Stories by Alec Brown

Alec Brown: Using your noodle

Little know fact, unless you trawl the obits like me: Momofuku Ando died recently, aged 96. Momofuku Ando invented instant noodles. But instant noodles is not the point of this article. The point comes via what Momofuku did next. Not content with his early feat of noodle magic, which stormed post-war Japan, Momofuku came up with: Cup Noodle. It was nothing to do with the noodles, really, but everything to do with packaging. By selling his instant noodles in a big waterproof styrofoam cup that could be filled with boiling water to cook the noodles (and make noodle soup, of course) Momofuku spawned an industry that now delivers around 70 billion servings a year worldwide. Looking at this from the consumer end, I hate some coffee brands because I have to dig out a pair of scissors to cut the packaging open. Other coffee brands provide a handy little nick that you can tear. Packaging. So unglamourous, from a marketing perspective, but what a difference it can make. Now, we’re in the technology space. The emphasis is on shifting bits, rather than atoms. So, apart from those of you in the packaged software line, how does a rant on packaging apply to IT firms? How about websites? Recall a few websites that you’ve visited recently. I’ll bet there were some that frustrated the hell out of you. (My pet hate: Splash Flash front pages. Thankfully they’re becoming rarer.) Which websites worked well for you? Was it something to do with having buttons where you expected them to be, providing you with the information in an easily readable format, chunked up and interlinked so you could move through the information, yet mapped so you didn’t get lost? Was it having a “buy” button on the spot just when you wanted to buy? Or was it that the site you liked had a simple little function that made using the site just that much easier than the competition? Smaps ( comes to mind. Looking for a street? Start typing and the Smaps’ search engine progressively reduces the selection set till you can pick the one you want. Neat. Much smarter than any of the other map services that I know of. Ken knows about packaging. He’s just launched a new website. Now before he blows a mill or two on advertising, he’s first asked a few people to check out his website. Not to buy stuff, necessarily, but to walk through it and experience it – as a package. I think his sight’s right on. It’s crisp, clear, functional. You arrive with a need (to buy good quality second hand CDs) and hey! That’s just what they do. I want a particular album. Search. Right there, top right. Default is album - but I can pick artist from a drop down. Of course. Found it. “Live at the Apollo”, Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Buy. That’s it. Thumbs up, Ken. ( And how about all your other interactions with your customer: if you consider all your customer touchpoints as a single product, how might it shape up as a package? Would it look welcoming to you? Do you think it encourages sales or does it discourage them? What simple thing could you do to your business “package” that could grow your sales overnight?