DIBS – Defined (Continued)
Your production methodologies also represent an all-important collaborative roadmap through which all production disciplines – required for your product(s) – must deliver their collective results. This collaboration – necessary for almost all production efforts in this day and age – requires a modular approach, which encourages honoring the order in which each task needs to be completed, as reasonably as possible.
Some products are born of micro tasks – as with so many (but not all) mechanical products – where one discipline simply cannot move forward onto additional tasks until another discipline has achieved their part of the task collaboration. Some tasks will always be completed sooner than expected, and good planning can repurpose the resultant time gaps with universally coveted moments of independence and innovation. The independence and innovation can be applied to the next set of tasks in the queue – to determine if there is a better, more feature-rewarding approach to completing those tasks. When those time gaps are closed and all collaborative tasks of the moment are once again aligned, the next round of tasks can move forward to repeat the cycle until full production is complete.
Other products, such as software, are born of bulk tasks, where one discipline can complete most of their tasks in large portions before stopping to confer with other disciplines – at pre-determined functionality check points. This approach succeeds as long as production methodologies are honored and other task requirements have been achieved (e.g. correct naming conventions, correct file types, correct physical file sizes, correct file locations, and more).
Bulk tasks do not, however, remove the need for collaboration within
a specific discipline. It can take multiple artists for example –
for most entertainment software products – to generate just one 3D
video game character. An associated task list can involve concept
art, 3D geometry, texture-maps, biped (digital skeleton), rigging
and weighting, a variety of animation (traditional and motion
capture-generated), functional-and-quality checks after each
production step, and exportation of all components for use within
game engine technology, followed by a final round of
functional-and-quality checks before being approved as a final art
Your potential business may be a sole proprietorship – building time-keeping mechanisms and carving custom wood components for elegant grandfather clocks – where you are a jack of all trades who lives and dies by your own production sword (or limits of mental and physical exhaustion). Your one person show may alternatively rely on computer aided design (CAD) and rapid prototyping devices to generate a variety of miniature collectables – which are sold in small quantities through a simple online order system.
If your entrepreneurial reality is more mainstream, more mass production, and more feature-filled, you will have to keep collaboration at the core of the production methodologies you select for your product(s), your production team, and your business.
- Post Production Plans – These plans are all about the collaboration between your business and those entities who would localize, market, manufacture, package, and distribute your product to commercial / retail outlets on local and international levels.
While some new and existing owners are not comfortable generating post production plans in the absence of such entities, you should ideally make every effort to do so. You need communication with those entities to be as clear a two-way conversation as possible – and even a high-level plan of your available facts and desires will help prevent completely unnecessary mind-reading sessions.
The single biggest decision you can make for your post production plan involves whether or not you wish your product to be available to the international community.
This one decision – which should, ideally, trace back to ease of use (EOU) planning in pre-production – can either help you honor your available budget or quadruple the amount of funding you will need to localize and advertise around the world. While advertising is available in print, web, and television spots, two of these three choices are usually affordable by new and relatively new businesses – with television spots going to the big, established businesses that can more easily acquire the funding for highly coveted airtime on the major networks.
The localization process will be as simple or complex as your product(s). If your product is a children's book, you will have translation experts convert the text for all required languages, followed by reprints at the manufacturer. If your product is a toy, you will have translation experts convert the text for any packaging, product decals, and instruction manuals for all required languages, followed by targeted reprints and repackaging at the manufacturer.
If your product or a component of your product is software-based, this can require a significant collaborative effort from a team of resources that should ideally be as specialized as the depth of your ease-of-use / localization requirements (EOU / LOC). The vast majority of software-based products – from robust software programs to diminutive mobile apps – typically rely on smaller, hybrid, more cost-effective resources to achieve EOU / LOC goals.
A larger set of EOU / LOC goals, of course, can result in a wider-ranging team consisting of your original pre-production / in-production product designers, user experience designers (UXD), copy translation experts, user interface designers (CXD), product programmers, and QA focused on creating a graphic user interface (GUI) that is modularly flexible towards all of the languages you wish to support . . . and all of the target audiences you wish to engage. The inevitable online sales portal – pursued by many businesses these days for e-commerce solutions – will also require the involvement of information technology (IT) engineers, followed by another QA session.
There are GUIs that are visually elegant yet rigid in their design, construction, and breath of audience – with no room for real-time scaling, component repositioning, or interchangeability – and all it takes in one innocent localization effort to expose that rigidity as an absolute deal breaker.
More and more products tend to ship with a focus on one language (typically English) – providing (what should be) a laser-focused test bed along the way. Tangible localization efforts are, then, finally put into motion only after point-by-point review of initial sales results (covering 1-2 fiscal quarters) versus categorization of known customers versus a reasonable amount of pre-market forecasting (from a "gut feeling" to a legitimate study of your target audience). You obviously want to be relatively certain your local product has been well-received before it is introduced to larger regions or even the global marketplace. Multiple localizations can greatly benefit your product saturation (in the face of similar competition you have beaten to market) and potential sales opportunities if one of your goals is to offer "a product for everyone."
Once past these local, national, and international decisions, your tested, tried, true, and lovingly localized product can then be officially shuttled off to manufacturing and distribution – unless your product is being digitally distributed through an e-commerce product web site, as well as retail partner web sites.
While digital distribution protects your business from unwanted overhead – at retail and from the dreaded door-to-door efforts – it also protects your product from being punished for being the new kid on the block. Retail outlets prefer established brands and products every time and any time, and digital distribution is color-blind to that desire.
Your product must still pass muster with the approval process for all the big hitting digital distribution outfits – and you should expect to give a percentage of your winnings to your approving digital distributor(s) for every unit sold. If after approval your product proves to be an unfortunate misread of your target audience or an absolute dud, it will simply be removed from those distribution site(s). This would leave you with a lower-rent alternative than the digital dynamos with whom you wanted to do your deal.
You would still have the ability to run traditional banner ads on a variety of industry press sites – which would function as a product "outreach program." Those ads would, of course, lead back to an e-commerce web site of your own creation – residing on a single server that would be dealing with manageable customer traffic and limited product downloads. Ad results and word of mouth can always change your download fortunes but – like anything else – it is left to chance.
Distribution – depending upon the product type and especially at retail – can be more complex than most people expect. Your distribution channels may be set, but not all retail outlets are created equal. Your first-time entry into the retail market may force you to deal with second-run retailers, but you still retain the right to be intensely aware of the retail entities with whom your distributor may have become too cozy. Competitive distribution costs do not always translate into competitive retail representation.
Negotiations with your retailer(s) of choice will determine wholesale price per unit, amount of shelf space for those units, location of that shelf space for those units, and / or highly prized end cap space for those units. While this is obvious to anyone who has ever negotiated for retail space, the retail "fun" has just begun.
"Location, location, location" is everything for your product(s) in a retail setting – just like an elegant and easy to navigate user interface is everything to your product(s) in an online e-commerce setting.
Retail, however, also requires that sales associates be armed with quality product knowledge and marketing materials (brochures, installation service forms, and the like) to properly represent and sell your product to your target audience and beyond. Your product may not be operationally complex enough to require such an in-depth customer interaction. Your product may simply sell itself the moment it goes on display.
If your product is more challenging to operate, you may have to send a trusted team member – a trusted QA Lead (dressed as a "product representative") or a well-rehearsed bizdev – to various retail locations to demonstrate the product along with how to present related marketing collateral to the entire sales staff of a particular store. You should expect retail outlets – by and large – to back away from doing business if you do not have a finely-tuned sales demonstration ready to deploy to their sales associates in support of your high end, high maintenance product.
If your product is, in fact, retail heavy, you should also expect to employ a number of field agents ("product reps") who can monitor certain retail locations within assigned "territories" – visiting to make surprise physical inspections of product displays and the like. Retailers perform their own physical inspections, but no one does it quite as well as the product supplier (you).
Retail is more challenging than ever – between fighting off a bad economy and losing sales to online outlets. Some retailers are willing to collaborate with you on the physical setting in which your product will be displayed – as it needs to fit in with their own existing format throughout their store(s). Other big box retailers may not be as flexible, and your product needs to be ready for display with a bow on top.
If dealing with retail is so involved, why have more companies not gone with digital distribution? Some customers still need to test drive an expensive car, see the picture quality of the hottest widescreen television, touch the keys on a high-end laptop computer, feel the comfort level of a luxurious king sized bed, taste a sample of pricey candy, try on a custom-made tuxedo, or play the latest greatest console video game . . . to see if they really like it enough before committing to a purchase.
While perishable goods, drinks, self-maintenance products, and prescribed medications are still a big part of the retail grocery scene, even those items are being ordered online and delivered straight to your door in ever increasing amounts. There is no doubt the retail end game is approaching – with online steadily applying more pressure – but not quite yet.
You could always reduce your reliance on traditional retail, and go with a hybrid retail approach. You could purchase custom kiosks from which your customers could view and order your product(s) – from locations well beyond confined and static retail outlets.
Going with kiosks gives you the chance to negotiate for space with almost any location that would allow an "unassuming transaction device" on the premises – including "quick mart" store fronts, fueling stations, book stores, grocery stores, shopping malls, and entertainment centers, as well. Kiosks can range from $2,000-$20,000 USD – depending on features – and if you decide to lease one or more, you should expect to receive a costly annual maintenance contract, as well.
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has a computer or a smart phone, nor does everyone have access to the Internet, nor does everyone wish to do their shopping – or search for products – on a computer screen. Kiosks provide businesses and many of their more traditional customers the best of both worlds. Kiosks give customers the ability to view and purchase a specific range of products in a variety of retail settings without the hassles of unprovoked retail sales pitches. Businesses get to pursue transactions without the hassles of potentially significant retail overhead – in leased space, security measures, and on-site sales personnel.
Just when you think you are all done with your post production planning, ready to pass out on the couch, and watch the post-expense profits pile up, the not-so-small issue of customer service may still need to be addressed.
Customer service is necessary for almost all products sold in metropolitan areas – and available by e-mail or phone in almost all modern regions of the world – with retail outlets providing additional "customer service" only for the return of unopened or defective purchases. Your product(s) may only require that you and your employees occasionally take turns fielding customer service communications – and responding to those inquiries with a professional demeanor that is necessary but not always on tap.
Your product(s), alternatively, may require a sizable customer service department – comprised of tech support and customer satisfaction sub-groups. Procuring customer service representatives who are well-mannered, well-spoken, and intuitively product-knowledgeable are very hard to find and even harder to keep. You need to consider this important fact when determining a customer service solution that is comprehensive or crummy – as there is rarely a middle ground.
Comprehensive is costly but will provide a localized and thorough customer service experience. Crummy costs mere coins in comparison but will provide a poor and scripted customer service experience – where language barriers and memorized product knowledge prevent customer satisfaction for even the simplest of product questions. If you are willing to properly educate and train your customer service team on the entirety of your product(s) – and ensure clear communication with your customers – it should not matter where your customer service solution is located. While customer service is a(nother) serious investment for your business, it lets your customers know how serious you take their purchase of your product(s).
You deserve a moment to exhale after successfully completing production of your maiden or latest product. You also need to be prepared to inhale again with a solid post production plan that lets you breathe easier – knowing you have reasonably covered all your marketing, manufacturing, packaging, and distribution bases.