Musings from Inroads to the Future

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The annual Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) symposium took place November 15, 2017 in Carson, CA. The event (Inroads to the Future) allowed MIC members to meet and discuss how to prepare for the changing future of the powersports industry. The audience was composed of representatives from the major powersports distributors (BMW, Can-Am, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Polaris, Suzuki, Yamaha, etc.) as well as teams from after-market parts & accessories distributors and manufacturers. In addition, industry media and marketing agencies were also in attendance.

Shama Hyder from Marketing Zen Group was one of the keynote speakers. A motorcycle enthusiast, she shared some marketing tips to the crowd to better navigate the digital landscape. Shama focused on the benefits of targeted Facebook advertising and provided case studies of her client’s success.

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The speaker most of the crowd came to see was Dr. Paul Leinberger from Denny + Leinberger Strategy, LLC. He has provided an economic overview and futurecast over the past several years. His insights were excellent and provided attendees with brain food to prepare for the challenging future of the industry. Dr. Leinberger noted that in the next 5 years we will experience the biggest fundamental changes since WWII. The key areas of change will be:

  • Transportation
  • Urbanization
  • Medical
  • Mobility
  • Frictionless commerce – more engaging, immersive retail experiences
  • AI and robotics

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Leinberger also noted that we need to move away from talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) to focus on the Internet of Everything (IoE). A completely connected world will be a challenge for all businesses in terms of privacy, massive amounts of data, and changing socio-economic influences (not to mention technology advances). Digital and physical will merge changing the retail landscape and changing consumer preferences. The industry needs to change now, to prepare for and shape a challenging future.

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The symposium is always a great event to reconnect with associates in the industry. In addition, it was insightful to hear from individuals outside of the powersports industry and gain new perspectives to help attract new consumers. I highly encourage you to attend your personal industry and also non-industry events. Connecting and listening to a diverse set of people helps drive creativity and provides new ways to conduct business. If anything, just getting out of the office for a day to hear insightful speakers is worth the time to separate from your normal schedule and gather insights for new creative ideas.

Musings from PDMA Conference

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The past week I attended the annual Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) annual conference. This year’s conference was held in Chicago at the Swissotel and was a great opportunity to meet fellow product geeks and get a taste of what’s happening in the “real world”.

With several hundred attendees from a wide variety of industries, academic institutions, and countries, the event was an excellent opportunity to engage with the global product community. I had the pleasure of presenting a seminar on creating an innovative ecosystem titled, Strategic Agility: Building an Innovative Organizational Ecosystem. This title is a mouthful, but the concept is very straightforward. To create an innovative organization that can properly adapt to the changing business environment requires four key areas of focus.

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The audience was a great mix of practitioners and academics. And from the lack of hands raised to my questions, “Who considers their organization innovative?” and “Who knows their organization’s strategic plan?” there is a lot of work (and opportunities) ahead of us. The four main concepts for an innovative organization are:

  1. Strategic agility – composed of three meta-capabilities (collective commitment, strategic sensitivity, and resource fluidity)
  2. Cognitive skills – creative thinking, critical thinking, decision making, problem solving, etc.
  3. Strategic roadmap – a clear understanding of where you are and where you plan to go
  4. Culture – encourages experimentation, accepts failure as a key aspect of learning, and most importantly has a high-level of trust between senior management and employees at every level

Too many organizations are not focused on innovation and out-maneuvering the competition. Business leaders are content with the status quo (or what worked in the past will continue to work in the future), offering consumers me-too products, and overseeing a demoralized workforce. Executives must take the lead to build an organization of capable thinkers who have a strong understanding of the market, and leverage evidence-based management to encourage data-driven decision making and problem solving. Skills, knowledge, and ongoing experimentation are vital to stay ahead of current and future competition.

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It is critical to “rub elbows” with individuals outside your industry. Understanding how a variety of individuals, organizations, and industries practice product management is vital to leveraging best practices and uncovering new methodologies to stimulate the organization. Product managers need to get out of the office and interact with practitioners from different industries. The more your network, the more you learn.

Meeting new people and learning new ways to excel at product management will help you develop innovative and interesting ways to create exciting products and allow you to position your portfolio for competitive advantages. To become a master product manager you must become a life-long learner. Reading, research, and roaming the Internet are all good ways to learn; however, it is also vital to interact with different people and groups to expand your world knowledge. A key element of creativity is connecting unrelated dots. The way to build a large supply of “dots” is traveling, meeting new people, and applying your new learnings to work.

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An innovative organizational ecosystem is critical for sustained, positive growth. The ability to continually surprise competitors and keep them off balance while wowing customers with new and exciting products and services ensures long-term success. Leaders need to stop outsourcing their basic business needs. They need to create a skilled and innovative organization for long-term success. An innovative ecosystem founded on empowered and highly skilled employees, clear and effective strategic development and execution, and a corporate culture based on trust, learning, and strategic agility, is critical within the increasingly turbulent and disruptive global business environment. Now get out there, attend some conferences, meet new people, and change the world.

Market Research – Best Practices

marketresearch  One of the most important skills for product managers, brand managers, and anyone involved in marketing is market research (MR). To wow customers and out-maneuver competitors it is critical to understand what your customers need, how they use your products, why they don’t buy competitor products, etc. In addition, you need to understand the same information about your competitor customers. To uncover these insights, you need to conduct both qualitative and quantitative MR.

Foundational MR skills can be learned from books, videos, or classes. However, like any other skill, you need to practice in the real world. You need to get out of the office and interview consumers. You need to go to retail stores and observe consumer behavior. You need to shadow experienced researchers and learn how they do it. It is also critical to practice writing questionnaires for both qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys. Writing and design questionnaires are an art form and takes a lot of practice, failure, and continuous improvement.

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No matter what type of MR you use, there are a several best practices you need to keep in mind. It is important to use these best practices to ensure strong response rates and keep participants engaged so they will participate in future MR studies. Treat your participants like friends and they will agree to future research requests.

The following best practices are from the recent Participant Engagement – How to improve the online survey user experience guide compiled by Global Research Business Network. You can access this excellent guide at http://grbnnews.com/special-report-improving-the-online-survey-user-experience/.

  • Keep the questions simple and short, and use every day terminology
  • Design the questionnaire so it works on mobile devices
  • Keep screeners as short as possible
  • Avoid using large tables or matrixes
  • Provide incentives that align with the participants’ effort
  • Keep surveys to a maximum of 10 minutes – if you have to go longer, be honest about how long it will take to complete

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In addition to best practices, use metrics to ensure you achieve what you want. Keep your MR goal in perspective by asking “Why and now what?”. Remind your team why are you conducting the research and once you compile the data, what are you going to do with it.

Create a survey people enjoy taking. Use creativity to keep participants engaged (e.g., gamification, animation, videos). Develop a MR study which participants feel their responses are valued and are being used to improve business, products, etc.

When the research is completed, create a compelling story to share insights with team members. Don’t just gather data to sell your products. Think of MR as an additional touch-point with your customers; just like advertising, customer service, packaging, social media, etc.

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Too often teams make decisions based on guesses or relying on intuition or experience. It is vital to adopt a data-driven, evidence-based decision-making culture. The importance of “going to the spot” and seeing how products are used, how consumers behave in the “real world”, and struggles they encounter will provide insights for innovation.

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Staring at data can only provide a limited understanding of consumer behavior. Using qualitative MR to gather deep insights and quantitative MR to identify patterns leveraging the strength of statistics will help you create competitive advantages and separate yourself from your competitors. Learn, practice, and implement MR tools and techniques for long-term growth.