I would happily wait for a trip to London to visit HMV.

In the example of my local DVD shop, it was all about getting the latest films first and the unprecedented offer of keeping them for 48 hours instead of the standard 24 rental hours. People who wanted to see something before anyone else would go there. And maybe even lend it to a friend before they took it back.

But markets change and in both cases these value-offerings came under attack from the competition. Facing the online offer of Amazon, iTunes, Napster and MegaUpload, HMV was no longer the only one to have everything in music and film. And the others were cheaper too. Instead of fighting back with any real innovation or added quality, prices were reduced. And as the bottom-line profits slipped away, gone as well were the listening-posts to “try before you buy”. The more expensive-to-run focus on specialist or obscure music was replaced by more of the latest number-1s at a cheaper price then anywhere else. My local DVD shop started to offer 3 films for the price of 2.

 

When competing on price alone, the cheapest wins and everyone else dies. Drug dealers know this and you don’t have to watch many mafia films to understand that the middle man always gets cut out. For HMV, consumers who could no longer see the added-value of a trip out to the shop (in the cold, using expensive petrol) would buy exclusively online. Everything being equal, price wins.

 

But everything doesn’t have to be equal and there are other ways to compete. In marketing terms, “price” is only one of the 6 “P”s and consumers might buy for any mix of reasons. HMV used to be about “products” and “people”. Another high-street shop in the UK claims to have the best KnowHow™ to help you install, maintain and use your product. * This is all about the “people” and “processes” they offer – a good reason to buy. In my own case, I currently focus on creating the minimum effective dose of training, along with authentic learning processes and improving formal learning with practical use of social media. Others focus on being the first to market, or the most deluxe product.

* Ironically, in my last trip to the UK, the window-sized poster- promoting this “people/process” offering was now obscured by 20 smaller shamefully off-brand posters shouting out the cheapest prices for X, Y and Z.

 

For the seasoned marketeer, I have said nothing new here. Its always been the same: Companies profit by offering value for money. Unfortunately, many companies seem to have forgotten all about the value, choosing instead to focus only on the money. They argue that its because of the tough economic situation and because no-one has any cash to spend. But even if the “boomerang generation” can’t afford to do live away from its parents, one look at the evolution of Apple’s share prices over the past 5 years will tell you that many people still have a lot of spare cash. Starbucks still makes £400 million in revenue selling coffee in the UK and Amazon has announced that its fourth-quarter revenues rose by 22 percent to reach US$21.3 billion. And despite training being the first thing to go when corporations aren’t making enough profit, many of my trainer colleagues are still fully-booked doing great business until the end of 2013.

 

People pay for quality. This doesn’t mean “top quality” or “deluxe” but simply “value” (or perceived value). And if you want them to pay you, then you need to offer value, whatever your price. The more value (and the more unique your value) the more likely people will buy from you. Despite the focus of so many on “price”, I believe that if you want to do well in bad economic times, you need to focus even more on the other side of the price/value equation.

 

So to close my little rant (“price competition” is after all one of my current pet-hates) I would like to ask you to take some time over the coming days to think about the following 5 questions:

  • Everything being equal, price wins. But everything is not equal. What makes you special?
  • What do you want your customers to say about your products, services and staff?
  • What do you, your company, people, products and services stand for? What’s your “thing”?
  • Assume money was not an issue for any of your customers. Why do they buy from you?
  • Why do people come back for more of your stuff?

 

Thanks for reading.

 

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9 must-remember guidelines to succeed with social media marketing

In training on professional usage of social media with Kluwer Formations today, I’ve been helping 9 people from different organisations get started with social media. Despite their different levels of experience, different skills and different needs, they all have one thing in common: They want to use social media to market a business, organisation or product – they want to find their clients, communicate with them and reinforce brand loyalty.

In a series of several blogs over the coming weeks, I will be giving tips for anyone getting started with social media for marketing: Lots of references based on different type tools, functionalities and issues. Enjoy!

 

MY FIRST POST = 9 BASICS TO KEEP IN MIND WHATEVER YOU DO TO MARKET VIA SOCIAL NETWORKS

 

1 – Know what you are trying to achieve before you get started

Despite all the hype around social media platforms, they are still only tools. Don’t get on the train unless you’ve got a good reason. And define your reason clearly you get started. Your goals will affect the choices you make in terms of tool and activity. Defining your goal is the first step to creating strategic action.

 

2 – Know where your customers are and meet them there

As I said in my article for the December issue of T+D Magazine for ASTD, if you set up shop in the middle of nowhere and expect your customers will accept a long painful walk into the middle of nowhere, you will soon learn it doesn’t work. Don’t choose your platform for what YOU like to use. Choose what THEY like to use:

  • Which tools are your customers already using?
  • Where are most people most active?
  • What seems to suit your activity best?

 

3 – Know that not everyone uses social media platforms in the same way, to the same extent

The engagement pyramid, as explained by @charleneli in “Open Leadership” shows the 5 different types of social media user. The % of people acting in these ways diminishes as the list advances (watchers are the highest percentage, curators the lowest):

  • Watchers – the majority of people active on social networks are not SO active. They just look at stuff, soaking it all in without saying or “doing” much. You won’t know what they are thinking or how they react. But they are still there and they ARE part of your customer base.
  • Sharers – these people actually put stuff out there themselves. When they see something interesting, they share it. From what they share, you can tell what they like, what they are interested in and what they want more of (or not). Very good intel. And of course, wouldn’t it be great if they shared YOUR stuff?
  • Commenters – the next group will comment on or “like” (rate) what they find on any given platform. They actually given an opinion on what other people share. You can see their reactions and use this information to improve your offer and find out who is interested.
  • Producers – these are people that actually create something themselves. In my opinion, this should be one of YOUR main activities if you are using social media to market. You should write blogs, make videos, take pictures etc… What these people produce is what the others share, comment on and watch. No producers, nothing to look at.
  • Curators – like the curators in a museum, the role of this person is to collect, organise and share different things and put them together in one place for the others to come and find. They make sense of what has been produced, in order to make it easily accessible for the others. A key role in community management and other online activities.

 

4 – (Given point 3…) Be ready for disappointment in the beginning

The vast majority of people on a social network platform do not produce, share or comment/rate. This means that much of the time, what you put out there will not create an obvious reaction. Keep in mind 2 things:

  • It takes time to get reactions. If you have 500 followers on Twitter, you might hear from 50 of them, from time to time, if you’re lucky. If you get 5000 hits on your blog a month, you may only get 5 or 10 comments or likes. The same is true for YouTube videos.
  • ..but that doesn’t mean you are not being read. Believe in the numbers. If you have followers and friends, what you are putting out there is getting seen. If you are confident that your 500 friends and followers are well targeted potential customers, keep sharing and keep producing.

 

5 – Tools differ, but the golden networking triangle remains the same

Whatever you do on social networking tools for marketing purposes, you will need to consider 3 main types of activity, otherwise known as “the golden triangle”. Suggested by Jan Vermeiren in his currently free to download and highly practical book “How to REALLY use LinkedIn”, these 3 activity types will create a kind of snowball effect where the number of people you reach gets bigger, the number of reactions grows and the community continues to flourish over time:

  • Give things away. Share references. Not always your own content, but also other “on-brand” things you find on the web that might be interesting for your customers.
  • Ask for things. This can be a simple answer (a large piece of market research done via a poll), a request for expertise on a given topic or a fully crowd-sourced project development. Ask people to get involved and some of them will.
  • Thank people. From literally saying “thank you” is a start. Liking, commenting or sharing what you have seen is ever better. So is mentioning people. We are all in this together, so be nice to each other.

 

6 – Stay on brand. Always.

Your brand is the image you want to present of yourself, your product or service. Whatever you do on social media platforms, you have to reinforce that image. Think about it beforehand. What kind of style do you want to have? What do you want people to say about you? What do you represent? What are you the expert of? What are you offering? What can people expect from you?

 

7 – Consider a blended approach to what you put out there: 70/20/10

I know a man who tries to sell his products via Twitter. Every tweet says “Buy this or that product of mine”. It drives me crazy. My preferred approach comes from “The Twitter Book” by Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein and I think it’s much better way to position yourself and your products and services without being too pushy:

  • 70% of your posting should be sharing other people’s stuff. If you are a hypnotist trying to sell MP3s to help people quit smoking, 70% of your tweets will be sharing resources you have found about smoking, health, fitness, cancer (whatever…), but not actually pushing your product. Your customers will understand you have an opinion on these things and you stay up-to-date and interested in what they are interested in.
  • 20% of your posting can be your own products and services. You have the right to let people know about what you have to offer and they will be interested and believe you, because of the other 70% of your activity.
  • 10% can be a little light playful personal stuff that shows the world you are not just a marketing machine out to get their money. People buy from people and your followers, friends and potential customers want to know about you too. Let them know from time-to-time what you are up to at the weekend, or how that traffic jam drove you crazy. The human touch is nice… And this 10% doesn’t kill what I just said about branding.

 

8 – Cross pollinate your posting and sharing

This doesn’t go against what was said in point 2. But most of the time your customers will be spread across different platforms, so your activity must be as well. If you have posted a blog-post (like this one) on WordPress, tweet it. If you think it’s OK to post on LinkedIn as well (more on in another post) update your status there as well, or put the link in a group you have created. If you find a relevant blog from someone else and your new post could add some value, add it as a comment. If you just added a video to YouTube and your post could be a nice follow up reference, mention it in the comments.

 

9 – If what you have to say is worth saying, saying it twice, three times, four times, five times…

Take a look at your Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter homepage. What do you see? Depending on how many people you follow/friend/connect to and how often they update things, the answer will differ. But over time, the same thing happens: Stuff disappears!

On most social network platforms, there is a “half-life” phenomenon which means that what you post disappears from your audience’s timeline exponentially at a certain rate, depending how many people they follow and how often those people are posting things. Concretely, this means that what you post now will be gone from view later. So what must you do?

  • Firstly, think about what time of day you are most likely to be read. Just after lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays is a good time. People aren’t desperately steaming ahead at the start of the week and they aren’t doing highly productive work while their lunch goes down. A good time to be read.
  • Secondly, re-post new things several times over a given period. But don’t forget point 7.

 

That’s it for this post. I will be back with specific tips for LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to put these ideas into practice… Sign up to follow my blog and you won’t miss a thing ! (Look in the right-hand menu bar)

 

 

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