When prospects approach us to talk about our helping them with their marketing, they almost always mean help with their marketing programs, the stuff they do to promote their company and product or service. And while we can certainly create greater value simply through the effective management of marketing programs, real marketing consists of much more than this. Real marketing consists in the first instance of identifying a high-value pain or need that your technology has the potential to address, and then building the right product to meet that need. Only after that can you start crafting a marketing program.
I have always referred to this approach to marketing as “capital-M marketing,” and so I was immediately drawn to a chapter in an e-book that’s been on my spike for a while but that I only just got around to reading. In their “The Secrets of Tuned In Leaders: How technology company CEOs create success (and why most fail),” authors Craig Stull, Phil Myers and David Meerman Scott use almost the same language in a section they title, “Marketing with a Big ‘M’.”
“Industry leaders understand that marketing is more than just ‘marcom’ (marketing communications) and the role of marketing involves much more than just creating a message and delivering that message with the tools of advertising and public relations,” the trio write, before going on to get it exactly right: “Industry leaders focus first on the marketplace and identifying market problems that exist and can be solved with technology.”
When I talk about marketing strategy in presentations to groups of technology company CEOs, something I’ve been doing fairly regularly over the past several months, my “Four Steps on the Road to Revenue™” always begins with Step 1: The Customer because, as I tell the CEOs, “everything begins with the customer.” No matter what state of completion their product or service might be in, I encourage them to start their marketing journey well upstream, where customer problems and pains live. When they have identified a real — and, preferably, high-value — pain that people are willing to pay to have solved, then they know exactly how their product or service must be designed or amended to address that pain.
Just as critically, this up-front pain exploration delivers additional benefits during down-stream marketing exercises such as differentiation, messaging and even pricing and sales models.
I also very much liked Stull, Myers and Meerman Scott’s identification of a fatal flaw associated with an emphasis on marcom rather than strategic, capital-M marketing. Noting that the average tenure of a chief marketing officer is about two years, the trio say this is because too many CMOs spend their first year “fiddling with outward manifestations of the company such as logos, the color scheme of the web site, image ads, and tchotchkes … all at the expense of the market and what they need to know. After a year when nothing has fundamentally changed (except millions of dollars spent), the organizational antibodies rise up against the hapless CMO and he or she is suddenly out of a job within 90 days.”
Gawd, how many times have I seen this happen at technology companies I have watched or, even worse, had as clients of my PR agency? I would even go one step further than the authors and say that it is less the “organizational antibodies” that eject the CMO — I could only wish that companies had such strong abilities to identify and reject such a low-value approach — and more the deliberate pattern of too many serial CMOs who come in to company after company, stay just long enough to change all the stuff, and then move on to their next gig before they get found out as the limited tactical operators they are.
So, if you’re the CEO, how can you tell which approach your marketing team is taking? It’s actually fairly easy: Listen to the questions they’re asking and to the debates they’re having. If the questions are all about real marketplace needs, about how much customers would be willing to pay to have those needs met, about how many such customers there are and where they live and how we’ll get to them, and about what kind of features need to be in our next product to meet those needs, then you’re probably on the right road. On the other hand, if the questions are all about such things as the right shade of blue for the new website banner, you probably want to start thinking about moving these tactical operators out and replacing them with strategic marketers, people who spell the function with the capital M.