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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What’s Your KM?

Critics says that the inability of knowledge management proponents to settle on a universally accepted definition of KM is a sign of failure. Others say that the lack of definition and resulting ambiguity present marvelous opportunities. If you are like me (i.e., firmly settled in the second camp), then it is doubly important not to let the discipline’s perceived lack of definition translate into a personal lack of definition. Knowledge managers who lack definition make administrators very nervous.  And that is not career enhancing. So the real challenge for knowledge managers is to define themselves and their work, and then help the administrators understand and accept that definition.

If you’re interested in defining your role in new and interesting ways, you would do well to start by considering Seth Godin’s 16 Questions for Free Agents.  Among these, perhaps the most pertinent for knowledge managers are:

  • Who are you trying to please?
  • Are you trying to make a living, make a difference, or leave a legacy?
  • How will the world [or your organization] be different when you’ve succeeded?
  • Is it more important to add new customers or to increase your interactions with existing ones?
  • Would you rather have an open-ended project that’s never done, or one where you hit natural end points? (How high is high enough?)
  • Are you prepared to actively sell your stuff, or are you expecting that buyers will walk in the door and ask for it?
  • Which: to invent a category or to be just like Bob/Sue, but better?
  • Choose: teach and lead and challenge your customers, or do what they ask…
  • How long can you wait before it feels as though you’re succeeding?
  • How close to failure, wipe out and humiliation are you willing to fly? (And while we’re on the topic, how open to criticism are you willing to be?)
  • What does busy look like?

Once you have a sense of what you believe, consider your organization and its goals.  Is there a good fit?  If not, do you need to educate your colleagues about your style of KM or do you need to find a better fit?

No matter how happy you are in your job, you owe it to yourself to ask these questions periodically.  The answers might give you the added boost we all need from time to time as we labor in the vineyards.

[Photo Credit: Jovike]

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Take this E2.0 Pill

“Take this Enterprise 2.0 pill, it’s good for you.” These words seem to encapsulate how many organizations are encouraging the adoption of social media tools behind the firewall.  Unfortunately, the list of things that are good for us but we don’t try is longer than any blog post I’ve ever written.  And yet we persist in ignoring the good advice. So what makes these E2.0 advocates so sure that their slightly paternalistic approach will work?

According to Seth Godin, they are using a low-effort sales technique that rarely leads to good results:  they are doing little more than putting the facts out in front of their target audience and hoping they will be swayed.  The reality is that while stating the facts clearly sometimes does close the sale, all too often you need more than that.  In Godin’s view, the facts are just the first step:

Great brands and projects are built on real value and a real advantage, but great marketers use this as a supporting column, not the entire foundation. Instead, they build a story on top of their head start. They focus on relationships and worldviews and interactions, and use the boost from their initial head start to build competitive insulation.

So, if you’re serious about E2.0 adoption, you’re going to have to get serious about change management.  You’re going to have to focus on building relationships.  In addition, Dennis Stevenson suggests that “driving change in people is about motivating them to want to change.”  Think about what motivates your potential users.  Help them answer their first question:  “What’s in it for me?” And then figure out how to support them as they begin to use  the tool.  After all, you’re not just trying to recruit users, you’re trying to create social media advocates who will help E2.0 go viral behind your firewall.

[Photo Credit:  Rennett Stowe]

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Making Client Dreams Come True

Seth Godin recently wrote about Derek Sivers (founder of CDBaby), who built his company with one thought in mind: “What could I build that would be like a dream come true for independent musicians?”  The post ends with the following provocative statements:

If your business is a dream come true for customers, you win. Game over.

Too often, I hear about businesses that just might be a dream come true for their owners, but hardly for the people they seek to recruit or the customers they hope to snare. What do your prospects dream of? What would get them to wait in line?

Those of us working in law firm knowledge management have the privilege of working with two sets of clients:  our internal clients  and the clients of the firm.  Within those sets of clients are lots of subsets of people with specific needs.  How much time have your spent lately thinking about what service your knowledge management department could deliver that would be “a dream come true” for any of your clients?  How many of your services currently are “a dream come true” for any of your clients?

If we want to move knowledge management out of the category of mere cost center that is a “nice to have” into a critical “must have” for our law firms, we have to be in the business of making client dreams come true.

[Photo Credit:  Pensiero, Creative Commons license]

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