Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blockbusters Versus Bombs: Perfecting the Product Pitch

(I temporarily digress from my usual posting about the mobile industry to blog about a topic near and dear to my heart: Product Management.)

Product Managers at technology-driven companies are challenged to evangelize their exciting new product ideas. Effective product managers need to paint the big picture first and foremost - whether to management or to their peers. To this point, there are some amazing parallels between the making of a blockbuster movie and the making of a blockbuster product. I'd like to draw your attention to three of these points: (1) The Pitch, (2) The Storyboard, and (3) The Pilot.

This blog post is all about The Pitch. Future posts will expound upon the other two.

Technology products are ... well ... technical. Technical products require technical explanations. Or maybe not. Psychologists tell us that the human mind needs context before it can grasp detail. To be an effective product manager, you must be a Master Storyteller.

Imagine that you're sitting in the Brown Derby making your pitch to a movie studio exec. You only have ten minutes - fifteen at the most - to get him interested enough in your idea to give the go ahead and proceed to the next step. Are you going to start talking about camera angles and special effects details and who is going to play what part? Of course not. What are you going to do? You're going to tell the big picture story, a summary, an overview. But not just any overview. You're need to present a summary that is so compelling that in fifteen minutes or less, the exec is willing to commit millions of dollars to making it happen. Can't be done? Dude. It's Hollywood. It happens all the time.

How do you tell your story? Movie plots always have three elements: (1) the hero, (2) the villian, (3) the resolution. Here's an example of a movie plot overview. See if you can spot the hero, the villian, and the resolution:
A Mumbai teen who grew up in the slums, becomes a contestant on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" He is arrested under suspicion of cheating, and while being interrogated, events from his life history are shown which explain why he knows the answers.
Recognize the story line? It's Slumdog Millionaire, this year's Academy Awards Best Picture winner.

As a Product Manager, you are the evangelist for new product ideas. Work the three elements of the story plot into your pitch. Naturally, your idea is the hero. What's the villian? Is it an unserved need? Is it a rival company? What's the resolution? What's so gosh-darned exciting about your idea that makes it the perfect solution? It is absolutely essential that you perfect your story in three sentences or less. If people don't get it, or they aren't as excited as you are, then keep working at it.

Can't be done you say? Your products are too technical to get people excited in three sentences or less? Au contraire. Which of these two product descriptions gets you the more excited:
A new portable MP3 player combining a small 5GB hard drive, a FireWire port, and a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack in an ultrasleek white and stainless steel case with a 2-inch white backlit LCD display and an estimated 10 hour battery life.
A thousand songs in your pocket.
Anyone who attended Macworld when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod will recall that single memorable sentense that brought the house down.

The Pitch is absolutely essential in order to establish crystal clear product vision within your company. Above all, the perfect pitch minimizes scope creep and scope dilution. It helps keeps everyone focused with a clear understanding of WHAT they are all working towards, and WHY they are doing it. There's an old saying, "Without vision, the people wander aimlessly". Likewise, without The Pitch establishing the clear product vision, the product wanders aimlessly in development, in marketing, in sales, and in the marketplace.

Finally, every good product just like any good movie needs a memorable tagline.

"A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." - Star Wars

"Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water..." - Jaws 2

"The Last Man On Earth Is Not Alone" - I Am Legend

"A Thousand Songs in Your Pocket" - iPod

"The World's Thinnest Notebook" - MacBook Air

"Can You Hear Me Now?" - Verizon

What's the tagline to your product? What is the one sentence that sticks in peoples minds and brings instant connection with your idea? Be creative. Be imaginative. Make it memorable.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I Still Like Julius Genachowski

Last June, I stated my case that FCC Chair Julius Genachowski is good for mobile marketing. Today, I re-iterate my case, though with a bit more guarded enthusiasm due to greater education on my part.

I originally was highly in favor of Network Neutrality which was one influence in my support for Genachowski. Since that time, I've had the opportunity to hear both sides of the story - especially after having a good chat with two representatives of the CTIA when we were all in Los Angeles for the Mobile Marketing Association Forum last November.

How would you feel if a complete stranger moved into your house, ran his business out of your house and make millions every month. Meanwhile, you're stuck with the mortgage payments, the utility bills, the food bills, and oh - by the way - you have to clean up after him. And you don't see a single penny of that money much less even get a thank you. I'm sure that you wouldn't even allow this stranger anywhere near your property. But what if the government said that you had to, and there was nothing you could do about it? That, my friends, is Network Neutrality in a nutshell.

The network infrastructure providers maintain that Google and others like them have made vast fortunes freeloading on their groundwork. Meanwhile companies like Global Crossing, Level 3, and Nortel Networks took a beating in recent years.

The FCC's recent inquiries into competition in the mobile wireless industry is another cause for raised eyebrows. As long as the inquiry remains an inquiry and does not devolve into intervention, then I'm okay with that. I believe in free market principles - not "fair market" principles. There is no such thing as "fair". Only little children and socialists believe that "fairness" is a reality.

So even with this dose of reality, I still am a fan of Julius Genachowski.

Genachowski's recent speech at the Innovation Economy Conference in Washington D.C. gives me reason for hope.

He displayed a fascinating insight when he equated his vision of the impact of universal broadband to the impact of universal electricity - something that we today take for granted (at least until the lights go out).
"Broadband is reshaping our economy and our country more fundamentally than any technology since electricity. Indeed, there are echoes in the current moment of the era when electricity became widely available in America, unleashing a torrent of innovation. Ubiquitous electricity extended the day into the night. It brought us refrigerators and washing machines; radios and televisions; phones, wired and wireless; data processors, then computers. These and other electricity-driven appliances transformed virtually everything about how we live and how we work."

"Ubiquitous high-speed broadband, like other transformative general purpose
technologies, can spark innovation of every kind -- many we can imagine, and even more we can’t. Indeed, broadband offers particularly powerful opportunities for accelerated innovation through the broad and fast collaboration and information-sharing it enables.

Because of its power to propel innovation, broadband can be our platform for economic prosperity and opportunity for all Americans. It can be our engine for enduring job creation and economic growth. Our Internet ecosystem has already created millions of jobs, and universal broadband can accelerate that. Studies show that increases in broadband penetration translate into increases in GDP." (my emphasis added)
"...we see huge opportunities -- and real risks -- around mobile broadband. Much of what we see suggests that mobile broadband can be the preeminent platform for innovation in the next decade. To be the global leader in innovation 10 years from now, we need to lead the world in wireless broadband."
I think Genachowski "gets it." He clearly understands what's happening in the world today and where it is heading tomorrow.

Check out this quote from the closing of this speech:
"While invisible, spectrum is the lifeblood of our wireless networks and a critical part of our innovation infrastructure. In recent years, the FCC has authorized a three-fold increase in commercial spectrum. But experts anticipate a 30-fold increase in wireless traffic. Given that spectrum can take many years to reallocate and build out, if we don't start the process now, we'll pay a steep price in innovation down the road.

To meet this spectrum challenge, the FCC will have to encourage more efficient uses of spectrum and devices through innovative spectrum policies. We’ll look at increasing spectrum flexibility and opening secondary markets for licensed use. And we’ll look to unlicensed spectrum as well, so that entrepreneurs and inventors have some open space in which to dream up the next miracle wireless technology.
I totally love the idea of opening up an unlicensed spectrum to facilitate innovation incubation. By lowering the barrier to broadband spectrum access, the FCC helps to make it easier for entrepreneurs to develop world-changing inventions.

By recognizing the economic value of broadband - including mobile wireless broadband, Genachowski bodes good news for the growth of the mobile marketing industry.

I'm not a starry-eyed follower of Genachowski, but so far so good.