A simple strategy: Make something people love
This article first appeared June 13th, 2012.
We were set to launch Posse in retail.
We'd planned out the site, and it was to be similar to music Posse except with stores instead of bands. They could list offers on their own page, and encourage their best customers to share offers with friends.
When those friends used their vouchers, the existing customers earned points they could exchange for goods or services back at the stores.
We knew the retailers loved it – we'd signed up more than forty in four weeks. Every indicator was positive. But something didn't feel quite right. I had a nagging suspicion that it wouldn't work.
I couldn't put my figure on why, until I had a lightbulb moment while getting my hair done.
My hairdresser is Gallo Hair and I've been going there for eight years. I love my hairdressers: Phil, the owner, and Claire are awesome.
While finishing my hair, Phil told me about this new loyalty app that they'd introduced. He pointed to the counter where there was a big stand with a QR code on it. He asked me to try it out, saying I could earn discounts if I used it.
It sounded interesting. I like discounts, I want to support Phil and his hair salon, and I do have a company in a similar space. At least, I should check out the competition.
It wasn't until I walked out of the salon and down the street that I realised I had never even looked at that loyalty app!
By the time my hair was finished I had forgotten about it. I also think, subconsciously, I really couldn't be bothered going up to a stand on a counter, scanning a code and downloading an app. I wasn't prepared to make the effort, even to suss out the competition.
Then it struck me. If they can't get me (the perfect target customer) to look at their app, why would anyone look at ours?
I thought about what other apps I had on my phone; sites that I use regularly and how I came to use them. There are very few of them.
Like the majority of potential users, I'm actually quite lazy. If I'm going to bother to download your app or sign up to your site and use it, then it better be so useful, so fun and so original that it blows my mind. Otherwise – forget it. I might try it once for research but I won't come back.
I concluded that, even though I was sure we could get retailers to try Posse, there was little chance that customers would bother. This assumption proved true in February when we launched Retail Posse with forty stores. Only a handful of people ever successfully made recommendations and earned points. Crap.
I'd gambled abandoning the music site to launch retail and now I knew it wouldn't work. I don't want to underplay what this felt like. With more than $3 million investment behind me, this was a frightening, stressful discovery! What next?
First, we had to look at our site from the perspective of a customer/user. What would they want Posse to do? What real world problems do they have that we can solve?
Then, how can we make the site so original, so fun and so magical that when they use it they can't wait to run out and tell their friends.
Only if we could figure out how to design a product that people loved would we have a shot at creating something successful.
We approached the process of finding our new strategy in three phases.
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1. What do users want?
If users are going to engage with our platform then we'd have to solve real and significant problems they face in the real world. To find this, I ran a series of 14 focus groups and more than 30 one-on-one user interviews.
I know Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg famously abhor focus groups and never run them because they say users don't know what they want until they see it. I can only say I found the process incredibly helpful.
True, people won't tell you what they want – that's for the entrepreneur to dream up. But by asking questions you can learn about their sore spots, where they are frustrated in their lives.
The questions I asked at these focus groups led to answers that helped me understand the customer problems we could solve.
I asked participants: ‘Tell me about the last time you recommended a favourite place to a friend? What was the place? Who was the friend? Why did you tell them? What did you want in return?’
I found that people loved sharing information with friends about places they'd discovered. It was like they'd collected these real world places and their eyes would light up when they started telling you about them.
They wanted their friends to know that they'd found all these awesome places and wanted their friends to discover them. And they liked helping their local retailers too.
Digging a little deeper, I found that they really would love recognition from stores for supporting them, but they didn't want currency for referring friends.
Then I'd ask, ‘Tell me about the last time you were in a new place and needed to find a restaurant, gym or hotel? What did you do?’
In answering this, everyone had much the same story. First, they'd try calling or emailing a friend and asking for a recommendation. Often that friend was not contactable, or they didn't have the time to engage in conversation. They just wanted a recommendation.
After trying a few friends, they'd resort to a site like Timeout, Yelp or Trip Advisor. But they don't trust the reviews on these sites – they want to hear from a friend.
That was it! We'd create a place where users could display their collection of favourite real-world places and somewhere they could always visit to discover the favourite places of their friends.
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2. How can we make it fun?
Personally, I find most new sites boring. There's so much competition that if I'm to get excited about something it must be fun; so original it feels like magic.
I wanted to make a site that I loved. One that I excited me. And I'm not excited about forwarding vouchers to my friends for points, so I don't know why anyone else would be.
I love stories: Alice In Wonderland, Mary Poppins or Roald Dahl stories. I love the wild imagination of these authors. I also started to research gamification and I found a clip of a guy called Gabe Zichermann on YouTube.
I played this clip to the whole team at lunchtime and we all concluded we needed to design Posse as a game.
Next, I ran a two-hour strategy session every day for a month (including weekends). Each day, the sessions involved different people.
Sometimes it was small groups of members of the Posse team. We engaged Australian agency Deepend, and some of their staff attended eight sessions.
We ran a workshop with a gamification expert, and I ran sessions with small groups of my own friends.
It was an intense and odd process. Some days we'd hammer away and only make a little progress. But generally, something, perhaps a comment or observation, would emerge from each session to spark an idea that bore fruit in the next.
There was a moment at Deepend where we started talking about SimCity.
Next day's strategy session featured six members of the Posse team. I said SimCity, and Hamish suggested the idea of users building their own street. In that session the whole concept emerged.
It was as if we'd been pushing for weeks, then the whole thing came out in one go. The street led to a town that led to the idea of trinkets and thank-you gifts.
The air in the room was electric. At the end, we came out on a high – everyone was smiling ear to ear and we knew we had something magical. That was when I knew we were on the right track.
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3. How will it work?
The next issue was how would the whole thing fit together? To decide, we all went up to the NSW Central Coast and, for two days and nights, worked on the nuts and bolts.
What are the rules of the game? How will the pages look? How will we engage users? How long will it take to build?
We split up into small groups, tackled different parts of the problem, and then came together as a whole team to find consensus. Everyone had different opinions about things and we argued these out.
It's great for teams to argue about things, because it means everyone is passionate about the mission of the company. I lost many of the arguments because I'm often wrong, and the team reached better solutions than I did.
I think what we've built is useful, fun and magical. The alpha goes live this week, so we'll see how people respond. If we’re successful, it’ll be because we recognised quickly that our original product wasn't going to work.
We'd been this place before in music when we realised the music site wasn't going to scale. Instead of banging away, knowing that the fundamentals were wrong, we weren't afraid to go back to the drawing board and start again from scratch.
I also think that the intense four month strategy process helped us discover any potential landmines that would kill the product, and to design something that (hopefully) people will love.
Will our latest strategy work? Why not try it yourself at www.posse.com. Successful or not, I'll write about it here!