Minimum Viable Product is Not a Milestone, It’s a Continuous Journey of Product Discovery

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is an important aspect of product management. It is not just a stage or milestone in the product development process. Instead it should be looked at as a method to ensure that product development is on the right course. This has been very nicely explained in this article titled “A Minimum Viable Product is not a Product, It’s a Process“. As rightly pointed out in the article, MVP is the base product which needs to be validated with a representative sample of customers, and then built upon further to make the final complete product.

MVP is NOT a Curtailed Version of Final Product:

Often product guys go wrong in thinking that MVP means a product with lesser number of features than what they have envisaged. As the product owner, if you had a list of 50 features of which 20 are must-have and 30 are good-to-have, then your MVP is not a cobbled up version of these 20 must-have features. Instead it is a dirty prototype of those features which communicate clearly and effectively deliver the core utility of the product. The below illustration very nicely describes this MVP concept.

minimal-viable-product-henrik-knibergMinimum Viable Product is Not a Milestone, It’s a Continuous Journey of Product Discovery
Source: The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog. Illustration by Henrik Kniberg

Economics explains the difference between need and want. To relate to the example in the illustration, need is of transportation, and want is to make it as easy, comfortable, fast and safe as possible. Hence MVP can start at being a skater-board in which utility is validated, and is then continuously enhanced to provide more value, more utility. Wants can be unlimited, and so are the enhancements that you can do to the product. But the basic need of transportation should always be validated and fulfilled.

Success of MVP:

MVP’s success depends on two key things – (i) base assumptions made about customer needs; and (ii) tests to conclusively validate these assumptions. While people can continue questioning whether or not Henry Ford really said“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”; the gist this statement is so very valid for product managers. If customer is asked what product they want, they would never be able to visualize the product or better version of existing alternative. It is the consumer behavior skill of product manager to understand the customer and design the validation steps in the journey of MVP to final product.

To successfully test the MVP, product manager needs to get into customers’ mind and see the product from their eyes. Product usage data and other data proxies also often provide valuable customer insights for this process. PM will never get to test your product assumptions with  the entire audience. That’s where defining user personas, creating user stories, sampling right test audience for methods like focus group discussions, blind tests and all become super useful.

how to make a minimum viable productMVP is a Continuous Process

MVP to Final Product:

While product manager does all these validations to evolve MVP into a market-ready product, she has to always keep in mind the resources at her disposal. She needs to be cognizant of the technical skills she has to make this product, how much time and budget have been allocated for the product and so on. Product manager also needs to be aware of future trends and incorporate them while planning the product roadmap. These elements should also be taken into consideration while designing MVP. That will make it a rightly designed and tested Minimum Viable Product which becomes the stepping stone towards a successful product.

Don’t Skip Pre-Roll Video Ad. Minimize it into an In-Set Frame.

Current Pre-Roll Video Ad Format is Irritating for User:

pre-roll video ads are mostly skipped

Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/lessons-learned-from-preroll-ads-jace-vernon

Pre-roll video ad is possibly the most popular video ad-format among advertisers, but also the most irritating format for users. We all have seen the pre-roll video ads on YouTube which can be skipped only after a specific duration (like 5 seconds). Some actually cannot be skipped at all! This is detrimental for both advertisers and video-platforms like YouTube because:

  1. Negative user experience on video platform: Forcibly makes user watch the ad video. In today’s world of continuously reducing attention spans, and ever-increasing choices for user, this can eventually become the reason for users to switch to other video platform
  2. False clicks, and hence reduced conversions: Users looking for skip button, often end up clicking on the ad. This takes them to a new page, and away from the desired video they wanted to watch. Such false clicks is wastage of advertisers’ money and reduces the overall campaign performance
  3. Non-completion of ad-video: Video ads are measured by the length of video seen by users. Quartiles of video ad watched are tracked and reported. In such scenario, pre-roll ads will fail miserably on completion rate
  4. Once skipped, ad video is gone: Intuitive user reaction is to skip the video. Once skipped, the ad video is gone. These are served programmatically, hence even if user refreshes the page, there is no chance that same ad video will be shown again. Once skipped, users just don’t have the chance to go back to ad video, even if they want to!
  5. Negative brand perception: If you are going to make your target audience see your brand’s video by force – against their wish – for letting them see their desired video, I think you are doing more bad than any good to your brand. This can create negative brand perception

Considering the above reasons, it’s no wonder that 94% of users are skipping pre-roll ads, and 52% do this frequently! Users find skippable pre-roll ad twice favorable than non-skippable pre-roll ads (source).

Some may argue that given a choice, users will always want to avoid or skip any kind of advertising. This cannot be true. If the advertising is engaging and attractive – and it is shown when user is receptive to see it – advertisements will make the desired impact. After marketer has invested so much in making and attractive and useful video ad, it is very incorrect to deliver such ad when user is least willing to see it. Irrespective of how good or bad the video ad is, pre-roll video ad format makes this ad a villain for user.

MINIMIZE instead of SKIP

Pre-roll video ad format needs innovation – “Change the in-stream pre-roll video ad into overlay, and allow users to MINIMIZE instead of skip”.

Give users a choice to minimize the pre-roll ad into an in-set frame. Something like below:

Step 1 - Minimize Pre Roll Video Ad in In-Set Frame

Step 1

Step 2 - Minimize Pre Roll Video Ad in In-Set Frame

Step 2

Characteristics of in-set frame for ad video:
In-set frame should be made as non-intrusive as possible, and also serve the purpose of delivering advertiser’s marketing message to user –

  • Minimize button available from the start of the pre-roll video ad
  • On minimize, ad video continues to play in in-set frame, with audio muted
  • After specified duration (say 5 seconds), in-set frame fades and becomes 50% transparent (transparency setting to be adjusted as required). Frame can become completely transparent as well, if required
  • In-set frame becomes opaque and visible on mouse-over or other predetermined triggers (like at the end of the user-requested video or when user-requested video is paused)
  • User can drag the in-set frame, and can have option to make it totally transparent

Benefits of Overlay In-Set Frame for Pre-Roll Video:

  • Ad video now plays to completion. Metrics can be used to report for what length video played in full-size and in minimized frame
  • Avoid false clicks. Users can any time go back to the ad video
  • Better user-experience
  • Since ad video plays to completion, if it is attractive enough, will get users to engage better and increase brand recall and conversion rates
  • Advertisers will be motivated to create more attractive and engaging ad videos which can compete with the user-requested video for user’s attention. This is step forward towards making advertising as engaging as the content itself

Challenges to Implement this In-Set Ad Video Ad-Format:

  • Moving from in-stream to overlay video is a fundamental change in technical delivery of user-requested video and ad video. Though for users and advertisers, user-experience is not much different, video players will have to significantly change their architecture
  • In-set video ad format needs to be compatible with industry standards like VAST and VPAID
  • This will need change in the metrics tracked and reported
  • With higher chance of view completion and better impact, advertisers will be bidding higher, and can result in significant change in video ad campaign design and optimization process

Aligned to Users’ Propensity of Respond:
In-set ad video format concept is aligned to the thinking that ads will perform well if they are shown when user has higher “Propensity to Respond”. I wrote about this earlier here. New-age marketers are continuously facing the challenge of reduced attention span of users. Mobile is becoming primary device for users and content consumption is increasingly happening through apps. Marketers need to recognize that users’ 1st priority is the content or app-activity, and not their ads. Hence users will respond to the same ad differently depending on what mind-set they are in, depending on what is their “Propensity to Respond”. This metric needs to be tracked, measured and made mainstream for all advertisement format.

What are your thoughts on the in-set video ad format? Please share your feedback in the comment box below.

Needed – “Remind Me Later” Option for Push Notifications from Apps

“Boredom makes for a great app-retention tool”this article with such catchy title made a lot of intuitive sense immediately. Article suggests that most of the users check apps on their mobile phone when they are bored and have plenty of time to kill. Author suggests that app-marketers should use data to find out possible time when users will be bored and send their push-notifications. This is intuitive and should work.

Add “Remind Me Later” option in push-notifications for busy users:

But what about times when users are busy and do not have time to respond to app-notifications, however relevant and attractive they maybe. Think of situation when your app-user is in a meeting, or is driving or is on a call. She glances at the notification bar and thinks that this notification is useful – but simply does not have time to open the app and act on it. One swipe, the notification is cleared, and a valid opportunity is lost. In that case, why not provide an option for “Remind Me Later” on that notification? Make use of the “snooze” concept of alarm clock, have a pre-defined (and customizable) setting for duration after which the user will be reminded again of the notification. Something like this:

Remind Me Later button for Push Notifications - Vibhushan dot comIn practical world, different set of users will be busy and free at different times, and app-marketers need to cater to this situation. App-marketers spend a lot of time and effort to design notification strategy and draft most attractive notification messages. After this investment, if your app is failing in getting desired attention because your user is busy, then give your notification (and your app) a second chance. This can help app-marketers in below situations:

  1. Can see, but cannot act: Consider a professional sitting in a boring meeting where she can look at notifications, but cannot act on it. Same is the case when your user is driving and is on a traffic signal or in a traffic jam – can read the notification, but cannot act. Students do carry their phones to classrooms where they again have the same issue. Reminding later option gives your app a chance to get recall when user is free to act.
  2. Weak internet connection: Need to hit the “Remind me later” can also be useful if user is not having a good-enough internet connection to open the app and act on your notification. This is more relevant for users in emerging markets like India, where users tend to transact only when they have a stable wi-fi connection, and avoid transactions on patchy mobile data connections. This becomes increasingly relevant for apps involving video or geo-location.
  3. Enhanced user experience: “Remind Me Later” button can be actually also help create a positive experience with user. When all other apps screaming “Act Now”, if your app shows consideration that user can be busy and has a line in notification saying – “Busy now? No problem, ask us to remind you later.” Users love such consideration and possibly will return to your app when they have need and time.

Propensity to Respond:

This actually comes down to basing your marketing strategy on users’ “Propensity to Respond”. I wrote about the need for new-age marketer to have a metric to measure this propensity to respond, and accordingly provide your ads or notifications a second chance to attract the users.

How about having a bucket where users can park all interesting push-notifications when she is busy, and respond to or act upon them later? Notification managers should provide for this functionality, and possibly, mobile OS like Android or iOS can add this facility across all apps by default. This can actually incentivize marketers to improve their messaging in notifications and make it attractive and to-the-point enough to capture attention of busy users and get a second chance for elaborate response when user is free. This can take advertisement towards becoming as relevant as the content itself which users would want to consume by choice.

App marketers are already doing their own evaluations and creating notification strategy based on when is the user most likely to respond. It’s time that industry creates a comprehensive metric to measure users’ propensity to respond. With more and more apps jostling for attention and position in already crowded notification bar of smartphones, app-marketers desperately need incorporate this metric in their marketing plans, and accordingly add the “Remind me Later” button on their push-notifications.

New-Age Online Ads Need New Measurement Metric – Propensity to Respond

 

Online advertisement has been traditionally been measured on how contextual and relevant they are for the users. In the early days of web 1.0, it was eyeballs - a metric which was largely derived from traditional media parameter of reach or circulation figures. Google turned it around with search ads - enabling tracking for every single click and every user. Online advertisement in web 2.0 was divided in intent based search and visibility based display advertisements. Cookie based user-profile targeting emerged, social media platforms offered a whole new meaning to internet and changed the online advertisement world as well.

We are now in web 3.0 - which is defined by newer interfaces of mobile, tablets; newer ad formats like video ads, in-app ads and so on. Attention spans are becoming shorter - which means besides being relevant, ads now also need to be attractive and have sufficient exposure or chance to get clicked by users. User behavior has evolved significantly - leading to players winning market solely on the basis of having an intuitive user experience and attractive design. Ads now are becoming more and more interactive. With this, AdTech Industry now needs an evolved tracking parameter to measure the "propensity to respond".

Evolution of AdTech in Web 3.0 World

Evolving User Behavior in Web 3.0 World

Web 3.0 world is about the newer interfaces driven by the smart devices. From smartphones to tablets to Internet-of-Things (IoT) applications and wearable devices - user behavior is evolving fast. Apps on these smart devices are rapidly changing the way content is being delivered and consumed. It is also impacting the tracking methods. Internet is getting increasingly customized and personalized for individual user resulting in an explosion of user data to track and target. Along with it, customer privacy issues are getting complicated. On these devices, the web 2.0 methods of cookie-based targeting fails to deliver. Google recently announced that they are developing methods to crawl previously hidden in-app content and there is a lot to be achieved in this domain.

With new interfaces, we now have new ad types like video ads, in-app ads, app-install ads and so on. Newer interfaces are interactive, and so are these new ad types. We have 360-degree view in video ads. Touch interfaces, better computing powers in handheld devices and convergence of different media formats are totally altering the landscape of online advertisement today.

Propensity to Respond

With this evolving user-behavior, ads now not only need to be relevant, but also should be attractive and interactive as well. The chances of response for these ads are being governed by below few key aspects:

Reducing Shelf Space for Ads:

Content consumption on mobile means user is on-the-go and expects an "always connected, instantly delivered" experience. As internet moves from web 2.0 world of browsers to web 3.0 world of apps, shelf space for ads becomes smaller in size. Pop-up ads were a nuisance in the multi-tab browsing sessions, but users could live with it. In apps, too many irritating pop-ups or interstitial ads can actually just kill the app itself. Users reviews on app-stores like Google Play tells you that people do not hesitate to uninstall the app because of such ads.

Focused Activity:

We today have an app for every possible online activity. Users when interact with an app, are very focused on the outcome expectation. In such scenario, getting them to respond to an advertisement becomes an increasingly difficult challenge. Imagine yourself booking a table for a dinner with friends and you get very relevant app-install ad from a new hangout place in town. Would you halt your table-booking process to install the new app of this hangout place and interact with it? On browser, you would have opened the website of this hangout place in new tab and probably had gone to the tab after completing table booking.

This becomes crucial in case of video advertisements. Just ask yourself how many times have you waited for the "Skip Ad" button on those pre-roll video ads on YouTube - and skipped ad without even giving a thought on whether the ad was relevant or not. No wonder 94% of pre-roll ads are skipped!

94 percent of pre-roll ads are skipped

These, and many more such web 3.0 specific user behavior patterns suggest that besides the relevance, ads and ad-inventory should now also be evaluated on the basis of "propensity to respond".

There has been a lot of research on measuring this propensity. This research done 10 years back lists multiple factors to measure propensity to click on ads. Over the years, there has been more research on this, but yet this metric hasn't become mainstream in online advertisement campaigns. Industry now needs to recognize the importance of this and act on it.

Innovations Based on Propensity to Respond

Once this metric is established, there can be several innovations in AdTech based on it. I could think of below two examples, but I am sure there will be lot many to be explored -

Innovations in ad-delivery:

Users "skip" or "close" most of the ads not because they are irrelevant, but because they are focused on the app-activity and do not want to divert their attention from it. So then why not give these ads a second-chance with users? How about creating a bucket wherein these ads can be moved to when users "skip" or "close" them? I came up with one such innovation idea of minimizing the interstitial ads in in-app advertisement. Pre-roll ads can also be similarly marked for "show me later" or made to become semi-transparent in an in-set frame. Instead of skipping the pre-roll ad, it can be minimized into an in-set frame where it can play with muted audio (see a detailed post on this concept here). This way, users has an option to go back to these ads after she has completed the desired app-activity. This can possibly improve the ad-visibility and response rate a lot.

Innovations from advertisers:

Instead of making ads more interactive, advertisers should try to make them more attractive and engaging. Make them irresistible for users. Make them so engaging and beautiful that users would want to come back to them. As a first-principle of advertisement, all advertisers should understand that users' first priority will always be the desired intent or app-activity, and your ad should not be an hindrance in it. Instead, if users have a choice to return to your ad, make sure that they will take that effort to come back and respond.

A system which measures propensity of response by users based on the advertisements creativity will automatically push advertisers to make more engaging and attractive advertisements. This should be a move towards making advertisement the content itself - which users would want to engage with and consume wholeheartedly.

Summarizing this chain of thoughts, I believe that the new-age internet of apps and smart devices call for new innovations in ad-technology. Web 3.0 is about intimate and quick user-interactions. A robust metric of propensity to respond can be a significant step towards aligning the ad-technology with the emerging online scenario.

 

Allow User to Minimize Interstitial Ads in In-App Advertising

In-App Advertising in Exploding:

In-App advertising is currently the biggest revenue earIn-App Ad Spend in US - EMarketer Reportner in mobile advertising. This report from eMarketer suggests that in-app ad spend in US alone would be nearing $30 billion - amounting for 73% of the total mobile ad spend in US. This is not surprising as mobile is gaining prominence across the world and becoming the primary access point for internet and gaming.

Contextual matching of ads using keywords or user-intent isn't yet much advanced for in-app advertisement. Cookies on mobile devices is still a challenge and search engines can't crawl app pages like websites, as they are often generated dynamically in run-time. But advertisers get to refine their ad-campaign targeting via parameters like device types, location, app category and even exact apps. As technology advances, we are sure to see some break-through in this domain soon.

In this blog post, I want to put forth the idea of allowing users to minimize interstitial ads in in-app advertising instead of closing them.

What are Interstitial Ads in In-App Advertising?

One of the key ad format for in-app advertising is the interstitial ad. These are full-screen ads, which pop-up at "natural breaks or transition points" in the app's user-experience (as Google defines them on its AdMob platform). Most common examples of such breaks or transition points are when user completes a level of a game in a gaming app, or when user requests for or completes reading a content piece in a content app. See an example below:

Interstitial Ad in In-App Mobile Advertising

The Problem of Ephemeral Existence of Interstitial Ad:

As a user who is immersed in playing a game or reading content, the most intuitive reaction would be to close the ad and get back to the game or content. Once closed, this ad is gone. Since it is being served programmatically by ad-networks, there is no certainty of the same ad being shown again to the user in that session or for that matter anytime in that app. Given the short attention spans that users have today, there is a high likelihood that user's mind - which would be preoccupied with the task of completing the task in the app - will push her to close the ad even before she has read/seen it completely. Often, these ads can have dynamically generated custom offers for users based on their previous interactions like in-app purchases, search queries, etc. There can be a coupon code for a discount, or a one-time low-fare being offered to the user. I have many times intuitively closed the ad and then thought that there was a good offer that I could have availed - but I can't go back to the ad now!

Advertisers are betting billions of dollars on these ads; a lot of effort is being spent on creating engaging and attractive visuals and compelling marketing offers in these ads. They do deserve much more life than being this ephemeral existence!

Allow Users to Minimize - Not Close - the Ad:

Instead of closing, allow users to minimize the interstitial ad. Once minimized, these ads can go to a bottom strip or panel (where currently mobile ad-networks show the banner ads). A small but attractive ad icon can be used for this ad in the bottom strip (this can be of sufficient size to clearly show ad-message and call-to-action). This panel can be made to remain visible for a specified time (say 5 seconds), after which it slowly fades and becomes transparent.

At every transition point in app user-experience which qualifies for showing interstitial ads, this strip becomes visible again, and keeps collecting all ads that user is so intuitively minimizing (instead of closing). Ad networks can allow app-owners (or publishers) to determine settings and triggers for which this strip can become appear and fade out. For example, if user is inactive for specific duration or if the app-menu is requested. Several such triggers identified on analyzing the user-behavior. Once visible, user can scroll through (horizontally) all the ad-icons to see ads that were shown to her in that session.

See below a simple wireframe illustration of this user interaction:

 

Step 1 - Interstitial ad with "Minimize" button instead of "Close"
Step 2 - On "Minimize", ad goes to bottom strip in form of ad icon
Step 3 - Bottom strip fades after specified duration of no-interaction
Step 4 - On pre-defined triggers, strip becomes visible and ad appears on clicking the ad icon

Benefits of Minimizing Ads in In-App Advertising:

For a user involved in the app-activity, there is no change in the user-experience as minimize function will remove the ad and take user back to the app activity. However now user has option to go back to these ads. There can be several triggers for which app can remind user about these ads without interfering or degrading the user-experience. This means higher chance of monetization for publishers or app-owners and increase in chances of ads being seen and clicked for advertisers or ad-networks. This feature will reward advertisers with attractive and engaging ad creatives and messages as when user will browse through all ads in the session, these attractive and engaging ads will possibly get higher attention and response.

Minimize feature can be extended to other ad formats also in mobile advertising sphere where the basic assumption that users would want to look at ads after they have completed their desired app/ mobile activity. Hence giving them an option to go back to ad would be of value.

Challenges for the Implementation of this Ad Format:

For this "minimize" feature to have desired effect, there are some challenges to overcome, as below:

  1. Capturing and storing ads and sequence in which they were shown in the session. In absence of cookie on mobile, ad networks will have to add this functionality at session level at their end
  2. Interactivity of bottom strip based on triggers can increase the weight and response time of ad-tag. But I am sure this would be easier problem to solve
  3. Compatibility across different device types, OS types and ad format types will have to be achieved

This concept needs more thought in terms of user-experience, interactivity triggers, technical implementation, ad creative requirements, pricing of ad inventory and more such aspects of in-app advertisement. I believe this can be of significant value for everyone - user, advertiser and publisher. I would love to know readers' comments on this; do share your thoughts in the comment box below.