Friday, July 17, 2009

Marketing Primer: Step Six, Public Speaking…On the Job Training

I was toward the end of the program and kept track of how many more speakers were left before I got up. I was trying to pick up pointers from each speaker. The Sony America guy got up and said something in Japanese. “Konichi…something” Showoff…but the audience liked it…learn to say something in Japanese for the future… The Adaptec guy just read his speech…don’t do that. The Symbios Logic guy shook his laser pointer all over the screen so you could never tell exactly what he was trying to draw your attention to…and it gave me motion sickness. The Molex guy was loud, spoke slowly, paused frequently and naturally, and enunciated clearly…try to do that.

Drat! Two more guys and then I am up.

I’d been in a lot of meetings with the next speaker. He was always calm, collected, unflappable, and always gave the impression that he was quietly confident that he was always right. To my astonishment, and I am ashamed to say, amusement, he was petrified. This was not the same dismissive, confident guy I knew. He could barely get his words out. I was on the front row and I could barely hear him. His face was inches away from his notes and he was reading them word for word. His hands were visibly shaking and I could hear the paper rustling. He was, without a doubt, the worst presentation of the day. I felt a wave of relief. I could be no worse than he. I do not recall who got up next or how they did. I was basking in the relief.

When it came to my turn, I was feeling a lot better. I could do this. I spoke my first words slowly and clearly and paused after the first sentence. All over the room I could hear tiny speakers in 300 tiny earpieces repeating my words in Japanese. I said my second sentence and could hear the 300 tiny earpieces echoing my words in Japanese. The sensation was similar to a bad cell phone connection where your words are echoed back to you a second after you speak them. It is disorienting. I was pausing until the echo stopped which was dragging my presentation out too long. I could see people shifting their weight. I was boring them. I picked up my pace but the echo kept causing me to stumble. I was forcing myself to ignore the echo and to keep talking. Our Japanese host caught my attention, “Cat-san, a little slower please.” I forced myself to doggedly plod through my presentation slowly but not stopping. I had to get it over and sit down.

As I headed back to my seat with sweat making the inside of my suit coat feel clammy, I caught a glimpse of the petrified, shaky speaker who had given his presentation shortly before me. On his face, I saw a look of relief. Looks like I'd returned the favor.

There is only so much you can learn by watching. In the end, you have to learn by doing.

As years have passed, I have worked with a dozen interpreters and have trained my mind to ignore the echo while keeping my pace, pausing instinctively when I get too far ahead, and keeping my energy level up when giving a presentation in slow motion. But there is always a new challenge that will throw you off your game the first time or two you encounter it. You learn to expect that and accept it. It's how you learn.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Marketing Primer: Step Five, Public Speaking…working with interpreters

When the day arrived for my dreaded presentation, I was fully prepared with a presentation my boss had dictated to me. I knew the presentation word for word but none of it made any sense to me. It was just words.

The conference room at Sony was large and well appointed. It was as upscale, modern and "efficient" looking as anything I’d ever seen. And, it was filling up with of a sea of middle-aged Japanese men in dark suits and boring ties.

I’d been told that Sony was providing an interpreter which I assumed would be a faceless voice in a hidden room. However, I was informed that I needed to meet with my interpreter to go over my presentation ahead of time. That was painless enough. A pleasant Japanese woman asked me a few questions and jotted down some notes, thanked me and that was it. That was deceptively easy. It went downhill from there.

I was unaware of the disorienting effect that working with an interpreter has. Once the presentations started, our Japanese host had to ask the speakers repeatedly to slow down a little and pause to give the interpreter a chance to keep up. You could see guys thrown off their stride, losing energy, losing expression, and eventually becoming a dull droning voice. You could tell from their opening comments that some of these guys were really good speakers, but working with the interpreter took the life out of their presentation. I kept thinking, “Boring is OK. The interpreter just lowered the bar. You can do this.”

My turn in the barrel would come soon enough.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Marketing Primer: Step Four, Public Speaking…getting bigger

I got to where I was actually enjoying talking to small groups. I’d made some mistakes and learned things that did not work. For example, everyone tells you to start with a joke. I do not tell jokes well. That always failed for me and often irritated the audience. I did find examples that clarified and amused the audience. I found side comments that made them smile. I also developed a feeling for how to let a spontaneous comment slip out. I found that the funny things that just popped out of my mouth were much more amusing than prepared comments. This was all part of learning to be an outgoing, affable, likable person and learning what worked for me. I was honing a skill and that was very enjoyable.

But then there came a day when I was asked to fly to Japan and speak to an audience of 300 Japanese executives. Also in the audience would be everyone I knew in the world of 1394. That cold panic came back. I was afraid to speak to this crowd.

Sony was hosting the first non-US meeting of the 1394 Trade Association at their corporate headquarters in the Shinagawa section of Tokyo. They invited about 20 companies to deliver short presentations to a crowd of 300 executives from all their competitors. Sony wanted the industry to adopt 1394. It is impossible to be a leader if no one is following and Sony was way out front with 1394. I was picked by my boss to give the presentation for our company.

I’d only recently gotten comfortable with speaking to small crowds and I was fighting the urge to panic at the prospect of speaking in Tokyo. I was amazed that this opportunity came to me but with that feeling of being honored also came the huge burden to not screw it up.

The flight over was excellent. Business was good in those days and I was flying “Business Class”. My first trip to Japan. My first international trip on company money. And the first time I’d ever flown in comfort. I’d flown internationally before but in coach, even as a college kid, the seats that started out feeling OK ended up feeling like a park bench by the end of the flight. Business class was great…but I still had that little problem of delivering that speech. Relief from my fear came from an unexpected source.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Marketing Primer: Step Three, Public Speaking…starting small

As we all know, one of the greatest fears is speaking in front of a crowd. How does one get over that? I’d done some acting in the high school drama club and I was comfortable with small groups cutting up and clowning around, so I was not a complete wallflower, but when I got in front of a group to give a speech, I had all the symptoms. Sweaty palms, racing heart, shortness of breath, dry mouth, and a suffocating feeling of panic.

Step one was to be a different person. This is what I did when I was acting in a high school play. I stopped thinking about being me on the stage but it was “Antonio” or “Earnest” on stage, saying prepared lines and doing pre-planned things. That carried me through doing sales presentations to small groups. I was giving my prepared speech and talking to slides I’d seen a dozen times before. I was that generic 1394 marketing guy…old “whatsisname”… a character on a stage. After a few nervous presentations, I’d heard most of the questions and had ready answers. Besides, these were one-shot presentations mostly. You speak to a group of 5 – 10 engineers and marketers and never see them again.

Step two was to make the crowd a friendly crowd. Get them on your side by using the persona you’d developed to get a person to respond favorably to you quickly. It is easier to talk to a friendly crowd of strangers.

Step three was to learn to “get over it.” Learn to just shake off things. You say something stupid, just get over it. You have another presentation in two hours. Do better next time. As a marketer, you are not going to be judged for one bad presentation. A presentation is normally about as significant as turning in a homework assignment was in school. There are going to be a lot of assignments turned in and each one will only count a tiny bit towards your final grade. Get over the smarty know-it-all engineer who delights in asking you questions you do not know. He is not going to be in the next meeting. In the end, you will have more good experiences than bad ones.

That was OK when speaking to small groups of strangers. It got a bit tougher when the crowds got larger, the stakes got higher, and people who knew me were in the audience.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Marketing Primer: Step Two, Learn to be a person again

As a marketer, I had to learn to be a person again. And not just a person, but an outgoing, affable, likable person. Best of all, I had to learn what worked for me. Was I the backslapping, loud, confident guy? Was I the attentive, smiling, polite politician guy? Was I the funny, interesting entertainer guy? It did not matter what I had been in high school or college. It did not matter so much who I was when I was with my family or old friends. What mattered was what persona I could adopt that made people respond favorably to me immediately and then how to shift to a compatible persona that could close the deal. People have to like you before you can get your foot in the door but they have to respect you before they will buy what you are selling.

You don’t become a different person or put on a phony
facade. You discover what aspect of your personality works best in the environment you are functioning in. You do stress certain facets of your personality which would not normally be dominant, so in sense, you are faking it a bit. Only truly disagreeable and worthlessly self-focused people are honest all the time. Who tells a new parent that their baby girl looks like William Frawley (Fred Mertz from the old “I Love Lucy” TV show) or that a carefully prepared meal is terrible?

As a marketer, I learned to be more up-beat, more positive, and more ready to shake-off insults and get right back at the job of making 1394 a success. I had
FireWire in my blood and that made it easier to change. I had a goal in mind, and I needed to be a different person to achieve that goal.

And then there was “Public Speaking.” I was always the guy shaking so hard in front of a crowd that I could not read my notes. How was I ever going to overcome that fear?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Marketing Primer: Step One, unlearn being an “Engineer”

Let me diverge a bit from my “History of FireWire from a Marketing Perspective” to say a few words about becoming a marketer. The move from test engineering to marketing was one of the best decisions I’d ever made. It turned my life upside-down and my life needed turning.

As a test engineer, working on a secret missile project, I had to keep a low profile. When anyone asked what I did for a living, I just said “Test Engineer” and little more. Your whole professional existence was supposed to be invisible.

As a marketer, however, the goal was to be as visible as possible. I went from the euphoria of being quoted in EETimes to plotting how to get more quotes than my competitors. It was not ego. It was my job. My employer even sent me to a class where they trained you on how to talk to the press and get your message in print.

As a test engineer, I spent all day, every day in front of a computer monitor. If I was talking to someone, and it was not about a design issue, I was wasting time and my employer’s money. My corner of the cubical was my cell in solitary confinement. I’ve heard others who were working at the same facility comment that once they left their car and started walking towards the building, they could feel their soul being sucked out of them with each step. Once they scanned their badge and starting walking down the endlessly long hallways (called “spines” by my employer), they had morphed from a person into an engineering zombie.

As a marketer, I had to learn to be a person again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stealth Marketing…my version part 7

For one thing, cell phones started becoming more common. Once the guys in suits stopped lining up to use the pay phones, my whole plan become ineffective. I recall one Intel Developer’s Forum were a brave marketer brought stacks of an article written by Maury Wright which was very critical of USB and cast doubts on the success of the upcoming USB 2.0. These reprints were scattered all around the phone banks but very few of them went home with people. No one was using the pay phones.

In retrospect, if I had been executing the same scheme, I would have placed guerrilla marketers all over the auditorium right before the keynote speech with a thick stack of these “anti USB” reprints. Everyone attended the keynotes. As soon as the keynote speaker started to talk, the guerrilla marketers would start passing the stacks of papers down the row. At the time, it was not at all uncommon for last minute announcements to be distributed during a keynote. The guerrilla marketers would take a reprint and pass the stack down as if they had nothing to do with it.

One thing I have learned from being involved in a number of seminars is that the people running the show are so busy, they cannot catch everything. The people who are participating do not question much. They just participate assuming it is OK with the people in charge or it is not their problem. If you spring something that people are not expecting, you can get away with it.

However, as the years have gone by, seminar and show organizers have started expecting the unexpected and have put safeguards in place to control things better. For one thing, they are losing money. I had a competitor ask me about handing out the notepads at pay phones. He asked me how much I paid for that sponsorship. I told him that there was no sponsorship. I just did it. I have noticed since then that more and more things have been brought under the umbrella of sponsorships that people need to pay big bucks to buy the rights to do.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Stealth Marketing…my version part 6

On the trade show floor, a pen and a notepad are valued in terms of future usefulness; theoretic usefulness. This is something that they might be able to use in the future. They have a lot of paper and pens back in the office, so it is less likely that they will use the trade show pen or pad than, for example, Chapstik. Chapstik sounds like a horrible giveaway unless you have spent a few days on the show floor in Las Vegas. Chapstik becomes the most excellent giveaway (trade show giveaways are also called SWAG or chotsky) in the history of trade shows! You need it now...desperately!

I developed a theory similar to the “Time Value of Money” model I'd learned about in Finance class where a dollar given to me today has more value to me than a dollar given to me a year from now, but I will not bore you with it.

Essentially, give a guy a notepad on the trade show floor and it just becomes more SWAG to carry home and once he gets home, no one wants it. It is just ballast in his suitcase which he jettisons in the hotel room before heading home.

Put a notepad next to a phone and it becomes an essential business tool which he takes away with him because he found it useful in a time when he really needed it. He will use the same notepad when he makes his next round of calls, keeping all his notes together in one place. It goes back to the office with him for use in writing trip reports or following up on phone calls. If you have designed the notepad to be a good business tool (not flimsy or too small or covered in distracting text and with enough sheets of paper to last him a week or two) then he will use it in the office. It has become a part of his efforts to stay productive.

We were in the office and the decision maker was helping us spread our message among his subordinates and peers.

My competitors took note and tried to duplicate my success, but they lacked a few key components.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stealth Marketing…my version part 5

I had two thoughts. My first thought was that people like to take things that are not exactly offered to them. The notepad and pen were there to be used while the person was on the phone. If that person took either or both, he got something for nothing that he may or may not have been entitled to. It was unclear if the pad was placed there with the expectation that it would remain there for others to use. The person taking the notepad with them had the subtle thought in the back of their head that they were getting away with something. If you hand a notepad to someone as if you are giving them a small gift (as you would at a trade show), then they are not getting away with something and they are a little insulted that you are giving them something so trivial, cheap, and bland. That was theory one.

My second theory was more accurate, I think. My success resulted from effectively executing one of the four “Ps” of the traditional Marketing Mix (Product, Price, Place, Promotion); Place. I put my product where people needed it. Example: you can sell more bait at the marina than you can at the auto parts store. People at the lake have a greater need for fishing bait than the guy getting ready to tune up his car.

Essentially, I put a tool in the hands of decision makers at the moment and in the location where they needed it most.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Stealth Marketing…my version part 4

As you have probably guessed by now, what I did was take my notepads and pens and put them next to the pay phones in the convention center. I didn’t ask anyone first. I just did it. There were around 20 pay phones in the convention center and I would go to each one about once every 2 hours between seminars. I would put 5-10 pads and pens at each phone. At first, they were all gone. Even by the end of the seminar, most of them would be gone each time I made the circuit to restock. I worried at first that the seminar organizers were throwing them away because no one had authorized the distribution of pens and pads at the pay phones. I would watch when I saw the janitorial staff headed in the direction of the banks of pay phones, but never did I see anyone collecting the pens and pads and throwing them away. What I did see was people taking notes on the pads and clicking the pens to see what the five messages were that popped up in the window.

It turned out to be a great success. People were taking notepads/pens and taking them at a rate of 50-100 an hour. We never handed out that many of any giveaway at a trade show unless it was something “over the top cool” and it was always hard to find the next new cool thing that everyone wanted….and expensive.

So why did people take this boring giveaway that no one wanted if you offered it to them on a tradeshow floor?

I had two theories.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stealth Marketing…my version part 3

What I said next almost won me a spot in the Marketers Hall of Shame, most unimaginative category. The second item I wanted was notepads.

I’d collected a number of notepads from seminars and shows. My biggest complaint was that they were not useful. They were too small and 50% of the surface was covered with text and a logo. I may as well use the margin of a handout or a scrap of paper.

What I wanted was a notepad large enough to be useful but small enough that people would take them. I settled on a notepad which was about half the size of a standard piece of paper.

Rather than cover the face of the page with promotional blah blah blah, I kept it short. Company name, logo, and a three word positioning statement “1394 Silicon Leaders.” You knew who we were, what we sold, and why you should be talking to us.

But what about all the other things people needed to know? My theory was that if you get people interested and make it easy for them to get more information, they will get it themselves. I did not want to clutter the message with too much information. This was an item that should be a useful thing that goes back to the office. Once it is used in the office it spreads your short, to the point, message around the office. If I filled 50% of the page with product information, the look of the pad was unattractive and the usefulness of the pad was cut in half. It would go in the trash before it made it to the office. My pad had lots of white space, good quality paper, stiff back and would get used after the seminar was over. As a matter of fact, I had customers ask me if I had more. They liked them so much they wanted me to bring more with me when I visited them.

As far as getting more information, well, there was this thing called the Internet that was starting to show promise. My company was one of the first in the world to have a web page. I banked on the hunch that people would start going to company web pages for all their information. I simply added a URL that took the prospect directly to the 1394 information on the company web page.

Step three in the process, how to get the pen and notepad in the hands of people? No one standing in your booth wants another pen and they certainly do not want more paper to carry around. And, even more perplexing, this was a seminar. We had no booth. We had no way of getting these items distributed.

The solution was simple. It involved partnering our distribution method with the habits of the average person. We used what people do subconsciously to get our items in their pockets and brief cases.