Book Excerpt: Pick the problem you want to solve

red question markThe following is an excerpt from 42 Rules of Marketing by Laura Lowell.

The problem most companies have is that they have more ideas than they have resources (money or people) to implement them. You can’t solve everything all at once, so you have to pick the problem you want to solve today. There will always be problems to solve. The important thing is to know what the problems are. Then you can prioritize which to tackle first and which to put off until next quarter (or the following quarter, or the next year…).

Prioritizing activities is difficult for most marketers because it means that something won’t get done. By your very nature, you want to do everything you can to make your company or your product successful. The hard, cold fact is there usually isn’t enough time, money or people to do everything you want to do—right now.

To get beyond this sometimes emotional reaction, ask yourself or your organization a very simple question; “If you can only do one thing—what would it be?”

The answer is your priority. It sets the context for evaluating other options. Which option helps you reach the objective…

  • Faster?
  • For less money?
  • With better results?

Prioritization doesn’t have to be complicated and doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Try following these simple steps next time you’re faced with a difficult prioritization challenge.

  • Brainstorm a list of everything you’d like to accomplish in order to achieve your objectives.
  • Outline the potential impact of each activity on the business objective.
  • Estimate the cost of each activity (time, money and resources).
  • Evaluate the likelihood of success.
  • Identify the activities that provide the biggest return on investment (ROI).
  • Prioritize the activities according to their ROI.

Armed with this information, you are better prepared for the inevitable budget discussions. Depending on the available budget, there is a point at which you will probably run out of money. By evaluating the ROI for each activity, you can determine how far your budget will actually take you. At this point, draw a line. The activities that have been prioritized above the line get done, and things below the line get done later. These are the problems you will solve another day.

Prioritization can get tricky, and sometimes political. This is especially true when the review and approval process involves multiple businesses, decision-makers and executives. People have opinions. Sometimes you agree with them and sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you don’t get to vote. The key to effectively navigate these waters is to be clear in your approach:

  • These are the objectives.
  • This is how these strategies support the objective.
  • This is how much money we have to spend.
  • This is the return on investment for each strategy.

Having laid out an articulate, well thought out assessment of the options, you have done everything in your power to help the organization pick the problem they want to solve. Rest assured—there will always be more problems to solve. Can you think back to a situation where prioritization would have helped you more effectively achieve your objective? I know I can.

Case Study: Grasshopper – Rebranding done right

grasshopperWhen most people think of virtual phone systems (if they think of them at all) they probably don’t think of them in turns of grasshoppers.  They do now – thanks to David Hauser and Siamak Taghaddos, co-founders of Grasshopper.  These guys have been making it easier to start and grow your small business since 2003. Back then, they started out with a mission to empower entrepreneurs with their first product, the virtual phone system, and they did just that – serving nearly 100,000 entrepreneurs and still growing.

Back then they were called “GotVMail”.  They had an idea “Empower Entrepreneurs to Succeed”…and virtual phone systems for small businesses were the first step.  GotVMail was descriptive, but limiting.  They needed a brand that would connect with their core purpose – to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.  Hence the transition to Grasshopper, an insect which can oddly leap nearly 20 times its size and is always on the move.  The Grasshopper brand would allow the company to be THE brand for entrepreneurs.  Future plans have Grasshopper creating 3 to 4 new products a year which simply solve everyday problems for entrepreneurs.  They are not creating something new, rather helping fix a recognized problem. Now’s there an idea?!?!

What really impressed me about Grasshopper, besides their really cool products, was the way they re-branded themselves.  As someone who has branded and re-branded some pretty well-known brands, I know that this is not an insignificant task.  What these guys did was clever, effective and fun.  A great combination for any marketing campaign.  Basically, they identified 5000 influencers and FedEx’d them all 5 chocolate-covered grasshoppers.  No cover letter.  No explanation.  Just a link to a website with a must-see video.

The campaign went viral – the holy grail for a marketing campaign.  YouTube, FaceBook, Twitter were all humming with Grasshoppers.    During the campaign, the team at Grasshopper began receiving hundreds of unsolicited videos and images of people eating the grasshoppers, or trying to convince others to do so.  This user-generated content provided the impetus for the final leg of the campaign: using the “buzz” to pitch to news outlets across the country.  By providing examples of what other people had done with their shipment of grasshoppers, the folks at Grasshopper were able to entice four news anchors to eat the grasshoppers live, on air – don’t you just love that!

Grasshopper executed a flawless campaign.  They got tons of coverage and visibility.  But here’s the thing – they connected the brand to their core purpose – empowering entrepreneurs to succeed.  If you want to build a brand for your business, this is how to do it.

Case Study: Rob Frankel – Personal branding or career suicide?

RobHeaderRob Frankel has been called “the best branding expert on the planet”.   He’s the author of “The Revenge of Brand X: How to Build a Big Time Brand on the Web or Anywhere Else” and founder of  Rob and I have similar “big business” backgrounds.  We have similar perspectives on the art of branding and the role it plays in building a business – be it a big one or a small one.  Here’s what Rob had to say when we talked about “personal branding” as it relates to building your business.

Laura: What is your definition of a brand?

Rob: A brand is how you get your prospects to perceive your solution as the only solution to their problem.

Laura: What do you think of personal branding and the role it plays when building a business.

Rob: The idea of personal branding is a corruption and co-opting of a legitimate process – branding.  In terms of small businesses, on entrepreneurs, people have a tendency to think that because they are the business, they are the brand.  Nothing is further from the truth.  No matter how small your business is, customers are buying the business, product or service…not you.  Customers don’t hire me because I’m a nice guy, good dad, and soccer coach.  They hire me because they have a branding issue and I can solve it.

Laura: How do you differentiate your personal characteristics from a business brand?

Rob: Your brand is your business…not your person.  Its about business…not about being a good dad.  There are core brand attributes that make brands successful.  For example, credibility, authenticity, and honesty.   Just because you have these personal attributes doesn’t mean you have to embark on a personal branding crusade.  Use the attributes to build an image and meaning for the company brand.

Laura: What are the implications of “personal branding” on employees and companies?

Rob: The purveyors of “personal branding” get into some serious ethical issues.  If you’re working for a company, then why promote the company brand when should be promoting yours?  There are legal issues as well as the company hires you to further their interest, not your own.  Younger, entry level people are really buying into the idea of building a personal brand.  I predict that we’re going to see examples of career suicide resulting in the conflict of interest between personal and business brands.

Live at Confab2010

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A Launch is a Process, Not an Event

megaphoneThe following is an excerpt from the Amazon best seller, 42 Rules of Marketing.

One of the biggest challenges for marketers is “the launch.” Whether it is the initial company launch, the launch of a second-generation product, or a launch into a new market segment—the process is similar and the results are equally important.

“Launch” is one of those tricky marketing words. If you ask three people for a definition, you will get three different answers. I define launch as the beginning of an overall integrated marketing campaign. When a launch is planned as a stand-alone event—a big party with industry press, analysts and customers—you will usually see a spike in press coverage. That spike will generate awareness and demand, which leads to initial sales. But then it tends to flattens out.  This is when people start to second-guess their revenue forecasts. Sales starts to question whether Marketing is doing its job. Marketing starts to question why Sales can’t close the deals.

Every launch has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If planned well, one launch will lead right into the next. A launch can take many different forms. It can be a “big bang” or “crescendo” where activities lead up to or are triggered by a specific event. It can be more like “rolling thunder” where activities are happening over a period of time. The key here is that a launch is not an event. It is a series of related marketing activities focused around a single purpose—achieving your business objective.

Planning your launch so that each activity is integrated with the next takes teamwork, organization and patience. I like to start by picking a launch date—you have to start somewhere. Remember the launch isn’t an event, but it is always helpful to have a deadline.  The date can be tied to an industry event, a holiday or season, or basic product availability.

Once you have your deadline, the launch date, you can begin to develop a launch plan by working backwards. List all the activities you have planned for the launch. Identify the dependencies. For example, you need creative content from the landing page to include in the email campaign; you need the messaging before you create the datasheet; you need a customer testimonial for the website and the sales presentation. Based on the timing of each activity, create a timeline of when each item is due, and who is responsible for getting it done.

Your plan should have three main sections. First, activities leading up to the launch date like developing the messaging, creating the webpage, sales presentation and datasheet. Second, specific activities that occur on the day of the launch like when and how the website goes live, the email campaign begins, the press release is issued. Finally, activities to continue the excitement like feature articles, customer webinars, sales contests, email and viral campaigns.

Steve Larsen, CEO of Krugle, used participation in the DEMO conference as one element of his plan to launch Krugle in 2006. Larsen’s goal for DEMO was to get 1–2,000 users signed-up for the beta product. Three days after the conference, Krugle has signed up 35,000 users. The follow-up communications became a critical element in Krugle’s marketing plan. The event was only the beginning. The real work had just started.

Your launch plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It does need to be a living launch plan. Things have a way of changing. You need to be able to adjust quickly as you learn more, and identify the impact of changes on other activities. Having everything written down helps you identify the impact of changes across all elements of the launch.

It also helps minimize the “oops” factor—that tiny little detail that falls through the cracks, and that your boss and colleagues will remind you about for years to come.