March 3, 2014

Marketing in stealth mode

I consult to ever more stealth-mode companies, so perhaps it’s time to pull together some common themes in my advice to them. Here by “stealth mode” I mean the period when new companies — rightly or wrongly — are unwilling to disclose any technological specifics, for fear that their ideas will be preempted by rival vendors’ engineering teams (unlikely) or just by their marketing departments (a more realistic concern).

To some extent, “stealth-mode marketing” is an oxymoron.* Still, there are two genuine stealth-mode marketing tasks:

Further, I’d divide the second task into two parts — messaging and outreach. Let’s talk a bit about both.

*I am reminded of my late friend Richard “Rick” Neustadt, Jr., whose dream job — notwithstanding his father’s famous book on presidential power — was to be a US Senator. So he needed to punch his military duty ticket, and got a billet doing PR for the Coast Guard. (One of his training classmates was Dan Quayle.) His posting was to a classified base, and so his PR duties consisted essentially of media-mention prevention. But I digress …

Stealth-mode messaging

As I wrote in a collection of marcom tips, the pitch style

“We’re an awesomely well-suited company to do X.”

is advantageous

  • In stealth mode, when you don’t have anything else to say …
  • … but not at first product launch, when you finally do.

For small start-up companies, this message is most easily communicated through highlights of the founders’ awesome resumes, for example:

Our CTO personally stuffed and dyed the yellow elephant for which the Hadoop project is named.

But that still begs a central question – how do you describe what your stealth-mode company is planning to do? I.e. — in the quote above, what is the “X”?

Checking my recent post about product and category naming, we find three precepts that are particularly relevant to stealth mode:

Beyond that, I’d say:

And that’s about as far as I can go without delving into the particulars of a specific case.

Stealth-mode marketing outreach

Messaging aside, my observations about stealth-mode marketing communications start:

Beyond that, stealth-mode outreach is mainly about one-on-one communication with:

So should you even bother talking with influencers while you’re in stealth mode? Offhand, I can think of three good reasons:

On the other hand, general “pump priming” is probably a bad reason — you don’t get many bites at the attention apple, so you’d best postpone generic conversations until you have something compelling you’re willing to say.

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