How not to advertise your company

by Saeed Khan

I’ve been traveling a fair bit lately and often read the billboard ads in the airports. Every so often, an ad stands out, and not because of it’s merits unfortunately.

Here are two ads I saw on recent trips.  Have you seen similar or worse? If so send it our way. Upload the image via the Contact Us form.

When you have nothing distinctive to say…

Northern Arizona Amongst top 300 Business Schools

This image was taken at McCarran  Airport in Las Vegas.  What caught my eye was “300 Best”, which is probably what the ad creators intended. But then when I read it, I let out a laugh.

Click on the image to enlarge, but the ad (for Northern Arizona University) says:

“Our business school’s Accelerated MBA program is ranked among the 300 best”

And they cite the Princeton Review rankings as their source.

Now, I’m no fancy marketer with a fancy marketing degree from a fancy MBA school (like Northern Arizona University), but being amongst the 300 best MBA programs in the United States doesn’t sound that amazing. Are there even 300 MBA programs in the US?

A quick bit of web research and we have our answer.

a) The Princeton Review site itself, lists only the top 295 Business SchoolsPrinceton Review banner for top 295 business schools.






So being in the top 300 in a ranking of 295 schools is a pretty amazing feat.

b) In all of the United States (according to Wikipedia), there are only 299 AACSB Accredited business schools.

Yes, I counted them :-), and yes, Northern Arizona University’s MBA program is accredited.

But what I honestly don’t understand is how such a ridiculous ad was approved and money spent on it.  It doesn’t highlight ANYTHING about the school or the program, and simply makes a sad attempt at value by association. i.e. we must be good because the Princeton Review included us in the list.

Have you seen anything similar to this in product advertising?

Nice idea, but very flawed execution

This second image was taken at Pearson Airport here in Toronto (my hometown).

Take a look at the ad and see if you see the flaw. Click the image to enlarge.

Because of the flaw, I actually had to read it a couple of times to understand what they were trying to say.  The ad copy reads:

After studying the critical elements of Dow’s business, guess what we’re helping them save?

Let me guess?

a) Bisexual Lions
b) Money on proof-readers
c) the letter “L”

    I actually had to read this 2 or 3 times until my brain realized it was saying “Billions” — i.e there is huge spelling mistake front and center. How did the folks at Accenture, Dow and the advertising agency not catch this, or worse, think it was acceptable?

    The spelling error (intentional or not) completely distracts from the message. There’s creativity and cleverness and then there’s dumb. In this case, I’m pretty sure somebody pointed out the spelling issue and as overruled. There’s no element in the periodic table whose symbol is just the letter L, and I’m sure the ad company felt the concept was “too good” to have to deal with realities like spelling.

    As mentioned above, if you’ve seen some bad advertising lately, take a picture and send it to us via the Contact Us form, and maybe we’ll blog about it.

    Tweet this: How not to advertise your company #prodmgmt #marketing #advertising


    About the author

    Saeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership.

    Your first days…as the head of Product Management

    Take time to work on the business, not just in the business.—Richard Rhodes

    Do you lead a new product management team? Where should you begin?

    In The World Is Flat , Thomas Friedman expressed his view of the government’s primary role: to provide infrastructure. Make it easy to start a business, protect our persons and property from harm, provide ways to get products from point a to point b (ie. roads), and enable information transfer (such as phones and internet).

    What is the role of senior leadership, particularly the head of product management? Isn’t it the same? To provide infrastructure.

    In my experience, decisions are being made at all the wrong levels of most organizations. Executive teams are dabbling in product and portfolio prioritization while product managers are trying to determine (or guess) the product strategy. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

    The product manager is expected to represent the business of the product so your dev teams can make technical decisions. At the start of a project, the product manager (or product owner or product leader) should express the strategic direction, the roadmap, and the business issues. But what seems to happen in real life is product teams make decisions in the absence of any meaningful insights from management about the product and portfolio direction.

    What should you tackle in your role of VP of product management?

    Think infrastructure.

    Optimize your processes. What processes do you have in place to turn ideas into products? And how do new products get to the market? Fundamentally, product management needs repeatable processes to define and launch new product capabilities. Development teams have adopted agile methods to optimize their delivery of new products. Shouldn’t you do the same?

    Clarify roles and responsibilities. What is the product manager’s role? How about product owner and product marketing manager? Do they have different responsibilities? Just as you need optimized processes, you need clarity on the roles and responsibilities of product management. Profiling your team will identify where individuals need help as well as skill areas for future staffing decisions. For instance, if you’re strong in technical expertise, maybe you need to staff up for business expertise.

    Identify up-skilling requirements. Identify the strengths and weaknesses on your team and develop a plan to bring each employee up to speed. HR professionals often recommend allocating 3% of an employee’s annual compensation for training and coaching.

    Improve internal perceptions. How do other departments perceive your team? If their perceptions aren’t favorable it’s often because they have expectations that are out of sync with yours. While many departments expect product management to provide product and domain expertise, most leadership teams rely on product management for business and market expertise.

    * * *

    In my experience organizations are unclear about the roles and responsibilities and titles of product management. Some product managers are technical; some aren’t. Every product manager uses different templates, tools they’ve found or developed or brought back from training sessions, each with a different look and feel.

    As an product management executive, you want a common set of methods so you don’t have to “learn” each deliverable every time. Clarifying responsibilities, processes and deliverables are the first steps to optimizing product management.

    Related: See Rich Mironov’s “What We Need in a VP of Product Management” for a different take on the success profile of a product management leader.

    Tweet this: Your first days…as the head of Product Management #prodmgmt

    Mobile Business Applications – Managing the Product Twice

    By Rivi Aspler

    Many companies (especially the big ones) are still investing considerable efforts in the development of independent desktop, tablet and smartphone applications. Why? Because the needs of heavy-duty enterprise applications cannot be reduced to a single UI design that is common to all three targets.

    Unfortunately, Responsive Web Design has not proved yet to be an efficient tool to approach rich business applications. For Product Managers, this means double the effort. They must now:

    1. Acknowledge that the new desktop is the Tablet.
    2. Decide which features should be available on each device; Meaning, what should be available on both Tablets and Smartphones as opposed to what should be available only on Tablets. This is an important decision. To clearly differentiate, the Smartphone version will be targeted at a specific role or to a specific set of functions.
    3. Define and design two modes of interaction - Tablet based and Smartphone based. Also an important step, if you want to ensure high adoption level of both products, different designs are needed. For a feature, such as ‘view my schedule’,  the different screen resolutions requires the UI designer to design the interaction modes in two different ways, hence requiring extra time for developers to implement.


    Luckily there are still cross-device interaction guidelines that you should be aware of. Both Tablets and Smartphone products require:

    • Touch gestures
    • Touch target sizes
    • Flattened information hierarchy
    • Layered content (see the screenshot below)
    • Minimize the need for scrolling
    • All orientations support
    • Graphically rich content
    • Collaboration oriented (call/share…)


    Smartphone applications require an even more focused definition and design.

    • Focused as possible target audience/role
    • Micro Tasking
    • Fewer interaction options
    • Small snippets of info


    Product management for mobile business applications is an emerging activity. The knowledge gathered from building eCommerce, games or functionally poor mobile websites will simply not do. Heavy duty, function-rich business applications require a paradigm change.  The guidelines listed above are just the starting point. I’m sure that this post will require on going updates. I wonder what they will be?

    Meanwhile, the following information sources are certainly worth your time:


    Tweet this: Mobile Business Applications. Managing the Product Twice #prodmgmt #mobile

    About the author

    Rivi is a product manager with over 15 years of product life-cycle management experience, at enterprise sized companies (SAP), as well as with small to medium-sized companies. Practicing product management for years, Rivi now feels she has amassed thoughts and experiences that are worth sharing.

    How to prep your team for an annual review

    In my first job out of college, I was a programmer in Fort Worth. The job was challenging but not very clearly defined so it took me a while to find a good working scenario. By the end of my first year, I knew what I was doing but I wasn’t too thrilled with it. At my annual review, my boss said, “I don’t think you should continue working here.” (YIKES!) But then he added, “I’d like you to interview with a friend of mine in Dallas.” He looked at my skills and performance, and realized that I would be better suited as a sales engineer than as a programmer. Now that’s a manager!

    Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the annual performance review is a required event at many companies. Many on your team see the annual performance review as a healthy discussion about their careers. Or else face them with dread, fearing you’ll have nothing helpful to say.

    They also think you spend a lot more time on these reviews than you probably do. From their standpoint, you hold their career in your hands. They don’t realize that you have to do one of these damn things for every person on your staff and the work is more annoying than anything else.

    From “Invasion of the Annual Reviews” by Phyllis Korkki

    The annual performance evaluation is “this weird form you fill out every year that has nothing to do with everyday life,” said Robert Sutton, a professor and organizational psychologist at Stanford and co-author of the forthcoming book “Scaling Up Excellence.” Sutton is wary of rankings and yearly evaluations in general. Many organizations, he said, would be better off if they provided continuous feedback, with formal evaluations coming into play mainly if a worker is being eyed for promotion or has shown substandard performance.

    Your people should value your feedback. Good or bad, knowing where they stand can only be helpful.

    Start with current status. Do you have a product status dashboard or score card? You should have a one-page summary of the state of every product your team manages. (If not, see mine here). Could you use a similar approach for your team’s accomplishments? Whether by person or by product, a summary cheat-sheet is a helpful tool to get you prepared for your evaluations.

    Get a success memo. I suppose in an ideal world we’d keep a log of all the good and bad things employees did throughout the year but I certainly never have. As managers, we tend to have short-term memory; we can probably only remember the last thing an employee did, or perhaps the last bad thing an employee did. We surely don’t remember some of their successes from six months ago. So ask them for a “success” memo. Get your folks to write a list of accomplishments: the projects they worked on, their product deliverables, their goals achieved. You’ll likely be surprised at some of the things they tell you about—things you’ve long ago forgotten but were really big at the time.

    Discuss growth and stretch goals. In your face-to-face discussion, talk about their career plans and help identify specific activities to help them achieve their goals. One product manager wanted to better understand the mechanics of trade shows so putting that item on their next year objectives made sense. Another wanted a closer relationship with sales people so we discussed good and bad approaches for working with the sales team.

    Discuss how to move to the next step in the career ladder. There’s an old rule of management that you need to be grooming your replacement if you ever want to be promoted yourself. Your existing team members are likely the best candidates to take over your job. Discuss where your employees want to be in the next few years and give them specific tips on how to get there. I used to ask my team to write next year’sresume and then we’d work this year to make it become true. In fact, a current resume is a pretty good tool for discussing where your team members’ pasts and potential futures.

    Share your own challenges. Be sure to take some time to solicit help and advice from your product managers. It’s always easier to see things from the outside and you may be amazed what observations they have that you’re too close to see. After all, you hired your people to help you solve business problems; let them help you solve your business problems!


    As a manager, you owe it to your employees to give them career counseling. But don’t do all the data gathering yourself. Use existing information or get your employees to pull the raw data together. Then use your management skills and career experience to analyze the data so you can provide specific recommendations. Your team will appreciate that you cared enough to prepare a meaningful assessment.

    How much can one head hold?

    Anyone who acquires deep expertise does so at the expense of breadth.—Andrew Hargadon, author, How Breakthroughs Happen

    In my experience, people have either breadth or depth. Some people have a little information about almost every topic. After all, most people only have so much room in their heads. Some people have a lot of information about one topic. Do they have breadth on multiple topics or depth on a single topic?

    If we assume we all have room for 9 clumps of information out of our 100 billion neurons, we can profile knowledge in a number of ways: I, T, square, and hyphen. Technical people like developers and engineers tend to be I-shaped (depth but not much breadth). Sales and marketing people tend to be hyphen-shaped (breadth but not depth).

    And that’s okay.

    After all, imagine you’re a sales or marketing person in a large software company. You have hundreds of products and dozens of customers. You’ll need breadth to keep all that in your head. But since product managers typically have responsibility for three products, they’re able to go deeper into those product areas than others. And when developers work on only one product, they can go really deep on it.

    I often hear frustration from product managers and developers that our sales people lack depth, but how much do you know about other products at your company?

    It’s the depth that makes certain people brilliant at their jobs but it’s breadth that makes them able to look beyond their specialty to other branches of information. Perhaps that’s why product managers are so often tapped by sales and marketing people to provide product information. Product managers know a lot about their products but they also have information about how that product fits into client environments.

    I characterized four types of expertise in my free ebook, Product Management Expertise. In brief, these are business, market, domain, and technology. And it’s rare to find depth in all four in a single person.

    Nowadays, hiring managers often seek impossible-to-find “square-shaped” people with breadth and depth when they should be looking for “T-shaped” product managers.

    I mean, really, how much can one head hold?

    Related posts

    Prabhakar Gopalan wrote about T-shaped people at

    Sarah Devanzo explains the concept of “E-shaped” people at

    Wikipedia article on T-shaped skills at

    The Applied Frameworks Product Scorecard

    What do you use for a dashboard or scorecard? Do you have one slide that paints the overall product picture for your executive team?

    You can use the Under 10 Planning Canvas tool as a product scorecard. Put one or two key elements in each area to show the status of your product.

    Product Scorecard

    On the left side, you would state your business goals and market focus; these would likely come from your business canvas or business plan. In the right-most column you’ll want to show your business results and market position, probably updated annually. You could update the business results more often since that number is probably available internally.

    In the middle, what operational KPI’s would you show to track the health of the product, promotion, sales, and operations? These are likely very different from one business to another. Here are some ideas.

    • Product: the number of outstanding defects; the number of stories completed for the upcoming release; scheduled date of next potentially shippable increment.
    • Promotion: numbers or names of campaigns planned for the next 90 days; number of leads turned over to sales.
    • Sales: percentages of wins and losses; number of deals or potential revenue in the 90-day pipeline.
    • Operations. Number of users supported; percentage of uptime; number of outstanding trouble tickets.

    What’s on your product scorecard? Add a comment below to share your ideas.

    [Download the Applied Frameworks Product Scorecard (Powerpoint format)]

    The Cost of A ‘Good Enough’ Product

    By Rivi Aspler

    good enough road sign

    Every company (hopefully) has a clear strategy which is reflected in its market positioning.

    Whether it’s your technological IP, your industry expertise, or simply a cost-effective solution, a prospect will close a deal with you because you have succeeded in proving that you are doing something better than your competitors.

    So far, the theory is as simple as it can get. Practically, this is where things get interesting.

    Assuming that your company’s resources are limited and you are neither Apple nor Google (brand wise), can you rely on a product strategy that offers just ‘good enough’ products and leverages other key differentiators such as better professional services or a more cost-effective solution?

    Since you are probably not a monopoly, the answer to this question relies on your competitors product investments.  Are your competitors investing lots of resources in building strong products (IP-based features, Mobile First, Fully SaaS, Socially enabled, with Embedded Analytics etc.)? If the answer is YES, be careful as your ‘just good enough’ product will become the weakest product in the market.

    Maybe it’s a cliché, but that’s very much like trying to sell a horse when all the others are already offering cars. Can you say “Blackberry”?

    There are many examples of products that became obsolete.  It’s exciting as well as disturbing to see how fast products can change. Do you remember the last time that you took film based pictures, rented a movie at a video store, found your way around using a printed map, or used a pay-phone?

    Cutting a long story short, next time that you are about to settle for just the critical features while neglecting your long-term roadmap, at least bring to the discussions-table the product status of your competitors.

    At best, it will give you more ‘development-days’ budget. At worst, it will at least remind you that the gap between you and your competitors is increasing.



    Tweet this: The Cost of a ‘Good Enough’ Product #prodmgmt

    Worth Repeating: 4 questions to help determine the value of your new product (or service)

    By Saeed Khan

    I’ve been helping a couple of friends get their small businesses off the ground. These are not technology or software companies, but simply, small local service businesses. I’m helping them because they are my friends, but also because I think each has the seeds of a real, sustainable business.  But to help them get clarity and focus on their business I’ve asked each of them to try to answer the four questions listed in this post.  I thought it would be a good idea to bring them back from the archives and share again with all of you. Let me know what you think.


    Way back…I mean way, way back — I think it was in the 1980s — yes, that far back, I started a small consulting business with a friend.

    One of the best decisions we made early on was to find a mentor – Reid – who could help guide us as we moved forward. Reid was a young, but successful VC.

    Having more enthusiasm than experience, we had lots of ideas for what we could do. And we’d run these ideas by Reid.  He gave his feedback each time, but after a few of these sessions,  instead of fishing for us, Reid decided to metaphorically, teach us to fish.

    Reid passed on some advice that I still remember to this day.

    For every idea, he told us to ask ourselves 4 questions. And if we could honestly answer those 4 questions and were satisfied with our answers, the idea was likely one we should pursue.  The 4 questions were:

    1. What problem(s) are you solving?
    2. Who are you solving them for?
    3. What is your competitive advantage?
    4. Is the competitive advantage sustainable?

    Now let’s analyse each. And although these were asked in the context of consulting, they totally apply when thinking about products. Because what else is consulting, if not productizing services.

    What problem(s) are you solving?

    This is pretty straight forward. As a consultant, you must be solving a problem for someone. Our ideas were usually described as solutions; but solutions to what? Reid was forcing us to be very clear about the problems our consulting services would solve for potential customers. We had to be able to articulate that clearly.

    Who are you solving them for?

    And the follow up question, fundamentally asked, who the buyer was? Implicit in these two questions was a 3rd question, which was, does that “who” care about solving “those problems”? i.e. is the problem really a problem the person would pay us money to solve.

    What’s your competitive advantage?

    This was an interesting question, and one that – way back then – I didn’t really understand well.  But clearly what he was asking was why would they hire us? What skills, knowledge or extra value were we providing that would be hard for them to get elsewhere. This was a really difficult question to answer, especially because we hadn’t really thought much about who our competition was? But competition could also mean other alternatives already available to them, which unfortunately often included, do nothing.

    Is the competitive advantage sustainable?

    Another not so easy question for us. We couldn’t answer question 3 well, so how could we answer question 4? But this was in fact the linchpin question. There’s no point in embarking into a business unless you can define how you can keep ahead of (or at minimum abreast with) the competition.

    What is the “secret sauce” or IP or business model or other differentiator you have over others? It may be simple or complex, but you need to understand it and be able to articulate it, because otherwise, you’re just another little fish in the big pond.

    These 4 questions left an impression on me and I regularly think about them when looking at new product ideas. If the answers aren’t satisfactory, then either more research is needed or the idea is a dud.

    Ask yourself, could you easily answer these 4 questions for any products you manage, or for any new products you’re looking to bring to market?


    Tweet this: 4 questions to help determine the value of your new product (or service) #prodmgmt

    About the author

    Saeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership.

    You’re a Product Manager and You Don’t See Eye to Eye with These People. Good!

    By Rivi Aspler

    Product managers are the ones who bridge gaps between various opinion leaders, both  internal and external to the organization.

    If you are a product manager and you don’t see eye-to-eye with many of the following teams, rest assured, you not alone. And rest assured you are in the same boat as many other product managers who do not automatically agree with the positions of those teams.

    Each group is focused largely (and many times exclusively) on their goals and objectives alone. Doesn’t matter what other teams need to do.


    • Sales people want to close deals. They don’t care about long-term strategy, nor do they care that the product roadmap has to address the needs of a majority of customers. They see a clear opportunity and a clear feature that they need in order to close a deal.  If you were in their shoes, you would probably do the same.
    • As a product manager, it is your responsibility to make sure that the sales force updated, on a regular basis, of the roadmap content, roadmap priorities and target customer profile. This will not stop sales people from pursuing whatever opportunities they see, but their ability to push back against your roadmap will be minimized as compared to a scenario where you are not open and upfront with this information.


    • R&D staff generally want to work with the latest technologies and commit to well-defined and low-risk deliverables whenever possible. Aggressive enhancement plans,  adequate product maintenance or robust quality assurance are all important; no one would deny that, but will the average R&D person push for these? Probably not.
    • As a product manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that all of these (innovation, maintenance and quality) get the right amount of R&D focus. It won’t happen in every release for each of these areas, but over time, a clear balance needs to be attained.


    • Marketing teams are into market trends and analysts perspectives of the market. Their opinion is important but may not be directly related to n the day-to-day challenges that you are facing.
    • As a product manager, it is your responsibility to listen openly, follow-up on analysts’ and marketers’ views and make sure that your product isn’t behind trends that are turning into reality.


    • Customers see their own pains. They don’t see other customers’ pains and they don’t care much about your long-term strategy or expansion-plans.
    • As a product manager, it is your responsibility to listen to that customer patiently, and yet push for the adoption of the defined roadmap. If the product roadmap doesn’t fit that customer, and if that customer isn’t strategic enough to change the roadmap, you should involve the account manager to make sure that the pushback from the account is handled appropriately.

    Product managers are the bridge across these groups and must ensure the best possible product is delivered to market. Modules, features, documents and designs are artifacts that should reflect the input from them. The more that you defend your standpoint and the more that you are able to balance between the various perspectives, the better your product will be.


    Tweet this: You’re a Product Manager and You Don’t See Eye to Eye with These People. Good! #prodmgmt

    About the author

    Rivi is a product manager with over 15 years of product life-cycle management experience, at enterprise sized companies (SAP), as well as with small to medium-sized companies. Practicing product management for years, Rivi now feels she has amassed thoughts and experiences that are worth sharing.

    Great content is the best sales tool in the world

    Great content is the best sales tool in the world.—Marcus Sheridan, author, The Sales Lion blog

    A marketing director shared a new video series that she had prepared for the sales force. She was proud of the work but annoyed with the sales people. Seconds after publishing the videos, a sales person asked if he could share the internal videos with his clients.

    She complained to me, “Every time I create something for internal use, the sales people want to share it with clients!”

    She needs to listen to what they’re saying. What they’re saying is they want more sales tools and less sales education. More stuff to share with clients and fewer focused on training the sales people.

    A product manager once asked me to authorize five days for sales training. “Surely I heard you wrong,” I said. “You must’ve meant five hours, right?” Nope. The product manager wanted five days. His agenda began with “Day 1: The history of computing.” Clearly he was trying to teach his lifetime of knowledge. But what do the sales people really need to know?

    I’ve often remarked that it’s vastly easier to sell products when you understand them deeply.  Everyone needs to know what we do here. And in my experience, the best sales people are ones with domain knowledge… but it’s their ability to apply that knowledge to customer scenarios that creates success. The best sales people are trusted advisors to their clients. And that’s the way it should be.

    What do your sales people really need to know about your technology? They need to understand target markets and personas, and the problems your company can solve. Do they need more?

    That’s why I emphasize sales tools more than sales education. Create ready-to-share sales tools for everything. Create ROI calculators, ebooks, white papers, slide decks—all ready to use and ready to share. Limit the number of confidential and internal-use documents to roadmaps and competitive battlecards.

    The ideal sales tool is a container for your expertise—in business, technology, market, and domain. And then every sales person can distribute your knowledge directly to the client.

    Listen to your sales people. If they want to share internal documents, they’re telling you they need more external documents. Respond to their requirements. They’ll be more successful and so will you.

    Tweet this: Great content is the best sales tool in the world #prodmgmt #prodmktg #sales

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