Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Long Tail Debate

Anita Elberse's recent piece Should You Invest in the Long Tail?, Harvard Business Review July-August 2008 has stirred up a debate among long-tail enthusiasts and critics. Prof. Elberse's academic work on the Long tail is great for the Long Tail theory. With such academic challenges of the Long Tail theory, Chris Anderson - who coined the term/theory - gets a good chance to defend the theory giving the new context and data presented by challengers. It is through such challenges that the theory gets refined and the boundaries of the theory's applicability defined.

Prof. Elberse's research validated the Long Tail theory and reveals additional patterns about consumption in the long tail: (1) the long-tail is long but extremely flat and (2) light users have a disproportionately strong preference for the more popular offerings. Her definition of what constitutes the "head" (and hence the tail) of the power curve is certainly a point of contention/difference between the Long tail theory and her analysis. She defines the head as the top 10% of titles in her data set while Chris considers the head as akin to the amount of content that can be shelved at the largest wal-mart store. I believe his definition is a better base-line especially when considering how the internet is lowering distribution cost and the fact that this is probably the theoretical limit of a brick and mortal store.

In her advice to producers and retailers she offers nothing new in the way of strategy implication/formulation which I was looking forward to. Overall it was a good piece and I'm only surprised at the level of criticism especially since she didn't invalidate the Long Tail but rather offered some new data to support it as well as tease out some additional conclusions.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Product Roadmaping

Kids do not try this at home without the supervision of a responsible adult. Why, you ask? You won't have to take responsibility for getting it all wrong.

I presented the product roadmap to the management team today. I won't tell you if I was booed and kicked out of the room or fired for my crazy ideas but I figured at best I should share my experience with anyone who cares to read my blog. I wouldn't recommend my approach only because I figured there has got to be a better way to doing this than flying solo and blindfolded. It would have been great to have a research team pouring over customer survey data, industry analyst banter etc but as my luck goes none was available so I had to distill whatever information I could find internally and on the internet and make the best of it.

We had commissioned Forrester to do some work for us on an unrelated project a couple of months ago so I had data from that exercise which was quite helpful. Although I'm sure innovation technology purist will tell you these analysts can't provide good data on new and groundbreaking technology but I needed a place to start and that was the most recent data I had so I went with it. In addition, I read my hearts out, AIIM website and magazine, CIO Insight, KM World etc. It at least gave me an idea of where the industry is likely to go and also because I know our customers are reading those magazines as well (nothing wrong with getting on the same page with your customers). Then the fun part was condensing all that to product features and a timeline to deliver innovative solutions which address the problems no one else has been able to solve for your customers and make lots of money!!

My final slide deck consisted of the following titles:

>Industry Trends and Competition
Quick summary of what is going on in the industry and what product attributes your competitions are touting to your customers.

>What do customers want?
What business problem have your customers told you they want to solve? I like to have customers explain what they need accomplished instead of the rundown of features that they sometimes give. I believe this will help you focus on the product attributes that will be of value to them.

>Things to Keep In Mind
Since I made some assumptions, this slide was essentially my disclaimer slide as well as what I plan to do to edge against any failed assumptions. At least you can always point to this if you are ever acused of not getting it right.

>Project Vision
Every product should have one.

>Key Scenarios
The customer scenarios will are going to address with the features planned for release

>Product Roadmap
Your project timeline including project goals

It will certainly take months to deliver on what was outlined in the roadmap and many more months after to find out if customers respond to the products with their pocket books.