Assumptions are Presumptuous

Contributed by Hannah Beasley

We tend to make assumptions. Far too many assumptions.

Most of us make assumptions based on things we have known to be true in the past. For example, almost every business assumes that the things they have done to be successful in the past are the keys to future success. This assumption is based on experience and what you know to be true, or at least what was true in the past, yet it’s still a dangerous assumption. It assumes that markets today will be receptive to your same offer. It assumes that today’s competitive landscape won’t be vastly different than yesterday’s. It assumes that customers still want your product or offering.

And this is all with something that most of us would consider to be a safe assumption – do more of what works, and you’ll have more success.

It’s easy to see the dangers in making decisions based upon these types of assumptions. Let’s take a look at two key areas where we have the potential to make the greatest mistakes based on assumptions.

Assumption #1: Customers choose you based on a logical decision-making process.

If you are selling anything, it’s easy, (and fair), to make the assumption that you are selling something that people are willing to pay for. There is nothing wrong with assuming this most basic ideal, because if you have sold anything in the last month, it’s likely still true. The issue arises when we extrapolate this basic assumption to include our idealistic hopes about exactly why someone would want to spend money on our product/offering.

We make assumptions far too often regarding customers’ motives for buying our products. We assume that a sell or decision is based completely on principles of logic. We think that customers consciously weigh the costs and the benefits of our product to make their decisions, when in reality; no decisions are so black and white.

In Gerald Zaltman’s book How Customers Think, he proposes that very little in the consumer decision-making process has to do with logic. He references research studies showing that consumers cannot even accurately describe their own decision making processes, and he points out that consumer choices based on a logical evaluation of attributes are “the exception rather than the rule.” In any decision making process, both reason and emotion are always involved. We are foolish when we ignore the emotional aspect of buying and selling. In order to be effective then, we must acknowledge that no more than 5% of consumer thinking occurs in “high-order consciousness.” Then, we must act on this knowledge, and sell our culture, or our worldview as something that others can connect with on a deeper level.

A great example of this emotional selling can be found in the empire that is Harley Davidson. It might look like they’re selling motorcycles, but in reality, Harley Davidson is selling a lifestyle. Their website boasts a banner stating “This is your time. It’s your life – don’t just go along for the ride.” They are selling you the pursuit of leisure and luxury, feelings of liberation, and the joys of youthful adventure. So many consumers want to buy into this lifestyle that just the licensing of the Harley-Davidson brand and logo brought in $40 million in net revenue last year.

Assumption #2: Your customers know their needs and understand them fully.

It would seem logical that your customers or potential customers know their needs when they walk into a meeting. Sure, sometimes this is the case, but we make this assumption too frequently. More often than not your customers cannot fully articulate their needs; what they do understand are their problems. They know what battles they fight on a daily basis. They know which hurdles they must overcome weekly. And they have a clear picture of the obstacles blocking their efficiency. This does not mean that they know the best way to overcome or solve their problems. This is where we come in.

In problem solving, a fresh perspective is priceless. A third party can see beyond the problems and begin to accurately assess the need. Even if our customers think they have a clear picture of a solution, we try to have them  describe their needs at length before we begin a project. By doing this, we can accurately  evaluate the situation and propose solutions that our customers may not even have known were possible.

Problems live on the surface, but needs often live beyond the façade. It is crucial that you work harder to understand your customers’ needs better than they can articulate them on their own. I was recently involved in a web-based software build in which we solve for an immediate problem, yet we failed to address the underlying need because the client did not fully understand the true need. By asking intuitive questions and involving stakeholders with unique perspectives in the needs assessment, we can consistently strive for a deeper understanding of needs up front. This improves efficiency and effectiveness, and ultimately saves everyone time and money.

Moral of the story: avoid making assumptions.

Make clear, concise decisions based on what you know.

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The Advantage of Being David

Contributed by Terry Gill

Picture the last major purchasing decision you made.  When it came down to the final vendors, what were the best predictors of those company’s reliability or capability?

Experience.  Reputation.  Years in operation.  Size.

What about size?  Does size matter?

To some degree, yes, size matters.  In some cases size is a legitimate consideration.  For example, imagine you are National Geographic Magazine.  If you’re trying to identify the ideal vendor to produce and distribute your publication – size matters.

On the other hand if you’re looking for a company to help you develop a software application, I believe size carries far less weight in making the right partner choice.  In fact, if the solution is web facing, size becomes less and less relevant.

Case In Point

Craigslist has redefined the on-line classified ad concept.  It has over 20 billion page views a month.  Yes, 20,000,000,000!  It features a simple interface, but provides users the option to create their own content.  Its listings are geographically oriented and it provides real-time data.  All of these features and achievements require a sophisticated infrastructure and smart people at the helm.

Now the punch line – guess how many employees?  I’ll give you a hint; your local coffee shop might be in the same range.

Craigslist has 32 employees.  32.

Size trumps all other predictors when you have good, clean execution of a concept.  Craigslist is a disruptor on many levels.  They clearly use size as a competitive advantage.  Imagine how nimble and flexible Craigslist can afford to be when decisions are made with 32 employees…and loads of cash.

David vs. Goliath

Smaller organizations can and will continue to compete successfully against larger competitors if the objective is focused on creativity, speed and flexibility.  Again, in the world of custom software application development, this is especially true.

Smaller companies often adopt an Agile development methodology, which as the name suggests, is well suited for assignments that need to be developed and deployed quickly.  Think SWAT team.

These applications are the types that take a few months to engineer and implement.  They often work alongside other larger applications of the enterprise variety.  Playing a supporting role to a CRM or DAM application is a common scenario.

But smaller companies developing these applications must be vigilant in their commitment to building out their infrastructure.  Proper bandwidth, security and redundancy cannot be overlooked.  Boutique size shops must commit to greater resources for hardware, software and network administrators who keep abreast of the latest security threats.    Nobody gets a hall pass on ensuring they have proper network design and oversight.  No one will tolerate relaxed security.

In the end, don’t discount the advantages of working with a smaller organization; just remember to take advantage of their strong suit.   Go ahead and open up that next project pitch to those quirky folks you’ve been hearing about.  If nothing else you’re bound to get some fresh perspective on how desire and creativity stack up against sheer size.

Talk to Me. I’ll Be Your Biggest Fan.

#1 Fan

Contributed by Hannah Beasley

When I get something in the mail, I expect it to be relevant to me. Even if the piece is not personalized with my name, I expect the ad to be offering me something I need or at least something I may want. It needs to be relevant, unique, and timely. I’m in my 20s. If you send me an advertisement for a nursing home, clearly it’s not relevant, much less unique or timely, and I’m going to throw it away.

The same rule generally applies to every advertisement or offer I am exposed to. The average American is exposed to over 2000 advertising messages each day. Some people would argue that advertising has become the most powerful educational force in today’s society. Our brains are constantly living in a place of information overload, as we are now faced with offers on the Internet, on TV, and in the mailbox every day at an alarming rate. My generation has grown up with an unprecedented amount of exposure to advertising, and as a result, we have an uncanny ability to completely ignore messages right in front of our faces.

Every time I go to the grocery store, I ignore over 40,000 SKUs. If I go to Walmart Supercenter, it’s likely that I’ll ignore nearly 100,000 SKUs (and become extremely irritated with the long checkout lines). I cannot possibly process all of the offerings I encounter, so if my brain is trained to ignore 99% of all messages that I am exposed to each year, how do some marketers manage to get through to me? And yes, there are a few that get through.

First and foremost, the offering must be RELEVANT to me. As I mentioned before, if it’s not relevant, I’m throwing it away. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Because of my background, my work, and the fact that I’ve grown up in a media-crazed society, I know that advertisers CAN make their promotions relevant to me, and I expect them to. Facebook (although creepy) does a great job of using their knowledge of my profile as the basis for serving up RELEVANT offers. During the months when my relationship status was marked as “engaged” a few years ago, my Facebook page was constantly serving up ads to support the 40 billion dollar wedding industry. If I see wedding ads now, I completely ignore them. However, in that brief period of time while I was planning my wedding, I actually considered the advertisements (well, at least some of them). Facebook was tactfully using their knowledge of my demographics to serve up RELEVANT offerings (and charge more for these targeted ads). Serving up relevance means promoting your offer to the right person at the right time. If you’re not doing this, you’re wasting your time. The “spray & pray” method commonly used in direct mail campaigns of the past is over.

In addition to being relevant, the offering must be UNIQUE. The product itself doesn’t have to be entirely unique, but the advertisement must at least show me something truly compelling. It could just be the presentation and design that’s compelling, or it could be the inherent features of the product. Whatever the case, I know that my brain is designed to dismiss offerings that are identical to five other offers I have already seen.

Lastly, the offering must be TIMELY. I still cannot understand why so many web addresses are printed on billboards. When I see a billboard, I’m probably driving. Yes, I occasionally check a quick email or give a yes/no response to a text while driving, but I am never going to enter a web address on my mobile phone to access a website as prompted by a billboard… all while blasting down I-65. If you want someone to visit your website, make it simple for them by allowing them to scan a QR code, or by sending them an email with the web address link. If you expect your target market to spend a few minutes reviewing your offering, present it when you expect they have some leisure time. Make your prospecting calls on Friday afternoon when you know most people are starting to wrap up their work for the week. Avoid asking anyone for their time on a Monday. Try to meet with people in person and outside of the office to avoid distractions and to gain some ever-fleeting undivided attention. Once again, I’ll return to Facebook. The Social Media King is the perfect place to advertise, because site visitors are likely logged on to kill some spare time. Users are browsing and clicking through things they find interesting, and this is exactly what the advertisers want. It’s much easier to integrate your offering into what your prospect is already doing than it is to ask them to change their plans and pay attention to you.

So, what is the true measure of success? An exceptional advertisement will compel me to SHARE my experience with the offering with others. At Fetter, we talk a lot about not just having clients or “users” of our software – we’re on a mission to create Fans. Fans love you. They talk about you. They tell their friends about you. They influence others. They forgive you when you have hiccups. They know you’re the best partner. They know you add value and make their lives better.

If your offer is RELEVANT, UNIQUE, and TIMELY, your clients and prospects will remember it. And with any luck, you will have a stadium full of fans before you know it.

You Had Me At Hello: Creating Great First Impressions

Contributed by Dayna Neumann

How do you know you made a great first impression?

They remember your name.  They take your calls.  They buy from you.  They buy from you again.  They send a shout-out Tweet recommending you to their network.  The uncomfortable truth is, in business, we may not know the quality of our first impression in time to do anything meaningful about it.

So how do you guarantee the best possible first impression?  For me, it’s all about the experience.  No matter the channel – sales reps, customer service, websites, packaging, products, signage, business cards – you must be prepared to make the best possible first impression.

That Sounds Expensive

Managing good first impressions does not require a Lebron James PR budget.  Orchestrating consistent, impressive first impressions starts with awareness.  Be aware of your communication channels and all the ways potential clients interact with your company.  If you start with awareness you may reveal areas for improvement and missed opportunities.

Help Me Help You

Do you make it easy for customers to socialize?  Do you give them a simple way to tell you what they like, what they don’t like and to share all of these feelings with their network?  If you answered no, you are missing a major opportunity to capture new market share.  Again, this doesn’t have to be a major investment.  Slap a QR (quick response) code on a portion of your next label run and have it point to your Twitter page.  Ask your customers to give you instant feedback on why they chose your product.  Test an incentive like a discount coupon or a product give away and see if people need a little extra encouragement to engage the campaign.  Capture the metrics, read the posts, react accordingly, repeat the parts that worked, get lots of new customers, make buckets of money.  Creating ways for your existing customers to help you attract new customers does not have to break your marketing budget and you will have entered a brave new world of first impressions.

Channel Surfing

Let’s consider another scenario where your product is the channel to create a first impression.  For many companies, a web-based application like a storefront is the first interaction someone has with your company.  For us, we have cloud, or hosted products that our customers make available to their employees to help them do their job – like initiating marketing campaigns or managing label inventories.  In these situations it is your product that establishes the first impression with an entire user community.  Again, you must be aware of the customer experience and continue to ask yourself if the experience is the best it can possibly be.  Do you allow your customers to socialize about the experience and the product?  Are you listening and reacting?  Are your channels working hard for you and each other?

You Had Me At Hello

So who is killing the product-based first impression and who is nailing the internet first impression?  37 Signals and Prezi are two companies doing both incredibly well.  I won’t cloud your judgment with my opinions here.  So go out to their sites, have your own first impression and report back in the comments on what your first impressions are of these two companies and their products.  Are they giving a firm handshake or a limp fish?

Curves Ahead: Managing Speed to Market

Contributed by Terry Gill

As a kid, I was fascinated with cars.  I can remember sitting in the back seat of my fathers Chevy studying each passing car, memorizing its name, shape and sound.  I’d then test myself on long rides to guess the make and model of on-coming traffic.

Like most boys, I was interested in how fast each car could go and looked to the speedometer as an indicator for performance.  It was years before my Dad explained that top speed was just one aspect of a cars total performance.  Going fast in a straight line is great as long as you never encountered a curve.

This is a great metaphor for how we consider the speed to market advantages digital print advertises.  It’s not a straight line – curves are inevitable.

A critical part of the overall speed equation is the output device or print engine, but it’s not the only thing to consider.   The content management framework is ultimately the best indicator of overall speed.

If you can’t effectively manage the creation, editing and archiving of your marketing assets, how fast it gets printed is the least of your concerns.  There is little doubt that the sheer complexity of this part of the solution is tougher to solve for than a fast print engine.

Of the several pre-packaged content management solutions on the market, many of them feature robust digital asset management features and some provide trafficking and proofing options.  Unfortunately, few contemplate the need to tie all of these functions together.  Like curves in the road, changes inevitably affect the path of any document.  The real power lies of any content management system lies in providing the user the ability to customize the workflow for their business needs.  This kind of flexibility allows companies to remain competitive and adaptive.

In SKU or document intensive marketing environments, advanced search and editing is the most critical feature set to consider.   After all, I can’t print it until I can find and update every version that contains a particular word phrase or graphic.

If you’re seriously considering a digital workflow for its potential speed to market advantages, be sure to think through the entire solution, curves and all.  Let’s face it – if the markets that are most ideally suited to leverage the advantages of digital print were all straight lines things would be much simpler, and ultimately, less profitable.

How have you prepared for the curves ahead?

It’s About Time

Contributed by Ted Hagler

It’s 5am and the alarm goes off.  Today is the big day!  Not the day we put our “large  sheet” digital press on the floor, no, today is the day we take one of our “large 40 inch security blankets” off the floor.  Today a crew is coming to Fetter to remove a litho press we bought over twenty years ago.

Why the change?  It’s about time.

In this new world of complexity, high quality and mass customization, this well-built, carefully engineered, lithographic press has become obsolete due to time; the time it takes to set up one job.

In this world, job quantities are reducing and job diversity is proliferating.  Fetter recognizes the need to change jobs quickly and often.    In the time it takes to set up a job on the old 40 inch litho press, we could have the job complete on the new digital press.  Because time is typically money in the press room, the time we save with digital translates into lower waste and increased yield.

Arrival time.

For Fetter this transition process started over two years ago with an exploratory investigation into the needs of our label customers, moved into the building of one of the most comprehensive cost-analyzing databases and culminated into the testing of four very different digital presses and three of the latest sheet-fed  lithographic presses.  It involved labor changes, space consideration, process change and customer cooperation.

Time for change.

From a business operations standpoint we were able to quickly adapt many of the same quality requirements, productivity goals and job specifications from our current system.  This was a plus considering the additional time and cost it could have taken to change numerous practices and measurements at the same time we were asking so many employees to learn a new technology.  Another benefit was our ability to support this digital press with all the same finishing equipment we already had – and that our customers were comfortable with this tactic.  The finishing connection is significant because some digital presses force you to have different finishing equipment and processes, when coupled with the change in printing, creates additional stress in the plant and with our customers.

Remember, it’s all about time!

We are in the beginning of our second month of experiencing the dynamic capabilities of our new NexPress and the positive impact it is having on our plant.  Time will tell, but all indications point to exceeding our time efficiency expectations while delivering the product our customers need to succeed.

How is digital print changing the delivery of your products?

Demand More

Contributed by Dayna Neumann

When it comes to disruptive behavior in the consumer packaged goods market Method is taking on the laundry soap category like the super spin cycle on your Whirlpool.  Method has unabashedly taken on the Goliath of Proctor and Gamble with eye-catching packages that demand your attention and practically beg to be left on the counter and admired.  Despite the woefully un-hip nature of the cleaning products category, Method has challenged the notion that form and function cannot have equal roles in packaging.  Method demands more from their package design.  Method demands to be noticed.  What is holding other companies back from trying new designs?  One factor is the inherent complexity in changing a label or package.

In the not-so-distant past the limitations of package design were dictated by the production capabilities of the output devices.  A conventional litho press or foil stamping operation were typically cost and time prohibitive for adequate testing of a new package or label designs.  If the cost and time to convert to a new label or package is prohibitive, innovation is stifled.  Companies stayed with the tried and true designs making annual tweaks or cautious adjustments.  Over time, this approach begins to dictate your presence in the marketplace.  Why do we allow an output device to determine our market presence?

In the digital era these limitations were improved but other limitations took their place, like size constraints and poor color.  Unfortunately, the speed of innovation in digital print has not matched the market demand for change until recently.  With larger format sizes, remarkable color quality and enhanced coatings techniques, consumer packaged goods companies have a new found freedom in the latest digital press technology.

Even the most staid products, like laundry soap, will enjoy new growth opportunities with digital print.  Companies who learn to harness the power of digital print for packaging stand to gain ground on their competitors by testing new package and label designs in a cost effective way.  Beyond testing, CPG companies can localize their labeling to the store level and create a totally unique customer experience.  Imagine seeing your local landmark or event displayed on labels in your nearby Home Depot.  With advances in press technology, digital has begun to disrupt the packaging world and given not-so-hip products the freedom to shake things up a bit.

Are you demanding more from your packaging?

The Demand for On Demand

Contributed by Terry Gill

Output agnostic. That’s where I’d like to start this conversation. It’s a concept we’ve been knocking around for several years as we’ve watched the incredible pace of change inside the marketing communications and business solutions marketplace.

As a company, we want to establish mindset where the output is whatever it needs to be. It can be determined by economics, risk factors, consumer preference or some other determinant, but we are to have zero bias. It may need to deliver from a very large piece of iron, the latest digital press or it may simply remain in its digital state as PDF.

Our role is to ensure the output choice isn’t influencing how we chose to manage the content. Think of it as the antithesis of the well-worn “Begin with the end in mind” approach. It’s beginning without worrying about what comes at the end. It’s really a freeing and powerful concept, but requires a different philosophy.

To really embrace and live out this concept you have to choose a different path. Its one where the value proposition isn’t defined by size, number or speed of our output devices; those are things that are easy to understand and exploit. They are linear and scalable. They plug in.

Marrying smartly designed and functional web facing content management tools with an output agnostic business model creates a new kind of value. And for those souls who live inside business climates that are heavily regulated, this new way can be more than just a means of surviving. Will this become a real competitive advantage or at least a fair fight?