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May 2005
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July 2005

Dollars and Sense

So you have a limited marketing budget and want to get the most bang for your buck.   First off, make sure you have your "aha" factor done.   That is your byline which goes on your web site, business cards everything.    So instead of being just "Acme Widgets" you add "We catch Road Runners".   Assume your audience has ADD.  Always.

Next get a couple of good case studies with $.  That's right, dollars.  Capital recovery period is king.  Keep it under one year or find another line of work.   Put together a couple 2 page white papers at a high level and make it easy to find and easy to download.  For the detailed papers, it's o.k. to ask for some personal information, but not for the summaries.  I have left more web sites than I care to say because it just got too complicated.  Remember ADD.

If you need inspiration, talk to people in your company outside of engineering and marketing.  Ask them their opinion.  Just last week I had a great conversation with a recruiter at a hardware management company.    She went to a training class about the product (smart idea) and met some folks from Europe who told her they managed 4,000 users with just 4 people.  Now that's hot.  But you cannot find it on their web site or in their white papers (for which you do have to register).   

Forget about building brand image.  A lot of the pubs have regional shows in which you can participate and sponser for not much money.   Put together a table top display (complete with your artwork and lights for under $10K) and grab a sales person and hit the road.   Bring a couple of reprints (you did get published somewhere didn't you?), a couple of white papers and talk and listen to everyone.  Pick the right presentations and you will get the leads.

And become an expert in your field and get invited to speak at these shows.   Limit your slide shows to less than 20 slides.   Do not put your speech in your slide show.   Just make 1-3 points per slide, or show a cool diagram, or have a 15-30 second movie showing off your product.   And above all, do not spend your time behind the podium.   Get off that stage and down into the audience.  Talk to them.  Take questions on the fly.   And shut down the pompous audience members quickly ("here's my card, call me tomorrow and we'll talk").

If you're excited, they're excited and they will remember you.   And you will be amazed at the leads you get.   Back in my Zenith days the sales guys were complaining they never got any leads.  So I got to do the booth that year.  I delivered 2,000 leads to the VP of sales two weeks later.  It can be done.  Do it.

Sometimes you just get it right

Today was "get the car back in the garage day".  Shutting down a company with 2,300 sq. ft. of space is a little different than packing up your desk after leaving a company.  So we stored it in the garage.   After much consolidation, it still needed to go somewhere.  So we did the storage shell game, where you move stuff from the attic to the basement, and then the garage to the attic.  If you do it right; when the music stops, the car fits in the garage again.

In the attic I came upon some boxes from when I worked at Zenith Data Systems as a product manager / strategist for the server group (this was after my PC Week days).    In late 1992 / early 1993 I was working on the idea that network servers were way too hard to install and too expensive.   So I got together some real smart engineers and we came up with some ideas.  Then we talked to everyone we knew.  And then some more.  And then we had focus groups complete with one way mirrors and video cameras.  And drinks and snacks with groups of IS managers in New York.

In January of 1994 we launched the first network appliance.  I found this video (I shrank it to 9mb for the Internet) we made.  Reading through the literature it had a whole lists of firsts:
- no monitor, no keyboard
- toolless computer
- plug & play all user installed hardware (cd roms, tape, disks, etc.)
- auto formated hard disks
- auto recovered from crashes while automatically restoring user's connection
- energy star server
- all biodegradable cardboard packing with corn starch plastic coverings
- 1/3 the cost of other servers
- 50% more margin than other computers
- made in the US with Union Labor which was cheaper than overseas

Cebit_1And it turned out to be popular.   Here's a picture of the award for best networking product at CeBIT

So the lesson here is talking and listening really do work.  But make sure you talk to customers about their problems and not so much your idea.  And while you're at it, look inside your own company and understand the internal needs.  Don't be satisfied with killing two birds with one stone.  Go for the whole flock.

The "aha" Factor

Marketing talks about product postioning SWOT analysis and the like.   I've boiled down any company's new product / service to just three questions:
- So what?
- Who cares?
- What's the "aha"?

The first two are quite self-evident.  You need to know who is your market and the benefit to them (without a lot of adjectives).   Slap your hands if you ever use words like "only", "true", "leader".  It's like talking to someone who makes a point of telling you how ethical they are.  When I hear that I grab my wallet and walk quickly the other way.

The "aha" factor is the most important and most difficult concept to develop.  It's the handle on the suitcase of your product which customers, analysts and the press can quickly grab and understand.  It's the concept when uttered evokes the response "I get it".   Let me give you an example.

Back in my days at Zenith Data Systems we developed the concept of a network server which was much simpler to install and operate than any other server in the marketplace (and it cost 1/3 less).   People were used to hiring people with lots of facial hair to spend hours upon hours tinkering with their new computer equipment and getting it to work.   So we coined the phrase "network appliance".  Then we said "It's an appliance.  You plug it in and it works.  The user interface is the on / off  switch".   Everyone got the concept right away.  Didn't believe it until they tried it, but it delivered what it said.  That turned out to be the core of the product and the entire development team got behind it and delivered.

And yes, we became the leader of network appliances because we had the only true product.  But we never said it.  Sold 10,000 units the first 9 months and won product of the year in 5 countries. 

So always strive for the "aha" factor even during the development phase.   It's elusive, it'll keep you up at night, but strive to describe the core essence of what you are doing.  And please keep it simple and don't use many adjectives.  Or you could use Doc's BuzzPhraser.

Forecasting Follies

Many times we need to bring a product into a new market and we try to guess the acceptance rate.  It never seems to work out quite right.  The trick here is to develop assumptions and monitor those assumptions closely.  Be willing to discard those assumptions if they don't play out and exploit the ones that do.  As you start to get a track record, the forecasts become a lot more accurate.

What brought this home was an article stating that laptop sales exceeded desktop sales.  Back starting in 1990 I did some writing for Sam Whitmore at PC Week.  Intel had just announced the SL chip designed specfically for notebook computers.  The working title was "Death of the Desktops?"  Many people were predicting that within 3-4 years notebooks would be more popular than desktops.  I said it was a good 10 years out, if then.  It's nice to be right once in a while. 

Get Busy for the Print Media

It's time to journey east again.   Many of the people in your market still read.  And they read the monthly journals.  Things have moved forward a lot.  Used to be all about speeds and feeds for new products.  Not so interesting if you're running a company.  Now it's all about what works.  So you see a lot of journalism about case studies.

Most companies start preparing their budgets in October and November.  Which means they are looking for new solutions starting now through then.  But to get into the monthly magazines, they are doing their research for their fall articles right now.  And will be pretty much done by July. 

So hop to it.  Go visit your favorite analysts and talk to the magazines.  But don't spend a lot of time talking about your company and your product.  Instead listen to what they have to say and enter into the conversation about the market in general.   Once they understand you are knowledgeable about their field of interest, they may, just may listen to what you have to say.  And with any luck, you will be on their radar screen.  The worst thing that can happen is you become smarter about your market.  And that's never a bad thing.