Situation: A company faces a question branding a new product – what should lead the branding focus: product design or product attributes that will be an eventual part of the branding strategy? Which should lead in building brand focus?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are two areas of focus – each an important part of the overall trademark and branding strategy:
A distinct name or symbol, for example Amazon.com or eBay, will gain the right kind of attention and be easy for potential customers to remember. The prime risk here is stepping on someone else’s mark.
Your overall branding strategy. The point here is not confusing your customers. Marketing people will advise you to KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid! One tack is simplifying the complexity of technology.
It is important to develop a consistent set of product attributes – one that you know through research will resonate with your client base – before your Alpha launch. It is dangerous to conduct an Alpha launch without clarity on this point. Subtleties of the eventual brand do not need to be finalized, but the overall framework of key product attributes should be consistent and clear from the beginning.
Design and the development of important product attributes ideally take place in synch with each other. Positioning will depend on your audience, and the unique needs and expectations of the audience.
The name itself could be important. Being clear and easy to spell may be important. Test alternative names for this trait.
Situation: To maintain expense control as the Affordable Care Act is implemented, a company is looking at HSA options to replace their past insurance coverage. What do you think is the future of HSA policies and accounts as the ACA is implemented?
Advice from the CEOs:
HSA Accounts are expected to survive implementation of the ACA, at least for now, and may even thrive (Forbes Magazine analysis, 3/27/13).
The HSA Model combines a relatively inexpensive high deductible health insurance policy (minimum deductibles in 2013 at least $1,250 for individual and $2,500 for family coverage) with an HSA Account. Employer or employee contributions go into the account pre-tax. Most insurers offer a high deductible policy and many companies have adopted this option because it helps to control the growth in health care costs.
Annual HSA contributions are limited to the amount of the deductible, currently up to $3,250 for individual and $6,450 for family coverage, though these amounts are increased by $1,000 of the employee is 55 or older. Contributions are held in a bank account and can be withdrawn by the employee to cover most out of pocket health expenses. This is under an honor system, subject to possible audit by the IRS.
The key component that differentiates HSA Accounts from older health reserve accounts is that if the funds deposited annually are all not used to pay for health costs, the employee gets to keep the excess funds in the account. If the employee builds up excess funds in HSA Account, these can be transferred into an IRA. Check with your HSA bank for rules as to transfer of IRA funds back into the HSA Account if needed to cover out of pocket health care costs.
The down-side of the HSA Account is that if the employee encounters a significant health cost, above the amount in their HSA Account, they will have to cover this out of pocket. However, they have the option to reimburse themselves from future HSA contributions as these accrue.
If you are considering this for your company, it is advisable to hire a consultant to help you tailor the plan to the specific needs of your company.
Situation: A company’s major competitor is closing shop. When this happens the company will be the sole large local service provider. Municipal and many large projects require multiple bids. The CEO is concerned that out-of-area companies will underbid the company’s union scale operation. How do you maintain your position in a changing local market?
Advice from the CEOs:
If your municipality has union scale wage rules, find a way to monitor wage compliance of out-of-area operations. These companies may say that they pay union scale, but the municipalities and others won’t have the staff to monitor them. This will be up to you.
Talk to local elected authorities and impress upon them the importance of supporting local businesses. Remind them of wage compliance problems that localities have seen in the past. Suggest that they look at local content requirements to help keep business and business revenue funding in the local economy.
Emphasize the maintenance aspect of your jobs. If a local company both builds and later maintains the project, they will know the subtleties of the design and will be able to provide better and more cost-effecting ongoing maintenance.
Educate clients with monitoring, measurement and compliance checklists that highlight the benefits of using local contractors and maintenance service.
If the other company approaches you about buying his business focus on the ROI produced by the other company’s costs and profits, but under your pay-scale. If this looks promising, have a conversation with the owner and see what he wants. Prompt the owner to talk and listen carefully to what he has to say. If you don’t want to buy the full business, there are other options:
Hire his key employees on a $/hour plus commission basis on retained sales.
Purchase his customer list, or giving him something for any maintenance contracts that come over to you within a set time period.
Situation: A company has a successful product, but the market is changing. Previous customers were savvy, but the market is shifting to more naïve customers who don’t understand how to use the product. How so you respond when the market for your product changes?
What you are seeing is a typical market evolution. (See Clayton Christensen’s book Crossing the Chasm.)
When a new product is introduced, early adopters are typically savvy users who quickly grasp the utility of the product. They don’t mind some inconvenience provided the product is useful.
As the market matures and starts to attract mainstream customers, new users will not be as sophisticated and expect the product to be easy to use.
If you don’t adapt to these new customers your product will languish as new competitors enter the market with user-friendly adaptations.
The path is clear. Figure out how to make your product easy to use. If you use a GUI (graphic user interface) make the GUI intuitive. Allow customers to get what they need with as few choices or clicks as possible.
These changes may alienate more sophisticated customers, but they usually only represent a small segment of your potential market.
Add a customer-friendly service component. This builds a service income base around the product. You have different options.
Align the customer with appropriate level of resource – you may not require high level resources to assist the customer, particularly if the product is one where the service consultant only needs to be one page ahead of the user.
Outsource the service component to a partner or use independent contractors.
Consider a remote monitor system:
A dashboard interface with easy to read visuals or messages that tell the customer when service is needed. This will enable them to perform simple maintenance using your tools, or alert them when they need to contact you for service.
An example is Norton’s evolving system of products that enables an unsophisticated home computer user to either use Norton tools to perform routine maintenance, or directs them to the Norton web site for assistance or more sophisticated solutions.