Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stealth Marketing…my version part 2

15 years ago, cell phones were not very common. Everyone knew someone who had one but the plans were still pretty expensive and most people used them in a very limited capacity. At a large event like a tech seminar or tradeshow, people would line up to use pay phones to call back to the office, check voicemail, or call clients.

I noticed two things. It was the guys in suits who made up most of people standing in line. These were either management or marketing/sales people. While on the phone, these guys were frequently fishing around in their pocket for a pen and scratching notes on scraps of paper or in the margin on a handout.

What I asked my boss to fund was a bunch of pens. Pretty cool pens but nothing over the top. The pens had a window in them that would show a different message each time you clicked the pen. I had six short sentences to get my message across. Four of the messages promoted FireWire and two of them promoted my company. You see, we were winning the battle with the engineers. They loved FireWire because it was (and still is) a killer technology. Where we were missing the boat was with management and product marketers; the guys who controlled the purse strings and who decided what technology was designed into new products. I’d just put 6 sentences in their pockets to convince them to come to us for more information on FireWire. All this at 5% the cost of running a print ad.

My boss was stunned. Pens. The single most common giveaway. Everyone had a pen from a seminar, trade show, or salesman sitting in their desk drying out. Why not just give out rubber bands and paper clips or little notepads? What could be more boring?

But that was only one third of my plan…. and it got worse before it got better. What I said next almost had him in tears.

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stealth Marketing…in my own small way

Stealth Marketing has been around for years; maybe forever. The “publicity stunt” is one example. Do something outrageous to get people to start talking about you, a product, or an event. You have to wonder if some celebrity meltdowns are publicity stunts gone bad. That is always a risk when trying to generate a rapid increase in interest using non-standard methods.

Admittedly, methods of non-traditional marketing tend blur together with terms such as guerrilla marketing, buzz marketing, undercover marketing and viral marketing being variants of the same general thing.

Apple has to be the best at getting consumers to willingly market their products for them and they seldom (if ever) resort to trickery to do it. You can not exactly call it “guerrilla marketing” when Apple makes white ear buds so closely associated with the iPod that every time you see them dangling from a person’s ears, you assume they are listening to an iPod. And, even more amazing, most of the time, the person would like for you to assume they are: iPods are cool!

I earned a reputation among 1394 marketers for my own brand of “stealth marketing” but it pales (of course) when compared to the geniuses at the “Fruit Company”.

15 years ago, when you went to a seminar, the opportunities for marketing your product were limited. You could be a sponsor and get your logo on signs and on the cover of the massive binder participants took home with them, but it was rare to see company logos on lanyards or on a cart giving away free lattes.

I saw a need at seminars that was going unmet and decided to meet that need with a very basic item. When I asked my boss to fund my idea, his face fell. His marketing guy had lost his edge. His only marketing guy was talking like an “engineer turned marketer” and making boring suggestions.
I asked him to trust my instinct. With grave doubts he did. What happened next became a small legend and inspired copy cat marketing stunts among our small group of competitors.

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Solution Looking for a Problem, part 7

The “Be the Cowboy not the Cow” idea was not ground breaking. It was not brilliant but it was a big step in the right direction. Do something that stands out. The message was lost on almost everyone. Our Asian counterparts did not understand it at all. They changed the headline to “One World, One Cable.” To our European associates, the message came across as “Be a Redneck…” They shrugged their shoulders and swallowed their embarrassment.

Our competitors Photoshopped the ad and changed the headline to read, “Where there are cows and cowboys, there is always a lot of fertilizer…”

In the end, the ad failed for a number of reasons. Chiefly, I made a mistake by leaving the ad in the hands of the junior marketers and ad agency. The image was good. The headline was attention getting. What failed was the body copy. It never built on the “Cowboy-Cow” concept. What the ad agency provided and the junior marketers accepted was generic “meaningless, highfalutin, marketing drivel” which could have been on an ad with a checkered flag made out of computer chips…

However, this did mark a turning point. The team started to get the idea that they did not have to go with the same old boring stuff. It was time to get creative. I finally succeeded in killing ads and we turned our attention to some of the most creative marketing being done in the industry.

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Solution Looking for a Problem, part 6

Eventually we were provided with a team of ad designers who tried to be a little creative. After showing us several ad concepts which were marginally better than previous efforts, they pulled out one last mock-up. It was an image of a 1394 cable lassoing the world. The headline was “Be the Cowboy, Not the Cow”.

I liked it. I did not love it, but I at least felt like we were doing something different. Something that would stand out. Something that would get attention. Something with some punch. Be the leader not the lead. Be the one making things happen, not the one to whom things are happening. You have a choice, you can lead and be at the top of the food chain or you can be passive, not make a decisive step to add 1394, become part of the herd and eventually get eaten. The idea was growing on me. It was quirky and a little risky (the message was a little convoluted) but it was a far cry from “the same ol’ same ol’.”

My boss and I said almost in unison, “I like that one.”

The ad agency responded, “We were not serious. You wanted something ‘out there’ so we brought this as a joke.”

But we wanted and we got it.

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Solution Looking for a Problem, part 5

Worst than anything else, for me, the ads that we ran were boring. They looked exactly like everyone else’s, included way too many words that said nothing, and did nothing more than say “We sell 1394 chips.” Now combine the worst aspects of ads that look like everyone else’s with no problem in mind that can be fixed by an ad and you have a total waste of time and money.

I recall one ad we were shown where the image was a checkered flag like you see used at car races to signify the winner. The black squares were replaced with little black computer chips and the headline read, “Go with a winner. Go with TI.” I was stunned. To my astonishment, the marketing team was pouring over this ad and other similar ads deciding which one they liked the best. It was a classic example of “group think”. Maybe it was because I was against the idea of running ads in the first place, but after a few minutes I stated bluntly that I did not like any of the ideas and wanted the ad agency to try again and the next time, bring us something creative and interesting. The group stopped what they were doing and looked at me with bewilderment like it never occurred to them they could say, “No, all of these are terrible. Bring me something good.” My boss chimed in, with a note of relief in his voice and said, “I agree. None of these will do.”

The ad agency was equally bewildered and a little offended. However, I knew that these were creative people and would probably be glad in the long run. They were the official ad agency for my company and had probably gotten used to developing college freshman quality ads knowing that “engineers turned marketers” were not comfortable with anything creative. Surely they would find it a breath of fresh air to do what they had gone into advertising to do and dream up a few ad concepts that were ground breaking or at least interesting.

A few weeks later, they came back with a stack of equally boring ideas to which my boss flat stated, “These are worse than the last ones. I do not think we can do business with you.” At that point I realized that there is a place for advertising majors who have no spark of creativity and that is serving clients with no spark of imagination. Unfortunately for this agency, they ran across a client who didn’t know any better and had the arrogance to tell them that their work was no good.

We asked our MarCom team to find us another agency to work with.

FireWire YouTube Videos by Jeff Cat

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Solution Looking for a Problem, part 4

So, according to the marketing team, we ran ads “to build awareness.” I would have signed on if we’d intended to build awareness of why 1394 was great. 1394 was losing some steam, being out marketed by inferior technologies. We needed someone out there promoting the virtues of 1394 in the mass market, however, we had two problems. Management was not willing to fund a generic ad to promote a technology. That is understandable and we could have worked with that. The second problem was that our “engineers turned marketers” could not enunciate why 1394 was great. They could tell you all the features of 1394 and get an engineer interested in 1394 but they could not tell upper management anything that would excite them. They fell back on a series of platitudes generated by the advertising agency. 200 words in tiny print that said almost nothing. The ad agency had learned long ago that “engineers turned marketers” could not come up with body copy for an ad and that they liked meaningless, highfalutin, marketing drivel and that is what they gave us.

The only meaningful message from the ads could be summed up in one sentence, “We sell 1394 silicon.”

Within a week of running an ad, our sales reps from around the country would start calling to complain that the ads were generating dozens of phone calls from small design shops. We built awareness alright. The Sonys, Dells and HPs of the world already knew who to go to for 1394 silicon. The XYZ corporations of the world were not sure. Sony will buy a million chips. XYZ will buy 100. If you are a salesman, you are wasting your time returning phone calls to XYZ and wasted time hurts your ability to make your sales objectives.

We succeeded in hurting the front line on which our success was so critical.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Solution Looking for a Problem, part 3

That brings me to my first point. So called “Technology Marketers” run ads with no idea why they are running ads. They have no problem in mind they want to fix. They simply want to run an ad because it is exciting (remember what I said about technology marketers being engineers who think marketing sounds like fun). That is a poor use of money. Ads are a solution to specific problems and if you have no problem you want to fix, you should not run an ad.

For the sister organization I mentioned in part 1, they wanted to increase traffic to their trade show booth, i.e. build awareness. They had a problem in mind so that put them ahead of most technology marketers, however, it is arguable if they met this objective with an ad that was so similar to everyone else’s that it was almost invisible.

With my own employer, ads were being considered with no clear objective in mind. When asked, the marketers would respond, “We want to build awareness.” To which I would ask, “Awareness among whom? We are dominant in our market with a 70% market share. Which of our tier one customers do not know about our products? Would it not be cheaper and more effective to provide our sales staff with overview materials on our products?”

That did not go over well. Product overview materials are drudgery. Ads are fun and exciting and make people feel like they have reached the big time. In the end, we ran ads because it made the marketers feel important.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Solution Looking for a Problem, part 2

To some extent, the “there must be a correct solution that can be measured in some respect” is a problem that plagues all companies. Dollars are being spent and some “Return on Investment” must be provided to justify that expenditure. After all, eventually, the spreadsheet is going to reach someone in corporate who does not know you and will want to know why you were authorized to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Because it felt right” does not go very far with the CFO of most major corporations.

When I was working on my M.B.A., I took an Advertising class. From the first night, the room was divided into two types of people. “Business Major Types” and “Creative Types”. The M.B.A. people were dressed in Dockers or slacks with a starched cotton shirt; with or without a loosened silk tie. The Advertising Majors were dressed in shorts and t-shirts with visible tattoos and things pierced that your Grandparents never imagined could be pierced.

The professor commented that he could tell a person’s major by the focus of their term assignments. The business majors were focused on ROI, spreadsheets, how to measure success, and business justification…with very boring ad campaigns. The advertising majors spent almost no time on numbers and gave all their attention to outlandish, entertaining, and very creative ads.

That was my introduction to the Ying-and-Yang of the business world. “Creative” and “Business” will always be at odds. Each one contributing what is required to keep the company going but always in conflict. In the business world of technology, Ying-and-Yang are not in balance which leads to problems which are masked by growing markets.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Solution Looking for a Problem, part 1

I’d like to look at the problem with marketing at high tech companies. The problem is, most of the marketers are engineers who think “marketing” sounds like fun. They are not genetic marketers. In many cases, they do not even have a “recessive marketing gene.” These are the people who make up the marketing organizations at most technology companies (Apple being a notable exception) and the marketing working groups of most technology trade groups.

About three years ago, I was working with a sister organization who wanted to co-market 1394 with the 1394TA. They wanted to run an ad in a tradeshow magazine to build traffic to their booth. They looked at a bunch of concepts from the creative company they’d hired to develop print ads and migrated as a body to the least interesting ads presented. Anything truly creative made them uncomfortable. Their “engineering mind” kept raising doubts. They were second-guessing themselves to death.

In the end, they selected the one concept that looked the most like all other ads in the magazine. Literally, when I picked up the magazine at the show to look for the ad, I flipped past it twice before I found it. It looked so much like every other ad, it was almost camouflaged.

It was at that moment that I had an epiphany. One reason why engineers make such poor marketers is because they are looking for the “correct” solution. It has to be something that can be measured in some respect. The solution cannot be one that just feels right. It cannot be something that you just know is right but cannot explain why it is right. That “correct” solution must be the one that everyone else is doing. That is the criteria by which print ads are so often measured and what makes them so ineffective.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mickey Mouse hates FireWire, Part Four

The 1394 community adopted a copy protection technology called DTCP which provides for several levels of copy protection, from Copy Never, to Copy Once, to Copy Freely. This is on top of the copy protection already on DVDs and other devices. This was in line with FCC requirements which indicated that Hollywood must permit consumers to make copies of video they paid for (HBO) or paid for by by others (movies shown on network TV). DVDs remained another matter as no copies were permitted. However, after extensive negotiations with the DVD CCA (DVD Copy Control Association), it appeared that 1394 would be an accepted output from DVD, Blu-Ray, and HD-DVD drives. Video would be permitted to travel over 1394 to a display. It was agreed that the video could be transported over long distance 1394 (1394b) as long as the “copy never” flag was set. Everything was progressing until someone inside the MPAA heard about the progress being made in transporting data on the internet over longer distances at faster speeds. Suddenly fear emerged that devices could send video between themselves over long distances via the Internet. Consumers would be sharing their videos with their neighbors next door, friends across town, family a state away, etc. Visions of Napster emerged and Hollywood initiated a lockdown on 1394. Hollywood wanted a guarantee that the device sending the video was in the same house as the device displaying the video. This was called “localization.”

The MPAA has entertained a number of anti-piracy solutions which would appear more than a little strange to the average consumer. When it came to establishing localization, a proposal I heard discussed by a senior MPAA attorney in March of 2006 was to require all Audio/Video products to include a GPS (Global Positioning System) device so it could be determined if two devices trying to communicate with each other were in close proximity. I stifled my response for a second to see if he was joking. He was dead serious.

Fortunately, a innovative engineer at Samsung determined that there was enough capability within DTCP copy protection to send a signal out to all devices connected over 1394, measure the roundtrip time, and determine if everything was reasonably close. The localization procedure was adopted by the DTCP group with the necessary acceptance by both the MPAA and the DVD CCA.

Sometimes it is amazing that anything gets done.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mickey Mouse hates FireWire, Part Three

"In 2003, Roy E. Disney, the son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney and nephew of Walt Disney, resigned from his positions as Disney vice chairman and chairman of Walt Disney Feature Animation, accusing Eisner of … turning the Walt Disney Company into a "rapacious, soul-less" company…"

Eisner’s approach to protecting his movies was just short of rapacious. Using a gifted and aggressive legal team at the MPAA and exerting enormous influence with members of congress such as Senator Hollings and Congressman Tauzin, it appeared that consumer rights would take a backseat to Hollywood profits.

As an aside, Tauzin of Louisiana was offered Jack Valenti’s job when Valenti retired as President of the MPAA and as the most influential pro-copyright lobbyist in the world. …I am not really seeing a Louisiana-Hollywood connection… Tauzin turned down the job which then went to Congressman Glickman… Oh, I see! It is a Washington-Hollywood connection. Anyone besides me feeling a little nervous?

The MPAA is paid by the studios and they never forget who their client is. Their job is not to be reasonable. Their job it to protect the ability of Hollywood to make lots of money. As far as they are concerned, no one should ever be permitted to view a movie they have not paid for. If you want to watch a movie, buy the DVD. If you want to watch the same movie in your car, bring the DVD from home or buy a second DVD. If you want to watch it on your computer while you travel…bring the DVD from home or buy another DVD. Copy a movie you bought for your personal use…Never!

Evidently the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) was not as effective as the MPAA since consumers can legally copy a recording for their own personal use. It is easy to rip a CD onto a computer then burn it on an MP3 player. Not so easy to do that with a DVD.

The problem with 1394/FireWire is that it was developed by the Audio/Video industry with an interest in selling consumer A/V equipment. Following the RIAA model (which also applies to VCRs), it was assumed that consumers would be permitted to make recordings for their own personal use. We were about to run into a brick wall and it would take 12 years of negotiation to open a door in that wall.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mickey Mouse hates FireWire, Part Two

I say that Mickey Mouse hates FireWire, but in reality, it was Michael Eisner, the former CEO of The Walt Disney Company (Disney Studios), who was particularly hostile towards all things digital. In 2002, Mike threw off the mouse ears, headed to Washington and started wailing away at Bay Area legends Steve Jobs and Andy Grove. When testifying before the Senate concerning copy protection, Eisner lashed out at Silicon Valley by saying “We’re dealing with an industry where an unspoken strategy is that the killer app is piracy.” This is a man whose career was build by going into failing companies (Disney) and turning them around. In his words, 'You can't fall off the floor.' A turn around strategy leads to some pretty harsh tactics.

Disney was influential in the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Various copy protection technologies were evaluated by the MPAA with the technology of choice being DVI using HDCP copy protection. HDCP implements a “copy never” form of copy protection. This never gives the consumer the ability to make a backup copy of a DVD or to even record content from the cable box to be viewed later. This was unpopular with cable customers so the cable industry implemented a PVR where compressed video is recorded to a hard drive inside the cable box but it cannot leave the cable box via any transport mechanism but DVI (which was later upgraded and renamed to HDMI). DVI (and HDMI) prohibited any of the video being sent over them from being recorded. Not only did their copy protection technology prohibit this but they provided an additional fail-safe incase HDCP was ever cracked (which it was fairly easily by hackers in Europe). Before leaving the cable box, video is uncompressed and sent over DVI. Therefore, any consumer recording device would not be able to record the content if HDCP copy protection was removed. A video tape would fill up in a matter of minutes. A large hard drive would also run out of space (100 meg was large back in 2002). An MPEG encoder would have to be added to recompress the video and that was expensive and far beyond the capability of the average consumer. Hollywood was once again safe from the average consumer. The same people who give them billions of dollars each year to watch their movies.

But this did nothing to provide the consumer with the ability to control the content they paid for from the cable companies. The FCC had to enforce the Section 629 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The MPAA had won the day, but the war was far from over. 1394 was down but not out.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mickey Mouse hates FireWire

Technical issues are one thing. Legal issues are another. Fighting anti-1394 FUD was a walk in the park compared to negotiating with Hollywood attorneys and leaving with anything more than your life…shirt off your back and dignity were the first things to go. 1394 was ready to go into multiple audio/video products as early as 1996 but Hollywood was digging their heels in. Convergence between consumer audio/video and computers would never happen as long as they could prevent it. Hollywood feared digital technology. To them, digital video was an invitation to download all their movies to the Internet and then everyone would see movies for free and they would never sell another DVD.

The long road to providing acceptable digital rights management started in 1995 and was not completed until 2007. We got close a number of times, but then another objection was raised and another round of engineering was initiated to meet the new concern.

You have to keep in mind that the movie industry has fought every new innovation starting with the television. When the VCR was in the works, they tried to get a $25 - $35 tax applied to every videotape to protect themselves from bankruptcy. Of course, today, half their income is from video sales and rentals. The introduction of the DVD was delayed by at least a year due to Hollywood obstructionist tactics. With the transition to digital television, fear was running rampant. Hollywood is remarkably unimaginative when it comes to seeing how a new technology can be used to their advantage. The cry today from the studios is “How can we compete with free?” To which Gary Shaprio, President of the Consumer Electronics Association replied, “The bottled water industry competes very well with free.”