Nobody likes awards more than I do. I like giving people awards so much that at pretty much every company I have ever worked at I have started some sort of award or recognition program. Why? Because, everyone likes to get an award for pete’s sake, even if the contest is sort of narrow or kludgy or fixed or whatever.
Was Jackson Pollock a good painter? The critics at the time certainly didn’t think so.
Twyla Tharp’s London debut was panned.
The Prius was largely ignored by car magazines, mostly because it wasn’t a very good car.
If we define ‘good’ as showing reasonable skill in the expected areas of performance, then good is not only useless, it’s dangerous. Good authors rarely change minds. Good politicians rarely get elected.
The worst thing you can be given as a marketer is a good product to sell.
The worst thing you can be given as a marketer is a crappy product because no one is going to buy it. I like Seth Godin a lot, but really. There’s being contrarian and there’s being stupid.
He then talks about how for products in a commodity market, the difference between products often comes down to Marketing and Product Management becomes less relevant:
There are lots of products where the baseline has risen to “good enough” and the differentiating features either aren’t compelling enough to justify paying for them, or customers just don’t care. On the cost side, we’re squeezed by free and open source products. What role does the product manager play in a commodity product? I hypothesize that the markets where companies need product managers will shrink at roughly the rate that those markets commoditize.
What do you think – are we entering the post-Product Management economy?
I’m going to take Seth’s side on this one.
But first let me explain that I read his post in a completely different way. What I was read in his post was that in each of his examples if you evaluated the product against the mainstream of a given market, they didn’t measure up. However, each of them went on to define a new category within which they were a leader.
I’ll give you a classic business school example, plus one tech example from my own personal experience.
Example 1 – Toothpaste
Yep folks, it doesn’t get more commodity than that. It’s been around forever. For years (decades probably) the job of toothpaste was to fight cavities. In 2005, Proctor and Gamble decided Crest wasn’t about toothpaste any more. It was about “Oral Care”. Oral care is about much more than just fighting cavities, it’s about “healthy looking, beautiful smiles for life.” This was a new place to be and certainly not a commodity market. A slew of new products followed including not just new non-toothpaste products like floss and Whitestrips but also new toothpaste for a whiter smile or better-smelling breath. The result was dramatic growth for a product that was a “commodity” (at least that’s what they told me in the marketing class I took at Kellogg recently).
Example 2 – A Not so Hot Database
My first marketing job ever was with a startup called Watcom. They started out making compilers including the super-successful Watcom C. Around the time that I joined them, they had started selling a relational database called Watcom SQL. As a run of the mill database, Watcom SQL wasn’t all that great. It couldn’t store as much data as Oracle or Sybase and certainly couldn’t handle the number of concurrent users that they could. These were two key features that relational databases “had to have”. What Watcom SQL did have was an extremely small footprint, full SQL functionality, and the ability to run on Windows.
At around time when the product was being launched (1993), the laptop business was starting to take off. Companies were starting to think about how applications that ran inside the company were going to be able to run on people’s mobile machines and devices. Watcom SQL was the perfect answer to that problem. It ran on Windows, took up very little space on cramped laptop or device hard drives and unlike other Windows databases like Access, it was fully SQL so could handle things like row level locking that enterprise application developers needed. As a database it wasn’t that hot, but as a mobile/embedded database it was extremely hot. The product became Sybase SQL Anywhere (after a couple of acquisitions) and Sybase completely dominates the market for not just mobile databases but middleware in general for mobile platforms.
In my opinion great marketers are not just taking me-too products and trying to trick people into buying them with flashy advertising. Instead they’re looking for ways to match unmet market needs to solutions. If there’s no way to beat the other folks at the game you’re playing, it’s time to change the game.
I read this post from Gopal Shenoy on 5 Suggestions product managers can adopt in the new year, which got me thinking about my marketing new year’s resolutions. I have 10 of them and here they are:
1. Make this the year you track ROI on everything – Now that we’re trudging through a recession, it’s time to make sure you can justify every single penny in that budget of yours because you know it is going to get hacked by the end of Q1. We all say we are tracking ROI on everything but I know there are a couple of little tactics that you’ve been hiding in there. Chances are you have classed them as “branding” hoping that nobody will notice that you have no clue what sort of results you are driving with that bucket of money. Make this the year you drop your “branding” crutches and run, Forrest, run!
2. Hang out with customers more – You know you want to do it but all that marketing work gets in the way. Set a goal, be it one sales call per week or per month but set it and schedule it and make it happen. Deep customer knowledge is the only thing that gives you credibility. Invest in that.
3. Do something once a quarter to make your sales force love you – Did you know that research shows that sales professionals consider up to 90 percent of sales materials created by marketing as valueless? Resolve to do one thing a quarter that you know your sales team will love. How will you know that they will love it? You do talk to those folks, don’t you?
4. Stop writing boring press releases – Seriously! Just stop it! If your press releases look more or less the way they did a few years ago, you’re doing it wrong! Experiment with social media, get some multimedia into your press releases, make a headline that doesn’t put people to sleep. Anything. Just, please for the love of Pete, no more boring press releases.
5. Drop your 3 worst performing generation activities – there’s that tradeshow you’ve been doing every year that doesn’t deliver any leads but “customers will wonder if we don’t show up”. Well folks, this year they won’t because chances are they are at home due to travel restrictions. The ones that do show won’t wonder why you didn’t show up this year. They read the news just like the rest of us.
6. Try 3 lead generation tactics you’ve never tried before – Never tried a podcast before? This is the year! Have you been toying with the idea of offering a free trial? Launching a blog? It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of running the same lead generation tactics over and over again. Make sure to try a few new things this year.
7. Start/Improve your Customer Advisory Council – I’ve been running a Customer Advisory Council and it has been one of the most valuable marketing things I’ve done in past year. If you don’t have one, now is the time to start. If you are already running one, think about how you can make it better this year.
8. Make a list of people you want to develop a relationship with and build a plan to make it happen – Maybe there is an analyst that you’ve briefed once but you didn’t really click. Maybe there is a hot shot VP of marketing in your city whose brain you would like to pick. Maybe there are a couple of journalists or bloggers that you admire (or who write about your competition more than you would like). Make a list and figure out how you are going to get to know them better this year.
9. Hire an intern – You had no experience once and someone gave you a break. The next time you are complaining about your latest budget cuts, think about the folks trying to get a bit of experience on their resume’s so that they have some sort of hope of finding a job when they graduate in this lousy economy. You are short of people at the moment, aren’t you?
10. Be a mentor – I personally have been a bit of a networking maniac for the past year but I will be the first to admit that I spent more time meeting with folks at my level or more senior than me, than I did with folks that were more junior. This year I’m thinking about how I can help junior marketing folks get where they want to go, in much the same way I was fortunate enough to be helped along when I was a little marketing sprite.
We’re in the middle of a recession and suddenly all of the smaller companies I’m talking to are concerned about whether or not they should be dropping their prices. The thinking is that in times of tighter budgets, the lowest cost provider has a market advantage. Is that really true? And if it is, are there longer-term risks to such a strategy?
I’m back after a break for a couple of weeks to change jobs (more on that in a later post) visit my friends in New York and host a rather large group of folks including 4 kids under the age of 5 at my house of the holidays. I now need a break from my break. Did you miss me?
During the break I also got a chance to meet with a number of different startups that were interested in doing something about their messaging. They all had similar problems. When they had launched their product/services they had put a lot of time, effort and attention into primping their messaging to make it as attractive as possible. But then time passed and that same messaging that was once so radiant started to droop. By the time it becomes obvious that the messaging is getting a bit, shall we say, mature, the thought of investing the time and effort required to perform a messaging facelift was enough to scare these startups into doing nothing at all.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! What you need my friends is a quick shot of messaging botox. Unlike a full-blown messaging facelift which can take months a quick hit of messaging botox can be done in a couple of weeks. Sure it won’t leave your messaging looking as spiffy as it did a couple of years ago, but it’s quick and painless and will make your messaging much more attractive. Here’s how it works:
- Make sure you have a problem – Before you go under the needle it is important to make sure that things are as bad as you think. Remember that you will get bored of your messaging well before anyone else will. Don’t let the mirror play tricks on you and make sure you aren’t fixing something that isn’t broken. If your messaging is starting to fade your sales folks and customers will let you know.
- Work on the most important areas first – There is a reason why people aren’t getting cosmetic surgery on their feet. Focus on your lead moneymaking product or service and leave the rest for later.
- Determine your top 3 to 5 features from your customer’s point of view – You might think it’s your sense of humor that gets you dates but some honest feedback might tell you otherwise. Spend a day or two talking to your sales folks, your customers, and your services folks. Get a feel for what your strengths and weaknesses are from the customer’s point of view and list out the top 3 to 5 of them. Don’t spend more than a couple of days on this. Trust the feedback and don’t worry about capturing everything, just the top 3-5 things.
- Inject your new messaging into your critical parts – Refresh your home page, your key product/solution pages on your web site and your sales presentations. You don’t need to re-write every piece of content you have and you don’t need to do a fresh rewrite from scratch. Keep the 3-5 points you outlined in step 3 in mind and work those points in. Get rid of the parts of your messaging that highlights things that may have been critical at one point but no longer make your top 5 list. Remember this is a refresh and the alternative is to do nothing and leave it the way it is. The goal is quick hit improvements and not perfection.
- Recover and update the rest when the opportunity arises – Yes I know there are other important pieces that you need to update, especially whitepapers. In a perfect world you would update everything at the same time. But unless you are Michael Jackson, you can’t afford to disappear for a few months while you get all that work done. There are times when those pieces will naturally need to be updated (when there is a new release for example). Wait until then and do the messaging update at the same time.
- Repeat for the other saggy parts – Once you have your key product/solution updated, move on to the next most important one when you have a couple of weeks with some spare time.
That’s it. Nothing beats doing a full-fledged messaging update but when you only have a couple of weeks, a quick fix is better than just letting yourself go.
Ah the holiday season. The decorations! The music! The crazy,
stressed-out sprint to the end of the quarter!!! This time of the year
always gets me pondering why some people are so amazingly
execution-oriented and others, well, let’s just say if these folks were
in charge Mussolini probably could have gotten away with a stern
I talked in my last post about how I thought small
tech companies should hire a product marketer instead of a marketing
communication person as their first marketing hire. The idea was that
if you have only a few headcount to work with, why wouldn’t you spend it
on someone that could do analyst briefings, help set product strategy,
create sales materials, do messaging and positioning, etc.
that said, I’m not saying that Product Marketers know how to do
everything. They sure as heck don’t. I personally am graphically
challenged (my friend Georgina, who has a gift for non-verbal
communication once described the look of this blog by sticking her
tongue out and pointing a finger in her mouth). Some can write well,
others can’t. Some have great relationships with analysts but lack
press contacts. You get the idea.
This is why your network is so important. Your
CEO would laugh you out of her office if you asked to hire a full time
graphics person but you might have budget for a few weeks worth of
contract work. If you have a great network you might be able to barter
some of your time in exchange for some of theirs. Even if you can’t
get folks to do the actual work, having the advice of someone who is
more skilled than you at something is pretty darn valuable. My network works well on the beer barter system. Hey, I’m Canadian.
as tools go, I am a big fan of LinkedIn, mainly because my contacts and
I tend to move around a lot so it is great for keeping track of folks
that I know. But lately my favorite tool for finding new folks that know
something about a particular topic is, by far, Twitter.
Here’s my amazing example of Twitter networking that I have watched come together over
the past couple of weeks. Some folks in Toronto decided they wanted to
hold a holiday charity event in Toronto in support of our local food bank, The Daily Bread Food Bank.
In short order a group formed, a face to face
meeting happened and the next day I see a Tweet asking if anyone wanted
to help out. I sent my email address in and the next thing you know I
am part of this execution MACHINE called Ho Ho To.
There is a person who knows how to build websites. The site is up in a few hours. Someone designs a logo. Then another. There are event management people organizing volunteers. Someone knows someone at a venue (the Mod Club) and convinces them to give it to us. For free. With cheap drinks. Someone else knows a caterer and they give us food. At cost. There is a graphics guru who sorts out formatting sponsor logos for the web and other places. A photographer is taking pictures. A PR person is drafting a press release and gets it on the wire for free. Someone
decides that it is too tricky for the Food Bank to pick up the bin at
the end of the night so calls in some friends from the army to pick up
the bin. The frikkin’ ARMY. Everyone reaches out to their network for
sponsorships and the
next thing you know it’s a week into the project and there are 27
sponsors and the group has raised over $13,000 for the food bank,
effectively making it one of their top fund raising events for the
entire year. And the news is
all over town. I’m not even mentioning half of the stuff going on. In
a week. What the heck!? Did I mention that I have never met a single
person on the team face to face?
Dear readers, if I had to
design a logo, do you know how long it would take me? Ages. And would
people be doing the universal gesture for throwing up when they saw
it? You can bet money on that.
So what have I learned from
all of this? Some folks on Twitter are pretty amazing at what they
do. If you’re looking for them, or if they are looking for you, it’s a neat way to connect. If you want to work together you can do truly
amazing things. Yes, I know that running a project for a company is
different from running one for charity. You might have to pay. It
might be in beer. But trust me, there are superstar people out there
that you can help and that can help you back.
Traditionally really small software companies have Development, Marketing, Sales and that’s about it (Ok I am generalizing here – there might be a lawyer, a finance person or two, possibly an IT person, work with me on this one, ok?).
Once the organization has landed a customer or two, and have started thinking beyond release 1 and basic survival, they typically start thinking about forming a real product management group. The idea is that these folks will focus on the product roadmap and future releases, competitive analysis and they will also do things like product demos, and a lot of more technical sales support.
Meanwhile there is the “Marketing” department which is really pure marketing communications and is focused on things like building the website, maybe creating a brochure, and writing press releases. They might book an analyst meeting or set up press interviews but they would rarely be the spokesperson.
This set up is broken for lots of reasons but the main one is that there is this idea that marketing doesn’t need to understand the product. In some cases, I have heard folks argue that it is better if marketing doesn’t get “bogged down” in product details and stays “creative”.
If I look at the Pragmatic Marketing Framework (you product management types will know this thing by heart.) where they break down the responsibilities of product managers/marketers and recommend something called “The Product Management Triad” to cover the larger product management and product marketing functions.
Here is what that looks like (here’s me crossing my fingers it is ok for me to reproduce this here – let me know Pragmatic Marketing folks if I’m breaking the law. Click for a larger image):
Here’s the thing that I keep thinking every time I come across the Product Management/Marketing Communications setup. Why wouldn’t you start with Product Marketing and add a marketing communications person later?
If I look at the boxes under Product Marketing – what else is left to do? A solid product marketing person can do all of the stuff in the Product Marketing Manager boxes (a senior one can cover product strategy too) and probably most of the communications stuff too. Can they write press releases and brochures? Sure they can. They are going to outsource graphics (or hire a graphics person), the same way the marketing communications person did. Sure when you get big enough maybe you can afford to hire a person that just worries about the look and feel of the website but this person shouldn’t be the first marketing person you hire. The first marketing person you hire should have a solid product background (or the ability to pick it up quickly) so that they brief analysts, build presentations, write white papers, do a competitive write-up as well as manage the vendor building the web site and execute a lead gen program.
Let’s face it, we are way past the days where the first marketing thing a company had to worry about was advertising. Why are we still building companies that way?
Participating isn’t fun. You know what’s fun? Winning is fun. Telling your friends you won is fun. Being recognized for doing something very well is fun but you know, beating other people who are clearly better than you is really fun too.
This time of year there are a lot of awards being handed out. Sure, people might make fun of them, particularly the folks that don’t have a chance of winning but seriously, I don’t believe anyone dislikes getting an award. I don’t understand why more people aren’t giving out awards. In particular, I don’t understand why more companies don’t give awards to their customers and partners. It’s such a cheap, simple, easy way to make your customers happy – why wouldn’t you do it?
Top 5 Reasons Your Company Should Give Out Some Awards to Customers and Partners:
- Winning Makes Winners Happy – Seriously, you do all sorts of other things because you want to keep your customers or partners happy, don’t you? Why not recognize your best ones with a trophy? You’ve probably spent hundreds of dollars taking them out to dinner but they can’t display dinner on their wall and trust me, everyone wants a wall full of trophies.
- Winners Talk About It – I was chatting with a CEO of a mid-sized company last week and he showed me an award that they had won from Microsoft. They got to meet some senior folks from Microsoft, they put out a press release, they talked about it on their web site. They didn’t know exactly why they had won but as he said, “Getting an award is cool.” OK, so getting an award from your little company may not warrant a press release but I bet it still makes it into the display case and I bet they still talk about it.
- Award-Givers Get to Talk About it Too – I mentioned this in an earlier post but the neat thing about giving a great customer an award is that you get to highlight in public that the award winner is a great customer of yours. They may not admit in public how much they love you but once you admit how much you love them you are officially dating.
- Account Champions are People too – There is a person in every account that stuck her neck out for you or fought like heck to make sure your software didn’t get thrown out. Say “thank-you and please do that again sometime” by letting them put “IT Rock Star of the Year Winner” on their resume.
- It’s a Good Excuse for a Party (and to get employees talking to customers) – Developers complaining that they never get to talk to any customers? Feeling like the company could be more customer-oriented? Fine, your holiday party just became a customer awards celebration with tinsel. Seat a set of customers at every table and watch what happens. You can’t afford to fly everyone in your company out to talk to customers but you can bring a few customers in to talk to your folks. Tell those customers they are getting an award at a party held in their honor and they might even show up.
And One More Thing (aka The Part Where I Ask You to Vote)
First of all, due to some sort of MASSIVE oversight on the part of the folks that run the Canadian Blog Awards, I have not been nominated but I am pleased to say that my pals at On Product Management have been so please CLICK HERE right now and vote for them. You don’t have to be Canadian, OK, this isn’t the Oscars.
Secondly, I am very pleased to have bribed my way into being nominated for been nominated for (turning on the echo machine) Canada’s Most Influential Woman in Social Media!!!!! (turning off the echo machine). OK, so the other gals here look hard to beat because some of them have like, professional photographs and all that but trust me, I am super influential. Just yesterday I convinced a guy at work to buy me a coffee simply by saying I didn’t have any cash on me. Don’t think about it. Just click here and vote for me so that I can win that sucker and put whatever it is they are handing out in my trophy case right next to my award for being the most popular female marketing blogger in Toronto with brown hair and big boots.
Andrew makes 7 great points in this paper but I love the first one where he states:
And here is the quote I love the most in that section:
I think it is hard for companies to stay focused on customers when they have their own economic problems to deal with. During tough economic times, a focus on innovation is more important than ever. Innovation thrives on constraints. What is a recession other than a time of great constraint?
Customers are trying to do more with less. Enterprises are looking for ways to decrease their cost of sales, shorten their sales cycles, reduce costs associated with business travel, decrease their need for physical real estate, improve their time to market, reach more customers while spending less – the list goes on and on. What a perfect time for great product managers and marketers to take a step back and listen to their customers.
I am not a Social Media Marketer. I am a Product Marketer. I’ve worked on products where we’ve done a lot of social media related things and others where we have done almost nothing. In my mind, that is perfectly OK. As a marketer however, I think it is essential that I’m participating in social media, even for no other reason than just to understand what the heck is going on.
There are lots of growing, successful businesses that ignore social media for the most part. I can name a dozen startups that don’t blog, don’t Twitter, don’t have a facebook page, etc. and are doing just fine. In almost every example, these folks are selling fairly big-ticket software to large businesses where the key decision makers aren’t big social media consumers. Yes, these decision makers are likely influenced by folks that DO consume a lot of social media but for these startups, influencing this second tier is a much lower priority than building better product demos, running a better advisory council or doing a better job of managing their relationships with industry analysts. Could they see benefits from participating more in social media? Absolutely! But marketing is a game of making the most with scarce resources and sometimes it isn’t at the top of the list.
My point here (you were wondering if there was ever going to be one, I know) is that there is a difference between making a decision as a company or related to a particular product, to prioritize social media participation lower on the list and not putting social media on the list at all because you’ve never really participated in it and therefore don’t have a clue about it.
I’m tired of marketers asking me why Twitter is important. They should already know about Dell and Comcast and Zappos. They should have already figured out that they key industry analysts are out there talking about them or their competitors on Twitter. These stories have been told over and over. I can’t believe it when I come across a marketing exec with 2 connections on LinkedIn. I am shocked when I’m questioned by a marketing person about something I’ve written here or something someone on my team has written elsewhere on a blog. Any decent marketer out there is keeping on top of this stuff and at a minimum playing around with it to make up their own minds whether or not it’s important. In my opinion, the best ones understand that the world has changed and are diving into it as deeply as they can.
I don’t understand the marketers that don’t think social media is interesting enough to even dip a toe in the water. Maybe they are too busy buying print ads and booking big trade shows and scheduling meetings with executives trapped on boats. Who knows? All I know is that things are changing quickly and it’s my job to keep up. I hope I have the good sense to retire or change careers the minute I catch myself blocking anyone else from doing that too.