I was able to arm-twist our editing staff to allow me to write this article from a first person’s perspective, since our monthly articles typically follow a consistent format.  So the question of the day is – Do you think you are an effective product manager?  Does your personality/style/ambitions predispose you to have a successful career in product management?

I just got back from PMEC (Product Management Education Conference) in San Jose.  While my brain is still buzzing with the knowledge consumed in the last couple of days, I’m physically ready to implement a few great ideas bestowed by the industry experts.  I have learned some time ago to jot down no more than 10 actionable takeaways from any conference.  Anymore than that compromises my ability to follow through.  This year’s conference was particularly interesting as the topics spanned from all aspects of social media to how anthropology relates to consumer insights in driving competitive advantage.    Attendees weathered through the daunting topic of internet security, only to be deflected by a lively discussion on effective team dynamics.

In team dynamics, Camille Smith of Work in Progress Coaching took us through a journey of recognizing our professional ambition and leadership styles.  The tool we used in the workshop was “DISC-on-steroids,” as Smith called it, a combination of the DISC approach plus an additional portion on Ambitions.  A discussion that typically follows an assessment like this is how we can utilize this information to assign roles/responsibilities, to improve team communication and to resolve conflict and performance issues.  Though these are all very important byproducts of an exercise like this, we also got a surprising twist.

As Product Managers, have you ever thought of the idea of a “best fit” in terms of style and ambition that makes one product manager innately more successful than the another, or have a “better chance” of reaching the higher rank?  Is there a “gold standard” of what a successful product manager should possess?  Is this person more deliberate, more interactive and more stable in nature . . . or someone who’s highly creative, more altruistic and individualist?  If you don’t fit this profile, does that mean you are doomed to fail?  Or perhaps you will be happier in a different profession?  Should this be part of everyone’s self actualization process?

I think this makes for fascinating water cooler conversation.  .   . okay perhaps not, but  I do believe it does make for good research, so I was delighted to hear that Camille Smith in partnership with AIPMM, is embarking on this project.  I am hopeful that this research will positively impact the Product Management profession and related disciplines.  Perhaps this will turn the tide so PMs are no longer coined “misunderstood?”

Jenny Feng

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As year-end approaches, everyone is “attempting” to resolute.  Most common resolutions are weight loss or fitness, or it’s drinking or smoking less.  New Year’s resolution has become a cliché; inconsequential and forgotten before you raise your next glass.

As managers, we are good at setting short-term and long-term business objectives, but when it comes to personal goals, we tend short-change ourselves.  Personal goals are equally important, and as with professional goals, we have a better chance of reaching our goals if we are specific and realistic in what we would like to achieve.  It is also essential to document our personal goals and grant ourselves at least one “stretch” (aka more ambitious) goal.

This year, I have a 3-prong resolution/goals for 2010 – in family, self and work.

Would you like to share your New Year’s resolution?

Good Luck & Happy 2010!

Jenny Feng

MarketeersClub.com

not if no one else does!

As marketer, we learn about price discrimination and see it in practice.  Unlike price gouging or price fixing, price discrimination is legal.

No other instance of price discrimination is as prevalent as my recent experience during my trip to India.

Sightseeing was a big part of the agenda, particularly given India rich history and culture AND I had the benefit of a local tour guide, my business partner and friend.  Though what amazed me was how local attractions blatantly charge foreigners almost 40x the premium over locals/Indian natives.  So take the entry fee to Taj Mahal for example, locals would pay a 20 Rupees for an entry ticket, but foreigners were required to pay 750 Rupees – astronomical in relative terms though arguably somewhat digestible in absolute terms ($0.50 cents versus $15.00).

So the same concept applied from place to place.  At one point, I tried to pass as someone from Northeast India call Nagaland – where Indians look more like Chinese.  That didn’t fool anyone.  So lesson #1, try sari next time – or a baroque – yaks!  Though in their defense, discriminatory price helps the administrators make the attractions more accessible to millions of ordinary Indians while still charging foreigners what they would reasonably expect to pay for an attraction in their home country.

Lesson #2 relates to price negotiation.  When a foreigner asks for the price, it automatically goes up by 100%.  Worse if you are summoned by an Auto or Tuk Tuk driver wherein the driver gets a commission by bringing you to the store.  Sure enough, the price difference was astonishing.  Within a ¼ mile radius, the price varied from 12,000 Rupees ($260) on the high-end to 1,800 ($39) on the low-end, for the same item – seriously!  Lesson learned:  it pays to shop around!

Finally lesson #3, grab a local friend if you can – I totally lucked out here.  Not only did I end up paying less than 50% of the original price, the price got even better once we factored in volume discount, and in this case, for business tchotchkes.  My job was to tell my friend which items I wanted and then let her work her magic.  Businesses resented the loss in margin – but we scored big!

So. . . since I just started to understand how things work in India – I think I should visit again soon to rehash some of the skills.  After all, practice makes perfect . . . that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Jenny Feng

MarketeersClub.com

Gift cards are promoted everywhere this holiday season– in ads, checkout counters and in-store signs. But in case you still miss it, your eyes will naturally gravitate to the colorful free standing display/kiosks in stores near you. And as if the mere convenience of gift cards isn’t motivating enough (for those too lazy to shop for an actual gift), grocery chains are offering incentives to get people to buy them in bulk – i.e., get a $20 grocery coupon with a $200 gift card purchase.

The problem I have with gift cards is that it’s impersonal. So impersonal in fact that frankly, I don’t remember who gave them to me. That’s probably because I ended up using the gift card on toilet papers or some household stuff – see, not so noteworthy.

Don’t get me wrong. . . I’m also occasionally drawn to the guilty pleasure of plastic money.

So I tried to make sense of the whole psychology behind gift card buying and came up with somewhat a logical rationale:
Say someone is willing to spend $20 on a gift, but it would take her half an hour to shop for it at an opportunity cost of $30 per half hour, so the overall cost would be $50. So if she gets a $40 gift card instead, she will be saving $10. She’s happy and the recipient scored. It’s a win-win situation, no?

Since we are on the subject of gift cards, it dawned on me that manufacturers should create their own gift cards. For example, General Mills could offer a $50 gift card for all General Mills products. This could be sold at any grocery chains and the stores have the discretion of discounting it. This could eventually replace temporary price reduction (TPR) or even coupons – but it does more – create brand loyalty! Sure, they just have to figure out the logistics at checkout – minor details. . .

How about a gift card for the cooking enthusiasts? Suppose you can give someone a $50 gift card to make a gourmet seafood dinner with recipe on the back – qualified items would include all items in the recipe and even a bottle of wine! Not so impersonal anymore, is it?  How about for baking, picnics, etc.

So in the spirit of this holiday season, let’s try not to go overboard on gift cards – give some thoughts to the gifts you are giving and make it memorable.

Jenny Feng

MarketeersClub.com

Well, as it turns out, a lot.

I had my first French macaron during my connecting flight in Paris a couple of months ago – it had me at first bite. I still remember when my teeth first met the crusty surface.  Then they descended into the chewy core, which was followed by just the right amount of fillings to top off the ultimate delectable experience. I thought the whole world must have been added to each macaron, only to learn later on that the ingredients are incredibly simple. After about the 5th one, I started contemplating whether or not my husband and I should continue on to Spain, which was our final destination, or stay in Paris and eat our way out of every single patisserie that carried this tongue altering narcotics.

Once we returned to California, I was determined to find these Parisian treats. Soon enough, I started eating my way out of the local bakeries – from Pualette to Miette to XP Patisserie and even Starbucks – yes, THE CHAIN – who knew!

As if that wasn’t enough, I decided that I would learn to make my own macarons. So I’m taking a 3-hour class in LA late December. I figured that if each macron costs $1.65, and a class costs $50, taking the class was no brainer. So this is now my little personal challenge. I consider myself a good cook, but I don’t bake.

So what do bakers and product managers have in common? In general terms:

Creativity: In baking, it’s about taste, presentation, tools and techniques. In product management, it’s about design, processes and resources. Yes, you CAN be creative in how you use your resources to get things done!

Patience: In baking, every step has to be meticulously done – the ingredients, the step by step preparation, and the wait . . . before you can enjoy the fruit of your labor. Product Managers generally lack patience. That might just be the nature of A-type personalities. But patience can result in better timing (i.e., go to market), better outcome (due diligence in planning, execution and QA) and increased productivity.

Persistence and the desire to achieve perfection: When I scoured the internet for a macron recipe and for people’s experience in making macrons, the common thread seemed to be the multiple attempts. One person went through 7 batches before he was happy with the outcome. PMs persistency comes from selling ideas they truly believe in to both the internal and external stakeholders. Persistence is also about finding an optimal solution to a problem.

Pride: In baking, it’s about repeated business via word of mouth. It’s about who wins the bake off contest, and if you have kids, it’s about who’s mom makes kick butt cupcakes. In product management, it’s the satisfaction of seeing your product move off the shelf and knowing that you’ve put your heart, soul, sweat into creating something that never existed before. It’s about making a difference in someone else’s life because of your product(s), or better yet, it’s about making a better world.

Passion: Bakers exists because they are passionate about food. If you don’t believe me, just look at their size (I’m going to get into so much trouble for this). As a marketer, I’m guilty of accumulating a lot of personal “stuff” I might not need. My husband accuses me of it, and I tell him that the product was so brilliantly marketed that I just had to buy it. Truly the bottom line is that if you are not passionate about the product that you manage, you are less likely to succeed.

So will baking make me a better product manager? Maybe . . . but I’m sure going to find out!

Jenny Feng

My name is Jenny Feng and I’m the CEO of MarketeersClub.com.  You haven’t heard much from me, only because I’ve been busy – very busy.  So my SEO Superhero has been covering for me, subsequently trying to improve our Google ranking.

My background has been in product management.  I still do that now, but I’m also an entrepreneur and a team leader – many hats.

So what is product management?

Wikipedia’s definition is across the board, and not as elaborate as I had expected.

Alltop shares different perspectives on it, via blog posts.

When I think of product management, I think “jack of all trades, master of none.”  Our resourcefulness compensates for mastery – so there!

Product managers’ roles are complex and often misunderstood.  The complexity grooms us to be future CEOs and Entrepreneurs, and misunderstood equates to being underpaid – agree?

So, who (or what) are product managers?  What makes them tick?  What do they aspire to become and what inspires them?  Why are they workaholics?  Where do they hang out?  How can I help them be more productive at work so they can get a life outside of work?

I’m on a quest to find out – so stay tuned!

Jenny Feng

There are several ways to get your market known.  The constant development of mass media has created endless possibilities for the businessmen and marketers around for spreading the news of their commodities.  The World Wide Web is not only a place for you to look for marketer tools. The internet can offer you thousands of possibilities for you to reach out to countless people and market your business.  You can begin with websites that offer subscriptions to special offers, newsletters, or an avenue for loyal patrons to ask for help or give out a good word.

The first step is building that wonderful website.  Have it search-engine-optimized based on your products and services.  Think of keywords that people may use in search for your type of product.  Once they look for it in search engines, they will get returns of websites most visited or more apt to the keyword that they looked for.  Your website will be among the returned websites searched by the engine, and may even be on the top list.

Have an avenue that consumers can write about their experience about your product, service, or establishment.  A Blog area for your target market will be a way for you to get to know your customers.  Aside from that, the feedbacks that they write will be your key to know what it is needed to give them a better deal.

Keep your website updated with new content.  Include there bargain deals that they can avail in selected retailers.  Product updates, like new packaging, new ingredients or features that customers will love will be most welcome to them.  With the choice of having to subscribe to your websites newsletters, consumers can stay up to date with changes in your business via email and RSS feeds.

Explore and exploit ways to use the internet for marketing your business to customers.  Consumers nowadays are more eager for a somewhat intimate relationship with the business that they patronize.  Consider including this option when you create that marketing plan template that is geared towards internet marketing.

Personal branding is when you identify YOURSELF as the brand of your business.  You create a name for a business not known for the business itself, but because of you.  Food, service, products – everything can be given a personal brand.  It is easier if you personally give the service that you market.  While you go over your marketing plan, you will see that it’s easier to do this type of marketing.  If you personally believe in your talent, skills, and the ability you will find no hardship in selling your personal brand.

You must be an expert in your field.  Know what it takes to be THE top, if not among, of your chosen profession. You, yourself, are the product of your business.  Invest in personal development.  Constantly seek out new knowledge, techniques, and other updates that will help your professional growth.  Be consistent with what you offer.  That means quality.  Unlike corporate branding, you have no area for lax in quality.  Know your limits, and love your identity.  If you are that brand, you cannot be the other.  Also be prepared for hardship in transfer.  When people buy your product, they are looking for YOU.  If they see that the front-liner is not the one in the brand, expect a significant decrease in sales.

Successful branding will give you a place in your desired field.  You will be well-known in your industry and gain a significant value in the market.  Your position and reputation will be hard to topple down once you have established a solid reputation.  Your personal contacts and the media will help spread the word that you have a product that is clearly identified to yourself.

The knowledge, entertainment, or help that you offer as your service will eventually help you create a name for yourself.  Many will gain a lot of benefits from you, and you will have thousands following you wherever you go.  Devise a marketing plan that will help you attain this goal.  Many marketing plan templates can be customized to aid you to do so.  Keep on believing and upgrading your product, and eventually, the brand known as YOU will be something that consumers will loyally look out for.

You have are marketing a great product.  It is inexpensive, and based on your conducted feasibility study, and a prime need of your target consumers.  But for some odd reason, only a few good souls are out there looking for your great idea.  How is this so?  Have you considered that maybe it’s your packaging that’s the problem?  Sure, your product has been in the market, say a decade or more.  But is your old packaging enough to catch the attention of your new customers?

redesign

What are the things that comprise your packaging?  The name, the symbol, ingredients, nutritional facts, you name it.  There are picky customers out there that do not leave the tiniest bit of detail for granted.  Even if you do know what’s in your product, do your customers know exactly what makes it so good?  Update the name.  Maybe it’s not that catchy enough. See if the new generation of shoppers can be attracted with the name of your merchandise.  It should be easy to remember, and most importantly, easy to spell.  Next would be the nutritional factors.  This should be carefully considered in your marketing checklist.  There are people out there with health problems, or health buffs who what to see what exactly they take in.

If it’s an electronic device or appliance, does it fit the standards for those with pacemakers, hearing aids, visual disturbances? If it is food, does it have the tag low sodium, no gluten or gluten-free, high-fiber, low fat, etc?  Is the packaging too much in wrapping?  Or maybe it speaks of cost-cutting like poor quality paper, bad printing.  Which, harsh it may be, translates to poor quality merchandise?  Let’s face it. Most consumers today are out for eye candy when it comes to taking interest on a product.

Consider redoing your marketing plan template to conform to re-doing your packaging.

Today’s recession has brought some drastic effects on business.  Consumers are more inclined to save than to splurge over items that they want, in lieu of the items that they need.  That means more are saving for spending extra on food that gives high nutrition.  Marketing studies conducted by IBM revealed a large percentage (72%) are choosy when it comes to the quality of the food that they purchase in stores.  An observant businessman will notice that shoppers are dividing their time shopping, spending more time in certain aisles while reducing or even removing themselves from other aisles.

Price

What does this indicate to businessmen?  If you are in the produce business, you need to redo your marketing plan.  Consider it part of your business and marketing plan to invest in quality improvement of your produce.  Put it in your marketing checklist to include certain bargain offers for shoppers that will help them get the best buy without crippling your business.  If you own a retail store, consider giving a cheaper offer to consumers, like bulk orders.  Even though they still consider spending more on quality, they are still after a good buy.  Those who are after nutritious food sometimes opt for pre-cut vegetables for they not only offer the nutrition that they are seeking, but also a cheaper price to help their budget.

Others opt to change their stores in efforts to save and get a better deal for their money.  If they hear that this store offers a bargain deal better than the one they are currently patronizing, they will consider visiting the other store to check the prices and compare. If you see that your regular customers are now visiting you less, you need to redo your marketing strategy.  Have some help for your marketing plan by looking for marketing plan templates that can help you figure out how to give the best of both worlds for you and for your consumers.

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