Monthly Archives: January 2008

Niche: the way to go

When you make a web search in your favorite search engine, nine out of ten times, you don’t go to the second page. So it’s the first ten results that matter and rest are ignored. Same way the human brain works. There’s a list of top choices for everything and we normally ignore the others. So here’s the question: do you want to be the top choice for something, or mediocre for everything? I believe in today’s world, to be a specialist in something is what matters, which endorses that niche is indeed the way to go.

Targeting a niche market is important also due to the fact that one size doesn’t fit all, be it individual or industry. Consider something like developing Enterprise Resource Planning software. There are several minute details in every industry and to make sure you are optimizing resources for a company in that industry, you need to know those details inside-out. So I believe the best way to sell ERP solutions is to target an industry, master the economics of that industry and mold your software to take those details in consideration and make your solution attractive, and the primary choice, for companies in that industry. Such an ERP solution will definitely appeal more to companies in that industry as compared to generic ERP solutions.

In certain consumer products, companies make a mistake by directly going for the mass market ignoring any niche to which the product might have a special appeal. This process is often more expensive and doesn’t work for most companies, with exception of a few with really deep pockets. I believe a better approach is the one taken by companies like Apple and Whole Foods. These companies market their products to a small niche, to people who consider themselves member of these company’s cult, and then expand their reach to the masses. In the process, they generate support from a group of mavens who add to the company’s capacity to target a bigger and broader market in the long run.

“Tableted Kindle” for Schools

Jury is still out there on how successful and useful Kindle is as a product,  but I believe a Kindle borrowing some technologies from a Tablet PC along with some software enrichments can make a very useful product for school students. 

Think of a product being used by students from class one to class twelve in which they get all their textbooks,  they can take all their notes, they can check their emails and that is easy to read and write as paper based books and notebooks respectively. Isn’t that product worthy of a wow? Well that’s Kindle plus Tablet PC I am talking about. Kindle in itself is a technological leap in the field of digitizing books. To make it useful for schools, it should have a touch screen write capability where you can take notes, and mark and highlight in books. A state-of-the-art search capability to search anything as fast as possible and reach the right page of the right book or notes instantaneously. And to top it off, Internet connection to provide students controlled web browsing and email checking facilities. I think such a product can revolutionize education industry and take it to the digitized world like never before.

Now coming to the cost factor for this product. A Kindle is $400 and a Tablet PC costs about $1500. If this “Tableted Kindle” comes to be $1800, and is used by students for twelve years, it is $150 a year expense to take the entire library of student to this one device. As far as the usage cost of this device is concerned, it can replace the cost of buying books, notebooks and other accessories that are substituted by the “Tableted Kindle”. 

I know that we are still a few years, may be a decade, away from having something like a “Tableted Kindle” in hands of every school going child, and there are potential issues like hardware upgrades, technological changes coming out year after year and so on, but with proper integration of two products already out there, we can revolutionize a big part of education delivery infrastructure.

Marketing helps…even teachers

I always believed that teaching is something that speaks for itself. If a person is good in the profession of teaching, it will be recognized, no matter what, and children will gradually start to enjoy learning from this teacher. But recently I came across a third grade teacher who challenged this theory. This person, though not the best in his field, is the most admired teacher by the children in the class and the students do the best in subjects taught by this teacher. Reason: he markets himself as a fun loving person and the subjects he teaches as interesting, thus attracting the students towards the subjects.

This makes so much sense. Children consider something as hard or as easy as the perspective is developed for them. A twelve year old can play a multi-player video game with excellence but cannot solve a math problem. Logically thinking, this is something that is really hard to believe. But it makes complete sense when you take into account the likeness parameter. The kid enjoys playing that video game but tries to solve the math problem just because it is required. So if the teacher teaching math to this child makes math as interesting as that video game, I believe the math problem will be solved with the same excellence, if not more.

I believe marketing helps. Just like proper marketing can put life in a dead product, it can put life in a seeming dead subject taught in a class. All you need is to create an environment that generates interests for the subject, hence attracting children towards it.

The seasonal dimension

While waiting for my veggie burger to be cooked, I had a chat with the chef of the cafeteria I visit for lunch regularly. He asked me for cheese in my burger and I said no (as usual ;-)). He smiled and said – that’s the new year effect. The cheese consumption in the month of January drops pretty drastically because lot of people have it as part of there new year resolution to eat less fatty food, and it starts picking up again in February returning to normal in a couple of months.

This suggests that incorporating the seasonal dimension in enterprise resource planning can optimize the resources usage and prevent a lot of wastage. Another place where seasonal dimension can play a major role is advertising. Just as important as it is to target the right customer, it is also important to target them at the right time. For example, sticking to the “stay healthy” theme of new year resolution, I believe early January will be the perfect time for exercise machine sellers and fitness club owners to advertise their products and services respectively to the right set of customers. Similarly, it might not be as fruitful for airlines or travel web sites to spend on advertising in January because most of the people they are targeting just had their vacation a few days back.

These scenario show that something like seasonal dimension can play an important role in cost savings. In fact, I believe it is one of those nitty-gritty details, which if considered correctly can make your planning system stand out above the lot.

Let’s think green

Green is for everything, and you don’t have to make your product bland to make it eco-friendly, all you need is creativity in product development to attain it. I came across gDiaper video a few days back and I believe these diapers certainly endorse this fact. gDiapers consists of a washable outer pants and plastic free flushable refill. The outer pants make the diaper look nice, the flushable refills make them a lot easier to use and dispose, and at the same time the plastic free refill makes the product eco-friendly. So next time when you think that your product doesn’t have scope to go eco-friendly, think about the diapers to get some inspiration!

This is just one example where making the product eco-friendly makes it easier and smarter to use. Another one that is gaining lot of attention is Honda Pilot. Honda built this car which looks like an SUV and gives twice the gas mileage as compared to a normal SUV. By making a green product, Honda is on its way to cash on all the bad publicity SUVs are gaining for bad mileage, which makes them both non eco-friendly and costly to use.

So what does “think green” mean? “Think green” simply means add features to your product that gives it added advantages along with making it better for the planet. Using creativity and making conscious efforts in designing the product can lead to an eco-friendly output with features that can attract the customers. Plus you need one more thing – marketing. You need to let the customer know that your product is eco-friendly. Eco-friendly pitch can give your product the much needed differentiating factor, and in some cases can even help you de-commoditize the product.