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Sat, Jun

There's no easy way to put this so let's get straight to the point: are you Peter Sellers? By that I mean, when you present to your staff, customers, investors, do you give a passable impression of the politician in his famous Party Political Speech? Listen to it here (http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=GxBtGuu9BVE&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DGxBtGuu9BVE) and hear a fluent, easy to follow speech hitch says nothing at all. Sellers' politician isn't missing the point - he has no point to get to. Before you next present to your staff or customers, watch this speech and learn. 

Ron Johnson is not stupid. He made Target hip and launched Apple's fabulously successful retail operation but he is having a tough time as CEO of American retailer JC Penney. One of his mistakes was to do something very logical. Instead of offering shoppers constantly changing markdowns on a high priced product, he thought it made more sense to just start with a low price. The trouble is shoppers didn't agree. As James Suriowecki noted in the ‘New Yorker’( http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2013/03/25/130325ta_talk_surowiecki) the "game of cat and mouse with regular, ever-changing discounts is illogical, but it's one that lots of consumers like to play."

Surely there's a lesson here. If retailers, who have been manipulating prices for decades, can get it so wrong, what hope is there for the rest of us? One of the secrets of a successful pricing strategy is to persuade each customer they are getting the best deal. Sounds obvious but by the time the number crunchers have analysed each proposition to death, this powerful, simple truth is often forgotten. Remember that all finance departments in whatever sector or country they are based have one thing in common: they never lose a sale - at least that's what they'll tell you.

 

George Osborne isn't the only British boss looking for growth. The effect of recession on the UK high street, the development of wide-format and the decline of commercial printing have prompted an intriguing debate (http://whattheythink.com/articles/62098-wide-format-graphics-printing-numbers-speak-loud-clear-those-first-mover-advantage/) sparked by a report by industry analyst Marco Boer who sees industrial print as the great growth opportunity. You'll have your own opinion but wide-format printers should read his forecast before defining their strategies for the future.

That was what the ghostly voice told Kevin Costner in the inspirational baseball fantasy ‘Field Of Dreams’. It works in the movie but the surprising thing, as Steve Blank points out in his book ‘The Four Steps To Epiphany’, is that many companies operate under this very belief.

Companies have various methods for developing new products but often the last people who are considered in this process are those who matter most: the customers. In too many companies, the voice of the customer is refracted through someone with a vested interest - typically the sales or marketing director - and, for everyone else involved in product development, the success or failure of a product seems entirely mysterious. As one engineer who bought this book put it, if a product didn't succeed we just tried again.

Blank suggests that companies stop focusing purely on product development and think about customer development. What does he mean by this? For a start, he means get out and engage with customers, arguing that: "Inside your building there are no facts, only opinions." Listening to customers isn't the same as making a list of what each one wants and then trying to tick them off but it should give you a clearer idea of whether your views about your products and services are realistic or delusional. It's much cheaper to find this out before you launch something than afterwards.

 

Managed properly, this process can encourage your staff to see customers more clearly. Too many managing directors curse employees for not understanding the marketplace while doing their utmost to prevent their staff from interacting with customers. Sometimes, this reaction is driven by fear - what if they say something inappropriate? - but too many organisations just fail to make time for this crucial activity.

 

Blank's book is turgidly written at times but it is essential reading for anyone running a business who isn't sure why product a worked and product b didn't. In other words, for almost anyone who is running a business.

 

Have you ever read that business bestseller about the seven habits of highly effective people? 

There is no such thing as a domestic market. 

In 2006, Disney paid £4.1bn to buy Pixar, the animation studio that had created such gems as ‘Toy Story’, ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘The Incredibles’. As it turned out, that price was probably a bargain but Disney could have saved billions if its management hadn’t made the wrong call in the 1980s.

The irony is that a studio founded by master animator Walt Disney, that had been responsible for such marvels as ‘Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs’, had to pay so much to get back into a market it had once dominated. That’s because in the early 1980s – with the studio’s founding genius long dead – the company’s traditional values led it astray. Because traditional 2D animation required so much skill and resource, Disney had come to focus on blockbusters. So in 1982, when it delved into computer graphics to produce ‘Tron’, it looked at what it considered so-so grosses for the sci-fi feature and made the logical, but stupid, decision not to venture any further into computer graphics. Four years later, Pixar was founded when Steve Jobs bought the computer graphics of Lucasfilm. Within eight years, the new company was cooperating with Disney. The dissolution of that partnership in 2004 convinced Walt’s old firm it had to act – and it made a £4.1bn offer Pixar’s owners could not refuse.

If Disney had taken a longer, broader view of ‘Tron’, seeing the movie not just as a one-off item on a profit and loss account but as an investment in the cutting edge technology of computer graphics, Pixar might never have happened. Although this blunder gave the world ‘Toy Story’, it is a salutary reminder that merely by applying the conventional wisdom – or judging every project according to its traditional values – every company can get it spectacularly, expensively wrong.

 

 

 

Technology must always be useful, the British scientist Sir Patrick Linstead once observed, whereas science need not be. In the wide-format industry, too many technologies have proved not be as useful as the printing companies who bought them had hoped. So it is easy to understand why, despite all the hype, many companies have been reluctant to embrace Web2Print.

Yet those helpful folks at OnPrint Shop (www.onprintshop.com/eight-steps-for-sme-printers-to-choose-right-web2print-solution.html) have chipped in with a handy eight-step guide to making the most of this new technology which sums up the challenges in plain English, raising such basic questions as why do you need to go online before ending with a cautious analysis of the investment options – from renting to sharing and licensing. The best single piece of advice? “Companies usually give only ‘how to do’ support, which is not that helpful if you’re not IT savvy. Look for a company that helps you set up your online store and makes you functional in a short time.”