Archive for October, 2008

AC/DC Excel Macro: VBA goes Viral

October 24, 2008

An AC/DC music video done as an Excel macro “in glorious Excelvision(TM). People keep forwarding me this. There’s no reason anyone would want to watch an ASCII music video in Excel, but it’s never been done before and is therefore fascinating.

My guess is this will become legendary among spreadsheet users everywhere. Forget macro viruses, AC/DC is using macros to go viral.

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Fun, Fresh Product Naming from Freshbooks

October 23, 2008

As my daughter’s preschool teacher says when encouraging the class to clean up at the end of the day, “it’s OK to have fun if you get the job done.”

Too many marketers miss this point. How many uber-serious meetings have you been in where any suggestion with a hint of fun is shot down? Old-style marketing interrrupts: ads in the middle of your TV show or newspaper, banner ads flashing at you from the Website you visit for information, unsolicited emails cluttering your inbox. New-style marketing, we’re told, is based on permission, on adding value by participating in conversations, or on peer-to-peer passing along of viral messages.

What do old and new marketing have in common? Neither prohibits fun, and both too often forget it. In fact, fun is an advantage. Since the dawn of time, advertisers have known that you’d better be fun if you interrupt something people want to see (like, for example, the Super Bowl – a quick review of 2008’s Top 10 makes that point). And yet, in other areas of marketing – like product naming – serious rules.

Freshbooks is smart enough to break through that seriousness. Their product line-up has names that are both fun and informative. Let’s think about what they’ve chosen to communicate on their product page:

  • Intuitive product hierarchy – how does the line-up scale up from entry-level to high-end? Going from ‘Moped’  and ‘Shuttle Bus’ through ‘Starship’ and ‘Time Machine’ gives us a clear hierarchy
  • Features of each product in comparison to the others – clearly communicated through a simple grid. If I know nothing more than the number of customers I have and the number of accounting staff I have, I can choose a plan that fits me. Openly communicating the features of your products displays transparency and builds trust
  • Encourage free trial – with the free ‘Moped’ subscription they’ve put a freemium model into action here. It meets enough needs to be worth trying but, with an upper limit of 3 clients, will quickly be outgrown. And the Freshbooks branding on any emails sent from the ‘Moped’ means that Freshbooks extracts extra viral value from its free users

I don’t think ‘fun’ or ‘simple’ when I think of accounting software. By breaking those unspoken rules, Freshbooks is cutting through the clutter of Sarbanes-Oxley compliant debit-and-credit boring messaging. Kudos to them.

Taking Feedback on a Daily Basis

October 21, 2008

I had a coffee with a couple of friends from another department at work last week. The first discussed how a friend with a new baby was coping with lack of sleep. The second had been out of the baby business for some time but immediately offered a number of suggestions. Friend #1 responded, somewhat wearily, “I’m not sure she’s in the market for any more unsolicited advice at the moment.”

The trouble with feedback isn’t getting enough of it. The problem is the timing. At certain intervals (birth of a new baby, an annual customer survey) we are inundated with it. The rest of the time we’re flying blind. To combat this,

  • Elicit feedback at every opportunity. Don’t wait for the annual customer survey. Only your most committed or dissatisfied customers will respond (I’ve seen those surveys ‘summarized’ as 160+ slide decks that are never acted on). Instead, use every transaction and touchpoint to gather feedback. Include a ‘tell us how we’re doing’ link on every communication. Run polls constantly on the website – not monolithic surveys, just one simple question at a time. Take advice from Chris Brogan and others by using social media as a listening tool. Keep a ‘comments’ notepad at the cash register and give cashiers an incentive to use it. You’ll find you have a constant stream of useful insight instead of an occasional paralyzing deluge. Ben and Jackie advocated this in 2004 as part of their 10 Rules of Feedback, but I still see many companies who think of themselves as ‘responsive’ because of an annual deep-dive effort instead of a constant listening posture.
  • Categorize the feedback collected on the matrix. A surprising amount of it will fall into one of two no-brainer categories: easy stuff with high business benefit (“Grand Master of the Obvious”), or hard stuff with low business benefit (“Banging your head against the wall.”) You know what to do with these. The other two require thought and analysis. If you have something that’s high-benefit and hard to execute, ask yourself if you can meet the same need in an easier way. Something that’s low-value and easy to execute is handled differently. Is there other value that can be extracted from it by demonstrating responsiveness to customers, increasing satisfaction and retention? If so, again, we’ve shifted into Grand Master of the Obvious mode.

The smartest thing you can do as a businessperson is to make every decision a no-brainer. Developing an appetite and process for feedback is one of the best ways to do that.

Not Your Job

October 2, 2008

Negotiating layers of the organization to get approvals for your project is not your job

…but without it those initiatives might not get the resources they need. So negotiate quickly and fairly and only with those whose support is actually needed to get the job done.

Taking care of the people on your team is not your job

…but if you don’t do it, you won’t be able to get your job done (or a decent reference for another job!)

Making sure there are lots of high-fives and smiles on the sales floor is not your job

…but if you do your job it’ll happen.

Finessing megabytes of data into a nicely formatted PowerPoint about results is not your job

…but it might help others understand what you’re doing to impact the business. With that knowledge they could be more effective support. So get it done quickly, effectively, and in a way that doesn’t interfere with your job.

Your job mostly has to do with things ‘out there’ beyond the boundaries of your organization. Maybe you send messages to people out there about your products or services. Maybe you listen to people out there about what their needs are. Maybe you’re out there on the street or on the phone, selling to people out there. You could be developing a five year-strategy; much input will be from people in here, but if the five-year strategy isn’t mostly about what’s out there you risk failure.

Yes, most of your time is spent in here. In the office, on the phone, in your inbox, working with people in your organization. It’s easy to mistake that for your job. It’s not.

Your job is making money by communicating, providing or building value. For people out there. Nobody can get paid until that happens. How much of your day do you spend focused on what’s going on out there?

Photo by jocke66