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9 posts from November 2018

McKinsey finds that good design is a corporate goal as important as revenue and profit

  1. Design performance is a measurable goal like revenue and profit, and top management should treat it as such. 
  2. The customer experience at every touchpoint is all part of the same product/service design. 
  3. Employees achieve design excellence by working on cross-functional teams. 
  4. Commitment to constant testing, measuring and revising is crucial. 

McKinsey Quarterly: The Business Value of Design, 2018-October, by Benedict Sheppard, Hugo Sarrazin, Garen Kouyoumjian, and Fabricio Dore

The diversity among companies achieving top-quartile MDI performance shows that design excellence is within the grasp of every business, whether product, service, or digitally oriented. Through interviews and our experience working with companies to transform their strength in design, we’ve also discovered that one of the most powerful first steps is to select an important upcoming product or service and make a commitment to using it as a pilot for getting the four elements right. This approach showed far better financial results than trying to improve design as a theme across the whole company—for example, conducting trials of cross-functional work in isolation from real products or services.


Address clearance service

Perhaps we need an address clearance service. People used to be able to use the post office for this... "Notify everyone who mails me that my address has changed." We need to have this for every way we connect. And people need to own their data. 

Max Niederhofer blog: Why are contacts still such a mess, 2018-Nov-4

When I think of building contacts consumer software, I think it should be fully decentralized. Everyone should have their own record and permission who gets to see what (name, email, phone number, postal address in increasing level of sensitivity). An app sounds like the right way to do that.

Then scale it via OAuth to other apps: if you’re in contact with a person in Gmail, call them on the phone, meet them in person as tracked by calendar, prompt a data access permission flow.

And don’t even think about replacing the address book. Just build it alongside it, without touching the old world.

The nice thing about contacts, of course, is that you can grow virally (carefully, without spamming the world).

For some reason every company we have ever seen try to build something like this has failed. I’m not sure why.

If you are thinking about taking a crack at the problem, talk to the folks who did Bump, Brewster, Plaxo, who are now doing FullContact. I’m sure there’s a wealth of knowledge there.


What's Unusual about Innovation at Amazon

At Digital Tonto, Greg Satell reviews the innovation method used by Amazon, warning that all companies should develop a process that reflects their own values and strengths. 

The Amazon approach has three unusual angles which we could copy:

  • Whereas the marketing communication materials are usually put together long after the product has been designed and tested, the Amazon innovation process begins with the creator thinking about what the customer will want and need to know.
  • Writing, revising and getting feedback about the writing are a proxy for THINKING. At Amazon, thinking about the product under development is more clear and distributed than is usual in many companies. 
  • When in a meeting, junior members comment first, senior members last. This is an inspired way to minimize the herd mentality. 

Here's my summary of the process, followed by Greg's detailed description:

For every new product under development, write a press release and an FAQ. Both parts are important for projecting customer understanding and response to a new product or service. These documents should be shared and critiqued by collaborators. Meetings should be few, slow and limited in attendance. There are no presentations but the meeting starts with an initial reading period, followed by feedback first from the most junior person present and then working up to the "hippo" (highest paid person with an opinion). 

Digital Tonto: How Amazon Innovates, 2018-Oct-7 by Greg Satell

At the heart of how Amazon innovates is its six-page memo, which is required at the start of every new initiative. What makes it effective isn’t so much the structure of the document itself, but how it is used to embed a fanatical focus on the customer from the day one. It’s something that Amazon employees have impressed upon them early in their careers.

So the first step in developing Prime Now was to write a press release. Landry’s document was not only a description of the service, but how hypothetical customers would react to it. How did the service affect them? What surprised them about it? What concerns did they want addressed? The exercise forced her to internalize how Amazon customers would think and feel about Prime Now from the very start.

Next she wrote a series of FAQ’s anticipating concerns for both customers and for various stakeholders within the firm, like the CFO, operations people and the leadership of the Prime program. So Landry had to imagine what questions each would have, how any issues would be resolved and then explain things in clear, concise language.

All of this happens before the first meeting is held, a single line of code is written or an early prototype is built, because the company strongly believes that until you internalize the customer’s perspective, nothing else really matters. That’s key to how the company operates.... 

Each meeting starts out with a 30-60 minute reading period in which everybody digests the memo. From there, all attendees are asked to share gut reactions — senior leaders typically speak last — and then delve into what might be missing, ask probing questions and drill down into any potential issues that may arise.

Subsequent meetings follow the same pattern to review the financials, hone the concept and review mockups as the team further refines ideas and assumptions. It’s usually not one big piece of feedback that you get,” Landry stressed. “It is really all about the smaller questions, they help you get to a level of detail that really brings the idea to life.”


Defining and maintaining our communities

As people get busy they are unlikely to maintain their community, so if you want someone in your IRL community, you have to take responsibility to get them out there. I recently began scrolling through my contacts and reminding people to come to events with me, or to see me for coffee, wine or a walk. The response level is surprising. I used to focus too much on specific people. Now I'm finding out who shares my desire for more community. 

Outside: It's Okay to Be Good and Not Great, 2018-Oct-16 by Brad Stulberg

Foster an “In-Real-Life” Community

Perhaps one of the most detrimental consequences of digital technology is the illusion of connection. We think that if we can tweet, post, text, e-mail, or even call someone, we’re good. After all, digital relationships save us the time and coordination of meeting in person, which in turn allows us to be überproductive—or so we tell ourselves. But here’s the thing: nothing can replace in-person community, and our failed attempts to do so come at a grave cost.

In their book, The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century (2010), Harvard psychiatry professors Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz profile the rise of loneliness and decline of meaningful relationships. An increased focus on “productivity and the cult of busyness,” they write, has led to a sharp decline in deep communities and a rise in social isolation and related mood disorders. Other research shows that physical touch itself is critical for happiness, comfort, and belonging. In-person community is also key to performance. Multiple studies show that wearable technologies don’t come close to the power of “in-real-life” friends when it comes to making positive behavior changes. And this is true at all levels. Defending New York City Marathon champion Shalane Flanagan has repeatedly credited her training community (not her Instagram followers) for her longevity and success. “I don’t think I’d still be running if not for my training partners,” she says. “These women support me through both highs and lows.”

Bottom line: The extra effort it takes to regularly be with others “in real life” is worth it.


Planning your newsletter with the time-frame measure of relationships

Newsletter frequency is traditionally every month, but weekly newsletters are becoming more popular. Newsletters that arrive without fail on the same day each week become part of many people's routine, especially if they reliably make a contribution to someone's life. 

Blue Penguin Development: The Friendship Illusion, 2018-Oct-19 by Michael Kat

Time frame and relationship strength are tightly correlated

When it comes to topics of discussion, in general, the better you and I know each other, the more frequently we communicate and, therefore, the narrower the time frame of the news we share.

My wife: one day.

My friends Matt and Rick who I meet at our local bar most Tuesday nights: one week.

People I went to high school with: 40 years.

All of this has important implications for the way you write and, in turn, the effectiveness of your marketing.

Simply put, if you want people to feel like they know you well, use short, specific time frames.


Competing with Amazon... finding a better reason to buy stuff.

Of course. I have big plans to create a business that Amazon can't touch. Yes,... I am a fool. 

Max Niederhofer: The Amazon "kill zone" in DTC, 2018-Oct-4

So what's Amazon not good at? Where do startups have an edge? Because Amazon certainly has structural advantages in scale, capital, data, and probably people.

Right now, it looks like the advantage lies in "the other ways in which people want to shop." Whether it's through their friends, by following an influencer, by falling in love with the narrative of the brand, by joining a community of like-minded, passionate individuals for whom the brand is their joint expression of belonging.

That emotion is not "Amazon" at its core.

Extending this "authentic emotional connection" micro-thesis a bit, it suggests a playbook that looks fairly different from many of the DTC brands that we're seeing in the market. Most important, perhaps, is the experimentation at the early stage that looks at what helps people fall in love with your product. What gets them to not just want to join, but want to build your community? As Rebecca notes, what causes them to set up Facebook groups, ask for swag, refer their friends, come back to buy again and again?