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...

10 Reasons You Don’t Need a Product Brochure

Over the weekend I wrote a very intelligent and thought-provoking piece on communications and the whole Steve Jobs had a heart attack thing but then today at work we got talking about building a brochure for one of the products I am working on which lead to a couple of hallway conversations about brochures.  This got me thinking that brochures are almost as goofy and out-dated as trade shows and I should write a post about that instead while I am thinking about it. Therefore, instead of intelligent and thought-provoking, I give you: 10 Reasons You Don’t Need a Product Brochure 1.  Your customers use the Internet. Newsflash! There’s this newfangled thing you paid your marketing folks to set up called a web site that does a super job of talking about your products.  You don’t have a web site?  You my friend, need more than a brochure. 2.  Your site works better than your brochure.  Your brochure doesn’t have sound and video and an ROI calculator.  Your brochure contains exciting words like “paradigm”. 3.  Things change.  Your product, your address, your phone number, your email address for general inquiries, your best graphics and screen shots, your customer quotes, your partnerships.  You get the idea. Pay to get your brochure printed and I guarantee you it will be out of date the moment the box shows up.  Faster if you paid someone to do the layout and graphics. 4.  Where are those brochures going to get used anyway? Let’s do some math.  Let’s say you paid $4K to get the creative done and brochures printed.  You do 2 big...

Segmentation: Why Marketing Shouldn’t Write Checks Your Product Can’t Cash

I got a response to this post via email which can be summarized as “Why does differentiation for tech products always have to be around technology?  Most successful companies I know had me-too technology but a laser focus on their segment”.  Good question (you could try commenting on the blog next time – huh, bub?) I agree that folks marketing technology products often focus too much on technology and not enough on other parts of the mix that are potential differentiators, in particular sales channels, pricing models, partner/solution ecosystem and go to market strategy.  Most of the time new products in the technology business start out as technology ideas, not necessarily ideas for a new business or an idea related to an unmet customer need (and I don’t mean technology when I say that) per se. By all means, focus on a segment.  Who are the buyers in the segment?  Understand how the buyers make decisions and who they turn to for advice.  Make sure you understand what pricing and distribution models work for that segment.  Think about the entire ecosystem around the solution. Are their partnerships that would help you differentiate your solution? Make sure your Go To Market plan makes sense.  Where do folks in your segment find out about products?  Who influences their purchase behavior?  All of that is important. But don’t forget that the product has to make sense too.  I worked at a company that tried for years to position their successful large enterprise product to smaller companies by simply dropping the price and making it available through different channels.  The thinking was that...

Cloud Computing and Marketing Hype

Marketing is a mis-understood function.  Sometimes Marketing is the only thing you need to be successful.  Other times Marketing is evil and ruining everything.  Sometimes it seems like both are true statements. Take cloud computing as an example.  Last week Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle corp. was quoted as saying: “…we’ve redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can’t think of anything that isn’t cloud computing with all of these announcements. The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop? “…I don’t understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud computing other than change the wording of some of our ads.” While I don’t think Larry is qualified to comment on women’s fashion, when it comes to technology trends it’s wise to pay attention to his opinion.  Is he right?  Is cloud computing marketing gibberish? The answer, in my opinion is yes, and no and either way Marketing is responsible. First you had the cloud computing “platform” vendors such as Google and Amazon.  These folks talked about making a set of interfaces available that allow developers to obtain and configure capacity with automatic scaling and load balancing and “pay for what you use” pricing models. Then things started to get, um, cloudy.  As cloud computing as a term gained visibility, other companies, not wanting to be left behind, began to try to use the term to their...

10 Rules for Running a Customer Advisory Council

Why aren’t you running a customer advisory council?  A customer advisory board or council is a great way to gain market insight, attain feedback on strategy and direction as well as build deep relationships with key customers.  Here are some tips I wish someone had shared with me before I ran my first one: 1.  Pick your customers wisely – Go as senior as you can.  You want folks that are thinking strategically.  Get members that are at the same level.  They are as interested in networking with each other as they are in meeting with you.  Only have a couple of customers so far?  Work your network to get non-customers in the room.  Don’t be afraid to ask board members and investors to help you get advisers. 2.  Don’t cheap out on hotels and food – Do you want to spend a couple of nights in the Holiday Inn eating burgers?  Your customers are important and no, they don’t want fries with that. 3.  Limit the number of customers in the room to about a dozen (and execs from your company to half as many) – A customer advisory council meeting should be an interactive session.  That’s hard to do with too many people in the room.  The fewer attendees from your company, the more likely customers will dominate the conversation.  This is a good thing. 4.  Use an outside moderator – A moderator can more easily control the room if things get off-topic and experienced moderators can draw out quiet participants to ensure the conversation isn’t monopolized by your more outspoken advisers.  You don’t want your CEO...

Segmentation and Differentiation: What is This Thing Anyway?

I has a discussion last week with a friend of mine that's starting a company.  His product has some really innovative technology that came out of a university research project around managing, storing and retrieving data.  We ended up spending almost an hour trying to answer the question "What is it?".  Which of course is just a simple way of asking what is the differentiated value that the solution brings to customers.  At a high level our conversation went like this: Me: So what is it? Him: It's a database. Me: The world doesn't need another database and you won't win against Oracle. ***intense debate interlude*** Him: Well, it isn't better than Oracle at everything but it's better at certain kinds of workloads. Me: Who has that kind of workload? ***intense debate interlude*** Him: Telecommunications companies. Me: So that's not a database, that's a Telecommunications Data Mart. You get the idea.  It's important because how you would go to market for a "database" would be very different from how you would take a "Telecommunications Data Mart" to market.  So easy enough right?  Oh I can hear you now – "tell us something that isn't Product Management 101, April!"  Yeah, I know you guys are like that.  So why am I still having this conversation all the time?  Two main reasons: If we say we focus on A, it means we're not focusing on B – The addressable market for databases is much bigger than the addressable market for Telecommunications Data Marts but let's face it, you were never going to win a significant share of that big ol' database...
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