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|
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||3 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)
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
Quite frequently — sometimes even in so many words — I find myself compelled to give clients some classic advice from Strunk and White:
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:
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.
I comment about public relations from two different standpoints:
- As a consultant to the technology industry
- As a target of public relations myself
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:
- “Sell” to the press (and bloggers and so on), by which I mean that you try to induce stories, and you probably measure success by a count of stories written (presumably weighted by the quality of the publication, the favorableness of the mention, and so on), and your activities are focused on contacting the press in pursuit of that goal.
- “Market” to the press, by which I mean that you try to create a favorable disposition toward having them say what you’d want them to. This can be measured in the same ways as “selling” success, but usually on a more long-term basis.
- Market through influencers to your end customers and prospects. Here I’m saying “influencers” rather than “press”, because social media, pure word of mouth, and so on can also contribute to success.
- Market through influencers to other influencers. It is now a regular consulting exercise for me to walk clients through the whole chain of which influencers listen to which other influencers. (If you want to work that kind of thing out for yourself, social media observation is a good way to start.)
- Market to potential buyers directly. This has become increasingly realistic as the internet has matured.
|Categories: Analyst relations, Marketing communications, Marketing theory, Technology marketing||4 Comments|
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.