While browsing Creative Mornings, I happened to come across a talk called “Career Advice for Troublemakers”. If you’re a creative person or ever “ignore authority, laugh at convention and look for ways to change things”, I beg you to watch this 30 minute talk. The speaker, Chris Coleman, lives in Atlanta, has a Creative Writing degree, and specializes in marketing for tech companies. Funnily enough, I share these three traits and many more with her. Instant girl crush. After listening to the talk I knew I had to find out more about this woman.
I immediately went out and bought her out-of-print book The Green Banana Papers. I was weary since it was published in 2000, but it’s just as useful today as it must’ve been then. This is a 214 page book that packs big knowledge for tech entrepreneurs still trying to navigate, but most likely enter, the marketing game. It also is perfect for any marketing/PR/ad professional who specializes in serving tech companies. Below are some of the best kernels and snippets of knowledge that I directly picked from the read.
What is marketing?
IT executives often don’t really know what marketing is, therefore have no way of measuring it. Marketing is everything you do to influence a positive buying decision—both now and 100 years from now. This definition is big enough to encompass lifelong initiatives like branding and it’s specific enough to remind us why we’re in business at all: to make a sale.
The pin up girl branding that someone did in the 50’s for Coca Cola, my father’s old Coca Cola fridge that I grew up with, and the billboard I see everyday on my way to the office all factor into my decision of drinking a Coca-Cola. I’ve created positive associations through branding with Coca Cola in a way that I haven’t with any other soda. I feel genuinely cool when I’m driving down the highway with a can of Coke in my hand, my shades on, and the radio blasting. Drinking a bottle of water, as I do most days, just doesn’t do it. And that “taste the feeling” of “cool” “freedom” “happy” and “fun” comes directly from the marketing and advertising team at Coca Cola—nothing else. It’s that feeling that the consistent marketing has pushed for decades that produces that cool factor and that helps lead to billions in sales despite it being full of sugar, nothingness, and at times, cocaine. As Coleman writes, “it has nothing to do with glamour and everything to do with perseverance.”
What marketing won’t do?
- It won’t overcome a bad product or lousy service
- It won’t close the deal
- It won’t compensate for an incompetent sales force or poor distribution
- It won’t work overnight
What will it do?
It will make your company visible, credible, and memorable.
And until that happens, nothing happens.
Unless your company is 5 years or older and you’ve consistently worked on your brand, you most likely don’t have a brand. You have a product or service. So where is your brand? Take a good, hard look at your CEO’s values, beliefs, and motivations. Their character and personality are a direct reflection of the company. Keep in mind that just like people, no brand is beloved by all, and that’s okay.
The Green Banana Principle
The green banana principle is inspired by the 90-year-old who said to the produce clerk, “Honey, I’m so old I don’t even buy green bananas anymore.” Identify your best prospects long before they’re ready to buy and market to them over the long haul. With patience, you’ll cultivate a crop that pays off year after year.
This “green banana stage” is where your marketing efforts have the greatest long term impact with the least interference from your competition. The earlier and more frequently you appear, the greater your competitive advantage. And if you’re too hungry to wait for the crop to ripen? You’re doomed to spending your days fighting over the leftovers.
Questions to Ask
How do you separate the ripe from the nearly rotten when you're a marketing specialist being hired by a tech company?
Do these people really understand what you do? When you’ve been hired by a company, you’ve really got two jobs. One, do the job you were hired to do, and two, educate your clients on what you’re doing. If they don’t understand or appreciate it, they’ll never come to bat for you when times get tough.
Will you be cleaning up after somebody else? Why are they hiring you in the first place? Have they fired other firms? If so, you better make it your business to find out why.
Is the firm’s payment history worrisome? What’s their track record with paying invoices? If it’s too long for you, your company's cash flow will suffer. Create an ideal client profile—and figure out where you draw the line at turning down business.
Concerning advertising, you know it’s working when you’re getting sick of your own message. Your company doesn’t click with anyone until they hear it at least 9 times, and that’s just the beginning of building the brand.
A word of caution to entrepreneurs hiring firms. Ads and marketing will not pay off instantly. Usually the first and logical instinct is to cut off anything that doesn’t pay off quickly. Please resist that temptation.
If neither you nor anyone on senior staff has hired an agency, start smaller with a marketing consultant. Be willing to actually let them do their jobs with the knowledge that they can do it better than you. If you can’t acknowledge that, no one will satisfy you. What should you look for in an agency?
- Personal Chemistry
- Business Compatibility
You’re being evaluated too. Good agencies think they’re choosing you.
There are at least four reasons to let an agency go:
- One firm has outgrown the other
- Recurring performance issues
- Poor chemistry at multiple levels
- Financial mismanagement
When is the agency getting ready to fire a client?
- Clients don’t pay their bills
- Clients don’t listen to the agency’s advice
- Everything’s a fight
- The client’s staff is hard to reach and access to senior people is blocked
Money problems are renowned for tearing apart the greatest of relationships.
Sadly, I don’t know if the undercurrent of suspicion (Are they taking advantage of me?) ever goes away completely.
Ad people will know you’re a novice or a seasoned client right off the bat based on the first questions you ask. And if you’re a novice you’ll immediately want to know how much stuff costs. It’s a valid question, but it simply can’t be answered on the spot—but odds are you won’t believe that. Better yet, you’ll think an agency is being evasion when they shoot “What’s your budget?” right back at you.
Marketing? You spend and you spend, and you feel like you’re getting nothing for it. But you can’t be a player without it. —Mike Landman
Myths About Budgets and Negotiations
- If I reveal my budget too soon, the agency will take advantage of me. Baloney. Withholding your budget is a waste of your time and theirs.
- Ad agencies are obscenely profitable, so they can afford to take a chance on me. LOL. The average pre-tax profit for top-performing mid-size agencies in the US is 13.3%.
- We don’t have a budget. You may think you don’t have one, but everyone has a price. So often an agency will create a plan with this “no budget” in good faith, and wham! When a client hears the plan and price tag attached they say “It costs how much? You know we can’t afford that!” There goes hours of work.
- We can do it for less in-house. Actually, this isn’t a myth. Staffing an internal marketing person makes sense, and you’ll save in the long run. But you’ll get into trouble if you hire a marketing professional (inherently creative) and expect them to design brochures and update the website or micromanage. Turnover costs will kill you.
- Agencies inflate their estimates because they expect us to negotiate. If we don’t push back on their proposals, we’re leaving money on the table. Some agencies might do this but they’re specifically paid for time and ideas. The longer it takes to negotiate the less time they have to work. Like any good realtor worth their salt, a firm’s first price will be there best price.
No matter what your marketing budget is, rest assured that the finance people will think it’s too much and the marketing people will think it’s too little. Keep in mind that the best marketers in the world can’t generate big revenues from an itty-bitty budget.
Salespeople and marketing people often don’t understand each other. Sales competence is judged by how much you sell. Marketing competence is judged by how much you know. Salespeople are measured with excruciating precision, while marketing people often arn’t measured at all. This in itself is a recipe for resentment. Expect these teams to get to know one another.
Expect your marketing people to:
- Understand clearly how your company makes and loses money
- Ask customers and prospects face to face what they think of your marketing materials
- Base a portion of their compensation on performance
- Consistently turn up new firsthand information about your prospects and buyers
Expect your salespeople to:
- Make joint sales calls with people from the marketing department
- Do it again, this time visiting someone who has recently seen or received your latest marketing material
- Do it again, this time with a difficult prospect
- Do it again, and make this one a cold call
For salespeople, the moment of truth is face-to-face with the buyer. For marketers, there's often no connection between revenues and what they do every day. Once they close the gap, stand back.
What To Expect Out of a Marketing Person
A qualified marketing person has:
1) Accompanied a salesperson on at least three prospective calls
2) Used your product(s) or at least has seen live demos of each
3) Personally interviewed a dozen clients for customer satisfaction surveys
4) Interviewed two or more salespeople to learn about the sales cycle, their ideal and actual prospects, and how marketing can help them sell
5) Interviewed one or more prospects who decided to not buy
6) A clear understanding about how your company makes money, where our company loses money, and which aspects of the business are the most and least profitable
7) Read your competitions literature and advertising and know what they’re claiming, where they’re winning, and how your company sells against them
8) Identified three publications relevant to buyers and influencers in your market and reads them regularly.
As a business owner, it takes a lot of courage to ask people why they turned you down. Companies that follow up with lost prospects and employees are rare. Before you start asking questions:
What do you want to find out?
Once you find out, what can you do about it?
Realistically, what will you do about it?
The Seven Deadly Sins
Everyone makes marketing mistakes. It’s when we make them over and over that they’re fatal—no matter how well capitalized you are. The most common causes of death:
We quit too soon.
We thought we should wait until we had more money.
We couldn’t decide.
We wanted to get everybody’s approval.
We didn’t think it was right yet.
We worried about what people might think.
We weren't having fun.