From Product Idea to In-Market Sales in 7 Weeks: Yes, You Can!

This article was originally post on the Huffpost
One thing I have learned over the last few years is that you can literally create, design, build and sell (or at least try to sell) any idea extremely quickly and with a very small initial investment. All you have to do is take advantage of the available technology platforms and services and think global infrastructure. And what was only accessible to large corporations a few years back is now available to individuals as well. The democratization of global commerce so to say.
I am just launching a new product for Christmas, the “26 Popular Children’s Games from Around the World,” a little side project of mine that literally took six week to conceive, bring to life, produce and offer up for sale on Amazon. I’d like to use that project to illustrate my point.
I have three young children who are biracial and who live in a German-American household in a cultural environment (the US) that is increasingly divisive and intolerant. And that bothers me. Through my upbringing I’ve learned the value and benefits that come from living in and learning from other cultures, and I feel that it is my responsibility as a parent to instill those same values in my children. And as a parent, I know that the best way for a child to learn is through play.
So a few weeks ago I came up with the idea to create a set of cards, where each card would describe and provide instructions for a popular game in one of 26 countries around the world (“Catch the dragon’s tail” from China, “Rooster fight” from Brazil, etc., etc.). Each card would also include a picture of the country’s flag, the shape of the country, and a greeting in that country’s language, as well as a couple of fun facts to serve as a conversation-starter between parents and their children about that country and its culture. I also wanted the games to be low-tech (no tablet or app), require a minimum of accessories (kids in Africa or rural Laos don’t have access to much, yet have the most fun), be appealing for various age groups including adults, and be gender-neutral (I have two boys and a girl).
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The first step was to run this idea by a few friends, my wife, and my kids. I admit that this form of market research (and concept validation) is fairly rudimentary, but everyone’s spontaneous reactions and input were enough for me to pull the trigger and decide to invest some time in it. And as I mentioned, this is a side project for me, something I wanted to produce, so commercial success wasn’t my primary objective.
Week 2: Curating the content
Week two was mainly spent researching popular children’s games from around the world and asking my international friends for their own recommendations (the marketing buzzword here would be “crowdsourcing”). Identifying the games and curating the content for the cards took me a total of three or four evenings (I do have a day job, after all).
Week 3: Creating the game
Week three was spent designing and creating the game, or having it designed and created, to be accurate. Ten or so years ago, I would not have been able to move forward with the idea beyond this point. I don’t have the skills required for that, nor would I have had the budget to afford the experts I’d need.
But now we live in a global economy, where a global pool of very talented people in every imaginable field is only one click away. My preferred go-to platform (there are others) is Upwork.com , an online marketplace for freelancers that I have been using for years to hire experts for proofreading, design, web or Facebook app development, transcription of interviews, presentation and infographic design, e-commerce projects, and any other “expert” need I have.
The platform enables you to post a job and its requirements and then “interview” and select a freelancer based on their bid, their previous work and the reviews they have received from other customers. If you feel comfortable enough, you can expand your pool of potential candidates globally, which often allows you to hire someone with the same level of qualification at a lower rate. Payment happens through the Upwork platform, so no risk there. The vetting and recruitment process is similar to what you would go through if you were looking for an expert in your neighborhood, except that it happens online. The briefing process is identical, and the more specific and precise you are in your briefing about your expectations, the better the outcome, especially when dealing with someone for whom English isn’t the native language.
I’ve been using the platform for several years now, and most of the freelancers I work with on a regular basis have been found there.
For the artwork on the box and the back side of the cards, I got very lucky. I wanted to end up with something that would stand out and also have meaning. Sheila Darcey, a friend and an extremely talented businesswoman and artist, was generous enough to allow me to use one of her creations. Sheila uses art as a form of daily meditation and as a way to tap into her unconscious mind. The piece we chose for the game is about the energy that flows between us and within us and was created in collaboration with her nine-year-old daughter, whose energy comes through in the color choices and strokes. It couldn’t be more perfect for the cards. And my wife and kids loved it.
Thanks to Upwork, the cards were designed and aligned to the printer’s specs by someone in India, and the web work as well; the proofreading was done by an editor in the United States, and to help me set up the Amazon store I also used someone based in the US.
So by the end of week three, everything was approved and ready for printing.
Weeks 4, 5 and 6: Printing and shipping
You have come up with an idea, you’ve created a prototype, you’ve hired experts to help design it and you’ve created the template. The next stage is production.
This is where a platform like Alibaba.com comes in handy. I’ve noticed that many people in the US are still not familiar with Alibaba and what it can do for them. Alibaba.com is basically the online platform for global trade. It made the news (again) recently for reaching $25 billion in sales on “Singles’ Day” a big shopping event in. Alibaba connects you with manufacturers from around the world that can produce whatever you want based on your unique specs, at phenomenal prices. You want to create a kayak with a built-in cooler and TV? Or create your own custom family board game or card game? Or build and market an electric bike for $500 (Sondors)? Or buy a tuk-tuk for slightly over $1,000? You can do all that with Alibaba, and much more.
Here too, all the vetting, selection, interaction and payment happens via Alibaba, which significantly reduces your risks. And if you’re not familiar with global shipping and customs rules and regulations, that’s no problem either—Alibaba or the producer will take care of everything for you. All you have to do is provide your delivery address and pay.
For a previous project, my Positioning-Roulette flash cards, I had identified and worked with a printer in Shenzhen, just outside of Hong Kong. Their customer service is outstanding, the quality of their printing is amazing and their prices are hard to beat. We tend to always criticize the low quality of Chinese manufactured goods, but I’ve learned that when products are of poor quality, it’s usually because of US/Western retailers and manufacturers trying to lower costs and not because of the Chinese manufacturers’ inability to produce high-quality goods. In fact, let’s not forget that the iPhone is also manufactured in China.
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The printing took three weeks after approval, which is slower than usual due to the global Christmas rush, and the shipping took four days.
Week 7: Up for sale on Amazon
Once the cards had been delivered to my doorstep, all I had to do is head to FedEx (or any other delivery company, you choose) and ship the cards to one of Amazon’s warehouses, from where they are dispatched to several warehouses across the country for faster delivery (hello Amazon Prime). FedEx obviously has a deal with Amazon, so the Amazon prearranged pricing is amazingly low compared to what you’d have to pay as an individual.
The Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) option is a fantastic service, but Amazon enables its sellers to do their own fulfillment if they prefer (although they do have to adhere to strict quality and speed requirements).
Seven weeks after I thought about this product idea for the first time, it was available for sale on Amazon. Total investment? A few hours here and there, a strong global network of experts and a small budget.
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In conclusion
I don’t know if the cards will be popular and sell. If not, I will get a tax write-off, will have learned
something new along the way, and in the process will have employed half a dozen freelancers from around the world. Also, I will have enough birthdays and Christmas presents for the next 15 years. But seeing my kids’ excitement when all the cards they helped to conceive were delivered, and giving my daughter the first set, as promised, have already made it worth everything.
I believe that we are slowly evolving from a “creative workers’ economy” to a “creator’s economy,” where the difference will be made not by those who can come up with an idea and just talk about it (“Charlatans”) but by those who can envision and execute an idea quickly (“Hustlers”). The infrastructure is already in place and accessible to companies large and small as well as to individuals—most people just haven’t yet caught up with the reality.
Oh, and in case you’re interested , you can buy the cards on Amazon.

24 Things Moms Really Don’t Want To Hear This Thanksgiving

I am thrilled to see the Baton Rouge Parents Magazine republish (with permission) an article I published a while back on the Huffington Post. It also shows that many of these “mommy insights” are timeless and universal.

If you’re a marketer trying to better connect with moms, check out our extensive experience  on how to really connect with mom here. Or just send me an email.

FTT Case Study: PLAYERfirst: A Revolutionary Approach to Overcoming Lottery Industry Threats

This article is a write up of one of our favorite clients, Jessica Powell, Vice President Insights & Marketing Communications at IGT, of one of the projects we worked on together and are really proud of.

Full article can be viewed at www.jessicahalterpowell.com/articles.

To begin rethinking our Draw Game portfolio, we looked to other CPG categories that suffered from the same challenges – a large portfolio of brands, low consumer involvement, impulse purchase in a crowded retail environment. So how do CPG companies like Pepsi and Frito-Lay successfully manage a portfolio of heritage brands while constantly introducing innovative new products to an already overwhelming display? The answer was surprisingly simple: Forget the product and start with the consumer.

How do you shift an industry paradigm? Start with the consumer.

Joining us on the journey to transform the Draw portfolio was Ulli Appelbaum , Founder & President of brand consulting and research firm First-The-Trousers-Then-The-Shoes, Inc. Appelbaum’s experience reorganizing large packaged goods portfolios would ensure that we followed a disciplined process while still creatively challenging the norms of the lottery category. We gave Appelbaum permission to take us into uncharted territory even if it made us uncomfortable. With over 100 years of combined lottery experience on the team, it was a challenge to set aside our institutional knowledge and let our players guide our thinking. “Changing the paradigm of the category is easier to do when based on consumer knowledge, hard data, and when the results make intuitively sense. But it take guts for a team with a lot of category experience and a long track record of success to embrace change so willingly,” said Appelbaum

Though we knew consumers played the lottery for many different reasons, we had never validated our hypothesis on the actual emotions players felt. The physical transaction of shopping had been well-documented, but we wanted something deeper. We sought a profound emotional understanding of how consumers felt while playing our games. By hearing from players exactly what led them to buy a lottery ticket, we could gain deeper insights into their psychological motivations and triggers. According to Kary Hacker, our Senior Manager of Product Development for GTECH Indiana, “Once we understood the internal emotional experience of our players, we could better align our game portfolio with the Hoosier market.”

A DISCIPLINED, YET CREATIVE PROCESS

The research side of our project focused on identifying, organizing, and quantifying the emotions and needs players tried to fulfill when purchasing lottery Draw Games. The multifaceted methodology included a blend of focus groups that delved into the emotional stories that led to purchases and interviews to quantify and monetize the findings. “The process,” Appelbaum observed, “was a bit like playing jazz – a combination of rigor and discipline in our approach with the flexibility to follow and adapt to the players’ insights, wherever this would lead.” Over the course of nine months, we conducted 12 focus groups and 2,400 quantitative interviews to unearth 55 emotions, 25 competing behaviors, and 17 purchase triggers. To make the data actionable, we completed 6 internal workshops to better position our 10 existing Draw Games.

The initial consumer research findings provided the first bombshell. Contrary to our preconceived notion that consumers played lottery for the chance of winning, we found Hoosiers played Draw Games to manage, enhance, or momentarily change their moods. The lottery purchase experience closely resembled buying a Red Bull or riding a roller coaster.

The outcome of the studies was a “mind map” subdivided by two core dimensions of Social Focus and Energy. The primary axis defined the social motivations of play and ranged from Me, something you do for selfish reasons, to Us, which makes you feel like part of something bigger. The secondary axis of mood motivation ranged from Energized, which adds excitement to your life, to Restore, which brings comfort.

Even the statistical methodology utilized was unique and innovative. Once the dimensions were mapped, the analytics team at Glass Box Research grouped the feelings and motivators. “The market research industry has traditionally used statistical clustering techniques such as ‘kmeans’ or ‘latent class’ to segment people into logical groups based on very tangible constructs like demographics or desired functional product traits,” explained Shad Thomas, President of Glass Box Research. “We turned these algorithms on their ears in order to link how players ideally want to feel and what motivates them within the various occasions when they do play.”

Since people are complex and human emotions can be a messy amalgam of feelings and desires, players, our findings suggested, often buy a product for more than one reason. So, each emotional cluster comprised several feelings or “need states” such as to Embrace Risk, Feel Proud, and Treat Yourself. Together they represent the entire universe of what drives people play lottery Draw Games. Building from those 14 clusters, the study also revealed and quantified 11 “ideal playing occasions” and the relevant emotions associated with each.

At this point exciting insights were starting to emerge. We found that during 15% of buying occasions, players were pursuing Rebellion and Dreams, while 17% of the time they were seeking Security and to believe in Something Bigger. Some of the findings were surprising. “I would never have imagined that Hoosiers were playing our games for a mix of pride and bonding,” said Hacker. In all, 47% of the playing occasions satisfied the Energize/Us emotions, 43% the Energize/Me, and 10% the Restore/Us area. Interestingly, no one surveyed played our Draw Games for the impulsive treats mapped in the Restore/Me area. “We hypothesize that the emotions and needs in the lower left quadrant of the map are fulfilled by the Scratch-off games, but it is unusual to see such a gap on a map like that,” noted Appelbaum.

DO OUR GAMES DELIVER ON OUR PLAYERS’ EMOTIONAL NEEDS?

Potential new product ideas were already starting to bubble up, but there was much left to learn. Now that we understood what emotions our players wanted to experience, we needed to discover if our current portfolio of games was delivering on these expectations. The results provided our second bombshell. All ten of our current games were clumped together in the Energize/Me quadrant, and some games were competing for the exact same emotions. This turned out to be hugely important – the extreme overlap indicated the potential for consumer confusion and sales cannibalization.

Hoosier Lotto, Mega Millions, and Powerball, for example, were all delivering on the relatively small Rebel/Dream occasion. Cash 5 and Quick Draw overlapped into the Dream area but also elicited the emotion of Risk. Poker Lotto and Bingo To Go, which we had assumed would be highly separated because of their relatively low top prizes and specific product positioning, also overlapped into the Dream area. Only Daily 3 and Daily 4 had carved out a unique niche, but even they still resided in the Energize/Me quadrant.

CURATING THE IDEAL PORTFOLIO

Following the research, we began the process of repositioning each of our Draw Games based upon the need states they satisfied. Based upon our commitment to engagement and relevancy, we called the process PLAYERfirst and we began a series of workshops that plotted out the ideal positioning to give each product a unique, ownable territory to better align product propositions and messaging strategies with consumers’ true needs. Each of the Hoosier Lotteries ten Draw Games were aligned against a distinct emotional benefit, functional value, ideal persona, and target segment. A comprehensive brand architecture was then created to ensure consistent messaging across all communications.

The results were immediately actionable for the Lottery marketing team. Brittany D’Haenens, our Advertising Manager, said, “The PLAYERfirst Portfolio Workshop clearly showed us how to redefine the product benefits across our portfolio of games. We were able to easily work the new insights into our creative briefs and make shifts in our messaging strategies.” For instance, in future communications, Hoosier Lotto would be recast as “the Hometown Favorite” to leverage the Security/Pride cluster, while Daily 3 and Daily 4 marketing elements will embrace Risk.

The first product concept to leverage learnings from the new study was Bingo To Go. Launched in August 2014, the game was not performing to projections. The initial campaign focused on generating awareness and utilized traditional, rational messages showcasing the matching of numbers to win the top prize of $100,000. The study revealed that Bingo To Go was not clearly aligned with a single playing occasion with corresponding needs and emotions; rather, it was situated between two clusters. Further, the data indicated that, from a consumer perspective, Bingo To Go overlapped with Poker Lotto, and so consumers viewed the two games as delivering the same needs.

Based on these findings, the marketing team decided to reposition Bingo To Go to align with the Bond/Entertain need states. The repositioning of Bingo To Go was supported by a fully integrated campaign, including mass media, online marketing, and point-of-sale messaging all focused on how the game and mobile app could transport players with a more engaging, social, and interactive experience. Sales responded positively during the campaign period and downloads of the Hoosier Lottery mobile app increased approximately 18%, helping the Lottery to strengthen relationships with players and provide an engaging consumer experience. While this is still a work in progress, and it is premature to project long-term sustainability, it is clear that at least directionally the marketplace responded to a different approach.

CONVERTING INSIGHTS INTO NEW, RELEVANT PRODUCTS

Though we were both surprised and disappointed that the current portfolio comprised only 43% of the mind map, we quickly realized that the remaining 57% actually represented a great opportunity for product innovation. “The white space on the map showed us exactly where and how we could attract new and lapsed players while more-relevantly engaging with our current base,” explained Hacker.

Knowing that we lacked products that fulfilled our players’ desire for a sense of security, pride, entertainment, investment, and bonding, we could attack the process of building games in a revolutionary new way. Instead of starting with discussions of matrices, odds, and price points, we developed creative briefs for the four emotional areas that showed the greatest potential in the study – Pride/Bonding, Invest/Dream, Risk/Entertain, and Entertain/Bond. The briefs formed the basis of a full-day PLAYERfirst brainstorming session where more than 60 new product ideas were generated. “Bringing together experienced category experts and inviting them to think along the new consumer occasion clusters led to a breadth of viable ideas that I’ve rarely seen in a brainstorm like that,” acknowledged Appelbaum.

The ideas were sorted, discussed, massaged, and purged. Eleven of the initial 60 product concepts were fleshed out and taken to consumers for input. Based on player feedback, four products were chosen to be more fully developed:

  • Emoji Lottery uses popular symbols instead of numbers, allowing players to create picture sentences and share them on social media. This concept leverages player’s need to feel pride in his or her personal creation and bond with others through sharing.
  • Play it Forward satisfies the Invest/Dream cluster and provides a sense of hope by allowing players the opportunity to make one of their dreams come true or pass the win forward to a local charity.
  • Rock, Paper, Scissors allows players to enjoy some simple entertainment for a small risk.
  • Hoosier WhoDunnit  lets players adopt the persona of an investigator and bet on who committed a local, fictional crime and when and how it was committed. This game leverages the Entertain/Bond emotional cluster.

Another round of user testing revealed Hoosier WhoDunnit, with its simple yet entertaining premise, to be the most popular new game concept. Hoosier WhoDunnit will be tested against several other games in August to determine which concept gets added to our portfolio next spring.

As you can imagine, once we get the consumer value proposition, theme, and positioning clearly established, GTECH Indiana will be leveraging its global IGT game development team to create a compelling math model and ensure prize structure, prize payout, and game liabilities are all balanced in a responsible, consumer-friendly, fiscally sustainable manner.

THE BENEFITS OF THINKING DIFFERENTLY

Over the course of the nine-month project we experienced some disappointment, discovered industry-changing insights, and charted the course for the future of Hoosier Lottery Draw Games. The PLAYERfirst process was a controversial approach that was sometimes uncomfortable for us lottery-industry veterans. But revolutionary thinking is supposed to be uncomfortable. Throughout it all, we were confident that to effect big changes in the industry, we would have to do something radical. As we navigated the research and built our plan, I kept the following quote from the renowned architect Daniel Burnham in mind: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood… Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”

Reviewing and rewriting the Draw Game product category from a human perspective and focusing on why people play the lottery helped us identify several unfulfilled need states. The study also helped us realign existing products before considering new or different games in future fiscal years The PLAYERfirst process not only showed untapped opportunity for differentiation in our current portfolio, it has provided insight into the emotions that future games need to deliver. The study will be beneficial for product planning cycles for years to come,” said Hacker.

Jessica Powell is Vice President of Marketing at IGT working on behalf of the Hoosier Lottery. Follow Jessica on Twitter @jessicahalterpo to connect to her daily ideas for elevating the lottery industry.

Check out the rest of the case study in the July/August issue of Public Gaming Research magazine.

3 Simple “Ways” to Generate Consumer Insights! (or The Lost Craft of Insight Generation)

The biggest myth surrounding “consumer insights” is that they are just laying around, that they miraculously fall into your lap, or that you need to be a genius to be able to generate consumer insights. The biggest threat to insights is the belief that the marketing community will be able to delegate the consumer insight generation process to big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

I, on the other hand, believe that the act of uncovering consumer insights is a “craft” that includes a set of tool and techniques which can be learned and used to develop your “insight generation skills”, and thus make you a better strategist and marketer.

The point here is that the ability to generate business building insights is not a “talent” you are born with or not (just like the ability to be creative), instead it is something that can be learned and trained. Just like any craft.

So what are those tools and techniques? In my experience, there are three main “ways” to help facilitate the insight generation process. They can be used sequentially or on their own depending on the business problem that needs to be solved and the environment in which it is solved. And the good news is that it really isn’t that difficult to learn those skills and apply these tools. All it really requires is the knowledge of those tools and a bit of practice in applying them.

Defining the problem

“A problem well formulated is half solved”. We all know this quote and yet I rarely see it actually been applied in real life problem solving situations. It usually isn’t included in client briefings, nor is it included in creative briefs or other agency briefs.

But the way you frame the problem is usually the first step to unlocking fresh perspectives on how to solve the business problem. The reason is that each problem definition has a set of inherent and implicit assumptions built in. These assumptions are based on the beliefs and culture in which they are formulated and the experience of those formulating the problem.

Challenging those assumptions and in the process reframing the problem is the first step to uncover powerful insights.

For example, one problem could be stated as “How can we make the check-out lines shorter?” This assumes, amongst others, that people don’t want to wait which is usually true. However another way to frame this problem could be: “How do we make the waiting lines more entertaining so that people actually look forward to stand in line when checking out?”. Same problem, framed completely differently, leading to a completely different set of solutions. Just ask Disney World.   

There are at least 7 different “techniques” one can use to reframe a problem, 7 “simple” ways to shed a completely new light on a business problem. Now let’s be honest, how many techniques do you know?

Digging for insights

The second step in the process is to actually dig for insights. The challenge here is not to uncover new information but to recognize an insight when you see it. In fact, the most common mistake marketers make when looking for insights is to confuse “new information” with “insights. Insights have inherently news value, but that doesn’t mean that any new information is necessarily an insight. It usually is not.

This requires an understanding on where to look for insights but more importantly an awareness for the feeling you’ll get (yes, it is going to be a feeling and visceral reaction first) when you stumble upon one. As such, insights are a bit like creative ideas, the most difficult part not being to come up with one but to recognize the potential of one. And that initial reaction is generally visceral rather than rational (even though it can then be rationalized).  

In our experiences there are at least 28 areas where you can dig for insights. I’ll cover those in detail in a future project, but in my experience insights are contextual, meaning an accepted belief for one organization or brand might be a transforming insight for another.

One of my previous posts, “The 8 immutable truths about insights” provides a more thorough look at the nature of insights and how to recognize them.

Extracting Insights

The third step in the process consist in applying specific tools that will enable you to look at interesting data (which is probably new to you but still not an insight) and extract actual actionable insights from it.

The fact that family dinner night is chaotic and often a source of stress for moms is nothing new. It’s true but it is not an insight. Capturing the “why” this is so for the mom (or dad) and phrasing this in a compelling way will lead to an insight.

An interesting piece of new information becomes an insight when it helps trigger a behavior and/or when it helps relieve a tension in consumers lives (and thus trigger a behavior). And here again, there are tools to help you do that. The most common and popular being probably the “Why” laddering exercise. Another would be to look at potential tensions that exist between culture, the brand and the people you are trying to appeal to and to identify a meaningful way for your brand to help resolve those tensions.  

Generating insights is a craft not necessarily a given gift. And understanding and applying the tools and techniques available to you in each phase (which can be used separately or sequentially) will significantly improve your ability to generate insights leading to business building ideas. I guarantee it.

First The Trousers Then The Shoes Inc. (First The Trousers or FTT for short) is a brand strategy and innovation boutique dedicated to helping brands compete and grow in today’s always evolving attention economy. We help uncover fresh and actionable insights that trigger action, identify innovative ideas to stimulate brand growth and inspire fresh perspectives on businesses and categories. The words our clients use to describe us include: experienced, passionate, terrific, insightful, elevating the thinking, helping us to think differently, highly collaborative, responsive and very recommendable.  Wonder if we can help you solve your business problem, help you facilitate strategy workshops, help train your teams and if might be the right fit and partner for you? Contact us to find out.

Maybe Your Marketing Isn’t Working Because Your Strategists Are Too Lazy And Follow The Crowd?

Those who follow me or know about the type of things I do will probably remember that I launched a little Facebook quiz via Playbuzz that helps determine the type of strategist you tend to be. The quiz was taken by almost 7000 strategists.

While most of my writing about this quiz so far has focused on the outcome, this blog entry focuses more on some of the detailed findings, which I find both alarming and enlightening in explaining the current state of strategic marketing thinking:

An unhealthy obsession with “Culture” and qualitative research:

One of the questions in the quiz asked the question about the preferred research tool. “Cultural trend data” (34.6%) and “qualitative projective techniques” (34.2%) appear to be the most preferred research tools and I find this alarming.

The industry has had an obsession with culture and cultural branding for the last few years which while useful is also limiting. Now don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of culture and cultural branding. I’ve always been. But what is culture really? Merriam Webster defines culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also :the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time”. Hasn’t understanding the cultural context of your audience always been part of good marketing and good communication? The industry has turned sound marketing practices into a buzz word, in the process implying some sort of new and magical solution to business problems. Which it is not.

My own research for positioning-roulette shows that “culture” is only one of 26 potentially successful strategies when positioning a brand (and that is based on the analysis of over 1200 case studies of successful marketing). That means that obsessing over culture and cultural branding means leaving out over 96% of the potential solutions you have at your disposal to solve a business problem in a unique and relevant way. Imagine your doctor, or lawyer or even repair shop would use a similar approach.

Further, since everyone obsesses about this new buzzword and focuses on “culture” to identify a solution to your business problem isn’t it obvious that everyone will net-out with the same answers and solutions. Good luck with trying to get your brand and your communication to stand out with that.

A lazy approach to problem solving:

The answers to the 2nd question in the quiz are even more worrisome in my opinion. In fact, 50.4% of respondents (as a reminder almost 7000 people played the quiz) claim that “they usually come to a solution rather quickly, the answer usually comes to me almost immediately”. 49.6% on the other hand “come up with a solution rather slowly, knowing that it just takes time to come with the best solution”.  

Now, unless the 50% who come up with a solution almost immediately are strategic geniuses (the Bell Curve model would disagree with that) this points to a very lazy behavior. I’ve been in this business for over 20 years and, because of the nature of my work, worked on more projects, in more categories and geographies than most strategists out there. And yet, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times when a solution came to me right away. And yes, sometimes the obvious solution is the best one, but we all know that this usually isn’t the case.

The answers to this quiz seem to indicate that half the strategists out there don’t seem to put the necessary effort (or can’t for whatever reason) into trying to identify the best possible solution to the business problems they are trying to solve and that ⅔ of them look for answers where everyone else is looking. Einstein’s quote about insanity comes to mind here.

So maybe it is no wonder that a lot of the brand communication out there feels so expected and generic and that so many new product ideas fail. Laziness, a focus on the obvious and a herd mentality have never been the key to success and to great brand building.

First The Trousers Then The Shoes Inc. (First The Trousers or FTT for short) is a brand strategy and innovation boutique dedicated to helping brands compete and grow in today’s always evolving attention economy. We help uncover fresh and actionable insights that trigger action, identify innovative ideas to stimulate brand growth and inspire fresh perspectives on businesses and categories. The words our clients use to describe us include: experienced, passionate, terrific, insightful, elevating the thinking, helping us to think differently, highly collaborative, responsive and very recommendable.  Wonder if we can help you solve your business problem, help you facilitate strategy workshops, help train your teams and if might be the right fit and partner for you? Contact us to find out.

 

The Value Of Low-Costs/High Returns Experimentation In The Lottery Industry

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to speak at the Lafleur’s 2015 Lottery Conclave & Interactive Summit in Orlando about “Succeeding In Today’s Multi-Channel Environment!”.

During my presentation, I shared the idea to create a little online quiz to help people find out what type of Lotto billionaire they would be. We all know that people want to speak about themselves first and foremost in social media, which also explains the appeal and success of these little personality quizzes. In fact, people love these little “who am I? What city should I live in? What word best describes me?” quizzes and they love to share them on their social media platforms.

When I asked the audience (several hundred lottery reps) if they thought this would be a  good idea, most of them raised their hand. As a joke I told the audience that if I didn’t see this type of quiz being launched within the next 6 months I would create one myself. And so I did. Then life took over and I got distracted for a while.

A few weeks ago though, as the Powerball jackpot was about to hit $700 mio., I decided to bring this idea back to life and test my hypothesis. So I recreated the quiz “What Type Of Lotto Billionaire Would You Be?” using the free App Playbuzz. It took me a total of 10 minutes. Players had to answer three simple questions which would then tell them what type of Billionaire they’d be (choices ranged from the” Heart of Gold”, the “Bon Vivant”, the “Globetrotter”, the “Me Inc.’, the “Uncle Rich” and “the “Next Door Neighbor”). I posted the quiz on Facebook and spent $100 to promote it focusing on lottery players.

The quiz can be played here.

Frankly, the quiz could have been done better:

 

  1. The quiz wasn’t a piece of brilliant creative frankly. But the point was to test the format more so than the creative execution.
  2. My targeting approach on social media (unlike most lottery agencies, I didn’t have any followers to reach out to) was limited to identify layers based on a few key works (lottery, jackpot, etc.) which is fairly rudimentary, but sufficient to give the quiz a basic lift.
  3. The Playbuzz quiz lacks an essential social sharing button which usually helps organic growth. Further, my original prototype allowed the quiz takers to use their own profile picture in the results description when posting it on their social media (which is known to promote sharing), which was lacking here. Last but not least, my quiz didn’t include any promotional information or call- to-action (which I would have added if I were to actually drive business results).  

Despite all these shortcomings, the results speak for themselves, I think.

Results:

  1. The quiz reached 12,005 people, out of which 757 decided to engage (comment, like, share, etc.) with it. That’s an engagement rate of 6.3%. A quick scan of various state lottery agencies’ Facebook post about the $700 million Jackpot shows an average engagement rate of 1%. That is 6 times higher.  
  2. The CTR for the quiz was 1.7%, almost twice the average CTR on Facebook of 0.9%.
  3. And while the average cost per click on Facebook is $1.72, I paid $0.49 per click or less than a third.   

So what can we learn from this little experiment?

  • Most brands, including many lottery agencies, still need to learn how to best engage people in social media. The misleading part in the term “social media” is the word “media. Most social media channels follow their own rules and yet are still all too often used just as a paid media channel. Sure this approach is more predictable and easier to control, but it also doesn’t fully utilize the potential (and effectiveness) of these channels. Why does it matter?  Because “social” is now the #1 source of referral traffic to content on the web (surpassing “search”, i.e. Google) so understanding its rules of engagement becomes crucial.  I’ve recently written a piece entitled “Social Media, You Are Doing It Wrong If…” which sheds some light on the malpractices in social media.
  • Innovation doesn’t have to be expensive or slow, especially in social media. It’s not expensive to create content for social media and it doesn’t take long. Or at least it doesn’t have to, to be effective. Creating the quiz took me a couple of hours and promoting it cost me $100. Sure, you can also spend months creating something similar but that wouldn’t necessarily make it better or more effective.
  • Innovation is a frame of mind. The resistance towards innovation is primarily in people’s attitudes and mindsets, not in the structures or processes. That’s true for most companies. In fact, the barriers to innovation and experimentation are quasi non-existent in social.  
  • Innovation is (almost) risk free in social media. Experimenting with formats and experiences in social media is a low-risk/high-reward undertaking. In the world of investment, this would be the dream scenario for most investors. Worst case, nothing happens, really. Best case, you’ve found an effective and efficient way to grow your business, that can be amplified across product initiatives and media channels. In social media in particular, the opportunities to learn what resonates with consumers are endless, easy to implement, cheap to implement and risk-free.

What can we learn from this? Experimenting is easy, fast and very cost efficient. There is no real risk involved and apathy is the only reason not to do it. So “Just Do It”.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, the majority of players who responded to my quiz have a “Heart Of Gold”.

Ulli Appelbaum is Founder & President of brand strategy and innovation firm First-The-Trousers-Then-the-Shoes (www.first-the-trousers.com) specialized in brand growth, (product) innovation and brand storytelling. He has extensive experience in the Lottery industry having helped lottery agencies re-position their brand for growth, develop new white space opportunities and new product ideas, optimize their internal innovation and go to market processes and develop communication strategies for a variety of new product launches. He’s also a regular contributor to the Public Gaming Magazine (www.pgri.com) and speaker at conferences. Feel free to contact me to explore how I can help you grow your lottery and/or gaming business and shed a new and fresh light on your opportunities.

 

Social Media, You’re Doing It Wrong if…

You’re (still) using social media as a broadcast channel. Sure, we all know that social media is about engagement and tapping into conversation users find interesting (and often it is not about your product or brand) but look at the social communication out there. Broadcast, broadcast, broadcast.

You are not using social media as a research tool into the hot triggers of users and to understand what consumers respond to. Insights that you can then scale through more traditional media.

Your social media department is integrated within your media department (or your social media agency is integrated with the media department of that agency). Old habits die hard and they will plan your social media channels like hey plan traditional media channels (see point one).

Your agency doesn’t have an in-house production department that can churn out content quickly and very cost effectively. As a reminder, the production of the Dollar Shave Club launch video, which propelled the company to be sold for $1 billion, was around $5,0000. Okay, the founder called-in favors but still. A video for Facebook doesn’t have to cost $150K.

Your agency uses “traditional creative teams” to produce the content. They will look at the social media creative assets as “campaigns” for their books and will want to produce over-priced videos and set-up expensive shoots just to create a few social media posts.

Your social media partner doesn’t understand the brand’s character and tone of voice. In social you may have to react quickly and in the right tone of voice. Understanding the brand, what it stands for and more importantly what it doesn’t stand for is crucial.

Your social media agency is too young and doesn’t understand the business side of things. I’ve once had a client who wanted to launch a new brand. His social media agency, a young start-up, had convinced him that the cheapest way to do so was through social media, by building a community of fans and ambassadors for this brand (that no one knew I should add) that would then relay the brand message for him. Sounds appealing right? But what a bunch of BS. A year later and after having spend more than $1 mio. with no impact on the business, the client fired his agency.

If you don’t think mobile first. As Buzzfeed puts it “Social may be how content is distributed today, but mobile is how it is consumed”. If you assign an agency to re-design your website and they do not take a mobile first approach, fire them. Why does it matter? Because many transactions you might want your consumers to engage in, follow a different dynamic in mobile versus desktop. Who for example signs into their Amazon account using their mobile browser?

First The Trousers Then The Shoes Inc. (First The Trousers or FTT for short) is a brand strategy and innovation boutique dedicated to helping brands compete and grow in today’s always evolving attention economy. We help uncover fresh and actionable insights that trigger action, identify innovative ideas to stimulate brand growth and inspire fresh perspectives on businesses and categories. The words our clients use to describe us include: experienced, passionate, terrific, insightful, elevating the thinking, helping us to think differently, highly collaborative, responsive and very recommendable.  Wonder if we can help you solve your business problem, help you facilitate strategy workshops, help train your teams and if might be the right fit and partner for you? Contact us to find out.