Tuesday, May 29, 2012

We Have Met the Idiots in Marketing

So the other day I found myself returning to the Pragmatic Marketing site, downloading papers and reading some of their content. If you haven't been there, it's an interesting visit and there's a lot of worthwhile content worth exploring. Essentially they are selling training for product marketing and product management, but they have a lot of content that helps explain the often misunderstood role of product management. Let me start by saying that the site is definitely worth a visit.

But one theme that really stuck in my craw was this notion of marketing being all about promotion, that marketing is the department with the coffee cups and t-shirts. I know what you're thinking, but while I recognize that a percentage of the business world believes this, what really annoyed me is the implication that we marketers also believe this. Like we're sitting around saying, "give us your silly new product and we'll take care of giving it the make-over. We'll make it pretty." Really.

Not to say that there aren't idiots and incompetents among our ranks. Or those that only see things in terms of promotions and programs -- "a t-shirt for every milestone!"  But don't go hanging this on the neck of everyone with a marketing title. If I had a dollar 38 dollars for every time that I've tried to get the engineering and product development people business focused on market needs, I would have pretty substantial chunk of money -- maybe not as much as Mark Zuckerberg, but enough to pay for a really nice wedding in my back yard this Saturday.

But it isn't just me who feels this pain -- product managers, a target audience of the Pragmatic Marketing site, feel this pain intimately. The downloads on the site are a siren song to their unfulfilled sense of order, calling to the underlying frustrations created by mediocre products and things that don't sell. And it's not their fault. Organizations often evolve cultural bureaucracies. Entrenched processes and the politics of people often prevent innovation -- or even streamlined process methodology -- from taking root.

Product and Marketing as Food
Like any great product, building an amazing dish isn't simply the result of one technique, one method, or one process. It's the synthesis of these in the right combination that brings everything together. Sourcing great ingredients is important, but without care, great ingredients can be overcooked or poorly seasoned. Every dish doesn't need to be finished in butter. Elegant plating may add to the appeal of a dish, but it won't rescue bad food. If the dining area isn't clean or is otherwise inhospitable, no one will enjoy the food. And your Mom may be the best cook in the world, but she's probably not getting $100 per person for dinner because there's no business around her, nobody invited guests.

Here's hoping that you work in an environment that has a holistic understanding of product and marketing, that can see the bigger picture and puts things in context. But whether you do your you don't, check out the Pragmatic Marketing site. There's some thoughtful content there -- regardless of whether the place you work will adapt to it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Branding, Bourbon & Coke, Ramblings

I was thinking about branding this morning, remembering this video hat I saw recently describing Coca-Cola's marketing strategy. It occurred to me that, when I order a bourbon and Coke, I really want Coke mixed with my bourbon. I don't want Pepsi. Nobody orders bourbon and Pepsi or rum and Pepsi. And bartenders, universally, make bourbon and Coke. Sometimes they use the fountain dispenser, and maybe there is actually Pepsi on tap, but they never ask you, "is Pepsi okay?" It's kind of funny when restaurants do that because the real answer is, "do I have a choice if I want a cola, because if your answer is yes, then my answer would be no." And why is that, even though they may have limited options, most places will offer more than one type of beer. Nobody ever assumes that a beer is a beer is a beer. Why do they only offer one brand of cola? Do they think that by limiting my options, I'll suddenly develop a taste for the other brand? Is there anything "marketing" that would make me switch? You know, thinking back, I can remember slogans and taglines for booth brands from twenty years ago or more -- they pop back into my head and I relive them like they were playing on the radio today. And yet, twenty years later, I'm still going to order a bourbon and Coke.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Career Positioning Ironies: Creative vs. Cog

Every job listing that you see always features the experience section, that list of prerequisites that a prospective employer is looking for. While we all have a sense of the importance of this section, it's in the nuances of how it's implemented where you can find a certain amount of irony.

As a prospective employer, we want to screen our candidates and narrow the field. After all, just because a million monkeys banging on keyboards might produce Shakespeare, why should waste your time talking to all of them.

At the same time, our hiring infrastructure is often designed such that the only candidates that pass the screening are monkeys that have typed Shakespeare. Forget about monkeys that have typed plays by Tom Stoppard. And no monkeys that, bored with theater, decided to author movie screenplays. Not monkeys that have written original, meaningful works. And definitely not that monkey that typed Tropic of Cancer.

I know that I've written about this before, but it's always disappointing when you see job screening done in this way. A couple of years ago, the buzzword theme was webinar. Everyone screening for a marketing job always wanted to know if you'd done any webinars. No webinars and you were out. It didn't matter whether you'd done anything of similar or greater complexity. It didn't matter what the corporate environment you were in was like or what the needs of your product were, it was a simple formula -- webinars, yes or no.

Experience is Valuable
There is a kernel of truth in this screening OS. When you do stuff a lot, you get better at it. Like making food. Make the same dish over and over again, and you'll have a sense of how it tastes before it reaches your mouth. Make it enough times and you'll probably have added some steps that you might not have followed the first time -- or maybe you stripped some out.

Conversely, if you've never done something and it's complicated, you'll probably have no idea where to begin. If I ask you to design and build a four-story house? Even if you have a sense of where to start, without some basic experience you're going to have a hard time answering questions like, how much will it cost, how long will it take, and what other kinds of things will be required.

At the same time, endless repetition does not equal better. If you've designed a thousand business cards, you're probably better than someone who has only done one or two, but does it make you better than someone who's done a hundred? Just because you've fried lots of eggs, it doesn't make you a better egg-cook than someone who may have done fewer, but with more methodology might have done. Who would you expect to make a better egg, the cook at your local Denny's or Wylie Dufresne?

What Experiences Are We Measuring?
The real problem is not screening for experience, but having a clear understanding of what's actually being measured by that experience. Are you screening those monkeys for writing or just for experience banging on a keyboard? The both look a lot alike, but faced with new challenge, your writer will produce interesting content -- on his best day, all you can really hope for from the keyboard banger is that he'll be able to replicate his keystrokes.

And to make matters worse, you can't ask the monkeys. Because once one monkey has banged out Shakespeare, you've got 999,999 others that also think that they are writers because they worked with the other monkey on the project.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Imagine Universal Access to Gigabit Broadband

Stories about broadband access often catch my eye. I came across this story over the weekend and I must say that I'm both amused and amazed. Remember when Google offered to bring Gigabit Internet to one city? Remember how cities around the country lobbied to get that kind of high speed network infrastructure?

So what would you say if I told you that three cities had already built out their own Gigabit network? If you had to guess, where would you imagine that they would be? Mountain View? Redwood City? How about Chattanooga Tennessee, Lafayette Louisiana, and Bristol Virginia?

This is the story of how these smaller cities built out their own high-speed network as a municipal utility service. It's a story of how they had to battle the telecom and cable companies who lobbied heavily against the public services. And it's also a small window into the vast potential of the networks that we could have access to if we weren't being stymied by the profiteering of the incumbent providers. In Chattanooga, their slowest tier is 30Mbps symmetrical. Imagine what that would mean to the cost of doing business.

You should really download the white paper. Even if you only read the first part, it's totally worth the read!