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…