As I look out at the technology landscape I find it surprising that replacements of marketing personnel whether initiated by the company or people resigning seems to be near an all-time high. As I have stated before, the job of marketers is tougher than ever – they have to deal with online and offline media, social, search, events, web seminars, community building, landing page creation, testing, email marketing, article writing, blogging and public relations on a daily basis. We are at the point where marketers should be injecting Red Bull into one arm while injecting Maalox into the other.
To make matters worse, the scrutiny marketers have to deal with is at an all-time high meaning investors, CXOs and presidents are demanding accountability for every cent of spending. They want to see a sale linked to virtually every dime spent.
While this may make sense to the casual reader what is lost in this equation is the concept of branding. And without branding, lead generation doesn’t reach anywhere near its full potential. This is especially the case when a product category requires a strong brand to instill confidence in a purchase decision. In other words, most people are not concerned about the company which sells them a smartphone case but they can tell you with certainty that the load balancer they will put in their data center must be first-rate with a sound company backing it and offering solid support.
For years I worked as the head of MIS here at TMC – I was fortunate enough to computerize this company in the eighties – building PCs myself. I quickly migrated the company to desktop publishing later in the same decade and was intimately involved in many of the tech purchase decisions over the past decades. More recently I have helped companies communicate with customers – not only explaining in many cases what their new products are designed to do just as important, advising customers on how to achieve their goals.
And the one thing I have learned is consistency is the most important aspect of marketing. In fact it seems that consistency trumps message. Some companies have been at trade shows consistently for years and their booths haven’t been very descriptive or large but they are entrenched because they prove their commitment to buyers at important events. Other companies spend far more at conferences and marketing in general but it comes in spurts. Guess what – the companies that have ups and downs in their outbound communications seem to underperform – even though they spend more.
The situation gets worse when there is turnover in marketing – there is an epidemic of companies replacing marketing departments or people just decide to up and leaving their posts for whatever reason. My hunch is that they are tired of working in a macro-marketing environment which is devoid of fun, creativity and experimentation. “Perceived failure” is met with a wrist slap and a dressing down and success is infrequent because marketing departments are not easily able to justify the results of branding.
Branding is an amazing thing – one great example is if I was to ask anyone in their late thirties or older – “How do you spell relief?” If they say ROLAIDS then they remember seeing this commercial which aired in get this, 1981!
Amazingly, this ad has been in the collective memory of much of America for decades more than paying for itself but today it is tough to get many newbie CEOs to comprehend how an ad campaign like this is worth pursuing.
TMC’s Peter Bernstein wrote about the need for consistency earlier today in reference to the management challenges faced by boards at Yahoo and HP and he explains that CEOs themselves are part of the brand. Here is an excerpt:
After all, brand stewardship is by extension a core part of a board of directors’ fiduciary responsibilities. When investors and other critical audiences (customers, partners and employees just to name the top critical ones) lose confidence in the leadership capabilities of those entrusted with guiding a company, the brand is tarnished and no good can come of it. In fact, as we were all taught as kids, trust and respect are easily lost and extremely difficult to regain. This is true even in the U.S., where we seem enamored sometimes with stories of reclamation and redemption.
Sometimes I hate my job because I meet CEOs with awesome technology but are devoid of marketing understanding. They can’t for the life of them comprehend why they need to have a strong brand or why searing it into the minds of potential buyers is important. It is maddening. If you tell someone that the most successful companies are the ones with the best marketing, not the best product, they generally agree with you – but when it’s their product, company and ego in the middle of the equation they seem to lose all sense of reason.
Out of so many companies with amazing technology only a few rise to the top. To succeed, they generally need to be consistent, reliable and trustworthy in the eyes of buyers. One great example is Interactive Intelligence, the company which more or less invented the unified communications space. The company’s CEO Dr. Don Brown is a product designing genius and way ahead of his time. But when the company started executing a consistent marketing strategy coupled with myriad solid business decisions it really started to take off. Not everything the company did was perfect, they launched an IP-PBX line as a standalone unit and that didn’t pan out well but generally, the company wasn’t afraid to experiment with new product ideas and pull them back if they didn’t gain traction.
From a customer standpoint these past years the brand has been very consistent. I should point out that Interactive Intelligence has been a large customer of TMC where I am CEO for more than half a decade but then again most companies in communications and a large and growing number in the tech space are as well.
What strikes me about the company is just how successful it’s become as of late. They now have over 1,000 employees, have added 190 new permanent jobs in Indiana since January of 2010 and pay people 78% above the state average.
Dr. Brown had this to say about what helped his company achieve some of these milestones in a press release, “An Indiana headquarters since our founding has enabled us to recruit and retain an amazing staff of loyal, hard-working and passionate individuals.”
And in this single statement in one of the thousands of press releases and news items I scan each day is what I consider to be one of the most important parts of building not only a solid brand but a profitable company – consistency… in staffing, messaging and execution.