Product Management

How Product Managers Can Take the Bias out of Brainstorming

Product Managers are skilled at integrating complex feedback into a cohesive strategy.   Corralling diverse opinions in a crowded conference room is a real-time integration challenge.

Successful teams have strong personalities -- when brainstorming, these personalities can become caricatures:  the naysayer, the vulcan fact-checker, the polyanna, the emotional chest-pounder, etc.  Bias squelches creativity.   Good ideas, cloaked in emotion, may never see the light. 

One way to take bias out of brainstorming is a methodical approach.   There are many structured brainstorming processes designed for long, complex product development cycles, but small processes and small companies can get bogged down with all the details.   

Six_hats An approach that's worked for me over the years is the one of "thinking hats" where everyone on the team has to take on different roles (or "hats") to think through the situation from multiple angles.   The red hat is the emotional hat, the black hat is the devil's advocate, the white hat is fact-based, the yellow hat is the sunny optimist, the green is the creative hat and the blue hat is the integrator that brings them all together.   The method is 40+ years old, but it still feels fresh.  0140296662_01__sclzzzzzzz_aa240__2 The book is short, once you skip the overly congratulatory introduction by the author.  Add a Post-it Note easel pad, place the six points of view around your conference room, and make everyone try each role at least once -- you'll have a more balanced view of your situation -- and a better end product as a result.   

Who wants to be labeled "doom & gloom naysayer" or "naive optimist" anyhow?

Making Services Tangible: "Out-of-the-Box" Lessons from Non-Profits

Non-profit marketers are very inventive.  (Perhaps it’s because they have the most constrained budgets of all).  We can take a few pages from their playbook on making services more tangible, and more desirable by potential buyers.

Donating to charity makes us feel good.  But it’s an intangible "feel good".  Short of reading annual reports from cover to cover, we really don’t know where the money is going.   Unless the charity makes their services into products.

Shelterbox Shelterbox2does a brilliant job of making the intangible tangible.  Instead of asking donors to fund "humanitarian relief services", they ask them to buy a box (or a portion of a box) which contains a weatherproof tent, blankets, cooking supplies, a water purifier, etc, to provide a temporary home for a displaced family.  And the "box" you donate can be tracked online, so you know it’s been received by those in need. 

WorldVision Chicks makes contributions tangible with a gift catalog of farm animals, to donate to families around the world.   My 12-yr old was motivated to donate rabbits and chicks for Easter this year, and we plan to make it an annual tradition.

88Bikes Bicycle was founded by two brothers who visited Cambodia and offered to provide a few bicycles for a local orphanage.  Once they found out the school had eighty-eight children, they got organized.  Now 88bikes enables donors to give bicycles (which lead to schooling, better opportunities and a better quality of life) around the world. 


Every single animal, shelter, bicycle makes a difference.  For the recipient, and the donor.

Product management never has enough money or time to please all stakeholders.  As I’ve developed product strategy and launch plans over the years, I’ve often turned a product into a service to get it to market faster.  Or turned a service into a product to drive sales volume.   Thinking of  "out of the box" concepts like Shelterbox reminds me of how many options are really out there.

Is your product recession-proof?

Depends on what product category it's in, and whether you're leading with brand reputation or value.

Whether you're a B2C or B2B marketer (and I've mostly been the latter) there are many brand cues to take from CPGs and Retailers – after all, they’re the companies who spend the most on branding.

The October 08 issue of CPG Matters cites a recent consumer study by Unilever:  Winning Shoppers in Turbulent Times  detailing which Consumer Product categories are more vulnerable during an economic slump.  

According to the study:

(To save money) the top dozen categories shoppers will not abandon preferred brands (for a generic brand) include:

  • anti-perspirant and deodorant
  • batteries
  • canned vegetables
  • fresh meat and seafood
  • hair care
  • household cleanser
  • laundry detergents
  • margarine
  • pain relievers and cold medicines
  • personal wash
  • pet food
  • tissues and toilet paper

The top five categories where shoppers would reduce spending if the economy continues to struggle (…going to a private-label or generic brand) include:

  • air fresheners
  • cookies
  • beer/wine
  • frozen dinners
  • soda/pop 

So is your product laundry detergent, or cookies?    Are you a brand leader, or a value leader?  

A great primer on the competitive dynamic between consumer goods companies and retailers, which I recently re-read is Private Label Strategy by Nirmalya Kumar and Jan-Benedict Steenkamp.  It is a fast read that describes the power shift from brands to private label goods and the underlying dynamics of establishing value for consumers.


Food for thought for B2B and B2C marketers alike…

What Marketers and Triatheletes Have In Common: Mastering Multiple Disciplines

Last weekend I was in New Hampshire, cheering on friends at the Mooseman Triathalon.    Despite the common "0% body fat" triathelete image, the range of competitors of all ages and body types was truly inspiring. 

Moosemanweb2Perhaps Triathalons are intimidating to the rest of us because of the range of comptency -- mastering one sport seems doable, but three? 

Zero body fat may be limited to models and athletes, but mastery across multiple disciplines is not.   Good marketers must master multiple disciplines between sales and product development:  public relations, demand generation, market research, product marketing, field marketing, market strategy.   Yet since marketing is such a broad science, it's tempting to specialize and stay in one's silo.   

Why bother to master more than one discipline?  They're all linked to each other.    Why are lead conversion rates falling off?   is it the media?  the message? the market?   If demand generation is the only set of tools in your toolbox, there's no way to know (and no way to fix the problem on the spot).   Why is the sales team discounting every deal?   If you don't have a sense of the competitive environment, you won't know whether to lower prices or to provide your salespeople with a stronger value proposition.   

Mastering new skills can prove risky, but being a one-trick-pony in a changing environment could prove even riskier.