Milkshakes and Purple Cows

Purple Cow One persistent issue that arises in the world of knowledge management is how best to market your systems and services. Unfortunately, discussions of this issue often devolve into descriptions of tactics: launch email blitzkriegs, offer food to encourage attendance at training sessions, bribe potential users with the latest i-device or (in lower rent populations) Starbucks gift cards. Similarly, you see law firm marketing departments carpet bombing clients with generic legal alerts or seasonal cards that are rarely read or retained. In most cases, these tactics have nearly the same effect:  they don’t work.

So what are we to do? Focus on Milkshakes, Purple Cows and Otaku, of course!

Milkshakes

My friend Jeffrey Rovner pointed me to an interesting talk by Clayton Christensen on marketing. Christensen posits that in order to motivate a customer to buy your product, you first need to understand the job for which that customer is likely to “hire” your product. The brief video clip below ends with the words: “…if you understand the job, how to improve the product becomes just obvious.”

Just obvious? As we say in New York, “From your lips to God’s ears,” Dr. Christensen.

In the case of the milkshake, Christensen and his colleagues discovered that the drink was being purchased for two different jobs: (1) to allay hunger and provide entertainment during a boring morning commute and (2) to help parents placate children with a seemingly nutritious treat. So if you were marketing to the commuter, you’d play up the interesting taste and thickness of the drink that led to a longer and more satisfying period of entertainment. If you were marketing to the parent, you’d emphasize the nutritional benefits and the appeal to children, while perhaps thinning the milkshake to allow little mouths to drink the shake more quickly.

Digging further into this research, I learned that understanding a job means more than just understanding the bare function involved.  In fact, there are three critical dimensions of each job: the functional, the social and the emotional.  When developing and marketing a product, you have to address all three elements from the customer’s perspective in order to optimize the chances of your product being “hired to do the job.”

Purple Cows

Marketing maven, Seth Godin, is famous for pointing out that few of us stop the car when driving past a cow in the countryside.  In rural America, a cow is not an unusual sight. However, if the cow in question was purple, not only would you stop the car, but you’d grab your smartphone, take a photo and post it on every social media platform you use. Why? A purple cow is remarkable — it is worthy of being remarked upon. Godin’s thesis is that your product needs to be a purple cow. What does this mean? It needs to stand out from the crowd, it needs to be special — it needs to be remarkable. It follows, then, that developing products aimed at the lowest common denominator, designed to provoke the least amount of controversy, will pretty much guarantee that those products barely register in the consciousness of the consumer. (Christensen notes that every year 30,000 new products are launched, and 95% of them fail.)

Otaku

Godin also refers to Otaku, which Wikipedia describes as “a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests.” According to Godin, a product has a much better chance of succeeding if it appeals to otaku. Why? Because the care enough to seek it out and tell others about it. This kind of word of mouth marketing is priceless.  The first step, however, is to know your otaku and match your product to their needs and interests.

So what do milkshakes, purple cows and otaku have to teach us? Understand the job your product is being hired to do, make sure your product is absolutely remarkable and then market it first to the people who care enough to tell others about your good work.

Here are the videos:

Clayton Christensen:

Seth Godin’s snippet on Purple Cows and Otaku:

Seth Godin’s full TED Talk:

 

[Photo Credit: Jon Milet Baker]

 

 

 

 

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Breaking Strategic Groups Out of IT [#ILTA11]

The speakers in this session: (i) John Alber (Bryan Cave), (ii) Timothy Corcoran (HubbardOne), (iii) Gerard Neiditsch (Mallesons) and (iv) Jeffrey Rovner (O’Melveny).

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s Conference 2011.  Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error.  Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Why is this Issue Important? Changes in the marketplace, in how infrastructure and applications are managed, changes in staffing models, changes in pricing and client expectations — all of these factors cause firms to consider new ways to achieve a competitive advantage.
  • Consider Two Extremes for Discussion Purposes. One extreme is an enormous IT department that handles everything that has any technology function. The other extreme is an extremely lean IT operation, that keeps the basic operations in order, is reponsible for architecture and basic apps, but many of the specialized functions (e.g., client-facing technology, marketing technology, litigation support, practice support, etc.) are distributed throughout the firm. Which is the better approach, or should your firm aim for a hybrid? The answer lies in the problem you’re trying to solve. Are you trying to achieve the lowest possible cost? For example, a distributed model may lead to overlaps, duplication and inefficiencies. Alternatively, a consolidated group may be monolithic and sluggish. Mallesons is optimizing for agility. This has implications for how they approach legal practice AND technology.They are doing this in order to be able to respond rapidly to changes in their clients and in the environment. As a result, they are focused on specialized initiatives that are technology-enabled. The IT department then imposes discipline to ensure that there is no duplication of effort across the firm.
  • Considerations Applicable to Both Scenarios. Nimbleness, creating/supporting and R&D function, duplicative technology, duplicative personnel, career paths, IT discipline and project management. Gerard Neiditsch reminded the audience that even if you create separate “tiger teams” or skunkworks, be sure to recognize the contributions from the rest of the IT organization (the “performance engine”). Otherwise, you run the risk of losing the best people from your performance engine operations. In a similar vein, Jeffrey Rovner reminded the audience that whether you’re dealing with a skunkworks project or a performance engine project, be sure to recognize every single member of the team who made that possible. Just like the credits at the end of a movie, it’s important to acknowledge everyone who contributed to the success of the project.
  • The Importance of Reintegration. John Alber and Constance Hoffman at Bryan Cave frequently consider whether a group that has been broken out of the IT department should be reintegrated with the main IT department to ensure the overall benefits accrue to the firm and to avoid unnecessary duplication or silos of capability.
  • Consider the Extent to Which a Group is Tied to Revenue.Timothy Cororan noted that being tied to revenue can preserve a group (and give it legitimacy within the firm), but it also changes the expectations of the group. (One panelist noted that fee-earners can go to the golf course because meeting clients on the golf course is supposed to contribute to the top line.) Gerard Neiditsch also observed that if you have a group that you intended to spin out of the firm altogether (perhaps even to sell the technology and the team to another company) you should keep that in mind when you first start planning to create the group.
  • Consider Visibility. Creating a separate team can be a means of providing viability inside and outside the firm with respect to that team and its projects. John Alber noted that when they created a group focused on alternative fee structures, members of those teams started attending client meetings and internal client meetings. Jeffrey Rovner includes IT and library personnel in his KM meetings to ensure transparency of projects across functions. Gerard Neiditsch’s project managers are involved in every project in order to promote efficiency across the firm.
  • Career Path.Gerard noted that it can be hard to attract top specialist talent if they are concerned that they are buried in a large department and won’t have appropriate visibility. Tim suggested that by encouraging personnel to work across teams and departments, you can foster a cross-pollination of good ideas and best practices. John said that when you spin groups out of IT, you create additional opportunities for people to learn how to be better managers. However, Gerard said that you most likely will have to pay more to personnel who assume additional management responsibilities. Jeff and Tim both cautioned against creating new groups just to separate personnel who are having trouble getting along. This is an issue that requires better management. Separating them just perpetuates the problem, but on an inter-departmental basis.
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Light Bulbs in Las Vegas [#ILTA10]

How many light bulbs are in Las Vegas casino lights? According to WikiAnswers, 9,000,000 light bulbs per floor. Last week, however, the International Legal Technology Association’s 2010 annual conference resulted in a great deal more light in Vegas as one informative session after another caused “light bulbs to go off in my head.”  There were several “aha” moments in the sessions I attended, but here are some of my favorites that I don’t want to forget:

  • Ron Friedmann, Gerard Neiditsch and Jeffrey Rovner presented a compelling case for analyzing more carefully the business of law as practiced by most firms.  Their session provided a practical way to take some of the provocative ideas presented by Richard Susskind at ILTA 2009 and make them a reality.  The key take away: different business models may require different technology and business processes, and a mismatch can lead to great inefficiencies.  Do you understand the business drivers at your firm? (For more information on this session, see the presentation slides and  a summary by Andrew McLennan-Murray.)
  • Paul Domnick, CIO of Freshfields, described the viral way some of their social media initiatives behind the firewall have taken off.  Most striking is how they have been willing to stretch and experiment to achieve fantastic results.  In one experiment, they replaced their traditional intranet with a wiki.  That wiki now receives an amazing 1,000,000 page impressions per day.  Further, they did this using Atlassian’s Confluence — NOT SharePoint. In explaining his team’s approach, Paul said: “We need to be the broker between the art of the possible and the real needs of the organization.” (For more details on this session, see the presentation slides and  David Hobbie’s terrific notes.)
  • Kingsley Martin’s astonishing KIIAC software is able to analyze precedent documents and generate a form automatically in a matter of hours.  This will transform the creation of model documents and the role of practicing support lawyers. Above all, if this software allows firms to generate an “at market” form of a complex agreement at the push of the button, what will that do to the practice of law?
  • Keynote speaker Jason Jennings reminded conference attendees that “the right [corporate] culture is the ultimate competitive advantage.” His research indicates that companies achieve and sustain success by engaging their employees in a “shared, noble purpose.” This is an interesting litmus test for both companies and law firms.
  • From a fantastic session on  developing a social media policy by Julia Montgomery and Karen Sheehan:  Education is the key to a social media policy. Without education, it’s difficult for employees to understand both the opportunities and dangers presented by social media.
  • In a session on Supporting Alternative Fee Arrangements, Jason Epstein of Baker Donelson said that most firms were already doing AFAs in one form or another, but most likely weren’t doing them well.  As a result, these firms were probably losing money on them.  In his view, AFAs should be “a spur to make the practice of law better.”
  • From my notes on the Matter-Based Budgeting Session: “Budgeting is an iterative process. Once the lawyer puts a draft budget on the table, that opens up an important ongoing conversation with the client.”
  • Major General Clyde Tate (of the US Army’s JAG Corps) on dealing with massive change: Perseverance is key. “Bureaucrats love it when you give up…your job is to wear them down.”

What were your “light bulb moments” at ILTA 2010?

[Photo Credit: Zetson]

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