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June 2005

The Brownian Movement for Market Research

Go back into the cobwebs of your schooling and remember science class and the Brownian Movement.  It's a handy tool for understanding what is going on and what *may* be significant.  Whenever I go to conferences, shows and their ilk, I try to keep scheduled meetings and plans to a minimum.  Instead I walk around, talk to people, and see what is or is not interesting.  You end up with a lot of useless information, but you do tend to get an early sense of trends and even find the occasional diamond in the rough.

A few weeks ago the local University had a conference with table tops showcasing the latest inventions (in search of a market).  So off I went wandering around.  O.K. there was a flying car, but I remember seeing that in Popular Science back in the 60's.   There was one inventor who was demonstrating surround sound headphones.  What was even cooler, is he had a patent.  My first thought was recording studios and production houses (having some experience with that).  But then I noticed a couple of kids playing video games.  Well,  all the bigs are coming out with new video consoles and looking for that edge.  What would be a better fit than that?   Then a week later I happened to be chatting with the "target market", my 16 year old nephew and he wants to know when he can buy them.  Stay tuned.  I have a VC to see.

Free form qualitative research can be extremely useful, but only when you operate outside of your comfort zone.  If you always talk to the same people and read the same magazines, and scan the same blogs, pretty soon you will have a narrow view of the world.  Not good in this day and age.  Go wide, go unplanned.  Interesting things will happen.

You know you have made it when....

A lot has been written about marketing metrics.  Some people even make a career of "helping" you do this.  I have a much simpler way to approach this.  There are three tiers:
- Tier 3:   Sales are going up and people like your product / service.
- Tier 2:   You have coined a phrase or product catagory which is now in common use.  Things like "markets are conversations" or "network appliance."

And you are in the top tier when your product name is used as a verb, "Let me google that" or what you wrote is know as "the bible of _____".

Seems a much more concise way to measure how you are doing.

Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing

Today I had a great conversation with a recruiter talking about a marketing position with a very interesting company.  There was one very awkward moment for me when he said they needed someone more heavily into outbound marketing as opposed to inbound marketing.  I hope I didn't look like a deer in the headlights, because it really took me off guard.  I haven't thought of marketing in those terms in a very long time.   I view the marketing conversation as a two way street.  A full duplex kind of thing.  And totally integrated with the entire company: sales, operations, development, support, etc. 

Something Doc wrote a while back puts it in context for me:

A bazaar is a real market: a chaotic and noisy public place where all the reciprocal abstractions of economics -- supply and demand, production and consumption -- are a handshake apart. In real markets, the clues from customers have a lot more impact on vendors than any vendor's "marketing strategy" has on "consumers." Since marketing likes to be "strategic" and doesn't like to touch customers (that's sales' job), it becomes progressively more useless in the bazaar environment. "Consumer marketing" becomes an antique conceit and something else takes its place. Something that involves participation in markets at a much deeper, more organic level.

Even if your "product" is pretty well defined, when you talk to people about it (be it whitepapers, through analysts, articles, customer talks, blogs.....), you find that they all come from different places and are interested in different things.  It's the blind men and the elephant in reverse.  Some people like trunks.  Some people like legs.  It's the same "product" but you really need to be listening to what they are interested so you stay relevant to their part of the conversation.  To me the distinction between inbound and outbound marketing blurs.

Sucking Your Own Exhaust

The gates are down.  The lights are flashing.  But there is no train coming.    Meanwhile you sit in your car, the windows rolled up as your lips are turning blue.

What worked then does not work now.  Once relevant.  Now ignored.  Too often we start off totally in touch with "what is going on".  Make up these great plans and go heads down on execution not realizing the hypothesis is no longer valid.   Marketing is two way communications.  And if you don't like to listen, to respond, and don't have a passion for what you are doing, you are in trouble.

The trick here is communicating in whatever means your market is comfortable in using.  Could be blogs, could be email, maybe trade shows (they still exist, don't they).  And listening.  And responding no matter how uncomfortable the topic.  Because if your market respects you, they will talk to you.   And if you act upon what they are telling you (sometimes between the lines), they will continue to talk to you.

Sam talked about some good tools to see what is being said.  He was writing to journalists, but it helps give insight.

The Field Marketing Manual

Went to a big deal event several weeks agoGeoffry Moore was speaking about marketing and signing books.  I was a little embarrassed because I have never read any of his books (kind of like not seeing Dances with Wolves back in the day).   Having started in this business with the first IBM PC, you've basically seen it all.

He did bring up a point about marketing.  Kind of an evolution thing.  You start with Field Marketing (e.g. getting leads to sell stuff) and worked your way through Product Marketing (launch),   Corporate Marketing (branding et al),  Segment Marketing (huh?) and end up with Strategic Marketing (of which only Bill Gates and Andy Grove knew how to do).

Having been in several startup he did say you have to start with Field Marketing.  Right on.  One of the startups I was with had hired a corporate marketing guy (I was doing biz dev).  His money went into a $75,000 web site and closets full of trinkets and trash.   

Of course Mr. Moore had no concrete tips on field marketing.  But I did read the ultimate field marketing guide.  John Fox wrote "The Marketing Playbook" which is the most pragmatic "how to" manual to getting the job done.  It contains 103 very practical things to do.  Way to go John.

Reverse Peter Principle

Doing your own startup company seemed to be the thing to do.   But it was not to be.  So off we go looking for a new job.  Interesting thing about time.  The more experienced you become, the harder it is to find work.

Here's my favorite: "You sure have done a lot, but you're just too senior".   Never taking into account the fact, you may really like doing something that isn't the top dog.  So I have come up with the Reverse Peter Principle:  "HR will never hire the most experienced people for a position, but instead pick those that are almost good enough".    Think about it.