Message Magic Checklist

Chris Halliwell, Technology Marketing Center Executive Director here checking in with a well worn, but crucial contribution to the clarity of your marketing message.

ImagesOver the past few months, I've been involved as an EIR at an incubator here in Southern  California, which has given me frequent opportunity to hear that beloved of messages, the Elevator Pitch.  One of the startups I've been working with completely re-engineered their message and the results have been magical.  Potential customers are eager to learn more, and potential investors sense a unique opportunity. 

So much, entire books, have been written on the importance of a clear value proposition and differentiation, so this blog's contribution will be to crystallize the basics into six quick rules.


You Talkin' to Me?  Pick a target market and an economic buyer and stick to it.  Message muddling starts with lack of audience clarity. 

What's Your Problem? How many websites do not explicitly identify the important problem being solved?  Why should the audience invest in learning about your offer?

It's Your Thing.  What is this thing you are selling? Pick a category that the audience already understands to quickly communicate where you fit.  Without this mooring, you'll confuse everyone.

Debuzzify.  To be remembered and believed you have to be relevant to something the audience already knows or believes.  When you fall in love with words you invent or resort to lofty hyperbole, you lose credibility.

ILITY One.  Always be selling the category's value to grow the pie.  Express category value as an "ility", for instance, "this category brings scalability vs. older or alternative technology."

ILITY Two.  Now tell me how you are different and better than other members of the category, for instance, usability, reliability, efficiency, maintainability. Ilities are value drivers that exist over time. Establish brand by claiming the intersection of Ility One and Ility Two and supporting these capabilities with unique offer points.

Whenever you scan a website or read about a product or company that you admire, you're feeling the comfort and credibility of these 6 rules.  You'll be able to pick out key elements of the Magic Message in all of the company's communication.  On a recent Southwest flight, the Chairman's statement in the front of the Southwest magazine read, in part: 

"Southwest has a bold vision to become the world's most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline...our daily focus is on how we achieve it through the Reliability of our airline and the Hospitality of our people."

Air flight is a well-established category solving an obvious problem, getting to a destination quickly.  So what's key in this quote is the simple, plainspoken articulation of excellence in category value (Reliability) combined with Southwest's differentiation (Hospitality). This message works in part because it follows the rules, however, the most important thing is that each of us has personally experienced Southwest consistently delivering on these promises in unique and valuable ways over time.






Data is the New Oil

Data is the New OilHappy 2018! This is Chris Halliwell, Executive Director of the Technology Marketing Center, kicking off the New Year by summarizing big data business model options for your consideration.

Working with clients and the University of California, Irvine Wayfinder incubator, there is a constant stream of interest in generating profitable growth based on data.   Add in the prospect of AI-driven analytics and you’ve got yourself 1860’s style oil exploration mania!

How do intrapreneurial initiatives and startups organize to make money off data?

Data-Driven Start-up Business Models

A few years ago University of Cambridge (UK) used field research and statistical analysis of 100 firms worldwide to develop a taxonomy of 6 data-driven business models used by start-ups*. The findings from this study are presented here as a starting point for you to begin a strategic discussion about the money-making opportunity in data you are collecting as you pursue your core businesses. Note that over 80% of the firms in the research were targeting B2B markets.

Over 70% of firms use external data sources either solely or in combination with internal sources to package a data offer. For 76% of firms, analytics is a key activity, although over 70% of that analytics is descriptive rather than predictive or prescriptive. As you would expect, 62% of firms were subscription-based.

The Cambridge team used Business Model Canvas and related academic frameworks as a guide: a business model describes how your key resources and cost structure support the value of your offer to a specific market segment and associated revenue generating mechanisms. Basically, how are you going to make money?

Gartner provides a nice definition of “big data”: high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making.

Sources of Data

Data is the value, the resource to be acquired and exploited. The Cambridge study found 5 sources of data for offer development, with firms often packaging one or two sources together:

  • Existing operational data culled from your core business
  • Latent organizational data, such as emails, contracts, documents, etc.
  • Commercial data available for purchase
  • Social media data available for purchase
  • Public data

The 6 Big Data Business Models

  1. Analytics-as-a-Service (29%), for instance, Sendify, Granify, and Augify
  2. Free data collected and aggregated (18%), for instance, GNIP
  3. Data generation (typically from customers) and analysis (17%), for instance, Go Squared (B2B) or Swarmly (B2C)
  4. Free data knowledge discovery analytics (15%), for instance, GILD
  5. Multi-source data mash-up and analysis (15%), for instance, FarmLogs
  6. Data aggregation-as-service (6%), for instance, Bluenose

As expected, analytics-as-a-service dominates business model organizations, but it is interesting to note that over a third of the firms (#2 and #4) make money based on free data.

*Although from 2014, I found the Cambridge University article unique and useful, using the familiar terminology of the Business Model Canvas, and giving us a global scope for exploration of innovative business models. Here’s to striking oil and successfully harnessing the value of information in your business!

When will biometrics replace passwords?

Here's the second of the Summer series on emerging technology from Chris Halliwell, Executive Director of the Technology Marketing Center.

It can't be soon enough to get rid of scribbled lists of passwords, infrequent passwords that are forgotten from one browser to another, Facebook intrusion, and even clever but annoying apps that generate master passwords.  I'm ready for a passive, don't have to think about it solution like a heart rate wrist band.





Will Wearable Heart Rate Monitors Mean the End of Passwords?

Wearable heart rate monitors capture your heart rate in real time to help you improve physical performance or general health. But what about the potential of a wirelessly connected monitor to present your heart rate as your unique identifier for online access? Enter Bionym who make Nymi, a wristband that authenticates you to systems and online services, and in the future could replace car keys, house keys, boarding passes and credit cards.                                              

Heart rate measurement is not yet as accurate as fingerprints, but the technology is advancing, with latest Apple Watch reviews reporting far better accuracy than previously thought. And heart rate is the ultimate convenience because, unlike fingerprints that have to be entered with each access request, once you put on the wristband and validate yourself you are good to go for access to any device or service. It’s called persistent identity.                                                                        

What About Security and Privacy?                                                                                        

Biometric security systems are designed to sense and verify locally. Once verified, identity is associated with a previously issued number like an airline program number or even a social security number. Since identity is verified locally and linked to a known number, biometric systems are inherently secure because they only communicate “yes” or “no” identity association through the network to the online service you wish to access.                                                                      

Privacy issues arise when biometrics are used as proof of identity at the time of issuing identification numbers, such as a customer or citizen number. The purpose of this process is to prevent duplication so that one person can’t obtain more than one identification number. Identity proofing creates a centralized biometric database that fuels the fire of privacy concerns.             T

The leader in biometric identity is India’s Adhaar system (currently using fingerprints and retina scans). Adhaar deployment has been seriously stymied by an India Supreme Court Biometrics Decision. Critics cite objections from religious concerns about women’s bodies, to recent data base hacks, to surveillance powers of the state.                                                                                                

Will Wearable Heart Rate Monitors Win the Biometric Battle?                                                        

By 2016 Bionym had partnered with Mastercard and Royal Bank of Canada for a wearable Mastercard RBC Heart Rate Trial. The results of that trial have not been published, but it’s known that biometric identification trials, from retina scan to selfies, are underway. The verdict is out.


Thumbnail Update on Blockchain

This is Chris Halliwell, Executive Director of the Technology Marketing Center, veering away from our marketing process focus, to indulge in a small series of topic posts.  

Blockchain Logo

There are always technologies on the horizon that we will eventually have to deal with in our product and market strategy at some point in the future, think big data 5 years ago.  Some senior executive will ask us about the technology and what it means to our business.  So, to start to get you up to speed, our first technology thumbnail: blockchain.  Hope this helps.

What is blockchain storage technology and what's so great about it?

Blockchain technology enables distributed databases that store copies of information on 100s of computers.  The computers all have to agree to the validity of a data transaction, thus potentially eliminating the cost and "friction" of middleman functions in everything from digital money transfers to cloud storage providers.

"Rather than store your files on Dropbox or Onedrive cloud servers, what if your files could be split up into tiny chunks and stored on 1000s or millions of people's computers around the world…and only you have the key to view the pieces as a whole, and no organization owns your data?"  Jamie Skells,

And importantly, with one recent spectacular exception, blockchain storage technology addresses "honeypot" security issues that make headlines as centralized and human-managed databases are routinely hacked.  Database and network security issues are significantly abated, shifting security concerns to distributed, individual user authentication technologies such as long encrypted keys.

How fast will we see blockchain take over cloud storage architecture?

Ultimately experts agree that blockchain will become the best cloud storage option.  As Marco Iansiti and Karim Lakhani write in the January-February issue of Harvard Business Review, "Blockchain is foundational technology: it has the potential to create new foundations for our economic and social systems."  The technology has been employed by Bitcoin since 2008, so when will it go mainstream? 

Iansiti and Lakhani use the adoption path of another foundational technology, TCP/IP, to outline a probable scenario for widespread blockchain implementation:

  • First, find an initial compelling application: For TCP/IP in the early 70's this was a national email network not dependent on dedicated lines – for blockchain this is digital currency.
  • Second, target enterprise use of the technology: For TCP/IP a few tech-savvy firms created private localized networks, and then expanded to productivity enhancing use cases.
  • Third, make the technology "consumer easy": With the introduction of browsers, TCP/IP enabled widespread consumer use of the worldwide web in the mid-90's.
  • Finally: provide the tools to proliferate applications based on the foundation technology: Innovation in web applications created today's behemoth digital corporations, lowering costs and increasing convenience for consumers in a myriad of astounding ways.

Where is blockchain in the cloud storage adoption process?

Blockchain technology is just entering the early adopter phase of enterprise adoption, typically creating internal, private databases focused on a single use case.  This pilot test phase will prove out the viability of blockchain technology and teach innovators what they need to know as they look to expand to other use cases within the organization.  As Iansiti and Lakhani report, the Financial Services sector is well down the road experimenting with digital currency type private uses, while the broad Manufacturing sector has not yet started trials.

Got any suggestions for Thumbnail Updates?

Send them along by commenting on this post and I'll do some research for a blog post.

To Google, With Love

CalculatorGeoff Anderson, back from a long slumber and posting again on Technology Marketing Center. This time, an article on the New York Times, titled How Google Took Over the Classroom piqued my interest, and as I read it, I was strongly reminded of one of the cases that was central to Chris Halliwell's Strategic Marketing of Technology Products course, the strategy that Texas Instruments used to become the dominant calculator of mathematics classes.

As a reminder, in the late 1980’s, Texas Instruments was a major player in the manufacture of semiconductors (chips), and hadn’t yet stumbled on their niche of DSP’s. However, they had clever engineers, who build calculators. Quality calculators, they used algebraic entry, and they struggled against the engineer and scientist preferred calculators made by rival HP.

In an effort to set classroom "standards", the TI business managers began working with the textbook publishers to develop a curriculum for students that used the TI–81 graphing calculator. Fast forward, this collaboration with the textbook writers began a revolution, that led TI graphing calculators to be required equipment. This tight link to the mathematics curriculum resulted in strong growth of revenue, as well as creating a generation of engineers and scientists who are now thoroughly comfortable with the TI algebraic input. HP never recovered.

Today’s Topic

The article in the NY Times recounts the Google path to penetration and domination of the educational market for technology. Beginning with an almost accidental deployment at ASU in 2006 of Gmail to replace the university’s email infrastructure, it was popular and well received.

From there, a concentrated effort, directed at universities expanded the reach of Google within education, but the real genesis moment came in 2012, when a teacher in the Chicago Public School District bought a few accounts to Google Docs to use in her class for students to collaborate. Starting a revolution in education, this was noticed by both Google and the School administrators, and Google Classroom was born.

A product completely focused on education, web accessed, cloud based, and increasing its reach within the ecosystem of education, Google has done an admirable job of penetration, and innovation within the space, working to both increase the adoption, navigate thorny regulatory issues (there are reasons for thick books of regulations for public schools), and when coupled with the “thin” client of the Chromebook, it is a powerful, cost effective technology play for the classroom.

Today, more than 30 million primary and secondary students use Google apps and Google Docs in school, a phenomenal deployment in a mere 5 years from their breakthrough into the educational market.

The Lesson: So Long as We Learn, it Doesn't Matter Who Teaches Us, Does it?


Google rose to this position of power with a little bit of luck (a visionary teacher doing something outside the box), with a leadership structure that encouraged such risk taking, and bountiful talent to continually evolve a product to address the minute needs of the market.

It is the classic “establish a beachhead, expand your footprint, and look for tangential segments to pick off” strategy. Google led with software and capabilities, rather than hardware or expensive licenses, listened to their audience, and quickly built a formidable product offering, a true Whole Product Strategy, and one that is difficult for the other major players, Apple and Microsoft, to combat with their business models. Today, Chromebooks are the #1 electronic device sold to K–12 classrooms, knocking off Apple who began their domination of classrooms in 1978.

The Conductor: Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see. - Polar Express

Polar Express
Polar Express



This is Judi Uttal signing back in for my next Technology Marketing Center post.

Last November, I blogged about the marketing machine, discussing the 10 steps for building an SQL Machine. This post focuses on a new model I created to help ensure that our leads turn into Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).  For those who always enjoyed building model trains, I think you are going to like this model as it is based on a train. And for us marketing geeks, it is designed to hit our sacred KPIs while enabling the whole team to collaborate, without confusion.

For the last six months my team has been focused on building a marketing machine: developing campaigns and activities to generate leads through advertising, webinars, content syndication, events, new contact repositories combined with email campaigns. We have set aggressive goals for management that require a promise of enough leads to generate the pipeline to meet revenue targets. The KPI for marketing is MQLs.

MQLs are generated in two ways:

  • Prospects interested enough to ask for a demonstration or meeting
  • Prospects who through their interactions downloading papers, viewing videos, and watching webinars, appear to be ready for a sales calls. These activities are scored and summed.  When a prospect reaches a number of points, they are elevated to an MQL

Architecting the Train

This year, marketing was working on our campaign roadmap. I tasked Product Marketing to come up with a visual for the buyer’s journey.  Similarly we wanted to come up with a common view of the lead funnel and the different stages for lead development. 

It was confusing.  There were so many different ways to look at both and they did not tie together well.  I wanted to create a single model that would drive a singular vision, that the entire team could build together.  The answer was the MQL Express. 

The MQL Express is modeled after a train and defines the journey for a prospect. Prospects on-board through a campaign or activity and the off-board upon maturing into an MQL. 

MQL Train


To simplify things, I used the Marketo’s funnel stages as the labels for each car:  Top of Funnel, Middle of Funnel, and Bottom of Funnel. I added Feed the Funnel upfront, to indicate the activities that furnish the leads. 

Each train car has three emails. Each email has an asset that if download, will result in the number of points shown above.

Along the tracks, notice the wheels. The wheels define the key purpose for each car (lead bait, trends, short list, pick us). The bulleted items, outline the key points that must be made to achieve to transform the lead.

The blue boxes at the bottom show a call to action. 

  • Engage: Please respond; click on an asset.
  • Demo webinar: Let us show you what we can do.
  • Meeting: Talk with a sales person.
  • POC: Isn’t it time to do a proof of concept.

The Coal Car:  The Coal Car feeds the funnel.  It either creates the initial activity (lead bait) that attracts a engages the prospect.   It could be a series of communication associated with how the lead finds us.  For example, with a webinar it can start with the thank you, and then maybe drive a few assets associated with the webinar.  It could be the theme for a campaign.

The Trend Car:  This car helps establish the key market trends that will convince the lead that they need to be looking into this product area.  Industry reports, videos, infographics are some content that they help the lead understand what their peers are doing so that they don’t miss out.

The Short List:  We want the technical buyer to place us on the short list evaluation. 

Pick Us:  The last car, is designed to help drive the selection.  Case studies, benchmarks, and competitive reports are good assets for this last phase.

Working on the Railroad

With the train concept defined, it’s time to work on the railroad.  Every time we get a new lead, we put them on a train.  Trains are continuously leaving the station, thanks to integration of Marketo with our lead sources.

We visualize multiple coal cars.  When we have a major event, build a coal car.  We have a major new campaign, build a coal car.

We want to hit a different persona, accessorizes the train cars.  Provide slightly different assets and different messaging.

We want to do Account Based Marketing, accessorize the cars for that target customer.

The MQL Express, gives us a way to compartmentalize our work, making it manageable and the purpose clear.  The MQL Express helps us create a buyer’s journey that will deliver on the MQL goals.

For my team, the MQL Express energized the team. We all have the same vision. And to be honest it added a little fun. We added sound effects to the PowerPoint and made the wheels spin. We even started dancing to songs about trains. Who ever thought that Marketo could be fun.



Tap into Your 6th Sense with Social Listening


Welcome back to the Technology Marketing Center Leaders’ Blog for this post from the desktop of Amanda Vande Brake.

Picture yourself wrapping up the ultimate messaging and marketing plan. Each one of your brilliant strategies is accompanied by fresh data rationale, sourced directly from the online activity of your current and prospective audience pools and includes online influencer and competitor data. It’s as if you have access to a sixth sense--one that gives you the ability to see beyond the tired findings available via traditional market research.

Would you be shocked to learn that this sixth sense is immediately available to you, today?

Recently, I’ve been helping clients explore social listening technologies in the interest of micro-tuning their content marketing and product branding efforts. And I’ve discovered that social listening and analytics platforms of all kinds are becoming more accessible and usable, and that the insights available via social listening provide a quantifiable foundation for marketing campaigns and brand platforms.

So, to help get you going, here are my top 5 takeaways on using social listening tools to unlock your strategic marketing sixth sense.

#1 - You can see dead people.

Just like Haley Joel Osment’s character in the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, director), you will be able to see ghosts when you use social listening technology. The ghosts you’ll see are the billions of global social media users leaving trails of their online behavior in their wake. These trails will include real-time stats on users’ social media activity, topics they’re interested in, influencers they follow, and even the sentiment they have expressed online surrounding specific keywords. All these insights are available as part of individuals’ use of platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook so you don’t have to dig too deep to get to know your new ghost friends and their preferences pretty well.

#2 – Potential customers are relying on you to relay their message.

In our age of limited digital privacy, brands and producers have access to a wealth of publicly available knowledge about their buyers, and buyers know this. In fact, they essentially expect their public data is being mined to some extent to enhance their online experience in some way. Buyers speak through their actions, and it is up to savvy strategic marketers to observe these actions and translate them into effective marketing strategies.

#3 - You will need tools, but they’re cheap and easy to get and use.

Yes, enterprise-level social listening systems exist and are very much worth the investment for even mid-sized companies, in my opinion; however, you need Crimson Hexagon to introduce social listening to your marketing planning cycle as much as you need a Maserati to walk your dog. My go-to, quick-win and light-lifting social listening tools-of-choice are Mention, BuzzSumo, and I typically supplement insights from these platforms with keyword and competitor visibility findings from Moz. Most of these tools offer 30-day free trials and are available on a monthly, moderately priced, basis if you wish to continue having access to invaluable information.

#4 - Some things you won’t want to see, but you should.

As your awareness increases, you will become aware of more than just positive stuff. These findings may range from discovering your CEO’s Twitter influencer rating is exceptionally low to stumbling across brutal comments on your company’s latest product launch. While these findings won’t feel great at first, it’s best that you face the facts, whatever they are. Moreover, it’s best you become aware of them before your competitors do.

#5 - One of the ghosts might be Donnie Wahlberg.

For me, undoubtedly due to my teenage obsession with the New Kids on the Block, the most exciting element of The Sixth Sense was NKOTB member Donnie Wahlberg. Knocking it out of the park, Wahlberg plays Vincent Gray--one of the dead people Haley Joel Osment’s character can see--in his dramatic acting debut.

What’s this got to do with social listening? Well, it’s like this: Sometimes the ghosts you encounter on social listening are just ghosts and sometimes they are straight up celebrities like Donnie Wahlberg who can elevate your brand’s visibility or credibility by distributing or engaging with your content on their channels. Tools like the ones mentioned earlier help you identify influencers who intersect with your brand and your audience’s interests, too; so if you’re not into Donnie Wahlberg, there will be others to put on your influencer list. Then, it’s up to you to engage with the influencer to explore a mutually beneficial social media relationship.

With these tips, I hope you consider giving social listening a try. The reality is your audience is made of up of real people with ever-evolving interests, preferences and opinions, and social listening is a powerful way to ensure your strategic marketing efforts are as relevant and welcomed as possible.

The Incredible Shrinking TAM

This is Chris Halliwell with a new post for the Technology Marketing Center Leaders' Blog.

ImagesWhat to do when the market that has sustained the your growth starts to slowly experience the effects of next generation or disruptive technology?  Would you warn "don't stick your head in the sand?" But who has the guts to tell the Board that the Golden Goose is just about out of eggs, particularly if it's not obvious what to do about it?  As Ken Olson at Digital Equipment learned so many years ago, when open UNIX and cheap workstations threatened mini-computing, ignoring the threat leads to doom.  What's doubly sad is that in many instances, such as Digital, the company had the technical wherewithal to transition its customers to new technology, they just didn't want to because the new technology was cheaper. Management couldn't get their heads around restructuring and the unpredictable market expansion potential of cheaper, faster, smaller, easier.  If you don't replace your own aging technology, some other competitor will be more than happy to do it.

Share of Wallet

One approach to the dilemma of the shrinking TAM is to double down on your market and find more things to sell to current customers. This bundling strategy can include development of complementary products and/or addition of software and services, very often beefed up maintenance and support (Has anyone got a sensor and an algorithm I can borrow?)  Typically including acquisition of ancillary piece parts of a familiar solution, the management dilemma is one of embracing profit, rather than growth orientation.  The bigger bundle, if it is actually better for customers than piece parts, should be more profitable.  But it will still be a low growth opportunity year over year.

Like Science, Good Strategy Has No Dogma

Another approach to slowing TAM growth is to find an adjacent market where your technology might add value.  While the technology may not have to adapt much to this new market, many other variables may change and require substantial investment:  the channel, the buying process, the ecosystem, the nature of the problem and therefore sources of value, and so on.  A second warning in pursuing adjacent markets is the human tendency to over-analogize – analogies can be very helpful, just not if they close the mind to differences in market mechanics.  I've seen management teams blindly following fundamental "principles" of old market dynamics, wondering why the same tactics that worked so well last time are not working in the adjacent market. To avoid these mistakes good growth strategy must be more like the scientific process – hypothesis testing based on asking the right questions, and answering with facts (or as close as you can get to facts!) Sounds obvious as it is, it just isn't that common.

Define Your Organization's Foundation for Growth

One of the most difficult things for anyone or any organization is a hard, honest look at differentiating capabilities.  What you're after are the building blocks of unique competencies. The idea is to match competencies to high growth opportunities.  Once in my early mid-career I was miserable and felt wrongly matched, unappreciated.  I wanted to change jobs, but had no idea what kind of career path would inspire my drive to grow.  I read a terrific book that took me through a series of exercises to identify my passion and define my competences so that I could find a better fit job and make good money.  One exercise was to write a 50 page "story" of my career history, what I liked, what I was good at, and then decompose that story into "building blocks."  The idea was to see what other career paths might utilize these same building blocks.  It worked! 

Corning and the CCC Process

In 1879 Corning made glass envelopes for light bulbs.  Since then they have continuously committed substantial investments in Research, organically creating several multiple billion dollar businesses:  From silicone in the 30's to ceramics in the 50's to optical fiber in the 70's, to computer screen glass in the 80's, to Gorilla Glass in the 2000's.  Corning has for decades executed innovation process with rigor, but the core framework for growth rests on a simple idea of the three Cs: Finding important problems to solve for Customers using Capabilities that are unmatched by Competition.

3-Step Strategic Response to TAM Erosion

Step One:  Get your head out of the sand, go to the Board and resolve the dilemma between slower, but more profitable growth (share of wallet) versus less profit short term to find and develop new TAM.

Step Two:  Consider adjacent TAM opportunities where you have obvious technological value and then doggedly search for differences in the new market that will require additional investment.

Step Three:  Go beyond adjacent markets to high growth "white space" opportunities that match a deconstructed view of your core competitive strengths to hard problems worth solving.

Then, go do something, fast, before it's too late.

The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place.

Christopher Parks here with more from the trenches for the Technology Marketing Center, this time on innovation, and the obvious antidote to technology for its own sake.

RockyYeah, I started an article on innovation with a quote by Rocky Balboa. It is not meant to be a tongue in cheek take on innovators or what innovation is all about, but a very harsh reality. Consider for a moment that Forbes reports that 90% of new startups fail. Fortune magazine declares that the number one reason is that "They make products no one wants.” Combine this with the 5th and 6th reasons on the list "Pricing/Cost Issues" and  "Poor product" and that represents 77% of the reason that 90% of businesses fail. I can hear the naysayers now claiming "But you are talking about startups, we have an established business that has strong distribution channels and brand loyalty." To you I can only say that this applies to anyone innovating and maybe even more so to you.

Good innovation, bad business

The Quilter Frontliner 2x8W
The Quilter Frontliner 2x8W

I have enjoyed the privilege of working for one of the pro audio industry leaders (QSC Audio, LLC) and played a significant role in developing products that have been the hands down winners in the retail product category.  I have also worked as CEO of a small startup (Quilter Labs, LLC) and having lived on both sides of a strong channel or lack thereof I have seen the effects of innovation in all its beauty and relative ugliness. Innovation can be the most incredible boost to a company's revenue and bottom line for that matter, and it can also be so relentlessly pursued that it kills a company in a quest to make a product or solution that isn't really needed in the first place. 

It is funny that every time I write an article for the Leader's blog I wind up writing it on the eve of some major development. This one will be no exception. I write this as we are about to launch an innovation for guitarists. Today we launch the Frontliner 2x8W. As I have mentioned previously, if there was ever a market that did not like innovation, it is the guitar amplifier market. You would think by now that we had learned our lesson and would give up attempting to innovate, but here we are again. Although this time we did a few things a little differently. 

"...and I don´t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently, if you let it. You, me or nobody, is gonna hit as hard as life. But ain't about how hard you hit... It's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward... how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That´s how winning is done. "

A story of taking your punches

Here at Quilter Labs, our early attempts at innovating product were diffuse, and scattered. Although we did in fact have nearly 60 innovations, we missed the mark at some of the more important expected requirements of our product. It is not uncommon to find me reminding everyone, "We are in a fashion market." Our early product, although incredibly useful, had an appearance that did not necessarily win over a very conservative market rooted in tradition. We may have tried to hard to be different and that different was not necessarily winning people in droves. They either loved it or hated it. There weren't many customers in the middle of the road. We tried a one two combination by following our initial release with a more classic looking amplifier but even that did not change the game for us. I remember the feeling of lying on my side over one Christmas break wondering what on earth I had done with my career and my life. I felt like everything we tried just couldn't achieve traction either with dealers or customers. 

Lessons learned from a past life

But this tale is more than just a tale of woe. As I mentioned, previously I worked at QSC Audio as a part of QSC's strategy team. QSC was looking to enter into an adjacent market. One where they had a competitive advantage with which they should be able to make some serious hay. Powered loudspeakers! Putting power amplifiers right into a speaker was an enormous advantage to QSC who already possessed the lion's share of the power amplifier market. But QSC had faltered a few times entering into the loudspeaker market. They had developed a few product lines in adjacent market segments that just failed to be the serious advantage QSC needed to be considered a serious contender. 

QSC sought help in the form of a consulting team. (Pay attention here. Failing to get help is one of the reasons that businesses fail.) As a major resource on QSC's side, I was point leader to build a team to fly around the US and get in the faces of dealers to identify what the expected requirements were, and to understand how they measured success.  We talked to installers, retail dealers, DJs, and end users.  We got something rare in our attempt to innovate in a market hotly contested by competitors earlier to the party:  we got clarity on what early entrants had done wrong and what our opportunity might be.  This clarity focused engineering and helped marketing create a winning pitch.  The results?  To this day QSC's K Series is the number one selling product in the retail pro audio speaker space.

The QSC-K-Series identified what the table stakes were. Learning to quantify how they measured success were not just "nice lessons" but they became the battle cry as we stood up to take our punches. 

"Now, if you know what you worth, go out and get what you worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits. And not pointing fingers saying: You ain´t what you wanna be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain´t you! You´re better than that!"

A lesson learned, and then repeated

Having spent some time growing our business here at Quilter Labs, we realized that innovation does not lie truly in the hands of our own cleverness. Far from it. It is reliant on the people who use the products, the people who sell them, and perhaps more importantly their loyal support as they help us to establish the metrics that they use to measure success at their gigs, at their stores, on their spreadsheets, and ultimately in their lives. We were privileged to be surrounded by a great many serious professional users who were happy to share with us their problems and how they tried to overcome them.

Ideas came flooding in, but one in particular stuck. It initiated with a conversation with one of our artists who shared his woes at having recently flown overseas having paid $150 to heft his bulky guitar head. On the return trip they asked for $300 to ship it. $300 of course is exactly how much he had made on the whole tour! Of course they would be happy to take care of it if he left it there at the gate. But this was an irreplaceable vintage guitar head. Not gonna happen! So he went home broke, but whole. He pleaded with me to find a solution for a "daily driver" that he could take to Europe in his gig bag. More importantly we took the time to perform a full assessment of customer needs, clearly identifying the expected, augmented, and differentiated.

The Tone Block 200
The Tone Block 200


...and repeated

So now more than ever we continue to reach out to them employing the voice of the customer techniques we learned when at QSC Audio. Just recently we hosted a rather surprisingly large "sit in" at our laboratory where we invited our trusted friends and those whom we consider to be our trusted advisers to come to the shop and see what we have been working towards. They showed up and spent some time working closely with us, reviewing the products, talking about how they use them in the real world and more importantly shared where we were missing the mark. It is powerful. Speculation is gone. Questions on what and how to innovate have clear and powerful answers. Our team is on-board together. 

Folks from the Quilter Amps Users Group
Folks from the Quilter Amps Users Group 

It doesn't matter whether you are innovating in a startup or a well established company make your customers the forefront of what you do. Make them your obsession. Study them, work with them, put them at the heart of what you do. The reasons for innovation will become clear quickly thereafter and for goodness sake don't innovate for the sake of innovation, do it for clear and concise reasons you have discussed in depth with your customer!

Reframing Marketing Psychology



From the desktop of Amanda Vande Brake for the Technology Marketing Center Leaders' blog.

As the year comes to a close, I’ve been taking stock of all the new beginnings I’ve enjoyed in 2016. Earlier this year, my husband and I officially joined marketing forces and formed our consulting and design firm KINDRED LA after years of individually working with clients. The biggest new beginning of all, though, came when I landed, gnarled, dazed and with a thud, on my longer-term career path and began coursework toward becoming a psychotherapist and psychologist.

Whoa, Really!?!

Ever since I started down this path, I’ve heard the widest range of responses like “Whoa, that’s a leap! How’d you ever decide on psychology?” to “Well, that sounds like fun. I mean, everyone has so many problems today, I’m sure you’ll be busy,” to a skeptical or shocked “Really!?!”. 

Really, though, it doesn’t feel like a leap to me. I like to think of my new area of interest as offering the inward-facing balance to my previously outward-facing efforts, giving me a stronger foothold for tackling whatever consulting challenges my clients bring forward. I see marketing, or at least my deep-and-wide experience of the practice of marketing in the digital age, as the massive-scale efforts of Group A to connect with Group B (and C, D, E and F) for the purpose of X, Y and Z.

While real-world, authentic relationships aren’t this binary - and, let’s be real, neither are real-world marketing efforts, either - our psyches, just like our target markets and audiences, are always in contact with other context-making entities like our partner, our friends, our family and even our unconscious selves, shaping our experience of the world and ourselves. And although working concurrently in the two fields of marketing and psychology makes perfect sense to me, my coming out as a psychology graduate student has clearly revealed to me that these two areas just don’t seem to overlap or relate in most people’s eyes.

A Perfect or Toxic Match?

From informing where certain products are placed within a certain type of consumer’s path through a retail store to the shapes and colors used in a business’ logo, psychology, or the science or study of the human mind and behavior, is at the center of countless marketing disciplines. The user-centered design wave that took off in the 1990s relied heavily on scientific insights similar to those pouring out of traditional academic psychology’s ‘rats and stats’ approach to understanding human mental processes and behavior. Demographics stepped aside to give their friend Psychographics some room as social media was taking off in the Web 2.0 era. Marketing’s more recent obsessions with Big Data, machine learning and predictive modeling all point to the industry’s reliance on better ways for understanding the human psyche and behavior.

Sigmund Freud & Associates

While the connection between marketing and psychology is long standing, it’s also inextricably tied to a quest for power over consumers’ choices, big and small. In researching for this post, I stumbled upon the story of Edward Bernays (1891-1995), commonly referred to as the father of public relations . . . who . . . was also the nephew of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis. At age 27, Bernays led the successful wartime effort of Woodrow Wilson under the slogan, “Making the world safe for democracy.” Shocked at how effective his methods of applying the science of psychology to sway public opinion were, Bernays doubled down on his approach and worked to apply them during peacetime, working with those at the highest levels of government, commerce and policy to scientifically “engineer consent” while also bolstering his as well as his uncle’s respective states-side popularity.

The legacy of the marketing-psychology mashup, especially amid today’s polarized and unstable political and social climate, is as alarming as it is enlightening to me. No wonder my move into the field of psychology while continuing my work in marketing is so charged and strikes such a distinct chord within my marketing network. There is a source of power in this connection or integration; however, the power I’m interested in establishing a relationship with has to do with rehumanizing the connections we have with our self and others and is not for manipulation at any level.

New Job Description

According to a popular online human resources recruiting site, a Marketing Psychologist is “a person who studies the psychology of what attracts people to merchandise, and what impels them to prefer one product over another. This is done by a close study of how age, gender, culture, interests, education, personal philosophies, and other factors combine to drive buying behavior.” In order to make the most of the potential found where these fields overlap, I propose the following: a Marketing Psychologist is one who studies the complexities of the human psyche - body, mind, soul - to shape how products and services can better serve the individual and society, finding a balance between corporate and brand goals with the needs of the consumer.

We’ve already seen how ‘purpose-driven’ marketing is effective via brands’ alignments with nonprofits, one-for-one businesses like Tom’s and user-centered design. So, rather than perpetuating the manipulative and trickster-like application of psychology to marketing that the previous job description describes, I’m committed to reframing marketing psychology to be the regenerative and creative force it can be while I continue to explore opportunities for re-humanizing marketing communications however possible.