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Oh, I don’t know … marketing?

By Francis Moran

I had one of those conversations last week that frustrate the hell out of me and leave me wondering when, if ever, some technology executives are going to come to their senses.

I was at a session of the Ottawa Wireless Cluster on Thursday evening and I took advantage of the networking to renew an acquaintance with a seasoned CEO, someone who has helmed at least a couple of companies, bringing one of them public.

As usual, I asked him how things were going with his latest venture, now about four years old. He said things were alright, but that it had taken about twice as long as he expected to reach the level of business he currently has. Naturally, I asked him what he was doing to acquire that business. Such as, oh, I don’t know … marketing?

With no apparent awareness of the bitter and tragic irony at play, he proceeded to tell me his new company didn’t need — indeed, didn’t want! — marketing because it is the little upstart in the sector and he doesn’t want to tip off his competitors to what he’s doing. He said he gets customers through word of mouth, or by identifying prospects and going after them.

Now, I have nothing against a sales-driven customer-acquisition strategy and there’s no more powerful a channel than fabled word of mouth, but if it’s taking you twice as long as you expected to acquire those customers, maybe the direct route could use a little help. Such as, oh, I don’t know … marketing?

Naw, he said, don’t need it. In fact, don’t want it because, until very recently, his company was in “stealth.” God, I hate that word. Check out what I wrote about it in Mass High Tech Journal a while back. I have never been able to fathom why companies elect to be in so-called “stealth mode.” I have yet to come across one that was truly stealthy; that is, hiding itself from every prying eye. Most are talking to just about everyone — potential investors, candidate employees, suppliers, landlords, bankers, you name it — everyone except potential customers. In other words, they are simply failing to invest in marketing, and excusing it to themselves by pretending they’re doing something exotic and daring.

Fortunately, I also had the chance last week to at the same OWC event to conclude that conversation and go listen to a tech company CEO who really gets it. The featured speaker at the event was Nick Quain, founder of Cellwand, a gorgeous little company that has rolled out one of the wireless sector’s first premium directory assistance products, #TAXI, with others in the wings. I could write a lot about the product and the company’s strategy but for the purposes of making a stark contrast, suffice it to say that Cellwand executed effectively on the technology requirements and has racked up phenomenal success securing partnerships with wireless carriers to the point that the company now has blanket coverage in Canada, where it started, and is available on 150-million phones and counting in the U.S. It’s a textbook case study in building the right product and the right channel to market, and Nick did a great job of sharing the lessons he has learned along the way.

But, get this: He insisted that, phenomenal product, great carrier partners and blanket coverage notwithstanding, Cellwand is dead in the water without one more key ingredient. Such as, oh, I don’t know … marketing?

The CEO I spoke with before Nick’s presentation began was still there when it was over. I sure hope he was paying attention.

All you can eat from Sprint, and customer centricity, too

By Francis Moran

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have many a beef with the wireless carriers that operate here in Canada, and we don’t believe the options available south of the border are all that much better. (See here and here.) So I was delighted to see a television commercial Sunday night that scored big points with me on many fronts for Sprint, one of the major carriers in the U.S. I don’t watch much television so perhaps this ad has been playing for a while now, but it was new to me, and I liked it.

First, the commercial was well done. The approach was not startlingly novel; it uses Sprint president and CEO Dan Hesse as the spokesperson for the company and shoots him walking slowly towards the camera in an urban vista. Standard stuff, except that the ad is in black and white, which was the first thing that set it apart.

The second, and far more important, thing was that the commercial did not talk about all the things wireless and other telephone companies usually like to talk about, like network reliability, and service coverage, and call quality and so on. This one talked about what the customer really wants.

Hesse had me at his opening line. “If you could change the way wireless companies did things,” he asked, “What would you do?” Then he answered the question exactly as I would. “Use your phone for all the great things it can do without worrying about the meter running.”

He went on to call it a “wireless revolution,” and “pretty awesome.”

Well, not so much. More like a good idea copied from European carriers that have been selling all-you-can-eat plans for some time now and, like my British colleague Danny’s £35/month plan, at a lower cost than Sprint’s US$100/month Simply Everything plan.

Still, it was refreshing in so many ways.

Hesse was careful to introduce himself as the “new CEO,” telegraphing that the company was going to change on his watch. Further evidence of that change came at last week’s CTIA Wireless show in Las Vegas where he unveiled his WiMAX strategy that he believes gives his company a two-year headstart on its competitors.

The clincher, though, was the final image in the commercial — a lingering slide showing only one thing, Hesse’s email address, dan@sprint.com, presumably an open invitation to get in direct touch with the new CEO.

As your humble servant, I did just that yesterday. The auto-responder kicked back an immediate reply; the real-world response will take a little longer. “A representative from my office” will take “about a week” to get back to me, I was advised. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can see the ad for yourself.

101 gadgets that changed the world

101

By inmedia

Today’s Popgadget newsletter pointed me to a great list, 101 gadgets that changed the world. The list includes many gadgets we’ve come to rely on and others we’ve long since taken for granted. Head on over to the Belfast Telegraph to check it out.

When to announce a new product to the media?

By Danny Sullivan

This is the question facing many technology companies as they draw close to having a product reach market-readiness. And, while there isn’t a definitive answer as far as timing goes, the real question to bear in mind is, “Are we ready to support this?”

Let’s first think about timing. Waiting to spill the beans until you have secured some lead customers who are ready and willing to support your story certainly gives you a great chance to secure some quality media coverage in support of your launch. But for most companies, this kind of delay is unwelcome as it can mean lost ground on competing products, or simply a missed opportunity to hit the market early with a strong message to drive business development.

And, while I will always espouse the tremendous value that customer validation of a product has among the media, it is not this PR guy’s advice to wait either. Launching a product early can be a powerful strategy, but such a launch must be executed with a clear plan in place to support it with the additional elements of the story within a credible time frame.

A frequently committed PR mistake around a product launch goes something like this: Company X decides to announce its brand new product to the world. It conducts a successful media launch of the product and generates good immediate coverage and interest among its target media. The company then basks in the glow of the launch and says nothing more for six months.

In some cases, the six months of silence may be due to the fact that something happened in development and the product was delayed. But, in many instances, the real reason for the silence was that the product launch was the only PR initiative that had been planned, and PR then became an afterthought as so-called “more important” concerns took over. And guess what? After six months without communicating anything to the marketplace, by the time the company is ready to say something again, the entire introduction exercise needs to be performed again because everyone has forgotten what happened the first time around.

This is one of the greatest disappointments for a PR firm. To take a client through a successful launch exercise and then watch the great momentum established slowly disappear through a lack of commitment to capitalise on that initial investment.

If you are prepared to make the call to launch a product, make sure that you are also prepared to give it the support it deserves.

The iPod Touch – a viable PDA for business?

By inmedia

If you’re in the market for a new PDA, you might want to consider the iPod Touch, says ComputerWorld. According to the article, its “cool features, everything from Web browsing over Wi-Fi to VPN access and a host of enterprise-useful apps” make it a viable solution for business. One very exciting feature that the article doesn’t mention is that it gives those of us that live in a country where the iPhone is not yet available a reasonable approximation on which to get comfortable before the much coveted iPhone arrives in Canada.

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