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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A Google Instant Experiment

Sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me. That happened this morning, when I wondered what Google Instant would do to some typical searches of mine. The results were thought-provoking:

  • When I typed “law” >> Google Instant served up information on Law via Wikipedia and then information on the television show “Law and Order” first.
  • When I typed “law firm” >> the first law firm name Google Instant showed me was the New York firm, Paul Weiss. Kudos to the Paul Weiss marketing department. (I hope the marketing department of every NYC law firm is paying attention to this!)
  • When I typed “law firm kn” >> Google Instant provided a link to an old blog post of mine on Personality and Law Firm Knowledge Management.  The best part (for me) is that this post appears on the first page of results. (Whew!) Better still, Google Instant helpfully provides on that first results page a link to all my blog posts that have been tagged to the topic “law firm knowledge management.”
  • When I chose the “law firm knowledge management” search query provided by Google  >>  Google Instant offered on the first page of search results links to knowledge management materials from Lexis, the American Bar Association, Amazon.com, and … AboveandBeyondKM.com.

Since Google tailors search results to the user, I asked a friend living in a different part of the state to run a parallel search using Old Google.  Here’s what we found:

  • When she typed “law” and clicked search >> Old Google gave her  the Wikipedia Law article, then Law.com, and then FindLaw.com.
  • When she typed “law firm” and clicked search >> Old Google gave her “Philadelphia Law Firm,” then another personal injury lawyer’s web site, then web design for lawyers, and then the Wikipedia Law Firm article.
  • When she typed “law firm kn” and clicked search >> Old Google gave her the Martindale & Hubell link for  “KN Hyde and Associates” — which appears to be a commercial law firm with offices in several parts of the former Yugoslavia — and then gave her a direct link to that firm’s website as her second search result. The third result is to a law firm in Bangalore, India.
  • When she typed “law firm knowledge management” and clicked search >> Old Google offered exactly the same results to her as Google Instant offered to  me — complete with the link to this blog.  Very nice!

What this test with an unscientifically small sample suggests is that Google Instant knows a fair amount about who I am.  (Although it hasn’t figured out that I’m not a Law and Order devotee.)  That said, I was delighted to discover that this blog ranks well in the search results of an interested party like me, as well as in the search results of my friend who does not work in the law firm world and has never searched for my blog via Google.

Out of sheer vanity (or perhaps prudence), I tried a new search — for my name.  I had to type “Mary Abrah” before I turned up in the search results.  But that’s not too bad.  After all, I do have a fairly common name. When I typed “V Mary A” one of my social media activity streams and my blog appeared on the first page.  I had to type “V Mary Abrah” before Google Instant figured out that I was looking for myself.  Interestingly, when I tried these searches again a few minutes later, I got slightly different results.  However, I don’t know what prompted Google to change the results order.

At the end of the day, it appears that keywords still matter.  However, if your keyword or phrase is too long, users may never get to it if they are offered other options by Google Instant.  Accordingly, it may well be time for you to reconsider your keyword strategy.  If your website gets a fair amount of traffic thanks to Google searches, you may want to think harder about the implications of Google Instant.  I know I will be.

[Photo Credit: dullhunk]

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Eat Your Vegetables!

The historic battles between Athens and Sparta or between the Hatfields and the McCoys are nothing compared to the battle royal fought daily by parents determined to make their children eat their vegetables. After years of alternating between cajoling and threatening our children, we now learn that the right thing to do is to try some rebranding. According to a recent Cornell University study, “giving vegetables catchy new names – like X-Ray Vision Carrots and Tomato Bursts – left preschoolers asking for more.”  In fact, when plain carrots were rebranded as “X-Ray Vision” carrots, the children ate twice as many carrots.  And, they continued to eat 50% more carrots on subsequent days when they were served ordinary carrots.

Before you enjoy a chuckle at the expense of gullible children, take a look at the following finding from the same researchers:

Similar results have been found with adults. A restaurant study showed that when the Seafood Filet was changed to “Succulent Italian Seafood Filet,” sales increased by 28% and taste rating increased by 12%. “Same food, but different expectations, and a different experience.”

So what does this have to do with law firm knowledge management?  Well, do you have KM initiatives that seem dead in the water?  Are you trying to get the lawyers to eat their carrots and draft some model documents?  Good luck!  Perhaps you should consider a little rebranding.  Should those dull drafting projects be rebranded as business development opportunities that are critical to the health of the firm?  Or strategic learning opportunities?  Think about what matters to your lawyers and then find your equivalent of X-Ray Vision Carrots.  You might find participation (and consumption) rates soaring.

[Photo Credit, FotoosVanRobin]

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