Avoiding ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’

An unfortunate truth in tech marketing is quite often when a company attempts to begin promoting its brand or products, but it's missing some important preparation for effective communications.

Technologists may be smart, even brilliant. However, their technical training likely hasn't prepared them very well for the storytelling needed to attract market attention, demand, and customers.

Additionally, there's what I call “the love factor.” That's the screen between an inventor's idea and the real world. That screen often makes technologists truly believe that their product is without equal, insanely great, and that people will naturally beat a path to their website clamoring to buy. It could happen but its not likely. More likely is there are at least five other genius inventors with very similar or exactly the same idea (solutions) hunting the same customers.

So while this may seem like a blatant pitch for marketing and business communications, its really a suggestion that, in fact, engineers don't know everything and they need some help getting the word out.

Steady, Boys

Everyone gets the tactics like ads, trade shows, websites, and news releases. What's completely missing is a strategy either for the business or the company's products.

Everyone gets the tactics like ads, trade shows, websites, and news releases. What's completely missing is a strategy either for the business or the company's products.

Getting off on the right foot
One simple rule applies here. “Strategy first, then tactics.” Everyone gets the tactics like ads, trade shows, websites, whitepapers, news releases, webinars, blogs. and so on and wants to rush off and do lots of them. What's completely missing is a strategy either one for the business as a whole, beyond, “We can make this.” or even better, one directing how you will communicate about your special brand and fabulous products.

There is so much BS around strategy, it compels comment. Strategy is not a desire or wish, as in, “To become the most respected supplier in our market,” or a financial target like, “Increasing profitability by 20 percent,” or “Grow by 50 percent in the next two years.” Those are nice goals or objectives but don't confuse them with real strategy. A business strategy is not, as is so often portrayed in the corporate world, an end point or a bunch of fluff and high-sounding language without meaning. According to one of the preeminent thinkers on this, Richard Rumelt, whose book, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy , I highly recommend, a strategy at the least includes the following:

  • A diagnosis defining or explaining the nature of the challenge. An effective diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of the business environment by identifying certain aspects of the situation as critical. (An example might be a missing piece needed by customers that competitors have ignored. It can also be lots of other things.)

    A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge. This is the overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis.

    A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out he guiding policy. These are steps that are coordinated with one another to work together in the accomplishing the guiding policy.

I hope this doesn't seem overly academic and helps your team begin thinking strategically. Good strategy makes all the difference. Ignore it at your peril!

Be different
Earlier columns have discussed how essential differentiation is. Discovering your brand's difference, that's important to customers, is an intimate part of strategy. What separates your brand or big idea from others? If that's not clear, sharp and immediately comprehensible by nearly anyone, or just your peer technologists, there's more homework to be done. The communications piece is where poor or no investment often fails to be made by tech brands. (See “the love factor” above).

Running off and just doing some possibly connected marketing tactics is a great way to burn through limited resources. You may get lucky and attract some prospective customers. What's far better is having a sharp focus on the single, unique value (people can't remember multiple values) that you bring to the market that your competitors do not, or better yet, cannot bring.

Other areas essential to success are:

  • Engage top management in the strategy and making sure its really a strategy, not just wish for success. Manage their expectations. Marketing doesn't usually affect change overnight.
  • Have a budget that's equal to the task. Don't take on powerful competitors with weak resources. They'll eat you up!
  • Stay totally focused on your difference, which is intimately connected to your strategy, and never miss opportunities to remind the market of that valuable difference.

Basically, know what you're about and who you're competing against, don't hunt for bear with a BB gun, and avoid suffering the consequences of Ready, Fire, Aim!

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6 comments on “Avoiding ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’

    April 30, 2013

    I have worked in a few different companies and continue to be shocked at the level of strategic planning that really gets done.  To be top dog it is essential to plan and execute meticulously.  Most companies I know chase very short term opportunistic leads and proper strategy is sorely lacking.  Now since I am part of these companies I guess I should also blame myself here 😉

  2. Ford Kanzler
    April 30, 2013

    I've worked in and with a lot of companies as well. Strategy fell out of favor at some point with the emphasis being on just doing it, i.e. “if you're busy, you must be accomplishing something useful.” Further, there are a lot of places which believe they have a strategy and frankly don't or, that may have a strategy but don't tell the whole company what it is. Its a big managment team secret!

    Sales- and sometimes engineering-driven organizations in particular often have a short-term mentality and lack a strategic focus or long-term perspective on how the business will compete and evolve. I try avoiding those kinds of operations…unless invited to help make changes and develop a strategy, which is my key practice area.

  3. William K.
    May 1, 2013

    The stratagy at one employer was one that was quite different, which is that we offered a much longer warranty with almost no limitations. And our response to those who asked how we could afford to do this was that “our product does not fail, so it doesn't cost us anything”. Because our equipment was used for production, reliability and uptime were quite critical. But our reliability did make a few converts, and got us lots of repeat customers. That was what separated us from our competition. Would that be called a stratagy? or not?

  4. Ford Kanzler
    May 1, 2013

    If rock-solid reliability was uniqe to your products and your competitors' products were known as less than bullet-proof, then yes, I'd say that was a business strategy. (That was the same strategy as Tandem Computer's.) Was there a price premium vs. competitors for this superior reliability? It undoubtedly cost the company more to build with higher durability than competitors. Did the company clearly and consistently communicate its unique durability difference vs. competitors, other than offering the unconditional warrantee, which customers never needed? If so, great! If not the durability strategy wasn't being carried through to marketing and sales.

    A product “ingredients” differentiation strategy is only one way of separating a brand from its competitors. In the case William mentions, the key ingredient was durability. There are many other options such as where its made, how its made, what its made of, how long its been made (heritage) or whether ifs the latest/newest (cool factor). The list of differentiation possibiliites is fairly long but must not be a difference already claimed by competitors. Also, a brand's difference doesn't have to directly connected to its product.

    Being the cheapest can also work, as Ikea, Costco and Home Depot have demonstrated. But you better have some serious barriers to competitors for that. Those retailers use their sourcing and logistics infrastructure to maintain their dominent positions.

  5. William K.
    May 1, 2013

    Because one of our star products was an instrumentation device for measuring impact velocity, one of our claims was that the device would never drift out of calibration because of the way it was constructed. It could fail completely but it would never be inaccurate. And the degree of ruggednes was obvious to anyone who looked at it.

  6. Ford Kanzler
    May 1, 2013

    Yes, but did the company focus its business communications on this valuable advantage and was that diference unique only to your products? “Built like a tank” comes to mind. Great examples of tag lines connoting the product's difference that you may recognize are:

    “There is no other” – Porsche

    “Only in a Jeep”

    “Engineered like no other car in the world” – Mercedes Benz

    (Sorry, I'm a car guy as well as a marketing pro.)  🙂

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