We often get to see very smart engineers launch companies which design great products and services only to see these companies languish or fail. You see, engineers are terrible marketers. As a matter of disclosure I too am an engineer and some ways this perhaps uniquely qualifies me as a critic of my colleagues.
The problem is companies led by technical people generally look for immediate and infinitely measurable ROI when they spend marketing dollars so when it comes to positioning, branding and thought leadership they just don't understand how to gauge ROI. So instead they focus entire marketing budgets on events, pay per click and lead generation with no thought to what the leads they capture think of their company. They probably don't realize many of the leads they acquire don't even have their company on the approved purchase list because they assume any company they never heard of is a startup or fly by night organization. Of course no offense is intended to the many thousands of legitimate companies currently on nocturnal flying schedules.
In some cases this lack of branding and positioning is not an issue. Generally in markets where no one is positioning you don't have as much at stake. But the moment a company begins to position themselves in a category or worse, positions your company for you, look out.
Sadly many corporate founders get booted out by their boards because of a lack of branding which eventually turns into a lack of sales.
Why? Because if you haven’t positioned yourself, you could quickly find yourself in a lot of hot water. How do your potential customers know what your company does and what it stands for and what the products do if you don't tell them regularly?
So engineers, you (we) are terrible marketers. This means you should hire people who understand marketing and listen to their advice.
If you have read many of the positioning columns (example
) by Nadji Tehrani
in Customer Interaction Solutions
Magazine over the years, you know how important positioning is. There are huge risks to companies who focus exclusively on marketing campaigns which eschew branding and positioning. There is even more risk in assuming everyone knows what you do and where your products fit in the marketplace.
So perhaps the best law learned by Nadji is "If you don't position yourself, someone else will do it for you." I have seen this law play out over and over again and again in technology. In the late eighties, Dell positioned Compaq and the company's entire distribution channel as pathetic. Dell ran ads making fun of salespeople in typical computer stores. The ad explained these people were not very helpful or knowledgeable. Dell positioned IBM and Compaq as companies with a lower value proposition. We all know how this brilliant marketing move played out.
More recently Apple has run ads making fun of how difficult it is to set up PCs and how easy it is to set up an iMac. Guess what -- iMac sales are taking off. Of course there is an iPod effect as well but nonetheless the company is positioning itself brilliantly.
Perhaps the best example of positioning or lack there of is the country of Kazakhstan
where Sasha Baron Cohen's
fictional Borat hails from. You see Sasha had invented a great character with a Russian accent but to make it really funny had to come up with a backwater country this character came from. He had to pick a country no one ever heard of so he could ridicule it. So Kazakhstan it was.
As Sasha/Borat roamed the US in his recent movie titled: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
describing how backwards his country was, no one challenged him. They believed it. Borat was being funny while positioning Kazakhstan in the process. The concept of a single individual with very little money being able to position an entire country in an atrocious light is unprecedented. For example his comments
about women being able to now ride on the inside of a bus and homosexuals no longer having to wear blue hats probably endears neither group to this country. Furthermore he says the age of consent in Kazakhstan has recently been raised to eight years old. Even if you know Borat is fictional this just can't be deemed as positive positioning. The whole situation is unimaginable and has become a public relations nightmare for the country of Kazakhstan who has toyed with the idea of suing Cohen. As Cohen puts it, in a recent Rolling Stone interview, the concept of an entire country being mad at someone is pretty funny.
So Kazakhstan did what any former Soviet bloc country would and should do after your country's image has just been dragged through mud and slime. They started to advertise. Lo and behold in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal is a modest ad promoting the country of Kazakhstan as an "International concord." I am not sure what "international concord" means but I am sure it will be hilarious in Borat 2.
Surely Cohen would find the ad funniest of all as it seems to be designed exclusively to combat any image of prejudice in the country. In the ad is a quote from President Nazarbayev who said, "We reiterate that Kazakhstan, people of more than 40 faiths are coexisting peacefully. And these are not mere words -- in the past 15 years, we have not seen in any of Kazakhstan's media abuse of any religion. Our constitution bans it. The explanation is simple. We have developed an atmosphere of tolerance for all believers."
So the next time you feel positioning your company -- regardless of your field -- is not necessary, just take a look to Borat and Kazakhstan as an example of someone else positioning you instead.