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Archive for the ‘Messaging’ Category

The secret for successful startups’ go-to-market strategies

February 17, 2011 2 comments

Many startup companies struggle with funding to get their products ready for prime time. In discussions with one of my clients, we developed a foolproof, critical path to market that I expect will revolutionize product planning and management for years to come.

You’re welcome.

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If you are evil in this life, you come back as a marketing writer for Summer’s Eve.

August 28, 2010 1 comment

On Facebook recently, several of my friends have commented on an advertisement by Summer’s Eve that appeared in Woman’s Day magazine. Want to ask for a raise at work? Well, we’ve got a whole bunch of ideas to help you, says Summer’s Eve. And the #1 idea? Use our Summer’s Eve Feminine Wash–and don’t forget our Summer’s Eve Feminine Cleansing Cloths for that mid-day pick-me-up! (As Austin Powers says, it’s for giving your undercarriage a bit of a how’s-your-father.)

I’m not sure who exactly thought this was a good idea. Today’s woman most likely does not want to read an ad linking their value as an employee with how fresh-smelling their naughty bits are.

It’s easy to make fun of this ad. The ad says all the wrong things. The “tips” have very little thought put into them and are of little use to anyone who actually needs to ask for a raise. (Eat a good breakfast? Really?) And by placing the “wash your vajayjay” tip at #1, the ad is sending the message that Summer’s Eve has no interest in actually helping women get raises–they really only care about using this headline as a ruse to shill their product.

I think it would be difficult–excruciatingly, mind-numbingly difficult–to work in the marketing department for Summer’s Eve. Imagine, for a moment, that you are a marketing writer for Summer’s Eve. And the ad placement people come to you and say, “Hey, great news! We just got a good deal on a full-page ad in Woman’s Day! We’ve got to send it to graphics by the end of the week, so come up with a concept and copy by Thursday!”

If you’re a child of the eighties, like me, you know the phrase “Mom, do you ever have that–that ‘not-so-fresh’ feeling?” And as a child of the eighties, you were confused, and then, later, you realized what it meant, and then you chortled and made fun of it, and then changed the channel whenever the ads came on. But now, it’s 2010, and you’re working for Summer’s Eve, and you’re amazingly grateful to have a job in a down economy, and you look at the gaping maw of a blank page before you, and you think, “What horrible crime against humanity did I commit in a past life to have to come up with a full-page douche ad in 48 hours?”

You have one product. How many brands should you have?

June 3, 2010 1 comment

Let’s say you work for a company that has one product. How many brands do you think you should have?

When I phrase this question like this, it’s pretty obvious that the answer is “one.”

In reality, though, companies with one product rarely show a single brand to the public. They almost always show two brands: a company brand, and a product brand. And companies who do this can never answer why they’ve chosen to split their brand in two. The company is associated with the single product they sell; a single message, a single graphic idea, a single communication goal will help sell much more product than two messages, two ideas, and two goals.

Sometimes, companies get it right. In the late 1990’s, Claris Software had several products, but the development team behind one of their products, ClarisWorks, left the company. Claris decided that FileMaker, its database product, was the only product worth keeping, and changed the company name to — wait for it — FileMaker. (If Claris had been the stronger brand name, they could have changed the product name to Claris Database.)

There’s nothing wrong with having a company name and a separate product name. But promoting both names and brands is a waste of marketing effort and a waste of money. Your audience only has room in their collective brain to associate a concept with ONE thing — either your product brand or your company brand — not both. That’s just the way the human mind works.

Some marketing experts will say that you can have an umbrella brand, a main brand, and sub-brands. While it’s true that you can create a brand hierarchy, your audience will only remember one of those brands with a product (or product line).

Some companies defend themselves with the argument that they plan to release more products, and they want to leverage their company brand. Leveraging an existing brand seems easier than launching a new one. However, your audience has already made the decision to associate your first product with a certain brand; if they try to associate it with the second brand, it will weaken the branding for the first product–and probably won’t help the second product. There’s a reason why A-1 Poultry Sauce and Virgin Cola failed — and it doesn’t have anything to do with media outlets, marketing expenditures, or celebrity spokespeople. People simply didn’t trust the A-1 brand with chicken or the Virgin brand with soda.

Following this advice would lead you to create a house of brands (vs. a branded house — see more about that) should that second product get off the ground. I think a house of brands can be much stronger in the long run — and in the short run, your marketing budget (and your marketing department) will be grateful for your maniacal focus on a single brand.

“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.

The money comes from GM, the beneficiary is Lexus

January 2, 2010 3 comments

Here’s a picture of a billboard advertising the new Buick Lacrosse, which sets Lexus in its sights.

Something else for Lexus to relentlessly pursue.This ad in on a billboard on my way to work and my kids’ school, so I see it approximately a jillion times a month. I have a HUUUGE problem with this ad on several levels.

1) It looks like a Lexus ad. People are driving past this ad and seeing it out of the corner of their eyes. I didn’t realize–until I was a passenger stuck in traffic in front of this billboard–that this was an ad for a Buick Lacrosse, not a Lexus. I had passed it at least 30 or 40 times. The design is tragically flawed: the word “Lexus” is placed prominently above the car’s photo. The car’s name, “Buick Lacrosse,” is at the bottom right, which is the last place the eye travels–and usually doesn’t get there when the billboard is zipping by at 65 miles per hour. The name placement is especially problematic because it’s so easy to be covered up by nearby signs and foliage. GM spent millions on a campaign that looks like a Lexus ad–and reinforces the Lexus message.

2) It requires the viewer to work too hard to get the point. First, one must have knowledge of Lexus’ marketing campaign. Unless you know that Lexus’ tagline is “the relentless pursuit of perfection,” the ad makes no sense. Secondly, one must fill in all the blanks: Lexus relentlessly pursues perfection; the “something” referred to in the ad copy is the Buick Lacrosse; therefore, the Buick Lacrosse is perfection, and Lexus is relentlessly pursuing it because Lexus wants to be as good as the Buick Lacrosse. Whew.

No one is going to work that hard driving by a billboard.

Not only that, but the viewer must think about Lexus’ tagline in order to understand the ad. From a branding perspective, you NEVER want to reinforce the competition’s message in your own advertising. Go where the competition isn’t — that’s why Pepsi is blue and Coke is red.

3) I was going to write that the message of the billboard is totally disingenuous. Really? Lexus relentlessly pursues the “perfection” of the Buick Lacrosse? But then I did some research, and it turns out that the Lacrosse is pretty competitive with the Lexus ES 350, and about $2,500 less. But when I (finally) understood the billboard, I thought that there was no way a Lacrosse could compete with the Lexus. Motor Trend even rates the Lacrosse a full star higher than the ES 350. (Really.)

So what could make this ad campaign more effective? If it were me designing the ad, I’d go for less cutesy and more straightforward. “Buick Lacrosse beats Lexus — for thousands less.” (I might even throw in a “Really.”) It’s not very sexy ad copy, but it might work flying by at 65.

Twitter and Facebook are different. Treat them differently

MB_pen_01Mashable has a recent post about updating your Facebook feed from Twitter. If you haven’t done this before, this can seem like a good idea, and a way to get involved in more conversations with less effort. Automatically adding your tweets to Facebook? What could be easier?

However, I highly recommend against automatically updating your Facebook status with your Twitter feed, for the following reasons.

1) Twitter has its own dialect. Your Facebook followers won’t understand the retweets, hashtags, and references to other Twitterers. When I auto-updated a few months ago, I spent more time explaining my tweets to my Facebook friends than I saved on sending two separate messages.

2) Twitter and Facebook have two separate audiences and two different purposes. Facebook makes it much easier to thread conversations; Twitter, by its nature, requires more of an immediate response. Posting the same thing to both places only works some of the time — I’d estimate 10% to 25% of the time. Take a look at the content on your wall on Facebook; much of this content wouldn’t fit on Twitter, and if posted, would require significant changes to make sense to a viewer.

The Mashable post mentions third-party tools that can post to both Facebook and Twitter; TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop are two of the most popular. If you’d like to post things in both Twitter and Facebook, I recommend using one of these tools and modifying the post.bic

Examples:

Appropriate post on Twitter: Will people pay for MCT’s 1-page FB guide 4 biz? I’m curious, but not for $ <link to MCT’s guide>

Appropriate post on Facebook: MCT just released a one-page guide for using Facebook for business. I’m curious to see what’s in it, but I don’t think it’s worth paying for. <link>

Certain things that are short and sweet can be posted on both: “I just got the new version of the latest Wii game,” for instance. But the Venn diagram of what’s appropriate on both services has so little overlap that it’s not practical to blindly post your Twitter feed to your Facebook status.

Top-down branding: Reports of death are greatly exaggerated

May 21, 2009 3 comments
Is branding dead?

Is branding dead?

I attended the MarketingProfs webinar “What Matters Now in Branding: Ten Ideas to Get Refocused” (membership req’d). Jonathan Salem Baskin presented some good content and was thought-provoking.

However, Baskin’s main point–one that most of those Ten Ideas were based on–was that top-down branding is dead.

Top-down branding is when (according to Baskin) the company connects its name/products/services to thoughts, concepts, and emotions, and presents those connections to its customers and prospects through media, advertising, Twitter, customer service, presentations, etc.

Baskin believes that successful “new branding” is letting the brand organically find itself through reality, changing context, and community that will be driven by customer behavior and customers’ actions.

I have a lot to say about his various points, but foremost: If you want to be a successful marketer, do not believe this. It is false.

The worst part of this advice is that it kind of looks like it’s true. Top-down branding efforts have been less successful in recent years. Customer loyalty is down. Brands that were once strong are weaker. Social media is all the rage; branding has been replaced by “conversations” and “engagement.”

The most important thing about branding, however, has not changed. I’m from the Ries & Trout school, and the most important thing about a brand is to own a concept or phrase in the customer’s mind. (Baskin says that brands cannot do this; he’s wrong.) When you think facial tissue, you think Kleenex; when you think networking, you think Cisco; when you think about high-end cameras you think Canon or Nikon. Even catchphrases — “the choice of a new generation,” “the ultimate driving machine,” and (my recent least-favorite-tagline-ever) “the difference is drinkability” get ahold of an association/concept in your brain and won’t let go. That’s the way to own the market and affect customer behavior, and top-down branding is essential to that.

Baskin’s #1 point was “tell the truth” — that being ingenuous won’t help a brand, such as when the oil companies say they’re green. In general, I agree that one will have an easier time when you can put your money where your mouth is — when your products and services are actually as good as you say they are, and when they have no flaws. But what if your products and services DO have flaws?

Chevron created a famous “People Do” campaign to showcase their environmental concern. Commercials talking about saving butterfly mating grounds or marshlands or eagle habitats were all over the airwaves. According to Grahame Dowling’s book Creating Corporate Reputations, 34% of the viewers of the People Do ad featuring the eagle habitat had a more favorable opinion of Chevron after the ad, and 75% of the viewers said they were more likely to buy gasoline from Chevron (p. 177). The message was that Chevron was an oil company that cares — and they owned that concept in the customers’ minds.

The keys to this successful branding were simple: repetition and consistency. Chevron’s environmental ads started running back in the 1970’s, and grew to a 71% awareness rate. Even today, although very few people believe oil companies care about the environment, I’d bet that many still believe that Chevron isn’t as bad as the other oil companies — and Chevron has been rewarded with a 22% sales increase (p. 178).

The truth you tell, while it has to be true, is yours to tell. If you’re targeting teens and hipsters, the Burger King mascot (that creepy, crazy King) lets people know that Burger King is the fast-food place for them. If you’re targeting kids, Ronald McDonald tells consumers that Mickey D’s is kid-friendly. Your products and services must fulfill your promises to the consumer, but when they do, top-down branding can work.

This is by no means the only element of a successful top-down branding campaign. (For instance, if your brand is already firmly wedged in your prospects’ minds, it’s almost impossible to change–witness the death of Smith Corona PC’s, because Smith Corona is a brand for typewriters, not PCs.)

But don’t give up directing your message just because people say you can’t do it in today’s social-media-centric world.