Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The following is my most read blog post. This was written 2 years ago - almost to the day - and to date has had over 2500 views. A lot had happened since then. Novell was acquired by Attachmate and I've since moved on to a new opportunity at Empathica.
As I read it I reflect back on how daunting a task something that sounds as simple as re-branding is. I recently saw an article about HP having had an opportunity to update their logo for which they passed on. This sparked much uproar online about the opportunity they missed. Well, if my experience tells me anything it's that re-branding and changing the world's perception about you takes much more than a new logo. Or even a new vision statement as with what Novell tried to do. It takes a full company effort, and the new brand you want to create needs to be compelling enough to have widespread adoption in the market at large. Very few companies have been able to do this successfully, particularly large ones.
In fact in 2012 we can all watch in real time how this same exercise will unfold at RIM. Once having defined the smartphone, they now struggle to change the world's perception of what they do and why they do it. I'm sure some will suggest a logo change, or a new vision or mission statement, but the reality is it will take much more.
Maybe they can even pick up a lesson or two from NASCAR...
Sunday, November 20, 2011
I have a friend who happens to own and run the largest privately owned hardware store back where I’m from. Granted it’s a family business that was started by his father. But by most accounts he’s managed to not only maintain the business but grow it as well. He’s done all this in the face of the Home Depot, Loews and a world of competition that his dad never had to deal with.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
As a Canadian working in technology one issue that I'm quite passionate about is the innovation gap that is happening between Canada an our peers.
I watch with an almost personal fascination with the challenges being faced by Research in Motion. Being Canada's biggest global success story, their struggles act both as an interesting learning experience and a local soap opera.
As a marketer I can't help but feel there is a profound lesson to be learned by product managers and product marketers by watching what hopefully will be the rebuilding of a Canadian icon.
Now that RIM can no longer rely on the capabilities of their products to sell themselves, they seem to have fundamental issues around the marketing 4 Ps (Product, Price, Promotion, Place). The market no longer knows what differentiates them, most assume it’s enterprise capability of some sort, but their own messaging does not reinforce even this, their legacy killer feature, Their pricing, due to their carrier strategy is all over the map, again because of the carrier strategy also no promotion consistency, and most importantly they no longer know where to position themselves. Are they still a premium phone, an entry level, mid range? Too many questions.
The breadth of devices they carry on their price list is too big, which exacerbates all the core marketing issues just mentioned. One aspect of Apple strategy that I've always greatly admired is the strict discipline they show in maintaining a very small and focused product portfolio.
They can be fixed, but it remains to be seen whether or not time is still on their side...
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
I recently upgraded my phone to the new Blackberry Bold 9900. So far I find it to be a fantastic device which really performs well for my usage requirements. But reading news and reviews of this device online, and the lukewarm reaction RIM is getting, has me thinking back to the basic principles of marketing. I fear the commercial success of my new toy might be getting sabotaged by the ‘Four Ps’ of marketing.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Friday, July 8, 2011
Thursday, July 7, 2011
There I said it. Nobody would ever use that as a marketing tagline (Though maybe if I wanted in some fashion to prove how big my umm balls were I’d try it) but this is the impression a lot of vendors give off.
In my experience many customers never take full advantage of all the capabilities of software solutions. More depth of knowledge around the capabilities of a solution and more importantly perhaps more depth of knowledge about the problems they can solve to begin with can be tremendously valuable to end users. Not only can it better position your end users as subject matter experts (and maybe even position them for a promotion) but for vendors it can ensure your products get better ingrained into business processes.
Monday, June 27, 2011
I remember when I got my first blackberry. It was one of the early colour screen versions with a scroll wheel on the side for navigation. I thought it was an amazing product. That blackberry gave me a sense of workplace mobility that up until then I had not experienced. In fact, I often referred to that device as my mobile office. Sure, I had a laptop computer, but having access to all my email in a device that fit into my pocket really gave me the feeling of being untethered from the office.
I wasn’t the only one who felt the same way. The Blackberry was a disruptive device that allowed professionals with jobs that were communication heavy unheard of flexibility. Email from the office? No problem. Email at home? Sure, but that’s not new. What about sending and receiving email from the train, or the airport, or even the bathroom? You mean I can do that? Wow!
The definition of the office itself changed. Today, the tools that people use for productivity and the ways that they communicate with each other have changed. In the early days of the Blackberry, access to email was the only piece of the working experience customers needed, on the go, to be productive. After all this is what untethered them from their desks.
The tools people use in the office today, and how they communicate has changed. As the 24h workday replaces the 8h shift of the past, the line between home and office continues to blur. Email and the ubiquitous phone are still important. More and more, social has become a critical channel to collaborate and communicate. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and use of media sharing services such as Youtube and Instragram are the new ways people share thoughts and ideas. Workers today need access to other things as well. The World Wide Web is a necessity for both research and leisure. People need access to cloud based storage services like Dropbox to be able to access, author and edit files as well. Plus with all of the newfound stress of a 24h workday a little leisure can’t hurt either. Angry Birds anyone?
Much like how the American car companies were caught off guard with a rapidly changing car market from rising gas prices, RIM seems to have been caught off guard by the changing nature of the office it helped to change. RIM today finds itself trying to sell efficient messaging devices in a world where work is defined by so much more. Blackberries are essentially technology SUVs caught up in a world demanding the fuel efficiency and innovation of a hybrid engine.
What’s the lesson here?
Maintaining a pulse on your market around you and the customers you have and hope to get is critical. Even if it is a market you almost single handedly created, market needs can change quickly, after all, your own success is a testament to that.
As a proud Canadian, I believe RIM still can emerge from this a bigger better company. The kids today might just be changing what the office of tomorrow looks like again. The only problem is they may not have the patience to wait for you to catch up to them…
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Friday, June 10, 2011
Over the course of the past few weeks I have had to sit through several presentations for one reason or another. Some live, some via webcast, but all about "enterprise IT management". Sounds exciting I know <note sarcasm>. Ultimately I didn't really learn all that much about enterprise IT management, but I did learn a lot about how to structure an incredibly boring presentation.
Here is the typical presentation I saw:
- The first 1/3 dedicated to about us content. You know slides where people talk about how long they've been in business, how many employees they have, where they are headquartered and other such trivia. Personally I am not a fan of about us slides and frankly never use them. As far as I'm concerned if someone is going to take the time to watch me speak, I'll assume they've at least done a first level Google search to find that information out beforehand.
- The next 1/3 of these presentations was clearly supposed to be the meat, and it was also the turning point of where these presenters typically lost me. This was the architecture section. This is the part where people seem to feel the need to include 'build' animations, or Visio diagrams. This is also where you'll often hear the dreaded phrase "I'm sorry this slide is a bit of an eye chart"… Sigh… A whole lot of talking, but they still never manage to tell me anything about the problem they solve.
- Finally the last 1/3 is where they talk about the product details. And boy do people ever love to get in to details. Apparently enterprise IT is all about a race to have the most features. Sadly after sitting through these presentations I still had no idea what the point was for any of these things. I definitely did not feel very educational nor was I compelled to buy anything or research further.
I have two motivators whenever I present. First and foremost I value my audience's time, and secondly I have a deep seeded fear of not sounding like a used car salesman.
So I focus my presentations around education rather than simply a traditional sales pitch.
The time allocation I try to follow is
- 1/3 discussion of the high level problem (i.e. how does this issue affect your business as a whole)
- 1/3 why current solutions may be lacking (i.e. how this problem affects YOU, the user or person I'm trying to relate to)
- Finally 1/3 a better way to solve the problem, again as objectively as possible, what new approaches, or technologies allow new solutions today, and my conclusion is (check out my company we understand the depth of this problem and are one of the new solution options you have)
No about us, no build animations, no eye charts, and hopefully a few laughs and some education.
Bring up the problems up front, try to relate on a personal level, and hopefully no tired eyes by the end of my sessions. That's my goal.
Friday, May 20, 2011
I had an interesting discussion with a colleague of mine who manages our support team. Each day he gets a firsthand view of something that my father likes to call reality. In his case he sees what happens when a customer's expectations are not sufficiently met. Usually those aren't the most pleasant conversations.
Clearly the product and what engineering delivers play a role in that. But we also discussed how and where marketing content also defines what those customer expectations ultimately should be. Specifically we talked about how the story told by marketing can help to temper a customer's wildest dreams.
By their very nature new technology and new software are supposed to be magical. Innovation allows for new tools that will help do something better, easier, faster, or even unlock the ability to do something they has never been done before. The problem with magic and tools that are depicted as such is that some users' wildest dreams set the bar of expectation far out of reach of even the best technology.
Some might blame this on Moore's law setting modern day users' expectation that engineers will always deliver something bigger, faster, and stronger. But part of this (or perhaps most of this) also falls in the hands of marketing. It's not the engineer's fault that the product cannot live up to customers' wildest dreams, that's marketing fault.
Content gives you the ability to control and set realistic expectations. If you built a car with a 60 mile per hour limit in a world where no car went faster than 50, there is no harm in setting the bar at 60. That will still get you where you need to go much faster than the alternative. However a promise of "the world's fastest car" could lead to expectations far beyond the 60 limit. This also leads to broken cars and hours spent with support departments.
Done well content can also turn reality in to a differentiator. Looking at it from a different perspective, knowing that nobody else can yet go 50 miles per hour, why not shape the market to set a 60 mile per hour limit as the must have within the category.
Create content, tell a story that sets a realistic expectation. After all that reality should still be far beyond what customers are able to do otherwise, but can also serve to keep those expectations in check…
Monday, May 16, 2011
"Teamwork is essential - it allows you to blame someone else." Author Unknown
I came across an interesting discussion on Linkedin, over the weekend about the difference between sales and marketing that got me thinking. Upon further research I discovered that a Google search for "sales and marketing alignment" yields over 2 MILLION hits!
I've always found it interesting that one of the accepted truths of business is conflict between the sales and marketing. Having spent time on both sides of that coin I've seen this conflict first hand, but I still don't quite understand it. Sales and marketing are the two organizations that bring products to market and drive revenue. Poor communication and a lack of coordination between the two could surely prove disastrous, but many companies accept this as the norm. Imagine if the engineering and product management organizations didn't see eye to eye. Surely that would drive innovation to a halt.
One of the biggest sources of frustration I find in any role is a lack of understanding of what value you bring and how it impacts others. Better understanding of roles and responsibilities can help both to motivate and resolve conflicts. In my world, sales and marketing both have the same goal – connecting with customers to increase company profits and revenue. What is implied is that both organizations are connecting with the world outside the company walls. The only difference I see between the two is the audience each is trying to reach.
In the marketing organization our goal is to sell to the entire world (or rather the specific market segment we are trying to capture, otherwise sales would have a right to be mad at us). The sales organization and individual sales people generally connect more directly to a particular account or set of accounts. As such, sales tend to get much more granular in terms of customer conversation, whereas marketing stays more strategic. Marketing educates the world about the broader problems affecting a market to build a funnel of educated prospects. Salespeople connect the market problems directly to the individual pains of a customer to bring in revenue.
Ultimately both organizations should be telling the same story, only tuned to different audiences.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
I have a bad habit of accumulating seemingly random information. My wife believes that my lifelong dream must be appearing on a game show someday to take advantage of this valuable knowledge.
One story that I've picked up that I particularly like is the story behind Listerine. Listerine has a fascinating history that not only helps bring me one step closer to game show supremacy but also serves as a nice little marketing lesson.
Listerine was originally formulated in 1879 as a surgical antiseptic. Apparently some folks even used it as a treatment for gonorrhea… It wasn't until the 1920s that sales of Listerine really took off. No there wasn't an epidemic of gonorrhea (well at least I hope there wasn't, I wasn't around back then) sales took off once the product began being marketed as a cure for 'chronic halitosis' or bad breath. That strategy brought with it a new challenge though. Every day folks had no idea their breath was even a problem.
That's where marketing stepped in to help educate the masses. Ad campaigns for Listerine began to focus on the scourge of bad breath and how bad breath was in fact ruining the lives of every day Americans without their knowledge. If you think about it, this marketing strategy was brilliant. Rather than marketing the product itself, they were in fact educating their audience about a problem that most didn't have much knowledge of. The folks behind Listerine ended up selling bad breath, not mouth wash. The end result of this however was a whole lot of mouthwash sales by people who no longer wanted to have their lives ruined by bad breath.
The hottest trend in marketing today is content marketing or inbound marketing. It's a strategy built around creating and making available a wealth of content for your audience with the goal of educating them. Building trust with your audience by helping them learn more about the various challenges that they face, before trying to sell them any products. As it turns out this isn't a new idea.
After all, I woke up this morning and rinsed my mouth out with Listerine…
Friday, May 13, 2011
I'm a big fan of interdepartmental collaboration; I am never the smartest guy in the room, so whenever possible I try to solicit ideas from my peers. Marketing, sales, development, technical support; everyone involved in my company has a valuable perspective on the greater goals of the organization. I've also come to learn is that unless people are asked all too often great ideas simply go unheard.
Marketing is often the most visible organizations in any company. At least the results of marketing work tend to be quite visible. So at various time I do solicit ideas from non-marketers around what we could do to improve our efforts. Usually, this leads to great constructive discussions of what is going well, what is not working and even what our grander vision should look like. BUT there is one suggestion that comes up that I do hate - the mythical "Superbowl ad"…
Most people have a preconception of what marketing does. Sadly these ideas are usually based on what marketing used to do.
People hate what marketing used to do. I hate what marketing used to do. Traditional marketing was interruption driven - Interrupt people's lives with broadly targeted advertising, jingles or nonsensical catchphrases. It was all very loud and colourful, and frankly all very annoying. Presumably the theory went like this - the loudest marketers capture the largest audiences, with little regard for what that audience actually looked like.
I work in the world of B2B, where that type of approach is particularly ineffective. Businesses, in my experience, appreciate being yelled at even less than individual consumers. Not only that but the products my company makes are also quite specialized within the business market, so interruption based marketing becomes even less effective for me.
Superbowl ads are all about casting a wide net, and hoping to hit very few targets. It's about screaming "WAZZZZAAAAAPPPP!!!" at the whole world and hoping that at least one person decides to buy a beer.
One of the most important parts of my job as a marketer is to make sure I don't do this. Identifying and defining very clearly the target market I want to capture, is always step one. Smarter folks than me actually have a term for this – segmentation.
Effective segmentation allows me as a marketer to define who the buyer is that I'm targeting, and craft a message for them that is delivered and made available through the channels they naturally gather information from. That way instead of casting a very wide net hoping to catch one very rare fish, I can go hunting with a sniper rifle in a confined woodland area that has a large population of whatever specific furry creature I'm looking for.
And that is why a Superbowl ad might very well be the absolute worst marketing investment that I could possibly make…
Friday, April 29, 2011
My son recently entered a particularly interesting new phase of life. He has decided that the standard response to everything that I ask him to do will now be "Why?" Go to bed – Why? Eat your dinner – Why? Clean up your toys – Why? And so it goes.
I've heard some parents describe this as the "the most terrible phase of life". As a parent I might agree. But as a marketing person, my two year old has taught me a valuable lesson (whilst simultaneously causing my hair loss to accelerate).
One of the needs of all people is simply a better understanding of Why?
The world of technology marketing however hasn't always understood this. If you think about it you can probably think of endless streams of marketing messages that answer a different question – How? More gigabytes, more megahertz, more bandwidth, less bandwidth, less megahertz, less gigabytes, or maybe even a patented algorithm… all this serves to tell and audience is How something works. If the joys of parenthood have taught me anything it's that nobody cares (or at least little boys) about How something works until they first understand Why it's important.
A simple example. If I was someone who had never driven a car, I wouldn't care about horsepower, in fact I probably wouldn't even understand what it was, I'd gotten where I need to go by walking and it was fine. To join the ranks of car owners I would need to first be educated on Why getting places faster would give me more time in the day, or Why owning a car could give me the freedom to go anywhere on my own schedule. I would need to first understand Why a car could help me, before I cared about about How it worked, or How one car was better than another car.
You might think that this behavior is exclusive to technology folks. But I've seen enough panty liner advertisements focusing on how much blue liquid can be absorbed to know that this behavior has less to do with technologist and simply more to do with marketers.
Understanding Why can educate and even inspire. Simon Sinek's golden circle describes this in a much more profound manner than I ever could and I encourage you to check it out. Sadly answering Why instead of How is difficult to do, but I think taking a step back to think about it is worthwhile for all marketers. I think my son would agree….
PS. You need to go to bed on time and finish your dinner to grow up big and strong.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
A friend of mine recently took up just about the most interesting hobby I've come across. He has spent the past few months taking workshops in standup comedy. I'd imagine that standing up on stage and actually trying to make people laugh ON PURPOSE must be one of the most intimidating tasks out there. For that I commend him.
In talking to him about the experience and what it's like he shared something thing that I believe should be a lesson that should be given to folks like me that work in marketing. During one of his early comedy lessons the instructor shared with them one of the golden rules of comedy: "Never talk down to your audience… assume they are smart enough to get the joke."
How profound. In the context of a joke, adding unnecessary explanation and clutter to your deliver simply renders the punch line UN-funny. In marketing the same type of behavior can render whatever message you're trying to convey overly confusing. To my dismay, I've been guilty of this. I've been guilty of failing to give my audience enough credit.
I can't help but think this simply boils down to having a better understanding of your audience. Understand their background; understand their expectations. In short know what matters most to them.
I work in the B2B space selling software that manages datacenters. Something that I've found myself guilty of is over-explaining the things that my products did. Sometimes even down to describing basic concepts. In retrospect I've now realize that keeping those slides a part of my presentations, not only made my presentations too long, but they also rendered my message overly complex, or worse, condescending. IT professionals don't need to be told what a computer is or what a storage array is. Heck, most of the time they just want to get to the point, they simply want to know what the result of using my products will be, and if those results align to whatever needs they have. Simple right? Turns out not so much if you spend some time reading enterprise datacenter management software brochures.
I've now begun my journey down the road of trusting that my audience will get the joke….
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The Food network is a great example of this. Cooking may not be the hardest task but it does take some practice and it can be quite intimidating to a novice. Even the most difficult dishes however are made to look very easy to prepare if you ever watch the Food network. I suppose that when you're an Iron Chef you can make anything look as easy as making a grilled cheese sandwich.
Often times I get asked by both coworkers and friends "what exactly do you do?" I tell them that I am a product marketing manager, which inevitably leads to more questions about what product marketing is exactly. So a personal challenge I've undertaken is an attempt to create a simple explanation for what it is that product marketing does. By doing so perhaps I've taken a few baby steps towards becoming an Iron Chef of marketing if you will. I needed the explanation to be more than a job description and also more interesting than a list of the deliverables I get from my boss.
So I've come up with a simple analogy - I write the story that helps to fill the sales funnel. It's the story that, if written well, serves to both find prospects as well as helps those prospects convert to opportunities and sales.
When I was in elementary school I learned in English class that a good story goes through 3 phases: Introduction, Plot, and Conclusion.
In the marketing story I write I think of theses stages in terms of the desired outcomes for the content I create to support my narrative. So I have 3 outcomes or phases for my story as well: Eyeballs, Education, and Urgency.
- Eyeballs: The key to the beginning of the story is customer segmentation. The messaging and value of the solution needs to resonate with the "Tribe" (to borrow a term from Seth Godin) that best fits the user and buyer profile of my product. By fine tuning the story from the beginning to appeal to a particular audience that helps both to get eyeballs reading the story, while also ensuring I target the audience that is most likely to be converted through to opportunities.
- Education: This is the easiest part of the story to write. It can consist of product brochures and flyers, product websites, demos, and other types of collateral that educate the eyeballs I've captured as to what it is exactly that the product does, and the value or outcomes that will result. Again if done well more conversion and more movement down the sales funnel.
- Urgency: I find this the most difficult part of the story to write, as it requires the most depth of knowledge. Customer success stories, tools to help determine ROI or tools to quantify risk, vendor neutral educational content along with the expertise that I've enable my colleagues in sales with can be the key chapters of the story that drive real opportunities. This is when the story helps a reader understand how their world could be a better place. It tells them how others have benefitted from my solution and whenever possible ties this back to an economic impact. Put another way, this is when the story can really help close the gap between awareness and engagement.
So that's the explanation I'm going with the next time I get asked "what do you do?"
I'm going to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich now…
Friday, March 11, 2011
The hole I see is the role that product marketing fills. At its heart product marketing helps determine whether an idea is worth bothering with. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I believe there is tremendous value in simply going through the exercise of turning an idea in to something. But one key piece is ensuring that something can actually be a viable business. Product marketing helps to fill the gaps between technology and a market need. An idea or technology only has as much value as the problem it solves and it's difficult to measure the size of a problem until you can identify who experiences it. In short you need to know what customers you're going after along with how you will help them.
Here's a very simple example of a world without product marketing.
This makes no sense to most people…
- 2L Storage shelf on door
- Adjustable Door Bin
- Adjustable Rollers
- Auto defrost
- 329 kWh/Year Energuide rating
- Reversible door swing
- Slide-out shelf design
- A small refrigerator to keep your beer cold.
And that's why you need product marketing. Or that's why I have a job anyway…
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
He has an elegant approach to design which he outlines in the documentary Objectified which profiles several prominent personalities in the world of industrial design.
The core of his approach in his own words is simplicity. Not simplicity for the sake of simplicity or to be a minimalist. He states that his main role as a designer is to get design out of the way. A good design isn't based on arbitrary shapes; good design should feel as though it hasn't been designed at all. It should feel natural and intuitive. An example of this in his work is Apple's exceptional discipline in not including unnecessary design elements in their products. Rarely does Apple add additional lights or buttons to their products unless they serve a clear functional purpose, and in some cases they even go so far as to remove buttons that are considered standard because ultimately they aren't necessary (the track pads on their Macbooks are an example of this).
I think there is a lesson to be learned as a product marketing person from this simplicity. Focus on the customer problem(s) you solve. Don't agonize over the hurdles that your engineers had to overcome to create a solution. Nobody really cares about that; they just want to know their problem can be solved, or in some cases they want to better understand the problem itself. Having potential customers read about patent pending technology, years of laborious development effort, and what every line of code does has little impact on how they use the product.
How the product helps them and the outcomes from using them is something that can universally resonate.
After all the first rule of design… there is no design.
Friday, February 25, 2011
My family has a habit of piling things on top of the trash can with the mistaken belief that this is in fact the same as actually taking the garbage out to the garage, curb, or dumpster. I call this game the squeezing contest.
As I was undoing the latest squeezing contest, and sorting through all the junk that had been amassed in our kitchen, I reflected on my first foray in to crafting messaging and value propositions.
When I first started in marketing I had a terrible habit too, sort of a messaging squeezing contest. I was a regular guy with a degree in engineering in a sea of MBAs so I compensated for my lack of business school pedigree by trying to sound smart. In retrospect I was being sucked in by the lure of tech marketing gobbledegook.
Another thing I tried was to add complexity to the way I built the message itself. I became quite adept at using Microsoft smart-art to create complex frameworks upon which I would build a story around. What I soon learned was that by overcomplicating things I was actually putting up barriers for my audience's ability to understand the point I was trying to make.
Since then I've learned that piling garbage on top of a trash can isn't taking out the garbage, it's just making a mess. I've also learned that piling on a complex messaging framework just adds confusion to the story you're trying to tell. I've now borrowed a simple messaging philosophy that April Dunford summarizes exceptionally eloquently. 1. What is it? 2. Is it for me? 3. Why should I buy it from you?
Rather than trying to satisfy a massive matrix of messaging components, this 3 question model is much easier to implement. Ultimately I've found it much more successful as well. Customers don't want to feel confused. They just want you to get to the point.
So I've gone from this
Oh and this too….
Friday, February 18, 2011
I was reading an interesting topic of discussion on Quora around whether or not Japanese girls were still the best predictor of future trends in technology. This question made me think about an interesting trend that I see which I refer to as the democratization of technology.
For years tomorrow's trends were found in the sea of neon of the Akihabara district in Tokyo, in the hands on hyper connected young women. One example is their pioneering use of SMS or text messaging as a communication method. Today I think next big thing lies in a very different demographic however.
What I see technology trends being driven by a traditionally Luddite demographic. Yes, baby boomers.
The Nintendo Wii as a great example rode a wave of success built off a consumer base of seniors, women and other non gamers. Every day during my subway commute I see more and more people from my parents' generation playing Angry Birds or checking their email on an iPhone as well.
Apps are what pushed the iPhone in to the mainstream. They make software available to everyone without requiring a degree in computer science. Apps do two things incredibly well. First, they eliminate the hassles associated with installing and configuring traditional software. No media to worry about, no minimum specs, they just work. The other value of an app is the ability to focus specific content for a user. They clear away all the information clutter out there on the web. My mom's experience is an interesting example. She doesn't like using Google to search for information. Even with the algorithm they use to push the most relevant searches to the top, she finds the mere existence of ten thousand other options to be a headache.
With an app all the information clutter is swept away. A restaurant finding app as an example gives my mom the ability to focus only on the information she wants - where to eat dinner. The app has removed what intimidated her most about the internet, too much information. The statistics show that she's not the only one.
In the world of B2B I see a similar trend of democratizing technology. The big buzzword of the day in that world is "cloud computing". I won't bother trying to define cloud since many have already done this. Instead I will state that I believe the value of the cloud is in empowering the little guys of the world to compete with the big guys.
Whether you're going to Amazon to subscribe to a server farm with no capital cost, or simply using Salesforce.com to manage your sales opportunities, all these services give small businesses and startups around the world access to infrastructure and applications formerly reserved only for massive corporations who had access to massive capital, and the time to build these complex systems. Now all you need is a credit card to subscribe to whatever infrastructure or applications you need freeing you up to focus on your core competency.
I find all this quite refreshing. By making technology more accessible, and importantly as accessibility becomes the driver of innovation we have made step in an exciting new direction…
Friday, February 11, 2011
I hate flying. I find airplanes the stale air gives me headaches. As part of my job occasional business travel is a reality though.
Lately there is one part of flying that I do look forward to. My airline of choice has done a good with their entertainment options to make my time on planes a bit more enjoyable. On a recent flight home from a series of meetings on the west coast, I got settled in and browsed through their latest movie selection. I was excited to see The Social Network as one of the options. As a new parent, my wife and I don't get many opportunities to go to the movies so the backlog of movies I keep meaning to see is quite large. A little downtime in the air is a perfect chance to catch up on that list.
I'd read a lot of good reviews of the film and as a regular Facebook user I was quite intrigued as well.
The movie was great, my favourite part was probably the score done by Trent Reznor. In retrospect something else in the film stands out as well. The Social Network also showed as a great case study for one of the tenants from "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore.
The book has become one of the must reads for technology entrepreneurs. In it Moore describes how to grow your customer base from early adopters through to mainstream success with a great bowling analogy. Segmenting different niche markets or bowling pins and knocking them down one by one using adjacent markets as the catalyst to move on to new ones.
This process is described brilliantly in The Social Network and shows how Facebook went from early adopter success through to the $50B valuation company it is today.
The early adopters were Harvard students; they were both a local user base as well as a user base with the cachet of being members of Harvard's exclusive community. Exclusivity was their value proposition. The next bowling pin was Boston University, that market was both local (quite literally an adjacent market) and to move the plot forward also allowed Mark Zuckerberg to satisfy some personal spite J
From there the expansion was more strategic, Stanford had visionaries who could build a presence in the always connected world of Silicon Valley, and later Cambridge and other exclusive international schools became their early majority. Mission accomplished – 1 million users, chasm crossed. Brilliant selection of bowling pins knocked over with a defined strategy.
In the real world Facebook has over 500 million unique users and last I checked had a valuation of over $50B. I guess in bowling lingo they've really hit on a string of turkeys. (full disclosure, I don't really understand bowling lingo, but last time I went bowling I got a turkey for a string of strikes which I am very proud of)
Ultimately great products still need great market strategies, so maybe it's time to dust off the two tone shoes and start bowling…
Friday, February 4, 2011
With the big game just around the corner, I'm left to remember one of my fondest football memories.
One autumn afternoon a group of friends and I took the drive from Toronto down to Buffalo to watch a Bills game. The best part of the game experience is definitely the tailgate before and sometimes after the game itself. However the most vivid memory I have of that particular trip was not the game, or the tailgate. It was an incident in the washroom.
For those of you who have never been to Ralph Wilson stadium in Buffalo, the men's washrooms have sort of a shared sewage trough, rather than individual urinals. A friend and I had lined up at the trough and began our business, when suddenly someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked "can you scoot over a bit?" and proceeded to squeeze in between us. "Uh sure..." was my response.
That right there was the most awkward exchange of words I've ever had in my life.
This gets me to the other uncomfortable exchanges I've had to endure… cold calls.
But wait... in today's world of business, is the cold call a dead concept? A search on Google seems to indicate that many people believe they are. I disagree. While I can't argue that content marketing, effective use of social platforms, and demand campaigns can help increase inbound interested in your products. Eventually human contact still needs to happen for most B2B purchases.
While perhaps less ice cold these first touch conversations can still be quite awkward, particularly if the salesperson has been poorly enabled.
I describe the core of my job as writing the story that my company tells. But what sense is there in having a good story if you don't have people out there telling it? That's how I think of sales enablement. As best as I can, I focus less on scripts and memorized bullet points, and more on trying to teach people about the context around the story. After all, every story needs some context and nuance beyond simply the punch line to be truly memorable.
In that vein I end up putting quite a lot of my focus outside of what it is that my own company does, and I spend a lot of time doing my best James Bond impression and try to get under the covers of what my competitors are doing and where and how they beat us. Competitive battle cards, news briefs updating new competitor products and versions and full portfolio comparison documents tend to be the most frequently downloaded and requested pieces of collateral I create. Those along with product positioning documents make up the bulk of my internal sales enablement kits.
Perhaps not the most glamorous part of my job, but hopefully this effort helps prevent sales calls that feel like the chat I had in Buffalo that cold afternoon.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
I read a great quote the other day about biggest challenge for marketers today - How to turn "like" in to "act"? At face value seems straightforward, how can I take customers who like what I do, and take them one step further and have them act on it by telling others. It's not a new idea, but with the emergence of social media, "liking" something on the surface has never been easier, but because of this, convincing someone to act has never been more difficult. I believe this becomes a question of how to create passion in your user base.
As a teenager I had dreams of becoming a musician, an artist. I am lucky since what I do for a living still allows me some creative freedom. Sometimes at a dinner party I'll default to telling people that I'm a writer when asked the dreaded "what do you do?" question. This is kind of true, and much easier to explain than telling them I work in product marketing. I do write as part of my job and it does allow me a bit of artistic expression. And that's the key - Art creates passion, both for the creator and the audience.
I think in my line of work there is an opportunity to inspire greater passion and engagement in a user community. The content that you build your marketing around - the story you tell the world, and how you tell that story.
Pablo Picasso said "Art is the elimination of the unnecessary". I love that quote and I think it can be applied to content marketing.
It takes a lot of courage to take the unnecessary away in marketing content and just tell people in few words what it is that you do. Buzzwords, extra syllables, and extra adjectives all serve to shield the core message away from an audience. I think it shows a tremendous respect for your audience if you simply get to the point. As Picasso said, this is the way to elevate what you do to art. Art, and respect, a combination to build passion, and action.
Here is one of my favourite writing tools. It's fantastic for a sanity check on anything that I write. Overuse of buzzwords. Words that are too long. Too many words. All flagged. There are other similar tools out there, and in the online world there is even a metric called the Gunning fog index to measure this. So with the problem recognized and tools available, why don't more writers use them?
At the end of the day, do you like me or do you "like me" like me? Perhaps by being honest with you, it can be the latter, and maybe you'll even be inspired to do something about it…