Be human

Last week I attended the excellent Products are Hard conference. As excited as I was that a San Francisco event had chosen to run their first event in Melbourne, the day exceeded my expectations with the quality of the local and international speakers and the enthusiastic participation of the audience. After some reflection, here are lessons that I took away from the day:

Success is human: This was the biggest lesson of the day. We often lose the human factors in success in our focus on process, methodology, tools, organisation and technology. Again and again in the day, it was clear human factors are more important to product and startup success. Life is not as easy as a formula, because every team and group of customers differ. If products are hard, it is because people are unpredictable to satisfy, coordinate and influence.

Start with the team: Great products come from great teams. The first idea will be adapted by experimentation, feedback, competition and pivots. Only, a great team will embrace the chaos, have the agility and collaboration required.

CX+Engineering+Product: A great team has the best diverse skills that they can assemble- customer insight and design skills, technical skills to deliver and a broad business skill set to distribute and manage operations for the product. The team should be small (ideally start and stay at teams of 3), have great transparent open communication and not let their role define their contribution or structure of their collaboration.

Assign a customer problem: The best path to success is clarity and engagement. Give the team the autonomy to tackle a whole customer problem. Define value as widely as possible and allow your teams to focus on the whole of the customer problem

Ship, test and learn: Success can’t be predicted. Nobody has a perfect decision making track record. Great products are an evolution from test and learn experiments. You need to embrace this chaos and not cling to fixed ideas. Keep the tests small but gain the advantage of testing often with real customers. Real meaningful data from shipping to customers can focus decisions.

Don’t play safe: Amazing no-fail ideas fail. Tests fail. Teams fail. Businesses fail. The issue is not whether you fail; it is what you learn and how you do differently next time. Playing safe is slow. Protecting against failure builds overhead which slows delivery. The pace of attempts should be high.

Focus on value: Ideas don’t matter. Technology, tools & methodology don’t matter. Not all of the data matters. The best teams focus on results by focusing on the customer actions that create value. That means only doing things that drive value and not being confused by expectations or past patterns of success.

Most of all: If you have the passion of purpose and can share it with others, you don’t need to settle for a compromise existence or other proxies. It won’t become easy, but you will learn much and it will be fulfilling.

Major League Baseball Can’t Talk to Me

Allow customers to support and engage your brand at different levels in marketing communications. Not all customers are extreme fans. As much as you’d like all customers to be extreme fans engaging them that way is likely counterproductive.

Take Me Out to the Baseball

I’m a bit of a casual fan of baseball. I would happily be more engaged. I just happen to live in the wrong hemisphere to spend much time on the game.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, I had a chance to go AT&T Park to watch the Giants lose to the Dodgers in a great game in a great environment. It was an amazing day. I would happily repeat the experience.

Talking Baseball

So where’s the issue?

Buying my game ticket online there was an option to opt out of receiving an email of news & marketing from Major League Baseball and the San Francisco Giants. There’s not much baseball news in Australia.  Against my usual practice, I opted in to email marketing.

I was struck immediately by the passionate tone of the emails that flowed and their determination that I must be a diehard Giants fanatic. Apparently, I needed prompting several times a week to participate in club activities, to purchase MLB services from partners and to attend every game. I had invitations to vote for players in awards that I didn’t know existed. I was offered lots of products I can’t buy and discounts I can’t use.

Of course, I ended up unsubscribing because what was missing was any news or marketing relevant to a curious casual fan of the game living on the other side of the world. Even if I had been as passionate as they seemed to expect, I just couldn’t do anything they asked. There were no relevant calls to action and no content that wasn’t a call to action.

Passionate Fans Matter

Everyone should cater to the passionate fan. By all means cater to their every need. We all like to think that talking passionately about our brand will rub off. It might. If that all you do, it can be counterproductive.

Plan for the Less Passionate Too

I was left with the impression that the curious, casual or distant fan segment is missing from the Major League Baseball email marketing plan. Maybe baseball don’t need this segment in email or it is not profitable enough. Maybe growing the brands engagement with travellers or those with a casual interest is not on the agenda. The issue is that baseball will now never know what might have been possible.

Build Engagement with Segmented Calls to Action

Every brand needs to segment its calls to action in every channel. Always allow options for the less engaged or those building engagement with your brand. Given your customers and potential fans meaningful ways to build engagement.

If you don’t, the only option for a hard won prospect (and potential future hardcore fan) is to unsubscribe.

Post Script on Social Marketing

Interestingly, the strategy around @SFGiants twitter account is much more accessible to a fan who wants to build engagement. Then perhaps they know that many of the half million followers will never have bought a ticket.