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Breaking Perverse Rewards

Do you ever wander the paths of hard technology marketing and wonder who’s in control? I’ve been watching the emergence of yet another marketing campaign and find myself breathless at the scope of the folly. What’s most amazing is that this a campaign that’s successful in spite of itself. The product will be abstracted to protect the not-so-innocent.

Imagine getting a mandate to take an existing, entrenched product and opportunistically move the value proposition into a new market segment. Further, imagine this is the second time this effort has been done, with the previous attempt mainly focused at a couple of customers and inadequately sourced. This is a product that’s in demand for the new segment. In other words, you have market pull, so the push marketing should be easy, right? Honestly, here’s the hard part, though: the product will be integrated into an existing product that completely dominates market, depending on how you dice it. Remember that term, “opportunistic” I used earlier?

What this creates is an environment where the entrenched product isn’t perceived as necessary. Perhaps it isn’t. Let’s be honest, just because customers are pushing for it doesn’t mean that it’s incumbent on a company to provide it. Then there’s the domination aspect. Why innovate or update when your product is essentially the ONLY product in the segment? What if I tell you that this segment is currently dominated, but was the successful beachhead as recently as eight years ago for your competitor to eat your lunch…for several years?

This is the rich, profitable fat of the market, so it’s natural to just sit and bask while the getting’s good. After all, this profit can drive research in other, less profitable segments. Moreover, this profit margin is driving shareholder value perception. As long as you keep an eye toward your competitor to verify that they’re still flailing in irrelevancy, you’re good, right?

Here’s the interesting part, though. What if this product can provide up-sells from less profitable segments? It won’t cannibalize your upper segments, but can pull buyers from lower-cost segments into the fat of the land? How do you balance the value prop against the potential investments necessary? What data should you use to decide your investment strategies? How about if I told you that this product’s P/L is atomic whereas all of the other products that form the platform have their P/L peanut-buttered across multiple organizations, hiding true support and development costs?

Are you beginning to see how this could create a rich perverse rewards environment? The person cutting the check can’t even begin to see the forest through the trees because the funding is so out-of-whack. The platform is so dominant that it’s hard to remember the previous threat and losses. How do you develop a cohesive marketing strategy? Do you neglect the product as simply a checklist item? Do you seriously discuss dropping the product each new generation? Do you ever innovate in the market segment?

The strategy is one-part telling the customer to suck it up and deal, one part telling the org that we need to innovate, and one part reject the product. So, there’s no cohesive answer, even from upper management. This leads to marketing thrash and confused customers, a product that doesn’t meet any of the goals.

What’s the answer? I’m no CxO and the only time I’ve run a department, I sucked. However, what I see is that there has to be an apples-to-apples comparison as well as a strong marketing vision. In other words, the product needs an evangelist with credibility across the organization. Honestly, this whole thing drives the point home that anything adopted must have a champion, not only to guide the message, but also to drive management. The question really becomes, how is this person identified? And in this case, WILL this person identified in this case?

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The Questions…

So, today I’m going to reiterate a discussion I had over a year ago with some folks in an industry that thinks Cal Worthington is state of the art. These are the basic questions that many folks forget to ask when they’re formulating a product or campaign. Think of these as the guideposts to not only what, but also WHO.

  1. Who is the target audience?
  2. What is the desired behavior change?
  3. Where will they accomplish this change?
  4. Why should they make this change?
  5. When will they need to take advantage of this offer?
  6. How do they take advantage of this change? (this is often subsumed into #3)

So, here’s the thing. This is really about a marketing campaign more than a product development, though it applies to both. Questions 1-3 are really marketing questions while questions 4-6 are sales questions. Too often marketing people get confused about the delineation of responsibilities and this, IMO, is the reason why sales people and marketing people are often at odds. There’s a reason why sales answers the bottom half and it’s because those questions are all about relationship.

Marketing has all the data and the smart analysts to identify audiences. And you know what? Sometimes they miss a bit, but identifying the basic group is important. Here is one of the places where sales people really help the whole process…they can refine the target audience or identify an alternative audience with a vested interest. Too often marketing folks neglect the advice of the front-line people.

The next question is the crux of the campaign or product. However, it takes a deft mind to realize and focus the question. How many of us see a given product update and have a serious problem making the change. There is no value to the update for us. Perhaps it’s just that the product already does what we need and the only point where changing works is when support is withdrawn. Perhaps the update is too little, too late. Sometimes the change is pointless. Using the second question, you will refine your development and your campaign to hit the right folks.

Now, some folks will say that #3 is a bit useless, but the fact is that in a TRUE marketing campaign, you have to funnel the target audience to the sales force. You can’t funnel if you don’t identify the collection point, right? In B2B, the truth is that often the sales force IS the “where” in this equation, but not always and sometimes the answer is really, “We’ve updated x and you can get x at” The point is, though, if you don’t tell folks where to accomplish the change, they likely won’t waste the energy.

Now, I’m not going to go into the sales questions except to say that many B2B marketers offer a rudimentary answer to “why” and then let the field tailor the message. This is another area where marketing people often get in the way. The sales force knows the customer and has a deep relationship. They’ll know the best way to tailor a “why” argument and sometimes, the truth is that the marketing answer sucks. Honestly, we need to trust the sales professionals on the second three questions.

This bifurcation also extends, somewhat, to different media even. Question 1 potentially identifies the media channel. If you’re trying to reach folks who are, on average, 55 or older, you’re not going to reach an efficiency by using Facebook. On the other hand, if you’re looking for young professionals, using Lifetime TV is not going to work, either.

So, why did this come up and why do I have some passion in it? Well, it came up because there was a “marketing” person who kept driving the need to engage via social networking, but when asked the fundamental questions, he didn’t have answers. Throwing things against a wall until one sticks is not going get anything done efficiently. The other reason I have some passion here is because I’m a consumer and I’m shocked at how poorly most marketing campaigns engage me. A commenter to Palmer said it yesterday, but I reiterate it today:

In fact, much of what we do in marketing and media is easy, if not, there would not be too many of us doing it.

So, why is so much of it less than optimal? I’m guessing that the discipline is less than optimal and I’m passionate about letting the right folks do their jobs…and honestly, “Sufficiently targeted, advertising becomes information.”

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Tao or Doubt?

So, cruising the interwebs today I ran across a nice blog about technology marketing. it’s an interesting piece because it’s written by an advertising person, not a technology marketing person. In fact, the blog is hosted by Palmer Advertising. I really like this post a lot.

Drew (I’m assuming he writes the company blog) makes some really cogent points about technology marketing, such as making sure that the marketing folks are aligned with sales at all stages, recognizing that there are at least three audiences per design win, etc.). What I found most interesting is what’s missing.

Yes, you have different message points for CxOs than IT than procurement, no doubt. It’s also true that each group needs and expects tailored messages. But what’s missing is that you can create a real story that matters, but whose alternative perspectives are just as compelling. In fact, I submit to you that a properly created story hits the high points with each audience. And it all starts with the product definition.

You have to start the story by identifying and catering to each of the main groups. If you can properly define your product, it WILL sell itself, but better than that, it will engage different target groups to market and sell for you. If your product makes IT’s life measurably easier, they WILL help sell the product to the CxOs, for example. Alternatively, if you can define a product so that it will be very price competitive, you have friends in procurement. CxOs often will want something that sounds cool, looks sexy, or will impress their peers. Sorry to say it, but CxOs are largely ego-driven as much as profit driven. (I’d submit Larry Ellison‘s corporate bio as proof, but that’s just too easy…)

Ok, so how DO you define the product correctly for each audience, then? I’m a huge believer in the concept of Use Cases, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to a whole new discipline in order to capture them. I believe that if you define a reasonable (or even exceptional) set of cases, targeting each of the necessary audiences, you will likely create a product that requires audience education, but the marketing is done for you by the audiences.

I guess an easier way to explain it is that you are developing a compelling story before you ever write the product requirements documentation. If there’s a discipline, it’s that you take the product from concept to functional by considering each audience. This is the failure of a whole lot of products; they are defined with a select audience in mind rather than the total audience. Even worse, sometimes they are so good at hitting a given target audience that the sale happens, but the product becomes shelf-ware and you lose the NEXT sale as a result. The product strategists and marketing people need to sit down together at each phase and make sure that the story is clear to each audience. This is a PitA, but it also makes is that much harder to create shelf-ware or, god forbid, a shelf-potato.

So, how do you get these use cases together? Without advocating design by committee, you do need specialist from each audience on the team. In other words, you need to use your cost-center folks for profits. Not only will THEY be pleased about being engaged, you will gain some useful upsights, too. Now, I’m not talking about having 10 people from each discipline, but getting a really good IT person and a really good procurement person definitely helps. Good luck with getting a CxO for this team, but if you can, you’ll gain a lot. I’m not advocating more than one external team member per audience, though, so you’ll want to ensure that you get the best from each area. Have them sit in and contribute to all the use cases, not just the ones for them. Moreover, make sure that there’s a vested interest in them doing this, be it a recognition award or something more substantial. You want them; heck, you need them. Oh, and if your product is targeted at a specific group of consumers in a business, make sure that you get someone from there (think of a CAD product…make sure you get an engineer AND a draftsperson).

The next thing is to set realistic expectations for the use cases. It would be lovely if it came in all flavors and could morph into a band-saw upon request, but instead try and get 4-5 use cases per discipline. No more. Scope creep is ugly and creates products with more features than buyers. It’s even possible that you only get 1-2 for some disciplines, mainly focusing on ancillary needs, but needs none-the-less. For example, your procurement person might make it clear that their only use cases are availability and granularity. That’s ok. But limit the expansive thinkers to a max of 4-5. This will do two very important things: increase focus and create compulsion. You want the feature set to be so compelling that your customer would be stupid not to buy the product. You can’t do that if you take the scattergun approach and have 200 features for a corkscrew. Oh, and don’t forget, the strategists and marketing folks need to be there because innovation has a way of skipping the domain experts sometimes.

So, you have created these use cases…what then? Please do NOT say “functional requirements.” This team of 6 or so folks will come up with no more than 30 cases, but likely more like 15. They may be a blue ribbon panel of the best of the best. However, one bad assumption can kill an otherwise promising product. You have to get a small group of customers together to vet the use cases. This shouldn’t take even a week and the presenters should be the members of the use case team (with significant support from marketing/sales). This could even be the reward for participation. Get these use cases vetted…then write the functional requirements. Oh, and one other thing about these kinds of activities that should allay some fear of the burden…if you do the use cases right and you have good program management, you won’t have scope creep or schedule delays.

Wrapping back around to Drew’s blog for a minute. Drew’s blog shows the difference between marketing and advertising. So, while my compliment is a little back-handed, I really appreciate that Drew sees the difficulty in marketing tech and I really encourage you to read his blog!

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7 Habits of Failure

Today started way too early, as most days do. I got up and started down a path that is becoming familiar. I got up, started looking through the infosphere and found an interesting blog. This lead to another, counterpoint blog. You can read ’em if you’d like, but I can summarize for you:

  1. Technology sets us free
  2. Uh-uh…technology enslaves us, distracts us

As a technologist, I gotta say, I’m really in camp 1. As a person, though, well, the truth is that I’m much more in camp 2. Remember when we didn’t have cell phones? If you don’t, well, trust me, there was a time when parents were WAY freakier about kids being late. Anyway, I remember a time early in my technology career when a MUCH older engineer walked past me with a fax in his hand, mumbling about how we ever got anything done before fax machines. Yeah, I get it now.

But I’m off track…sorry.

The thing about this routine of mine is that I find things that are a-ha moments for me. Damn you, Pete, you’re helping me grow! The a-ha moment for me came today when I found another Turkel blog that got me thinking about some things in my life. See, I’ve been a 7 Habits junkie for almost a decade, waxing and waning in my practice, but solidly believing in the concept. Then Turkel comes along and reminds me that it’s the issue, stupid; it’s not the practice.

Turkel did this as it relates to marketing and branding, but as most things, it has a practical application in life, too. See, it’s not just about defining your issue, it’s about your issue defining you. It’s easy to get upset, resentful, angry even, when your issue overwhelms you. I spent two years being overwhelmed and my behavior and attitude were not pretty. My only consolation is that I learned many things, most of them useful. So, defining the right issue and allowing that issue to define you is critical.

I won’t waste your time in my own self-indulgence, but I’ll let you know that I have a personal mission statement and a list of values. I haven’t read them nearly enough lately. Even more importantly, I’ve been letting my issue (let’s change that to purpose or cause, ok?) cause get to me more and more lately. And by that, I don’t mean applying myself to the cause has been getting more intense; I mean that the cause is pissing me off. By forgetting my cause, I’m allowing it to overwhelm me and make me agry. Kinda counter-productive when that happens, donchathink?

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Does it Jive?

So, there are a ton of companies espousing “Enterprise 2.0*” concepts and driving solutions. It’s sometimes hard to get a handle on who is doing what, but sometimes an idea just smacks you in the face. I submit to you that Jive Software is one of those products.

I’ve spent years working with dispersed development teams. Until you’ve done it, you likely won’t realize how very hard it is keeping everyone together. Great ideas are lost or bad ideas sound really good, all because the signal to noise ratio is much higher with dispersed teams. I know that I’ve seen past efforts to use everything from public .plan files to forums to wikis in an attempt to facilitate collaboration. Mostly the effort ends up focused on a specific group of developers in a specific geography, further creating the problems. While these tools are valuable atomically, their value grows hugely when they’re knit together into a viable platform.

Jive software has been around for 10 years and it’s purpose is to knit together these isolated products into a collaboration platform. But what I really love about Jive is not their product, which is good or the company, which is growing. It’s the way that they relate their product to the wider world. This starts with their name.

Can you honestly say you’ve never used the term “jive?” “Does that jive?” Perhaps you have to be “of an age,” but I know that term. The idea behind using a common term to define your company and your product is pretty cool (don’t dig too deeply into the definition, though…). The premise of the product is to increase collaboration and reduce the signal to noise ratio and the company name really helps focus on their mission. Brilliant.

The next thing is that while they lapse into traditional ways sometimes, they then refocus you on their mission again. They have the meme of “from-to” meaning going from something and to something better. They then use the greater-than symbol as a message driver. It’s effective and it’s intuitive. They’re not forcing you to consider their point of view so much as they’re using a long-standing thought process as their meme.

They also get that “social” becomes HUGE noise. We’ve all seen it. I honestly don’t care that you got to level 1236 on Xorgon. Like most of us, I made that mistake early in my Facebook life. You get overwhelmed by crap quickly in a social context, so you need a method to filter to what matters. And guess what meme Jive uses to describe that filtering? “What matters.” Again using the intuitive concept as a marketing meme.

Great storytellers use analogies to relate concepts and narratives. They find ways to relate common things to new concepts. Don’t get me wrong, there is a BS meter that we all apply to stories, too, but the question is one of resonance with the audience. In fact, that might actually be the only criticism I can level at Jive. The name, the memes, the overall message might be aimed a bit high. After all, I’m 41 and if it resonates with me, will it blend with the younger crowd?

* sorry for the craptastic definition, but that’s the only independent one I could find…

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Technology Stories

So, today a friend offered some really good advice. This advice was about why I should be blogging and some suggestions on what and why. I’m honestly afraid that my musings will be unnecessary or uninteresting, but I’m deferring to someone who is doing it, that I admire, and who had some very cogent recommendations.

So, what IS this blog, you might ask? I am a technology storyteller and teacher. I take bits and bytes and find messages and stories in them. Moreover, I really LIKE technology that actually changes people’s lives and behaviors in positive ways. While there will be some armchair quarterbacking involved, I mostly want to look at technologies and products and expose the wonderful stories. Along the way, there will always be some negative examples, but I want to, foremost, focus on things that I think are executed brilliantly or technologies that are, or soon will be, changing the world.

A little background is in order, too…you see, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life tinkering with technology, but unlike many in the industry, my tinkering was devoted to making things easier or cooler for non-technologists. Honestly, it’s easy to have a technology narrative pointed at other geeks. What’s more interesting is the technology that impacts and penetrates society so much that the non-geeks get it. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching non-technologists technical subjects that matter to them. This means that I spend a lot of my time figuring out how to use analogies to drive home the essence rather than the hardware. I’ve worked with Fortune 500 technology companies, but my real goal is to get my sister comfortable with the glowing panel in front of her.

I’ll admit that I also will look at products that tickle my fancy, regardless of their inherent brilliance or world-changing capacities. Hey, I AM human.

So, today’s sampling is more a question: what’s the story here? I can’t find it. I’m clearly missing something interesting and potentially valuable. After all, a VC found this technology worthy of investment…a little help?

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