Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Avatar Marketing

Addressing your entire customer base at once is tough, but it's exactly what your web page has to do. Unfortunately most companies approach this in exactly the wrong way.

Examples of our struggle:

  • We want managers to see that they'll get metrics and reports, but we want end users to see that they'll save time and busywork.
  • We want to look professional so big-company managers are comfortable choosing us, but not so aloof that small-company developers think we're too corporate and can't relate.
  • We want to highlight our configurable workflows that allow large customers to apply one tool for all groups, but we need small customers to realize that you can turn all that off so it doesn't slow you down.
The usual response to this conundrum is to cast a wide net. The worry is that if you hit one type of customer on the head, another type will feel excluded and might look elsewhere. So you use generic messages like "The Power to Know."

This is dangerous thinking. Generalized messaging has no power, no emotional connection, no interest. If a phrase like "The Power to Know" is equally useful for business intelligence software, buying decision analysis, and theosophical treatises, it's not exactly hitting the nail on the head.

Let me suggest a completely opposite approach. Start by describing a perfect customer. Give her a name (Carol). Pick a concrete company that she works for, a company similar to one of your existing, thrilled customers. What's her official title and what does she do? If your potential market includes a wide variety of company types and positions, just pick one in particular. Whatever problems your product solves, Carol has all those problems. Write those down from her point of view, the way she would describe them if complaining to a friend over lunch. Whatever advantages you have over your competitors, Carol needs exactly those things. List them.

Carol is literally custom-built to be blown away by your product.

Now the question is: What would a web page / Google ad / print ad / tradeshow booth / postcard be like such that Carol would immediately understand that you are her savior? Remember, you get only 3 seconds to grab her attention and another 5-10 to convince her that your product is the second coming.

Can you make it clear in a picture? Maybe a before/after she can relate to? Will describing three features make it plain? Will pointing out your best competitive advantage make her weep for joy? Can you ask a provocative question, something she identifies with? Is there a phrase she'd laugh out loud at because "that's so true?"

You only get a few seconds, so a paragraph won't do. You have to communicate in a picture and a few words. The good news is you have to please only Carol, and you know Carol. You even know she'll honestly be thrilled to find you.

If your ad can't grab Carol's attention -- your perfect customer -- why do you think it will grab anyone else's attention?

If you still say it's impossible to communicate your message in 5-10 seconds, no one in the world will get your message.

This isn't just an academic exercise; your ad will work on non-Carols too! In fact, non-Carols might not be as "non" as you think:

So called "large company managers" might be running small agile groups; you might do well to appeal to that side of them. Software development managers might like metrics, but it's wrong to think they are unconcerned with their developers' quality of life. Yes big companies like to choose "stable" vendors, but small companies with strong products are in vogue now, and even IBM admits that people can be fired for buying IBM.

When your message is powerful, Carol and anyone remotely like Carol will notice. If your message is weak, no one will notice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wordle me this

Wordle is fun!

(Click to Enlarge)

It's also instructive. It's clear I write more about marketing and business than about software development. I didn't intend that at the outset, but there it is!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hello, I'm 1074018628

I just received this email:

Yahoo! is committed to the success of account 1074018628 and we believe there is an opportunity to provide you with improved performance.
There's saying you value your customers, and there's your behavior.

You can use your customer mailing list to barrage me with up-selling "opportunities," or you can send me interesting articles.

You can put your customer service number on every page on your website, or you can provide only a web form.

You can have a recorded message saying my call is important to you, or you can have someone else pick up the phone.

You can answer the phone with the least knowledgeable, lowest-paid employee you can find, or you can empower service reps to give refunds, bend the rules for extenuating circumstances, and escalate special situations to someone who has the power to address them properly.

Is "customer service" a service for customers or a shield against them?

Actions > Words.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The customer is always right?

"The customer is always right," coined by somebody around the turn of the last century, is probably still a good mantra for retail, restaurants, and the like.
But many of our customers are the opposite. In fact, many hope that we'll tell them what's right.

During every demo there's a moment where the customer explains how they're going to do X in their process, and how Code Collaborator seems perfectly suited for X. Then, much to their surprise, I gently explain why X is a bad idea and Y is better.

Sounds arrogant, right? The customer is always right! And they were happy about X and happy that we would support X, so what the hell am I doing? Let 'em be happy!

What I'm doing is enabling them. I'm giving them advice from years of experience for free. I'm demonstrating that we tell the truth, even if the truth doesn't serve the direct purpose of selling the tool, even if it means I'm arguing instead of agreeing. And it's appreciated, because there's not enough truth in sales and business.

Of course the customer isn't always right, and with some types of business you should roll over. If you're runing a restaurant and a customer thinks a barely-red steak is "totally rare," just cook the crap out of it and give it back.

But if you're going to be an expert, be an expert. That means not just agreeing with everything the customer says, but genuinely helping.