Final Blog Entry

Working on this group project vastly improved my understanding of how to develop personas and tap into a more profound customer pain point.  Last semester, I conducted a research project for AT&T where I had to find a new customer segment for their Captel phones (phones for the hard of hearing).  We went to several assisted living homes and senior recreation centers to ask a long list of questions about their phone use, but I could feel at the time that we were missing out on richer data and insights.  The persona technique provides a structured way to extract insights from a target segment by going through what the person sees, feels, hears, thinks, hopes and fears.  I believe this allowed us to tap into deeper pain points that a quantitative survey on Qualtrix would not have allowed us to do.   The use of visuals in asking the questions also enabled us to get to richer responses.  It had not occurred to me that by solely relying on questions that were delivered orally, we are missing out on more creative responses.

Another skill that I was able to hone during this class was prototyping.  Last semester I took New Venture Creation where we had to develop a prototype and pitch a new product or service to a group of VC’s.  We spent so much time in the market validation phase that we literally took one night to do prototyping and the VC’s criticized us about this during questioning.  Practicing prototyping in our class helped me understand the importance of metaphors in visualizing and shaping a product or service.  I also realized that while I am very comfortable expressing ideas in terms of speech and written word, I really need to hone my ability to express my ideas visually.   I am considering taking some design and art classes when I’m out of school to further develop this skill.

The part of the project that created a lot of headache was turning the Nordstrom presentation into a video.  Though we were fortunate to have a team member who was knowledgeable in video production, it was extremely time consuming, stressful and not very educational since she did all the editing work.  I think it also created a defeatist attitude among some of the teams who felt like Nordstrom might not consider their ideas since they couldn’t present it as creatively.   Nordstrom, understandably, might not have three days to attend class and watch the presentations.  However, in the end I felt a little skeptical about whether they were even going to watch our video that we had slaved over.

This project conjured a broad range of emotions since it was extended over such a long period of time.  Overall, it involved a lot less frustration than my typical group projects as there was a lot of structure and my team was consistently engaged.  I really enjoyed developing our research techniques and actually getting to execute them in interviews with my friends.  I learned a lot about their lives and shopping strategies and have since developed an entirely different shopping routine.

As discussed in the previous paragraph, it was frustrating to produce the video since it was time consuming and difficult.  It was also a bit heart-wrenching to watch other groups present the same service as I had a sinking feeling that by the time Nordstrom got to ours they would be totally bored.  However, the second day of presentations made me realize that there were subtle but important differences among each of our prototypes.   Though they all involved bridging online perusal to in-store shopping, Jenny’s group was solving the problem of filling a specific and urgent gap in your wardrobe while Katie’s group was addressing the difficulty of finding the right clothes for atypical body types.  Jessica’s group was tackling the shopper’s need for validation while our group sought to eliminate all of the budgetary and logistical stressors of upscale department store shopping.  In the end, I felt like we did a really good job of capturing who Julia really is and addressing a real pain point in her life.

Working with my group definitely enhanced the experience as each of us brought different skills and perspectives to the table.  Professor Walls provided us with very helpful feedback in the process of developing and researching our persona.  I think the only thing that might have been helpful is having more in-class work days toward the end, which would have also afforded more opportunities for Professor Walls to give feedback on the prototype.   I am really proud of our project and felt much better presenting this than either of my AT&T or New Venture projects that I did last semester.  The class combined “learning by doing” with a lot of helpful support from readings and in-class discussions.  Thanks for a great semester!

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Creativity

By far, my most creative period was my first two years of college.  Relocating from the suburbs of Westchester, NY to Northwestern’s Midwest campus was the first of many new adjustments I had to make during this time period.   Going down the checklist of creativity-inducing activities in “How to be Creative” I did just about everything.

Academically, my schedule each quarter would range from Statistics to “Asian Americans in the Media” to Intro to Social Policy to “The Life and Music of Miles Davis.”   I drifted from the School of Arts and Science, to the Communications School (thinking I would major in drama), to finally the School of Education in Social Policy where I majored in Social Policy.  Each day I would call my dad, who was a really important figure in my creative process, as someone who I could practice articulating the concepts that I had absorbed and someone who maintained my level of enthusiasm for participating in the exciting world of ideas.

Socially I was all over the map as well.   In high school, my social circle consisted mainly of a group of theatre loving, academically competitive, straight-laced fun kind of girls, whom I had known since Kindergarten.   It was a bit of a shock when Freshman year of college, I was paired with a brilliant liberal pot-smoking politico from San Francisco.  Perhaps in reaction to this pairing, I sought to balance out the “goodie-goodie” role that I played in her presence by being the “rebel” Jewish girl who church hopped with various members of the Christian Fellowship on campus.   Each day I set up lunches with different groups –sometimes they were just unified by circumstance or dormhall, while other times they had a common link such as engineering, a sorority, swimming, ROTC, community service etc.

While I wasn’t necessarily drinking a lot I was relaxing (sleeping up to 10 hours a day) and had little imposed structure to my day.   This was also in stark contrast to my overscheduled high school career where I was juggling theatre, AP classes, debate, voice lessons, etc and had little free time.    Since I didn’t immediately latch onto one group or person, I spent a lot of time alone, lost in my own thoughts and neuroses. I remember describing to my mom that I was looking at the world as if I were in a fish bowl –aware but separated from everything that was going on around me.

In another article Jonah Lehrer wrote about creativity “Groupthink: the Brainstorming Myth”  (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/01/30/120130fa_fact_lehrer?currentPage=1), he notes that “human creativity has increasingly become a group process…many of us think better when we are teamed up.”  He refutes the image of the “lone genius” and points to the fact that the best papers, musicals and social solutions are generated in groups –ideally among those “with an intermediate level of social intimacy.”  Intimate spaces, he argues, are critical for inducing chance encounters with diverse agents.  He also discusses how the act of negating others ideas spurs the creative process “allowing people to dig below the surface of the imagination and come up with collective ideas that aren’t predictable.”

The basic thesis of this article reinforced why my college experience was such a creative time period –I essentially spent my time in a variety of spaces (dorm gathering space, lunch table, classroom, laundry room etc) that allowed for “frequent, physical, spontaneous, interactions” with people whose ideas and backgrounds were antithetical to mine.   While my initial impulse was to reject the lifestyles and value choices that were different than mine, the dissonance forced my brain to think deeper about these subjects than I ever had before.   However, while the article discusses the importance of interaction in the creative process, it is presented as an antidote to information overload.  The article does not touch on why people are driven to work together and interact, which I believe is due to the genuine need among humans to connect and feel a part of something.

During college I was exploring academically and socially not for the sake of expanding my creative capacities –I was looking for a “home.”  I wanted a best friend, major, a sorority, a religion, a boyfriend, a dorm hall where I felt I truly fit.  I wanted to replicate the consistency of my high school social circle and impose the structure I had in high school on my daily schedule.  Drifting was incredibly unsettling and emotionally exhausting –I constantly felt I was performing and few people knew me.   When I finally found a small group where I felt I fit in, I dropped a lot of the linkages that I had formed my first two years.  I committed to my major of Social Policy and began to abandon the zeal with which I had attacked my courses in previous semesters.

All this is to say that committing to this state of an “intermediate” level of social intimacy with people and constantly exposing oneself to different metaphors and worlds of ideas can be very lonely and exhausting.  I think we have an inherent craving for depth in relationships and depth in knowledge (an expertise) that perhaps works to undermine our creative capacities.    While I would like to reject the kind of life stability that breeds boredom and thwarts creativity, it seems that all of the life stages ahead of me mandate physical, emotional and interpersonal stability.   This led me to think that maybe the picture of the “lone genius” is still alive –while this person may engage in social behaviors for the purposes of accomplishing tasks and spurring creativity, perhaps it is the lack of genuine connection to others is what makes her so great.

Research Paper Topic

Idea for my topic

I would like to research how the persona technique could be applied in a B2B setting, more specifically to a company called Enspire, which creates team-based business simulations to enhance leadership.  Enspire has just released a new product called Management Challenge, which focuses on young newly hired “middle managers” and developing their ability to communicate with their staff and make effective decisions.  Bjorn Billhardt, the CEO, told me that prior to this product’s release they would like to drill down on which industries and/or departments might be interested in this tool.  As they evolve this product, it is his hope to engage in a degree of co-creation with clients and customize the challenges presented to the exact needs of their target clients.

Why is this topic interesting to you?

This topic is interesting to me because I am passionate about marketing products and services that have a transformational effect on the consumer.  Management Challenge aims to educate and change behavior (ie have new managers make better decisions) which inspires both the educator and the idealist in me.  It also presents an exciting (hopefully viable) solution to the problem of today’s instructor-led professional development modules: many managers are not applying the content that they supposedly “learned” in the workshop to their daily managerial activities (feeding the point of view –of some—that professional development is not worth the expense).  Enspire’s approach of designing a “pivotal moment” or experience that will shape the participants’ future actions is not only unique but very attuned to the popular cultural phenomenon of using technology to take an active role in an experience that was once passive (ie think of social media pull marketing or reality TV).

What is the connection to the gathering and identification of customer insights and/or the design of valuable customer experiences?

In thinking about which companies or customers would deem this a valuable experience there are many considerations.  First, who is their existing client base for their products already on the market?  I have not yet looked at their Salesforce.com data but they have offered to share this with me.  If they haven’t already, I wanted to do a sort by industry, department, level of participant tech savvy, age of trainees, financial goals (ie bottom or top line driven), level of creativity etc.

Next I was hoping to conduct some interviews with their typical decision makers, either an HR Manager or Learning and Development executive, to begin to uncover what needs are currently being unmet.   Not having read the entire “Business Model Generation” book I’m not quite sure how to apply the Empathy Map in this context but my goal is to create at least one possible B2B persona for whom this product could be a viable solution.

Finally once I have fleshed out this persona I am hoping to make recommendations for how Enspire can design and pitch this product to this customer.  Referencing the earlier discussion of the value proposition of this tool, a simulation is only as powerful as its ability to create a realistic environment for the participants.  By tailoring the scenarios to the unique challenges experienced by middle managers in x field, the participants post-game decisions are (hopefully) enhanced.   Moreover, in selling this product, it is critical to the pitch to convey how this technology is customized to the context in which these particular managers are making decisions.

As a brief aside, a concern I have going into this study is whether these HR interviewees want this simulation will focus on process or outcome.  A process simulation would aim to help managers recognize a given context and model how to think through a problem (ie weighing whether to make a decision to upset internal and external stakeholders) whereas an outcome simulation would focus more on a guaranteed cause and effect (ie if you use “I messages” when delivering negative feedback you will get a more positive response).  I do not believe the latter focus will be as effective as a management training tool so I am very interested to see the comfort level that HR managers have with a training that doesn’t have as concrete takeaways.  Not having experienced the final iteration of this simulation, I am not sure whether Bjorn’s vision aligns with mine either.

Cite and briefly describe one article that is related to this topic

So far I have delved into the white papers offered by Enspire which evangelize the benefits of experiential learning. “Simulations throw learners into unexpected territory –facing problems that can range from benefits decisions to terrorist threats—and allow them to practice their leadership skills in difficult real world situations”  Computer based simulations “can teach the subtleties of leadership through carefully engineered events, decision points and conflicts”  In the bibliography of this white paper I was also able to find a study conducted at Wayne State University regarding the efficacy of simulations (http://sbaweb.wayne.edu/~absel/bkl/.%5Cvol32%5C32bb.pdf).  These results included:

–       The data do suggest that Simulation Type is the most significant factor in change in competency change for Impact and Influence

–       Interestingly, older senior managers (over 40) significantly preferred the simulation to the game.

–       The results show that using a simulation or game in a programme significantly increases participant enjoyment and perceived usefulness – suggesting that engagement in the learning activity is higher and that practice in using skills in a realistic (simulated) setting is fundamental in transferring the learning to the workplace.

–       Senior Managers showed a greater increase in competency behaviours than those in lower positions in the organisation, counter to the result one would speculate – this may be due to simulation or game use in training provided their first opportunity to practice the competencies of Developing Others, Team Leadership and Directiveness and the self-confidence to transfer the new behaviours to the workplace.

Finally I have also begun to research their competition which includes:

–          Income outcome http://www.income-outcome.com/

–          CELSIM – based in Singapore http://celsim.com/celsim-team/celsim-company-profile/

  • Tailored simulations (sales, negotiations,

–          Imparta – http://www.imparta.com/about/about_overview

  • lasting improvements in sales, marketing and service effectiveness

–          HBR – Leading Teams with Emotional Intelligence Simulation

Social Media – Qualitative Data

Social Media – Qualitative Data

Last spring I conducted a Facebook sentiment analysis for the social media team at Walmart to get a better understanding of what kinds of posts really resonated with their customers.  From this project, I learned a great deal about what kind of information you can extract from a Facebook audience and what tactics to use to obtain this information.  In considering how our team might approach the Nordstrom project and learn more about “Julia,” our persona, I think we can employ a lot of these strategies.

What information would you try to elicit using social media tools?

Walmart provided six main categories of posts (grocery, entertainment, foundation/sustainability, home, beauty and other).  Each of these categories ended up being useful to us in fleshing out an empathy map for our target Walmart mom.  For example, a typical grocery post might be a picture of bananas and a message about how fresh Walmart produce is.  The responses to this post might reveal what their audience’s values are about healthy eating, what time of day they tend to shop and what challenges they face in introducing certain foods to their children.  An Entertainment post featuring Miley Cirus might reveal who their children’s influencers are –which in turn, will guide the moms’ purchases.  Probably the most interesting and useful responses we used to flesh out the Walmart mom persona came from the Other category.  This category of posts consisted of questions “Who are you rooting for at the Superbowl?”, “What do you sing in the shower?”, “Who is your hero?”, “What are your Thanksgiving traditions?”.  Despite the size and relative anonymity of this community, Walmart Facebook moms loved to share their responses to these questions and these question posts always yielded the highest numbers of posts (several hundred or even a thousand in a given day).

Thinking now to Nordstrom, I think some of the questions we wanted to know about “Julia” were:

–       What time of day does she shop?

–       How often does she shop –once a quarter bulk shopping or regular weekly perusing/buying?

–       Does she view clothes shopping as an alone-time activity, a spouse activity or a girlfriend activity?

–       What is her relationship with money?

–       What is she preoccupied with?

–       Who are her fashion icons?

–       What periodicals/sites/TV shows does she go to for outfit inspiration?

–       What part of your body is she most concerned about?

–       What kind of customer service experience does she want? (being pampered, having a consultant to match your body type to a designer, helping with image shaping)

–       How does she see herself?

–       What frustrates her about her current shopping experiences?

–       How does guilt factor into her shopping experience? (from spending money? buying things that her spouse doesn’t know about? buying sexy outfits that might not be deemed appropriate by her influencers?)

–       Does she want more predictable experiences or does she crave some surprises?

How would you get at that information in a way that would be most accurate and telling?

While some of these questions Nordstrom might be able to ask directly, others might benefit from use of images or proxy questions.  For instance, asking a Facebook following “What is the best fashion advice you were ever given and who said it to you?” might reveal their fashion perspective and key influencers. On the website, shoppers might choose an avatar (Nordstrom could create a limited selection of avatars that represent different lifestyles and clothing styles) that could help with customer segmentation and understanding how customers see their ideal selves.  Having the Facebook community respond to a thought provoking image might reveal preoccupations (which could be used in messaging), tastes (which could be used in narrowing labels selection and in designing the stores) and personality types (which could be used in training the customer service staff).

The issues of guilt or relationships with money might be trickier to delve into over social media.  Nordstrom could get to know their more vocal posters or key Tweeters, by looking at their Facebook profiles, updates and wall posts to gain more of a perspective about them.   At the very least, this can reveal what other brands and celebrity personalities (potential influencers) they like.  Nordstrom could also choose some loyal shoppers to guest blog on their website or Facebook page and share their daily experiences.  For instance, Walmart has a Facebook page devoted to “Everyday Heroes” who their audience can identify with and read about.  Nordstrom could create blog personas “Single and fabulous” or “Rising career star” and judge their relevance among their shoppers by volume of subsequent comments on their blogs.

To create a more objective system for interpreting these qualitative measures the social media staff can use a coding system.  When I evaluated Walmart wall posts I read through 100+ comments and labeled each as positive, negative or irrelevant –this provided a statistical element to their analysis of which types of posts had the highest engagement.  Nordstrom’s current wall posts also range from delivering valuable content to their customers (photos from fashion week), to loyalty affirmation posts “Happy Valentine’s Day…will you be ours?), to pushing products (NYFW beauty essentials).  They could categorize posts and quantify engagement (benchmarking against rivals such as Neiman Marcus or Saks).

Finally, the beauty of social media is that companies can test hypotheses before implementing them in the store and get a pulse on how their audience might receive some new designers or customer experiences.  Nordstrom currently has voting in place for specific items (watches or handbags) on their “In the Know” page but they do not poll their audience about the Nordstrom store/online customer experience.  By posting You Tube videos illustrating different simulations of a “new” Nordstrom shopping experience, Nordstrom could test them out among their audience and have them vote on the most desirable experience (either through Likes or their polling software) before making the capital investment.   Ultimately social media tools could help Nordstrom learn a great deal about their shoppers that other focus group or survey research could not.

Persona Excercise

Bob – The Handyman

Age: 76 years old, semi-retired

Focus: His family “Everything is family related, of course, when you have kids from the time you’re 21 years old”

Prized Assets: His truck and his attitude –the latter, he describes as “an excitement to tackle something new each day.”

Bob is an extrovert and spends his day interacting with a large circle of family members, neighbors, clients and strangers he encounters while conducting his errands.  These interactions fulfill three important needs that Bob has:

1)      Bob loves being “in the know.”  In the morning, he sits in front of the computer with a cup of coffee and reads articles on Bloomberg news and MSNBC.com.  His interactions with neighbors serve the purpose of ascertaining local gossip and politics and among those who share his trade, keeping up on “the industry.”  He ends his day over dinner and a glass of wine with his wife reliving what they did during the day and discussing the problems they encountered.

2)      Bob loves problem solving.  In his daily chats with his children they run through a list of issues with their houses and he gives advice or actually makes plans to visit and fix the problem.  He gets immense pleasure when kids call with some sort of mechanical problem and can think through and solve it.

3)      Bob loves to teach.  He seizes every opportunity –whether in the aisle of Home Depot or in the midst of a home renovation project to impart important life lessons passed down to him by influential people.  These lessons include “At work…always do a little more than required” and “Never forget that you are the way you are because of the generation before you”

As an engineer, Bob examines the construction of everything around him.  However when asked to describe his two homes he focuses on the experiences each afford.  His Connecticut home, “the downsizing house,” allows him to live a simple, hassle free lifestyle where all of his neighbors are in a similar stage of life.   The only home feature he mentions specifically is the dining room which allows him and his wife to entertain other couples during the week.  His Rhode Island house, which he has renovated himself, is the “get-away house” for the family.  It’s a house where the family can relax and gather.  For Bob, this house unleashes his creativity as it is never quite “finished.”  There is always a bedroom renovation on the horizon or a broken bannister that needs to be fixed.  As he falls asleep at night, he thinks about how he’s going to correct or build something.

How Bob Sees Himself:

Active yet relaxed:  The two houses perhaps represent a comfortable tension that Bob maintains as he ages –enjoying the well-deserved relaxation that this period affords and yet maintaining a constant restlessness for new mental and physical challenges.  He peppers the conversation with his own or other people’s commentary regarding his level of activity “My parents seemed older at my age than I do now” or “My doctor couldn’t believe that I was tiling my daughter’s floor.”  He describes his days as fairly unfettered –he just “gets done what he needs to get done in a systematic way –very little frustration.”

I’m limited now because of age…but there isn’t anything I can’t do: Bob singles out maintaining his health as a primary goal and concern of his as he ages.  He acknowledges his obstacle of waning physical stamina, and how he now has to think ahead and not take on things he can’t do anymore.  Yet he also describes going to the doctor with knee pains, and his ignorance to the fact that this pain was connected to the floor tiling he had done a day prior.

I’m traditional but different: In conversation, he frequently laments what he sees as the unfortunate differences between today’s living and how he came of age (“you can’t have big families like they used to, can’t think the way we used to”).  However, he also embraces new technologies and acknowledges the importance of his cell phone and computer.  He likes being a contrarian in his politics and sports affiliations.

My influencers vs my influencers: When asked whom he is influenced by he responds that in his phase of life, he has much greater influence over others that they have over him.  He recalls several male figures (father, father in law, uncle) who imparted life lessons and political views that he now imparts to his grandchildren. Less overtly discussed but nonetheless strong influences are his mother, from whom he got his gregarious personality, and wife, with whom he discusses his challenges and frustrations every evening.

“I’ve been pretty successful…I have been able to be around and help everyone…”

 

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