December 29, 2013

The core of strategy

This blog is based on two precepts that also guide my consulting:

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:

If we add another level of complexity, the story changes only a little. 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

April 7, 2013

Messaging and positioning

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:

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)

But while those are all good questions — compare them to my own strategy worksheet — Moore’s version is flawed too; in conflating positioning and messaging, he oversimplifies them both.  Read more

April 25, 2012

The marketing of performance

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:

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

September 18, 2011

Strategy for IT vendors: a worksheet

Much of what I do for a living* boils down to critiquing IT vendors’ strategy — for sub-10-person startups, for the largest companies in the IT industry, and for companies at all stages in-between. In the hope of making strategy analysis simpler, I’ve compiled a list of questions that every enterprise IT vendor has to answer, if it is to understand its own business. They’re posted below. If you can’t answer these questions, you don’t really have a strategy.

*E.g., consulting via the Monash Advantage and predecessor services. Every question on the list below has arisen recently in the course of my work, most of them many times over.

If you run an IT vendor, help run one, or aspire to do so, then I encourage you to give these questions a whirl. If you don’t think the answers are all knowable — either now or for the foreseeable future — it’s still advisable to make working guesses. Flexibility is a virtue — but even so, having a tentative strategy is far better than having no strategy at all. Strategy is to execution as design is to coding. The best time to fix software bugs is before you start coding; the best time to fix a bad strategy is before you’ve committed yourself to executing it. Yes, both the design and the strategy will need to be changed over time; but a smart, internally-consistent strategy is a lot better than a contradictory one, than an obviously hopeless one, or than no strategy at all.

This is a really long post, so I’ll summarize it up here. Explanations of each point follow below. Read more

June 13, 2011

Extending the layered messaging model

Some time ago, I introduced the layered messaging model for enterprise IT marketing, to address the challenge:

Two things matter about marketing messages:

  • Do people believe you?
  • Do they care?

It’s easy to meet one or the other of those criteria. What’s tricky is satisfying both at once.

My essential recommendation was:

the two fundamental templates of layered technology marketing:

Enterprise IT product (proof-today messaging stack)

  • Tangible benefits
  • Technical connection
  • Features (and perhaps metrics)*
  • Persuasive details
  • Customer traction or proof-of-concept tests

and

Enterprise IT product (sustainable-lead messaging stack)

  • Tangible benefits
  • Technical connection
  • Features (and perhaps metrics)*
  • Technical connection
  • Fundamental product architecture

The lower parts of the stack demonstrate differentiation, most directly addressing the “Why should I believe you?” question. The upper parts demonstrate value, answering “Why should I care?” But ultimately, credibility rests on the whole flow of the story, and is no stronger than the weakest of the five layers.

*In the original form I just said “features and metrics”. But truth be told, metrics — speeds/feeds/scale/whatever — are only as important as features in a minority of market segments.

Since then, consulting engagements have shown me there’s actually a third template; happily, it’s synergistic with either or both of the other two. That one goes:  Read more

March 25, 2011

The fatal fallacy of modern technology marketing

In what is basically a great set of advice, David Skok evidently dropped the line

If a marketing activity does not create a lead for you, then it doesn’t belong in your marketing machine.

Or to rephrase that: Storytelling doesn’t matter.

Well, if you believe and execute on that, your company will die (at least if it’s in some area such as enterprise technology). I really mean that. Read more

July 24, 2010

Obfuscate clearly!

Quite frequently — sometimes even in so many words — I find myself compelled to give clients some classic advice from Strunk and White:

Obfuscate clearly!

Actually, I have not succeeded in finding the edition in which I recall seeing that phrasing. Probably it was the second, which I presume Paul Kedrosky also had. But in a a subsequent edition somebody (presumably White, as Strunk was long deceased) wrote similarly in their name:

Be clear.

Clarity is not the prize in writing, nor is it always the principal mark of a good style. … since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue. And although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one. Even to a writer who is being intentionally obscure or wild of tongue we can say, “Be obscure clearly! Be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!” Even to writers of market letters, telling us (but not telling us) which securities are promising, we can say, “Be cagey plainly! Be elliptical in a straightforward fashion!”

Clarity, clarity, clarity.

What makes me think of this dictum most often is not marketing collateral per se, but rather product naming and description. Worst of all can be the names of particular portions of a marketecture diagram. Now, I am on record as believing that all product category names are flawed. But while some vagueness or ambiguity may be unavoidable, there is no reason for names to be meaningless or downright misleading.

February 28, 2010

Five kinds of public relations

I comment about public relations from two different standpoints:

Sometimes these discussions are very fruitful. But other times they are “Head, meet brick wall.” Perhaps this post will help.

This post actually started as a set of specific tips, the biggest of which is uncouple your PR from your press releases. I’ll put the others below — but first, I’d like to cover a little theory.

There are (at least) five different things you can try to do via public relations:

Read more

May 27, 2009

Sarah Dopp re social media expertise

As I’ve previously noted, the concept of “social media expert” is problematic at best. Still, people are constantly trying to figure it out, because … well, because they want to get paid for their “social media expertise.”  Sarah Dopp offers an interesting take on social media expertise, which I shall herewith quote at length.  My comments are in italics.

1) Since having a social media presence is about reputation and relationships, it needs to be personal to the individual.  … The approach needs to be custom-tailored to fit the client’s personality and worldview, and the client needs to have a lot of say in the development of this fit.  … Agreed.

2) Having an effective social media presence is different from traditional marketing, and it’s also different from the ways we’ve been using the internet in the past.  True but overstated.  There are three golden rules of social media marketing:

  • Make your messages robust.
  • Train and trust many of your employees to deliver the message, implicitly and explicitly.
  • Trust your employees to show their own personalities without hopelessly undermining the “personality” of your enterprise.

The first two have actually been good management practice for decades, and the third one frequently worked as well.

3) Developing a social media presence has to be done gradually.  A client has to pay attention to what’s working and what’s not, listen to feedback from the community, and constantly refine their approach with little changes. Agreed.

4) The social media consulting model is in contrast to the web development consulting model, where you just build something and walk away until it needs to be updated.  It’s also in contrast to the idea that social media consultants exist to give expert advice — if clients think of them that way, they’ll only go to them with the big questions, and try to answer the little questions on their own.  But social media success is in the details, and it’s the little questions that will make or break an online presence. Agreed. I have clients who ask me to review a large fraction of their individual blog posts. I think that’s a great use of my time … but then, I think the same thing about press releases.

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