There’s a dividing line emerging in marketing today, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the size of a marketing budget, the amount of CRM or channel management software installed, the size of the company or its long-standing reputation. In fact all these things don’t matter nearly as much as a marketing department that has a passion to execute and deliver results.
The traditional four Ps of Marketing — product, price, promotion and place (or distribution) — are meaningless without passion. The passion for executing to a shared goal through channels, the passion to launch products that truly are on a mission, and the passion to expel mediocrity from marketing departments and replace it with leadership who has the courage to change strategies and not just “do what we have always done” to protect the status quo, are traits shared by companies who have discovered this fifth P of marketing and are busy turning it into a competitive advantage.
There’s the dirty little secret in the software industry, and especially true in enterprise CRM, it’s the fact that so many marketing departments are so stuck in the 80s that it seems sometimes all that’s missing is the mirrored disco ball in their conference room. Seriously, consider the strategies at some of the world’s most well-known software companies when it comes to marketing software today, and it’s like a bad “Back to the Future” re-make.
A perfect case in point is the explosion in media coverage around Service-Oriented Architectures and Software-as-a-Service. Marketing departments in both large and small software companies alike are quick to try and catch the wind of the press and pundits in their sails from these two latest concepts — yet how many really get it? How many marketing departments are so well coordinated with engineering, product development, product management, executive management, and sales to understand fully what these two initiatives really mean to their companies?
Most likely one in twenty software companies have this level of integration — and where this comes from isn’t a Six Sigma black belt but a culture of passion for making change a competitive force for their companies. Marketing momentum comes from this passion for delivering on what’s real, and not just carelessly slinging around the latest industry buzzwords hoping for market traction. Sadly those companies with no passion at all and only going through the motions of marketing don’t even bother to sling the latest terms, they just do another data sheet and hope for the best. Conversely the companies dominating Service-Oriented Architectures and Software-as-a-Service areas are so busy making change happen they literally don’t have time to tell everyone how relevant they are yet their results speak for themselves.
Making the Cut
In the graduate-level courses I teach, occasionally this is one of my favorite exercises, especially when marketing comes up. I have the class break into two teams, and the first team meets for ten minutes to come up with the common characteristics of the top product launches, advertising campaigns and marketing programs so far in 2005. The second team lists the ten worst of these categories and also looks for threads to analyze why a launch, campaign or program ended up in this second group. Team leaders for each group present and defend their findings to the class.
It’s a great exercise and yields the following insights:
- Products that market themselves on strong performance make for the most memorable product launches. The classes consistently mention the Ford Mustang launch as one of the year’s most memorable. At US$25,000 and 300 HP, the Mustang is relatively affordable, and the re-vamped body style of a classical muscle car. The car sells itself and the launch was well orchestrated. My students from the automotive industry think this is one of the best introductions of the year.
- Enthusiasm reverberates through channels in strong launches. One of my students listed the Lexus IS 350 launch as one of the top ten marketing events of the year. He punched up the launch Web site during the discussion and after class a few of us did a field trip to a local Lexus dealership to see if the sales people were on message and the extent of the launches’ impact on individual dealers, many of which are independently owned. Not surprisingly, the sales reps where right on message, the dealership was well detailed with IS 350 information, and the evidence of the IS 350 selling very well — six lined the front walkway to the dealer and two were being driven off while we were visiting — was evident.
- Marketers talking to themselves in their own acronyms trying to communicate complex messages. From the “worst” list these two characteristics go together. Again this comes back to passion — the passion to get away from the familiar acronyms and talk to customers in their frame of reference — common sense but many companies don’t do this.
- “Me-too” marketing is worthless. My students typically are direct in their assessments and are unanimous on this one. When a marketing strategy is just to underscore a company being in one of dozens of businesses, the marketing efforts appear diffused and unfocused, and communicates a “check box” mentality when it comes to honest messaging.
- Lack of credibility is the number one killer of products. The class brought up the Lexus 400h, a hybrid SUV that claims to get nearly 40 miles per gallon versus what Web sites are reporting as 25 miles per gallon. At a major price premium and an actual performance disadvantage, the class agreed the 400h launch was one of the worst product introductions of the year.
Selling Cars and Software Are Alike
This year the auto industry will see over 250 new models introduced globally, and 50 will be global brand leaders in 2006. Likewise, any given segment of the enterprise software market, like catalog and content management for example, has at least over 250 vendors, with multiples more products. Like the car industry, only 20 percent of these companies will ever become widely known, even to those prospects searching for them. Why? It’s because the top performing marketing departments are not just relying on themselves, but get the entire company behind their efforts and they are passionate about changing how prospects learn, consider, evaluate, purchase and use their software. The same dynamic is happening in the auto industry. The clear winners are those that turn passion into a competitive weapon and get out of the blame game when a company doesn’t get to its goals. There is a no-excuses mentality in these companies that have a passion for marketing, and it’s not coercive, it’s driven by vision.
Bottom Line: Marketing must have a passion to instill lasting change. Anything less is a waste of time and invites mediocrity and eventually a reputation in the market for doing “just enough” to be in the industry rather than leading it.
Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He is the author of several books on making the most of analyst relationships, including Best Practices in Analyst Relations, which can be downloaded for free.