the bloggard

Engineers Are Your Best Marketers

Posted in Marketing by conorpower on March 16, 2010

I came across the presentation below at this blog (Marketing too Important to be left to the Marketing Department), and was really impressed with a lot of the points that were being made. The video is definitely worth watching for anyone, like myself, who ever has or is considering starting their own company and developing a product given the unique opportunities and technologies available to us to do just that.

Not coming from a sales or marketing background, what I found most relevant about the presentation is that it spoke directly to a lot of the challenges of building consumer facing software products in the current internet era. The barrier to having a large scale presence in this software market has been reduced significantly with the availability of the numerous platform as a service vendors e.g. Amazon EC2, Google App Engine, Windows Azure, RackSpace (to name but a few). With little or no capital expenditure it’s possible to have a viable product up and running reasonably quickly. Assuming there are software development skills available to you, the true costs are only those of the time and effort you and your team is prepared to put into getting something up and running. Gone are the necessities of large structured engineering departments, dedicated sales & marketing teams focussed on customer acquisition, manufacturing to support packaging and distribution and finally professional services and partnerships for implementation and deployment options.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=1546328&dest=-1]

For a growing number of companies, in place of that is typically a small group of engineering centric, creative types who are able to identify challenges that consumers are having and provide solutions to these challenges. Two examples I can give, one of which was mentioned in the presentation above are 37 Signals and Less Everything. Companies like this are releasing truly usable products, with little overhead, doing it very well and reaping the benefits in return. I find these folks truly inspiring and they’ve shown what’s possible and more importantly that software development provides wonderful opportunities for passionate creative people and you don’t need to work for a large corporation. It’s worth noting that I certainly don’t think enterprise software is dead or dying it’s just my own frustrations with the pace of change and the whole drawn out sales cycle. Traditionally it could be argued that a company with mediocre software and great sales will do well, where as a company with an excellent software product and bad sales will struggle. I see this changing with types of software as a service offerings being made available online by these small companies.

The challenge for us in this era and the underlying theme of the presentation, is how can we produce something remarkable. The companies mentioned above have done extremely well and this is what us and all the other passionate engineers wanting to do the same need to understand. As an adjective, I had always associated the word “remarkable” with nearly and other wordly experience but in essence it’s just a description for something worth remarking on. I agree with Seth Godin that if you can create something remarkable you are in essence doing the most valuable marketing yourself or as a team of engineers. The people who use the product will mention it to others and they become your marketers in turn; “sneezers, virally infecting others”.

I’m not under any illusions as to how challenging it may be to make something remarkable but a secondary factor to highlight, and one as critical to success, is that of the market being targeted. As Seth Godin mentions, if you consider the entire market as a bell curve, with the tails of the curve being the scarcity and ubiquity of similar products, if your product already has demand in either of these areas it is by definition remarkable already. For scarcity, the fact you’re addressing something that’s scarce is remarkable and if you’re in the ubiquitous space you’ve become a commodity. If you’re targeting the space between the tails this is where the real challenges to being remarkable exist. In my mind to be remarkable in there implies you are one of the big players in the space e.g. Google, Microsft, Twitter, Facebook, all of which are bordering on ubiquitous at this stage. It would be naive to assume that you can successfully compete there with ease.

The question to answer then becomes one of identifying the subsection or demographic within the overall market to focus on and in essence finding either of the tails within that demographic. If you can build something to address the needs of these people, something they will use and something at the right price point you will in essence be building something remarkable for them. Assuming the market is not so small as to not be sustainable you will have gone some ways to hopefully being your own boss and making some money while following your passions.

To paraphrase the points I’m summarizing from the presentation:

  1. Be remarkable
  2. Identify the market, within which you will be remarkable
  3. Build something that the people you’re targeting will use and they will be your best marketers

Seth Godin mentions the idea of your users / marketers as “sneezers” i.e. people who virally infect other people. There are active and passive sneezers. Active sneezers, being those that will actively tell others about your product and passive sneezers, being those that do it, almost unbeknownst to themselves, the analogy being given of the white head phones for iPods, implicitly advertising iPod users. Once this concept sank in for me I found it to be very similar to the movement of a lot of sites now to leverage a users existing credentials to login / access the site ala Facebook Connect, Yahoo Updates, Twitter. The obvious benefit of this is that a user has to manage less logins, however perhaps the not so obvious benefit is to the site supporting this and allowing a users interaction on their site be published to Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and as such acting as an passive sneezer into the users existing networks. Not being a very active social media user, I’ve found it hard to see the true benefits of this to the end user but after considering it in relation to marketing it seems like a real coup de gras for the sites offering this integration and wanting to expose themselves to a larger attentive network.

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