Been making noise over there!

TheMobileAcademy-Logo+TaglineLack of posts since July as I have been busy developing The Mobile Academy programme for UCL Advances and Mobile Monday London.  I write on the launch day – big surprise, awake at 4.30 am!   The programme has sold out and there is already a substantial waiting list. (Read more about the brand creation)

The programme is a 36 hour masterclass in how to make it in mobile, delivered by industry experts (many from the Mobile Monday London community) across design, technology and business.  It is a great fit with Product Doctor in that it is going to provide very practical information, with hands on sessions ,where participants are shown a number of tools that they can start using immediately.

Host Logos UpdatedTHE MOBILE ACADEMY embraces approaches and ideas inspired by:

BAUHAUS PHILOSOPHIES

  • experiment & problem solving
  • form follows function
  • unity of design & technological innovation
  • streamlined, simple elegance

CRAFTSMANSHIP

CO-CURATION

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

You can follow progress on Twitter @Moblacad and also check out the News page.

The Mobile Academy is hosted by Mobile Monday London and UCL.

UCL Logo

Mobile Monday 10cm wide hi res

Product Doctor Diagnoses – OTA 2012

Alex Craxton visits the Product Doctor Surgery

Here’s the report from this year’s Product Doctor Drop in Surgery at OTA 2012.

Another interesting range of products; from making a good old phone call, through to tracking housekeeping budget, m-health to enhanced status posting and finishing with around the world travel.

From what I saw in the surgeries, a few trends were certainly coming through:

  • incorporation of scanning technology
  • the continued growth of products to support social networking status posting
  • m-health becoming a reality
  • increased adoption of value added mobile services by the corporate market
  • revenue models from businesses rather than individual spend

Diagnosis hinged around some familiar threads –

Tom Hume drops in to talk shop

1). End User Validation– making sure that user insights are gathered at concept phase and continued user testing continues. The point, as always, is that this is not just usability testing, but testing that the overall concept you have.  Identifying user need and desire, supporting revenue models and product feature set all need to be validated before you go and build your product.

2). Ensure it is a Genuine End User – friends, family, established business contacts and friendly existing customers do not count – they don’t want to upset you.  Remember also, that you are not representative of an entire segment – building something on your own needs is not validation.

Please see “DIY User Engagement” for more guidance.

Paul Moutray gets medical

3). Revenue Modelling – Really think hard about where the pots of money are; this year there was more talk about collecting and providing customer information to brands and generating sales leads for brands.  In this climate and market, a product really has to be amazing for an end user to want to pay for it.

4). Know your competition – make sure you understand who is vying for your customer money or attention.  Think hard about what you think you are selling and question whether it is already being provided today.

5). Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Technology brings many new opportunities and there are some very clever developers out there, but please check out the commercial bases before you give up your job and start building a new product.

There are a couple of other points that struck me this year. I thought about how useful it could be for my patients to hear each others session. Some have experience in areas that others have not and that “share” could have been helpful.  Tying this together with some feedback last year that this felt more like “product therapy”, I am wondering about running group surgeries next year…

Nail your Launch Strategy at an early stage!

Last week I mentored 13 start ups in 2 days at Start Up Weekend Education London (#swel) and at Ignite100, where Katrina and I ran a Product Doctor Drop In Surgery for the teams in Newcastle.  One of the consistent themes was that teams were not thinking about their Launch Strategy early enough. If you read the below, you will see how important it is to do so and how it needs to be considered during the Product Development phase rather than aftewards.

Diagnosis: Your product feels like all things to all people
This can be a dangerous position as it is difficult to focus in a way that enables you to understand who your end users are. This distance between the product and its end users is likely to result in feature overload, lack of clarity in the product description, product positioning and launch plan which will ultimately limit your success.

Feature overload increases your time to market. The more features, the longer the product development time, the longer the testing time is and the longer the fix period. It also adds time to future development time as regression testing takes longer.

Lack of clarity in the product description, product positioning and launch plan may not “speak” to end users in their language as you don’t know what language they speak. If they don’t feel targeted it will be more difficult to get them interested in your product.

Then the million dollar question: “How are you going to drive traffic to your site?” If you don’t know who you are targeting, how can you possibly work out how to drive traffic?  Of course everyone talks about the industry press and blogs – but will this reach your target group?

Treatment:
Be really good in one area first. Consider organising your product roadmap around product launches to different sectors / areas, each backed up with a tailored feature set.

Work closely with your end user target segment to not only establish the feature set but also develop ideas for product positioning and launch tactics.

For your initial launch, select an industry sector / area that you have some connection to already. Either you have worked within it, or you already have contacts who you can get close to, giving you access to end users to engage in the ways described above throughout the development process.

You can show your product feature list to users (worded in user-friendly language of course) and have them put the features in order of desirability. Ask them not to rate any features that they are not interested in.  You should see some consensus forming quickly as long as you have defined your target segment well. You can also get them to indicate where the features are a hygiene factor (they just must be there) vs something that feels it is different to the competition. Note that it is not who you think your competition is, but who your users think your competition is.

Cross tab this feature list against a scale of how easy / difficult the product is to deliver (Scrum processes involving points to show this is advised). Cross tab this further with some benchmarking and make sure that the sector / area you choose does not already have a popular solution. Ensure that you work with end users to establish where any competitors are strong and weak. Establish your product feature set and positioning around these insights.

For more tips on “DIY User Engagement”, see my previous blogpost.

DIY User Engagement

Me, Katrina Damianou and one of our patients: Ketan Majmudar at the Product Doctor Surgery, OTA 2011. Photo courtesy of the fabulous Paul Clarke - paulclarke.com

This year at Over the Air in Bletchley Park, Katrina and I set up a Product Doctor Drop in Surgery offering 25 minute complimentary sessions. On a scorching couple of days, we set up outside and were happy to have a continual stream of patients, including the wonderful @Documentally and @Bookmeister.

Listening carefully, as we always preach, we are considering next year calling it “Product Therapy” as the sessions seemed to have a cathartic effect!

Rather than blogging a long post, here are the contents and the full paper is available for download below.

  1. It is never too early (or too late) to engage end users
  2. What do you show users?
  3. How to find your end users
  4. Can you have the conversation with end users?
  5. How to begin the conversation
  6. Write a test script
  7. “I can’t explain what my product does”
  8. Showing a prototype
  9. Testing for usability
  10. Keep checking back with users as you develop and improve each new feature
  11. Build and test your product before developing your brand
  12. Be honest with yourself as to why you are developing the App
I hope you find this useful and as always, please do get in touch or leave comments below.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend about his new B2B product which was in the process of being prototyped.  The words that tripped out were “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”.

The product was being centred around insights gathered by the CEO through general conversations with potential end users.  My concerns with this were:

  • The potential end users were not budget holders and therefore could not eventually make the decision to purchase the new product.  So in this case, research around the benefits of the product should be also carried out with budget holders – seeing if there is a case to make their organisation more efficient / productive / profitable as a result of adopting this product.
  • The potential end users had genuine pain points that needed solutions, but the prototype was a number of months down the line and no one had been back to those potential end users to see if the solution being developed was addressing their need. As I always say, you don’t need to wait for a prototype to continue your dialogue with users. You can talk about what they would want the product do to and why – build up the bank of “user stories” (Scrum reference) and get those prioritised before you begin your build.
  • The CEO may well not be the best person to talk to end users. Classically CEOs are strong characters; leaders who are passionate about their product.  An end user may well not be comfortable to say “no” to a person like this!  It takes certain personality traits and practice to be good at gathering user insight.

The very talented developer was building up the prototype from sketchy top line requirements written by the CEO. He was injecting a large dose of filling in the many blanks with clever code that enabled the product to do all sorts of things that had never been done before.  But was this functionality that the user wanted and the budget holders would agree to buy? Nobody knew.

Diving in to the feasibility (technical capability), working up the viability (scalability) and then establishing desirability (the user need) is the trap.  This is how many companies end up with a product that may technically work well but does hit the sweet spot with users.  They then often then find that they are continually customising the product for individual clients, which is not cost effective and not scalable.  Another classic result of this approach is feature overload – features built in to a product that are never used – again resulting in wasted resource.  This model needs to be reversed and you need to start first with desirability.

Point made?!

Creating learning opportunities for young people through user centred design

I was invited to speak about Designing Products & Propositions for the Youth Market by Luke Mitchell of Reach Students at “Youth Marketing Stategy 2011″.

There was an interesting mix of speakers covering the youth market from a number of different perspectives; ranging from insights, marketing and creative agencies, community management and viral marketing to universities and graduate recruiters. This was a great place to share my insights about the youth market and to encourage all these players in the youth space to create learning opportunities for young people through their projects.

Here is the presentation that I gave. It gives many examples of how I have engaged young people in the design of youth products and the value that created for the producers.

Here are some further highlights from the day:

Understanding Youth Tribes – a new way to look at youth segmentation
This visual was created by a teenage boy who was asked to describe his local neighbourhood.  This was shown by Neil Taylor & Joe Beck from Channel 4.  This insight inspired their UK Tribes research on youth segmentation, insights and motivations and is definitely worth a read.
Here are the main tribes that they went on to identify through further interviews with young people.

Educational Institutions

Brunel University showed how social media can be used in educational institutions.  They had run focus groups to get some initial insights.  Great opportunity here for one of my pleas… run co-design sessions with students and the project team.  Start by sharing the intended business objectives and benefits. Move on to exploring and identifying the user benefits with the students and then to brainstorming user stories (Scrum reference) as you go.  “As a user I would like to ….. so that …”  Then co-design the user experience of products, systems and processes together.

For me, traditional “focus groups” are often not focussed enough.

  • The participants feel like the fish being watched in the bowl so are often not natural in their behaviour.  Smash down those viewing gallery windows and get the client in the room!
  • Participants feel that the researcher is wanting a particular answer and the session will often become a “guess the right answer” game.
  • Before going to research, the researcher / client will usually have done quite a lot of work designing the proposition based on assumed user needs – so save time and get in with the user early on to test any assumptions from the start.
  • Often clients will take the output of a focus group and months later, they may return and test out their solutions.  No! Keep going back – preferably every 2 weeks, within a scrum structure, and get users to sign off what has been developed as you go. Again, this will save time, money and effort.

Helen Pennack, Head of Marketing & Communications,  University of Leicester is an award-winning marketer who has been developing a portal and integrated social media marketing plan to both attract potential students and provide support to existing students at Leicester University.  She heavily engaged end users in the design and the community management of the portal. Another one that is worth a look and another way to help young people develop their real life skills and CV build as they go.

Not going to Uni!

Spencer Mehlman of notgoingtouni.co.uk provided a particularly refreshing and pragmatic alternative view to graduating and not finding a job.  Here is the leading paragraph from their website which says it all: “…So you’re thinking about not going to uni. Congratulations! You’ve just proved that you’re not afraid to think differently. Contrary to what the masses may say, university isn’t the only path to success. From apprenticeships to debt-free learning, there are literally thousands of other opportunities out there…”

Do Students Matter in Youth Marketing?

Ben Marks and Melanie Cohen of Opinion Panel gave some good reasons to engage students:

1. It is a population that’s large enough to matter

2. They are enthusiastic early adopters who take products viral

3. Student trends have always lead the way

4. Today’s students are tomorrow’s wealthy citizens and opinion leaders

Opinion Panel run online real-time moderated focus groups. The benefits of this method are that groups can be run with users from different locations and that many insights come from the conversation between users rather than those between moderator and respondent.  Trick here is to make sure that this is an appropriate method for the key questions that you have.  A good researcher will gain a huge amount of insight by looking in to the respondents’ eyes – some questions will always need to be face to face.

James Eder from Studentbeans.com gave a very engaging talk on how they have the largest student subscriber base in the UK for research through their special discounts and offers incentives. They work with many brands to solicit student opinion.  Again, this is online.

And for a great finish…

Get Tom Scott to speak at your event – I cannot think of anyone that could help your event finish on such a big high. Google him for examples of his viral successes. Importantly, he encourages us to try lots of different approaches, not to settle on one. This way we have more chance of succeeding.

All in all this was a good conference and I hope that Luke does another one!  As with all conferences, not all the sessions were useful for everyone as it was quite diverse around the sector, but there certainly are possibilities for them all to create real life learning experiences for young people and I hope that they do.


Please start with the User Need!

Last week I went to App Circus in London, sponsored by Nuance (@AlexCraxton was there) and BlueVia (@jamesparton and @bookmeister), to hear developers pitch their Apps for the chance to win a slot to be nominated for the 2012 Mobile Premier Awards at Mobile World Congress 2012.

I have seen many Apps pitched and it always bemuses me quite how many do not start with or even include proof of the user need; be that the pain point that they are addressing and / or a way to significantly improve the user experience of something that they already do.

The winner of this round was Masabi – “The ticket machine in your pocket” where “…UK rail travellers can now check train times and book tickets from almost any mobile phone – no complex sign-up required…”  I have seen the effervescent Ben Whitaker (@Benmasabi – Founder), present this product before and he is enjoying some well deserved success as the product is now live with many rail operators in a number of different countries.  Masabi addresses a real user need, vastly improving the user experience of buying train tickets, who no longer need to stand in line, and in turn providing brownie points to the rail operators that have signed up.  Listen to Ben and how he starts with the user need, and how lively this crowd was (after a few beers as the marvellous @Jorabin pointed out to me!)

Conclusion is to make sure that you are addressing a real user need as you develop your clever Apps.  If you are going to pitch your App, start with your user insights. If you don’t have user insights, go get them!  You can read more in an earlier post on this blog: Advice for Developers from my Product Doctor Drop In Surgery, OTA 2010.

Product Doctor has a number of innovative formats to help bring user insights to your business, product, conference or event.  Please feel free to contact me for more information. 

Digital Youth Insights & Learning Experiences Webinar

This is a webinar, that I did for the DCK TN and Mobile Monday London, 27th Jan 2011, and should be of interest to people that want a closer understanding of the youth market.  Through my experience in mobile and online community products since 1993, despite much time, effort and cost, I have seen many products fail to succeed or fail to reach their full potential. One of the key reasons is that end users are not engaged in their development. I set up the Digital Youth Project in 2005 to address this gap focussing on the youth market and to show how engaging young people in your projects can provide great real life learning experiences for them too. I illustrate the points using case studies from virtual world to mobile to community projects with a social media twist.

Thanks to those that logged in live, for my 4.5/5 rating and for the great feedback! It was a fun new experience talking to the aether!

Please click on this link to view and listen - you will need to register but it is free:  Webinar DCKTN / Mobile Monday London.

Here is the presentation, without me talking over it, and some of the key points listed below.

Key Youth Insights– see presentation for the case studies that support each point

1. Young people are practical & they want useful products too

  • Some adults incorrectly equate youth products only with fun; my case studies show that young people need and appreciate helpful products too, such as mobile mapping services.
  • In addition, young people can quickly tell you where your product is not practical – for example, they are worried about the security aspects of wandering around holding their phone and whether your service can be fully appreciated on a small screen.
  • They also want product naming to effectively describe the product – so say what it does on the tin.

2. Hygiene factors – what is now expected by young people as standard, basic features

  • Young people want choice, so for example if you are developing a music-based App, make sure that you have as many genres in there as you can.
  • They want to be able to use services on their mobile, pc and other devices such as i-Pod so multi-platform and channel access is important.
  • They are so familiar with certain user interfaces, for example, the Apple Store, so where you can, work with their understanding rather than feeling you need to create something different.
  • Time over I see that young people will dive straight in to using the product. They want to work it out for themselves – that is part of the fun, however, that is no excuse for creating something that is not intuitive.  If you are going to add help, first time tutorials can be effective, as long as they are interactive; making help information concise is essential and males have a tendency to look to YouTube for short videos.
  • Social functions are now expected. Facebook is the benchmark for being able to share, comment and converse.
  • Voice, text and camera are now the basic expectations of a phone.

3. Young people want to help with feature definition & market positioning

  • Before creating your visual presence, talk to young people and ask them how they would use the product; again, you will see case studies of where using the wrong visual will throw the user off track.
  • I have worked with many products where the functionality is fantastic, but the wrong user facing product has been developed – young people are very good at un-packing the functionality and putting it back together again in a more attractive proposition.
  • Competitor analysis, as we know, is crucial before you can work out your feature set and positioning; young people will tell you who they think your competitors are, which is far more valuable than who you think they are!

4. Young people need to be addressed with the right language for their age group

  • When considering the youth market, I suggest 2 year increments; 11-13, 13 – 15 and so on. I have found that your actual users will be those that are in the age increment below the one that you are targeting – young people are often trying to appear to be older than they are.
  • It is also important to realise that there is a lot of cross-generational traffic on sites that are populated by young people – particularly in the virtual world, social networking and gaming scenarios.  Aunties, uncles, godparents, grandparents, older siblings – particularly when they are remote – will engage with their younger contacts in their own environment.

5. Young people are savvy, so be honest, satisfy their curiosity and gain their trust

  • When presented with a new product, often a young person’s response is to think “where is the catch”, so if you have chargeable elements; sponsored content; integrated advertising and so on, just be upfront about it. This way you will show your respect for their intelligence and gain their trust.

6. While they are financially aware, this does not mean that they won’t spend money on digital experiences

  • There are already plenty of online and mobile experiences that young people enjoy for free – so there is no point presenting them with a similar experience that is chargeable.
  • However, young people are spending money on digital – as I found when looking at digital music products “who do you think got Tinchy Stryder to the top of the download charts?” Note also that digital goods revenue lines are still in growth.

7. Young people are social media natives, they can help you create content and awareness for your product, business and business event

  • You can offer great learning experiences for young people to help you understand how best to use social media to generate awareness and social media coverage of your business, project and events.
  • Media students are on the look-out for real life projects where they can provide media coverage for you whilst adding to their portfolio – think photographs, film, interviews and general journalistic comment.
  • If you are looking for creative content perhaps to add some spark to an event, think about offering an opportunity to young people’s arts and performance groups.

Adult Misperceptions

Throughout my work in this area I have come across some resistance from adults to engaging young people, so here are my challenges back:

  1. Young people are scary and they will automatically take a negative stance: Incorrect! Young people are encouraging about innovation and willing to take risks. You will find working with them energising.
  2. They just grunt – think Kevin the Teenager: Incorrect! Explain, listen, coach and ask open questions in the right environment – you will get very constructive feedback.
  3. You have just chosen the clever kids to work with: Incorrect! Great feedback does not just come from clever kids – often the most disruptive and under-achieving have the most creative and honest input.
  4. “What young people want is…”: Incorrect! Avoid generalising about the youth market – some just call and text; they don’t all have blackberries, they don’t all want an iPhone, and the list goes on.

In conclusion, by engaging users in the design of products and marketing, you will become more efficient. You will know when you have a dead horse to stop flogging; you can avoid endless internal assumption-based debates on features and user interface; you can generate new challenging ideas; you can get a good idea of how best to target the youth market and overall maximise your development and marketing spend.

Please do get in touch if you would like these insights presented at your business or event.