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Sunday, June 13, 2004

Scoble wants to try his hand at advertising. Or marketing. Or both, I'm not sure which... which is actually what prompted me to write.

It always bothers me when people outside a discipline believe that it is trivially simple. Advertising is hard (and by the way, Scoble, don't forget to test your ads before you launch them).

Marketing is super hard too. Very few people understand it. Those who don't, almost always fail. Even a lot of the people who do, still fail at it.

Marketing is a lot of inter-related things. Including:

1. Product planning -- taking customer input and market analysis, and coming up with a plan for a target market segment and what the product should be (in partnership with the product design team) so that it fulfills the customer's need and they want to buy it.

2. Positioning -- how do you present a product in a way that makes it most appealing to the target market and sufficiently differentiated from the competitors' products. Often this includes "branding:" developing a unique identity and association with positive qualities that are part of your positioning, and verbal and visual elements that will be recognized as representing that brand.

3. "Go-to-market" plans -- part of me cringes just typing in that term. This is a marketing buzzword for everything you need to do to be ready to launch your product. Some big things, like setting pricing, and a zillion little things fall into here. I have never seen a comprehensive list of what is in a "go-to-market" plan, and I think that's intentional because if it's vague it serves the interests of those responsible for delivering it.

4. Advertising. Using media to raise awareness of your product, and calling potential customers to action to buy it. An inherent part of this is understanding how to match potential advertising forms with your target audience, your brand, and your call to action for them to buy.

5. PR. Officially it's "public relations" though for many folks it could jsut as well be "press relations" because that's where they (unwisely) spend much of their time, money and effort. This is about how you have conversations with customers, press, and anyone else who is interested in your product. For the people who aren't good at this, it means "professional lying." For the people who are good, it means "telling the truth in a compelling way that's relevant to your audience." Often technology evangelism is a form of PR.

There are other pieces, but those are the key ones.

Each one of those components is very difficult. Larger organizations tend to have different people work on each of them, because so few people are good at more than one, and almost no one (Steve Jobs included) is good at all of them. Unfortunately, good people tend to get promoted to positions of higher responsibility, and as the saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems start looking like nails -- they try to compensate for weaknesses in some areas with more concentration on the part that they know how to do. This extends to kibitzers from other disciplines: they think they can solve the problem by just doing this one thing, without considering the larger context. Scoble, consider this a warning: before you convince yourself that you can solve MS's problems with better advertising, do the analysis and convince yourself that the advertising is really the problem. If a product is positioned wrong, all the advertising in the world won't make it a success.

Products fail in the marketplace all the time because of fatal flaws in one of these marketing components. Often in technology markets, it takes multiple iterations of a product to fine-tune not only the product, but also the market analysis, product planning, positioning, advertising and PR so that they are on-target. And it's even more difficult because the marketplaces don't stand still: competitors change their offerings, and customers go through economic cycles and changes in their own business needs.

Just to be clear, I'm not a marketing expert and would never claim to be. I started at Microsoft as a front-line developer 16 years ago, pounding out code for a living. I spent several years as a program manager in a number of MS product groups and eventually worked my way over to MSR in that role. About 5 years ago I stated working on PR for MSR, because I felt like we weren't spending enough time on it and we had a great -- truthful -- story to tell that our customers needed to hear. And I've learned a tremendous amount in the last five years. While I've had the honor of working with great MS marketing people that collectively covered the full spectrum of the marketing activities I've outlined above, the only one I can really speak to at any depth is PR, and I have no illusions that I'm any good at the others. I know better, and I know to go find the good people when I need them.

Marketing is a difficult discipline, that requires both theoretical and practical knowledge. Just as marketing people should respect technical people, technical people should respect marketing people. I think in the long run one of the most important business lessons that people will take away from studying Microsoft is that when you put sharp technical people and sharp marketing people together and things click, you can create a very, very profitable business.

11:45:39 PM    ; comment []

Check out this site. (got it from the weblog of my friend Andy Williams Affleck)

Like an urban Myst, without the beauty shots. Perhaps it should be called Dyst? (for dystopia)

If you do check it out, write a comment here sayng what kind of emotions it evoked in you. Definitely left me with some weird vibes.


10:58:52 PM    ; comment []

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