Some principles of enterprise IT messaging.
0. Decision makers are motivated by two emotions above all — fear and greed. In the case of enterprise IT, that equates roughly to saying they want to buy stuff that:
- Is safe.
- Will confer benefits.
1. For a marketing message to succeed, whatever its goals are, the “confer benefits” part of the story needs to be:
2. The “safe” part needs to be believed too. Rational belief in the safety of doing business with you is good. Blind faith is even better, but usually is enjoyed only by the most established of vendors.
In some cases, that may be the greatest competitive strength they have.
3. To be believed, enterprise IT messaging generally needs to be:
A certain amount of exaggeration is expected, and easily shrugged off. It’s also possible to get away with a certain amount of vagueness, whether in a fear/safety story or when pitching something as new/innovative/exciting. But don’t overdo either.
One common way to overdo your exaggeration — make an obviously false claim of uniqueness.
4. Please note: Deficiencies in the consistency of your messages can undermine credibility and clarity alike.
5. Messaging can become distorted in many ways, both accidental and deliberate. For example: Read more
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Vendor clients often ask me about pricing. Everybody knows that there usually are:
- A low-quantity list price.
- A standard volume discount (typically 50%ish, assuming negligible cost of goods sold).
- The real negotiated price.
But the whole process has to start with some concept of a single-unit price.
What kind of price? Well, for appliances, you usually should just charge a one-time fee for whatever is in the carton, plus annual maintenance; most alternatives are gimmicks. But for packaged software, there are numerous choices. The easy part is timing:
- All software can be charged for on an annual license.
- Some can be sold on a perpetual license as well. (Exceptions include: Open source, SaaS, and perhaps other software whose main competition is reasonably-priced subscriptions.)
- Annual maintenance is usually 20-22% of the perpetual license fee.
- When there are both perpetual and annual options, the annual fee is usually 40-60% of the perpetual one.
Tougher is deciding what kind of “unit” you should price by. My standard advice has become: Read more
To a first approximation, messaging is the expression of positioning; and the way you know whether positioning is good is whether good messaging naturally flows from it. So it’s natural to conflate the two. But let’s focus for once on positioning itself.
I think positioning boils down to:
- Product category, even though product categorizations are never precise.
- Orientation, along multiple attributes.* Hence positionings are more complex than vendors commonly realize.
- (Optionally, but it’s a common option) Target customer group.
When positioning is framed that way, we can say that the primary goals of messaging are to communicate, emphasize or try to change aspects of your positioning.
*I used to say “dimensions” instead of “attributes” — but most likely the attributes aren’t all orthogonal to each other and also aren’t all measured on a continuous scale.
The modern concept of “positioning” was formulated and popularized by Jack Trout, starting in the 1960s, and can be stated as (filling) a “location in the customer’s mind”. In practice, a Trout positioning combines a product category with a single-attribute orientation such as “safe”, “powerful”, or “fun”. But I think that’s too simple for B2B or technology contexts.
I like the Geoffrey Moore formulation better, in which he offers a positioning template:
For (target customers)
Who (have the following problem)
Our product is a (describe the product or solution)
That provides (cite the breakthrough capability).
Unlike (reference competition)
Our product/solution (describe the key point of competitive differentiation)
When I am a VC overlord:
- I will not fund any entrepreneur who uses the word “disruptive”, unless she has actually read at least one book by Clayton Christensen.
- I will not fund any entrepreneur who mentions “market projections” in other than ironic terms. Nobody who talks of market projections with a straight face should be trusted.
- I will not fund any software entrepreneur who is unfamiliar with “The Mythical Man-Month”.
- I will not fund any software whose primary feature is that it is implemented in the “cloud” or via “SaaS”. A me-too product on a different platform is still a me-too product.
- I will not fund any pitch that emphasizes the word “elastic”. Elastic is an important feature of underwear and pajamas, but even in those domains it does not provide differentiation.
- I will hire a 16 year old intern of moderately above-average intelligence. I will not sign or propose any contract that intern finds difficult to understand.
- I will hire a second intern of moderately below-average intelligence. I will not fund any product whose documentation that intern finds difficult to understand. Exceptions may be made for products sold to orienteering athletes, crossword puzzle solvers, or engineers.
- When a board on which I sit approves revenue targets for the year, I will further stipulate that the year-ending sales pipeline must comprise more than a Chinese hair salon, an Italian pushcart vendor, the CEO’s brother-in-law and a bankrupt bait shop in Nome.
- I will only hire a CEO who can explain the technology at his previous company. A CEO who doesn’t know what his products do can’t sell or market them either.
- I will only hire a CEO who can also walk me through a sales cycle at her previous company. A CEO who doesn’t know how a customer buys may well have trouble producing revenue.
- I will support any plan that I agree is good for a company I have invested in, nor matter how modest or how bold. I will participate in any funding round that I think is profitable for my limited partners.
- I will remember that a board of directors has a fiduciary responsibility to all shareholders, and not just to the preferred ones.
Please offer your suggestions below. An associate will get back to you with our decision.
- The original “When I am an Evil Overlord” list
- A rival list
- The most comprehensive such list I know of (with additional sections for heroes, sidekicks, beautiful daughters, etc.)
I review many press releases, websites, slide decks, and complete marketing strategies. Inevitably, there are certain marketing communications tips I keep repeating. Some of them are:
- Pitch at a suitable level of detail.
- Treat your top influencers as individuals.
- For every news item, ask yourself — who cares?
- Don’t pigeonhole your company or product.
- Use a proofreader or copy editor.
- Use short(er) sentences.
I shall explain. Read more
I’m often asked how early-stage IT vendors should prioritize their marketing communications, and specifically their investment in collateral. They don’t have nearly the budget or management bandwidth to do everything; so what should they do first?
Most commonly, my answer is a variant on:
- Of course you need basic website content. For starters, your website should at least feature:
- Answers of one paragraph or less to the top four strategic worksheet questions.
- A several-paragraph description of your product/technology.
- Management bios, contact information, and other obvious stuff.
- You also need a fairly technical company white paper. At some point in your sales cycle, there will be a technical evaluation. A white paper can answer a lot of early questions. What’s more, many of your early sales will be driven by people who think new technology is cool. Make it easy and appealing for them to learn about your cool new tech.
- Many people like videos. Whether it’s a link to a conference presentation or a white board talk or whatever, it’s good to have some kind of video. Some people, however — I’m one of them — don’t like videos, so don’t do anything essential in your videos you don’t also convey in writing.
- I further favor having a low-post-count blog. Notes on that include:
- Almost nobody has the time to do a lot of blogging.
- Even so, a blog is the most flexible and best way to communicate things that seem harder to say in other formats.
- In particular, this can be a “poor man’s” way to make up for what is surely a distressing lack of resources in pre-sales support personnel, other collateral, and so on.
- The goal isn’t to build a consistent readership. (You’re not going to invest enough effort for that.) The goal is to put up a few posts, then call influencers’ and prospects’ attention to them by email.
Beyond that, I’d say:
- Of course you want to generate leads. I don’t have strong opinions as to whether to make some of the items mentioned above require registration. But beware of the absurdly extreme position that says marketing serves solely to feed the sales pipeline.
- Supervise your PR very closely. Do much of it yourself. Indeed, strongly consider doing without a PR firm altogether.
Where, by way of contrast, do I favor being frugal? Read more
All marketing communications attempt to cast their subject in a favorable light. I get that. But when your claim is obvious nonsense, you’re just doing yourself harm.
My best example this week (it’s only Tuesday morning) is an email from Vitria, which reads in part:
The world’s first Operational Intelligence (OI) app …
While it seems like everyone is jumping on the big data bandwagon, only OI can claim to be purposely built for tackling big data in motion …
That’s utter nonsense. We’ve had a CEP/stream processing industry for years. We’ve had stock-quote and network-monitoring systems for decades. Maybe Vitria has a good story, but the core claims in their email are obviously false. If you think I’m overreacting, it’s only because so many other companies also pitch blatantly untrue claims.
So do I want to talk with them? Well, their email suggests that if I do, they’re likely to start out by emphatically saying untrue things. Blech. I think most serious reporters, bloggers and analysts would feel much as I do on the matter. Even the ones who do take a briefing are likely to go in with a more negative attitude than they might if the pitch email had been more closely based on reality.
And if I do ever talk with Vitria anyway, they’ll need to start by climbing out of a credibility hole.
Usually, when one thinks about marketing, the target audience is actual or potential customers. Fairly often, two other audiences come to mind:
- Actual or potential investors.
More rarely mentioned is a fourth audience — actual or potential employees. That’s a pity, in that marketing to them is a Really Big Deal. This should be obvious as soon as you consider:
- Recruiting is a hugely important form of sales.
- Where there are sales, there also is (or should be) marketing.
Much of the technology I consult about boils down to performance. There are many sub-categories — parallelization, scalability, low latency, interactive response, price/performance, and more. But basically it’s about computers operating faster, within realistic resource constraints.
There are three kinds of benefits performance can offer:
- It can allow you to do things more simply and/or cost-effectively (e.g., with less hardware or less tuning).
- It can allow you to do things better. Examples include:
- Faster-loading web pages for your customers.
- Faster-responding queries for your business analysts.
- Better prices on your algorithmic trading.
- Better analytic results, perhaps from:
- Using more data.
- Running more queries.
- It can allow you to do something that would be impractical otherwise (usually because of expense).
These benefits are easily confused. When a prospect says “I can’t do X with existing technology”, what she really means is often “I can’t afford to do X well enough to matter.” When a vendor says “We make it cheap and easy to do Y”, what prospects hear is commonly “Great! Now we’ll be able to do Y within our resources and budget.”
Given the breadth of the subject, it’s hard to generalize comprehensively about the marketing of performance claims. But my observations include: Read more
The most insightful political-marketing observations I’ve seen in some time come from a New York Times article by Jonathan Haidt that, unsurprisingly, turns out to be excerpted/adapted from a whole book on the point. It argues that an essential aspect to political belief are the stories tribes tell themselves.