Many years ago there was a blues duo called Scalpel and the Sledgehammer. Two talented musicians with different positioning. Scalpel: highly precise, cutting guitar skill and a dry vocal style. Sledgehammer: powerful, full-throttle guitar, harmonica, and vocals. Both sang, both wrote.
They were, in my estimation, equally talented. Even if there weren’t, let’s assume for a moment that they were, because it suits the story I am telling.
The end of the story, BTW, is not that one of them became a household name that you’re heard of. C’mon, we’re talking about blues musicians, not One Direction. However, Scalpel now writes code and plays on the side. Sledgehammer is known by blues aficionados around the world, has the occasional European tour in addition to working the road full-time in the US, and – to put it in metrics marketers are familar with – has large Facebook and YouTube followings.
Why? As I said, they’re equally talented.
Positioning is the answer. Positioning is the marketing art of determining how your product is perceived in the customer’s mind – whether it’s a low-priced value play, a unique experience, or something else. Positioning makes carbonated sugar water into the most valuable brand in the world.
Positioning is the most powerful of the Marketing dark arts, but it’s not subtle. Unfortunately for Scalpel.
That means that positioning that is powerful, even overreaching to the point of inaccurate, is positioning at its most effective. Look at the success Salesforce had displacing entrenched CRM players with a “No Software” positioning. Think about that – a software company positioning as “No Software.” So inaccurate that it would be ridiculous, if it weren’t genius positioning.
Because at the time, “software” was positioned in buyers’ minds as “hard to manage, on-premise implementations with lots of expensive IT involvement.” Benioff knew that he had an opportunity to position against that by being willing to throw accuracy and subtlety out the window. I’m sure many scalpel-wielding marketers on the team argued against it. They were so accurate that they were completely wrong.
Is your positioning Scalpel-accurate? Or is it Sledgehammer-powerful?
We want to launch disruptive business models. (Well, an M-80 in a toilet is certainly disruptive, but may not be a good thing for the customers of your bakery).
We talk about our initiatives in terms of impact. But impact can be good or bad. (If you were involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, you can put “delivered a $42.5 billion dollar impact to the business” on your LinkedIn profile).
We talk a lot about content. Pretty much anything is content, including the contents of a garbage truck. Talking about videos, written words, images, and research as “content” leads us to measure volume, not value delivered or prospects reached.
Those are just three examples. If you pay attention throughout your day, you’ll find a dozen more opportunities to say things like:
“I think we can disrupt the space – I mean, I think we can gain loyalty and share by giving customers a better way to buy.”
“When you said ‘impact’, did you mean ‘improvement?’”
“Thanks for asking about the number of content deliverables this quarter. I’ve given you the number, but what really matters is that we’re giving people valuable information about video SEO that simply hasn’t been published before, and here’s the number of visitors, downloads, and leads we expect as a result.”
Yep. Say it in a way that means what you think it means. Often that means using simpler words.
The slide below keeps showing up in my LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook feeds from my marketing peers.
STOP IT, PEOPLE. To paraphrase Senator Welch’s question to Senator McCarthy, “Have you no sense of irony, marketers? At long last, have you no sense of irony?”
Explaining any more makes me feel like I’m putting on my Captain Obvious costume (“I wear a cape!”) However, I’ll don the cape for a moment, just to make sure I’m understood.
Yes, stories are a great way of getting things remembered. Yes, statistics are overused in 79.839% of marketers’ presentations.
BUT THE SLIDE ABOVE MAKES ITS POINT WITH STATISTICS, NOT WITH A STORY. Get it?
Let’s re-do that slide as a story, m’kay?
“Joe and Suzy went to a marketing conference. Joe attended a presentation where the speaker illustrated every idea with a statistic. Suzy attended a presentation where the speaker illustrated every idea with a story.
Back at the office, they shared their insights with their CMO. Joe could only remember one in twenty ideas that the speaker had communicated. Suzy, in contrast, remembered 63% of what she had heard.
The CMO said, “I spend training budget to send you both to a conference and, between you, you only remember an average of 34% of what you heard? No more conferences for you.”
See, wasn’t that more memorable? The slide is right after all. I take it all back. 100%.
(And it’s likely that the original publisher of the slide is a smart person using intentional irony to make a point. It’s the retweeters who don’t get the irony that I’m lambasting here).
There’s a recruiter (a really good one) who focuses on the Shop.org and Internet Retailer 500 communities. His name is Harry Joiner. He estimates that there are about 5,000 candidates, tops, in his space. Those are the decision-maker, GM-type roles that he places. If you sell into e-commerce, those are your prospects. It’s not a lot of people. It’s roughly the population of a small town like Bastrop, Texas.
If you opened a coffee shop in Bastrop, Texas, there are a few things you could do to succeed. You could put up a billboard, I suppose. You could engage a local SEO expert to ensure that your site always got found for “Bastrop coffee shop.” You could put up a Facebook page, send coupon codes over Twitter, and Instagram your latte art. You could even get a list of Bastrop phone numbers and call every single household in town (the ones that still have landlines, anyway…that may not be everyone, but it’s probably better than the fill rate for phone number from most purchased lead lists of enterprise buyers).
If you did all those things and nothing more, you would fail. If you did one thing, you would succeed. What’s that one thing?
(I assume that you have good coffee and excellent customer service, BTW. That’s not the one thing I’m talking about).
The single best marketing trick to ensure success in any enterprise space is this: driving word-of-mouth. Why? Every one of those 5,000 drives by the billboard daily…and soon stops noticing it if it’s not relevant to them. 5,000 people doesn’t equate to a lot of Web searches for “Bastrop coffee shop.” What percentage of those 5,000 people will Like your Facebook page and admire your Instagrammed latte art? Probably not enough, on their own, to make the business successful. (You should still do all those things, of course, because each impression on a prospect counts).
But in a small town, people talk. When they want to know where to get a cup of coffee, they ask their neighbor. When they think the product or service in a local establishment is poor, they tell each other, and they stop going. How, beyond good product and service, do you drive word of mouth? Lots of ways. That’s not what this post is about (but feel free to check out Andy Sernovitz on the topic).
What this blog post is about is this: the 5,000 e-commerce decision-makers that Harry places are a small town, just like Bastrop. Virtually any other enterprise space (in-store digital experts, corporate security decision-makers) is also a small town of a few thousand. There are consumerized plays to get into these spaces (Solarwinds’ method of selling to individual network engineers rather than CIOs comes to mind). Those are valid and game-changing go-to-market strategies that ultimately get the CIO to buy. But they’re not what most people are talking about when they say “enterprise marketing.” Most people using that term are talking about a small (in number of decision-makers) and focused target market.
If your target market is small and focused, as it is for most enterprise-focused companies, the people in that small community all know each other. They hang out at a few town squares (Shop.org and IRCE for Harry’s 5,000, it may be different for your group). They read the local newspaper (Internet Retailer, for Harry’s town.) They listen to the local “mayor of main street” (aka industry influencers…one of which could be you, if your content marketing is excellent). And they all talk to each other.
What are you doing to get them talking about you? Are you listening to what they’re saying? And are you courageous enough to focus on doing the right things to drive word-of-mouth in an environment where CMOs are increasingly pushed to focus only on the most measurable things?
I’m surprised by the number of people I’m running into who are surprised that they’re not speaking at any given conference. I am a working marketer, not a self-promoting keynote wannabe. But I speak occasionally at conferences ranging from SXSW to Pubcon to Mediapost’s Video Insider Summit to Digital Marketing University to Shop.org to WhichTestWon’s Live Event to Refresh Austin to the Social Media Breakfast to others.
I can’t make you an in-demand keynote speaker. But I can explain very simply why you are not speaking at all.
1) You didn’t apply to speak. The Speaker Fairies do not descend from on high and select speakers. Just as when I played in bands, getting out and hustling matters. That means identifying the relevant conferences, watching for their Call for Speakers, and submitting a proposal relevant to the conference content. Know the timelines – SXSW starts almost a year out. Unless you are an executive, don’t expect anyone to do this for you.
2) You don’t publish your thoughts. When was your last blog post? How do you promote and cross-link to other bloggers in your area of expertise? If Vine is relevant to your topics, do you passionately use it, or just read about what brands are doing with it? How often do you tweet, how many followers do you have, and who are they? Are they random bots, or do you identify influencers in you industry and engage with them? And…I hesitate to ask this…but what’s your Klout score? No, it’s not a perfect metric and I love to make fun of it, but it has some directional value. Someone with a Klout Score of 84 and 15K followers might, possibly, be a thought leader. Someone with no Klout score and 40 followers is anonymous by comparison.
3) You’re not working the network. I’ve seen more than one speaking opportunity come through referral. This goes directly with #2 – if you’re publishing your thoughts and connecting with other publishers in your area, referrals will happen.
4) You’ve confused your value prop with that of your company. If you work for Microsoft and your passion is software, the company’s executives form the speaker’s bench. It’s their business and software conferences are about positioning Microsoft, which is the job of those executives. On the other hand, if you manage events or demand gen or sales operations for Microsoft, it should be very easy to land speaking gigs at conferences on event management, demand gen, or sales operations. You are uniquely well qualified to give “lessons from the trenches” tips in your field of work.
5) Start out in the small clubs. Again, as with bands, you don’t go straight to the biggest concert hall. Look for local unconferences, speaking gigs at business schools, etc. Most applications ask where else you’ve spoken, so this lets you flesh that out. (And, as with bands, get a few chops down).
6) Your session description wasn’t differentiated. A friend once earnestly told me that he planned to submit a session on how social media was changing marketing to SXSW. There are, I think, several hundred sessions on that topic at a typical SXSW. One year I got in by promising a cage match, another year with haiku. It doesn’t have to be goofy – people still talk about Tim Walker’s panel on Sports Metaphors for Business. Think like a marketer and craft something that will stand out.
This all may sound like a bit of work. It is. I do it in addition to my day job, which is why I’m writing this at 9:30p while watching “Batman” on cable, and on other mornings I’m scheduling my day’s worth of tweets at 6am.
In career networking or mentor-seeking, ‘a quick cup of coffee’ is a common pitch. It can be a good one- I’ve met some great folks over coffee. I’ve hired some, others have hired me, and I’ve arranged for them to hire each other a time or two. And I’ve often learned a thing or two or made a solid friendship connection.
That said, there is some occasional bad coffee networking going around. At the risk of being called an elitist yuppie prick, I’m going to field some gentle suggestions on how to make your coffee-ing more successful.
1) Make sure your target is relevant. I work for a company that has something to do with video. However, I’m in marketing; I don’t hire producers, PAs, editors, etc. My company makes software too; but I also don’t hire software engineers. If you want to pick my brain about our upcoming production schedule, or our code base, you’re going to waste both of our time. Find someone closely related to the function you wish to learn about or work in. The company’s ‘About’ page, or a good LinkedIn search, can help you identify the right person. It doesn’t have to be the highest-ranking person, either…everybody has a vested interest in bringing on talented co-workers.
2) Make it easy for your coffee target. In The Start-Up of You, Reid Hoffman offers the sanest advice in the world; offer to meet near your target’s office, or even at their office. Not to get all status-y, but you requested the meeting; they didn’t. Asking for a favor, and then compounding it by asking them to drive across town, seems foolish. (It can work the other way; in courting a desirable candidate, I may offer to meet near their location to signal that I value the meeting highly).
3) I don’t care who pays. If you happen to be at the register first, I suppose it’s nice if you offer to pay. But I can afford coffee and clearly find you interesting enough to meet with. So if I got there first and already bought my own coffee, don’t make a deal out of it or try to turn it into “lunch next time.” Just don’t. Meeting strangers for career purposes already has a touch of the awkward that does not require accentuation. The goal of this coffee-ing thing is to sit down and chat, so let’s get to it.
4) Speaking of getting to it, get to it. I notice this a lot when I’m networking with folks who happen to be between jobs. Their timescale and mine are different. I work at an insane pace through the week and then rush home to see my family for a few hours. (No complaints, I also love what I do). At thirty minutes, I probably need to be wrapping up. Your life may not be moving at that pace at the moment, but mine is. I want to help but I have to be efficient in doing so. This also shows the importance of being on time, or a bit early.
5) Don’t Talk like Human Middleware. People coming out of large companies who want to join startups or early-stage companies often suck at describing how they can add value. Too often it’s “human middleware” that amounts to optimizing processes that feed other processes that liaison between different parts of the organization that are liaisoning with other organizations. Strip everything out of your story except the parts about how you build a product, gain attention in the marketplace, sell a product, or keep a customer happy. If none of your stories can boil down to this, you may not be an early-stage company kind of person. Nothing wrong with that.
6) Make your request specific. “Picking your brain” or “just chatting about your business” are not very compelling reasons. Want mentoring solving a tough problem? “I’m trying to figure out how to position a product” is a much better ask than “pick your brain.” Want career advice? “I’m wondering how I can demonstrate that I can manage teams” is a good question. Want a job? “I want to learn about your growth and hiring plans because I’d like to work there” is far, far better than “Looks like you guys have a real cool business, I’d love to chat about all the cool things you do that are so cool.”
7) If you’re pitching me as a client or partner, be upfront about it. I have walked out of a coffee meeting that started as “I’d like your take on the market” and turned into a sales pitch. No bueno.
8) What goes around comes around. Other people will ask you to meet for coffee too. Do it if you possibly can. If you can’t, explain politely why without any guilt.
There is a lot of other advice out there on this topic. The problem is, most of it is crap that advises you to “offer value” or pile on flattery when it’s unnecessary. Just ask for help and connection respectfully. The people you are asking have more desire to help than you could possibly know, and also have less time (if they want to see their children grow up) than you might expect.
I was impressed with Ryan McLaughlin’s post “Get Executive Management to Approve Anything.” It fits with an approach I’ve used successfully, although Ryan’s framework is better articulated and more complete. But, as @b2bcommunicate thoughtfully pointed out in a conversation on Twitter, “Why would a data-driven marketer recommend spending even 1% of budget on activities with no ROI data?” (Rebekah, I’ve pulled the Twitter abbreviations out, but I think my paraphrase captures the gist of it.) It’s a great question given that we digital marketers build everything we do on data.
Here’s what’s worth remembering: for a new initiative, you will by definition have no ROI data. When Columbus set out for the new world he had not quantified the opportunity of discovering America (as that was not his intent). He had to sell the idea of a westward voyage, though. He pitched like an entrepreneur pitching to venture capitalists. “We know the Silk Road to Asia has become more difficult and expensive since the fall of Constantinople. We’ll innovate and disrupt the Silk Road by sailing west. If we capture even 5% of the market, we’ll be rich. Here’s a sensitivity analysis along with a list of our angel investors and advisors, as well as management team bios showing a solid track record.” In short, Columbus had a business case – and a pro forma P&L based on a set of assumptions. He pitched in Portugal, Genoa and Venice. His brother Bartholomew pitched in England. He pitched a lot before he got financing from Ferdinand and Isabella.
And then those assumptions turned out to be wrong. Some of it was bad math about the Earth’s circumference, but the big deal was an inconveniently placed continent. Did that mean the mission was a bust?
No, it just means the pro forma ROI calculation was off. Way off. Discovering a route to a new continent is a whole different kind of R than Columbus expected. (And I know the Vikings were the first to leave a comment on the YouTube video of the New World, but my point stands).
What’s the point of this ramble? Simple: if you ONLY invest in initiatives where you have proven ROI data, you’ll NEVER invest in anything new. You’ll never discover America. You’ll be the hundredth company to take its business online, not the first (there was a time when “we have to have an online presence” was not a foregone conclusion). You’ll be the last in Social and you’ll still be running tweets through Legal while others are building a business there. You’ll be one of the many marketers acting out of Fear Of Being Last instead of out of Hope Of Being First. There is a safe place back in Spain for such marketers. But they’ll get even less ink in the history books than Bartholomew Columbus did. (He got a solid equity stake for his bus dev work, though).
Data-driven marketing is rarely wrong. But it is backwards-looking. And on the rare occasions where it’s wrong, you print “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
So what does all this mean for Ryan, Rebekah, and the rest of us? A few things:
- Follow Ryan’s advice on balancing your portfolio of initiatives. Just like your investment portfolio, your portfolio of Marketing initiatives should be mostly boring bonds and blue-chip programs that have solidly proven ROI
- Allocate some spend to deserving new programs so that you can keep up with – or get ahead of – competitors who are innovating. Make those programs prove that they are worth investing in by building pro forma ROI models. That’s a big part of selling them to others anyway – “Here’s what we’re trying, and here’s what we expect”
- Examine new initiative ROI, once launched, against the expected ROI. “The Columbus initiative didn’t deliver the expected Silk Road ROI. However, it had some unexpected benefits. Here’s the data, let’s quantify the benefit and see if the return is above or below what we modeled.” If above, invest more. If below, cancel the program
- Examine existing initiatives just as rigorously on a regular basis. If an existing initiative delivers solid but unspectacular ROI, you might pull funding from that bucket to invest in that New World thing that just proved a higher return, for example. Delivering positive ROI is not enough to justify continuance. The question is, does your mix of marketing programs deliver the highest possible ROI?
- Structure your organization so that those decisions are not made in a vaccuum. For my team, it’s a monthly Marketing Operations meeting, where new and existing initiatives are reviewed. (Marketing team presents the data, executive team is on hand to weigh in on investment/re-allocation decisions)
Every solidly proven, high-ROI staple in your portfolio was once an unknown quantity. If you never make a decision without data, you’ll never do anything new. Balance. Build your organization’s marketing mix on proven performers. Experiment with new ones, but model what you expect them to deliver and measure against that. Sometimes you’ll fail. Sometimes you’ll succeed. And every so often, as with Columbus and the first online and social marketing pioneers, you’ll find a whole new world.
Last weekend we discovered that a rabbit had seven babies in a corner of the backyard. Poor choice of location, as we house predators (dog and cat) that roam the backyard along with other neighborhood predators, including a great horned owl. The cat got one baby before we figured it out.
Since then the children have mobilized to keep the cat inside, recover her when she sneaks out, and leave offerings of food for the mother. We are now down to three babies due to the other neighborhood predators. It has been a good lesson in nature – not every baby makes it, not every mother can defend her young, inexperienced mothers have to live with the consequences of poor choices such as a predator’s backyard, and part of survival/success is a numbers game (in this case, having enough young that a few make it to adulthood).
But the most important lesson has been that, although you can’t fix the world, you can make it just a little better through love in action. Thanks to the children’s efforts the three remaining babies have made it to the point that their eyes are open and they are starting to hop around near the nest. A few more days’ vigilance and they will be ready to leave for the open fields. Without the children’s work, none of them would have made it. As the rest of the world has dealt with Boston bombings, ricin-laced letters, and fertilizer explosions, our children have spent the week focused on making things just a little better in their own backyard. I hope this helps them as they grow and expand their vision from helping in their backyard to helping in their community, nation and world.