Join us this Sunday at ProductCamp Toronto

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ProductCamp Toronto is fast approaching. Join in and help make the event a success.

  • Suggest a tagline or vote for an existing suggestion. Hurry, voting closes today!
  • Suggest a session topic or vote for an existing one. Voting for topics closes on Friday.
  • Pre-register to indicate that you want to attend or volunteer.
  • Become a sponsor. It’s not too late!

And most important of all, show up on Sunday morning, October 4th at the Ted Rogers School of Management in downtown Toronto. Learn from others, share your experiences, meet new people, and maybe win some prizes from our sponsors.

See you there.

8 lessons we can learn from Infomercials

pitchmenYou know you’re a Products Geek, when you find a show like Pitchmen appealing.

Pitchmen, on the Discovery Channel, is a behind the scenes docudrama about infomerical marketers and how they  identify products to promote, develop the pitch and then take the products to market.

The show stars the late Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan, two very successful and well known television direct marketers.

While it’s very easy to brush these guys off as selling gimmicky items to uninformed consumers, there are lessons to be learned from watching these guys operate.

And that’s what I like about the show. It presents some of the discipline and process they follow for the products they market and sell. Here’s a list of some of the behind the scenes work they do.

1. They look for problems that a lot of people have.

  • Stain or smell remover: Yes
  • An acoustic shark repellent: No

2. They test out the products and validate they actually live up to their claims.

  • Can the odor remover get rid of foul smells from hockey equipment?
  • Can a vertical grill actually cook as well as a traditional horizontal grill?

3. They listen to others carefully, getting feedback from potential users of the product.

  • For a self-rotating pool side lounge chair, aimed at removing the need to manually rotate a chair to get optimal exposure of the sun, they enlisted some swimsuit models to test them out. After the trial, they not only asked what they thought of the product, but asked how could the chair be improved. One of the testers suggested cup holders.  Not a bad suggestion.

4. The benefits of the product have to be clearly demonstrable with a number of use cases.

  • For a food grater, they grate garlic, chocolate, cheese, citrus zest and other foods. The objective is to present a broad number of real use cases  to show utility and value. This is clearly an area where technology companies need to improve when thinking about how they demo their own products.

5. They always try to find at least one “Wow!” aspect for each product.

  • For a shoe insert product that claims to eliminate impact from running or other sports, they put their hand under a pad made of the same material as the insert, and then hit the pad with a hammer. Then they took their hand out and wiggled all their fingers to show they were undamaged. Can you say “Wow!”?

6. They craft the messaging and the pitch, being very particular to the words they choose.

  • Whether via rhymes or alliterations or carefully crafted wording, the right word at the right time can make a big difference in how a product is perceived.  For example, with a product for grating food, the lines “grate cheese with ease” and “for zest it’s the best” are used. Don’t think these stick in people’s memories? Remember that line from the OJ Simpson trial? “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must…”

7. They ensure price points that will be appealing for their audience.

  • With a vertical grill product (think of a big single slice toaster that grills burgers, steaks etc. vertically) they went to one of their partner companies who tried to source a manufacturing partner that could build product cost-effectively enough that they could sell it for $50.  The partner couldn’t bring the price point low enough and so they said “No” to the product, even though it met all their other criteria.

8. They are data driven business people.

  • While they may come across as shady marketers, they are clearly rather sophisticated (and successful) in what they do. They test out their pitches in local markets, measure the results, adjust their pitch, and test again. When they go national, they are very confident that they have something with mass appeal that people will buy.
  • This is probably the most important lesson that Product Managers should remember. They definitely follow the “Nail it, then scale it” mantra.

Overall, I find Pitchmen to be a bit of a guilty pleasure. I’ve got it scheduled for recording on my PVR. Even so, it is educational and every episode reminds me of basic marketing principles that have broad applicability and value.


$20,480 per Gigabyte!!!

Here’s a great example of where cost vs. pricing is completely out of control.

I have a BlackBerry for work. I travel quite a bit in my job. My travel is primarily within Canada and the United States. Living in Canada, I needed a phone plan that included North American long distance and roaming, as well as data access throughout North America.

Clearly with a BlackBerry, data access is critical.  I do try to minimize the data I access with it where possible. I don’t open big email attachments with it, and I have turned off image download when browsing websites.

I spent a few weeks this summer in the US. I got my bill and was surprised to see data overage charges amounting to about $40. I have a data plan with a 1 GB limit and I know I don’t even come close to that amount in a given month.

When I called my service provider to ask about the overage charges, the CSR said that my data plan only applies to Canada and that when in the US, there is a charge of about $1 per MB of data usage.

This was surprising for two reasons:

  1. I have a fairly expensive plan that I thought covered all my my North American dialing and data
  2. $1 per MB is $1024 per GB of data!!!

Think about that one a minute.  About $1000 to wirelessly download 1 GB of data when I’m in the US. I didn’t realize electrons and radio waves were that expensive! Thank goodness I turned off the image download when browsing the Web.

When I expressed my surprise to the CSR about the extreme cost of this, he said that I was actually getting a discount on my US data access because of an option I had purchased with my data plan.

Without that option, the cost would be $20 per MB. Yes, that is twenty dollars per megabyte, or over $20,000 per gigabyte of data! WTF??

I said in shock, “Are you kidding me? That’s completely ridiculous!”

He started a sentence where he was going to tell me how expensive it is for them to provide the service. In mid sentence, I asked him to stop because I really didn’t want to hear whatever excuse he was going to give.

I know this cost of $20 per MB is artificially high because the companies want to extort incent people into getting additional service options, and (at least in Canada), the lack of any effective competition and incentive makes Canada one of the most expensive countries in the world for cell phone rates.

honda accordBut really? $20,000 per Gigabyte??? I could buy this car for about that much money?

So, if you’ve got about $20,000 burning a hole in your pocket, give it to me(!), or go to your nearest Honda dealer and get a new set of wheels.

Or, make sure you DON’T have a US data plan with a Canadian cell phone provider, go across the border with your Blackberry or iPhone, and then click this link, login, download and look forward to your next phone bill.


Product Management Metrics (part 2)

In Part 1, I defined the mandate of Product Management as:

Product Management’s mandate is to optimize the business at a product, product line or product portfolio level over the product lifecycle.

I’ve emphasized 3 words: optimize, business and lifecycle.

Optimization is the process of changing a system to make it work efficiently within a set of given constraints.

Fundamentally, this is what Product Management is all about: how to invest limited resources to deliver competitive products to market, that are in line with market demands and expectations and then working with other teams to better enable them to reach their targets that make up overall business goals. 🙂

Product Management must always keep business goals in mind and work to achieve or help achieve those goals within the context of the products or product lines.  Business goals are typically related to revenue, expense, customer acquisition, market share, geographic expansion or organizational improvement. This is a sample list of goals and doesn’t imply that Product Management must focus on these areas.

It’s important to keep in mind that business goals differ across the product lifecycle.  A product lifecycle can be defined as having the following stages:

  • Development
  • Introduction/Launch
  • Growth
  • Maturity
  • Decline
  • End of Life

There may be variations on these stages, but this represents the major phases that a product will pass through. And the goals and objectives for the product will vary at each of these stages. For example, the Development phase usually is pre-revenue. In this phase, Product Management is focused on understanding market needs and working with various parties (internal and external) to create a product or solution that addresses those needs.

With Launch, the goals for the product can include initial customer acquisition, validation of the product in the market, educating influencers, generating awareness etc. Revenue obviously becomes a major factor after Launch, as do goals such as customer retention and ongoing competitive differentiation. The other phases — Growth, Maturity, Decline and End of Life (EOL) — all bring their own challenges, constraints  and objectives.

Given the changing objectives over the product lifecycle, the goals of Product Management will change, activities to achieve those goals will change and the metrics that are used to measure them will change.

In part 3, I’ll get more specific, and lay out a model that people can apply to their products or product lines. It is important to note that there is no “one size fits all” solution here. Only at the highest level of business reporting– customer acquisition, revenue, customer retention etc. — can there be a single set of metrics for most products.

Because of the breadth of potential technology products — e.g. SaaS vs. Licensed software, a consumer product vs. a B2B product, infrastructure vs applications, a retail product vs. an OEM product  etc. — specific metrics across the lifecycle will vary.

Department vs. Role

I do want to make take a few moments to address a question related to role metrics vs. department metrics. That is, the metrics used for measuring a Product Manager, vs. the metrics used for measuring Product Management as a whole.

In small  companies, there may only be a single Product Manager for a given product or product line.  I’ve been in that situation myself a couple of times. In those cases, metrics for the Product Manager are pretty much the same as that for the Department.

But in larger companies, where there truly is a Product Management team, most likely with differentiated roles for PMs (e.g. Technical Product Manager (TPM) , Sr. Product Manager, Director Product Management etc.) the metrics that would be used to measure individuals likely would be different that those for the entire team.

For example, a TPM would likely spend much of their time working with Engineering during a development cycle or researching technical issues for upcoming releases, whereas a Director would be more focused on overall product strategy, business alignment, strategic partnerships etc.

The Product Management team may be measured on product revenue, delivering a new release successfully etc., but individuals in that team would have other role specific metrics tied to their individual activities and responsibilities as well.

As mentioned earlier,  in part3, I’ll get more specific and present a model that could be applied or adapted by Product Management teams.


Input needed: A tagline for ProductCamp Toronto


We’re just about 2 weeks away from ProductCamp Toronto on October 4, 2009. We’re coming down to the wire on picking a tag line.

We’re using UserVoice to generate ideas and let people vote.

—–>> Click here <<——     to view, suggest and vote on a tag line.

Voting will close Monday Sept. 21, 2009, so hurry up and have your voice heard.