MVPs: Minimum Viable Product Mutants

IMG_6303Over the course of the past few years, MVPs have begun to mutate. I’m not talking fun, turtle power mutations, I’m talking product stomping, Godzilla style mutations.  People are managing to completely skip over the “V” in MVP.  Why is this occurring?
True MVPs

MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product. The concept seems to have really taken off in the tech industry when Steve Blank and Eric Reis started talking it up.

The basis is that an MVP is a way to get the most bang for your buck when you’re marketing a new product concept. The idea is that you invest the least amount of money and effort possible to give your product idea a market test run, to see if your target audience is even remotely interested. If they aren’t interested, no harm no foul, because you made a very small investment. If they are interested, it gives you a green light to invest more time and cash to build out a more substantial version of the product.

Thankfully MVPs are not required to be partially developed versions of a product, because quite a few companies can’t afford that kind of investment.

There are tons of MVP options out there, I’m going to talk about 4 of my favorites in this article.

Types of MVPs 

The type of MVP your company should select depends on resources (staffing, time and finances), your audience, and the scope of the project.

The most common types of MPVs are:

1. Wireframes

Wireframes are a great MVP choice if you’re short on time and cash, and you’re presenting your MVP to a tech savvy, creative audience. If you’re targeting people who can really visualize the awesomeness that will come to be, wireframes are a safe bet. If you’re presenting to a group of clients who don’t fall into that category, you may want to invest in a more graphically enhanced MVP type.

2. Mockups

Mockups are a little safer if you’re working with an audience that doesn’t have much practice mentally visualizing abstract concepts. Kick out some beautifully executed mockups in a program like Sketch to get your point across. Think of them as a guide that gives a tour of what’s to come. For some stakeholders a picture is worth a thousand wireframes.

3. Rapid prototypes

There are some fantastic rapid prototyping tools out there right now. My team recently used InVision to create a killer MVP that we presented at a tech conference. The pitch went over great, and the product has moved through our internal approval processes really quickly as a result.

Sometimes people just need to see something that moves, with buttons they can push and eye catching pictures and colors to draw them in. You have to clearly explain to some audiences that they’re not seeing/working with the actual product so they don’t get overly distracted by functionality, but rapid prototypes are great for an audience that needs even more assistance in the area of visualization.

4. “Lite” Product Versions

This MVP type is where the recent mutation issues have really taken root. If you’re solidly funded and staffed, you may get approval to create a small scale, developed MVP. It’s not going to be a fully featured masterpiece, it should be more of a cleanly executed version with only a few key features integrated, that can serve as a foundation if the project gets enough market buy in to proceed. Adding some bonus mockups to tell the rest of the story rounds out this style of MVP.

A few years ago our amazing team banged out a beautifully polished mobile app “lite” MVP in a matter of weeks, and it was a fantastic success.

After we tested the market with it and realized it was going to be huge, we were able to use the “lite” app as a firm foundation and jumping off point for all of our future app enhancements that followed. We were fortunate to have the staffing and the funding available to make this a possibility.

At the end of the day, the point of an MVP is to sell a concept to the market. That being said, lets talk a bit about what an MVP is not.

What MVPs Are Not 

Some folks only focus on the “minimum” in MVP and skip right over the “viable” piece.

Due to this misrepresentation of the concept, for some people MVPs have become synonymous with sloppy, Frankenstein-esque, hideous product representations.

Releasing half baked features smashed in to a poorly constructed version of a product is not an MVP. It’s a train wreck, and it’s counter productive.

Using a poorly executed MVP to test the market will very likely mean that you’ll get negative market feedback, regardless of how awesome your concept really is.

The  whole point of an MVP is to sell the concept to the market, not to scare people away. That’s why selecting the appropriate type of MVP is so important. If you select an MPV that you can execute well, that falls within your budget & hits the sweet spot with your audience, you can get a far more accurate feel for the market landscape.

Don’t get in over your head with your MVP. If you don’t have the time or budget to create a polished, key featured, partially developed version, then kick out a polished mockup or rapid prototype instead.

When it comes to MVPs, appearances aren’t everything, but they’re pretty freaking important.

Why You Should Give MVPs A Shot 

When executed properly, MVPs are incredibly powerful. Rather than spending obscene amounts of money designing and developing a product, only to find out after release that no one wants or needs it, you can create a well executed MVP. If the MVP tanks, you’ve only invested a minimal amount of money and effort. If you get fab feedback, you have the validation you need to throw more time and money at the project.

Basically, well executed MVPs are a win-win opportunity regardless of the market results. They either save you boatloads of what could have been wasted cash, or they give you the market confidence you need to let your product soar into the next phase: full on design & development.

Humanizing Your Brand: Step 1 – Give It A Face. (Literally)

So social media, when used properly, can give your brand a major boost in visibility. The key is to not sound like a robot retweeting machine. (And if your social media strategy is to USE a robot retweeting machine, then you’re doing it wrong.)

Step 1: Give your brand a face. 

I mean this literally, I’m not being esoteric. Slap a face on your stuff. It can be the face of your blogger, it can be the face of your social media manager, it can be a banner that contains photos of your team, just make sure you add some kind of graphic containing a human to your social media & web branding.

Excuse #1: That would be weird.

Well… you can NOT give your brand a face… and continue looking like an obscure, cold,  official organization.

Your human face can be low key, or it can be your team doing something ridiculous, or just a shot of your team smiling, or a super artsy picture of your whole crew looking like a 1920’s mobster group. (Our graphic designing creative team did that once. It was actually pretty epic.)

Just integrate a human somewhere. People will start connecting the photo of a happy person or people with your brand, and will subconsciously start feeling like your brand is friendly and safe.

Human brains are weird. We want things to make sense. Cognitive dissonance stresses us out. If we see happy smiling people on a website or social media account we mentally push for the brand to line up with the graphics. Boring cold graphics = zero emotional attachment. Happy warm fuzzy people = your brand is friendly and we think about interactions with you in a way that is consistent with the warm fuzziness.

Excuse #2: My organization is too professional to do that. 

Ok… so adding pictures of smiling employees or even stock photos of mildly happy strangers is too official for you? So basically you WANT to look stuffy and cold. That’s cool too, if you’re trying to reach an audience of stuffy cold people. Which.. some companies are. But seriously, even my BANK has pictures of happy smiling people on the log in page. Banks aren’t exactly places to throw parties. Loosen up and increase your marketing reach.

Excuse #3: But my logo is epic. 

It probably is. Lame logos don’t usually last very long. If you want to use your logo, you should definitely do it. Use it all over the place. Use it as your profile pic in your corporate social media branding if you want. Just make sure you humanize your page as well. Banners are a great place to make that happen if you can’t mix your logo into a humanized profile pic.

Step 2: Give your brand a clear voice. 

Voice is incredibly important when you’re dealing with branding. If you’re having trouble defining your voice, hire a content strategist. They’re pretty much voice defining rock stars.

Laid Back Voice

My blog has a laid back, tongue in cheek voice, because I’m the only writer (and can do whatever I want, including but not limited to drawing horrible stick figures), and therefore I write like I’m talking to folks in person.

I like to keep my posts short and sweet, because I have a short attention span. Get to the point, and do it fast, or I’m thinking about where I’m going to vacation next summer in the middle of your sentence. I try not to go off on 47 page rants because I would NEVER be able to get through one of those articles myself. I keep my voice light and personable, because I inject my own personality in my posts. This voice would not work for every audience, however.

Formal Voice

If your brand is more formal, you’re going to need to make sure your writers adopt a more formal voice. But make sure your formal force isn’t a horrifyingly boring voice. If it is, only a specific subset of the population is going to read your posts/tweets/website content. If people who enjoy boring content are your only target audience, do it up. If you’re trying to reach a broader audience, humanize your voice, but remain professional.

My company has a friendly, but professional voice. When I’m working on product copy, I definitely don’t use the same voice I use in my blog, because of our target audience.

Step 3: Respond to all of the social media interactions that customers throw your way.

The worst thing you can possibly do is have unmoderated Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest/Google+ accounts.

Handle Business

If you set those accounts up, you need to be all over them, responding to comments and tweets and posts and following people back constantly. Some brands hire a person or a team to handle their social media interactions. If you “don’t have enough bandwidth to do that” deactivate your social media accounts immediately. They’re going to harm your brand, not help it. Don’t delete them though, you may need them in the future and you don’t want to lose your brand handles & vanity URLs.

Voice = Key

Ensure that the person managing your social media is completely comfortable with your brand voice. If your voice is inconsistent in social media, you’re going to end up in cognitive dissonance land again, and you’ll stress out your audience.

Step 4: Tell your social media manager up front that if they EVER accidentally post a personal tweet through your branded account, that they’re fired. On the spot. Put that in their contract. 

There have been some absolutely horrifying accidental tweets and FB posts through branded accounts over the past few years that have caused enormous PR nightmares. This is the internet, you can’t delete something and make it magically disappear. Once it’s posted, it takes on a life of its own. Try as you might, you can’t make the general public un-see things.

To sum things up, humanizing your brand can make a huge difference in the way your audience views, interacts with, and feels about your brand. You can humanize your brand, and remain professional simultaneously; it’s not an either/or situation. And humanizing can have a very positive effect in increasing your brand reach. Give it a try! You won’t be sorry.

3 Unsubscribe UX Rules To Live By

Today I got the 9,347,598th notification email from a startup I was checking out a few months ago when they were in beta. I realized that their incessant emails were really starting to irritate me, and decided it was time to unsubscribe. I went to the email footer, and found something even more irritating. No unsubscribe button. So today, I’d like to chat a little about unsubscribe UX, and how you can make it less irritating for your customers, thereby retaining those customers.

1. Always have an unsubscribe link in the footer of your emails. 

This company had a “Change Settings” link instead, which annoyed me, because I just knew that clicking it was going to take me to a sign in screen, and I hadn’t used this product in a long enough period of time that I didn’t know my password, and I was going to have to have it sent to me. So I was going to have to have them send me another email, just to unsubscribe from their annoying emails. This entire circle of thought, which took place in a space of about 3 seconds, instantly made me want to just delete my account entirely because the UX was so frustrating. All of this was brought on by reading the words “Change Settings”. This brings me to point #2.

2. Make your unsubscribe process 2 clicks. 

I want to click unsubscribe in the email, and then see a screen that says, “Are you sure you want to unsubscribe? If yes, pick a reason from this nifty little pre-populated drop down or type a reason in this bonus material box.” Then I want to see a confirmation message that may even include a little warm fuzzy, “We’ll miss you, you can resubscribe any time,” message.

What I DON’T want is to have to go to your website, try to sign in, go through your multistep retrieve password process if I’ve forgotten it, finally get logged in, locate the settings area of your site, dig through the settings until I find your email notifications area, and uncheck the 5 different boxes for your mega annoying constant emails, then save, then have to log out. Because by the time I go through all that I’m not just annoyed, I’m angry with your brand for making me jump through hoops. Also, seeing the website while going through the frustrating process is not a good thing. It makes me associate your branded site with a feeling of extreme irritation, whereas just clicking an unsubscribe link in an email with a generic confirmation screen doesn’t make me associate angry feelings with your brand at all.

3. Poor unsubscribe UX can trigger customers to bail on your product entirely, so keep it clean. 

I actually liked this product. I thought it was pretty useful and I was keeping my account around for use with future projects. By the time I finished unsubscribing from their emails, however, I was so irritated that I very nearly deleted my entire account. Small details like unsubscribe workflows really matter when it comes to customer retention. Don’t let little big UX details derail your customer retention rates!

Twitter Etiquette: How to Make a Huge Impact on Customer Satisfaction and Your Bottom Line in 140 Characters or Less

You know what makes me extremely happy? Brands that interact with their customers on Twitter. You may think, yeah yeah, we post things to our Twitter account all the time. I don’t mean “posting things to your Twitter account.” I’m talking legitimately interacting with your customers. I’ve made the following observations over the past few years, and thought I’d share them with companies who may not have yet grasped how powerful Twitter can be from not only a customer satisfaction standpoint, but from a financial standpoint.

How to Make a Huge Impact on Customer Satisfaction and Your Bottom Line in 140 Characters or Less

1. ALWAYS follow back.

There are about 90 bazillion companies on Twitter, all with their own branding and tweeting styles. If one of your customers elects to follow your company out of the bazillion companies available, you should feel honored. In fact, you should feel so honored that you should FOLLOW THEM BACK! There are tons of tools out there that allow people to see who they have followed that didn’t follow back, and you know what? It’s a little hurtful when that happens. If they are taking the time and energy to seek you out and follow you, the least you can do is follow back. And if you’re a ginormous company with a gazillion followers, there are services that will do the following back for you. Save yourself from hurting your customers feelings, follow back!

2. Interact with your customers!

If a customer takes the time to mention you in a nice tweet, reply with a thank you! Or at the very least favorite the tweet! It sounds silly, but a small action like favoriting a tweet your company has been mentioned in can have a HUGE impact on customer satisfaction and the way customers view your company! The inspiration for this post came from a company I had mentioned in a tweet, RTing my blog post to their 38k followers, and then another company I love replying to my tweet about the awesome research they are conducting! It seriously made my entire day! Every single time companies respond to me when I mention them in articles or tweets, I have the same reaction! Happiness! Satisfaction with the company and a transferred higher level of satisfaction with their product. Getting a response makes me feel like the companies really care about me as a customer. In 140 characters or less their response, RT, or favorite makes me even more invested in their product. Twitter interaction is a really simple way to reach out and say thanks to customers who support you! And let’s face it, without happy supportive customers, you’re out of business. So keeping customers happy is a win. And having the opportunity to do it for FREE on Twitter? It’s a no brainer. Embrace the opportunity to make your brand shine!

3. If someone mentions you in a raging tweet, reply to them and either try to make amends, or at least apologize!

So I mentioned thanking folks for nice tweets, now let’s talk about the power behind responding to upset folks. I recently decided to make a major appliance purchase and got a little heated when the store site didn’t work as I expected it to. I hopped on Twitter, and made a comment about my experience, and you know what? A team member from the gigantic appliance chain was a friend of a follower, and I wound up having the opportunity to speak directly to that person about my experience. I went from deciding that I would never ever shop at this particular store again, to spending a fairly large sum of money there because I was so pleased by the positive customer experience I had with the team member! Responding to tweets not only does wonders for customer satisfaction, it can also help your company make bank through what would have otherwise been missed opportunities! And the money adds up fast, even for larger corporations!

Twitter can be an exceptionally powerful tool for businesses to use to reach out and interact with customers! Don’t miss the opportunity to improve your customer satisfaction levels and make more money!!! 🙂

How To: Generate An Insane Amount Of Excitement Around Your New Product Launch

Have you ever signed up for an invite only product launch? You know, like Pinterest back in the day, or Google Voice. You go to a website, insert your email address, and then wait for an indeterminate period of time to get your official invitation to access the product or service.

Being one of the first people to experience a new product gives folks a sense of excitement and pride. The only problem with this model is that often times folks who aren’t at the very front of the invitation line totally lose interest in the product or service while they wait for their official access.

Well, let me introduce Orchestra Inc, a company that has successfully hacked the brains of hundreds of thousands of tech lovers with a stroke of UX and marketing brilliance.

Orchestra Inc is currently in the process of launching their new app Mailbox. Rather than making you enter your email address and then forget their product, they’ve set up a system in which you download a dummy app that serves as your “reservation.” You can then open the app and view a live updated number of “people in front of you” as well as the number of people who signed up after you, who are basically standing behind you in line.

This method has generated all the excitement of standing in line outside an Apple store the day of an iPhone launch, (without the horrible weather, weirdos and excessive boredom) because you can see the “line getting shorter” every time you look at the app. They actually rewind the number of people in front of you on the screen, rather than just showing an updated number.

If you think about it, they are rolling out the service like most cloud based services have in the past. They’re adding accounts a little at a time to make sure things are going to scale properly, with increasingly rapid implementations over time. But instead of people losing interest while they wait, folks are getting more and more excited as time goes on. I’m currently “in line” behind half a million people, but have checked my “status” at least 4 times in the past 8 hours. There is something immensely satisfying about watching the number of folks in line in front of me fly downward.

This entire concept is absolutely brilliant. From a marketing perspective, the popularity is blowing up. They allow you to tweet that you’ve made your reservation, which has led to a social media driven download frenzy. From a UX stance, the reservation system has led to a giant pile of unexpected delight in the app’s future users.

I have the feeling this is going to become a common practice for new product launches (especially apps) in months to come. I sincerely hope that the person or people who came up with this concept are given giant raises in the very near future.

In addition to a completely awesome product launch campaign, the app itself is fabulous. It has a beautifully designed, clean UI and I honestly can’t wait to get my hands on it.

All I have left to say is “Bravo!” to the whole team at @mailbox. And, if you haven’t yet, make your Mailbox app reservation in iTunes today. You’ll be WAY behind ME of course… but you know… we can’t all be first in line. 😉

This blog post was inspired by a tweet from Ian Smile @endashes, thanks for the inspiration. 🙂