Go-To-Market Strategy

Companies Are Like People

Originally published on The Huffington Post UK

The Human Genome Project completed in 2003 gave us the miraculous ability to understand who we are through our DNA. And thanks to enterprising entrepreneurs, we now have tools to explore our own DNA and learn what our genes say about us: our origins, our coloring, our tastes and our propensity for certain diseases. Armed with this understanding, we can construct a lifestyle that is aligned with our genes to help us fight off the maladies that afflict our DNA type. 

Know your DNA and be a better you.

But just as people can understand much of who we are from our DNA, so too can companies. Like people, companies are organisms that reflect their creators, their environments, their obstacles, and their strengths. They carry a core instruction set that informs the actions and outcomes of their work. In short, they have DNA. Not chemical, biological DNA, of course, but what I call corporate DNA.

While human DNA is ineffably complex, its business equivalent is far simpler, made up of just three kinds of companies. That’s it: only three types of companies in the world, each with its own distinctive DNA. Just as I look the way I look because of my DNA and you look the way you do because of yours, companies are what they are because of their DNA, and every organization expresses the DNA of one of these types. 

Although it is less complex, each DNA type resembles its human counterpart: Mothers are customer-oriented companies, Mechanics are product-oriented companies, and Missionaries are concept-oriented companies. After having consulted for more than 30 years with hundreds of companies to help them find their optimal position in the market and tell their stories compellingly, I’ve come to the conclusion that all companies fit into one of these DNA types. I’ve also learned that knowing which type you are is extremely helpful in developing a go-to-market strategy that sticks.

All living species are influenced by a mixture of DNA and environment, and when it comes to corporate DNA, companies are no different. DNA affects a company’s culture; its structure; how it measures success; how it hires, trains, and rewards employees; how it allocates resources; how it frames its narrative; and how it decides what brand to send out into the world. DNA is the single biggest factor when it comes to identifying a company’s role and relevance in the market and determining its optimal positioning.

The key to maximizing competitive advantage is to pinpoint your corporate DNA and use it to your advantage, just like an athlete. The idea is to use your DNA to position your company in the market so that you can win. Your DNA and how it is reflected in your position should lie at the center of every single decision you make, from your go-to-market strategy, to the skill set you seek in your hires, to the way you invest precious resources. It is the foundation for all external messages and campaigns, from branding, to sales strategy, to web copy, to brochure design.

Knowing what you’re made of helps you make something of it.

Positioning the Underdog: T-Mobile as a Concept Company

With the recent success of T-Mobile, it's hard to believe it wasn't that long ago that T-Mobile was left for dead - a deteriorating asset waiting for someone like AT&T, Dish or Softbank/Sprint to pick up. It was losing customers thanks to no iPhone at the time, and its network infrastructure was late to the LTE game. Today, T-Mobile is the number three wireless carrier in the US, having just surpassed Sprint in the number of subscribers. It's worth taking a look at what they did from a strategy and positioning point of view.

Why strategy and positioning? A company's position is tightly coupled with a company's strategy and operations. Without that tie, a position lacks credibility from the inability of a company to deliver on its promise. Comcast has announced that it wants to be a "customer-focused" company, but given its organizational structure and internal incentives to reduce churn, Comcast has thus far been incapable of delivering on that message. Customer focus is not in Comcast’s DNA.

When we help reposition companies, we use a Company DNA framework to assess its ability to deliver on its differentiation. In our collective experience, we have found that technology companies can be categorized in one of three ways — Product, Customer and Concept — and each can be differentiated in one of two ways.

  • For a Product company, it's about features or value.
  • For a Customer company, experience or segmentation.
  • For a Concept, it's category creation or cult of personality.

All companies have aspects of these three categories, but only one can be a dominant personality. As a former client noted, DNA is the "first impression you give when you meet for the first time" (thanks Arkady).

T-Mobile decided that the only way it could win was by becoming a Concept company. In March 2013, T-Mobile launched its Uncarrier effort to position itself against the Big Two wireless carriers (Verizon and AT&T). The face of this effort is CEO John Legere, who has adopted a straight-talking customer hero persona that T-Mobile die-hards have embraced.

What's interesting is that T-Mobile executives made that conclusion earlier, but they didn't have the leadership with the right DNA to match until Legere took the job as CEO.

It was equally important to make radical changes to its products and services to credibly deliver on a Concept differentiation - no contract plans, unique phone payment plans, etc. These are changes that Verizon and AT&T had no choice but tofollow.

In many industries, but especially in tech, success is often times measured in marketshare. You could argue that if T-Mobile were really that successful, it should be #1 in marketshare, right? Actually, no. Concept companies are out there to change the world, and success is measured in how many believers you've acquired and what kind of outsized impact you've made to the world.

Has T-Mobile’s repositioning been a success? Absolutely.

Growth Hacking and the Philosopher’s Stone

Growth HackingThe search for the philosopher’s stone has confounded some of the world’s brightest minds for centuries. Alchemists, from as far back as the 8th-century, have longed for the day when they would be able to mix the right ingredients, in the right way, to create a stone that would not only turn commonplace metals into gold but would render its owner immortal.

Just like the alchemists of the past, today’s marketers are constantly on the hunt for a recipe of tactics that, when combined in the right order, will create a whirlwind of viral growth that accelerates revenue and generates eternal success.

This idea of using low-cost tactics to achieve expectation-shattering revenue is frequently known as “growth hacking.” It’s a buzz phrase that will light up a CMO’s eyes. But, while it is easy to understand why a company wants to integrate growth hacking techniques, few leaders truly know exactly what recipe will achieve alchemic-level results.

Because, unlike the practice of alchemy, which predicted that any person could be victorious by using the same recipe, successful growth hacking is distinctly unique to each and every organization. It can rarely be achieved by reusing the exact formula of another.

So, if there is no universal recipe for achieving viral growth, where do you start in the hunt for revenue gold and organizational immortality?

Download the rest of the ‘Growth Hacking and the Philosopher’s Stone’ whitepaper to learn how you can successfully craft and implement growth hacking campaigns into your digital strategy.

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Jobs to be Done? It's All About Substitutes

img.phpWhen thinking about who your real competition is, it is helpful to step back and think broadly about all the different ways that the problem you're addressing can be solved. Clay Christensen and his disciples have come up with a framework - Jobs to be Done - and are trying to create a movement around this concept to help understand the competitive environment and how to refine products. They've even created their own hashtag - #JTBD - on Twitter to engage others in the conversation. But is it really that new?

To me, this is just a reformulation of the economics concept of a substitute (let's skip the math for now). The challenge for people in technology is that they tend to consider only perfect substitutes - competition that looks, smells and tastes like them - instead of stepping back and considering gross (or net) substitutes. To me, that's all this "jobs to be done" stuff is about - what are other ways that people are going about solving their problems?

A good example of this is when I was at a client discussing the merit of spending marketing dollars to promote a marquee feature of a product - photo sharing - that no one was using. When I asked the product manager who the competition was for this feature, he immediately started listing all the products in their space - little black boxes that were networked-enabled and had storage options.

The real answer was Facebook and Instagram (and now Google, Apple and Dropbox, among others). The product manager didn't step back to understand what are the real alternatives (the substitutes) for the act of storing and sharing photos with others rather than just other consumer electronics that have some photo sharing capabilities (or not).

No amount of "marketing" to promote this feature would have helped. Consumers already left this feature behind, which is why there was no adoption.

So, as a product manager, it is important to understand not only what a feature does, but also why it should exist and how it solves a problem in a way that's better than what they do today in general. Step out of your own space and look around. And if you need the #JTBD framework to help you, that's fine. You should be thinking that way anyway.

The Middle - A Followup

Speaking of being in the middle, check out Ben Thompson's post Twitter and What Might Have Been on his Stratechery blog. Money shot:

This was the context for the aforementioned post: advertising works best at scale but 3rd-party apps were peeling away too much of Twitter’s audience. That is why the company made such a big mistake: they didn’t kill 3rd-party apps completely. (my emphasis)

...

The funny/sad thing about this entire episode is that Twitter was clearly trying to bend over backwards for its 3rd-party developers: it was strategically stupid and financially unwise to let them continue to exist, but Twitter left this massive loophole open that limited growth but didn’t kill successful apps like Twitterrific or Tweetbot. And yet, the company was pilloried and tarred with a reputation for being especially unfriendly to developers, a reputation that strongly persists to this day.

Twitter clearly had a strategic direction they wanted to follow, yet muddled it up by still allowing some access to third-party apps.

Twitter got caught in the middle.

By the way, if you aren't a regular reader of Stratechery, you should be - it's chock full of insightful analysis and strategic thinking. I also subscribe to his Daily Update, and it's worth the investment.

The Middle (Where You Don't Want to Be)

3stooges One of the things they drill into you when studying strategy is never to be in the middle. The canonical example is the trade-off between being low-cost vs. high value / differentiated. If you are neither low-cost nor high value, you can't compete on price, nor can you deliver high enough value to customers to sell at a premium price. Samsung is a timely example of a company with a product line caught in this kind of squeeze – its smartphones are not inexpensive enough to compete with the multitude of cheap Android devices, yet not delivering the complete experience that Apple does at the high end.

Beyond the classic analysis, I find evaluating whether or not being in the middle of two strong positions to be a useful construct in general. You can see it in professional sports (h/t:Paul Sytsma), where some teams actively tank — hello Sixers fans! — to get the top draft picks to build championship teams, while other teams maintain mediocrity.

An illuminating example is the fate that befell Compaq when it was trying to compete with the Dell in the late 90's. Compaq, for those who aren't old enough to remember, had a very strong and successful channel model. Its supply chain was specifically designed for this type of model. Dell, with its direct model, leveraged the web to create a configurator that approximated mass customization. Dell's go-to-market took the PC world by storm, and grew quickly, jeopardizing Compaq's leadership in PCs.

How did Compaq react? By trying to add this direct-to-market model while maintaining its channel. I am aware of a number of consulting firms that were engaged in the late 90s to try to figure out how to implement some flexibility in Compaq's supply chain to address both conflicting approaches. As you can see from the results (a merger with HP, which is now being spun out into its own company), it was not a successful endeavor.

It wasn't just the supply chain, it was the business model and go-to-market itself. Compaq was unwilling to commit fully to the new world, which would upset its channel. The end result was a muddled mess, where it couldn't compete effectively with Dell online, yet its legacy partners were still upset.

Compaq was caught in the middle.

Being in the middle can seem to be a good approach for two-sided marketplaces. After all, they act as the hub and facilitator for transactions between two independent parties. That great... except for the part where it's too easy for the two parties take their transactions and interactions off-line. Once the parties meet, there is nothing to stop future transactions from happening outside the marketplace.

Consequently, those marketplaces started building up capabilities to become more sticky. But where do you start? The first is identifying who is your real customer. Is it the buyer or the seller? Consumer destination sites like eBay and Amazon Marketplace chose the sellers as their real customers - spending a lot of money and effort to create tools to make it easy to onboard sellers, create offers and manage their businesses.

Business marketplaces took the other approach - for example, the Ariba Commerce Supplier Network came bundled with Ariba's procurement solutions. They focused on big buyers where they had leverage to bring their own suppliers on the network. However, in the past few years, Ariba, now a part of SAP and calling its marketplace the "Business Commerce Network," has been trying to have it both ways - not only still selling buy-side solutions, but also jacking up supplier fees. Needless to say, this approach has been causing some consternation with the suppliers on the network.

Can Ariba/SAP have it both ways? It remains to be seen, but I'm doubtful.

So, how do you know if your product or company could be caught in the middle? What is really helpful is thinking about the tradeoffs you have to make for your products, operations and/or marketing. If a decision you make puts you in a place that does not satisfies any of the desired strategies or requirements — where one action that supports one requirement would be detrimental to another, or makes things more confusing — it is definitely worth stepping back to see if you are putting you, your company or your product in the undesirable middle.

In the end, trying not to be in the middle is all about having strategic clarity and focus. It's the business version of "you can't make everyone happy, so stop trying…."

Five Ways to Market Your Tech When You're the Underdog

We were recently challenged by a client to re-position a mature product, a table-stakes part of a suite of B2B services.  The company’s sales and marketing teams believed the product was falling (or had fallen) behind the competition. Great development plans were in the works, but with delays and shifts, it didn’t appear there’d be much new to talk about in the coming six to nine months. That got our team to talking.  What’s the best way to market a technology when you know you’re the underdog in the marketplace? We shortlisted five of our favorite ideas, all of which we’ve tested with success in the course of our marketing careers.

1. Confirm, don’t assume. If you suspect you’re behind, confirm it with customers and prospects before you believe it as truth. Avoid the inferiority complex trap that can be very common, especially among weary and overwhelmed sales forces. Even when your product is terrific, sometimes all it takes is one competitor trumpeting boldly about their newest bell or whistle—however strategically unimportant it may be—to put your marketing and sales teams on the defensive. A non-confrontational way to learn what your customers and prospects truly think is to ask them these four simple questions when you talk to them next:

  • What are the features/functionalities of your current solution that you couldn’t live without?
  • What is your favorite feature/functionality of your current solution?
  • If you could change one thing about your current solution, what would it be?
  • Knowing what you know about our solution, would you recommend it today to a colleague?

These questions will give you insight into not just how you’re perceived, but also why people might think you’re behind, and what they most value in a solution.  If you find you are in fact competitive, a dose of sales training about your product’s strengths and differentiators could go a long way.

2. Change the product, or change the target market. It’s a beautiful thing about human beings: We don’t all want or need the same things.  What is “must-have” to one customer may be overkill to another. If you’ve confirmed your product has fallen behind in the eyes of your target market, then it’s time to change the product – or change the target. First, identify your product’s strengths. Perhaps it’s the price leader. Perhaps its differentiated by strong personal service and relationships.  Perhaps its more customizable. Then look at a gap analysis of what you’d have to build to re-emerge as a fierce competitor, and where.

  • Can you build a strong business case to invest in changing the product to close the gap and compete for your existing target market?
  • Is it more effective to shift target markets?  Consider if there is a different market segment that might rank your product highest based on your particiular strengths, at the product and company level.

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 4.28.44 PM3. Forecast your strategy to customers—boldly, rationally and transparently.  Develop a crisp point of view about what must be true about solutions in the future to meet your target market’s needs.  Then find ways to elevate the conversation to that strategic point of view, and to your intention to make all those things true.  Also, show them, don’t just tell them, what the future state might look like. If you have a concept in development that’s a year or less out, consider investing at least a small amount in conceptual user experience mockups or other visualizations. (Frankly, these could double as an aligning force for your development and product teams.) If something is more than a year out, conceptual artwork and thought leadership pieces, such as white papers, might do the trick. WARNING: Don’t be irrationally exuberant! If you promise something at a specific time, and you don’t deliver, you’ll do more to harm your credibility than any marketing may be able to repair.

4. Focus on your strengths.  Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge that your company is not all things to all people, and that your product cannot immediately be made to do all things.  Own up to your shortcomings when challenged by a customer. Then emphasize what does differentiate you—either with the product or with the way you deliver it: your people, your service, your processes, your accuracy, your consistency, your price, your geographic scope, whatever it may be.   Talk about your priorities, and discuss how they serve your customer’s needs best.

5. Play the Co-Opetition game. Ready to get really strategic and brainy about this?  Check out the classic ideas behind Co-Opetition, the game theory approach that Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff (of Harvard and Yale respectively) brought to the market in the mid 1990s.  You can shape the game, not just play the game, by using what they call the PARTS framework, which is explained pretty succinctly here.  This one takes some study and discipline, but it’s a great holistic exercise that could help align your executive team on the strategic priorities in front of you.

Secret Number 2 to Branding Technology

I talked about the first secret to building a technology brand, aspiration, in my post last week.  I described aspiration as the emotional hook to get your target customers on the line.  The aspiration of your brand is indeed critical, but if you don’t follow it by delivering something meaningful, your customers will drop you like a hot potato.  Deliver something meaningful: sounds easy enough.  But how do you know that a new technology is meaningful?  And more importantly, how do you make sure it stays that way, so you can keep selling your stuff?

The more addictive a product is, the more meaningful it is.  Think of the addictive qualities of your smart phone, your Fitbit, your Facebook account, your Twitter feed, your Netflix views, your Pandora station, your favorite apps.  There’s something inside these products that makes you continue to come back to them and want more.  They are sticky.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 5.53.49 PMAnd that’s the second secret to branding technology: stickiness in the product.  Stickiness is a quality that, for customers, is simply too good to miss and too good to keep to oneself.  And if the stickiness produces the “network effect,” all the better.  It is stickiness that enables a product to go viral.

Don’t think this applies just to consumer products. B2B technologies need to be sticky as well, perhaps now more than ever.  In this BYOD world, you are selling your stuff to people, whether they are wearing an employee hat at the time or not. Products that are clumsy to use, don’t deliver value and create drudgery aren’t long for the B2B world.  They will be supplanted or disrupted by products that are easy and cool to use. If they aren't sticky, they'll be replaced by products that are.

viralHow do you get stickiness in a product? Sometimes (but rarely), it’s luck.  But it should be strategy.  In fact, it’s your job to make it sticky.  Of course you need to be able to identify the appropriate market, describe the product in the most compelling way, figure out how to go to market appropriately and then create some awareness.  Of course you need to connect your brand to the aspiration I talked about in my last post. But before you do that, you should be deeply engaged in the product itself, and build it on a complete understanding of the market and the target customer.  As a marketer or an executive, your job isn’t just to take the product from engineering, give it a good tagline, and then talk it up in the press.   Your job is to make the product sticky.  And to make it sticky, you have to know what the “main addiction” is and test and refine it until you get it right.  If you haven’t read The Lean Start-Up, it’s time to do so.

Here are ten questions you can ask yourself to check the stickiness of your product. 

  1. What is the main addiction?
  2. What is its addiction potential? Have you tested it?
  3. Is it ridiculously easy to use?
  4. Is the design or UI elegant and attractive?
  5. Does it align with a current trend?
  6. Does it continue to deliver more and more over time?
  7. Is it affordable?
  8. Does it create pride of association?
  9. Can it be easily shared with others?
  10. Does it produce a network effect?

If you know the main addiction of your product and understand that potential, and if you can also answer each of the remaining eight questions with a “yes,” knowing why you’ve answered that way, you are well on your way to having a sticky product and going viral.  Not so hard at all. Certainly worthy of aspiration.

Five Truths About Marketing to Millennials (From a Millennial)

fotolia_bridgebuzzcollegestudents1 This is my first blog post for SeriesC. I am a second-stint intern at SeriesC, and also a 21-year-old senior business major concentrating on marketing and management at Trinity University, a small liberal arts school in San Antonio, Texas.

I want to share some insights on marketing to millennials, based on my perspective both as a marketing professional and a millennial consumer. Countless articles and guides are floating around on the Internet about how to market to millennials. From my experience, I assure you that not all of them are steering you in the right direction and not every company knows what they are doing. So how do you navigate the clutter and get to the realistic and useful guides? Here are a few tips and insights:

  1.  Use social right- Everyone will tell you that you need to use social media to reach millennials. Brands can see huge benefits from an effective social media presence, but this advice often neglects to emphasize that first you need to grow your user base and do it in the right target market. If you fail to do this you are wasting your social media investment. Campaigns that create natural buzz and drive traffic to your social pages are the best way to do this quickly. And you don’t have to break the bank to create them. See Louisville Slugger for a great case study on jump-starting organic buzz through social media.
  2. Don’t forget to be lean – A common mistake companies make is jumping to develop a mobile app too early because studies tell them that millennials are using apps. If you are considering doing this, stop and think about lean principles (see another SeriesC blog post on more about this).  All it takes is asking your customers if they want that mobile app that you are building, and just as important, whether there are enough of them who will use it. Yes, millennials are mobile and we do use apps frequently, but for companies that plan to launch their app as a secondary customer destination, it is important to first have enough demand on your primary selling point to support it. Just like any other piece of building a lean company, telling yourself, “If [we] build it, they will come” is not enough.
  3. Help us convince our parents- For products that are expensive and require consumers to go through all the preliminary stages of the buying process (need recognition, information search, and evaluation of alternatives) before making a purchase younger millennials are probably going to need to consult their parents for advice or money. It is not enough to just market to your target customer; you must also have messaging for their key influencer. More often than you might realize, those influencers are Mom and Dad.
  4. Give us a discount- Millennials, especially college students, do not have much disposable income at this point. We love discounts! Companies like Amazon (Student Prime membership with free two day shipping) have done this effectively and seen a huge growth in millennial customers. Do this now and we’ll stay with you when we do have money.
  5. Be authentic – I can’t emphasize this one enough! Just because we are younger than you, it doesn’t mean we were born yesterday. We can see through false claims or attempts to be funny in ways that don’t relate to your brand or product. It’s ok, and in fact encouraged to be creative in marketing to millennials. However, you cannot forget your key messages and brand pillars. Add nuance to your messages; but don’t try to be someone you aren’t.

Our team at SeriesC creates positioning and jumpstarts innovation for established and emerging tech companies daily. If we can help you find your true authentic voice and the ideal messages for millennials, you know where to find us!

The Forgotten Marketing Basics

Elia Freedman has an interesting little rant, The App Store Problem Is Not Price, which has elicited a response by Loren Brichter in the comments and by Marco Arment here. In my experience, if you have to have people try your product to understand the differentiation from competing products, your positioning (and therefore your marketing) isn't fully baked. Or your differentiation doesn't matter to your potential customers.

That being said, it is a reminder of thinking through all aspects of marketing, especially if you plan on making your app available on a crowded place like the App Store or Google Play.

Let's use the old 4P's framework here.  Sure, Apple has locked down Place, but that just makes for an even playing field. It is what it is. Given Apple's inscrutable nature, to count on future changes in the App Store is irrational. As a former sales colleague still likes to say: "hope is not a strategy!"

The real question you should be asking yourself is what you doing with the other 3P's? Elia mention changing Product (differentiation) and perhaps changing Pricing, but then goes off and complains about Loren Brichter and Marco Arment (yes, I'd say that calling what Marco has an "echo chamber" is a bit pejorative), which is more about Promotion.

I'd say yes to all of the above. Don't count on the App Store to change - make your product truly differentiated (and that doesn't mean just layering on "cool," but useless features) and do proper promotion. Marco has invested a lot of time and energy in his blog and podcasts, which, by the way, are forms of promotion.

Yes, it's all about taking care of your marketing basics. By not addressing your Product, Promotion and Place, your Price will indeed suffer.