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”?

Read more

May 10, 2013

Faith, hope, and clarity

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:

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

January 30, 2012

Execution for IT vendors: a worksheet

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.
Read more

June 21, 2011

No, companies are NOT entitled to manage news about themselves

Michael Arrington is in another flap, this time for asserting TechCrunch’s right to blindside companies with news. To disagree with him, you almost have to take the stance that companies have some sort of right to manage news about themselves, which I see as pretty ridiculous.

Recently, I got into a flap with EMC Greenplum. I blindsided them on a story; they retaliated for the story by, among other things, screwing me over business-wise. Why did I blindside them in the first place? Because I believed that if I didn’t, they’d put me under intense pressure not to publicize news I’d obtained. (Given the punishment they dished out for my running it, I imagine my belief was quite correct.)

Meanwhile, here are excerpts from a post I drafted last year, but never ran:  Read more

April 13, 2011

Quotees should be briefed before quoters

I just blogged about a company pre-launch because the news wasn’t actually embargoed (their website was up) and the press was asking me for comment. Those details are unusual, but I’d guess that the majority of quotes I give to the press are about news I haven’t been briefed on.

When news is minor enough, that’s unavoidable. But in this case and others I would have willingly been briefed (scheduling just got a bit awkward this time). The two lessons here are:

March 22, 2011

Public and analyst relations: An example of epic fail

I post from time to time about stupid PR tricks, but last night I had an experience that was a whole different level of appalling, for reasons of ethics and general incompetence alike. Within hours, the vendor’s CEO had emailed me that the offending PR person would be terminated this morning.*

*By the way, that means an intriguing New England startup needs a new PR firm. By tomorrow it should be obvious who I mean.

It started as an ordinary kind of bad pitch. The PR rep emailed offering a briefing with a mystery company. I immediately deduced that the company was one I was in fact set up to talk with today, and had indeed been writing about since 2009. Besides being annoyed that I’d had to scramble to set up my own last-moment briefing with a company I’d led the way in writing about, I also bristled at the fact that the pitch included quotes from a couple of my competitors, whom I shall unimaginatively refer to as Dave and Merv.* So far, no big deal.

*Both personally and professionally, they’re two of my favorites. Even so, I dislike being told that I should use them as authority figures to be copied in my own view formation.

But then it occurred to me that those quotes probably weren’t approved, but instead were just lifted in an unauthorized manner from conversations, and indeed probably didn’t reflect the analysts’ precise views. So I messaged Dave and Merv. Shortly thereafter, the PR rep emailed me:

Neither David or Merv have authorized the quote for publication.  It was sent in error to you, as I had believed you had agreed to the sharing of confidential information.

The bulk of my response to that — and the essence of this post — was:  Read more

February 28, 2011

Quotes from analysts in vendor press releases

For the second straight post, I’m mixing the general and the personal. Sorry!

I jumped into an #ARchat on Twitter Tuesday, and set off a discussion about the subject of analyst quotes in press releases. Since that chat has been blogged, starting with a partly accurate* paraphrase of my views, I figure I may as well state those myself.  Read more

February 28, 2011

Money, analyst attention, and implied analyst endorsement

This was and is meant to be a generally-applicable post. It just turns out to be laced with examples from my own experiences. I hope those aren’t too distracting from the broader points.

It is widely believed among analyst relations professionals that one should engage the services of the analysts most influential in one’s industry, in the hope that the analysts one pays will speak well of one’s company, publicly or privately as the case may be. Thus, the best way for an analyst to make money is:

Read more

August 2, 2010

Further notes on ethics and analyst research

It’s been quite a weekend for discussion of analysts and ethics. A few more thoughts:

1.  The terms “ethics” and “ethical” are used somewhat inconsistently, along a spectrum from:

There are procedural rules of good behavior, and if you violate them that’s bad. That’s the essence of ethics.

to

Unless the motive was impure, an act was not unethical.

Either extreme, in my opinion, quickly leads to nonsense.

2. Actually, I think calling that a spectrum is a bit misleading. I’d prefer to say an act is unethical if:

Thus, somebody can make an error in the area of ethics and still be fully ethical if, upon realizing it, they straightforwardly correct it. On the other hand, a pattern of such “errors” can suffice to convict them of unethical behavior.

3.  In particular, I stand by the following views from the post and comment thread that set this all off:

4.  Merv’s analysis of white paper ethical issues was excellent, and supersedes mine. Continuing the oneupsmanship :) , I’ll now try to synthesize by saying:  Read more

August 1, 2010

The ethics of white papers

In a recent post, I made certain assumptions about what is or isn’t ethical in vendor-sponsored analyst research. I’d already discussed the triggering incident briefly (i.e., in Twitter direct messages and the like) with a couple of analysts I respect, namely Merv Adrian (the one most directly involved) and Ray Wang. It’s safe to say we’re in at least rough agreement.

However, a couple of comments on that post took me strongly to task. Perhaps not coincidentally, one came from a vendor, and another from somebody whose main role in the “analyst” community is to produce and publish – you guessed it! – vendor-sponsored content. One option was to just blow those comments off as nonsensical, since they weren’t really responsive to the actual post. But I think those rather surprising remarks also suggest it is time to reopen the subject of vendor-sponsored analyst research.

Vendors typically pay for white papers, webinars, podcasts, in-person speeches, etc. for some combination of five reasons:

  1. They want to connect with sales prospects. If Merv or Claudia Imhoff or I speak on a webinar, registration will be higher than if only company execs spoke. Similarly, you can capture more registration information from prospects who want to download a white paper if it was written by a third-party analyst.
  2. They want general endorsement from the analyst. If a well-regarded analyst is associated with a firm, that’s good for the firm’s image.
  3. They specifically want endorsement from the analyst for their marketing claims. Many of the ethical challenges with vendor-sponsored research or other content lie in this area.
  4. They want the analyst to do a better job of explaining something than they think they could do themselves. This is the ethically purer version of the prior point. Realistically, they often can’t be separated. E.g., most vendor-sponsored white papers will involve a combination of the two. The same could be said for webinars such as the ones I did for Aster Data last year.
  5. They want to give the analyst some money to enhance the relationship, and this way they get something other than advice in return. Personally, I won’t do content-creation business with a vendor unless they first buy actual consulting services (via the Monash Advantage), but I’m in the minority, and in fact didn’t always have that policy myself.

In my opinion, #1, 2, and 4 cause relatively little in the way of ethical problems. #5 is an unavoidable fact of life. But #3 raises problems that can and should be addressed head-on.  Read more

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