Monthly Archives: May 2008

The Emperor’s New Clothes Factory

Positioning is a funny thing. You want to hoist a flag that others will rally around–something unique and compelling, something easily understood and valued. It has to be different enough that you stand apart from the competition. But it has to be familiar enough that customers quickly understand what you’re selling. That simple dichotomy–be different, be familiar–sometimes produces a viral feedback loop that can slow innovation across an entire industry.

Take the marketing software industry. A few years ago, I ran a research program at the CMO Council studying the adoption of CRM and related applications. At the time, I identified nearly a thousand vendors creating applications that in some way integrated with CRM. Campaign management. Lead scoring. Sales force automation. You name it.

Some of these applications were truly innovative, some were flavor-of-the-month knock offs. Many were simply automating some small piece of annoying manual labor. But all were targetted toward the same audience–marketing executives. Now, historically, marketing executives haven’t been the most sophisticated consumers of technology. Most marketers with the experience to be a senior executive today went to school before the rise of the Internet, and any new wave of technology can be a learning curve. There are plenty of savvy early adopters, to be sure, but taken as a whole, the marketing profession is still in the very early stages of technology adoption.

So when hundreds of technology vendors meet up with marketing executives, they have a fundamental challenge. How do you communicate a value proposition that senior marketing executives will understand and appreciate? Well, you listen of course. What do marketing executives say they need? Not surprisingly, marketing executives frequently list the challenges that keep them up at night. Generate actionable leads. Demonstrate marketing ROI. Deliver performance metrics and accountability.

And this is where the ideal of differentiation meets the survival imperative of finding common ground with your customer.

As a wide spectrum of application vendors face the obstacle of communicating their Techonology Difference to non-technical marketing executives, the vendors tune their message to the familiar things marketing executives want to hear. Leads. Metrics. Accountability. ROI. Which is fine in the isolation of a sales cycle, but rather problematic as a general trend. Soon, the vendors are all singing the same tune as a chorus, and everything starts sounding the same to marketers. Everything is about generating leads, delivering metrics, providing accountability. And then you find, as I did when I was doing my study, that anything remotely related to CRM that you put in front of a marketer elicits the same response. "I already have Salesforce. Why do I need this?"

This is the Emperor’s New Clothes Factory. Who’s going to tell the Emperor he’s naked when it’s vastly easier to sell more nakedness? And there’s plenty of nakedness to sell. Selling ROI is great, until marketers stop innovating in the absence of a proven business case. Selling metrics is fine, but to paraphrase Einstein, not everything that can be measured is important, and not everything that is important can be measured. Selling accountability is wonderful, but accountability doesn’t guide execution. The problem is a general trend toward easily digestable selling points that minimize innovation and slow the marketing technology adoption curve.

Sure marketers will figure this all out in time. SaaS applications are gradually pushing back IT control over marketing technology, and the emerging next generation of marketers has come of age in a far more wired world. But the evolutionary cycle is excrutiatingly slow and littered with dead bodies. Can’t we speed this up?

What we need as a marketing ecosystem is a big crucible where enterprise marketers and technology vendors can meet outside of the selling cycle. A forum where marketers can learn about technology innovation, and where vendors–particularly their product marketing teams–can better understand enterprise marketing challenges. With more common ground in our understanding of the marketing challenges technology can solve, vendors can develop applications that are not only compellingly different, but meaningfully familiar.

As it happens, I’m in the planning stages of this year’s Elite Retreat in Hawaii, and this issue is shaping up to be one our tracks. If you’re a senior marketing executive with an interest in marketing technology, or a marketing technology vendor, drop me a note and let me know what you think.  

Social Networking Antidote

Several years ago I saw a cartoon where an enterprising child was selling 5 cent lemonade to adults passing by. Just around the corner his friend was greeting the customers leaving the lemonade stand — now doubled over in pain — with another stand selling the lemonade antidote for $5. Fast forward to the present day and you’ll find Michael Fertik, selling the social networking antidote at for as little as $29.95 (actually he has to diagnose the problem first for $9.95) I don’t know whether he’s a hero to the small but growing number of people in the back of the tech-boat who are paddling in the opposite direction or a sharliton, selling snorkels to the passengers of the Titanic. Either way his service won’t save you now but it does turn “antisocial” into a viable, and even lofty, business model.

Score One for Spoke

Few qualities are more important for marketers these days than candor…

Hi Chris,

Thanks for getting back to me and sorry for the delayed response.  It’s been busy since the launch last week as other duties related to product planning, system application management, and website designing have monopolized my time. 

As I was preparing this email today, I took a second to revisit your blog where I noticed your response to my initial inquiry.  I hope that you are not too tarnished on my efforts, this was my first PR/Product launch without an agency tethered to my side and I acknowledge it was not perfectly executed.  But I’m learning and moving forward and your sights into the effectiveness of my process were helpful.

Because your blog focuses on enterprise marketers, the specific release of the ConnectUs email service in Spoke is not an exact match.  That I will admit.  However, many of our corporate customers are in fact enterprise marketers who utilize Spoke to build relationships with other companies in order to broaden their marketing reach.  Targeted lists of potential partners for alliances can be developed, managed, and contacted from within Spoke by enterprise marketers; hence the reason your blog was included in my launch campaign.  I thought that since you review many different approaches and tools for enterprise marketers that our launch would have been something of interest to your audience.

For marketers Spoke fits into the resource mix alongside LinkedIn or Plaxo while offering a complimentary value to each.  Simply put, businesspeople you would like to contact via LinkedIn or Plaxo must be members.  You can’t reach out to someone who is not a member of either service.  Spoke’s business connection service does not have that limitation.  Hence if you need to reach someone who is not a member of LinkedIn or Plaxo, then you need Spoke.  Spoke provides an extra layer of privacy by not giving away direct contact information of members (or non-members) to anyone, bust still providing a way for members to reach any businessperson found in Spoke.

I hope this addresses your questions.  Again, I apologize for the delayed response.  From the tone of your blog it has done our corporate (and my personal) brand harm in your and your audience’s eyes.  I don’t want you to think that you got this response solely because of your post on Monday, as noted at the end of you last post.  I had full intention of responding to you, I just got side tracked with other projects.  I do appreciate the bump in my title to Director level, just wish my pay scale mirrored your perception J.

If you would like to discuss my comments further personally or have additional questions, please feel free to contact me directly through my information below.


John Dering
Senior Marketing Manager

Please Donate to Relief Aid

In many ways we are becoming a world without borders–we can make friends with people from all over the planet and share ideas and information without ever meeting in person. And yet, in a time of disaster, when you can’t reach out physically and help in a rescue effort, or comfort someone who has lost a child, or a husband, or a mother, you realize how distant we can be. Pain and suffering somewhere else in the world is just another part of the news cycle.

Jeremiah Owyang has been really banging the drum on every forum where he’s active to inspire donations to relief agencies coming to the aid of disaster victims in China and Myanmar. He’s been encouraging people on Twitter, on Facebook, and on his blog, recently posting a series of his own pictures from a trip to China.

I really respect the effort Jeremiah is making to leverage his large network of friends and colleagues to show solidarity and support for the victims of these tremendous disasters, and so I’m adding my voice in the small way I can on this blog to encourage you to make whatever donation you can to the Red Cross. Please help and make the world a little smaller.

WHIM Interview with Stowe Boyd

Some of you will recall my slow-burning project to interview innovative thought leaders in marketing technology. I posted a number of videos earlier this year, including interviews with John Girard, Matt Roche and Jack Jia, all produced by my good friends at Miner Productions for MarketingRev. There are still some videos to post, but I’ve been completely swamped with the SocialRep venture.

This week I’ve managed to get another video out of the moth balls–this one provides some great material from Stowe Boyd. On the one hand, I’m incredibly embarassed that this shoot was last year. On the other hand, I’m impressed by how well the content stands the test of time. Enjoy.

Stolen Mac Snaps Shot of Burglar

You gotta love technology. There’s a story making the rounds about a New York City Apple Store employee whose quick-thinking nabbed the theives that stole her Mac and a bunch of home entertainment equipment. After her apartment was burglarized and the police came up empty, Kait Duplaga realized she could access her computer online by using a remote access feature. After accessing the computer, she used the Mac’s built in camera to snap a picture of the thief, who was no doubt trying to figure out how the computer was working on its own. Kait’s friends recognized the thief, the cops made the bust, and Kait got all her stuff back.

Repair Millenium Park

Jeremiah Owyang pointed to a sad story on Twitter this morning. A flashmob organized on Facebook for a waterfight at Millenium Park in Leeds, UK. The resulting storm of 350 people completely trashed the park, and the reputation of social media enthusiasts. Waterfight1rpy_468x350 Millenniumsquarepa_468x351 There’s an obvious way for people to repair the damage–both to the park, and to our reputations as an emerging digitally networked society. There’s now a Facebook group to organize volunteers to help Repair Millenium Park and, a fund where you can donate a couple of coins to help pay for the damage. If you believe in the power of networked communities, add a dollar to help turn this story around.

How Social Media Almost Killed Me

I’m an avid mountain biker. Instead of going to the gym, I ride trails. The last time I bought a bike, I built it up piece by piece, meticulously researching every part on the internet. It took me three months to figure out exactly what I wanted, and I read hundreds of pages of blogs, forums and product reviews. This, in fact, was one of my seminal experiences in social media marketing, when I realized first-hand how much control businesses have lost over their brands.

Among the many dozens of web sites I visited, the hundreds of pages I read, the countless dialogs I had on message boards, I almost never visited the web sites of product manufacturers. I didn’t care what they had to say. I didn’t want to hear how they were positioning their new bike, or get spun on their latest technology boondoggle. Anything I wanted to know about bikes I wanted to hear from other riders. Who would trust a company that had just dumped $3M into their latest product upgrade to give you an honest assessment of the product’s weaknesses? I’d rather hear from 20 people who bought the product and can tell me why it sucks. The only information I wanted from a manufacturer was product specs. What are the measurements of a large frame? What’s the diameter of the head tube?

IntenseI wound up building my dream bike and becoming an big believer in the power of social media to transform consumer behavior. Researching products before making a purchase decision is perhaps the most powerful way the internet and social media will reshape commerce. But it can also have its drawbacks if you’re not careful.

Recently I’ve found myself in need of new tires. It’s been an especially dry spring and the trails have become hard, loose and treacherous. Although I’m an avid rider, I’m not really a gear geek. I’m not one those people that’s constantly buying the latest new thing and putting it on my bike. Once I buy or build a bike, I tend to ride it until it’s completely destroyed and then I move on. When it came time to buy new tires, I hadn’t tried every tread pattern or developed any loyalty to a particular brand. So I fell back on my trusted advisor, the Internet. And that’s when I got screwed.

When I went online, I found great deals on tires from a brand I’ve already used, Wilderness Trail Bikes. One tire in particular sounded good for hard, dry conditions, a tire called the Velociraptor. So I went to the product review sites, and low and behold there were 450 reviews for the Velociraptor, rendering an average score of 4.14 out of 5 stars. Impressive. I played out my usual tactic of reading a lot of negative reviews to hear what might go wrong, but the metrics were overwhelmingly positive. So I bought my new tires and put them on my bike.

First ride out, the front tires felt a little loose compared to my old tires. Everything was a little twitchy. I chalked it up to breaking in the new tread and started pushing it harder. And then I ate it. It wasn’t even a tight turn or anything technical. I was just cruising along a straight line of single track and I felt the front wheel slip out. My center of gravity collapsed and then I was ripping through the rocks and dirt on my side. No major damage, just a wide and bloody stripe of trail rash from my ankle to my shoulder.

So I finished my ride and stopped by my local bike shop to talk with one of their mechanics. I walked in and said I needed some insight about tires, and the guy takes one look at my arms and legs, looks at the front tire and just shakes his head. "What are doing with that on your bike? That’s outdated technology." And then he proceeds to point out all the things that have been improved in the years since that tire was invented. In fact, the tire I had replaced with the Velocirapter had been much better, which is why it suddenly felt so uncontrollable. So how did I get steered so wrong by trusting the Internet?

It turns out, if I’d paid more attention to all the tire reviews, they were years old. The site didn’t make that obvious, and honestly I didn’t really think about it. A tire’s a tire, right? But even though there’s much better technology available, Wilderness Trail Bikes is still making bank selling their highly rated and outdated tires at fire sale prices. Not only did that cost me the price of the tire, which I immediately replaced with an up-to-date Kenda Nevegal, but it cost me a lot of skin and pain–and I consider myself lucky.

Social Media is a phenomenal tool for consumers. But it’s not idiot proof. It puts you in the position of being able to learn from the experiences of hundreds of others, which doesn’t exactly make you an expert. The problem is what you don’t know that you don’t know. And that could actually kill you. At the end of the day, I’m still grateful that I can walk into my local bike shop and talk to an expert. Now I wish I’d started there in the first place.

Oh, and I won’t buy another Wilderness Trail Bikes tire. They got me once. Never again.

Update: Okay. I’ve talked to a bunch of tire experts who agree with my assessment of the Velociraptor, but not with my conclusion that I shouldn’t buy another Wilderness Trail Bikes tire. They do make some great tires. I’ll just say their marketing–especially educating buyers about making the right tire choice–could be significantly improved.