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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