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Recently I have been thinking hard about the best way to help businesses in South London.  For me, it is about working in collaboration with small management teams to inspire them to change, adapt, and achieve new goals.  I do this through working with individuals and in workshop environments.   Often having an external facilitator who is not close to the day to day running of the business can provide a clarity and focus which it is difficult to find on your own.

Feel free to contact me to discuss how I work and could add value to your business at any time.  More information is also available from this link.

 

Norman

The Binding Machine!!

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Do you remember these?  A 50 page document could be ruined in second!!

Once an office essential – I suspect the PDF killed them off!!

 

The Testing Phase in Start-ups!

I have recently been working with a couple of start-up businesses who are going through a first phase of testing.

This is an interesting, scary, exiting, exhausting time for start-up entrepreneurs as they grapple to come to terms with how the market actually responds to their proposition.

Here’s a check list of learnings and out-takes I have picked up

– Keep the focus on usability and service – back end technical efficiency can follow later

– Test early and test as much as possible

– Don’t start testing unless you have enough resource to implement the learnings very quickly

– Don’t let technology be a barrier – simulate technology to understand its likely effectiveness

– Minimise the barriers to customers exploring your product or service even if this makes their overall experience seem more onerous in the longer term

– Being all over any customer response at all is essential

– Be agile

That’s it for now, but I’m sure I will find more things to add to the list in the next few weeks.

Are you working in the start-up arena?  If you’re interested to talk more about these issues then drop me a line – norman.comfort@getcomfortable.co.uk

startups

Minimal Viable Product versus Minimal Viable Business Model

During this year I have been working with a small team to build a minimal viable food brand and product for testing.  I have written about this journey under the title Project FB.  Early results appears pretty good.  We learnt lots about the product, the right recipes and flavour combinations.  We tried different ingredients and different suppliers.  We learnt more about the product than just this, we learnt how to sell it, what support you need, and how it performs in a small retail environment.  All of this is very encouraging and very valuable.

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The Importance of Winning at Product Level

Brands are an essential vehicle for getting consumers to love your product and buy into your values, but they become even more valuable if the product is truly best in class too.  In the food industry a great test is to say, “if my product was tasted alongside everyone else’s without packaging or branding, would mine still come out as the best one to buy?” If so you are in a strong position, because you can still overlay a great packaging format, a great brand with strong values and recognisable packaging, a competitive price, all to add even more competitive value and differentiation.

To find out just how good your product is, it is perhaps worth considering how the brain senses may evaluate your product.  So as an example using food, get your product out on the table alongside all your competitors and ask:-

Does my product look truly more appetizing than anyone else’s?

Does the smell of my product get my taste buds more excited than the smell of any other product?

Do I win on great taste?

Is the texture and feel of my product better than the competition?

If you can answer yes to all of these you have a winning product with the potential  to be underpinned with great branding and great marketing!

Looks good, smells good. feels good, tastes good…… probably is pretty good!!

Serious Play and Open Innovation

I have spent a lot of time in the first half of 2011 looking at innovation and new product development.  Two very good books here that I should mention on my blog.

Serious Play is all about proto-typing.  It explains the importance of modelling early ideas, both by developing concepts and by developing proto-types that people can touch, explore and become excited by.  Serious Play is about how companies can use proto-typing to stimulate ideas within the company and create innovation.  Rather than think innovative teams create innovative products, this book suggests that innovative proto-types generate innovative teams and an innovation culture within the organisation.

Open Innovation is a very interesting area which is always developing.  Although this book is academically written and therefore at times hard to read, it does offer some interesting models and frame works for creating an open innovation environment.

Although not specifically about the software industry the book discusses open source software at length and highlights many examples of approaches that can transferred to other industries.  The book offers processes for using open innovation to develop solid and effective research, technology, R&D, and demonstrates the opportunity to get economies of scale within these activites.

Two great books for people trying to develop innovation within their businesses.

Proto-type Research And Testing Versus The Retail Environment

Project FB – Update.

Since my last blog post about Project FB, concerning the “lowest cost viable product” with which to go and test the market, things have been moving in a positive direction.  Our testing and proto-typing has led to changes in suppliers, improvements to our packaging, changes to pricing, and finally a set of products we have confidence will work in a retail environment.

But retail is a very different environment to the areas where most product testing takes place.  We have done all of our market testing at local markets where you pay to spend a day listening and selling to customers but other routes we could have taken include more traditional market research including focus groups, or perhaps a larger scale test targeting one market segment with a full launch and evaluation.  Whilst any method will give you answers it will also give you challenges.

We have recently been working with one retail outlet to see how our product would perform and what we needed to do to get the right rate of sale for the product to earn its place on shelf.  Here are some insights for anyone facing similar challenges.

1)      Rate of sale is the only measure that really counts.  Your product must earn its space on shelf.

2)      Having a relationship with the store manager is key.  You must make sure everyone realises where the business is on the journey, what you are trying to achieve, and why it is worth it for both parties.

3)      Make sure you have the flexibility to move your retail price – it is likely that pricing in the retail environment will need to be lower than it first appears, however do not sacrifice your premium without understanding the rationale behind any move.

4)      The hardest thing about retail is that your product is stripped bare.  You are not there to promote it, talk about it, and sell it.  You much do everything to ensure a) the packaging does that job for you, b) you can maximise any opportunities in store to get your product noticed.

Since working with one retailer we have had to reduce our price point as customers felt the product to be too expensive.  Our tests at markets would have suggested a higher price point was sustainable, but I think customers evaluation of goods changes depending on the environment they are in and the kind of shopping they are doing.  We adjusted our packaging to simplify the messages and make the flavour names clearer.  We added posters in store to get people’s attention.

All this is not enough.  We are currently looking to add a sub-set of branded messages to a shelf strip and branded tray that will house our product and give even more impact on shelf.

On a busy shelf, full of products, how does my brand and product get noticed?

Getting a product right in retail is a critical success factor but I think any business regardless of size and financial resource can only maximise the retail opportunity by first understanding what is the right mix of price and promotional mechanics to generate the best rate of sale.

News Of The World – A Quick Thought!

News Of The World Closure – When A Brand Breaks Unwritten Rules

This story is moving so quickly now it is almost impossible to keep up.  Just like in the Arab Spring uprisings, social media tools have led to a groundswell of unrest and discontent at the actions of the paper.  I do not want to try and unpick the whole story here – watch the bbc web-site for all the information you need.  But the first thing that occurred to me this morning as I woke up is that News of the World has broken unwritten rules – and brands like people cannot really preserve relationships once they have done that.

Until recently public opinion and probably the opinion of advertisers was that News of the World had come close to, or had broken some rules of journalism.  But if that got to the heart of a good story about someone who chose to live in the media spot-light it was somehow ok.  It was down to the individual to fight it out with the paper using the courts if necessary to put their side of the story across.

That changed the moment people realised phone hacking was not reserved for politicians and high profile celebrities – it was used in a wide ranging number of stories including those of innocent members of the public who have suffered terrible tragedies.   This is not acceptable and it breaks an unwritten rule of journalism.  What you can do to a celebrity or politician is not that same as what you can do to an ordinary member of the public who is unfamiliar with that world.

When a brand breaks an understood and known rule it will be damaged, but if it does the right thing it can recover, and in some cases even become more respected.  Break an unwritten rule and it is almost certainly terminal.

Is There Still Room For More Ice Cream?

I was recently introduced to an absolutely delicious ice cream brand called Gelupo.  Now I know you are thinking is this yet another great food brand Norman gets to work on and enjoy eating in the evenings?  Well, not quite, but I have become most interested in the brand and the business because of the crowded market place in which it is operating and its distinct product offering.  Looking at this made me consider some pertinent questions for start-up businesses.

Firstly Gelupo is not just an ice cream.  It’s much more in several ways.  Gelupo makes Gelati (or ice cream as we call it), Sorbets and Granitas – a semi frozen desert only made well in Italy in my experience!  But secondly Gelupo is not just an ice cream or even a desert brand, it is an authentic ice cream parlour linked to a successful delicatessen.  So this means that both the product offering is highly differentiated to a normal ice cream brand but perhaps of more significance is that the business model and brand proposition also need to be very different from other ice cream businesses in the main stream retail markets.

To me Gelupo stands the best chance of long term success by placing people right at the heart of the brand.  This is both different and remarkable within the market I think particularly if it is underpinned by a rigorous recruitment programme to find highly credible, natural brand ambassadors to work in the parlours and a rollout of parlour stores in strategic locations. The brand does have some health claims that come from using less cream in the product – but in my view this is not different and is poorly marketed/communicated, and does not drive the consumer to want to eat the ice cream anyway.  Ice Cream is ice cream – if you want to lose weight you don’t eat it!

I also think the brand needs to fully commit to its proposition whichever way it wants to go. This is something I see in FMCG fairly often.  It is no longer enough to say your food is the best because you know where it originates from or because you have some great flavour concepts.  Yes these are very important but you have to tell the consumer why they are important – you must commit.  Is Gelupo the world’s best tasting ice cream because of where it comes from, or is it a unique taste that everyone should try at least once because of where it comes from? The flavour names sound exciting, but what is the inspiration behind them? Where do all the ingredients come from? Who makes these recipes and of most importance (and commitment) why should customers know and love this story?

Alongside a roll out of ice cream parlours, either through financing or franchising, the business could also move into traditional retail.  This would be a brave move requiring substantial marketing investment of course, but the question I would ask before that is “what is the right business model to make this brand flourish?” A large retail contract with an outsourced production solution always seems easy and very attractive.  But what if people are the most attractive part of the proposition and the bit that’s remarkable.  Can this be carried through to a differentiated retail offering?  I think it can but it is far from easy and needs a full marketing mix maximising the use of social media and PR to work alongside retail implementation to preserve the brand.

To me Gelupo is a brand to watch and one that can definitely flourish.  I would offer up that a critical aspect of that success will be a commitment to the brand that consumers can see, and the integration of its branded proposition to its business model for growth.  These must work in harmony or as we have all seen with some large high profile brands recently, consumers spot the disconnect and loose belief in the brand.

Keep an eye on http://www.gelupo.com/index.php

The New Business Road Test

This is a most useful book for anyone who is contemplating starting their own business.  It is a very good compliment to Business Model Generation.  The book argues that writing a business plan is not an effective way of creating a business because it is a) too formal and rigid, b) produced in isolation and away from the market forces that the business will be exposed to, c) written with a heavy slant towards writing what an investor or lender would want to hear and d) completed with little customer endorsement or consideration of the practicalities involved in building a business.

One interesting argument in the book is also the recommendation to separate the decision of creating a business from that of the product, market or industry to enter.  The book argues that often start-up business fail not because of internal weaknesses, inexperience or capability, but because they have simply entered industries or markets that are not attractive and where the odds are already stacked against them.

The book offers not what I would describe as a business modelling template, but instead a framework for developing a business idea and evaluating the chances of being successful.  This is based on seven factors : macro and micro market forces combining to assess the markets attractiveness, macro and micro industry strengths and weaknesses combining to show how sustainable the industry might be and how attractive it might be to operate in, the internal teams propensity for risk and whether this is in equilibrium with business objectives, the connections and influence that the management team have, and the ability of the total team to execute, or ship as Godin would say!  I think this is a clever balance between conceptual business or marketing appraisal and the more practical but equally relevant considerations.

My key out take was that successful businesses need to be placed in the right place at the right time but most importantly with the right people on the job.  A good enjoyable read!