Product Marketing is not like “Field of Dreams”

ghostfield

In the movie “Field of Dreams” (for those of you old enough to have seen it), a farmer hears a ghostly voice saying “Build it and he will come”, which eventually prompts him to build a baseball stadium that brings the ghosts of former baseball players out of the cornfield.

I often use this story to explain to Product Managers or Product Marketing Managers about the fallacy behind building something and expecting the market to respond.  If you build it, or if you promote it, they may NOT come if you don’t address a very clear pain or problem.

One of the hardest things for PMs and PMMs to do is to get the pulse of the market to see how receptive it is to a product or solution that you are trying to put out there.  And if you do build something, and they don’t come, the natural thing to do is to blame sales. Meanwhile, they are blaming you for not understanding what the market wants.  And you both blame Marketing for not “generating demand”.

The reality is, every successful business or product is based on a simple premise (for the most part).  Find a problem, solve a problem, take that solution to market.

But if you build a great product (quality wise), if you do all the best practices in product marketing and marketing to promote it, and if your sales guys are good pitchmen, you will still fail if you have missed the target of what the market really wants or needs.

So what do you do as a PM / PMM professional?

If you created something slightly off target, you probably have a small window to adjust. Look at what your successful competitors are doing as an example.

But if you created something way off target – you don’t have a marketing problem, you have a market problem.  And it’s time to look for another job or another market.

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Love Your Product Fans – And Your Critics!

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Product Managers (and start-up CEOs for that matter) sometimes fall into a problem one of my mentors described as “falling in love with your product”.  You think the widget-a-majig you’ve built is so cool everyone’s got to love it. And you tend to neglect critical product or marketing input.

This is a recipe for ultimate failure.

This is especially true in the early stages of a new product or company.

As one of my coworkers (Ben) and veteran of many start-ups told me, “When you have a new idea or technology product, there is a small segment of your market that will try anything new.”

There’s always some tech renegade at both small and established companies that may buy into what you are selling.  And they’ll try it.  And even pay for it – at least for a while.  They are risk takers by nature.  They are the “early adopters” in Geoffrey Moore’s chasm model. And yes, they are important and vocal champions early in the product life cycle.

And they can be your worst enemy because with them you may hear more praise than criticism, and you may miss key challenges your product has to overcome.

The problem early adopters and fans they don’t represent the bulk of your market – the mainstream and late adopters.  These are the guys who are more critical, more selective, more cautious.  And it is their input that you should seek as early as possible – even if it means taking a few lumps.

At one of my companies, an industry analyst repeatedly warned us that we occupy a niche that may be too small to sustain.  That we were perceived as a feature in a broader solution and not a full solution.   And while doing everything an analyst suggest is not how I would run a business, ignoring such criticisms is also not wise.

So keep your best customers and fans close.  But don’t neglect your critics – because overcoming the problems they pose is key to your long-term success.

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Product Management vs. Product Marketing in the “Product Supply Chain”

farm-to-fork

So some of you looking at careers paths may be faced with the question of whether or not you are or want to be a Product Manager or a Product Marketing Manager.

You can certainly Google this for an “expert” answer, but some colleagues once gave me simple analogies that I think work well.

“A Product Manager is a marketing oriented technologist, and a Product Marketing Manager is a technology-savvy marketer.”

“A Product Manager helps get product on the shelf, and a Product Marketing Manager helps get products off the shelf.”

This last analogy is appealing to me because early in my career I was concerned with all things supply chain related in consumer product manufacturing and distribution industries.

So you can imagine in a small business a “product” – say specialty beef jerky – could be handcrafted and distributed by just one person.  But as the business grew into jerky of different flavors and packaging quantities, and demand required different production methods, no one would think this is a one-person operation anymore.  You need multiple people for your “farm to fork” supply chain.

At a minimum, you need people who are experts in sourcing quality materials (beef, spices) at reasonable cost to make products.  And you need someone who knows how to distribute the products to wholesalers and retailers.  Then you need someone who knows how to advertise and market the product to the consumer.

Understanding these basic ideas is important not only in your own career path, but in the types of people you have to hire if you are in a senior management role.  So it may not be reasonable to expect your Product Marketing Manager to know the secret formula for your beef jerky.  And don’t expect your Product Manager to necessarily know how to package your product, or what stores to place it in.

Farm to fork sounds simple.  It ain’t.

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Does Brand Matter for Growing Tech Firms?

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Branding.  For you cowboys, I am not talking about cattle.

The question is, when does it start to matter for smaller, growing technology firms?  Does it only matter for product companies? What about services companies?  Or you could argue that with SaaS, PaaS and IaaS, won’t everyone be in the “services” business?

When I introduce this concept to Exec management – that branding and brand personality matters – I usually don’t get resistance.  But sometimes you do get a bit of “deer in the headlights” about what it all means in terms of how you would go about defining or redefining a company’s “brand personality”.  This is where analogies help.

I tell the story of that great guru of branding – Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold came to the U.S in 1968 seeking fame and fortune as a bodybuilder.  But to pay the rent he and a friend formed a bricklaying company.  The company took off when he re-branded himself as “World Renown Austrian Stone Masons”.

Now I think laying bricks in Austria is pretty much the same as in California, but to the rich folks in San Fernando Valley, it sounded like something exotic and desirable. Of course the 1971 earthquake helped.

Anyways, Arnold used the profits from his business to make his fortune as a bodybuilder, movie star, and eventually governor of “Ka-li-phorn-ia” (we won’t discuss how he has since destroyed his own brand since then).

That analogy served as a good ice breaker to conduct a “branding and messaging” exercise with Execs that created good raw input for me to feed to creative consultants in the process of helping me re-brand and re-position a company.

What else did I do in the exercise?  Well, maybe we’ll leave that for another blog.

 

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The Software and IT Business – Simplified

Sometimes, guys, simple is best.

business-simple

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You Got a Public Customer Article Out … Now What?

With lawyers (i.e. people paid to say “no”) ruling PR with an iron hand these  days, it’s getting harder and harder to get articles or earned media where your latest big happy customer is named publicly.  Some days it feels like winning the Boston Marathon when you get a story out like this.

There will be some people in your company who recognize what you just accomplished and give you some credit (write that down for when annual review time comes around). But just when you start to feel good about yourself, you are likely to run into some “glass is half empty” people.  They will say things like:

“Well, the customer really didn’t give a strong endorsement in the article”, or “That must have been really easy to get since we made the customer so happy.”

Well, first of all, ignore all those pessimistic f***kers.

But if you’ve really done your prep and homework, the did not stop at the article in terms of how you’ve leveraged this customer currency.  Chances  are, if the article is nice, the customer has been conditioned to do a little more for you – especially if it makes them or their company look good.

Here’s some other ideas you should have planned or (or can try to follow up with):

  • Article Reprint – for your e-mail marketing campaign; this is prime MOFU (middle of the funnel) content.
  • Customer focused webinar (doing a webinar without a customer is like doing a painting on canvas with only white paint).  Don’t forget to set it up for replay.
  • Slideshare that baby – get that content from the webinar out there on slideshare or any number of other places); make sure you give it a good title for SEO.
  • Case Study – hey, it doesn’t have to be 20 pages; these days people like 3-5 page case studies (unless you are talking about a very technical subject).    If the customer needs you to write it for them to edit and approve, by all means take them up on it.

I am probably missing a bunch of other ways to repurpose the content, but the bottom line is, you’ve just struck gold.  Spread the wealth and make it last.

 

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The Democratization of Knowledge – how this Impacts Product Marketing

There has been a lot of debate on how to use and measure the impact of social media in B2B marketing. Other than the fact that Facebook is probably a waste of time, there is still little consensus on the impact of Twitter, LinkedIn and other, more industry-targeted options (that probably ultimately want to get bought by LinkedIn).

There have been some success stories with the ability to target LinkedIn ads and track conversions or at the very least, inquiries. And many people leverage corporate Twitter accounts to promote a new piece of content or a key press release (the challenge there of course is you have to have a large following or an ecosystem of media personalities with large followings willing to retweet your post).

But I think we are missing the big picture here if we focus solely on just a metrics approach to understanding the impact. The real story is the democratization of knowledge.
We are living at a time when the internet gives us more access – directly and indirectly – to knowledge than ever before. If you child’s math teacher isn’t up to snuff these days, Khan Academy is a great resource, as is simply checking out videos on YouTube.

If you’re a marketing professional and you have questions about content marketing, or different marketing strategies and tactics, there are a number of places to look for information and engage your peers – most commonly LinkedIn groups, which include:

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Network
B2B Technology Marketing
High Tech Product Marketing
Product Marketing Managers
Content Marketing Academy

LinkedIn allows you to join up to 50 groups.  Take advantage of this!

And that includes groups related to your target market – whatever it is. In your quest to understand the market, you cannot ignore key discussions and topics going on in key LinkedIn groups. They are no longer related to the rants of jobs seekers. There are real discussions that you should be aware of even if you don’t always chime in. It’s an important aspect of market exposure and presence that cannot be ignored in most tech-related industries.

And while all this might not lead to a cascade of trackable leads and conversions, it does open up opportunities for showing thought leadership and engaging with others around the world that may have the same problem that you are trying to solve in marketing, product marketing, or product management.

OK, so there is one penalty. After you join a group you will no doubt start receiving curated daily e-mail digests of group activity. And that may start to crowd your already overloaded mailbox. The solution is to go to the group page, click the little “i” for “information and settings”, and change your settings to either get e-mails only weekly or not at all.

You have very little to lose and a world of knowledge (and potentially key contacts and job opportunities) to gain. So let me channel the Scotts lawn guy and say “Feed your brain! Feed it!”

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