Wednesday, November 22, 2006



Manufacturers: Excite People To Buy

I have a toaster on my kitchen counter that I bought at a local discount store. It cost about the same as the many other mid-price toasters that were on display. It toasts bread the same way. It's the same size. So, why did I buy this toaster, and not one of its dozen competitors? Somebody took the time to make this toaster not just a toaster, but an exciting piece of contemporary art. It's not just a toaster, it's an absolutely gorgeous toaster. The appearance of the product excited me enough at the store to stop me in my tracks as I scanned the many toaster options. Once I saw the price compared to the many dull, lifeless models on the shelves, I stopped shopping and I bought this one.

If you could completely learn and absorb the lesson told in this story, you could be selling many times the number of products you now sell, and, you could be enjoying lower effort in your marketing, and even higher margins.

The lesson is to not just build products, even great products. You should be building products that actually excite customers to buy them.

Right Brain. Left Brain.

Supposedly, people are either predisposed to spontaneity, or to analysis in the way they approach decisions. Traditional marketing and product design apply this idea by theorizing that there are two distinct potential buyer groups. And, a result of this idea is that designers build either low functionality, simple "pretty" products, or, they build high functionality, complex "utilitarian" products, with the second type being priced higher than the first. But, what if one product could exist neatly at the intersection of both groups?

If a product is both functional and gorgeously styled, and priced competitively, it can be an exciting option for anyone, either the right or left brain set. The creative types seize on the design, and then use the competitive functionality as their needed rationale for making the purchase. And, the analytical types obsess on the functionality, and then use the attractive styling as the excuse to justify the purchase. In either case, it's the overall value proposition of combining terrific styling with competitive functionality that makes the product so exciting to nearly any potential customer.

When In Doubt, Simplify.

If you are having a problem determining just what makes the appearance of a product exciting, you can always use a simple trick applied many clever manufacturers: simplify. Of course, this is not often an easy trick to pull off well. Sometimes, simplifying a product without crippling its functionality is one of the hardest challenges in industrial design. But, if the toaster lesson has any widespread application, this challenge of seeking simplicity in your designs should be worth the effort.

Sunday, November 05, 2006



The Back Story Behind other Red

This past week a surprising new charity operation hit the web press. Called "other Red," it appears to be a near-clone of the famously successful (product) RED fundraising system run by the Global Fund and promoted by U2's Bono. In this case, appearances are accurate: The other Red program is indeed a clone of that larger, more powerful program. And, here is how that happened.

Big Problems And Big Solutions

As anyone tracking my activities knows, I live in Kenya, and do marketing consulting work for companies in the USA and Europe. I moved here after having visited Kenya repeatedly for many years. I have been drawn here because I respect the people of this area, and I see the huge challenges they face in their lives. I think that a few skilled Western entrepreneurs committing time and resources here could make a huge difference in the economy. And, I decided that I would be one of those guys who made that commitment. I moved. And, I am trying to apply Western business practices toward helping the community here.

That said, the problems faced by the African people are many and are deep. One major problem is the enormous number of homeless children, created by losing parents to HIV/AIDS, other diseases, other catastrophes. Over a million kids in Kenya alone are without parents. And, there is no one major unified program here strong and capable enough to approach this problem. There are thousands of tiny little programs, none of them coordinating funding or operations. In my mind, a huge problem requires a huge solution. And, my experience tells me to get from "small" to "huge" can best be done by finding a smaller solution and scaling upward from there. So, I went looking for a well-run, well-managed orphan care program here. And, I found one.

Helping Little Guys Get Big

My search led me to Geoffrey and Rachel Malagho, Jacob Matunga, and the many volunteers, and the children they have been helping in Ukunda, Kenya. Unlike most such operations, these guys ran a tight ship management-wise. And, they actually had plans in hand -- well detailed plans -- for scaling up their program to accommodate many thousands of orphaned kids. They saw the enormity of the problem, and they were not afraid to plan solutions. My kind of guys. All they needed was a little help with a promotional system for growing a reliable funding stream. No problem. That's what I do for a living: promotion.

Working with Geoffrey, Jacob and their accounting and management advisors here, we developed a step by step plan for launching a 2,000 capacity all-inclusive orphan care center, one that can be replicated anywhere in Africa. We registered the name of the organization and registered the Ukunda Kids trademark. And, we got busy promoting corporate partnerships as our funding method. Along the way, we contacted the Global Fund's (product) RED program about finding ways to work together with them to fund our work here. After all, I closely advise a number of electronics companies. So, it should not be difficult for me to get a few of them to add some red products into the (product) RED program.

Global Fund Not Interested

Because I respect the hell out of Bono and the Global Fund program, and I know the immense amount of humanitarian goodness they create around the world, including here in Kenya, I want to explicitly say that I have nothing but complete respect for them. Period. That does not mean I agree with all details of their operations.

In investigating possibilities involving the (product) RED program, we quickly realized that two key factors were amiss with that program. First, funds cannot be earmarked by a participating manufacturer to a particular region or specific cause. Second, Global Fund will not accept local or regional brands; they only want "the world's iconic brands." We wanted to add a growing number of RED products from our smallish manufacturing friends, and earmark the funds specifically into East African Global Fund projects. As I said, we learned that was not part of their agenda. So... no Global Fund partnership.

When Others Fail, Do It Yourself

We talked over the situation as a team, including the various intellectual property and morality issues involved, and, we decided to create our own red products program. Thus, other Red was born. I and some marketing friends in the USA and Europe would donate our time and web resources. The local management team would work with the growing kids program and the local volunteers. The manufacturers would wire the 10% contribution directly to the orphanage each month. All would be well.

The Launch And The Aftermath

Because like any public business figure, I have my own little herd of online haters and nasty comment posters, I was hoping to stay out of the limelight on this project and just let all of the light shine directly on the guys at the orphanage. They're the ones doing the work. I'm just in the background helping. But, alas, immediately after launching the program, the first two products, and the new web sites, my little gang of web bashers started sniffing around trying to find "clues." And, they pretty quickly began seeing the similarities in the web sites, the similar domain registrations and hosting accounts, etc. And, they began screaming suggestions that the program was some sort of scam. Sigh... welcome to trying to do something positive on the good old World Wide Web, where anybody with a keyboard can say anything about anybody.

This Is The Real Deal

It pisses me off to have people attacking this brand new little program, not because I care one bit about what's said about me, personally. But, I do care about the kids and the people here in Kenya who are making plans and working hard to apply the hoped-for funds from this program to doing some great humanitarian work here. I care a lot. These are good people. And, these are really good kids.

We've posted the legal registrations and banking documents online on the Ukunda Kids site. We're working quickly to post more photos and data about the kids and the staff and volunteers here, showing who they are and what they are doing. We are posting the individual participation agreements for each manufacturer. At every step we will publish all records pertaining to our financial operations and the work we do. There will be no secrets. We're real, and we want the world to know it beyond any doubt.

My Personal Thoughts On This Situation

Folks, there are 5 million -- F I V E M I L L I O N -- orphaned children in Africa. When driving through Kenya, they are on the roadsides, under rusty metal sheets, in grass lean-tos, digging through trash to find a scrap of food... it is absolutely gut-wrenching to see and know of this situation. I'm a jaded old businessman, but it makes me cry to see these kids in this position. I cannot be here, see this, know this thing, and not use my skills to help. It's not in me to just ignore such a problem, when I know I can help.

And, in closing, I am asking anyone who reads this, even the people who have personal grudges against me, or had a Bluetooth mouse screw up a couple of years ago, or, who just don't like red color gadgets, to put aside those petty issues in this unique circumstance, and help us make this effort actually work.

Or, as my mother taught me, "If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all." And, as always, big thanks to everyone who has helped us get this far and who is supporting our efforts to help these kids.