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HubSpot in Higher Ed: Lessons from the Classroom Part II

May 10, 2017

Title Again

Introduction

In my last post, Lessons from the Classroom, Pt. 1, I shared the journey for the Inbound in the Integrated Marketing Framework as it was unfolding, leading up to and through the first half of the semester, with all the twists and turns on the way of what truly is a different type of applied learning experience in the college classroom.

As I write this, the semester has just come to a close and I just submitted the final grades. I apologize for this posting’s length (it’s long!), but I thought it would be best to offer up the full story here for all those who have an interest in the second part of this adventure in marketing education.

The Good News!!!

First off, I am happy to report that the class as whole rose to the challenge and built out the content offers and conversion paths to meet the requirements of the Practicum component of the HubSpot Software Certification process!!!, including:

  • 400 identified Keywords targeting six (6) Student Personas
  • Four (4) Content Offers
  • Optimized Landing Pages, Calls-to-Action, Forms, and Thank You Pages and More
  • Over 30 Blog Posts
  • A constant stream of Social Posts
  • E-mail campaigns
  • 30% Conversion Rates
  • And more!

I am honored to be one of the first professors to have had this opportunity to partner with HubSpot and create for students a timely and relevant learning experience like this— one that offers some of the top marketing and communications students in the country the opportunity to not only work hands-on with current tools on the leading edge of marketing today, but also to develop a full blown Inbound campaign and earn a HubSpot’s professional software certification.

In this case, the client SafeRide can be considered a start-up seeking to differentiate itself in its own unique way, in a crowded space. They had no social presence, or established user base to work from. It’s all new. A blank canvas as it were.

It is now clear that this partnership or what I would call “hybrid” model can inject a higher level of responsiveness to the college level marketing curriculum in a manner that supports and enhances it, while also giving students practical high-value skills they can use to advance their careers immediately — one of our core goals.

The students that took this course by definition are “Pioneers,” or Early Adopters, of this hybrid style of education. Each and every one of them deserves to be called out for taking the risk and helping chart a new direction for education moving forward.

Here they are:

  • Hantzley Audate
  • Lindsey Di Costa
  • Max Fallows
  • Milo Goodman
  • Sam Ho
  • Amber Hughes
  • Kennedy Kelley
  • Nick Kitsos
  • Catalina Nguyen
  • Paige Niler
  • Emily Schnider
  • Jamie Wong

To all of them, my undying thanks for going on this ride.

And I also have to call out HubSpot’s Isaac Moche, Education Partner Program Manager, and Jon Gettle, Consultant Extraordinaire, one more time. Isaac has delivered unwavering support to the project since the beginning, and Jon’s two (2) class visits were transformative, as noted in Part I.

This experience will serve as the backbone for a curriculum guide that we will be producing, so others can adopt this program into their classes and offer up this high value opportunity to their students too!

Feel free to reach out to me through LinkedIn if you have any questions or are interested in getting the guide when completed.

And lastly, I want to recognize Dr. Brenda Wrigley, Department Chair, Marketing Communications at Emerson College, named by USA Today as one of the “Top 5 Marketing Programs in the US.” Without her vision, leadership and support, none of this would have come to pass.

The other piece of good news, is that this class is being offered to students again, in the Fall of 2017.

Bumps on the Road…

Since HubSpot Software Certification is a two (2) step process, it is essential that students, as in this case, 1. complete the Practicum requirements as a team, and 2. take the HubSpot Software course and pass their administered test, individually. Each student has to pass the test on their own first, and then submit the class’s collective Practicum achievements to HubSpot on their own in order to earn HubSpot Software Certification. This time around, the due date for taking and passing the test was the official last day of class. At that point 6 out of 12 had passed.

Students have to do their work through the client’s HubSpot portal as Authorized Users on the account, so students are also required to submit the required Practicum “achievements” through the client company’s portal. I didn’t realize at the outset and see now that the client should not and cannot be expected to carry student users once the semester ends.

In the end, it looks like nine (9) out of twelve (12) students have taken and passed the certification course and are therefore entitled and allowed to submit Practicum for full certification. Two (2) certifications have already been processed and awarded, with more to come.

I found that I had to work with SafeRide to extend the deadline for one (1) week to make sure every student has the opportunity to do this. It is clear now that the Practicum is an all consuming event and that having the deadline of taking and passing the Certification Test along with Practicum at the end of semester assignment is unrealistic.

I am addressing this disparity in the Course Design Recommendations section below.

Lessons Learned…

Now that we have gotten this out of the way, I thought it is would be useful for those of you who are Marketing Professors (Grad or Undergrad), Marketing Students or just plain interested to share lessons learned.

1. The Work

First off. This is an applied, hands-on course. It’s intense! There are individual and team components. In the final analysis, however, it comes down to doing the work. This is inescapable and can’t be understated.

There really is nowhere for students to hide when it comes to going through the Practicum process AND doing the work. It’s a team effort and everyone needs to contribute.

2. Culture Matters

As I also talked about in Part I, becoming conscious of Culture is one reason I embrace the “flipped” learning method, and giving students the full responsibility to “own” the project. It is so clear that for full learning value, students have to figure this stuff out on their own to really get it, and to understand for themselves how to function at their full potential in a world as the young, confident and competent professionals they are.

This is especially important if they are to function at a high level in a world where very often they are simply given a business problem to solve, or a goal to achieve, and expected to do it, and do it well. Some call this getting thrown in “the deep end of the pool,” and the best ones come up for air and figure it out… fast.

This was especially manifest clear during the final push to get the Content Offers and Conversion Paths operational. In typical form, some of the Content Offers were, for no real fault of anyone’s, late. Some of the deliverables that were built by students earlier in the semester, and which the Conversion Path Team assumed were ready to go, were not, and so on.

This meant that everyone in the class needed take an “all hands on deck,” and “get it done NOW” posture. The students that rose to the occasion, and a number of them did, wound up finding and internalizing this “whatever it takes” spirit, and in doing so transformed themselves from talented students into A-Players and even Rock Stars. These folks are now able to bring this spirit into the Culture of the organizations they go on to work for or with.

They also now know that in fact A-Players like to work with other A-Players, and Why!

By the way I am firm believer, and my teaching life has confirmed that A-Players are not born, but learn to be, and that one of our roles as educators is to be on the lookout for and use transformational learning opportunities to guide this development. And as I saw time and again, there can be no doubt that a class like this will reveal them.

3. Course Design Adjustments

In relation to the course design—as I shared in Part I of this post—I adopted what I would call “free-form” approach to the design that was organized around the Practicum as the central pillar. Taking lessons learned, below are some of the adjustments to the course design I will be making for course next Fall.

First, I learned that it is very important to get everyone up to speed with Inbound and HubSpot right from the start, and set aggressive deadlines in the first weeks.

A. Inbound Certification Course

This provides the conceptual Inbound Methodology and Framework and all students need to have this under their belts right from the start.

  • Watch Course Videos
  • Take Test
  • Pass Test
  • Submit Proof

For: Everyone

Assigned: Week #1

Due: Week #3

B. HubSpot Software Certification Course

This provides tactical and tool-based knowledge that we learned students need earlier in the semester, both to better address tackling the Practicum requirements, and prevent students from having to cram for the test at the end of an intense Inbound campaign execution process.

  • Watch Course Videos
  • Take Test
  • Pass Test
  • Submit Proof

For: Everyone

Assigned: Week #1

Due: Week #7

NOTES:

  • Week seven (7) represents the midway point of Emerson’s 14-week semester.
  • Taking AND passing the test at this time can serve as a required midterm “test.”

C. Persona, Content Offer, Landing Page, Call-to-Action Activities, and Assignments

To extract maximum value, each and every student needs to not only go through the course, but also “get their hands dirty” with the HubSpot tools themselves. I will also be embedding these individual assignments and activities in the first half of the semester.

Pt. 1. Personas and Content Offer

Students will be given the assignment to define personas and suggestions for possible content offers (with titles): ToFu (Top of Funnel), MoFu (Middle of Funnel), and BoFu (Bottom of Funnel). Sorry for the jargon!

Due: Week #3

NOTEs:

  • These will be shared in class, and the best suggestions voted upon.
  • Content Offer mini-teams will be established to create them, with deadlines set by them.
  • Other functional teams aligned with Practicum begin here.
  • Program Management/Weekly Reports begin on Week #4.

Pt. II. Landing Page, Call-to-Action with Form and Thank You Pages

Each student will be tasked to with building a Landing Page, Call -To-Action with Form, and Thank You Page all on within HubSpot.

Due: Week #5

NOTE: This assignment is core to the “Flip” and will also set up the HubSpot expert’s in-class visit. Students will share their work and the Guest will be available to review the work, and address any questions or issues that students have been struggling with.

D. Program Management

All marketing professionals know the value and apply program management to the work we do, as a matter of course. In this context, it was amazing to watch students to respond to this need and figure out how to organically bring a sense of stability and order, organically. It took a while, but in retrospect, would be useful to call out and speed up.

In the end, one highly gifted student rose to the challenge and took the lead to develop a Project Tracker using Google Sheets (spreadsheet), which was open and available to everyone in the class. She also assumed the Project Management function organically and was shared with another Rock Star, whose job then was to align and optimize the key words and then post the content.

Program Management to Begin Week #4 or thereabouts.

Features Include:

  • Use to foster Cross Team Collaboration.
  • Breaking down the class into Functional Teams Organized by Practicum
  • Use to Highlight Weekly Work Updates and Reviews with Full Class
  • Apply Discovery Meeting Style with “Show and Tell” by all
  • Define Assign & Track Weekly Progress and Accountability
  • Use Tracker to Organize Project

Please feel free to reach out for more information on course design.

Final Thoughts

The first time with a new course like this always poses some challenges and risks for the professor, and there clearly have been many all along the way, which I have done my best to share with you.

There also is no doubt that marketing and communications are undergoing a digital transformation, and an (r)evolution that is moving very fast.

This presents colleges and universities today with the not insignificant challenge of offering current and relevant learning experiences in a time of transformation and change.

So can this type of partnership or hybrid model work collaboratively with the status quo of the curriculum? And does the combination of the two yield a meaningful result for students?

It’s clear to me that hybrid courses like this represent the future of marketing education, and offer one (1) path to solve this synthesis that is both timely and relevant. This class has proven to me without doubt that hybrid courses can be designed to magnify the best of both… a tried-and-true curriculum that provides the foundation, context and frameworks, together with hands-on learning and application of latest and greatest tools all applied to solve a real world business problem.

Here is what some of the students say…

I really love that we were able to dive into the software and that no features were off-limits… this is the only class where I genuinely feel I’ve gained job-ready knowledge and skills in one semester. I’m proud to have this program on my resume and in cover letters. – Paige Niler

My favorite part of the project was learning how to use the HubSpot software and then immediately going to the tools and figuring out how to create content and pages with my own writing and edited work. – Emily Schnider

It really gave me confidence in my ability to use what I’ve previously learned and frame it in ways that have enabled me to succeed. – Catalina Nguyen

I’m really pleased that I was able to learn to use every aspect of the software in this project, as I’m sure this will apply to my future marketing career. – Milo Goodman

The hands-on nature of using HubSpot, particularly with this class, was extremely liberating in terms of working with a client and a classroom environment. – Amber Hughes

My perspective on marketing has changed after taking this course. I used to see inbound as a way to support outbound but now I see them both as equally important when doing an integrated marketing campaign. – Lindsey Di Costa

Before, I was so focused on outbound because that’s what was taught to us. With inbound, we can do more with less and it’s a game changer. – Hantzley Audate

Teacher’s Thoughts…

The process was by no means perfect. And there is no doubt that some students gave more to the project than others, and got more out of it as a result. Every student got a new sense of the possibilities ahead of them, and experienced (or not) for themselves what it takes to make it so.

Many who were initially reluctant or intimidated, jumped in with the help of Jon Gettle’s strategic visits in particular, and in doing so transformed themselves from students who were used to external guidance and spoon fed projects, into real A-Players, adopting a “get it done no matter what” mind-set to overcome each and every obstacle thrown their way.

And some of Rock Stars emerged as well, students who were able to pull it all together and “drive the bus” and lead, without prompting from me. Totally awesome!

This happened right in front of my eyes, which is one of the fundamental reasons we as teachers do it.

The bottom line is that each member of the class overall has been offered the opportunity to enter the workplace HubSpot Software Certified. Most will make it, and in doing so will benefit by a low supply of trained talent and large demand by companies and agencies that need their newly minted HubSpot talents, fine-tuned marketing skills, and professional work ethic.

So to address the question again is, is this “hybrid” type of course worth doing? Yes!

Would (and will) I do it again? Yes!

And do I encourage other professors to bring partner with HubSpot to bring HubSpot Software Certification into their curriculum? Yes! Without reservation.

Final Comments to the Students of MK371… 

You are pioneers. Who else would be willing to sign up for a brand new 4-hour class from noon to 4:00 pm on a Friday afternoon? You are all also trendsetters and I am truly grateful to you for taking this course on.

You have not only turbo charged your skills and opened a whole new set of opportunities for yourselves, you have also helped light up the path for a different approach to marketing education that will in no small measure benefit other students that most surely will follow in your big footsteps.

Supporting Materials

If you are a professor considering an Inbound course for either the undergraduate or graduate level, and have any questions, by all means reach out. I am happy to share what I have learned to help spread the word.

I invite you to check out the Course Wrap Up deck, and the Know Your Rights Guide, one of the awesome evergreen content offers developed by this team to give you an idea of what students at this level are capable of.

I will also be happy to share my revised syllabus for next semester with all the adjustments noted in this article. Again feel free to reach out to me through LinkedIn or at randy_harrison@emerson.edu, and I will send you a copy later this spring/summer.

HubSpot in Higher Ed: Lessons from the Classroom Part I

May 9, 2017

Inbound Blog

Emerson College HubSpot and SafeRide come together to pioneer a unique, hands on learning experience… Including the opportunity to earn full HubSpot Software Certification.

Introduction

We are halfway through the semester of our first full blown Inbound Course at Emerson College in Boston entitled Inbound in the Integrated Marketing Framework in partnership with HubSpot and client SafeRide/WalkSafe.

At this point I can say with certainty that this has been one of the most exhilarating, scary and exciting classes I have ever taught over these past 15 years, with the positives making the ride worthwhile even before the semester is over.

That said, and with this halfway milestone reached, this seems to be a good time to share what we have learned so far with anyone interested in HubSpot and Inbound, including Academia – Students, Faculty and Administration or anyone who may want or be looking to bring Inbound and HubSpot into their academic environments.

THE Mission…

The core missions of this partnership are to:

1. Provide students a hands-on experience with HubSpot tools on behalf of a live client, in this case a ride sharing security app called SafeRide/WalkSafe (now a HubSpot customer as a direct result of this project), and

2. Offer students access to the HubSpot Software Certification course and the opportunity to earn HubSpot Software Certification, which is traditionally only available to HubSpot customers.

It is clear HubSpot views its relationship with the academic community as a partnership, all predicated on the open source creed of “information wants to be free.” Info Libre!

As one of the top ranked marketing programs in the country, Emerson is outstanding in offering students the core foundational and customer-centric skills in marketing and communications. HubSpot is the leader in Inbound.

The outcome of this partnership can be considered a “hybrid” to a traditional marketing course. In this case, students are offered an applied learning experience using the “latest and greatest” digital marketing tools to produce tangible business results for a real client, coupled with the college’s core competency of providing students context and strategy in the framework of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC), and exerting influence in any and all customer touch points from product development all the way through the product lifecycle.

What led my personal teaching journey to this place is the quest to expand learning opportunities around B2B and Direct Marketing, and how it all connects to the digital transformation we are experiencing at an accelerated pace today.

With this hybrid educational model in play, students are offered the opportunity to learn and earn HubSpot Software Certification in a manner that works in parallel with and complements Emerson’s robust Marketing Communications curriculum, while opening up new internship and career tracks leading to well-paying jobs right away, for those that are so inclined.

A Hybrid Model for Education: What We Have Learned To Date

Overall there are three (3) high-level learnings I have been able to take away from the teaching the course so far:

1. The students are, in this context, classic early adopters and naturally digital savvy. Their participation indicates a real hunger for the opportunity to work with latest and greatest technology in a real world setting. Word-of-mouth around campus for this course, which currently takes place on a Friday afternoon for four (4) hours, is strong and demand is growing.

2. From the college’s point of view, this experiment clearly opens the door to develop leadership in terms of the transformation of the ever faster changing marketing and communications landscape in a manner that supports and works off of the traditional curriculum at the same time.

3. This “hybrid” model works and can indeed open the door for other institutions and other marketing professors of all stripes to offer similar opportunities to their students.

Course Mechanics: Seven (7) Steps So Far…

Step #1: Certification Courses

There are two (2) certifications that we sought to integrate into this Inbound course:

A. Inbound Certification Course

Inbound Certification reviews the basics of Inbound including the Methodology and “Buyers’ Journey.”

This course is free to anyone. I found that it is essential that every student take and pass the high level Inbound Certification course immediately. I would now allocate a maximum of two to three (2 – 3) weeks for students to complete, and pass the test!

B. HubSpot Software Certification Course & Practicum

The HubSpot Software Certification Course is broken down into two (2) components:

1. The Video Course and associated test, administered by HubSpot; and

2. The thirteen-part practicum, which is all done on HubSpot though a Customer Portal.

Originally when I set up the course calendar, I allocated the full semester for students to complete the HubSpot Course itself, as well as take and pass the test.

All of us realized early on that the videos are themselves the primer on the tools, and since they are aligned with the practicum, watching the whole course provides essential information students need right from the start, and as such, be experienced at a high level by students, much, much sooner.

In response, I broke things up and assigned watching the whole course a 1st half of the semester activity, with the deep dive and passing of the test a full semester assignment. I will zip this up even faster next time. Lesson learned!

Step #2: The Kickoff

I am very lucky in this regard in that Emerson is located in Boston, right in HubSpot’s backyard of Cambridge, Massachusetts. This afforded us the opportunity of kicking the course and semester off with an offsite visit at HubSpot’s offices. The kickoff included a tour and overall presentation, as well as a meet-and-greet with HubSpot recruiters and Emerson Alum HubSpotters.

A couple of things for non-Boston area professors to consider.

Isaac Moche and the HubSpot Academy team put together two (2) great tools you need to be aware of which can be used to create your own course kick-off even if you are not in the Boston area:

1. A great Project Kickoff Deck with links to the HubSpot Academy and relevant resources drawn from the Academy’s robust suite of materials. The scope and scale of this content can be overwhelming!, so these links coupled with the Practicum are a great and necessary starting place for students.

This element is important in that it does a great job of defining the opportunity, the “what’s in it for me” as well. As we all know, there is literally zero (0) unemployment in this sector of marketing right now, and students who earn certification and possess soft professional skills can be assured of well paying job opportunities ahead.

Simply put HubSpot, and the HubSpot ecosystem of Agencies and Customers need high quality talent that can hit the ground running.

2. Direct Track to HubSpot HR and both the Job and Internship Recruiter Teams, with an associated checklist of what HubSpot and its partners are looking for, along with a live mini-resume review. The students loved this.

3. Don’t forget Culture! I used to pooh-pooh culture until I got in the tech space way back when. Culture and understanding both how it works and learning what is expected are essential, along with, of course, how to surpass expectations too. HubSpot’s Culture deck is a great tool in this regard and one can argue that its core characteristics apply in any company today.

Step #3: Project Brief

I put together a Project Brief that is mapped against the practicum, which itself is mapped against the HubSpot Software Certification Course chapters. Feel free to reach out to me through LinkedIn if you would like a copy.

A couple of things to note:

1. HubSpot Software Certification with the associated practicum is, by definition, a real-world and applied learning experience, not an imitation! This is part of what makes this type of class so exciting.

Remember too that HubSpot Certification requires working with a client that is a HubSpot customer with an active portal. Students get access to HubSpot and the Academy as “assigned users” through the Portal.

2. In the academic setting, one ideal client would the school itself. This way HubSpot can serve as the platform for using authentic student generated content to attract and convert a variety of constituencies and focused on a variety of objectives from enrollment and alumni fundraising and mentorships and much, much more.

3. The practicum requires some real results from live campaigns. In order to have the time to meet these criteria, I broke the semester in to three (3) pieces: 1. “playing” and hands-on learning; 2. building on HubSpot all the necessary content offers and campaign elements; and 3. going live and adjusting based on results.[10]

It will be fun to see what happens when we go live somewhere around week 9 or 10 in the semester.

Step #4. Flipped and the Learning Power of Being in the Deep End of the Pool

I have found that in an applied learning environment, the “Flipped” learning approach works very, very well, and is the core of the first phase of a course like this.

The idea is simple.

Once the Kickoff (Step #2) has taken place and the Project Brief (Step #3) distributed, students are granted user access by SafeRide to the HubSpot Portal and the Tools, and then given the instruction to “figure it out” to make sense of it all… you can say they are literally thrown in the “deep end” of the pool, just like real life.

In this phase, I see my role as the Facilitator. This period went on for the first five (5) weeks of the class.

During this time, students asked all sorts of questions and tried to lean on me to provide structure, to set up deadlines and milestones besides what I already provided, for example. I declined.

Some asked me how do they manage the project? Again, I declined, and asked in return “what do you think you need to do?”

And others asked about specific problems like how do I set up say a Landing Page? My answer… Google It (HubSpot Landing Page).

This part of the process is crucial!

Students need to grapple with and attempt on their own to figure it out. Some were clearly intimidated. Some afraid. Now the controls are in their hands, and no doubt about it, learning a new set of tools on the fly like this, is by definition, scary.

Will these talented juniors and seniors rise to the challenge?

Step #5: Inbound Expert In-Class Visit #1

Fortunately I have been through this before and believe in the power of today’s students to rise to any challenge. The first time we brought HubSpot into one of my classes in the Spring of 2014, the students were frustrated, angry and upset at this point of the project. I was getting all sorts of e-mails(!), and was, quite frankly concerned what would happen.

I was very lucky in that I had scheduled one of HubSpot Academy’s amazing instructors, Lindsay Thibeault, to come in and address their concerns after struggling with building, in this case, Landing Pages and Calls To Action.

All I can say is it was magic! Over a period of an hour and a half, students’ frustration and fear transformed into confidence and certainty… “We can do this!” You could see it and feel it happen. Extraordinary!

That was then, and the question now was could it happen again?

This time around we were lucky to have HubSpot Consultant extraordinaire Jon Gettle come in to an equally emotionally charged class, and the results?

Here are some student comments:

Jon is an absolute HubSpot ninja. He knew exactly what we were getting at even when we felt lost with the software and the direction Inbound needed. Jon expertly broke down the complexities into something we could immediately implement and feel comfortable working with. — Emily Schnider

He explained the concepts and software in terms that were easy to understand, and that made a big difference. — Milo Goodman

We would make things harder and more complicated on ourselves, but Jon put us in check by letting us know that we need to take a step back, take a breather, and focus. We feel good about the direction everything is going now. 🙂 — Catalina Nguyen

Jon is a great resource that bridges the gap between HubSpot and the class. It’s beyond helpful to have a living, breahting HubSpot resource in the classroom to address any roadblocks and troubleshooting we have. — Amber Hughes

Jon was really knowledgeable about the inbound stuff, and knew where we weren’t doing well and where we were doing well. He helped us with landing pages and keywords, and overall added to the HubSpot process. — Jamie Wong

HubSpot is not just marketing, it is life, it deals with the same principles and understanding of the world! — Nick Kitsos

He was also able to connect with us and was VERY effective with his analogies. HE CAN TALK WITH THE YOUTH! “The juice is not worth the squeeze.” — GENIUS! — Hantzley Audate

As the Q&A with Jon progressed, it became clear that the path ahead was do’able and not out of reach. You could actually see and hear the energy of the students change as the visit progressed as frustration and struggle turned into the “we can (and will!) do this” energy and spirit.

And here is what Jon himself said about his class visit:

I love seeing the “a-ha” moments the students have during our conversations when you can tell they are really grasping a concept. Seeing the next wave of talented inbound marketers apply the concepts we think about every day at HubSpot is rewarding in a special way. — Jon Gettle

Magic Again! Mission Accomplished!

Again there are three (3) aspects to consider in this phase:

1. Struggle is necessary. The greater the struggle, the richer the learning experience.

2. Students at this level, once challenged, WILL rise to it.

3. The need for Inbound/HubSpot expertise is a key. Most of us who teach marketing in higher ed may be very familiar with Inbound and HubSpot, but we are not Inbound/HubSpot experts. HubSpot knows this, and we are working with the Academy Team right now to build out a process to help fill in this gap for classes everywhere.

Step #6: HubSpot Customer/Power User Visit

After all that has taken place this first half of the semester, it was time to lighten things up, take a larger view and see how it all fits, in application. In other words a Case Study. And what better way to do that than have a real Inbound user come visit to provide this real-world context?

In this case, we had a local Inbound/HubSpot power user, Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance and Lighting in Boston to come to class. Students loved hearing from a master how it all works, and what can happen results-wise when it is done really, really well.

It’s one thing to learn from the Certification Course videos, another to get the under the hood view from a real customer. When it comes to Inbound and who sells the “Best Appliances” with the “Best Service” in the Boston area, no one does it better than Yale.

Dishwasher User Guide anyone?

Step #7: Do the Work

With just seven (7) weeks (out of 14) under our belts, we have gone through a couple of cycles, in terms of who does what? This was a surprise.

This class is made up of twelve (12) students.

SafeRide/WalkSafe is an app that you can use to alert your friends that you are in transit… Cab, Uber or Lyft… or even walking alone, and that you have arrived to your destination safely. If there is a problem, the app provides a way to alert the network you set up as well.

From a product positioning point of view, users in essence create a micro-community of like minded folks who watch out for each other, who have each others’ back. And all for just $.99 at the app store!

SafeRide is new. The space is cluttered. And in their wisdom, they adopted Inbound and HubSpot as their marketing tool of choice, and sought to focus on college students as their beach head, to use Crossing the Chasm lingo.

One more thing. SafeRide seeks to scale its user base, and after some initial discussion has basically agreed to offer students the app for free.

Multiple Class “Re-Orgs”

That said, here is the progress of how the teams re-organized themselves and the work progressed:

1. In the beginning… it was a free for all. Where to begin? What to do? Students broke into two (2) competitive teams of six (6) students.

The Student “Market” although a niche perhaps if you take into consideration the market as a whole for SafeRide, was still way too broad and hard to “personify” as is. So the question then became where was the most value for SafeRide in this population? And value as the students started to perceive it equates with safety and vulnerability, and what student communities are potentially most vulnerable, and would get the most value and benefit from using the SafeRide app?

As the students and teams digested the project, the first action item was to define the Personas with each team focusing on three (3) content offers, one for each of three (3) personas.

Some of the Personas students identified in this manner include:

●      Sororities

●      Fraternities

●      Women of Color

●      International Students

●      LBGTQ Communities

●      Freshmen

●      Tinder/Daters

●      Late Night Working Students

2. During the next phase, students organized themselves in teams of two (2), each focused on building out an individual persona, and seeing how for they could take it. It was in this mini-team format, that students were in during the struggle phase, when HubSpot consultant Jon Gettle visited.

As the process unfolded, it became clear that the class as a whole needed to focus on SafeRide and its objectives, all aligned with HubSpot Certification, and not be distracted on competing with each other. The oars needed to be moving in the same direction if this was going to work.

3. Coming Up. The Final Phase… The class is made up of students with a diverse range of talents. Some are content and creative types, some are analytical and SEO savvy. We also have a few Quants, sprinkled in with some Strategy and Account Managers with an Entrepreneur or two, and Student Leaders. Some are working professionally already. All are digital by nature.

One thing I was struggling with is how to organize these student resources to ensure efficiency and non-duplication of efforts, consistency in terms of messaging, look and feel and the developing SafeRide Brand, let alone meeting the Practicum requirements so that students who pass the HubSpot Software Certification Course Test can earn full HubSpot Certification?

Then it became obvious. Use the practicum to re-organize and break down functionally.

So once the class reconvenes after Spring Break, each student will be tasked to take responsibility for one (1) Practicum requirement, and then draw from the collective resource pool of class talent to assist in meeting their requirement.

Classes will then be in essence “floating meetings” to meet, collaborate and track and do work, to both ensure consistency and that all the requirements are met by semester’s end.

Three Next (3)Steps…

Here is what is coming up for the second half of the semester:

Step #8: HubSpot Expert Visit #2

Step #9: Going Live on HubSpot

Step 10: Improvement and Delivering Results!

It should be fun to see how this works… More to come

The Tesla Model S… Marketing and Innovation Together Means Stunning Success.

April 9, 2012

Even though the tepid response to current all-electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf indicate otherwise.

Here is quick review of the state of electric vehicles, as of Spring 2012…

“General Motors has temporarily suspended production of the plug-in electric Chevy Volt because of low sales. Nissan’s all-electric Leaf is struggling in the market. A number of start-up electric vehicle and battery companies have folded. And the federal government has slowed its multibillion-dollar program of support for advanced technology vehicles in the face of market setbacks and heavy political criticism.” – NY Times, The Electric Car Unplugged, March 24, 2012

A number of years ago, a friend turned me on to a quote by Peter Drucker that goes something like this… “The two drivers of business growth are Innovation and… Marketing.” This got to me and is a big reason I chose to get in the game of marketing way back when.

At our core, we are a big fan of “new stuff.” We love the challenge of taking new ideas to market, of creating or exploiting demand for products people don’t even know they want, need or love yet.

You Say You Got a Revolution!

In this regard, today is a feast for marketers with a taste for taking innovation on. That’s because we are living in a period of radical change powered by exponential growth of a variety of enabling capabilities. The most notable example perhaps is Moore’s Law and how the number of transistors on a chip have been doubling every 18-months since 1965. Starting gradually, almost flat, after enough doubling, the curve starts to climb and then goes like an elevator straight up if this compounding effect can be maintained.

There are a number of other enabling technologies entering this supercharged phase simultaneously including Bandwidth, Storage and Information creation itself as indicated by the Digital Universe Study conducted by IDC in association with storage leader EMC will attest.

The Potential of Innovation: A Vacuum Effect That Pulls Innovation Forward

Add it all up and we are living in a revolutionary period that is driving the Potential of Innovation, on the grandest scale.

What do we mean here by Potential of Innovation? Simply put, it’s when a Capability has entered the latter or steepest phase of the exponential growth, and the deployment or Utilization of this potential is lagging well behind, as the chart above indicates.

Over the years I have heard technologists describe this gap as a vacuum, a vacuum that by its very nature must be filled… and from what I can tell, the best of what fills this empty space can be boiled down to vision, creativity and innovation.

One company that to us most exemplifies these characteristics is Tesla Motors and most especially the Model S, their new vehicle that is now gearing up for production. With over 7,000 advance orders already on the books for this gorgeous pure electric vehicle, we believe the Tesla S will be a game changer and the first vehicle to truly fulfill the promise of widespread adoption of a car that is not powered in any way by the internal combustion engine, New York Times notwithstanding.

Here’s why?

Again and again we hear about energy efficiency and “green values” relative to the environment and planet we all live in. There is no doubt there is a much higher level of consciousness than ever before. The only problem is, although we may expect or want companies to be good environmental citizens and follow best practices, we as consumers don’t necessarily want to pay extra for it. And for all the talk about energy-efficient cars, the reason we don’t have them now is that customers traditionally follow the money… lower gas prices means we accept the status quo, high prices mean that we cut back. In other words we cut down consumption when fuel cost is high, but invariably resort to our old gas guzzling ways when prices go down with no real alterations made to efficiency standards.

Electric Vehicles: Niche Category…

What this means is that true electric cars appeal by definition to the niche we call Early Adopters, who are into energy efficiency and green tech because they believe in it and are quite willing to pay extra and buy before anyone else to support this belief. And Hybrids? These vehicles aren’t disruptive in any way except that they get good and often great gas mileage. They do prove however there is an audience for energy-efficient products.

This is what makes what Tesla is doing very interesting.

Tesla’s first car the Roadster has been on the market for a couple of years and has sold, if the public account is accurate, around 10,000 vehicles at $100,000 each. These cars are not only pure electric, they are also a very fast, super premium product. In other words, the Roadster is a high performance (0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds) sports car that can perform in a league with a Ferrari or a Porsche, that just happens to be electric.

As far as markets go, this is an extremely limited audience by any measure. However, the Roadster is a clever first step from a strategic marketing perspective, as it begins to alter the accepted perception that electric cars by definition don’t measure up to those powered by internal combustion engines.

One of the other objections to electric vehicles overall is that they necessitate new driving habits and expectations that American car buyers have been slow to accept, if at all. The perception is that electric cars are slow, don’t drive as well, cost more than they are worth, and what’s worse, make driving a structured activity posing the risk that the batteries may run out of juice mid trip. This is not a recipe for wide-spread adoption in the US market, certainly.

You can see this reality playing out right now with the Chevy Volt:

“Volt offers the fuel efficiency and forward-thinking you’d expect from Chevrolet.”

The Volt has a range of approximately 35 miles, when the gasoline powered generation system kicks in, so drivers don’t have to worry about getting stuck. It doesn’t look bad, but politics notwithstanding, with a pure electric range of 35 miles a charge, it is compromised and production has stopped, at least for now.

“the new car. 100% electric. zero gas. zero tailpipe.”

And then there is the Nissan Leaf.

The Leaf looks funny, and with a range of 65 miles seems too complex and different for the mainstream car buyer. Again, this is a compromised driving experience, something only an early adopter electric car buyer could and would love.

… Or Mainstream?

The Tesla S is clearly different.

Tesla Model S: Another Vehicle Entirely…

As you can see it’s beautiful. I’d put it next to a Lexus, Mercedes or Infiniti anytime. It also boasts great performance for a luxury sedan (0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds), can go up to 300 miles on one charge, and because the drive train is all-electric, it opens up cabin space and also lowers the center of gravity for a great driving experience. In other words Tesla S is great luxury sedan designed from the ground up that is electric and not the other way around.

In fact, most drivers can get back and forth to work for a week on one charge.

Marketing is a Key Enabler

The question now is, how can we position this vehicle so that the mainstream car buyer get’s it?  As it turns out Marketing has a set of tools that can help us figure it out.

Here is the current positioning from an outside looking in point of view:

Tesla is beautiful luxury car that performs better than any other sedan on the market, including Mercedes, Lexus or Infiniti. It (base model) costs $50,000 gets up to 300 miles a charge, costs a few hundred dollars a year to run and is all-electric.

This can be reflected in Tesla’s own taglines:

  • Performance for the 21st Century
  • Electric from the Ground Up
  • Zero Emissions. Zero Compromises.

Not bad…

The issue here is these core positioning tag lines are not connected directly, and the umbrella line of “Performance for the 21st Century” forces us to define what that means to us. And since there is no “Mainstreet” context for reference,  the “Electric from the Ground Up” with “Zero Emissions and Zero Compromises” then is clearly focused to Early Adopters, which is fine except that it misdirects the overall value proposition away from the mainstream audience and dilutes the position that is inherent to the product to engage the larger “Majority” audience and therefore fulfill its true sales potential.

Positioning for Success

Let’s use our double vector model to break this apart and see what we can do re-position the Tesla Model S for even greater success.

Vector #1: Luxury Sedans

In this case, the Market Alternative is Luxury Cars.

The singular “value vector” in red comes down to best luxury performance in a world dominated by leading brands such as Lexus, Mercedes and Infiniti among others.

With a gorgeous bottom to top design with acceleration from 0-60 in 5.3 seconds and amazing handling, the Tesla S can clearly outperform its gas-powered luxury sedan counterparts.

Vector #2: Electric Cars.

As we can see, there are some stunning differences especially related to design, but here we are looking for a more logical or mental key difference, and what really sticks out is the range. Model S gets up to 300 miles a charge, the others not even close. The Volt goes so far as to integrate a gasoline powered generator that kicks in after 30 miles, but that is an obvious compromise. Tesla does not compromise here. This is where Tesla’s no compromise position noted above obviously comes from.

“X” Marks THE Position… Where Differentiation Matters

Add the two up and Tesla can now make a statement like this:

Add it all up: The Tesla S is designed from the ground up to be a beautiful luxury sedan that just happens to be all-electric. And because we make no compromises, Tesla S not only outperforms any gas-powered sedan in terms of pick up and handling, it also gets up to 300 miles a charge so you drive everyday and never fill up at the pumps again.

Now let’s revisit our tag lines:

Nissan Leaf boils it down this way – “the new car. 100% electric. zero gas. zero tailpipe.”

Chevy Volt – “Volt offers the fuel efficiency and forward-thinking you’d expect from Chevrolet.”

Tesla Model S – THE Luxury driving experience with no compromises, no emissions and up to 300 miles per charge.

Bottom Line: Now, what car do you want to buy? And I am not just directing this question to Early Adopters, who will validate the product, but mainstream car buyers who will elevate this 21st Century Silicon Valley startup into a real player on the auto manufacturing stage with a product category that for the moment at least, is given up as lost.

Marketing and Innovation: Where Everything IS Possible

On one level this is monumental achievement, but for someone like Tesla’s Elon Musk, whose other company SpaceX actually launches stuff into orbit around the earth, this is a manageable task. Tesla clearly demonstrates that when marketing and innovation come together, everything is possible.

Mitt Romney’s Uninspiring Campaign for the Presidential Nomination: A Marketing “Train Wreck” that Doesn’t Have to Be.

March 19, 2012

Sorry for the long hiatus from the blog. We needed a break… but now we are back, smack dab in the middle of the political campaign season. At this point we are mid way through the primary season, which often serve up best and worst practices in marketing positioning by candidates in either party. There is so much to learn from and consider, but today let’s look at Mitt Romney and his campaign through the marketing lens as a classic worst practice.

“Front runner” Romney is one of the most disciplined candidates ever. He looks the part, is extremely successful, well-financed, a proven business entity, and with the economy having suffered the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression, a clear shoe-in for the Republican nomination. Right?

A Train Wreck in the Making from a Marketing Point of View

But as yet, especially with his recent loses to Rick Santorum in Mississippi and Alabama just a few days ago, Mitt is unable to “close the deal” with party activists of all stripes and get on the with the business of running a presidential campaign.

This was captured from prime real restate on the Romney.com Home Page and speaks for itself. This is about as uninspiring a message as I have ever seen from a top-tier candidate in any party... ever.

It is easy to see why he is having trouble, when looked at from a marketing/positioning lens. This is not inspiring to anyone. In fact its depressing. Who is responsible for this train wreck?

Winning Minds is Half the Battle…

Effective positioning requires two clear vectors of differentiation if we are to create the much-needed “compelling reason to buy.” Let’s see what we can do to untangle this mess and get Mitt his mojo back.

We know and he has defined the first vector as being a successful, problem solving business person who would be a capable steward of the economy and getting America to work again. The message… Obama and the Democrats blew it, the American Economy is in a shambles, and he is the most qualified to turn it around. Strong indeed.

Here is what it looks like.

Ready to cast your vote for Romney yet?

Winning Hearts is the Other

As the graph indicates, this does not give us as the electorate enough information to get a real “bead” on him. This gives us the mind or mental piece, but where is the heart, the emotional center that is lacking in this “message”?

This is why Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum have been able to gain so much traction and capture the support of the conservative base of the party, where the passions of morality and social conservatism lay. In fact, just a couple of days ago in an article in Slate entitled Stop, Right Now! You’re Making a Scene!, by John Dickerson, the first sentence reads “The Mitt Romney campaign would like Republican voters to stop and think like Mitt Romney for a moment: rationally and without getting overly emotional about things.” Ouch! And this response is by no means unusual.

Romney gets none of it and has created a dangerous (for him) vacuum filled by the other republican candidates, hence his dilemma today.

So we get it. Pundits proclaim Romney has no message. In fact he has half a message, which in this case may be worse than no message at all.

The Marketing Solution…

Mitt is not like most of us. He is not just successful, he is incredibly so. He knows how to make money for himself and his investors. He is cool and calculating. He also holds to religious beliefs that many appear foreign to many voters. Where then can an emotional connection be made?

Our positioning model again shows us a clear path… a path if taken will lead to a certain and swift victory for the nomination, and the ability to compete and perhaps defeat a sitting president who gets stronger every day.

Create the Emotional Connection

I will argue it’s the American Dream itself. For the first time in many years, people feel afraid that opportunities to create wealth and success are closed to them. Mitt himself is a living embodiment of the Dream. He has done it!

To win, the marketing view says he needs to embrace his success in this context and therefore position himself as the embodiment of and protector of the Dream in a way that no other candidate can. The man who can fan, as some have categorized, the “dying embers” of the American Dream and bring it roaring back to life, so the rest of us mere mortals can have a crack at it too.

The last step is to roll the two, the head message of the proven steward of the economy and heart message of the defender of American Dream together.

Romney = The Caretaker of the American Dream

This is what the Head and Heart position would look like.

Add it up this way and Mitt Romney in this case is the “Proven Businessman and Candidate Who, As President Will Preserve and Protect the American Dream for All.” This is a far cry from the screed on the home page that urges voters to support his current, “not to spend more than take in” rallying cry and would give him a direct, powerful argument that is capable of connecting to the aspirations of conservatives and moderates, and the independents he will need to reach the goal.

Music Is Free–Let It Loose… and Reap the Benefits. PART II

March 11, 2011

This is what the Grateful Dead’s sound system looked like in 1973, from an article in Rolling Stone entitled A New Life for the Dead: Jerry Garcia is Checking Cash Flow Charts.

The Dead was a growing enterprise as the scale of this, their very own sound system in 1973 indicates. The ballroom days are long gone now.

It was a monster — state-of-the-art in those days. This hippie band was really taking off even then, as the 1960’s, the decade of their birth was now long gone. The Woodstock Festival in 1969 showed the world that rock music had an enormous audience and in 1973 that potential was becoming realized. The music business was now a big, big business!

The ballroom scene that featured multi-night engagements in small intimate halls with capacities of up to a thousand or so, described in Part I, was over. The capacity of these venues was not enough to sustain the escalating costs and fees of touring artists any more.

And we all know that things were to get bigger yet.

What is clear, as the last posting suggested, is that the Dead were riding the wave… and were now in control of their business and destiny. Consciously or not, they were also creating best practice marketing, building an ever-larger base of community support and demand for their product – improvised music that reflected the moment, the connection with a co-creating audience, that was different each and every night.

If we rewind just a couple of years earlier back to 1969, I can share how it looked on the ground as some of this was developing. Imagine we are at Boston’s top rock club, the Boston Tea Party, formerly The Ark, a venue that could hold an audience of 1,500 or thereabouts. It’s New Year’s Eve 1969/70 and strangely enough, the Dead are playing in Boston, instead of their home base in San Francisco. What a way to end that action packed decade.

I am helping the band’s road crew load in. Lot’s of gear to move, and extra hands help. There is one fellow that stands out. He is dressed in western gear with a couple of leather bandoliers strung across his chest, looking like a space-age cowboy outlaw. Instead of bullets, however, the bandoliers are filled with little bottles of liquid, containing what I do not know.

Introducing, The Bear, aka Augustus Stanley Owsley, the Dead’s sound guy and from what I could see, much, much more. He is overseeing the PA system he designed, making sure everything is unloaded safely, placed where it needed to be and in the process of getting hooked up properly.

I had met Bear before and was nervous at first. His reputation preceded him and I knew he was very, very smart. Plus I was just a teenager and Owsley (let alone the whole band) were in their mid-twenties at least and much older than I was, so it was easy to feel intimidated. I was around grown ups, legends already thanks to Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, numerous articles in the early version of Rolling Stone, and Herb Greene’s iconic photos.

But Bear was cool. Maybe because I was helping out, I don’t know for sure, but I found he was very approachable and very friendly… he also exuded an air of authority, confidence and hipness just by his being. He didn’t need to talk too much.

The Sony 770 Portable Tape Recorder was state of art in the late '60s and as Owsley told me, a triumph of miniaturization. Check out the soundboard tapes from the era and you can hear just how good these machines... and the band were!

Two things I also noticed as we loaded in and set up for this New Year’s run. First, Owsley was carrying around, I remember this clearly, a couple of state-of-the-art Sony, I think they were Model 770, portable reel-to-reel tape decks. He used them to record each and every show right from a stage-side hook up.

They were sleek, portable devices, Sony’s top-of-the-line decks. The way Owsley talked about them, their bass response, wow and flutter and other such features, these machines were a triumph of miniaturization. I remember the price too. I lusted after one but the price was way out of reach, something like $800, which was a small fortune in those days.

The second thing I noticed happened right before show time. The Dead always took sound seriously and their monitor system, the speakers placed on stage so they could hear each other play, was very important to them.

I gather this was one of Owsley’s PA responsibilities and he would always reveal himself to the crowd as he adjusted things at the soundboard by the stage. He would bring one of those Sony tape decks (or two) down with him and plug them in to a junction box type of device.

Then something funny would happen. Every once in a while a fan would go up to him with a tape machine and ask if they could patch in. And it usually happened in one of two ways… some would ask nicely. And you could see it, if they did he would smile and help patch some of them in.

Others would demand this opportunity. These folks would be ignored. The pushier they got the more he ignored them, and at a certain point a burly member of the road crew would wander by and “gently” escort this individual away, without the sought after connection made.

What did it all mean?

Looking back, I now realize what I was seeing. This was an early version of band-accepted tape sharing at close range. And Jerry wasn’t the guy, nor was Phil or other band members. And it wasn’t the road crew either. At this point in time it was Mr. Bear himself.

At the time I didn’t understand what I was experiencing exactly, except that this was something different. After all no other band that I was aware of tolerated in any way, shape or form, fans taping “their” shows like this right off the soundboard, ever. Club maybe… fans, no way.

Whether it was by intent or lucky accident, now I know I was seeing what today marketers call Positioning in action.

Winning Hearts and Minds…

In simple English, Positioning is all about addressing the questions “How Are You Different?” and  “Why Should I Care?” in a clear and direct manner that cuts through the filters we all employ to drown out the marketing “noise” we are all exposed to each and every day. It is the key that opens the door to a customer/company/product relationship and a community interaction.

Differentiation is the “Mind” element of Positioning, and the Dead were different in all respects, including the music, which, since it was improvised, was indeed different each and every night.

The “Heart” side in this case is the connection audiences had and still have with the band’s music, the feeling it created in millions of fans all over the world that listened to and loved it then and do to this very day.

Sharing, whether by design or accident, supercharged this connection, this sense of Belonging and Community that are cornerstones to effective use of Social Media today.

The Dead, somehow found a way to position themselves to win both the Hearts and Minds of the people, and I saw it begin to happen right in front of me, in a hall that maybe held 1,500 folks with the person at the center of the whole thing, a couple of feet away.

That’s what Positioning is all about. It is not a battle as many think, but connecting in human terms the mental and emotional connections we have with people, with information, with products and services we let in through our filters and then, in the end, act on.

No box here!!! Courtesy of NASA.

We have all heard the expression, supposedly coined by Apple’s Steve Jobs, “In the box, out of the box doesn’t matter because, actually there is no box.” From what I can tell, Owsley had nothing to do with boxes and the results of how this helped drive the ever-expanding Grateful Dead community at that time, speaks for itself.

Luck, accident, invention? Conscious, strategic intent? Who can say? It was so long ago after all. However, there were real things going on. And one thing is sure, today we have the opportunity with the luxury of 20/20 hindsight to identify goodness where we find it, and the Dead is fertile soil that offers useful info, even marketing information that we can use today. Who knew? Now we do.

Music Is Free–Let It Loose… and Reap the Benefits. PART 1

December 3, 2010

Intro: Back to the Future

I recently tee’d up final group projects for my Principles of Marketing classes this semester. Since I started doing classes in 2002, I have had students attack the music industry and break up into teams that represent major or independent record labels with the goal to create marketing strategies to grow their business from these two perspectives.

This is no small feat when you consider that the music industry was disrupted by peer-to-peer and other technologies that have empowered listeners with capabilities to distribute and secure music for FREE, and it committed suicide by suing customers and refusing to adapt. Who could have predicted in 2002 that a computer company, Apple, would operate the most successful legal digital distribution system, iTunes? Extraordinary!

How do you compete against FREE?, and make money at the same time?, is the knotty challenge, and there could be no conversation about this in class without taking a look at the visionary band that understood it all so long ago, and built a business and marketing model that made it happen, and happen on a grand scale.

A Bit of Historical Perspective

In 1969 I had the great good fortune to get a job at the best rock club in town called The Boston Tea Party. How I got the engagement is the story for another posting. It was a winter weekend in January that I started and the band, a little combo from Britain, was making their debut in Boston.

For the next year and a half or so, I had what I would describe as a front-row seat to one of the most creative periods in music, at least in my lifetime. Artists I was able to see, hear and hang out with ran the gamut from Ricky Nelson, The Who, Jeff Beck and Pink Floyd to B.B. King, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Big Mama Thornton, Eric Clapton and yes, the Grateful Dead, the band that redefined marketing for me.

Since one of my duties was to help these bands load in (up two flights of stairs!!!) and set up their gear, I would really get to know the roadies, road managers and other behind the scenes facilitator of the music, as well as the artists themselves.

The Dead were unusual even then. They were as far out as you can go… very smart and very unique, obviously. More than anyone else they embodied the “be ‘hear’ now” hippie spirit… and expressed many dimensions through the music.

Their road manager whom I got to know a bit was a fellow named Owsley, otherwise known as the Bear. Bear was also a world-famous chemist and from what I now know, an all around Renaissance man and resident genius.

Looking back I don’t know how The Dead could play sometimes, especially once Owsley had done his thing. And yes, there were moments when they really couldn’t, like the first they night they followed the The Bonzo Dog Band (another story) in the Fall of ‘69. There was no way to follow this rock and roll musical circus, which was part of the extended Monty Python family, that had the audience freaking out and running for the exits by the time they finished.

Then there were the nights, when it all came together… and the music, created on the fly just for and with the audience, transcended everything. Electrifying. So when it worked, it worked… and when it didn’t, oh well, there was always tomorrow.

Hippie’est to Highest Grossing Concert Band of All Time: An Amazing Transformation

So how did The Dead go from hippie’est of the 1960’s hippie bands, to the highest grossing concert attraction of its era well into the 1990’s?, an era of Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson dare I say Neil Diamond, another huge draw?

Leesons for us all, 40-years later!

Of course it’s the marketing!

David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan give us great insight into this with their recent book, Marketing Lessons from The Grateful Dead. They identified the genius level marketing developed and adopted by the band… best practice and learn’able lessons that are applicable to all products today.

I will argue that what The Grateful Dead understood, perhaps intuitively at first, was the sense of community they were a part of and had the power through the music to create, nurture and grow.

A 360-degree business perspective

As you can see from this pie chart, from the article in Rolling Stone*, A New Life for the Dead: Jerry Garcia is Checking Cash Flow Charts, from way back when in the November 22, 1973 issue, they were able to see themselves not only as a concert band, but as a business from a 360 degree perspective that included concerts, importantly, but also the totality of their business. They then created a variety of companies including a record label, a sound design and production company, a travel agency and much more to support the enterprise.

Building Demand

Around & Around It Goes: More demand = Larger Halls, More Equipment, More Gigs, Larger Overhead, Bigger Organization -- Repeat

At its center or core, was the live music itself, the concerts. As it turned out, this was where when the 60’s ended and the 70’s and beyond began, the overall Dead experience could be monetized as they played bigger and bigger concert halls.

They consciously realized that since each performance was basically improvised and different, it was possible that demand for tickets could be increased, where fans would come night after night, market after market, and invite their friends to share a unique musical experience each and every time.

The other, was the understanding that the music once played was no longer theirs alone. In other words, the notes once in the air, were no longer owned by the band or anyone for that matter. This was and still is counter-intuitive, in stark contrast to how the rest of the concert/music business views it – where the music in all forms is still considered the property of the artists themselves and fans are prohibited from “capturing” it in any and all forms, except for artist-authorized versions, and of course in our memories.

Live Music Creates a Connection between Artists and Audience

In creative terms, the one thing I learned by having had the opportunity to watch bands play multiple night engagements at the Tea Party over a two-year period was see how instrumental the audience is to the creative process.

There would invariably be a night, THE night when the connection between the artist and the audience would be at a more intense level. Bands were “on”, and we the audience didn’t just passively hear the music, we actively listened and a two-way connection was made that fed off and built on each other.

These were the nights we lived for and there was no doubt that the audience was integral to the creation of that night’s music. The Dead always understood and respected this connection and surrendered control.

Who Owns It?: Let “Remarkable Content” Loose…

Knowing this also allowed them to open up the concerts themselves freely to “tapers,” die-hard fans who wanted to record a living document of the show. These tapers, were then free to share the recording with friends and other fans as well, and in doing so foster and feed a community of friends and fans, who in turn would fuel more demand for the live, real thing and so on, round and round it goes, growing all the time.

Yikes!

You would think that considering their extraordinary success, other bands, and even products and services would surrender control and follow down this road. But sadly, this has not turned out to be the case, at least not yet.

…And a Community Flourishes

Today we need to understand that music is in a way like “information is free” (to quote Stewart Brand) and by that I mean not necessarily free relative to cost, but free in terms of being un-tethered by artificial restrictions. The marketer’s way is to let it loose, let the audience control it and in doing so give them a reason to share, to connect and then experience the real thing for themselves.

As the Dead proved with music, letting it loose unleashes the marketing power of the music (information), the more compelling and in today’s terms “remarkable”, the more the demand, the audience will grow and the more opportunities to monetize the total experience will emerge.

In today’s world with tools like social media where such a strategy based on collaboration with the audience aligns perfectly with transparency and customer control, who knows how much “further” the Dead could have and would have taken it!

Part II to come: How it all worked… From What I Could See, Owsley was The Guy who made it happen.

* I wanted to acknowledge the Rolling Stone: Cover to Cover, the DVD set that includes every issue, every page of Rolling Stone from 1967 to May 2007. You can read it all, as it happened, and see music and music journalism evolve from those heady days of the late 1960’s to today. If you love the music, you will love this!

I also wanted to call out the Grateful Dead Archive now housed at the University of California in Santa Cruz. They are in the process of digitizing massive amounts of the Dead’s memorabilia and making it available to all, in the same spirit that made this all happen to begin with.

Doing Good… Is it Good Marketing?, Good Business?… or Just Crazy?

September 9, 2010

Knights Apparel is paying its workers in the Dominican Republic three and half times the going rate. Can they thrive when their shirts cost 20% more to produce than everyone else?

  • Introduction
  • Investing in better working conditions and worker salaries in Dominican Republic so that product costs are higher than the competition… are they crazy?
  • Why it can work… applying marketing principles to counter the drive to lower prices and commoditize the product
  • How “doing good” can be good business

Introduction

One of my roles is marketing professor at a great college in Boston. A foundation of all of my courses is to have students comb traditional and online media to find and share marketing-related stories in each and every class. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that business is dynamic and literally evolving on a minute by minute basis sometimes, a fact that no textbook, at least in the print format, can ever keep up with.

What this means for me as a teacher is that I have to “eat the dog food” as well, if I am to keep up, let alone lead such a research-based activity in a classroom.

So it is that earlier this summer I came across an article in the New York Times last month by Steven Greenhouse, Factory Defies Sweatshop Label, but Can It Thrive?

I was very excited when I read the article and have not been able to get it out of my mind since. This is because contrary to the implication that “doing good” cannot lead to business success as implied by the question “Can It Thrive?” in the headline, when looked at it through a marketing strategy and positioning lens, we can easily see it is very likely this business can and will survive, thrive and perhaps be a model that other more well known consumer brands can and should adopt.

Lowering Costs Drives Business, Doesn’t It?

No, I am not trying to buck the research that typically asserts doing good for its own sake does not necessarily move customers or prospects to act and buy a product or service. There was much discussion a few years back about “green” business initiatives and would customers pay extra for them, and if so how much. Was Green enough on it’s own to drive a marketing program and deliver results?

Perhaps not.

We may have, want and maybe even expect a “green sensibility”, but we see again and again that when it gets to the pocketbook, we don’t want to pay more, at least too much more. We may penalize a product for say a lack of “green-ness” but we don’t necessarily reward them for it either.

In this mindset, the negativity implied in “Can It Thrive?” may make some sense.

The answer however, is far different from a strategic marketing perspective when doing good is positioned as added value.

First a little background.

Introducing Knights Apparel

The company in question is Knights Apparel, based in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Knights is, according to the article, “the leading supplier of college-logo apparel to American universities, according to the Collegiate Licensing Company.” The factory discussed in the article is in the Dominican Republic and produces high quality, college/university logo’d t-shirts for sale under the Alta Gracia label in campus bookstores across the US. The cost of the actual shirt is $4.80 with a wholesale price of $8 and retail cost of up to $18.

What is unusual here is that Knights pays workers a living wage. Where other factories may pay workers $147 a month in often harsh working conditions, the lucky workers at this factory earn $500 a month, up to 3 and a half times more. Not only this, workers are allowed to unionize and work in a clean, friendly, modern and safe environment, which is unheard of at most factory locations.

Shirts of this quality which may cost others $4 to produce, costs Knights $4.80, a 20% premium, so there is an added cost.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Whereas in today’s globalized manufacturing world companies are on a constant quest for countries and workers where they can pay ever lower wages and cut overhead costs in order to maximize profits and value to investors, here is a company bucking the trend and going in the opposite direction.

Plus if the research is to be believed, what customer in their right mind will pay a higher price for a commodity item like a T-shirt?

We do, and we do it all the time.

Positioning Can Be Used to Support Different Business Strategies

It comes down to positioning, brands and value. Using the product adoption lifecycle for a model, we can see the following:

The Early Majority supports leadership and works like a herd… if my friends and peers do it, so will I. And not only that, this audience will pay a premium for a leading product, for its perceived value. This is where brands come in and why they can be very successful. If my friends see value in Nike, so will I. And yes, we all know that cool little swoosh will cost me more, sometimes much more.

To the Late Majority, a t-shirt, is a t-shirt, is a t-shirt. Lowest price wins their purchase. And if we can get a branded shirt at a lowest price in say a discount store, we are not fools, we will buy it. But if it costs more, forget it. Cost, lowest cost is more important to here.

The game here is added value. If Alta Gracia shirts were focusing distribution on say Wal-Mart or other discount channel, the strategy would fail. Pennies matter to the cost of the product, and the higher production cost would not be able to play out in this arena.

But as we read, Knights strategy is to not play in that space. In fact, they are reverse positioning themselves to play in the Early Majority segment, and quite cleverly.

Reverse Positioning For Added Value

Here’s how.

1. The shirt is a high quality shirt. The facility is not manufacturing a commodity quality, no label generic t-shirt.
This alone is not enough.

2. Alta Gracia has not yet built awareness and value for itself as a stand-alone brand, although apparently there will be point of sale merchandising in college bookstores to raise awareness.
However, by providing the academic market with college/university branded product, they in effect are partnering with colleges and univerisites to offer a high quality, high value, co-branded product.

3. Students (and therefore their parents) are known to care about social concerns and they do support with their wallets.
These customers will pay a premium for products that they consider to fair traded, if the value is clear and the cost is in line.

Have you checked out the price for a Nike T-Shirt lately? Alta Garcia’s wholesale and retail pricing is well in line with other high value branded t-shirt products that can often cost $20 or more.

Add it all up and Knights has done its work to strategically position this product right where it needs to be, so it can, and I will argue almost certainly will meet its social and business objectives.

Does “Doing Good” Make Sense?

Are there lessons here for the Nike and Reebok’s of the world, whose logos have high brand value in their own right?

It seems like they have a choice.

A few years ago, Nike and others (remember Kathy Lee Gifford’s clothing line?) were slammed by the media, and customers for simply the appearance of allowing sweatshop conditions in some of their out-sourced, off-shore factory operations. They felt the pain of lost sales and as a result developed and imposed higher standards and better working conditions over time since then.

Left to balancing the quest for higher profits against the public’s expectation of social responsibility, it seems likely this kind of back and forth may continue. Companies will try to cut costs all they can, and consumers will respond if it appears they have crossed some ill-defined line and gone too far. At what is too far?

Is there a business value to a more pro-active posture like the one taken by Knights?

Costco Thinks So

As it turns out, there is a best practice we can look at here as well courtesy of Costco, the leader in the warehouse store category, outlined in a 2005 article in the New York Times, How Costco Became the Anti Wal-Mart.

For many years Costco has been a leader in the retail industry paying its workers “liveable” salaries well in excess of those paid by another leader, Wal Mart (and others) where associate salaries are pegged to the Minimum Wage.

At the same time Costco’s management has been under pressure to lower employee costs, something that Costco’s management has resisted. As noted in the article, one analyst even complained that with Costco “it is better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder.”

Why then does Costco resist this pressure?

Costco has found that fairly compensated employees are loyal, honest and stay with the company longer. Churn is down, retention high, training costs reduced, and productivity enhanced. Throw in that Costco’s affluent customer base appreciates that lower costs do not come at employee expense, well we get the idea, there is a monetary benefit.

As Costco’s CEO Jim Sinegal put it, “This is not altruistic, this is good business.”

Sound familiar?

Our marketing model shows that companies can do good, quantify its value, serve customers and in the deliver more value to customers, if they live in the right place on the Product Adoption Lifecycle.

The Marketing Lesson of the Product Lifecycle… You Can Choose Where You Live

Then think of the transformative impact this has on the actual workers. One of the workers at Alta Gracia put it this way, “We never had the opportunity to make wages like this before. I feel blessed.” Feel good now?

Here is the recipe that adds value and re- or reverse positions Alta Gracia T-Shirts from a commodity to value product:

1.    The higher quality of the product itself

2.    “Borrowed” Brand Value that leverages the affinity of the College/University

3.    Added Value of a Good Deed that in fact is also doing “Good Business”

4.    Opportunity to build Alta Gracia as a stand alone brand recognized by students

5.    Natural brand extensions to other intersecting markets (parents, etc)

6.    Other affinities, such as sports, music and others can build on model

Add it all up and it means higher value, the kind of higher value customers are willing to pay a premium for.

This is FIOS… This is BIG!???

June 2, 2010

Summary:

1. The Situation
• The Curse of the Anti-Brand Continued
• Field of Dreams Marketing: Build It and They Will Come?
• Oh Really!

2. Positioning 101
• The Ultimate Choice in Marketing: Make It Easier to Sell… or to Buy
• Customers Know “This is Big,” is Bad and Act Accordingly

3. Recommendations/How to Fix It
• The Power of One Word
• See The Difference

4. Conclusion

• Getting the Positioning Right Means Success. Getting it wrong…

This is Bad!
We have explored anti-brand/worst practice marketing before, notably in the airline industry. We explored the disintegration of the legacy carrier brands (United, Delta, American and the like), and how this has created openings for the quote unquote discount carriers such as Southwest, Jet Blue and Virgin to add value to in a variety of ways and in doing so develop true and sustainable brand connections with customers.

Another industry that traditionally seems to take this anti-brand/anti-customer approach is the telecom sector – phone, cell phone, cable and broadband providers again and again seem to go out of their way to make it as complex as possible to purchase and service these vital products that are so much a part of our daily lives today…. plans, contracts, service agreement periods, rebates, data services, VoIP, bundles and variable pricing, locked phones, unlocked phones, smart phones, dumb phones… figuring this all out is a daunting task!

And it is not to say these anti-brands don’t spend money on marketing. They do. And lots! It’s just that from a marketing and positioning perspective, many of these companies have attempted to make their product easier to sell, not easier to buy. This is a subtle yet often profound distinction which has often led customers to such a confusing array of product and bundled offerings and “deals” that get in the way of achieving the desired outcome, ironically of maximizing sales.

The result…

A Better Product Alone Does Not Mean Success
Last week, after a 2-year wait, we finally had Verizon’s FIOS installed in our home, and the promise of fiber optic digital broadband bundled with HD and voice over internet IP phone service was a reality for me and my family. We are all delighted to be freed from the shackles of our former broadband, cable TV provider for reasons noted above. We met our contract obligations years ago and costs continued to rise to unacceptable levels for what amounted to basic TV and Internet service without recourse.

When at last the day arrived, we were lucky enough to have a savvy, seasoned installer handle the actual installation process. It was in talking with him, that the results of anti-brand thinking, relative to positioning became very clear to both of us.

Just like the Nexus One discussion in an earlier posting, FIOS to me is a clearly superior product. Fiber optics is a much more efficient networking technology over say, cable and copper wire. Plus fiber is 21st century technology, copper wire represents the past.

On one level what this means is that FIOS’ speeds are faster, and do not slow down if say others on the same line are also connected at the same time as they do with cable or DSL. All things being equal, we found that FIOS is cheaper than the cable offering available to us with many more TV channels, and unlimited long distance to boot.

Sounds like a recipe for competitive advantage and market share domination, right!

This is where the conversation with installer got interesting.

Misplaced Positioning Can Doom Even the Best Products
Superior product and a massive TV buy not withstanding, he told me that FIOS apparently only wins only a small portion of the business where it competes against cable, and has not meet expectations for quite some time. It does apparently carve into the cable business some, but it does not dominate, not even close, at least in the markets covered buy our installer.

That was a surprise, especially since FIOS can make the case of being superior and cheaper! And then there have been news reports lately that FIOS’ planned expansion program in other markets has been postponed, affirming lackluster results so far.

What could be the problem? Could it be loyalty? Is there a deep brand connection to cable providers?

Nothing in any research I have seen over the years indicates consumer love for cable companies. Many are anti-brands with a clear take it or leave it attitude. Customer-centric service? Forget it.

In fact from what I see, on the TV side in particular, customers really resent cable providers. Many dislike bundled programming offerings in particular, and often feel gouged with ever higher prices and the inability to pay a la carte for just the channels they want.

And then without prompting, the installer and I both blurted out at the same time, obviously in harmony with an “aha” moment… “This is FIOS, This is Big!”

Verizon has spent untold $ millions to embed this unforgettable slogan in our minds. But what does it say from a positioning point of view?

Slogans are often what we remember, what we pass along, what we act on… or don’t.

Slogans that get the positioning down and answer questions, connect dots, and give us that “compelling reason to buy” message right on the spot are the ones that deliver results. Slogans that don’t, memorable though they may be, can’t do the job, no matter how much cash is thrown at it.

Unfortunately this is where Verizon missed the boat.

It Comes Down to One Word…
Let’s take this slogan apart for a minute. We know from an overarching perspective this is a Verizon product, and Verizon is the network, isn’t it? But what is FIOS anyway?

I will guess it has to do with FIber Optic System or something like that. It could be called ACME or ALPO for that matter. The name can be important, but all of us have seen meaningless names such as Accenture, Altria, and Exxon that have been created for very successful companies.

No, the problem word here is not FIOS, it is the word BIG. This is the key word and it does not tell us as customers what’s in it for us. To be effective, this word has to be clear, direct and mean something. It has to answer questions, not beg them.

In this case, BIG addresses the latter. I am sure Verizon loves the technology… they invested $ billions to bring it to us. But BIG. What does BIG do for you and I? We don’t know. We… have to think about it.

This is a problem because actually, in today’s busy world, we tend not to think about things like this. When left to our own devices and unintended questions arise in our minds, usually these questions support inertia and inaction.

For example, isn’t changing providers is a hassle?, and why change now?, immediately come to my mind. Customers, typical mainstream customers facing such a rhetorical quandary without a clear reason to switch, will typically say to themselves “I will happily stay where I am” and act accordingly.

This puts the “connecting of the dots” in the hands of market forces outside of Verizon’s control, which in terms of grabbing market share, is deadly! And Needless!

All of this is wrapped up in one, in this case, one misplaced 3-letter word.

BIG or BETTER Internet Service. What Do You Prefer?
As a marketer I have learned over the years that if you are going to critique someone else’s work, you should also offer up an alternative. This is only fair after all. So in this spirit, I offer up the word… BETTER.

The altered slogan would then read:

This is FIOS, This is Better!

I am not saying it is perfect or pretty or elegant, but now we as readers of the message have something to grab on to, that we can understand. Leadership is reflected in qualitative advantage… something that differentiates FIOS from the cable product and says there may be something in it for me as well.

Imagine now the conversation I might have had with the installer if the take away message we all remember is… This is FIOS, This is Better.

In the one instant a series of questions posed by the word BIG are replaced by a declaration of superiority over the competition… the Better that is Fiber Optical TV/Phone/Internet connections over copper wire/cable. Customers would almost feel like they are acting foolishly not to get a better product and better deal, no matter what.

Our minds would be embedded with Better than… cable positioning, so taking the buy action is natural and something already clearly mapped out. This is what effective positioning is all about and one example of creating a compelling reason to buy with a positioning core.

Marketing Misfire. Nexus One… Looks Like a Great Phone to Me! The Real Battle Was Positioning and Google Missed It.

May 13, 2010

Summary:

1. The Situation

  • What’s at Stake
  • Product Features
  • Current Positioning

2. Analysis

  • What’s Right?
  • What’s Wrong

3. Recommendations

  • Connecting the Marketing Dots
  • A 5-Step Plan: What can Google do about it.

Introduction

Recently, before the (in)famous lost iPhone debacle, Apple indirectly made another announcement of perhaps greater import relative to this already proven game changing device, the iPhone. It appears that at long last, Apple is making the big move to create a version capable of running on other carriers, in this case industry-leading Verizon.

As earlier postings on marketing to win attest, Apple needed to make this move or else risk having the product marginalized to niche status if they stayed on ATT exclusively. The risk is magnified especially since Google’s robust mobile, open source  operating system Android in tandem with other devices, notably manufactured by NHT, opens up the market above and beyond any one carrier.

And to make matters worse, it appeared that Google along with manufacturer NHT would be the tools of this destruction with the much heralded launch of it’s Google-branded Nexus One smartphone. Nexus One was designed to be platform-agnostic and besides featuring Android, it exploded the existing sales channel model traditionally controlled by the carriers, and sold direct to customers online through Google itself.

And if that wasn’t enough, customers were also offered both locked and unlocked versions of the device. If you wanted to purchase a subsidized version with a two-year contract, there was a T-Mobile version ready to rock for under $200, and a Verizon-ready model was going to roll this spring as well. Radical indeed.

Before we dive into what was wrong marketing-wise, remember there is much at stake for Google and perhaps NHT as well.

The smartphone is in fact a mobile computing platform and apps that run on these devices are, if I read the tea leaves correctly, potentially disruptive to Google’s online search-based ad model, especially as these platforms take off. I mean who needs search if in fact the app chosen already defines a clear area of interest as defined by the user?

This means that it is well worth Google’s time, talent, management attention and dollars to get in the game and win a real piece of the action, no matter what it takes. Otherwise others (re: Apple) will be in the driver’s seat. Android is one piece. An “iPhone killer” device, a Nexus One… another.

The Good: Feature by Feature… Nexus One Looked Like a Winner!

And what Google/NHT have done on the product level looks real good to me. The more you look at the features of Nexus One next to an iPhone, the better it looks.

It boasts a variety of powerful features including:

  • megapixel camera with a flash, versus the megapixel without flash on the iPhone 3GS,
  • the battery is removable and replaceable, iPhone’s is not,
  • there is a micro SD slot to add up to 32-gigabytes of memory, where with the iPhone, what you buy is what you get
  • apps run simultaneously on Nexus One which the iPhone is famously unable to do at this time
  • and we all know about iPhone’s inability to run applications developed on Adobe’s ubiquitous Flash platform, Nexus One of course runs Flash apps.

Plus Nexus One is the only smartphone to boast the Google nameplate, which is one of the world’s most recognized brands known for leadership in innovation. Add it all up on the product front, this is the good stuff!

The Bad: Positioning Is Where Google Falls Down

Alas, where this all is falling short is in the marketing and positioning arena, which is so essential for success in products of this class.

If there is one lesson we all need to remember and it seems we always forget, it is that product features do not a mainstream marketing strategy make!!!! We were taught this by Geoffrey Moore in his landmark book Crossing the Chasm.

Product features are great for early adopters but are not and don’t work as selling points to mainstream audiences who buy based on herd-like behavior criteria of peer adoption and market leadership.

When going mainstream, it is essential that customers get to feel that others just like them have and love the product, and then that they get to see and feel it for themselves, in order to win them over.

As far as I can tell, this is the whole deal right here on the Nexus One e-commerce and info page, the one that comes up when doing a Google or other search. Based on comments above, the positioning is off base, way off base.

From an e-commerce perspective alone, the presentation itself is simple and clean, just what we’d expect from Google.

From a positioning point of view however, what we see is a product message that by definition is focused on early adopters, not mainstream buyers. OOPS.

You can see it right away by Google tagging the device Web Meets Phone. Product features anyone? This tells us what it is, and if there was no iPhone, this may be necessary… but in an already established, hot product category, no way! Our response is so what?, isn’t that what a smartphone does? Nothing compelling there.

When we look at the rest of the Nexus One page we see the following sections, which also supports the product-focused positioning:

  • Demo
  • News
  • Already a Customer (Customer Service?)
  • Closer Look (including You Tube Channel)
  • And of course, a Buy Now button.

The question is why put the impediment of a Chasm crossing, first winning over early adopters and then mainstream buyers, in front of you when you don’t have to?

Getting the Right Message to the Right Audience

Google is a household name making a play to exploit Apple’s weaknesses and grab a piece of the mobile market. Since this is a competitive land grab type, early adopters are irrelevant here. This is a mainstream marketing move.

The criteria these consumers really care about here are leadership and referenceability. It has always been so. In other words, is the product a leader?, and do my peers have it, and love it?

Google as a brand is a leader, so customers can make the leap of faith to leadership on this level. The question is then, what do our peers think about it? Does it deliver? Is it (the product) “baked”?

Here is where the marketing for this product breaks down.

It is most likely that many potential customers don’t know anyone who has one, and what’s more, if they are interested, they can’t see it for themselves, let alone play with it and internalize the benefits of its many features. This appears to be a result of the Google-facing distribution channel. Because of this radical departure away from carriers, T-Mobile stores, the current existing carrier, don’t have them.

Re-Positioning: Connect the Dots and Take it to the Streets!

Assuming that this won’t or can’t be changed, what then? How can we get this product to the people?

How about testing then deploying some temporary pop-up stores and displays in key markets, key malls, key events, even key warehouse stores like Costco? Consumers can drop by and see, and ask the questions as well as buy… Plus such a temporary approach creates time sensitivity and urgency and also lends itself to deadline driven promotions to induce immediate buy decisions.

Segmentation

Also, so many students today use G-Mail and Google docs. What about more targeted programs, in this case engaging campus reps and offering sales incentives and scholarship-based promotions for sales results? Here is where you could play early adopter card… the rebel, be different card to build traction and gain market share.

Testimonials

One other avenue is to retool the YouTube Channel. Currently the Nexus One channel is all about product info and demos. Keep this content if you must, but also focus on customer testimonials instead. And this can be done strategically, and by that I mean seed it with some key persona or consumer types. Create some promotional incentives to drive submissions, then let it go.

There are plenty of consumer videos out there on the phone, but they are all over the place and you have to dive in to find them. They need to be connected back to the Nexus One page. And content kept on point as much as possible. This is where the incentives and promotions come in. These are necessary to create that peer support that is so essential.

Service?

Lastly, part of the fear factor that holds mainstream buyers back is service. They want and expect a tested service function. They don’t want or accept beta testing done on them. They want a fully baked whole product in place, operational and working. If not, they hold back and do what comes naturally.

They wait.

On the product/marketing side one big issue that can’t be , what happens if I am having issues? Who do I call? Where do I go? Since what is radical here is the “untethered” sales model, we have to know there is a clearly marked place we can go if we need help. Right now I have to figure it out and I don’t have a person to talk to or place to go.

Positioning is all about connecting ALL the dots and at no time is this more important than when mounting an incursion into mainstream markets with an entrenched and powerful leader.

Summary: A 5-Step Plan

To boil things down then, here is a 5-step plan to reposition the Nexus One into a viable competitor to the iPhone (note: there is still time!!!):

1. Re-position the product: Web Meets Phone positioning tag has to go. How about something like Nexus One by Google: The Smarter Phone or something like that.

  • Google. We need Google mentioned for leadership, making the phone not THE but A leading product,
  • “Smarter.” This way you create a qualitative showcase for the features to shine, but talk in the leader/market talk needed in mainstream communications

2. Narrow down to some tighter target segments,
3. Create incentives to drive and organize testimonials,
4. Take the product to the streets so customers can see, touch and buy the product from a person,
5. Re-communicate that Google is there for you relative service

Add it all up, now you have the marketing foundation to communicate a very competitive offering that can grab some market share. Now Google can add a link on the main search page for starters and they can realistically capture a portion of a % of that number to take Nexus One from failed iPhone Killer to a monster hit, with all the benefits of same!

Apple is safe. Or is it? NHT had fantastic earnings for its smartphone offerings through carriers on a global scale. NHT also has the ability to draw upon Google’s Android mobile operating system and Windows too, which will be releasing its new OS momentarily. So as Sherlock Holmes said, “Watson the game’s still afoot” but the battle for mobile superiority may be played out on another field.

Note: As I post this (May 13, 2010) Google/Android/Verizon announced sales in excess of iPhone for the first time. Stay tuned!

Sue the Barbarians! Who Knew This Is a Marketing Strategy?… and A Brilliant One at That

March 6, 2010

I used to think that patent lawsuits and such were not in my area. For Lawyers, inventors and innovators and maybe even engineers. Absolutely! Marketers like me? Absolutely not. That is until now.

An article just appeared in Wired entitled,  Apple Fires at HTC, But the Target is Google http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/03/apple-fires-at-htc that got me me thinking about smartphones, iPhone and the recent launch of the Google Nexus One smartphone manufactured by HTC.

I remember seeing that Google’s groudbreaking strategy of selling this next generation, unlocked and carrier-agnostic smartphone direct to customers had run into a few bumps early on.

Some customers were having trouble trying to sign up or get their phones activated. It appeared that others who couldn’t figure out where to get activation and other issues resolved, found themselves in customer service “purgatory,” getting an endless runaround between Google or T-mobile, the charter carrier for this landmark product with limited success. And then some folks, who got sick of the whole thing and attempted to end their new service apparently were hit with a $350 early termination fee from their old friends at, no not the carrierT-Mobile, but Google itself.

These issues I think could be attributed to a new product and in fact whole new paradigm and distribution eco-system that is no longer under carrier control. My initial thought was, so what, there are a whole lot of customers out there hungrily waiting for this great device that will buy it anyway.

If you read my last posting, you may remember my response to Nexus One and the very real threat it posed to Apple’s iPhone franchise, the leader in its space. And what I perceived (and still do) as a very real threat capable of exploiting Apple’s weakness inherent with it’s excusive ATT relationship. Because of this, a strong Nexus One product has the ability to render the current leader iPhone to niche status.

Then it hit me. Add up the launch glitches with this new wrinkle, and any uncertainty before has now been amplified many times over.

And what does that mean?

It means that mainstream, early majority/mainstream buyers who may be very interested in this product, especially on say a Verizon or other non-ATT platform… are now forced by their very nature to hold off any such purchase and wait, wait until these issues have been resolved… a process that I bet may take years to sort out if Apple has its way!

This is NOT good news for Google!

How is this so? Geoffrey Moore in his great book that I still use in my Principles of Marketing class entitled Crossing the Chasm defines “early majority” buyers as conservative and pragmatic.

They don’t gamble on horse races… they buy from already established winners. They also adopt when peers adopt, and peers don’t adopt until leadership has been established. This paradox gets to the core of the Chasm.

And of course, once things are hashed out and leadership established, customers buy often moving all at once as a herd creating a lucrative Stampede, Tornado or Tipping Point that we have all heard so much about.

The key underlying risk and now major impediment to market domination comes down to, “What happens to my $500 investment in Nexus One if this suit is won by Apple?” In this case, this is a $ billion question!

I will bet that this very lucrative and key mainstream segment will most likely do what they always do when faced with such uncertainty… they stay with the status quo, perhaps begrudgingly, and wait until things get sorted out.

This makes this patent lawsuit a classic market-buster, at least for now.

Google/HTC had an opportunity to grab a significant market share of smartphone buyers who if nothing else, had an interest in a product of this class outside of ATT from a trusted brand and innovator.

But now this prize is out of reach, at least for now with this very clever, marketing move by Apple. The market will wait. And I will bet Apple is in no rush to settle either.

Google still has another prong to its strategy, which is to evangelize its Android operating system as far and as wide as possible, but the lucrative profits from its own handset will elude them, at least for now.

I will leave you with this thought. I still don’t think lawsuits like this should be considered savvy marketing strategy or tactics, except perhaps under unusual circumstances.

One criteria which makes this a marketing move is the fact that the Plaintiff in this case  (Apple) is the established leader in this category, and under attack by the Defendant newcomer (Google/HTC).  Conquest of the top-dog, especially a leader such as Apple, which is marketing at a consistent, radical and best practice level, is very, very hard, even if you are Google.

Secondly, Apple’s claim of patent infringement is credible even to us lay folks. It does not appear frivolous. Just look at the phones side by side.  If it did, we probably wouldn’t care.

Are there others? I would love to know what you see and think.