Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Windows 7 - last chance for Microsoft??

As a small business owner there are always periods of time when investments in infrastructure become a blinding necessity. Just recently we embarked upon a re-branding and website overhaul which we trust will be completed by the end of this month - that’s a significant investment in time, energy and cash. But the rewards are tangible and satisfying. Next on the agenda is the question of materials upgrades...

With this in mind I came across the following article on Bmighty.com about the value of smb's upgrading to Windows 7. It reminded me of the fact that I had already blogged about XP verses Vista back in 2007 . Back then we made a decision to not support Vista. We deliberately purchased a half dozen machines with XP that were put on ice and rotated into our renewal program as other machines slowed or new staff joined. That policy ensures a consistent operating platform and contented employees for two more years. Given all we know about Vista it was a wise move.

Now maybe different. While XP still feels perfectly adequate for most day to day business applications the tech world is radically different now than it was back in 2001 when XP first showed up (yes THAT long ago). I'm dealing with a generation of iphone app users now and frankly the expectations they have as consumers absolutely impacts the expectations they have for business tools.

So the big question for this new generation of Microsoft Windows software is whether it really does offer enough bells and whistles to justify early adoption. Already I hear that there are issues. Initial versions will downgrade to XP to facilitate transition but reportedly after a relatively short period it will only downgrade to Vista (OMG!!!).

Microsoft need to be very careful – there are other valid alternatives solutions available to smb’s now like the ability to pull apps from the cloud (back in 2001 we had a server in house running Lotus Notes for email, database and collaboration tools – now everything is piped in via the web) or even a move towards Apple technology which can more easily be integrated into the existing systems as several of our team have done.

So I will watch with interest the reaction to Windows 7. I’ll read the reviews and listen to the discussions on the web amongst early users and see just what this has to offer and then we will decide in which direction to move…if I’m a representative sample of a typical smb then Microsoft better get it right this time or it could be game over for them.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

B2B research - brand verses demand gen

I was extremely interested to see some coverage of a research piece between Ziff Davis Enterprise, Forbes and B2B agency Stein Rogan and Partners. The article link on B2B magazine can be found here.

Firstly the findings that a majority of B2B marketers (64%) are giving equal weight to branding and demand gen is reassuring. Over the last 2 years we have found the tech market has shifted heavily towards lead generation, many times at the expense of more identifiable branding initiatives. This is also compounded by a shift to more digitally based, response focused media, often as we know at the expense of traditional media formats like print.

Now don't get me wrong - it's my personal opinion that lead gen and branding are entirely compatible, indeed the assets used to generate leads are often the "deliverable proof" of some higher brand promise (proving a technology leadership position, innovation in the field, improved servicing of a market segment, better customer service, etc).

However there's a mind set question here. In many companies lead or demand gen is operated separately from corporate or brand communications. For marketers to realize the joint goals they set forth in the research, it's going to be critical to see more integration of these two components.

As a second side note the views on mix of media used for branding is fascinating. OOH at 72% and social media at 69% ahead of broadcast and print 68% and 64% respectively bodes well for the OOH industry but really throws up another key point.

Social media is, by it's nature unpredictable. My opinions here could in theory attract negative views from the market and may impact on my company brand. With social being a much more dynamic environment and less controllable, are marketers taking a huge risk by giving it such a huge role in brand development? It absolutely has a role to play. Giving it the right weight in the mix is where the questions lies.

These are interesting and highly dynamic times. B2B marketing departments and service companies as well as publishers are indeed set for exciting changes. The real winners will be those that get the media mix right and successfully integrate all the components. That change will need to start internally, with bigger broader campaign initiatives, real vision and use of appropriate metrics.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Going Green - coming of age?

You cannot expect us to be based in Berkeley, California and not have an interest in the green space. It's part of the DNA of the region and infused within the local culture.

With this in mind it was nice to attend this weeks Going Green 2009 event and get an update on how this sector of the market is developing. The Going Green event is predominately an opportunity for green tech companies to network with potential investors and for industry experts to discuss the issues driving new innovation and change.

Two sessions were particularly interesting to me - "Terrawatts of Solar" and "Urban Development". The solar experts discussed the issues around industrial scale delivery of solar for grid electricity and highlighted the issues blocking this. Incredibly second to financing and ROI (which is a huge obstacle) the next one they noted was "environmentalists". Ironic I thought that legal protests from those protecting habitats would delay a technology that could save the planet!

The "urban" panel drew attention to the difficulties of executing on major renovation/modernization projects like Boston's "Big Dig", Seattle's tunnel project and London's Cross Link Railway. Most noted that going underground was in most cases the only option left without massive disruption to existing infrastructure, while again the cost and political will was always a challenge especially for publicly funded and managed projects. In many cases providing an infrastructure upgrade necessary to facilitate the "greening" of a city (less traffic, more pedestrian areas, more mass transit, bike lanes, etc) simply are never going to get the financial support. Money it seems is the stumbling block to so many green initiatives.

Finally a very important theme came through about who controls the future of green tech success.

The US is simply a terrible industrial environment to realize the change needed to help green tech succeed. Let me qualify that - in terms of innovation it's all happening here and to an extent in Europe too. But and it's a big BUT - the commitment required to actually realize the technology and bring it to market only exists in one market - China. The economy and commitment in that market is geared towards the long term. We all know green innovations and change pay off long term but US culture now thinks short term, quarter to quarter and so to thrive, green tech must utilize China's phenomenal industrial might. The downside of this...an ever faster leaching of intellectual value from the US to China and even greater reliance on one economy to provide long term global solutions.

Bottom line - the world needs a strong US/China relationship, perhaps more now than ever before. Only then will green tech really come of age.

NOTE - Just Media have handled media campaigns for Solar City - targeting residential customers and encouraging installation of solar systems for the home; Applied Materials - running a global campaign promoting Applied's solar manufacturing equipment and San Francisco Environmental - promoting recycling habits amongst city residents and business.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wow what a ride!

I was staggered to see that my last blog post was back in May. In some ways that reflects the internal shift in focus required by all during what was some massive upheavals within both the media industry and our own company. It's nice to finally come up for air.

I guess everyone who works in this industry has felt the effects. Layoffs have been abundant in media companies and across the board we have witnessed adjusted business models, pricing structures, staff skill sets and services. Ultimately organizations have been forced to reflect upon their own best practices. Change has been the most common theme over the last 6 months.

Just Media was no different. We lost two key staff members - long term employees who we miss greatly. But when client spends drop - in some cases by 90%, any organization needs to adjust to survive. Thankfully we are now back hiring again and able to take advantage of some great talent to boost our teams expertise. Adding new blood is a fantastic way to re-energize - new ideas, different experiences and fresh thinking - challenging the conventional thinking and creating new angles to attack and deliver upon existing client goals.

Client wise it's also been a roller coaster ride. Early signs in 2009 showed big budget cuts and the inevitable shift of dollars to ROI and lead gen - almost to the exclusion of all other media activity. That's tough for all. Small budgets as we all know don't take less time to manage. I lost count of projects that got planned only to get cut at the last minute when quarterly figures didn't match expectations. That frustrates everyone - clients and agency - everyone feels like they are stuck in the mud with wheels spinning.

However in the last few months things have changed. We have picked up some major wins - Hitachi Data Systems, Trinet HR services, Juniper Networks, Webroot and Stephens Bank - and whats interesting is that ALL are asking for assistance to develop strategies, plan and run branding and awareness campaigns. A return to true marketing perhaps?

So as analysts predict an end to the recession, companies appear now to be rushing to claim market and mind share from competitors. All realize the window for this is short and anyone who is sleeping now will miss one of those rare post recession openings to win and win big....

Maybe the real ride is only just beginning - buckle up....

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Now this is funny - every client should watch this.

The following video was sent to me and like most agency folks right now it's nicely summarizing the types of conversations that are happening in the real world. I guess we may even be accused of doing the same thing with our publishing partners as we squeeze them for more value.

Thankfully since we don't do creative work we are probably not being hit as badly as some agencies as regards the very final comments - they are priceless though and very apt right now.

Hats off to the creative team that did this work. The very fact they did it and it resonates with so many in the industry is somewhat telling I think.

BTW has anyone esle noticed there seems to be more black humor around at the moment. Idle hands are obviously still finding things to do (and yes I know this is my second blog of the day)

Why some tech CMO's succeed and others don't

There is an interesting article just been posted on the Forbes site once again noting that the most dangerous C suite title to carry is that of CMO. The article notes that the average tenure for a CMO is just 28 months compared with 38 months for CIO's and at least four years for other C titles.

This got me thinking. Since we have dealt with literally hundreds of tech companies over the years, is the situation any different in our space and what might be effecting that.

Well we are different in some ways. Tech companies are always looking at innovation as a core business driver and culturally this infuses the marketing department with a feeling that they must always operate on the cutting edge of what is available as a communications vehicle. The hasty move away from print and the current obsession with social media are two classic examples of tech marketing trying to force the issue. But there's more to it than that.

The more I consider this, the more I realize there are basically two forms of tech company marketing department. Stable and dysfunctional.

We have some incredibly good clients with staff who have been present for a considerable time and who one might even suggest are "stable". This stability though exists in two completely different forms.

Firstly there is the version where marketing is a culturally defined function of sales support and where the marcom professionals place is to provide assistance to a sales program through somewhat monotonous but consistent marketing activities such as events management, collateral production, lead generation and product related marketing support which may sometimes include the odd media campaign. Stability is delivered by the simple fact that no one has time to think long term and indeed there is little compunction or will to do so. Budget management is only done by quarter and no sooner is one activity completed than the next is underway. The relentless treadmill turns and the marketing team, in order to be successful, must function as a well oiled machine.

In the second type of stable tech marcoms set up, the client usually operates within a relatively strict set of brand guidelines, creating campaigns within defined parameters and with a longer term corporate communications goal in mind. This works well, forcing the alignment of the different marketing components together and allows for more consistently integrated campaigns. Sure it has drawbacks - mostly in the stifling of the more radical creative ideas but even here, with some leeway and the right "adult supervision" things can still get interesting.

Both types of stability have drawbacks. The first tends to be staff burnout. Only certain types of marketing professionals accept relentless grind and one might argue that the real talent will tend to move on to organizations presenting more of a challenge and greater opportunity. This is perhaps unfair - some CMO's simply enjoy building extremely functional departments and should be applauded for doing so.

In the second scenario the real problem is maintaining the consistency, especially in the short term. It typically requires other C level functions - mainly the CEO - to be very supportive of the brand vision and not feel inclined to tinker with it. If they buy in, then they will often move on to focus on other aspects of the business and allow the CMO the leeway to run with the vision and mould it over time. They must also accept, that while marketing should be measured, not all of marketing's objectives can be simplified into a spread sheet. Carrying a brand vision into the market is as much about tone, feel and emotion as CPC and CPL's.

So what makes a CMO bound to fail? Sadly dysfunctional tech marketing departments abound. In many cases the CMO is responsible themselves. They come in and immediately engage in radical overhaul without necessarily taking the time to leverage the good that exists. They "throw the baby out with the bathwater" and can actually inflict more harm than good - especially if they don't stick around long enough to complete the task. This approach can be due to a radical difference in their vision as to what marketing goals should be or simply a wish to stamp their creative/message vision on the company at the expense of any historic work done. Again a CEO is probably behind much of this as they look for marketing to "reinvent itself" to help a struggling company position or diminishing bottom line.

However the most common problem I observe is often an organizational infrastructure that's just designed to kill any CMO's good intentions. Field marketing, corporate marketing, lead generation, events marketing, product marketing, web team, regional marketing, PR, etc, etc. Any company with this many departments, often with private agendas and rarely coordinated, is a disaster waiting to happen. If I meet any CMO who tells me "oh that's not something I control" I know they are doing the job with both hands tied behind their back. It's simply impossible to rally the troops if some think they are Indians and others think they are the cavalry. It never ceases to amaze me how often one marcoms function appears to be taking pleasure in screwing up the actions of another.

Oh the stories I could tell.......

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Google gets a dose of media reality

I sometimes joke with the Just Media team that media planning could be done by a bunch of trained monkeys. It's one of the reasons clients are always trying to pay us peanuts for our services!

Indeed in this modern economy of cost cutting and service justification it's often the impression that agencies like ours that only do media planning and buying (no creative work) are a luxury item that can be replaced, in many cases by clients doing the work themselves. Well for once I have to send my thanks to Google for proving to all that it's simply not possible to replace hard working media professionals with automated systems and algorithms.

The news Google has pulled out of trying to sell traditional media like print and radio was somewhat of a surprise to me I have to say. I was quietly concerned that potential cost savings offered by media bidding models would attract significant attention and dollars out of the hands of professional buyers, like us. I thought, foolishly it seems, that human input into this process was so devalued by many that a new "agency" model was being created - indeed that was the stated goal.

However the reality is it's actually getting harder than ever to be in this business. The knowledge required is so much greater than just 15 years ago when I started on the agency side (where I moved for ad sales). Obviously the web has lead to much of that - it's a media vehicle with almost unlimited options and the ability to combine pretty much every other media type within it (print, radio, TV, events, face to face meeting, out of home - all is replicated in the digital world). However as we have seen even radio, a media format that offers so many similarities with online as regards buying (small standardized ad units, solid audience demographics, calculated values of spot rate based on target reached) it's really not that simple. Especially complex is the evaluation of the performance metrics so beloved by Google algorithms and also the "human effect" of bias ingrained in most radio advertisers who like to speculate on what times and stations their target is listening rather than using simple mathematics to calculate a reach/impression/value matrix that builds a plan based on desired response.

So thank you Google - for once you have helped prove we still do have a place in this world and that my team is not in any immediate danger of being replaced by chimps and gibbons.