The First 3 Weeks of the 2012 NFL Season Were Brought to You by Schlitz Beer-Early 1970s Formula

The National Football League’s (NFL) petty 2012 lockout dispute with the NFL referees union has officially ended. Not a moment too soon: The “real” referees will return to officiate all Week 4 games – just in time for the early Thursday Night game – rescuing the rest of the football season from further tarnish, embarrassment and harm at the hands of incompetent replacement referees.

Source: Bleacher Report

Before the 2012 season began, players and analysts warned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that the poorly qualified fill-in referees would lose control of football games. They did. The rightful outcome of games would be altered by poor calls and non-calls. Oh, were they ever. And repeated failure to call serious personal fouls would put players at needless heightened risk of serious injury. Sadly, and most unacceptably, that happened as well.

I thought, what other organization, #1 in its field, has ever made such a major non-forced mistake, causing highly visible, self-inflicted harm? My answer rewinds back to my freshman year, Intro to Business, first case study: Schlitz Beer in the 1970s. Once the #1 beer in America, as equally an iconic brand as Budweiser, Schlitz proceeded to lose nearly all of its value by that decade’s end, thanks to inexplicable, self-induced sabotage of its own product.

The NFL’s decision to install replacement referees was a “Schlitz Mistake.”

Continue reading

“Missionary” Technology Really Requires a Technology Evangelist

A technology evangelist “promotes the use of a particular product or technology through talks, articles, blogging, demonstrations, [etc.]…The word ‘evangelism’ is taken from the context of religious evangelism because of the similar recruitment of converts and the spreading of the product information…”  (Source: Wikipedia)

I recently came across a blog post by technical writing and communications professional Dr. Ugur Akinci, who wondered aloud whether there was a better term to describe the title of Technology Evangelist. Ugur Akinci noted the dictionary definitions of evangelism in its original religious context; those definitions suggest communication that is, among other things, decidedly one-way. Point well taken, but none of the other alternative titles suggested – technology communicator, ambassador, champion, advocate, enthusiator (the latter one intended to provide a chuckle!) – comes close to conveying the role as vividly as Guy Kawasaki’s original term of technology evangelist: the active persuasion of people to buy into the superiority of his/her particular technology product and help spread the word about it.

Actually, the term technology evangelist becomes even more appropriate if we use more secularized religious terminology to describe the product offering itself. I have in mind an article product management professional Jacques Murphy wrote a few years ago, asking a still-timely question: Is Your Product a Missionary or a Savior?

(W)hile every (software) company wants their product to be brand spanking new, there are two very distinct strains of newness: the Missionary and the Savior. And one of those two types is a much harder sell…The Missionary product…represents a new idea or a whole new take on an old idea. Nobody has heard of it and your company is in the position of telling others about it and convincing them of how important it is…

With a Savior product, the market comes running out into the streets to greet it, cheering it along all the way. The Missionary product has to go exploring into lands unknown to make converts through its boundless zeal.

Of course, Jacques Murphy’s “market running and cheering to greet a Savior product” hyperbole has since become literally true many times over by Apple’s amazing run of true Savior products. As for software, particularly in the B2B space, every product will have some missionary, or educational, aspect to it. You will always need to effectively convey your understanding of your customers’ problems and how and why your product solves these problems in ways far superior to your competitors. Every software solution requires effective product marketing, and benefits greatly from technology evangelism.

But a “true” Missionary product will also offer a very different solution to fulfilling a need; a solution that might even be openly contrarian to current conventional wisdom; a solution that is proven to yield unique and compelling benefits for your customers, but in very new ways. Having a technology evangelist, a name and face for the product, actively advocating your unique, even contrarian solution to the market, becomes absolutely crucial, absolutely vital.

Continue reading

“Everything I Really Need to Know About Product Marketing I Learned in Elementary School”

Dr. Stuart Payne is Principal of Northwood Elementary School, a National Blue-Ribbon School and California Distinguished School in Irvine, California. I was already impressed with the work of Stuart and his staff, and was even more so after reading his Principal’s Message in a recent issue of Northwood Elementary’s parents newsletter, which summarized the goals he and his teaching staff set for the school year:

At the beginning of this year, our dedicated staff set…three goals for ourselves: (1) Rigor, (2) Differentiation, and (3) Progress Monitoring.

These succinct goals no doubt rang true for Northwood Elementary parents.   In fact, they rang quite true for me in my world of product marketing.  Let’s look at each one more closely:

Photo by courosa (Flickr CC)

Rigor.  Stuart Payne writes: “Through rigor, we endeavor to make sure that every child is challenged in a developmentally appropriate manner.”  This vital educational goal can be easily adapted to product marketing/product management terms: We must challenge ourselves to really understand our products and our markets, and convey our value in a compelling manner that our target markets will understand and be motivated to learn more.  I am reminded of a good blog post by Dave Kellogg on applying (rigorous) critical thinking for effective product positioning (I elaborate on Dave Kellogg’s post here, btw).

One sidenote: Stuart Payne also wrote: “(R)esearch indicates…that when the work is too difficult, (students) become frustrated.”  This reminded me of a classic blog post by Kathy Sierra: Do your customers feel a similar sense of frustration trying to understand and/or use our products?  Why?  How can this be corrected (and fast)?

Differentiation.  Of course, as a product marketer, product differentiation is critical.  However, Northwood Elementary is referring to differentiation as in the non-standardization of classroom instruction:

By designing differentiated lessons that meet the needs of our students varying ability levels, we ensure success for all  (emphasis added).

So let’s look at “differentiation” in a similar way for marketing: The “standardization” of marketing and PR is long gone, as David Meerman Scott and others have already made quite clear.  That said, what different means, what different avenues should we share our product messaging? The book Content Rules by Ann Handley and CC Chapman addresses this very topic.

In a nutshell, Content Rules is a how-to guide to differentiate your product messaging in video, podcasts, webinars, blogs, ebooks. Doing so enables us to connect with prospects in the mediums of their choice, in which we convey in informative, compelling ways what our products are and why they are essential.

Progress Monitoring.  Stuart Payne explains:

Progress monitoring is the way in which we gauge the effectiveness of our instruction and the way in which we measure students’ progress toward their learning goals (Emphasis added). During our Response to Instruction (RTI) block, for example, we are able to target instruction in a way that aligns with each child’s reading ability.

Similarly, how do you know if your marketing programs are any good? I’ve always defined success of my product positioning, messaging and marketing content is its capacity to yield qualified leads and ultimately translate into revenue.  True enough, but just counting up “leads” is insufficient. Ardath Albee, in her excellent book eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, connects the dots between marketing and revenue with content marketing:

Building online engagement…depends on your ability to develop compelling content…’Engagement bling’ is what I call the positive results your company gains from sustaining trusted engagement with prospects and customers throughout their buying journeys…

The goal of marketing in a complex sale is to generate qualified demand that efficiently transitions to revenues.  And if you want to increase the level of demand for your solutions, it is critical that you enrich the relationships your company establishes with prospects and customers.  Marketing with contagious content operates like a pay-it forward system for your company.  This is because the value your content provides transfers to the value your prospects and customers ascribe to your company (p. 14 & 16 – emphasis added).

Ann Handley and CC Chapman elaborate further in Content Rules:

(A)ccording to Forrester Research, “Long sales cycles and complex purchase decision-making challenge B2B marketers to find the most qualified prospects and to build relationships long before the first sales call.” As a result, you need to embrace a new mind-set – one focused not just on generating leads but on developing a [content] strategy to keep prospects engaged until they’re good and ready to talk to your sales reps. (p. 25)

In other words, the old metaphor of the marketing department “throwing leads over the wall” should be replaced by a metaphor of marketers throwing an entertaining, informative party that prospective customers want to stay at and meet all your friends… who happen to work in the sales department!

There’s plenty more to write about on this topic, but it’s important to note that Northwood Elementary is taking an innovative approach in how student progress is being measured (its Response to Instruction block noted above, as opposed to, say, grades – a flawed, lagging indicator).  Similarly, marketing programs should be judged not just on a flawed measure such as the number of “leads” who, for example, opened an email link, but based on the quality and duration of the engagement of prospects to “keep them at the party.”

The staff goals of Northwood Elementary to engage and help their students succeed bear close similarities with the goals of effective marketers, working to engage and help their prospects succeed with your products. Class dismissed!

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Be a Dogged (Not Dog!) Product Marketer/Product Manager

Play the Product Marketing Game Like a Chess Grandmaster

“Missionary” Technology Really Requires a Technology Evangelist

Businesses: Don’t be a Gorilla or Eagle… Be a Crow

The good old “800 pound gorilla” metaphor came up in recent conversation, reminding me of a clever article I read a few years ago on the subject of animal metaphors, which are all too common in business-speak.

This company or that company is the “800 pound gorilla.” Another company might say it “strives to be an eagle in its industry.” And infamous ex-Sunbeam CEO “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap,  who fired scores of workers with raw impunity, was partial to the mighty lion, adorning his office with a huge lion image, in honor of its predatory, eat-or-be-eaten carnivorousness.

I say, forget all of those animal metaphors. Instead, companies should strive to be the crow of their industry.

Continue reading

Channeling 37Signals (and Kathy Sierra): Beating the Competition by Underdoing the Competition

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler. – Albert Einstein

I’ve been reading Rework by 37Signals founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. The book is loaded with wise, relentlessly succinct and deliberately sharply-written advice to succeed in business in a web-enabled world. 

There are plenty of insights in Rework worthy of several blog entries, but one that especially jumped out at me was Jason Fried’s and David Heinemeier Hansson’s advice to “underdo the competition.” This is also one of the blunt implorements on the back cover, including: Emulate drug dealers(!) Pick a fight(!) Happily, each is elaborated upon in the book to successfully deliver a salient point.

As for underdoing the competition:

Instead of entering into a “one-upping, Cold War mentality” with competitors, “do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problem and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition.”  (Rework, p. 144) …

In the end, it’s not worth paying much attention to the competition anyway…Focus on competitors too much and…(y)ou wind up offering your competitor’s products with a different coat of paint. (p.148)

Simplicity is clearly a strong product differentiator.

As product examples proving their point, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson point to the increasing popularity of plain-vanilla fixed-gear bicycles that are cheap, easy to ride, and require less maintenance, as well as the Flip, a best-selling compact camcorder with no bells or whistles – except that the market has decided “ultra simplicity” is the one bell/whistle they really need.

Actually, I found an example of my own while looking for a web-based to-do application. There are plenty of fine (and free) online organizers out there, but the one I settled upon was perhaps the simplest one available: TeuxDeux by “studio-mates swissmiss and Fictive Kin.”

Continue reading

The Power of Critical Thinking in Marketing (or: Devil’s Advocate, Get Thee Behind Me!)

I read a great blog entry entitled Critical Thinkers vs. Critics by Mark Logic CEO Dave Kellogg. (Quick aside: Any blog by a CEO/Chairman/Founder that is regularly updated and features plenty of wisdom, wit and insight is evidence that company has a competitive advantage in leadership. Good on you, Dave.)

Dave Kellogg raises the important difference between a “critic,” a person who criticizes everything, generally without proposed solutions” and a “critical thinker,” a person who attacks ideas in the spirit of making them better, and who can hold both sides of an argument in their head at once.”

Point very well taken. I’d additionally define a critical thinker as someone who will also not allow herself/himself or others to fall victim to “paralysis by analysis.” Even more importantly, by virtue of being unafraid of taking a hard, unbiased look at issues and listening to others’ opinions, concerns and doubts, and in fact welcoming such open discussion, a critical thinker is also an optimist by nature.

I like how Dave assesses the level of critical thinking applied in the crafting of successful marketing positioning (emphasis added):

Critics “attack” other people’s ideas but not their own. Critical thinkers “attack” everyone’s ideas, especially their own. For certain disciplines (e.g., marketing positioning) one of my primary tests is not to examine the substance of a proposal, but instead to examine the critical thinking in the process that led to it [for example, reviewing a marketing proposal recommending a new company tag-line]:

  • How many other tag-lines did you think of?
  • Why didn’t you pick tag-line 3?
  • Did you consider tag-lines based on the higher-level notion of satisfaction?
  • What’s the argument against the tag-line you’re proposing?
  • What are the direct and indirect competitors tag-lines and their relative strengths and weaknesses?

As David Ogilvy once said: “good writing is slavery” (see page 33 of Ogilvy on Advertising). So is good positioning. And it comes from critical thinking and plenty of it.

I think delving into the multiple meanings of Dave’s word “attack” is important here, too.  A critical thinker will indeed “attack” an idea much differently than a critic. There is a world of difference between “attack,” as in how a critical thinker will “earnestly initiate” a rigorous debate of an idea, in such a comment as, “The European sales team will have concerns about the time they will need to devote to the new product. Let’s work out how we can address that concern and ensure they will have time to complete their deals in the pipeline,” versus how a critic might truly “attack,” as in, “beat down,” an idea with a discussion-dampering remark:  “Oh, the European sales team always marches to their own drummer. Mark my words, they will ignore the new product. I’ve seen it before.”

Dwight Schrute-A good example of an office criticHow to effectively deal with the “critic” is addressed in author Bruna Martinuzzi’s article on optimism, which she kindly allowed me to republish on this blog. Bruna accurately identifies the behavior of the “critic,” aka “devil’s advocate,” as symptomatic of general pessimism, which can discourage critical thinking:

Continue reading

Got $1 Billion? “Differentiate and Thrive” – Part 2

Product Positioning MessageLast post I mentioned how helpful Jack Trout’s book Differentiate or Die has been for me in developing unique product positioning. Now on to the actual construction of a positioning message.

Product management author Alyssa Dver who has spoken at a number of BPMA events over the years offered this advice during a guest presentation on effective communication for product managers:

Alyssa Dver presented the following sample template to build your own short but sweet product message:

“(Your Company) develops (describe product) that (describe benefit of using). Unlike other solutions, our product (compare to the competition, your unique selling proposition).”

Alyssa Dver went further, offering excellent advice on the actual verbal communication of the positioning message / unique selling proposition. I have found Alyssa’s attention-commanding “flag and flank” strategy very useful during live presentations with large audiences.

Product Managers should also be ready to interject ‘quotables’ – statistics, reference stories, etc. – designed to validate the product message. One especially effective speaking tactic Alyssa Dver recommended to command attention to such quotables is that of “flag and flank.” First, “flag” to your audience that you are about to say something very important (“What I’m about to say is the most important fact about XYZ product”). Follow this by the message you want noticed, and “flank” that message with a concluding comment (“I hope you understand; that is really an important fact”).

Another highly attended BPMA meeting featured SolidWorks founder Jon Hirschtick. His special presentation was entitled Billion Dollar Business Plans. Did that get your attention? 😉

Jon Hirschtick discussed his lessons learned on markets and buying, market risks, product positioning, product design and business plans themselves. These lessons led Jon Hirschtick to go from his first product effort, DesignView, with total sales of $1 million to SolidWorks, which has tallied well over $1 billion in cumulative revenue.

Developing an effective positioning message was a keystone of Jon Hirschtick’s presentation:

Jon shared clear and direct advice on getting product positioning right, including focusing on a strong position statement using this suggested template:

“For (target customers) who (have the following problem), my product (name) is a (product category) that provides (key capabilities). Unlike (reference competitor), our product (key point of differentiation).”

For SolidWorks, Jon said, the positioning statement was: “For engineers who need to move to 3D CAD, Solid Works is a 3D CAD system that costs only $4K, unlike Pro/Engineer, ours is an easy to use windows program.” Definitely a very solid elevator pitch, and the elevator has not yet reached the second floor!

These are two resources I go back to again and again when developing effective product positioning statements for collateral, presentations and webcasts. I hope you find them useful too.