Archive for August, 2008

Aug 26

Posted by Jim

Posted in Clients, Marketing

Client News: Involver brings micro-lending to Facebook and MySpace

Today Involver announced they introduced over 100,000 people on Facebook and MySpace to micro-lending with Kiva.org, and thousands are sharing the message within their personal network.

Involver is using its video campaign platform to bring important, world changing content to hundreds of thousands of people on social networks. Working with organizations like Save Darfur and Kiva.org, Involver is delivering important messages to an audience that is largely unfamiliar with these causes.

Kiva chose the Involver video campaign platform to tap into Facebook and MySpace, attracting a new audience to their person-to-person micro-lending website. Kiva understands the power of connecting people for a common cause, and hopes to empower members of social networks to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.

Congratulations go out to Involver on another successful campaign!

Aug 22

Posted by David

Posted in Marketing

Marketing Consumer Tech: Microsoft is a good example… of a bad example

Microsoft has an image problem. Vista is flagging badly, and has been almost since it first launched. The Mac vs. PC ads make them look wonky and ridiculous. They are losing market share to Apple, more every day. Our office now consists entirely of Mac users. One year ago today, it would have been the opposite (or at least half and half.) It’s no longer just college students buying Macs.

No one WANTS Vista. Some actively try to avoid it, and others accept it in a desultory and resigned fashioned, but no one seeks it out. No one’s excited to own Windows. They might be excited to own a new PC or notebook, but no one’s excited about their new Windows operating system.

OK. Let’s put ourselves in Microsoft’s shoes. Our product stinks, but we still have more money than god. (Everyone keeps buying MS Office, thank the stars) What do we do? We launch a marketing campaign. How do we do it? Do we seek out the edge? Look to be non-conforming? Try to explore what it is that HAS made us successful with consumers, and try to identify with them on that basis? No. We bring in a celebrity spokesperson. Sigh.

John Paczkowski wrote about Microsoft’s intentions to bring in Jerry Seinfeld (along with ex-CEO and MS founder Bill Gates) to spearhead a campaign about Microsoft. I heartily agree with John’s assessment that this “does more to illustrate the sad differences between the two companies than the “Mac vs. PC” ads it’s designed to combat.” This campaign smacks of desperation.

Harry McCracken from Technologizer also wrote a great piece about this topic, a list of his thoughts regarding a campaign which he freely admits neither he (nor anyone else) has yet seen. No 9 on his list spoke strongly to me, and was the impetus for this post. Harry writes:

9. “Windows, Not Walls?” It’s hard to gauge what that slogan means until you see the ads. (That may not be a good sign: Maxwell House doesn’t need to explain “Good to the Last Drop” to anybody.) At first blush, it sounds a little geeky. What are the walls? Who erected them? Apple? The Web? Do normal people worry about technological walls, or know what they are?”

I think Harry is dead-on. A slogan’s meaning should be abundantly evident and crystal clear. When you’re putting together an ad campaign that’s supposed to change / alter / affect / engage / convince and otherwise speak to a mass group of consumers, you should *not* use techy jargon, language that has no meaning or frame of reference to most people. I can only assume (I, like everyone else, have not seen this campaign, and so this IS an assumption which I may have to retract) that “walls” refer to a “walled garden.” Apple is a famous example of a walled garden, a company, ecosystem, and/or series of products wherein third parties can not tamper, hack, or build upon it (except with limited 3rd party exceptions (like software products.))

This jargon does not make sense to most people. It does not pull people in, make them feel connected, or invite them to share in the experience. Apple’s Mac vs. PC campaign with Justin Long and John Hodgman is edgy, funny, silly, etc. Under no circumstances will can Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates talking about computers be edgy, funny, or silly. Apple has not only developed a product that makes people feel excited to use it, they’ve marketed in a way that attracts and energizes their customers. The way this new MS campaign is being described makes it sound like Microsoft is hell bent on doing the exact opposite.

Microsoft has an ever-shrinking audience. They’ve had the lion’s share of the market for many years, and it’s hard to keep growing indefinitely, but they’re getting beaten up in the press and in the marketplace. This is well known, well traveled territory. Everyone knows that they’re flagging badly, and it’s clear to many of us that Jerry Seinfeld, celebrity spokesperson, is not the solution. Great. So what SHOULD Microsoft do?

It depends on their goals. Do they want to re-capture lost customers? Do they want to attract a younger demographic? Lots of Windows users are angry, tired and frustrated, and that’s what caused them to switch to Macs. That was my experience, after a terrible time with a new Vista laptop. But Macs aren’t perfect either, and lots of ex-Windows users might switch back to Windows if they felt a.) that the product spoke to them, and B.) that it was reliable and effective.

In my opinion, Microsoft should do one of two things:

1. They should be interesting. They should avoid the average and the retired. Build a campaign around stability and success. You want a celebrity spokesperson? Try Michael Phelps. Not Jerry Seinfeld. But better yet, forget celebrity spokespeople. Bring in a new “face” of Windows, someone young, attractive, and interesting. The Windows McDreamy (but not actually Patrick Dempsey.)

2. Be totally un-original, get into the trenches, and lampoon the apple ads. These should not be mean. They should be friendly, but assertive. Microsoft should be fighting back. They should be doing market research, figure out where Apple has weaknesses (and they do: security, quality control, price, etc.) Apple is obviously targeting them. While I don’t advocate being petty, I do think it’s OK to give someone a taste of their own medicine. Tackle it head on, people will respect you more. If it’s done right. ;)

It’s probably a moot point. Microsoft is too ponderous and large to make an agile decision, and they’re certainly not listening to me. But it seems clear that they are receiving (and listening to) bad advice. I don’t see ANY appeal to this campaign’s messaging, slogan, or it’s representatives. I think Microsoft needs to stop and reevaluate. Who are your customers? What does your product do for them. How do you want to position yourself in the market? How do you want to message yourself to those consumers. When Microsoft was the only game in town, a lot of that didn’t matter. Monopolies have their advantages (as long as you’re the monopolizer.) Microsoft now faces ever-growing competition, and they need to re-think all those strategies. Otherwise they will continue to bleed users.

I still use PC’s, though my notebook is a Mac. I’m writing this post on a desktop PC I built myself only 7 or 8 months ago. It’s running XP.

Aug 21

Posted by David

Posted in Clients, Outreach

Client News: 12seconds is releasing their API

Today 12seconds released their API, allowing 3rd parties to access and share content from the 12seconds.tv website.  Three partners who are using the API and integrating 12seconds into their products are joining the announcement today, including Tweetdeck, Phreadz, and Blippr.

As with the last announcement, we decided that a blog post was more in keeping with the flavor and style of the company than issuing a traditional press release.  We embrace both traditional and non-traditional means of promoting our clients, and this is a great example.  You don’t always have to issue a press release.

12seconds is a scrappy, under-funded team.   They’re wonderful, kind, silly, smart, earnest people who have made a killer product one a shoestring budget, and we’re glad to be working with them.  If you aren’t able to wangle an invitation to join their private alpha elsewhere, try sending an email to 12seconds@stagetwoconsulting.com, and we’ll see if we can help.

Coverage so far (will be updated throughout the day):

Techcrunch

Inquisitr

VentureBeat

CNET

Mashable

ReadWriteWeb

Aug 20

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing

The Embargo Conundrum

Louis Gray wrote a great piece today on “Why the Embargo Process Is Broken and Why We Still Need It” and I thought I’d share some additional insight into the conversation.  I think his headline is dead-on accurate, the process is fundamentally flawed, yet essential for things to “work”.  I’d say in an ideal world, we wouldn’t need such a thing as an embargo, but that world is nowhere near around the corner. This goes back to a post I wrote recently on why “PR Sucks” – the incentives today are in the wrong place.

First, we have a category of blogs while I’ll call “newsmakers”.  The newsmakers are highly incented to be first to cover a story because it gives them additional credibility with their readers.  This is understandable, except the newsmakers rarely want to cover content which they are not first to cover.  Also understandable (albeit to a lesser extent, after all news is news), but it creates a very complex scenario to a company who is trying to get media coverage.  Basically they are forced into the position of having to choose one outlet to get an “exclusive”, thus frustrating all other outlets, or running the risks associated with embargoed content (including early leaks, broken embargoes, or simply disinterest in the story, to name a few).

The next problem is the fact that the newsmakers don’t want to write “echo chamber” content.  In other words, if a story’s been well-covered by 3, 4, or more of their competition, they are unlikely to be as interested, and will often pass on a story.  This is again understandable, although in my opinion they do shortchange their readership by taking this approach (I believe that if one assumes that their readers aren’t loyal, and creates content assuming their readers aren’t loyal, over a period of time their fate is sealed with an unloyal readership).

Question: So what’s to be done about it?

Answer: Not much.

This is, in my eyes, where relationships and approach matter.  I think it’s unfair to assume “bloggers don’t keep embargoes”. I think it’s also unfair to send anyone a piece of news along with the statement that “this is embargoed” prior to asking the journalist if they agree to receive the news beforehand! As we (and others) frequently preach: build relationships on a one-on-one basis over time.  Don’t mass-email, don’t assume, don’t blast, don’t spam, etc.

My biggest advice to the companies with news, product launches, etc is to give yourself enough time in the process to properly interact with the media.  If you are doing a simple update, such as new personnel, upgraded/enhanced features, minor partnerships, you can probably work with a few days notice.  If you have a brand new product, service, etc to launch, you may want much more time than that, as you’re going to have demos (which may require shipping things to people), you’re going to need lots of Q&A, there may be interviews, etc.  And if you haven’t noticed it yet, bloggers, journalists, media, analysts, columnists, whatever you want to call them are busy people.

Respect their schedules, respect the needs of their publication, and respect the content they are more likely to care about (because it’s comments like these that drive the point home).  In return, your embargoes will get respected, and your pitches will get respected.  It’s a two-way street.

Aug 19

Posted by David

Posted in Clients, Outreach

Client Update: DeviceVM announces Series C Funding and Splashtop expansion

DeviceVM is a long standing client, and their product, Splashtop, is one we’re very proud to represent.  Splashtop is a computer environment that’s embedded on various PC’s and other devices.  The main value proposition is in getting users online REALLY fast.  Seconds after hitting the power button you can be browsing the web, making Skype calls, IM’ing with friends, etc.  It’s also a secure environment (being Linux-based there are very few viruses floating around that affect it), and has a very green component.  Because it turns on and off so quickly, there’s no reason to leave it running 24 hours / day. (That’s what I do with my desktop PC at home.  Shame on me.)

Today DeviceVM issued two press releases.  One is regarding their newest product, the ASUS Eee Box, a desktop version of the wildly popular Eee PC, the low-cost, light-weight laptop.   The Eee Box is the most recent product with embedded Splashtop, and their first desktop.  It’s a “Nettop” computer, and perfect for Splashtop.  (On ASUS products, Splashtop has been branded Express Gate.)

The other announcement revolves around funding.  Splashtop has been a consumer hit, and DeviceVM is working with top tier OEM’s and PC manufacturers like ASUS and Hewlett Packard.  DeviceVM can see that demand for Splashtop is growing worldwide, and they’re scaling up in tandem with that demand.  As a result they’ve raised a series C round of funding, lead by New Enterprise Associates (NEA) with existing investors (like DFJ Dragon, Storm Ventures, Larry Augustin and others) also participating.

Coverage so far (will be updated throughout the day):

The Inquisitr

JK On The Run

Mashable

VentureBeat

Ubergizmo

Crunchgear

Aug 13

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing, Stage Two

Don't Be Good, Be Great!

I’ve written before on the importance of understanding competitive differentiators, a post where I made several comments about how having a good user interface (UI) isn’t enough to compete. I thought I’d circle back to the topic and add some more thoughts.

First and foremost – having a good UI is important and really can make or break a product (TiVo vs Replay, Slingbox vs LocationFreeTV, iPhone vs every other phone ever made). Part of the question at hand is when your UI is an essential component to building a great product. Google, for example, launched with a fairly simple UI, and has for the most part never changed it. Why? Because building a “great” search engine isn’t about UI, it’s about search results.

I’m a big fan of FriendFeed these days, I enjoy the conversations I have there and find it a useful place to get news articles I might otherwise have missed. But FriendFeed (FF) isn’t great right now, it’s just good. You can tell this through a few means, including the fact that users continue to enhance FF via external user scripts while the site itself has only seen modest changes over time. It’s not great because new users continuously ponder what they’ll get out of it and how they’ll use it (instead of just figuring it out right off the bat). It doesn’t stop me from using the product, but it’s my assertion that until it’s great, there’s room for competition – not a good thing for a small startup, no matter how much techie buzz they have.

Michael Arrington wrote a thoughtful post on PR today, in which he writes

So back to practical advice: what do you do if you’re a startup looking for help in getting the word out about your company? First off, don’t hire PR help until the volume of inbound requests by press are simply too much to handle without help. That’s way down the line for most companies.

I commented there that this is a chicken-and-egg issue. How do you get inbound requests without feeding the conversation somewhere? Granted, if you are a well-known figure in the tech world this could easily apply, as your “followers” would pick up on what you are doing. But that is doing PR. If I’m BFF’s with a famous blogger, and I mention I’m starting something new, and he/she blogs about it – I just did PR. Like it or not.

But to Michael’s point, as well as to what Robert Scoble blogged about yesterday, truly inspired products don’t need the same help from PR that others need. When we talk about Bug Labs to open source advocates or gadget enthusiasts, they love the story, it’s not a “pitch”. When we show Boxee to a digital home or media center person, it’s not a “pitch”, it’s a genuinely interesting story. These are examples of great products, but they’re also examples of domain relevance, a key component to any good product marketing strategy.

As I mentioned yesterday, the barriers to entry for starting a new company are negligible. Between $7.99 domains, Google hosted Web Apps, Amazon storage, etc, you can launch companies for dozens of dollars. This plus the swell of 20-somethings coming out of school (or b-school) and who’d rather start their own company than work for someone else is leaving us with a deluge of new start-ups. And with an increase of quantity, it is certainly hard to imagine the quality level is not dropping. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t hear of somebody trying to do something that either sounds like an incredibly tiny niche play or a “me-too” idea.

Being great is hard. But it’s worth it. At Stage Two we work with all of our clients on what we call “product polish”. Our team has a ton of experience in developing award-winning products, and the combination of our expertise along with getting a “fresh eye” on a product tends to produce great results. I like to remind our clients that they have their friends and family to pat them on the back and tell them what a great product/service they’ve built. They hire us to help find the holes in the vision, and transform their good concepts into great end-user offerings.

Aug 12

Posted by Jeremy

Posted in Marketing

Why Does PR Suck? Blame the Internet

Once upon a time there was an easy world where the word “media” had less than a few dozen definitions. We consumed our news in the mornings from our papers, in the evenings from local and national outlets, and on the weekends in the pages of magazines. Then the Internet reared its ugly head and virtually every established industry was disrupted. But I’d dare say virtually no sector was impacted by the Internet as much as the various content industries were (or should I say are?).

Huge publishers now do battle with individual bloggers to create compelling content and attract wide audiences. News outlets today lag behind Twitter for reporting on-the-scene events. As the costs of publishing dropped to near-zero, the control has shifted from producer to consumer, and the quantity of “reporters” has increased into uncountable numbers. If you have a cell phone you can make news.

But that’s only the first piece of the problem. Rising up along side the increase in quantity of news sources is the quantity of mechanisms to consume the news. Content aggregators such as TechMeme combined with feed readers and customized home pages have further empowered the individual to get what they want, how they want, and when they want it.

And thanks to “Internet time” we want it all, and we want it now. And there’s no going back.

So in a world where the quantity of “target publications” is virtually unlimited, and they are all fighting with each other to find “scoops” that are legitimately interesting to their readership, is there any real surprise that the job of delivering news content to news makers is more challenging than ever before? Believe it or not, I can compound the problem further by pointing out that publications (which I’ll use generically to include blogs, news outlets, etc) face a problem where their readership is less loyal than ever before. But wait, I’m not done, we also have the fact that with no barriers to entry, building new companies, technologies, services, and products is so inexpensive that there are more new “things” adding to the mix at all times (and as Robert Scoble blogged, not enough good ones).

Marshall Kirkpatrick today posed the question “Does Good Tech Need PR?” It’s a good question (and a good post), but I don’t think it’s exactly the right question. The question we need to answer is, in today’s world where “if it didn’t happen in the past 3 hours, it’s old news,” what exactly is PR?

I believe that PR is the process of communicating a message from a company to the public. For some companies this is about press releases, embargoes, expensive dinners, tightly controlled messaging, and other well-detailed, perfectly executed plans. To others, this is about purchasing media lists and blanketing them with messages, hoping for a certain hit rate. Still others consider this through vaguely defined terms such as community, transparency, and social tools.

The real answer is it’s all of the above, strategically designed to meet the specific needs of the particular company and product. PR firms who aren’t adapting will fade out. Buzzword merchants who sell empty promises will flare out. This is a very fun time to be in marketing. There’s more opportunity to try new approaches to “PR” than ever before. Build your strategy, review the tools at your disposal, try a few things, observe, learn, react, repeat.