Keep Your Filthy Brands off of Me

I haven’t had a serious rant on this blog yet so today is the day!  Corporate marketers at big companies, you can just ignore this post, it’s not for you.  I’m talking to you product marketers at little companies or you folks that own marketing budget for new products at bigger companies.  You know who you are. Lately I am hearing the word “brand” so much it’s making me ill.  Seriously.  Worse than having to watch people use the word brand inappropriately all over the place, is when I see “branding” used as an excuse for bad marketing. Maybe it’s because I spent so many years of my life marketing database software but I am a bit of an analytics nut.  In my world if you aren’t measuring it you aren’t managing it and if you aren’t managing your marketing spend then you might as well hand out $20 bills on the street asking for sales calls. So you have a marketing budget.  It’s puny.  In fact your CEO and your Finance guy are probably in a room right now cutting it as we speak.  Why are you still spending money on things you can’t or don’t measure and calling it “Branding”? Oh I can hear you right now – “April, we have to run those ads – we are building our brand!”  “We have to be at those tradeshows, it’s important for our brand!” “We are spending tens of thousands of dollars on graphics and art and colors and logos and naming, and all that because we are building a brand!”  So how exactly are you tracking that? ...

Notes from a Conversation with a Dozen CIO’s

I spent a couple of days in New York this week with a CIO Customer Advisory Board.  The main purpose of the meeting was to get their un-filtered feedback on my company’s strategy and direction.  That part of the meeting was confidential of course but I still wanted to share some observations from the  meeting about the general mood and attitude of the group. Who were they? The group was just under a dozen CIO’s from the Financial Services, manufacturing, medial/entertainment, hospitality, technology and communications industries. What I Heard They Expect 2009 Spending to be Flat – This surprised me.  For now, at least budgets are not getting cut. 2009 Spending will be Focused on Revenue Generation – The allocation of budgets however, is shifting toward revenue generation. Cost-Cutting Projects Must Show Fast, measurable ROI – This also surprised me a bit.  In general cost-cutting projects are not happening in 2009 unless they can show very fast ROI. Speed Matters – CIO’s are moving quickly right now and they expect vendors to keep up with them.  If they ask for something they need it now and vendors who can respond quickly have an advantage. So What Should Marketing Do? Messages and Value Propositions Must Focus On Revenue Generation – Your customers need to understand how your product/service can help their businesses make more money.  You, your sales force and your customers all need to understand that in very simple terms. Give Your Customers Tools to Measure ROI – Don’t make your customer do the work to determine ROI.  Give them tools to help them do it.  Provide them case...

A Skeptic’s Guide to Social Media Press Releases

Up until the past year, I’ve been pretty old school about press releases.  I spent years at IBM where the “newsworthyness” of releases was hyper-scrutinized and even the availability of a new product wasn’t always deemed newsworthy enough to warrant a release.  After a while I became that person who reviewed the release and wrote “What are we announcing?  Who cares?” all over it. Wow, have things changed.  In the past year I’ve worked on a couple of spectacularly successful social media press releases.  And I don’t throw “spectacular” around lightly either. Release 1 The first one was was an accident.  We were working on a traditional release related to a change in our corporate green policy.  The announcement was good for employees and the planet and would showcase how customers could use our products to do the same at their company.  At the last minute the roll-out of the new initiative got delayed.  The Super-Smart PR Guy (SSPRG) I work with suggested we do a social media release around our existing initiatives, which were pretty cool already but we’d never really talked about them externally.  “We can’t do that!!!  There’s no news!!!” I wailed.  Having had my knuckles rapped so many times for lack of newsworthyness had clearly traumatized me but in the end SSPRG talked me into it.  We shot some video, included some links to the info on our web site about the program and created an online “how-to” paper that described how to start a similar program at another company.  We did not use our regular wire service and instead put it out over a...

Financial Services is Your Target Market. Are you Doomed?

So you run product marketing for a release 1 IT product and your target vertical is financial services. Nice timing! Too bad about that global market meltdown thing.  It’s possible that your CEO/Project Executive might be making some noises about revisiting that decision.  Here are some things to think about. Consider this before you bail out of Financial Services: Other segments stink too – Go ahead, focus on another segment.  How about Retail?  Manufacturing?  That pesky recession thing is clobbering those segments too. You picked that segment for a reason, hopefully a good one.  In the U.S. Financial Services is about 18% of IT spending, all of Wall St. is 6% of that.  Not all of financial services IT spending is grinding to a halt overnight. Your product was developed with that segment in mind. Just because marketing decides to change the target market focus, doesn’t make it so. The stock market is unpredictable. The past two weeks have shown that yesterday’s crisis can sometimes be tomorrow’s 1,000 point gain. Sticking with Financial Services – Some things to do right now: Tighten your segmentation – Not all of financial services is taking the same hit.  Investment Banking might not be the segment I would be chasing right now.  Wealth Management on the other hand makes more sense.  If possible, focus on the parts of the market that aren’t getting hammered. Work your Accounts – When there is consolidation happening this rapidly, it pays to understand the shifting power structures inside a given account, particularly the big ones.  If you have friends at Bank of America, JP Morgan or Citibank,...

I Know Nothing About Product Naming (But That Doesn’t Stop Me from Doing It)

I’ve spent most of my career working on Version 1 products so I’ve done my share of product naming.  The only thing I’ve learned is that few people actually know anything about how to do it well and in the end you are generally picking the least offensive name from a collection of crappy names.  My best qualification for doing naming is that I at least understand that I know nothing about it. Oh I know there are experts at this stuff and consultants that seem to get the whole naming thing.  But I’m working on a Version 1 product, which means we don’t have any revenue, which means we are broke.  The likelihood of me having budget to hire a naming expert is right up there with how likely I am to get budget to have Bono play at my launch event. 3 things to think about before you start: Make sure that you have your product positioning worked out.  I like names that associate with positioning but even if you don’t, you shouldn’t pick one that associates with something against your positioning. Don’t pick something with “bug” in it. Look at your competitors and names of products in adjacent spaces.  Ideally your name should be memorable.  It won’t be if there are already dozens of products with similar names.  Hint: If in contains “soft”, you might want to rethink that. If you are in a large company, have a look at your company naming standards. You might be tempted to dodge those rules but don’t forget that they’re there for a reason.  Customers searching your website will...

Economic Downturn, Honesty in Communications and Steve Jobs’ Health

It’s been a lousy couple of weeks for everyone including folks in Marketing, particularly PR and Communications folks. Investors are freaking out and employees are anxious and distracted. Perky press releases about your wiz-bang new product just aren’t getting anyone’s attention right now.  Go figure. I’ve read a lot about what companies should be doing in a down economy.  A lot of articles focus on the obvious – cutting costs and increasing revenue.  Jason Calacanis says startups need to focus on execution, talent and customers (plus some other stuff). I was reading a post by Tom Peters called “Leading Yourself in Really Weird Times” which focused a lot on communication.  Tom’s complete list of 44 Tactical Rules for Survival (and Success) in Loony times is the longer version and a great read. Reading Tom’s posts got me thinking that Marketing professionals have a real opportunity right now to build trust with their customers by over-communicating with them and being truthful in that communication.  In the middle of so much uncertainty, your customers need to know what the real state of your business is, how you are handling the economic downturn and what that means for them.  Proving to them that you can take care of them when things are bad will inspire an amazing amount of confidence both now and when the crisis is over. Investors and employees need to trust what marketing has to say as well.  In hard economic times people are looking for information.  If there isn’t any coming directly from the company, or if they just plain don’t believe what’s coming from the company, then...
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