Is it the Marketing or the Market: The CMO’s Conundrum

You’ve optimized your Web site. Got a cool new logo. RSS and Blogs are engaging thousands of prospects. Sales guys trained. Gartner just named you a Cool Vendor. And yet…somehow nothing is moving the needle in Sales. What’s wrong?

I thought to write this entry after having a quick “sideline chat” with a CEO friend of mine as we watched our kids romp around the soccer field. He was asking my advice on advertising and PR for his company to help jumpstart sales. “We just need to get some buzz out there,” was the last thing he said before our team scored and euphoric pandemonium broke loose.

When I hear comments like this, the first thing I think is that people truly don’t understand marketing. If you have a fundamental sales problem and decide to try and fix it with PR and advertising, you will likely end up much poorer, with only an outside chance of improving sales. Because while PR and advertising are tactics that can be used in marketing programs, they are not a marketing strategy. It’s the strategy part that I think many CMO’s don’t push hard enough on.

I typically resist citing Ted Levitt, after working at a company where people would shout “We’re not in the railroad business, we’re in the transportation business” in just about any strategy meeting where our CEO was present. They would smile confidently after invoking the great Harvard guru, sure that the citation would earn them their next promotion. But Marketing Myopia was a landmark article, and many companies today should take a refresher read. Because sometimes it’s the corporate strategy, the product definition and value proposition that are the problems. It’s often not Marketing’s strategy; it’s marketing strategy that’s the problem. It’s something the whole company needs to agree on and move forward with.

This is why you often see startup companies change strategy, because as smart as we all are here in Silicon Valley, you can’t always predict how the markets will change. During my tenure here at Ipedo, we had the dot-com bust, 9-11 induced market caution, and a huge rise in the acceptance of open source. None of these were in our business plan, and yet they significantly affected the buying behavior and technology adoption of our desired customers, so we needed to adapt our product and our message.

In my previous company RSA Security, after many years of being a great but not urgent technology, suddenly the Web (read Netscape) made ours a must have. The fact that the government was fighting to dilute the strength of encryption got us a volume of PR we never would have been able to generate otherwise.  Who knew?

So sometimes you can move to a market. Sometimes it comes to you. Actually moving a market is something I’m not sure anyone can do, certainly not on a startup’s budget.

So what are you to do as a marketer? I came across a great entry on the marketing function in David Hornik’s Venture Blog, where he nets out why marketing is so hard:

“What has become clear to me over the years is that great marketing is not purely about science. It is not purely about art. It is not purely about intuition. It is a powerful combination of art, science and a little bit of luck (perhaps driven by intuition).”

As a CMO or VP Marketing, you must step up to help form the right corporate strategy. This means working with the CEO and exec team to pick the right market with customers who have a problem.

But still, picking the right market, getting the timing right, and then building the right product and programs to capitalize on it: this is all very hard stuff. Is it time to hit the gas, or time to switch course? Is it the marketing or the market? This is the CMO’s conundrum.


December 10, 2007 at 11:42 pm Leave a comment

Hey Milk! Got Ad?

Sometimes ads just make me mad. It’s an occupational hazard I suppose. When you work in marketing and you see bad marketing, it just gets to you.

Normally I would just get over it. The problem is that there’s a new billboard from the California Milk Advisory Board that I see every day driving home on 101. Today the print ad version covered the back of the Sports section in the Merc. So I need to vent.

The new ad is part of their “Real California Milk” campaign. The San Francisco Chronicle has the whole story, but it’s basically an attempt to block imports of “out of state milk.”

My problem with the ad is in the execution, not the idea of California branding. Here’s what the billboard copy says: “Make Sure it’s Certified Local.” That’s it. Not that it’s fresher. Not that California has higher standards. Basically that California milk producers are protectionist. Boy, that really makes me want to go out and buy California milk. And 20%? Even a consumer inclined to buy local would find that a low number.

The thing is, why even mention this 20% bit? Why not just start promoting fresh California milk? And where is this rogue milk coming from, anyway? Oregon? I have no idea, but I’d think the folks up in Eureka and Redding would find that preferable. It’s a head scratcher that this campaign came from the same people who brought us the Real California Cheese campaign (which I’m okay with) and the Happy Cows campaign (which I found amusing, if a bit disingenuous).

Also, from a strategy standpoint, Buy Local (think Starbucks vs. the local coffee shop) and Buy American (think Ford/GM/Chrysler vs. Honda/Nissan/Toyota) campaigns don’t have a history of success in California.

The Chronicle story mentions that the Board found 7 out of 10 people prefer to purchase locally produced milk. I am always suspicious of these types of findings from market research. So much of it depends on how you ask the question. I’m sure most people would by default say they would prefer local milk, absent any knowledge of potential advantages from out of state milk. But if milk from Oregon or Wisconsin were cheaper, had higher standards, or came from cows who were treated more humanely , I think most consumers would be interested.

And, of course, it’s just plain sad when compared to one of the greatest ad campaigns ever, Got Milk? It was created by the California Milk Processor Board (no idea about the relationship between the “Advisors” and “Processors”) and has an astounding 90% awareness rating. And I even learned a bit of history from the first one (Quick: Who shot Alexander Hamilton?). Check out the fascinating Wikipedia entry.

I buy a lot of milk (two small kids), but I just don’t get this new campaign. The thinking behind it seems, at best, calcified…

December 5, 2007 at 10:07 pm Leave a comment

Janine Popick on E-mail Marketing

In this installment of Experts in Five, we chat with Janine Popick, president and CEO of Vertical Response, one of the better known hosted e-mail marketing providers. We wanted to find out how e-mail marketing is working these days, and how it has changed. Disclaimer: We use Vertical Response for some of our marketing, but this is not why we chose Janine. We asked her because she has been a pioneer in e-mail marketing and blogging on the topic for some years now.

CMO 2.0: Sorry to have to ask you this up front, but with all the spam these days, people are overloaded with e-mail. Does e-mail marketing still work?

Janine: Yes, done correctly email marketing is one of the most effective forms of marketing today. Smaller businesses have an advantage: they generally tend to know and have great relationships with their customers, so their customers look forward to receiving email communications from them. Their data tends to be in one place so managing and cleaning lists is simple. Larger businesses tend to have more of an issue. These businesses are spending a lot to acquire customers fast, but with quantity doesn’t always come quality. With so many potential places a larger business keeps their data, they have to be extra careful how they obtain email addresses, manage and clean their lists in a timely fashion. We’ve seen it work but it takes a lot of resources and care.

CMO 2.0: I’m sure you could talk all day on this, but can you give us the top three do’s and don’ts for e-mail marketing and explain why these are important?

Janine: First of all you want to have your list of recipients be as “opt-in” as it can be. In other words, ask for permission to email them and get permission. In the long run you’ll have some really impressive response rates. Secondly you should follow the rules, that said, follow the law. Make sure your subject line relates to the content of the email, make sure that you include your postal address and make sure you have an unsubscribe mechanism that works. This is why we tell most businesses they should choose an Email Service Provider that will cover them in this area. And lastly stick to the promise you made your list members when they joined. If you told them you would send them a weekly communication and you start sending them daily, you’ve broken a trust. You’re more likely to have them unsubscribe than to have them be excited to get your emails.

CMO 2.0: Buying lists and managing e-mail campaigns costs real money. What kind of percentage returns are you seeing these days, and what kind of cost per lead? How should a CMO position e-mail marketing costs to a CEO who’s writing the checks?

Janine: VerticalResponse is strictly a customer retention tool, so we don’t allow our users to email to purchased lists through our system. However, there are many ways to get a lead through advertising means. A cost per lead really depends on what you’re selling and how long it takes for you to make back the marketing dollars you spent. A CMO should know the lifetime value of a customer and when the cost per lead will pay back.

CMO 2.0: Talk a little bit about trends you see in e-mail marketing. What’s hot right now? What can a marketer do to stand out or get better results than his competitor?

Janine: We see a lot of people using email in so many ways; driving people to events and webinars, selling products or services, sending out monthly birthday wishes, driving traffic to blogs, videocasts and podcasts, appointment reminders, transactional emails and even awareness around social media. We even see businesses trying to convert their paper newsletters and postal mailings into emails to save on costs and for environmental purposes.

What we are seeing as a trend, although not a great one, are more and more businesses creating their emails using either one large image or a series of images put together to make a really beautiful graphic. We are constantly telling our users this is a really bad practice. Why? When this type of email reaches a recipient’s Inbox and the recipients has a default of their images “turned off”, the first and in many cases only thing the recipient will see is the unsubscribe link.

A good practice is to have a mix of both images and text, we recommend 30/70 to be on the safe side.

Caveat: If your recipients have accepted you into their Inbox, you’re email will fly though with all images shown, so it’s really up to you and your relationship with the recipient.

Other trends we are seeing are that businesses are doing less of the “spray and pray” method of email marketing and doing more segmentation and targeting of offers and content. This is driving up response rates overall.

We’re also seeing more and more businesses using tracking mechanisms like Google Analytics to see their overall ROI for their campaign metrics. It’s not only about opens and clicks anymore, it’s where the recipients go on the sites in aggregate.

I always think that to stand out from your competitor you really have to hype your advantage. If you’ve got better customer service but the same exact product, hype that you pick up the phones and talk to people in this day of bits and bytes. Do it in all of your materials, make a campaign out of it.

CMO 2.0: Predict the future for us. Where is e-mail marketing going? Will it still be around in five years, or will it be replaced by something else?

Janine: The future sure seems to be changing right before our eyes! RSS was said to replace email, but it hasn’t. Email is still a huge part of the way we communicate with the availability of email through handhelds, not just at the desktop level. According to Jupiter by 2010 email marketing will grow from 885 million in ’05 to 1.1 billion and those are just US figures. ISPs will get smarter about blocking spam which means that more and more legitimate emails get through increasing delivery rates.

Experts in Five interviews are CMO 2.0’s way of bringing you insight and advice from marketing experts. Five questions for an expert, a five minute read for you.

December 3, 2007 at 7:13 pm Leave a comment

Want to Market Better? Read a Magazine

Here’s something simple you can do to improve your marketing. It’s really nothing new, but a great way to make sure your marketing is on message and ‘with it.’

To make your marketing better, you should go and read a magazine. Specifically, you should go read the magazine that you think your prospect reads. I don’t mean eWeek or InfoWorld (which is no longer printed anyway). I mean go read a business magazine like Fortune or Business Week. Better yet, go read a targeted pub like CFO or Compliance Week.

The reason is quite simple. If you want to convincingly sell business solutions, then you should think like a business person. And there’s no easier way than to read the business publications your customer reads when he/she thinks about their business.

Here are a few things that you will learn:

  • Topics – Probably the most obvious. What’s on their mind? Is what you sell one of those topics?
  • Vocabulary – Find some new words. Stop saying things like “massively scalable” and “we give you improved flexibility and availability.” Do your business customers care about those words? Probably not.  Saying things like “prepare your databases for eDiscovery” and “improve your risk management visibility” will get to the point faster and are what customers want.
  • Style – If you want to sell to the CEO, then how about writing a business justification like he might read in the Wall Street Journal? It will hit home and make you stand apart from your competitors. For extra credit, have your PR person get you in touch with a business reporter. Take them to lunch and ask them for a few pointers on writing a solid business story.
  • Graphics – Want to express a new idea or concept? See how Time explains science and technology to the masses. One of my favorites is Popular Science. If they can explain to the layman how a mind-controlled bionic arm works in a diagram, surely you can explain how your database backup compression software works.
  • Graphs and Charts – Show me the money! Face it, great graphs and charts help seal the deal. They make it concrete. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Business Section, McKinsey Quarterly – all great sources of ways to express numbers (and better than generic PowerPoint graphs).

So go out and take a look. Whether you are selling to bankers, brokers, research scientists, military contractors or manufacturers, you will find a journal or magazine that they read. And don’t think that the IT folks at these companies, especially the senior ones, don’t read them, too. They are trying to know the business just like you are.

If you don’t know what they read, just ask them, or look around their lobby or break room next time you visit.

November 26, 2007 at 11:35 pm Leave a comment

Pete Krainik on Guerrilla Marketing

Our Experts in Five series checks in this week with Pete Krainik, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer at Quick Response Database provider QD Technology. I wanted to catch up with Pete after hearing a bit about a recent guerrilla marketing success of his.

CMO 2.0: I heard a bit about your recent guerrilla marketing success the other day. Can you talk more about what you did and why you did it?

Pete: QD Technology is a new database technology company with an interesting new approach to solving the problem of too much data, too little access. Our idea centered around our sponsorship of CMP’s InformationWeek 500 event. At the start of the conference no one had ever heard of QD Technology. Our goal was simple: given our excitement about our value prop, get the opportunity to have a 5-10 minute conversation with the IT decision makers during the two day event, and for all in attendance to at least remember QD as a new, next-generation database company.

We targeted the opening reception for our guerrilla marketing initiative. We hired four attractive but professional models (two females, two males) to attend the event as QD reps. We provided “Lose Wait with QD” shirts for the models and trained them on our key message and three key facts about QD’s value prop.

There were around 300 IT execs at the opening reception. During the reception we started the buzz that this new technology company, QD Technology, was hiring spokespeople for their company’s videos on their website and they were asking all at the reception to provide feedback on which spokesmodel should be selected. The direction was to speak with as many of the models as possible, ask them a question about QD, and then provide me feedback on their recommendation for our spokesmodel. The IT execs loved it, went out of their way to talk with the models, and oh by the way, were introduced to QD with 2-4 key facts about our value prop.

CMO 2.0: Many marketers think guerrilla marketing too gimmicky, or too edgy. What would you say to that?

Pete: Marketing is all about engaging your customers and prospects. Moving your creative juices out of TV advertising and to real “high touch” interaction is many times the best way to get above the clutter. There is too much “blah blah blah” messaging out there today. I say, be creative, think about the single message/impression you want your target audience to understand about your company, and deliver a memorable experience.

CMO 2.0: So, getting back to what you did, how much did it cost? Did you see a real return?

Pete: The cost was four models for two hours at $200 each plus a few T-shirts. We had 40+ face to face short discussions with prospects over the two day conference and four deals from the event. As a start up company, four deals was big for us. In addition, we had a mention from the stage in front of all 300 IT execs thanking QD for spicing up the opening reception.

CMO 2.0: Were you at all concerned about potentially turning off your prospects? Like if your campaign fell flat, or worse, got too out of hand? What would your CEO have said?

Pete: The key is leveraging guerrilla marketing as a call to action to earn the discussion with your customer and prospects. It is not the end game, but think of it as a “call to action on steroids.” Second, the more you get “above the clutter,” the higher likelihood you will turn off a few prospects. You have two alternatives, be with the pack with “blah blah blah” marketing efforts or break out with a point of view and a high impact approach. I will always take the second.

CMO 2.0: Sounds like what you did was a calculated risk, with relatively low investment. What advice would you give to other CMOs thinking about using guerrilla tactics? Anything you wouldn’t do?

Pete: Begin with the end in mind. When doing guerrilla marketing activities think through what you want the target audience to do after the exposure: have a new opinion, call you, sign up for something, tell someone, think differently about a competitor. Once that is nailed, you then think through the specific “guerrilla” tactic. I am a firm believer there is a guerrilla marketing opportunity in every setting, just a different execution given the size, location and target audience. Also people like to be entertained, educated or introduced to others. Frame your tactics to provide one or more of these.

Stay away from doing things that could offend a large percentage of your target audience. The more conservative your target group, the more conservative your “above the clutter” idea needs to be. Focus on entertainment, education or introductions in a creative way, not necessarily a “shocking” way.


Experts in Five interviews are CMO 2.0’s way of bringing you insight and advice from marketing experts. Five questions for an expert, a five minute read for you.

November 20, 2007 at 7:29 pm 2 comments

Ten Tips/Ideas to Improve Your Online Marketing

Do you ever have those days when you wonder what’s left to be done? A few years into your current gig and you’ve got it all wired. Lead flow is steady. Web site looks good. All the collateral a rep could ever need. We’ve all been there.

Well snap out of it! Okay, take a few easy days at work and relax a bit. But then ask yourself this: Is my marketing stale? If you answer honestly, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that you can write a long list of things that need to be checked on.

If you need a bit of inspiration, I recommend you read

  • Add a new testimonial to a high volume landing page. If you don’t have any, send a personal email to some of your repeat customers and ask them about their purchasing experience or about the product/service they purchased.
  • Place an order on your own site. When is the last time you did that? I can almost guarantee you won’t love it. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask yourself, “How could that have been easier?” Then have your designer test changes based on your input.

For those B2B marketing folks, these still apply.  Most of us have testimonials on our site, but are they on a high volume page?  Go back and download your software or a white paper and see how the experience is.

And get your feet off that desk. It’s time to go back to work.

November 20, 2007 at 1:16 am 2 comments

Landing Pages – Are We Ever Done?

Came across a post from Marketing Sherpa bemoaning the current state of landing page design. I can understand why. Anne Holland has spent years teaching marketers how to properly design landing pages, and she gets some disappointing feedback from her pupils. You all remember that disappointed look from a coach or teacher in your childhood, don’t you, right after you demonstrated you really didn’t understand at all what you had just been taught?

Here’s an excerpt from her post:

“Now here’s a stark list of the Top 10 Worst Landing Page Stats I never wanted to see in print:

#1. 48% – Can’t do any A/B testing at all
#2. 44% – Can’t measure landing page test results properly
#3. 42% – Ask more questions than needed on registration forms
#4. 40% – Only test landing pages at launch and then leave forever
#5. 35% – Send foreign-language ad clicks to English landing pages
#6. 35% – Use a single landing page for many traffic sources
#7. 25% – Don’t reflect big offline promos on their homepage
#8. 24% – Give affiliates zero landing page content or aid
#9. 21% – Require landing pages to match regular site layout 100%
#10. 16% – Don’t share landing page test results with their agency

As I commented on the post, I think this is a process problem. We all want to do A/B testing; it just makes sense. We want to make sure everything is optimized. But that’s not typically how marketing departments are run.

Most of my CMO/VP Marketing peers execute a sequence of discrete events: issue press release, launch product, train sales, attend trade show, etc., etc. Sure, these are all part of a master plan, but we don’t tend to look back, only forward. We’re not used to continually optimizing. It’s a lot of work.

I’m not sure exactly what the answer is. I think it does have something to do with the tooling we use. Though I love Google Analytics, this alone will not solve the problem. A marketing exec needs a constant view across all programs and media. And that’s not easy to do. Many of the marketing tools out there seem mostly to automate mass e-mails to prospects (with the result that many of them feel spammed, IMO). But it’s been a while since I looked at the state of the art.

Something we’ll need to look into in a future post (Or should I have said, Stay tuned for our findings? Where’s my A/B kicker tester…)

November 13, 2007 at 1:29 am Leave a comment

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