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by April Dunford

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Customer References 101

11/17/2008

I love you but 300x194 Customer References 101We all know references are critical to closing deals but most companies don’t get around to actively managing them until the 2 referenceable customers they do have are all yelling “Am I your only crummy reference?!  Pick on someone else!!”  I launched a customer reference program from the ground up once and it was PAINFUL!  I’ve now seen it all from big companies and small ones and here’s what I’ve learned.

Starting a Customer Reference Program – A Few Things to Think About

  • Partner with Your Sales and Professional Services Teams – The key function of this program is to increase revenue.  Never forget that.  You need to understand how to build something that the sales team will find valuable.  Decide up front who does what.  Professional Services needs to be involved because they are going to help you qualify the reference, figure out who the spokespeople should be and how to articulate the value of the solution.
  • Set Goals and Success Metrics and Revisit them Often – Here is how a customer reference program gets started and killed.  Marketing spends all their time writing success stories that sales never uses. Sales continues to use their own set of references because “the marketing references are crap.”  One day the execs get in a room and the CEO says, “What about this reference thing?”  Everyone looks at each other and says “I have no idea what they do.”  Snip, snip and the program is history.  Figure out how you are going to measure the success of the program and make sure Sales, Marketing and anyone else involved agrees.  These cannot be just soft goals like “increased awareness”.  Are you shortening the sales cycle?  Increasing your win rate?  Revisit these goals regularly and solicit feedback.
What To Do When the Customer Won’t Talk
We’ve all been there.  You are working on a great new product with a hot customer and as you are closing the deal they refuse to be a public reference for you, usually citing the reason that your solution is such a competitive differentiator that they don’t want any of their competitors to know they have it. Worse, their lawyers get involved and say flat out “We don’t do those.”  Here are some ideas of how to move forward.

Give as Good as You Get (aka Bribery) – Most customers can’t accept gifts or payment for being a reference (and let’s face it, that’s just no way to do business) but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something for them.  The obvious one is to give them a product discount or free premium support.  Get creative and don’t be afraid to ask them what they want.
Give them an Award or Invite them to Speak – An oldie but a goodie this one works surprisingly well.  Many customers can’t give a public reference for your product but would love to be your keynote speaker or Customer of the Year.
Give them More Than One Way to be a Reference – The definition of referenceable customer is that they agree to talk to other customers about your solution.  Some customers don’t want to go beyond that because they automatically think you want them to do a customer case study.  Give them some other options though and you might be surprised when they say yes (and let’s face it, that case study thing is getting a bit old isn’t it?).  Here are some ideas and I’m sure you can think of more:

  • A Guest blog post on your corporate blog
  • A video/audio interview with pre-set questions
  • A Q&A interview by text
  • A quote Agree to be a reference for press interviews
  • Agree to be a references for analysts
  • Agree to speak at your conference or local events
  • Agree to speak at your sales conference or internal kickoff
  • Agree to being on a public list of members of your advisory council

Let Them Promote Themselves – A lot of the ideas above involve letting the customer promote their products and/or services.  Oh and don’t forget that even IT folks are interested in raising their personal profiles.  Figure out a way for them to do so that benefits you both.
Develop a Relationship – Although the point of running a a customer advisory council IS NOT to convince members to do things for you, a well-run council will leave them feeling like they are actively engaged in the success of the company and therefore more likely to say yes if and when you ask.  For key customers, the head of marketing needs to develop a personal relationship with the key spokespeople.

One More Thing

Always ask for Video – Video is customer reference GOLD.  Having a customer give a well-articulated couple of sentences about why they chose your product or what the product has helped them do with their business (preferably both!) is simply much more powerful than written case study or quote could ever be.  I once got a CIO of a major account to say that his company was going to save “One million dollars a day” using our software.  Every sales rep on the team used that clip on every sales call for over a year.  That video was completely priceless.  Video used to be an expensive undertaking that cost thousands of dollars for a camera crew.  Now you can buy a high quality HD video camera for less than $1000 and edit the stuff yourself if you are short on budget.  Chances are you already have a YouTube savvy editor on staff somewhere.  There is no excuse for startups to not be doing video.
More Information
Marketing Profs has a great 2 part article on Customer References Programs.  Part 1 has some very practical advice for starting and running a customer reference program and Part 2 goes into a thoughtful discussion of the role of the customer reference program with other customer programs and the overall customer centricity of the corporate culture.  Well worth a read.
Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang has a great post on The Impacts of Social Media on Corporate Customer Reference Programs.  A lot of this advice is more relevant to larger BtoC type organizations but pay attention to the “opportunities” section where he outlines non-traditional ways of using/working with a reference.
*Update* As pointed out to me in the comments, Joshua has a blog focused on customer references and I think it totally rocks.  Check it out here and in particular this post on why references are important in a down economy.

The Broke Marketers Guide to Brand Tracking

11/14/2008

empty pocket flip 200x300 The Broke Marketers Guide to Brand TrackingI’ve had a lot of branding discussions this week that were spawned from my branding rant earlier.  One of the most frequent questions I get is “How do I measure branding?” and then “How much does it cost to do that?”

At the bigger companies I have looked at there were two big pillars of
activity going on: monitoring media mentions over time and brand
tracking surveys.  But just because you don’t have the budget and
market intelligence department of a bigger company, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be
tracking this stuff.

Brand Tracking the Big Budget Way - The Brand Tracking Survey
My
experience is that large companies spend a lot of time and money doing
brand tracking studies.  These tend to be very well architected surveys
to measure awareness, consideration and preference of a brand vs. other
folks in the space.  These surveys also get into brand attributes where
your brand gets ranked against others for things like reliability,
performance, ease of doing business with, etc.  The results from these
surveys are hugely useful.  The only problem is that it took a squadron
of Market Intelligence professions to get it, and more importantly
interpret it.  There are outside agencies that can do this stuff for
you too, but as you might imagine, this kind of work is time intensive
and therefore not cheap and getting decent post-survey insight without
a deep understanding of your space and customers is difficult.

Customer
Satisfaction surveys aren’t a lot better.  I’ve worked at companies
that spent months of effort building and executing these surveys only
to get questionable results.  One company I worked for (which not
surprisingly, no longer exists) boasted about 98% customer satisfaction
yet never in my life have I worked with as many unhappy customers.  You need to spend time to get the right set of questions and then interpretation of the results is critical.

Brand Tracking the Small Budget Way – Net Promoter Score

There are ways you can get some insight
from customers that isn’t totally complicated and time consuming.  I am
a fan of Net Promoter Score (NPS).  This comes from the book “The
Ultimate Question”
.  From their website:

Just as net worth
represents the difference between financial assets and liabilities, Net Promoter quantifies
the difference between customer assets and liabilities. With one question, we can sort
customers into three categories: Promoters who are loyal and enthusiastic; Passives who are
satisfied but unenthusiastic; and Detractors who are unhappy but trapped in a bad
relationship. Quite simply, you calculate the NPS score by applying the formula P – D = NPS,
where P and D are the percentage of promoters and detractors.

What is the question you ask?  How likely would you be to recommend
our company to a friend?
Now, I know that this isn’t perfect and I
know if you had loads of time and money you might get something
better (you can read some criticism of NPS here).  But in my mind if you want to get an idea of the health of your brand in the eyes of your customer easily and quickly, you can’t get any better than this.

Brand Tracking Dashboard the Big Budget Way – PR Clipping Services

If you are lucky enough to be working with a PR agency one of the standard
services they offer is a press clipping service that shows you all of
the press mentions for your brand in the media.  This is fine if you
can afford it but with the rise of blogging, microblogging and all
other sorts of user-generated content, some of those clipping services
are missing a lot of what’s out there.  We are now starting to see folks out
there that do a great job of monitoring social media.  If your business
relies heavily on that, it is probably well worth the investment to
look into these companies.  I’ve used Radian6 and those folks get it.

The Do It Yourself Brand Tracking Dashboard

Oh but poor you, you have zero budget and aren’t likely to get some
anytime soon.  What do you do?  Measure what you can and over time
refine your measurements based on what you have learned.

1.  Press mentions – you are doing this now (I hope) and
tracking if they are positive, negative or neutral.  The important
thing to note is that the actual number doesn’t actually mean much.
The change over time is what you are looking at.
2.  Blog mentions – Some folks put this with press
mentions but if you are doing different things to reach out to bloggers
than you are to reach our to mainstream media then I would separate
it.  I use Google Alerts to track this.  Before that existed for blogs I used Technorati.
Do a search on your brand name and then hit the subscribe button on the
top right to view the updates to this search in a reader.
3.  Twitter – Everyone should be tracking what is being said about their brand on Twitter. Go to http://search.twitter.com/
and type in your brand name.  Again the actual number of positive or
negative mentions means little but the trend over time is important.
(Note – there are a lot of media publications twittering headlines – I
leave those out and only count live people).
4.  Other Social Media – Depending on your business there
are probably a number of forums or other places where your customers
gather that you want to monitor.  This will be specific for your
business so you need to do some digging on this one.
5.  Web Traffic and Searches – The trend over time gives you an idea of the level of awareness for your brand.

The key with all of this stuff is to measure and look at the changes
over time.  As you go along it will get easier and easier to fine-tune
your measurements.

That’s it for me and branding this week.  I gotta go – I have a report to run.

First time reader?  Why not subscribe or follow me on Twitter?

Keep Your Filthy Brands off of Me

11/10/2008

Man with Money Mouth 300x200 Keep Your Filthy Brands off of MeI 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?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Let’s just call it what it is.  Marketers do this stuff because they have always done it, because they are afraid to stop doing it, because they are afraid to do new things, because they didn’t know why they were doing it in the first place so they don’t know when to stop.

I understand that awareness is important.  How do you ever get considered by customers if they don’t know you exist?  But unless you have a lot of extra money hanging around, any spending on awareness that can’t be tracked back to revenue (i.e. is it translating to consideration then preference) is, quite simply, wasted.

And PLEASE stop calling it branding!  Your brand is determined by how customers feel about you.  How customers feel about your products and services is determined by their interactions with your company.  Did you meet their expectations?  Did you exceed them?  Focus on your customer experience.  Is it easy for prospects to find you?  When they do, is it easy to figure out what you do and how you can help them solve their problems?  Is it easy for customers to evaluate your products and/or measure the potential return on investing in your products?  If you took the money you are currently spending on “branding” and spent it on making it easier for companies to do business with you, would you drive more revenue?

We’re in a recession.  Stop fooling around and get out there and sell something!

First time reader?  Why not subscribe or follow me on Twitter?

How to Find a Billion Dollar Business Idea

11/04/2008

slot machine 300x168 How to Find a Billion Dollar Business IdeaI attended ProductCamp Toronto this past weekend (which was a lot of fun, thanks to everyone who helped organize it) and one of the discussions I participated in was titled “Looking for That Next Billion Dollar Idea.”   Well if that doesn’t get you into the room, I’m not sure what does.  The discussion was kicked off by Chris Herbert who had participated in a year-long innovation contest run by a large technology company.  His group came close to winning the contest and he shared the positives and negatives of the experience.  We talked about how great ideas get formed an developed and then we ended up talking a bit about how to foster and manage innovation inside a larger company.  Yeah, OK, I admit it, I might have given the conversation a nudge in that direction.  I’m a bossy betty, I can’t help it.

Having run marketing for a couple of incubation projects at IBM and working inside an incubator right now – this is a topic close to my heart.  The interesting thing is how our conversation touched on many of the things that I think are critical to fostering innovation inside a large organization.

Here are a few we talked about in the session:

  1. Innovative ideas are nothing without a passionate idea team – In smaller companies or startups the person with an innovative idea naturally becomes the one to drive it through to deployment.  At larger companies, this doesn’t always happen but it should.  A great new idea needs to fight its way past doubters and skeptics.  It needs to not compromise in the face of process and bureaucracy.  This is not a job that can be simply assigned to someone.  Idea owners need to passionately believe in it and be willing to risk their careers to make it happen.  That might sound dramatic but in the projects I have worked on it has literally come down to that.  Without a team with that level of commitment, any idea, no matter how great it is will fail.  Chris’ experiences in participating in the innovation contest were similar.  The passion and excitement of the team mattered as much as the idea itself.
  2. Passionate idea teams still need help – Chances are your passionate team won’t include all of the skills needed to take the idea to market.  Passion alone isn’t going to build a great business plan, figure out a winning go to market strategy or execute a killer launch.  A set of experts in business development, contracts, sales and marketing (if I do say so myself) need to be on hand to give advice and guidance when it is needed.

  3. Even “failing” ideas need to be recognized – Idea teams by definition put a load of effort and guts into driving an idea forward.  Even if the project doesn’t move all the way through to market, idea teams need to be recognized for their efforts if you ever expect them to give it another shot with their next big idea.  Chris shared his surprise and disappointment that after the contest ended, their entry which almost won but didn’t, received no recognition after a year’s worth of effort.

  4. Process and structure need to get out of the way - This is why larger companies need incubation in the first place.  Incubation teams need to be given enough space to get around process and procedure that will only slow them down.  Folks in this discussion were skeptical about the ability to drive innovation inside a large company without getting bogged down in process or politics.  My experience has been that it can work but there needs to be a conscious effort to get the process out of the way.

Some further reading:

  • Paul To over at the Corporate Angels Blog has a great post on how larger companies can help make their incubation programs successful.
  • Paul also pointed me to a great post by Innosight (you need to register but it’s worth it, trust me) called “The Innovators Survival Guide” which offers a great set of practical things you can do to shore up your innovation projects in the short term while the economy stinks.
  • On a similar note Innovation Edge has a post warning that “In Economic Hard Times, Don’t Cut Innovation”
  • Geoffrey Moore wrote one of my all time favorite posts on Innovation called “The Top 10 innovation Myths” This is an oldie but still stands up today.  I particularly like the points around “Great Innovators are Usually Egotistical Maverics” and “We Need to be More Like Google”

Notes from a Conversation with a Dozen CIO’s

10/30/2008

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 studies that show how other companies have done it.
Help Your Sales Teams (and your customers) Sell to Higher Levels in the Organization - When spending is getting scrutinized, you need to make sure that your sales team is selling across the entire decision making unit.  Make sure that when your CIO brings the project forward for approval, the CEO doesn’t say “Who are these guys?”  Now is a good time to do executive briefings.  Bring your customers to you and get your best people in front of them.  Educate them so that they are armed to sell inside the account.
Over-Arm Your Sales Force – Make sure you are ready when your customers ask for materials so that they can turn-around request as quickly as possible.

**Update** Survey results released today from CIO Magazine shows that 40% of CIO’s plan to cut their budget from last year.  Perhaps my group was on the optimistic end of the spectrum but that isn’t what I heard this week.  One thing that did jive with what I heard in my group – More than one-third of CIOs (35 percent) believe current economic
conditions will cause IT purchase decisions to be pushed higher within
their IT organization.

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Logos and Other Stuff You Should Not Worry About

10/27/2008

equals man 300x199 Logos and Other Stuff You Should Not Worry AboutSeth Godin wrote a post a couple of days back called “Your Brand is Not Your Logo”, where he called the recent re-branding efforts of a couple of big consumer brands “Cluelessness on the half shell”.  I couldn’t agree with that more.

I wrote a post a while back on product naming and this one is a bit like that one in that I will state right out of the gate that I don’t know a darn thing about Logos.  You’ll notice the lack of logo on this page.  In fact you will notice the lack of anything that looks even remotely like “Branding” on this page.  Why?  Because I will venture to say, that you, dear reader don’t give a hoot.

Over 60% of you (according to Google Analytics) are 1st time visitors.  I bet not a single one of you 60% has ever heard of me before.  Some of you got here though Twitter or came to this page from StumbleUpon or clicked on a link here from the CrankyPM or OnProductManagement.  The one thing you folks do have in common is that you came here for the content.  That’s it.  You’ll read the article in front of you and decide to subscribe, Stumble or bookmark based on that alone.  This blog is a startup and it looks like a startup – a little rough around the edges, clearly no money was spent on design and I haven’t sprung for a logo.

Now let’s compare that to a couple of the top marketing bloggers out there.  How about Seth Godin or Guy Kawasaki (go have a look, I’ll wait for you)?  Hummm.  Doesn’t look like those guys spent much on traditional “Branding” either.  They certainly have had some nice professional photographs of themselves (or at lead their foreheads in Seth’s case) done and maybe a teeny bit of graphic help but other than that, I don’t think a lot of cash was spent on “Branding” those blogs.

So what can startup marketers learn from this?  Don’t worry about things like logos because they just
don’t matter.  They’re a bit like product names.  Yes you need one.
It shouldn’t be stupid or offensive.  It would be great if it was
memorable (i.e. didn’t look like any of your competitor’s logos).
Otherwise, whatever you come up with will probably be fine.  Stay focused on the value your product delivers to customers.  That is what is going to get customers and keep customers.  Spend your time, energy and effort solving your customer’s problems and in a few years when you are flush with cash you can spring a few bucks to alleviate your logo envy.  Until then it just doesn’t matter.  Spend the thousands you could spend on a logo and get your sales folks a handful of well qualified leads.  Better yet, spend it flying your product folks out to talk to customers.  The payback will be higher.

Resources for Super-Cheap Logo Design:
There are loads of sites online where you can make your own logo for free or for cheap.  I have fooled around a bit with LogoMaker.  It gives you a bunch of standard graphical elements that you can use to design your own logo and they you can buy it for just $49.  Now that’s a price tag I can live with.
If you are like myself and too graphically clueless to get one you like that way you can try a service like Logoworks.  For $99 you can get 2 different designers to come up with 4 original designs for you.  If you like one, you pay $200 to make it your own.

A Skeptic’s Guide to Social Media Press Releases

10/23/2008

skeptic square A Skeptics 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 social media wire service.

The Hook
But wait!  That’s not all!  We didn’t have new news we did have a news hook.  We knew that the rising cost of gas prices was a topic everyone was writing about so we made sure to directly link what we were doing to that particular issue.  We also used titles, tags and keywords appropriately so that folks searching for news releated to rising gas prices would find our stuff.

The Results
My boss (ex-IBM with the same trauma) sends me a note after we drop the release saying “Please tell me this is a draft!”  Gulp.  I shouldn’t have worried.  For the next 4 weeks I did more press interviews related to that release than I’ve done in the past 2 years.  I was on national television.  I did a video for Forbes.com.  The Chicago Tribune, LA Times, The Globe and Mail all did stories with us in addition to the dozens of bloggers and online news sources who picked up the story and linked to the video.  In a word – Spectacular!

Release 2
At this point I’m a social media release convert.  I decide to do another one around a new product we were releasing.  It was too early in the development cycle to announce a release date but we wanted to let potential customers and folks interested in the space know that we had a product in the works.  We put together a new blog and included the link and feed to the blog in the release.  We shot a video interview with the product architect and had some video of the prototype of the product.  We created a flickr site and posted screen shots of the product.  Again we used a social media news service instead of our regular news wire service.

The Hook
This one required different hooks for different audiences.  For the mainstream media (and our potential customers) the hook was that travel costs were rising this was one way companies could reduce their business travel.  For the folks with an avid interest in the space the hook was that we intended to do something very different than the other players.  The strategy was clearly laid out in the release.

The Results
Again, the results were spectacular.  In the community of bloggers and online news sources focused in our product space there were dozens of articles and a lot of discussion about the product.  I was on TV twice , and the architect of the product also did national television, BusinessWeek did a podcast with our CTO on the subject, I did interviews with 4 newspapers including the Wall Street Journal, we got several inquiries from analysts, our blog was getting 100 uniques a day in the first week and we got invited to speak at a couple of conferences.  Did I mention that we didn’t even announce a release date?

The Key Takeaways:
The “Who” in “Who cares?” has changed
– It used to be that technical products were mainly discussed by technical media only.  More than ever, mainstream sources are interested in how technology is changing people’s lives.  These folks are less interested in your newest features and functions and more interested in how your product is going to change the world.

Mainstream Media surfs the web just like the rest of us – by providing keywords and tags the release is easily findable.  Providing video, photos, links, make the release easily bloggable, which in turn, make your stuff even more findable for both the mainstream media and your customers.  Getting the coverage in mainstream media raises awareness further, especially with customers who may not be very digital.

Relevance is the new “Newsworthyness” – I can’t emphasize this enough.  Just because you don’t necessarily have something new to announce, doesn’t mean you don’t need to have a news hook.  You need to answer the question “Why is this interesting right now?”  What is it about your announcement that makes it important information to share right now?  If you can make your new relevant to a broader audience than experts in your space, you are well on your way to spectacularness.

More Info:
The first-ever template of the “Social Media Press Release” from SHIFT Communications.  An oldie but still a good template for doing these sorts of releases.
Most of the newswire services now have social media options.  CNW Group has a neat social media tool you can find out about here (this is also a good example of a Social Media release itself).  The Social Media Release Blog offers a comparison of capabilities across major wire services.
Recently I came across pitchengine which I haven’t used yet but looks like a really promising tool.  It gives you a very easy tool to build and share releases, but more importantly, folks looking for news on particular topics can sign up for an RSS feed.  If everyone used this it would put an end to PR spam.  If you have used it, I would love to know what you think in the comments.

**Update** Jason Kintzler at pitchengine sent a link to his Twitter favorites which links to a load of pitchengine Twitter testimonials.

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What I Learned as a Judge of a Marketing Award

10/20/2008

podium What I Learned as a Judge of a Marketing AwardLast week I was on the jury for the 2008 Broadridge Canadian Investment Marketing Awards.  This is the marketing prize that is part of the Canadian Investment Awards which recognize leading investment products and firms illustrating an enduring
commitment to excellence within the Canadian financial services industry
overall.  I got invited to be on the jury by the folks at Kaleidoscope Marketing an Communications who I had met at an American Marketing Association function and are all-around great folks.

Did I mention that I get to attend their big crazy party?  I figure it’s going to be fun because if there’s a group of people on the planet that are in need of a few drinks right now, it’s people whose job it is to care about the stock market.

The submissions were generally good (ok, ok, there was one stinker but at least it made the other ones look better) but there was a real separation between the good submissions and the great ones.  Here is what I took away:

Objective Setting and Results Measurement Doesn’t Happen Enough – A number of campaigns only had soft goals (increased awareness was the most common) and then never made any attempt to measure if they had met those goals.  These campaigns also tended to be not focused on a particular segment.  One juror referred to this technique as “Spray and Pray Marketing” which I thought summed it up.  This is marketing 101 stuff in my mind.  If you don’t have a goal and don’t measure results you might as well just hand out money on the street.

If Your Product is a Dog, Marketing Must Say No – A couple of the submissions were well planned and executed but when you looked at exactly what they were marketing the product/service wasn’t differentiated at all.  One juror stated “Why are they running a campaign at all?  They would have been better to spend another year getting more differentiation in the product before wasting their marketing dollars.”  This was a great observation.  Sometimes marketing has to say no.

Big Budget Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Great Marketing – There were so-so submissions from massive national banks working with top-tier agencies and there were great campaigns from very small funds where the campaign was done completely in-house.  Having the discipline to set a strategy, define goals, and follow through all the way to tracking results is more likely to make your campaign great than anything else.  Agency output for the larger firms was only as good as the up-front planning the marketing folks did.

Also, not a single person tried to bribe me into picking their campaign.  Frikkin’ honest Canadians!

Guy Kawasaki, Alltop and Why Twitter Makes me Cooler than You

10/17/2008

Today Alltop launched productmanagement.alltop.com and Rocket Watcher made the cut of the 25 or so blogs listed there.  In addition to getting some traffic driven to this site, I get to put this nifty little red badge on my site that you see below my photo over on the right.

Whoop-dee-doo!  How did this happen!?

In a word – Twitter.

So here is how it started.  I’m a big fan of Alltop (click over there and have a look.  Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to get back) Guy Kawasaki’s “online magazine rack” of blogs sorted by topic, and I’ve used it to find a lot of the bloggers that I follow.  I find doing searches and trolling through the blogrolls of bloggers that I read is OK, but in general the Alltop lists of blogs with the last few posts were a big time saver for me.

So then I got to thinking – Hey, I want to be listed there too!  So I clicked around on the site and noticed that anyone could submit to be listed.  So I did.  By email.  It was even a funny email which I was sure would get Guy’s attention.  Here it is in all its original glory for your entertainment:

Hi Guy,
I launched a new marketing blog called Rocket Watcher
a few weeks back focused on Marketing and Launching New Innovative
Technologies and it kicks ass.  Please add it to marketing.alltop!
Top 5 reasons Rocket Watcher belongs on Alltop Marketing:
1/
My posts are smart because I’m Director of Marketing for XXXX’s
Incubation Program so I’m actually doing this stuff, not just thinking
about it.  And I’ve been doing this stuff for 15 years.
2/ I do a lot of external facing stuff for XXXX so I’m almost famous
;-)  Here’s me on TV talking about XXXX’s entry into the immersive
collaboration space http://watch.ctv.ca/news/top-picks/online-travels/#clip90507
3/ I post at least twice a week and not just crappy delicious links either.
4/ There’s more to marketing than social media or online marketing!  Your marketing list needs to branch out a bit!
5/ I’m Canadian and Alltop needs more diverse new blood!
Please pick me and I will be forever in your debt!
April

Did I mention I have a PhD in butt kissing?  And what response did I get back from Guy?  Zilch.  Nada.  My dream of being on marketing.alltop.com -  EPIC FAIL.

Hey, I can take being ignored.  It’s not like I’m in marketing and my whole purpose in life is to get things noticed or anything.

Anyway, there I am on twitter.alltop.com looking for smart marketing folks to follow and after adding a few, I post the following Tweet “Can anyone recommend any good marketing folks to follow other than those listed on twitter.alltop.com”.  Guy being an avid Twitterer and good marketing guy responded to me directly (I’ve been following him on Twitter for a while) and suggested I look at marketing.alltop.com, branding.alltop.com or socialmedia.alltop.com .  Ho ho, I said to myself.   Now that I have his attention I will get my little blog listed on Alltop.   I will, I WILL!  So I sent him a Tweet back saying “Hey Guy, you need a productmanagement.alltop.com category.  I can send you links.” 

[Aside - Hey, see what I did there?  Instead of my stupid email that was all about me and my stuff, I offered to help him create a new category.  Shoot, it's almost like, say it with me, MARKETING.]

Long story short, lots of Tweets and emails exchanged and voila – productmarketing.alltop.com is there and is pretty useful if I do say so myself and yours truly gets to live her dream of being a real live Alltop somebody.

Would this have happened without Twitter?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  In fact, after I dropped a line to the guys at On Product Management about the new Alltop category they told me that in fact, they had sent an email to the Alltop folks months ago with the same suggestion and didn’t get any action.  Here is another clue.  From the Alltop About page:

Q.How do you decide which sites and blogs are in a topic?
A.
We use a patent-pending, semantic computational algorithm derived from
the post-doctoral work of Guy at Stanford. Just kidding. We rely on
several sources: results of Google searches, review of the sites’ and
blogs’ content, researchers, and our “gut” plus the recommendations of
the Twitter community, owners of the sites and blogs, and people who
care enough to write to us. Let us declare something: The Twitter
community has been the single biggest factor in the quality of Alltop.
Without this group of mavens and connectors, Alltop would not be what
it is today.

Um, Duh!  If I had been paying more attention I would have pitched Guy originally over Twitter instead of email.

So the moral is that Twitter is pretty darn useful tool if you are trying to get someone’s attention in a world where everyone is overloaded with information.

P.S. Yes I know some of you Cranky people out there might question the importance of my amazing Alltop achievement.  What can I say?  With the economy being this crappy, I take success in any and all forms that it comes at me!

Financial Services is Your Target Market. Are you Doomed?

10/15/2008

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, now would be a good time to touch base.  If you don’t have folks from these 3 on your customer advisory council – get working on it!
  • Revisit your Customer Pain Points - Trust me, trying to sell “improved productivity” in this market won’t cut it.  Cost cutting is where it’s at in a recession.  If you can’t demonstrate that, go away until you can.
  • Don’t Forget Geographies Outside of the United States – Not all geo’s are feeling the pain in the same way.  Particular segments vary but Overall IT spending continues to grow for Asia Pacific as North America remains flat.

If you can weather the storm you will be there to reap the rewards when things get better.  Forrester Research is predicting that IT spending will continue to grow and the outlook will improve in the second half of next year. If you believe that.  But don’t forget – nobody can predict the future.

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