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:
- Recruit employees.
- Prime the pump for post-stealth marketing.
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 …
As I wrote in a collection of marcom tips, the pitch style
“We’re an awesomely well-suited company to do X.”
- 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”?
This blog is based on two precepts that also guide my consulting:
- In enterprise software and similar businesses, messaging is the core of strategy.
- Messages must be robust enough to withstand deliberate competitive attack.
Let’s spell that out.
Messaging is the core of strategy
The enterprise software business, in simplest terms, is about the building, marketing and selling of software. Messaging is central to all of those activities! In particular:
- Selling boils down to two main processes, one of which is delivering sales messages. (The other, of course, is managing prospect relationships.)
- Marketing is mainly about developing and delivering messages. (Most of the rest is lead generation.)
- Development’s job is to make great sales and marketing messages be true.
If we add another level of complexity, the story changes only a little. Read more
|Categories: About this blog, Marketing communications, Marketing theory, Technology marketing||3 Comments|
A common subject of my consulting is naming, and specifically naming the category of product or technology something goes in. Clients are well aware that no market categorization is ever precise. Still, words must be chosen, collateral must be prepared, and talks must be given to rapturous* audiences. Here are some of my go-to techniques.
1. My most precise tip starts from a classic naming dilemma:
- If we call it something entirely new, nobody will know what we’re talking about, or why they should care …
- … but if we say it fits in an old category, then how do we differentiate it?
Increasingly, my advice is to pick a name that’s “half new”, usually in the form of a two-word phrase that overlaps partially with the name of an old product category the new thing sort of resembles.
In some examples from my own work:
- ClearStory Data emphatically does not want its service called “business intelligence”, as doing so might denigrate the novelty of ClearStory’s innovations. A big part of how ClearStory beats traditional BI is in the intelligence of its data handling. Voila! With a nice bit of double-meaning, ClearStory’s secret sauce is now described as “data intelligence“. Edit (May 2014): “Data intelligence” has held up as ClearStory’s top message.
- Platfora’s latest release focused on data sets that — after Platfora assembles them for you — are sort of like time series but also somewhat like event streams. “Event series” was the winning name. Edit (May 2014): Platfora reports that that choice worked out well.
- Tokutek, whose main differentiation is performance, makes storage engines for MySQL and quasi-storage-engines for MongoDB. What should we call them? “Performance engines” fits the bill, at least for the “not exactly a storage engine” MongoDB case. Edit (May 2014): Tokutek hasn’t really stuck with that term.
2. A principle underlying that tip is that connotation is as important as denotation. The reactions that category names evoke can be as important as their literal meanings, especially since those literal meanings aren’t very precise anyway.
Returning to the examples above: Read more
I edit a lot. In particular:
- I edit my own blog posts.
- An important part of my consulting practice is editing marketing communications.
- I also edit romance novels,* because:
- Linda Barlow, one of the world’s better romance novelists,* is my partner in all things.
- Linda has turned to self-publishing. (First book out: a revised edition of the great historical romance Fires of Destiny. A series of contemporary romances is coming next.)
- I’m a good enough editor to be helpful.
- Editing high-quality fiction is fun.
Editing and writing of course are based on similar principles, even though the processes are different. So let’s discuss what some of those principles might be.
*Actually, not everything Linda writes fits into the “romance” category. But the first books she’s (re)issuing do. And the biggest awards she’s won — a RITA, some RITA runners-up, and so on — are romance-specific.
My two core principles of writing or editing, almost irrespective of content type, are:
- Only give your readers what they (will) care about. Don’t inflict material on them that will bore them.
- Avoid mistakes.
That first principle breaks down to: Read more
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
|Categories: Analyst relations, Layered messaging models, Marketing communications, Marketing theory, Technology marketing||2 Comments|
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)
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.
It seems that my IT vendor strategy worksheet was well-received, by companies at different stages of development, clients and non-clients alike.* So here’s the promised sequel — a similar worksheet with more of an execution orientation. If your answers to these questions don’t dovetail well with your strategy responses, you have some serious rethinking to do.
*Those who’ve worked it through include a multi-billion dollar powerhouse, a two-person lifestyle business, and some pre-revenue start-ups.
For the strategy worksheet, I took the extreme position that every employee of every IT vendor should have at least some idea of the answers. In this case, I won’t go quite that far. But I will say that most IT vendors will find most of these questions to be of great importance. So no matter what your role in the organization, you might find it helpful to see how much of this stuff you actually know.
And if you’re the CEO, you should score 100%.
Once again, for reasons of length, I’ll summarize up top and comment on each question below.