Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Fun" is Serious Business

One of the most enduring images of "marketing" among engineers is that of people who play for a living. I have seen several Dilbert cartoons portraying the Marketing Department as a group of revelers partying like a frat house. When engineers move into marketing, there is a tendency to misunderstand the nature of "fun" as a marketer sees it. "Fun" is actually a pretty serious business. It is not free. It is not even cheap. Early in my marketing career, I was totally astonished at how much giveaway items cost. I made the half serious statement that it would be much cheaper to staple a product brochure to a dollar bill as a giveaway. I was obviously not the first person to think that because I was told that trade shows had rules prohibiting exactly that.

"Fun" is actually a marketing tool. There must be a strategy behind everything the marketing department does and there must be a measurable return on investment. The ROI can be hard to measure at times, but it must be defined, tracked, reported, and evaluated. It was always about this point in the discussion of trade show giveaways that I saw a new marketer start to get the idea that marketing is actually work. It may be fun work, but it is work all the same.

In the late 90s, I left TI for two years to work for Philips Semiconductors. About half way through my time at Philips, I was attending a 1394 developers conference to give a presentation and to work in the demo gallery. TI was also there, of course, and the marketing team I left behind had grown significantly. In the TI demo area, I saw a lot of new faces; people who'd been engineers when I worked there.

As I approached the TI demo area to say "Hello" to everyone, I could see they were eager to see me. It was more than eagerness to see an old friend. They were eager to show me something. There is always a strong sense of competition when meeting someone who has gone to work for the competition. They wanted to show me "the best giveaway ever." They were very pleased with themselves and they were sure I would feel very much bested. They certainly had my interest.

I was pretty pleased with my giveaway. It was a small water pistol with the Philips Logo and web page on it. Tied to it was a little note card with information on the Philips semiconductor products on the back side and on the front side were the words "We shoot straight. Others blow smoke." I knew that TI had been promising a 200 Megabit Phy for months and was unable to deliver it. They were having similar problems with one of their other 1394 chips. Promises made and broken. Philips, on the other hand, was quietly debugging their chips and waiting until they were ready for release before they publicized them. I was painting Philips as the dependable supplier.

TI fished a box out from under a table and produced a small, very colorful TI calculator. That was the giveaway. It was certainly fun (purple, green, orange...very colorful) and the sort of practical giveaway that everyone likes and will use. It would probably go back to the office, but it might go home. A giveaway that goes home (rather than to the office) is a second rate giveaway, in my opinion. You want the giveaway to go to the office and sell your product to others in the office. Certainly, TI's leadership in calculators was a nice selling point to reinforce the image of TI as a leader. This was a pretty great giveaway, but there was just one problem. There was nothing printed on the calculator about 1394 silicon. Once the calculator left the event, it was just a calculator. It was not a sales tool. Once it made it to home or office, there was nothing about the calculator to remind the recipient that they should buy TI 1394 silicon. It was just a calculator.

I asked them "You didn't put a URL and anything about 1394 silicon on the calculator?" Their faces registered the realization that they'd missed something important. They had focused entirely on what would be the coolest giveaway at the show without any thought as to why they were giving something away and how it could be a sales tool. This is a very common mistake among entry level marketers.

Concerning my giveaway (the water pistol), 99% of the people thought it was amusing. We were able to use the information on the back of the card as our talking points. However, there was that 1% who were offended by our giving any sort of gun away. One or two people tore off the tag and handed the gun back to us and one person would not even touch the gun but asked me to tear off the tag and give it to him.

I guess my plan was not bullet proof either.

Snider is an international marketing professional specializing in the high tech market. He has 15 years of marketing experience with 7 years in a "for profit" company and 8 years in a "non-profit."

Snider is currently looking for new opportunities:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Doing the Wrong Thing

Once the "Be the Cowboy, Not the Cow" ad hit the magazines, the 1394 marketing team started getting phone calls from the tech sales people around the nation. They were not calling to congratulate the team on a creative ad. They were calling to complain. The ad was attracting 100s of phone calls from small companies that wanted to develop FireWire products and were not sure were to start. These were companies looking for free samples or looking to purchase a dozen chips. 99% of these companies would be out of business or out of the FireWire business in 12 months. No sales person worth his or her salt wanted to deal with these people. They wanted phone calls from AT&T, Sony, Boeing, Dell, and HP. Not Scooter Trash LLC.

During the next weekly marketing meeting it came out that this is what happened the last time TI ran a 1394 ad. The sales people complained that the ads were generating calls from companies that would never amount to significant business.

We'd generated awareness but among the wrong clientele.

I was reminded of what my B-to-B marketing professor had told the class years earlier. No person should ever go into marketing until he or she had spent some time in sales. Not only did the "engineers turned marketers" lack marketing experience but they lacked sales experience as well.

Suddenly, those dark months of my life I was not willing to share with anyone became valuable. I'd spent 9 months as a telemarketer, calling people at home during dinner every night, selling them something they didn't want and not taking "no" for an answer. Up to that moment, I was ashamed to let anyone know I'd been one of "those people." However, at the moment I learned that the 1394 marketing team had ignored the pleas of tech sales, I suddenly felt that I had yet one more advantage to help me in leading the group. I'd actually done sales and had been pretty good at it.

Moving forward from that day, we never ran another ad. We looked to more effective ways to get the message out. Moving forward, we targeted our promotional efforts to the right clientele.

James Snider is an International Marketing professional, responsible for developing the 3.4 billion dollar 1394/FireWire market. James spent 15 years in marketing with 7 years working at "for profit" companies and 8 years as executive director of a non-profit.

James is currently looking for employment:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Phone Call that Changed Everything

In November of 1994, I was hidden away in TI Lewisville debugging a tough piece of test software intended to improve performance of the HARM missile. I had an MBA in Marketing which was growing stale in one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression. I was eager to progress from test engineering to my next career; marketing semiconductors. I made a fateful phone call to one of my fellow test engineers who also had a stale MBA. I was surprised by his news. He'd found a job. He was putting his MBA to use. I asked him to keep an eye open for me but his tone of voice let me know that he was not confident he could help. Marketing jobs were scarce for guys with degrees but no experience.

A week later, I received a phone call from another of my fellow test engineers. He'd made the move to marketing. This news was even more surprising. He didn't even have a marketing degree. I'd been looking for two years for a marketing job and he knew nothing about marketing.

It came down to networking. One of the software engineers all three of us had worked with was working in the semiconductor group. He was writing software but as marketing positions opened up in his group, he was asking friends if they were interested. I made the phone call and a week later I sent my resume. Three days later, I was packing my boxes in Lewisville, headed for the Center Buildings. I was now leaving the world of engineering. I was now a marketer.

For the next 15 years, I would work as a marketer in a world of engineers. To market a high-tech product, technical ability is necessary. Therefore, engineers are frequently employed as technology marketers. However, there is more to marketing than meets the eye of the pocket protector crowd. This can lead to costly mistakes. What follows are my observations.