Archive for May, 2010

“There’s no marketing worse than software marketing” — and how to fix it

In 2008, I attended the Software Business Conference in San Jose. It was full of useful information on how to build effective pricing structures, what to plan for in the emerging software-as-a-service model, and how to protect company software from pirates. One thing I remember clearly is from one of the marketing presentations:

“There is no marketing worse than software marketing.”

Advertising for cars, shoes, irons, and soft drinks win awards. YouTube videos for minivans and waterproof running shoes go viral. Marketing campaigns for enterprise software? Most people think they just inspire afternoon naps.

So what’s the problem?

The first problem is that enterprise software is a complex animal, and that the features and benefits aren’t always easy to understand. Those who do understand it are often so entrenched in the industry that they use jargon to describe what the software does. The people assigned to market the software usually don’t understand the jargon, much less the product, without an awful lot of work.

It’s not surprising that many software vendors’ websites are confusing. When visiting these sites, it’s often very difficult to figure out what the software does, who the software is for, and what the real benefits are. Software often needs to be installed by people who have previous training in some technologies — and often, those people aren’t the same as the people who are making the purchasing decision. This adds a lot of moving parts onto the buying process, which adds complexity to the sales cycle, which complicates the marketing messages.

Branding goes extremely far in this industry. For IBM, HP, Oracle, or CA, software buyers know these companies and will often give them an audience. (“You don’t get fired for buying IBM,” as the saying went in the ’70s.) Smaller tech companies find it much harder to gain footing. And figuring out how to message to the target audience is daunting — many of them are techheads who say that they’re totally turned off by marketing.

So how do technology marketers meet this challenge?

Understand the market: First, marketers must talk to customers and developers. These people are on the front lines, using the product every day and shaping the product to meet certain goals. If marketers can get trained on the product–or at least sit in on a couple of days of training–they’ll be able to understand the product exponentially better.

Second, distill the product message down to one or two key benefits. “What does the product do?” is a question that must be answered in 10 words or fewer–both in your product descriptions and on your website. This product message might be similar to competitors’–but if the message is distilled, the product will seem simpler to customers (even the techies who say that they don’t pay attention to marketing). This can be one of the hardest things to do: developers and other stakeholders won’t want to kick out their favorite feature in the main marketing message. But study after study has shown that narrowing the focus of marketing messages increases revenue much more effectively than broadening the message.

Engage in conceptual conversations: Lastly, the company and/or the product experts must be willing to talk about issues and concepts in public forums: blogs, forums, and social media networks. When smart people at your company start talking about the way they view the world, it goes a long way towards convincing your prospects that they need to start viewing the world the same way. Your company people can’t look at this as a time to close a sale or hawking the latest 10% off promotion; rather, they have to genuinely want to engage prospects in conversations about the way technology is used to address business problems. If prospects realize that they really like the way your product/your smart people approach the problem, you’re 75% of the way to closing the sale.

These three things aren’t easy. They require many people in your organization to get out of their comfort zones. But technology buying has changed in the last five years: salespeople are running into more dead ends, where prospects who’ve seemed interested and have even viewed a demo are no longer returning their calls or responding to emails. The messages are getting filtered out and the prospects are being lost.


Advertising above the fray: an update

So Google got the name of their NexusOne phone in front of 100 million people in their target audience. They promised their online store would revolutionize the way smartphones were sold. News broke that Android phones surpassed the iPhone in sales for the first time ever.

Why didn't the NexusOne live up to Google's expectations?

And in the middle of all this, Google admitted defeat.

Now, selling 165,000 phones at almost $600 a pop in less than 6 months can hardly be called a failure. Creating revenue of $100M in half a year with no marketing but a webstore and a text ad on a search page is actually quite phenomenal. But even that $100M in revenue fell far short of Google’s own expectations.

But why did the NexusOne fail to hit the sales numbers of the iPhone and the Motorola Droid in that time?

Smartphone market experts think that people probably wanted to hold the phone in their hand at a store before they made the buying decision. While this makes a certain amount of intuitive sense, Apple sold a million iPads to people who couldn’t hold one before making the purchase.

I think that Google, in their rush to be innovative with marketing, ignored the marketing rule of 1+1=3. Running an 1/8-page ad 8 issues in a row has greater impact than a full page ad in a single publication. The iPhone and Droid both were advertised heavily on TV, billboards, magazines–as well as websites.

And the text for that ad on the Google search page? “Experience the NexusOne, the new Android phone from Google.”

There’s no compelling content in the ad line at all–no reason at all given by Google for a user to consider a NexusOne in the world of smartphones out there. (Except, possibly, that the phone is from Google, which smacks of arrogance.) The iPhone (“There’s an app for that”) and Droid (“In a world of doesn’t, Droid does”) are both about features, productivity, and being able to do everything you want on your smartphone.

It seems to me that Google ignored a few of the essential marketing fundamentals–they relied on a single medium to drive product awareness, and they failed to create a compelling story. Perhaps the “it’s from Google, it has to be good” works when your products–search and Chrome–are free, but the world changes when you now need a $600 investment from your customer base.