Archive for 'Marketing'
There was a little bit of a brouhaha through the blogosphere last week when a report was published effectively stating that “influencers” don’t have as much clout as some think. Two highlights:
self-described social media users put far more trust in friends and family online than in popular bloggers, or strangers with 10,000 MySpace “friends.”
“This shows that popularity doesn’t always equate to credibility,” said Robert Hutton, executive vice president and general manager at Pollara. “Marketers might have to reconsider who the real influencers are out there.”
The last statement is the most important. If you are in marketing or PR, and you think “influencers” is equivalent to “top bloggers” then I have a tip for you: you’re doing it wrong.
PR exec Steve Rubel comments that “trust” is a key factor, while Susan Mernit and Andy Beal both dive in a little into the relationship/reputation side of the analysis. But John Furrier provokes the right question: What Does Influence Mean?
In my eye, influence is based completely topically. For example, as a 10-year veteran of consumer electronics product development and marketing, my peers tend to trust my opinions in the gadgety/marketingy space. I’m always the go-to guy for buying a device, so the last three friends of mine who have purchased plasmas have all bought the one I recommended for them (this Panasonic, or its derivative models). These same friends put a little less stock into what I say when it comes to which club to go to, or where you can buy the coolest shoes. My influence in those areas wanes, and this is true for pretty much everyone.
So if your PR/outreach strategy when it comes to influencers is:
- Decide to target influencers
- Contact the entire TechMeme leaderboard
- Expect wonderful results
In reviewing the second step above, again, you are doing it wrong. ALL influencer outreach programs MUST BE targeted specifically to the product/service you are marketing. 100% of the time, or bust. I don’t care if you are marketing a Web site or a new kind of soup, there is no one list for all needs.
TechCrunch50 is the sequel to last year’s TC40 conference, which at the time was promoted fairly heavily as a “DEMO 2.0″ event, shifting the cost structure from demo-er to attend-ee. This year, the organizers have planted the event squarely on top of the DEMO conference, thus creating a bit of a conflict. But in any conflict comes some opportunity, which I am sure some folks will figure out between now and then. The other aftereffect is creating sufficient confusion and chaos as to cause people to turn away from having to make any choice.
As marketing consultants, people in our field will have quite the interesting challenge for the next few months. We’ll be asked to advise startups as to whether they should:
- Pick TC50
- Pick DEMO
- Pick *both* (you know someone’s gonna try it!)
- Pick neither
Personally, I don’t exactly know right now, but I will say this: I don’t care *who* you are, I don’t like going up against ~110-160 other startups in an attempt to get attention. I hate those odds, which are nowhere near the 1/x that you’d expect them to be. Quite a few of the attendees will likely have pre-existing connections to various media/bloggers in attendance, who will obviously give them the extra bit of attention (nothing wrong with all this, just stating the facts).
I will give this advice right now: if you are a brand-new startup and have NO marketing department and/or PR firm, don’t do either. You’ll have a devil of a time getting anyone’s attention outside of the 6ish minutes you actually get on stage. You’d be better off launching at some quiet time when you can get people to notice you without all the hoopla.
One other major concern I have is the potential for external disruption. This year’s DEMOspring event was somewhat eclipsed by the Yahoo-Microsoft merger talks. So that was 60 companies all getting a fraction of the publicity they had planned on. There are certainly no guarantees in marketing, and the best planned launches never go quite as you’d expect, but can you imagine what would happen if Apple and Facebook teamed up against Google next September 8th? It wouldn’t be pretty.
My best advice at this stage is to think deeply about your plans and needs. Don’t knee-jerk. Don’t follow the wrong trends. If you have a great product, it’ll always be great. How exactly do either of these events benefit your strategic goals? The true costs of either are well higher than the attendance fees, so think a lot before making a final decision. If you are considering either, this is probably one of the more important decisions you’ll make this year. Make it wisely.
Being a PR and Marketing firm, we typically don’t “fly under the radar.” Our goal is to make a lot of noise (at the right time, and in the right way) and get the word out about our clients’ great products and services. However, today we did fly under the radar. By which I mean, we attended Dealmaker Media’s Under The Radar conference in Mountain View, CA.
The conference was great – the folks at DM have got it down to a science. Speakers, moderators, and judges showed up on time (unless their cars broke down) and all the presenting companies had interesting ideas to pitch. We had several different reasons for attending:
- Two of our clients (DeviceVM and kwiry) presented at UTR
- Jeremy moderated two of the panels (and treated the speakers kindly for the most part)
- networking, networking, networking
We are big advocates of industry networking, and conferences like this one are great for that purpose. Founders and employees from dozens of different startup and large companies were in attendance, all with something new to pitch. Some are great, some are terrible, but it’s good to know what’s new and who’s doing it. There’s a great opportunity for business development at these events, and also a great chance to play matchmaker and connect two people that really ought to talk to one another. We like to help out where we can.
In addition to the presenters and attendees, there were also a good swath of media folk in attendance. Rafe Needleman from Webware was there, though he had some car trouble on the way down (bummer Rafe, that really sucks.) Kara Swisher from the WSJ (and other pubs) was there, judging for Jeremy’s panel. And Brad Stone from the NY Times was there as well, helping to judge some of the other presenters.
Last night Dealmaker Media threw a little party in Palo Alto at a restaurant called Zibibbo. We snapped a couple of pics while we were there.
Here’s a picture of Sol from DeviceVM, Cliff from DocSyncer, and some of our friends from Dealmaker Media:
Here’s a self portrait of Sol and myself:
And this is a picture of Ron from kwiry, hanging out with the lovely ladies of Dealmaker Media:
Under The Radar was a great conference because it had just the right combination of factors. There was a variety of interesting startups, a good supply of industry leaders and important members of the media in attendance. The presentations were generally engaging, and fomented lively discussions with both the judges and the audience.
Events like this are both fun and educationall, and can represent a great opportunity for business networking and business development – especially if you pick the right conference.
There’s a big discussion across numerous tech blogs regarding how to run a startup on the cheap (written by Jason Calacanis). One of his suggestions (echoed by Fred Wilson and Pat Phelan) has to do with spending money on PR firms:
Really think about if you need that $15,000 a month PR firm. Perhaps you can get a PR consultant to work on 2-3 projects a year for $10-15k each and save 75%. More PR firms are wasted half the year while you build up your product anyway.
While there’s certainly a lot of truth in this statement, I feel the opening part is being too heavily glossed over, the “really think about” part. Other suggestions, such as “start a blog” or “hire an evangelist” have come up, and while these tactics are certainly important, they are by no means surefire tactics. In fact, treating a marketing plan so lightly is probably a worse course of action than overpaying for lousy PR.
Most PR firms are overpriced, and per Jason’s point, are being paid even when out of action. For a startup, this can be a devastating expense. The smarter thing to do than just writing off PR as a justifiable expense is to spend the money more strategically. For example, you can work with a PR firm on a fixed-time project to help you with your launch, then re-assess your needs.
At Stage Two we offer strategic planning services where we specifically help give companies a marketing plan that they are able to execute upon. This lets some of our clients hire internally more junior-level marketing folks, and we help give them guidance on how to do things right. At the end of the day, it’s far more expensive to make easily avoidable mistakes than it is to “overspend” on PR. The savings you get by bringing on a self-titled expert with no real-world experience will quickly be lost when they mishandle your launch or some other key activity.
No intelligent CEO would staff the engineering department full of junior people who have never built a product before. Why would you do the same thing with your marketing? Don’t overspend, but most importantly don’t underspend either! Make a budget, make a plan, and go do it right.
While I’m definitely not of the mindset that says press releases should be eliminated altogether from modern marketing, I am a believer that some change must occur. My friend and colleague Brian Solis has written numerous times on the topic (here are two great recent examples) of the social media release, which is definitely a concept to watch and nurture. Some companies issue none. Others issue them seemingly constantly. As with all things, the pendulum works better in the middle than at either extreme. But for now I’m going to talk about the over inundation I see too many companies fall too guilty of issuing.
When I was first being exposed to PR firms several years ago, they’d often talk about “creating a regular flow of news” and how important it was to issue releases on a predetermined frequency. At first blush, this makes a ton of sense, as it keeps your company on the radar of the journalists you are targeting. But with any deeper thinking, this strategy should be quickly thrown out the window. It comes with accepting a key flaw in outbound marketing practices: you must start by acknowledging that press releases are noise, and the process of issuing them is creating more noise in a very very noisy place.
As a marketing strategist, I certainly am quick to say press releases are important and remain a valuable tool for communications and outreach. But by accepting the inherent problem of “being noisy” I can craft big picture strategies that make the noise a lot easier to tolerate. And let’s face it, journalists today have such an incredible amount of noise to face that senior writers are putting on Bose Noise-Canceling Headsets just to get through the day (personally I use Shure’s, but that’s a personal preference). The best example I can point to is Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson’s rant against “PR People” last October.
Chris, like many of his peers, was fed up with the noise. But it’s not the general noise of facing press releases and pitches that he and others complain about, it’s the vapid nature of so much of the content. It’s one thing to issue genuine news such as new product releases (or recalls), major technology shifts, executive hirings/firings, etc. It’s another thing to issue a release for any trivial update your company does, just to keep hitting the rhythm of the drum. I’ve seen releases announcing the use of a piece of accounting software, or hiring a new law firm, or the availability of an executive to speak on a given topic. I’m going to pick on a release Epson issued, only because I saw a release of theirs float through last week that was the catalyst for this post (sorry Epson, I like your company, but this is a perfect example). The headline was:
Epson Stylus C120 Chosen for Printing Academy Awards Ceremony Credentials While MovieMate Projects ‘Oscar’s Greatest Moments’
You can read the rest of the release here. While I’m sure Epson is happy to have this designation, I am dismayed that the only way they chose to market the information was via a press release. I can’t imagine ANY publication that would be interested in this news. Well, perhaps “Inside the Academy Awards Productions Weekly” but other than that, it’s just noise. Further, a Google News search seems to have proven me right (it has no results, other than the press release itself).
It’s these abuses of the the system that make the noise unbearable. I truly believe you do your company a huge disservice by issuing these releases, whether you are an internal PR manager or an external agency. Your company’s brand is not enhanced, but is instead tarnished by such activities. Instead of taking mild news (or worse, non-news) and just letting it happen, you attract a negative piece of attention to yourself. And you should stop.
Noise does not make your company look better. There are better and better noise-blocking tools available to reporters, journalists, and bloggers than ever before. You can’t just win by turning up the volume, instead, you need to learn to play better music, and it’s not just about the rhythm section.
I often read about how phenomenal Apple’s marketing team is (writing this during Steve Jobs’ keynote). First, I will agree, they are a great team. But second, and not to take *anything* away from them, it’s fair to say they could pretty much spend 7 hours a day playing Desktop Tower Defense and still get nearly the same results. Apple’s marketing success comes down to 2 main factors: products and mystique.
Products. You can’t market bad products indefinitely. Bad products don’t sell themselves, and fail miserably when it comes to word of mouth. I’ve often blogged about my misery with my Sony Vaio laptop, but it’s a perfect example of this – it’s a bad product, and no amount of cool ads will make that go away. Apple tends to make excellent products with the occasional flub along the way.
In my opinion, Apple’s laptops are the best on the market, both at OS X and Windows. Why? Their engineering team was driven to make the best on the market. Good drivers, good components, etc. Setting the quality bar so high might be costly from an R&D and product management budgetary and resource perspective, but as a result they get products that almost sell themselves. Sure people have the occasional bad experience, but you don’t hear nearly as much about them. Ask around about Vaios and see what people say (it’ll sound something like “great design for a PC, just terrible performance”). Great products result in great buzz (and you don’t even have to stoop for it), and great buzz goes a long long way.
Mystique. Yesterday the blogosphere was abuzz with a rumored (though likely fake) Steve Jobs keynote transcript. Name any other company whose keynote, at any other event, generated so much interest. Having trouble? Nobody cares more about mystique than Apple, and realistically, nobody can pull it off the way Apple can. In fact the only other consumer tech company I can think of who could play this game today is EA. The thing they have in common is a devotion to good products (though in gaming it’s much harder to have the same caliber game after game).
Even before I moved to my MacBook this past year I still liked reading the Jobs keynote transcripts. The mystique is fun, and so little of high tech is really fun anymore (yes, we’re all having a grande old time, but let’s face it, there’s very little “fun” out there). Apple’s gotten so good at building up excitement around their products that even a small server line upgrade got massive attention last week (which I chided them for at the time, which I in turn got chided for – the truth is I have no idea what their intentions were and they probably didn’t really want to mess with CES, but I was there and I was tired and I’m a reactionary guy. sorry.).
There is a third factor in play here as well: everybody else makes it so damn easy for them to look amazing. Sure Dell is trying to get better, and Vaios are pretty sexy-looking, but for the most part, there’s no consumer electronics company nor PC company that pushes the envelope like Apple does. The commitment to excellence is what helps them stand apart, and if others were to truly step up, maybe we’d see a change. But until they do, Apple will continue to enjoy the “perfect storm” they’ve managed to create.
Today, for the first time, Bug Labs issued a press release. Simultaneously, a blog post went up, with virtually identical content. I’ve blogged in the past with my thoughts on the slow demise of the press release as a communications method, but I thought I’d go into more detail for this specific event. First the WHY, then the WHAT/HOW.
Why? Well, we really wanted to get the word out pre-CES that the company has news. Not only is there a CES booth, but we’ve also got a table at the ShowStoppers event (still my favorite “tie-in” event with the big shows). To-date, we’ve used the blog and emails as our only forms of communication. I like blogs and emails because they are inherently two-way communications vehicles, as opposed to press releases, which are outbound only. In fact, prior to this release Bug Labs had received 196 “major” pieces of coverage, not including TV and print publications.
However, our rolodex only goes so far, and word of mouth only gets you so many contacts. Sooner or later, you want to be able to cross the marketing chasm of reaching out beyond your circle of influence. We decided for the thousands of people coming to CES plus several hundred at ShowStoppers, it was important to use a communication method that would hit a wider audience. Thus, the press release.
However, we didn’t do it in a vacuum. In fact, I wrote the blog post first, then turned it into the press release. We also didn’t use a very traditional format, instead kept it like a conversation. If you open both the blog post and release, you can see just how similar they are. Again, in our attempt to have “open marketing” we chose to keep the same information we’d release via our blog as we would in the “official press release”.
Will this help? Not sure. Our news was picked up by Engadget, Gizmodo, Geek.com, and others, but they were all individually briefed anyway. I will come back and report on the results once the show is behind us. While I still don’t feel the press release is “dead”, I am certainly not convinced it’ll make a “huge” difference. Then again, all it takes is one great piece of coverage!
While this blog typically focuses on the marketing of consumer technology, I couldn’t pass up the chance to review what I found one of the most viral and successful marketing campaigns of the year. It applies, in general, to what we do here at Stage Two, as it deals digital downloading, and the concepts set forth could most certainly be adopted by consumer electronic companies.
Unless you were living under a rock for the better part of this year, you would have most certainly heard about British rock band Radiohead’s announcement that they would offer their new album, “In Rainbows” to fans via a ground shattering new business model: Pay What You Want. Fans could download the album for whatever price they deemed worthy, even if that price were FREE.
Radiohead (and their management, more so) harnessed the power of a perfect storm. Consumers have long been suffering the fallout of a death match between an ailing RIAA and the 800 lb. guerilla that is the internet, and their announcement couldn’t have come at a better time. The story was immediately picked up by everyone, from the smallest music/tech blogs to the largest traditional print/television press across the globe, much of it virally. Music fans cheered, the RIAA heralded it as a death knell, and Radiohead basked in the notoriety.
In the weeks after the announcement, however, it turned out that the campaign was, in fact, a giant PR/Marketing stunt. Consumers wondered why the album had been offered in such a low quality bitrate (160 kbps, to be exact). As it turned out, this was due to the fact that Radiohead had been planning on releasing the album in a traditional CD format, (as an $81 super premium box set, no less) all along. Due to the huge buzz created by the campaign, they in fact found themselves in an old fashioned bidding war over the album with major distributors. It was a high-class problem to have and the digital downloads peaked at 1.2 million in October, with the average price paid at approximately $6/download. Although the situation may have left a bad taste in the mouths of some fans, it did little to damage the huge amount of positive coverage they received.
So what is the take away from all of this? Firstly, allowing consumers to decide what they would pay for a product or service takes the power away from the corporation and puts it squarely in their own hands. This is called individuation of consumption (read The Support Economy, by Shoshana Zuboff and James Maxmin, for more on the concept), and addressing it can have giant benefits in relation to customer acquisition and loyalty. It’s a highly innovative concept, and we’re guaranteed to see more companies embracing it in coming years.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, regardless of how exquisitely planned your marketing strategies are, there is always a bit of the ol’ “being in the right place at the right time”. This is not to be confused with luck, and does not mean one cannot plan for it. A company (in this case, Radiohead) can assess the consumer’s pain point (paid vs. free downloads), and wait for the correct “pain apex” (mounting anger towards the RIAA) to offer a solution (Pay What You Want). Regardless of the true intentions of the “In Rainbows” campaign, it set forth a completely new idea for artists (and companies) to address and engage consumers, and I applaud them for their revolutionary and brilliant marketing tactics.
My friend Michael Gartenberg made some comments today regarding the OLPC (one laptop per child) “G1G1″ program. When I was in Boston with Bug Labs last month I had the opportunity to meet with some of the OLPC staff. Great folks, really dedicated to a good cause (which obviously has room for improvement, but it’s better than nothing). While there I made a comment about how I felt the “buy one, give one” is a great starting point, they are missing out on a huge opportunity to raise even more money and awareness.
The current program (which ends on Nov 26, so get moving!) allows anyone in the US or Canada to “purchase” an OLPC (aka XO Laptop) for $399, which automatically donates a second OLPC to someone in need. Very nice. But what about people with a higher net worth, who are interested in supporting the cause with more money? Sure, they can donate more cash, but in my eyes this is a total opportunity to have a big win-win by appealing to ego.
Whether we all like it or not, there’s a certain amount of pride/vanity associated with charitable contributions. There’s a reason most buildings on campuses have names on them, I don’t recall a single class in Anonymous Hall. People like to get a bit of recognition for their charity. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I think the OLPC initiative should support the ability to gain recognition.
My proposed program would have the ability to donate higher amounts, say $2500, $10K, and up. At each plateau you’d give XX laptops to good causes, and you yourself would still get just one. The difference is you’d get a “special” one. The special part? Different colors. For example, instead of the basic green, at $2500 you get a blue one. At $10K it’s purple. At $50K it’s gold. Etc…
This is a very simple win-win in my eyes. It’s a win for OLPC, as they’d likely raise more money from those who have it at their discretion. Further, they’d be doing it with a method that has virtually no impact on their cost structure, it would cost literally pennies more to stock a few extra color chassis (vocab tip of the day: the plural of chassis is… chassis). It’s then a win for those interested in the donations, as they get a little bit of extra recognition for their contribution.
Sure, in an ideal world people would just give whatever they can to support causes. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world with many different motivations, and whether good or bad, I’d rather leverage ego-driven desires if the result is greater altruism.
Welcome to our Web site and blog. As you can see, we’re starting a little sparse and logo-free, but that’s because (a) we’re focused on our clients’ work, and (b) we couldn’t really find a designer we loved. But we didn’t want to let that pesky little detail of “can’t find a good logo” slow us down (any more than it already has, that is).
As an intro, I’m Jeremy, the founder of Stage Two Consulting. You can read more about me and the rest of the team here, but we’re basically a small group of marketing folks here to help consumer technology companies. In a nutshell, we focus on marketing as it pertains to product, strategy and communications. We’ve got a strong understanding of how marketing has dramatically changed since the 90’s, and are here to help bridge that gap for companies with good ideas or products and how to best reach the modern consumer. Read here to learn more about our services.
This blog is going to be our vehicle for talking about consumer technology marketing. We’ll put up case studies about tactics that were (and were not) successful for our clients, and also openly share a lot of our general philosophies and strategies while we are at it. Think of this as a blog about “open marketing”, as we feel strongly that’s a key component about what we do.
Thanks for visiting, and please, call anytime.