marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Friday, August 24, 2012

Industry Expert vs. Functional Expert for Out-of-Box Thinking

I was talking with several people about hiring the right people for their marketing roles. It seems that hiring processes have either encouraged inflexibility or laziness, with poor results. The crux of the topic can be boiled down to two key statements:
  1. Most HR departments have a rigid experience requirement, such as 10+ years experience, to insure market familiarity
  2. Resulting hires tend to want to do things the way they've been done for 10+ years, often with mediocre results, though not necessarily horrible results.
I once heard that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results. I don't think these HR people were insane, so is there anything unexpected going on here? If you do something for 10 or more years, you learn the traditions of a  business. Traditions and network matter, especially for well established and long lived business. On one extreme, I worked for Pacific Bell, they gave me an 11 page document that only had acronyms that I was required knowledge for the business. At the same time, those traditions can lead to stagnation and a lack of innovation. You may often hear the phrase "but that's how we've always done it" when any type of change is introduced.

One CEO I spoke with made an interesting comment: "While the staff and even executives are hired with the industry experience requirement, look at how CEOs are hired". That's an interesting point.
  • In energy, telecom, steel, semiconductors, and banking, you see CEOs almost always coming from within the exact same industry. 
  • In other technology, you may see CEOs, valued for functional experience, cross over to another technology area. Meg Whitman moving from eBay to HP and Eric Schmidt going from Novell to Google come to mind.
Another CEO told me that HR departments can be either overwhelmed or lazy, leaving them to fall back on what's easy. He said that while some industry experience is indispensable, once a minimum threshold is met, the company culture, position goals, market culture, and personal attributes become more important.

I've seen some recruiters who get it. One told me that in Finance, you often see people jumping from industry to industry all the time. Their functional expertise helps them understand and approach a variety of financial situations. Financing, deal making, and money management constantly changes, and once someone has the minimum industry understanding, their ability to creatively solve problems is paramount since the old ways may not work.

The same should apply to sales and marketing. Great sales and marketing people understand that people, markets, and situations change. It's often a good idea to NOT do the same thing you've done for 10 years or even 5 years, as the market, people, and buying behaviors have changed.

How do you hire? Do you fill a position or hire a functional leader?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ambush Marketing - Big Win and Lessons from Nike

Nike's neon shoes were all over the place during the Olympics. The presence of the shoe was so ubiquitous that I assumed that they were a sponsor. They weren't. Reebok was the official
sponsor and has not renewed it's role for Rio. One possible reason? Nike implemented executed a well planned ambush marketing effort. The basics are covered in Ad Age here.

What people saw during the Olympics was a neon yellow shoe on the feet of athletes. The visibility and brand reinforcement, most notably, during track and field, when usually two or three athletes were shown in their events, with their feet seemingly glowing. The shoes were high contrast, visible, and part or many events where the wearers won a medal. The message to watchers, of course - the bright neon shoes helped win medals.

Nike insists that their products are all about the athletes, while other contend that their athletes are their marketing vehicle. While Nike backs it up showing gold medalists wearing Nike shoes, others point to Nike's own description of good products. The article quotes Martin Lotti, the man responsible for the marketing win:

"Mr. Lotti believes good Nike products have four elements: performance, emotion (a Team USA insignia over the heart, for example), environment (in keeping with the spirit of this being the first "green" games, the Flyknit is Nike's most sustainable shoe ever) and aesthetics."

Only one of the four items is for the athlete: performance.  The other three are about marketing, but to focus on the marketing aspect is to miss the big picture. It's the combination of good product and marketing that made the ambush marketing at the Olympics a success. Great athletes wear good products, good products were highly visible during the Olympics. Some athletes won with those products, so Joe Consumer might get the same benefits. It's a simple and well orchestrated marketing effort that leveraged product, celebrities, and distribution.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Small Time Brands Go Big, if They Survive Long Enough

A branding article in the Harvard Business Review caught my eye: "How These Small-Time Brands Made It Big", as I try to keep apprised of the psychology of branding and product acceptance. The article is a good refresher on some branding fundamentals, but also glosses over some core dependencies. If, as a reader, you can internalize the take-aways and understand the key prerequisites, I recommend you engage with the article.

The fundamental take-aways in the article:
  • Focus on a small idea
  • Deploy a powerful visual
  • Treat the name as a strategic creative decision
  • Don't overwhelm customers
Those take-aways are indeed valuable, but often get lost or misrepresented when applied. In nearly all of the examples provided, the author correctly mentions, but almost glosses over the struggles and hard times the companies endured before the brand really mattered. Yes, the brand was important, but the brand is/was an accelerator, not the core value. In each example, the brand didn't make the company, the company developed a great product or service before people cared about the brand.

Here's how to put things in perspective:
  • Nike: A shoe company under a different name for 14 years before it became Nike, and even then, the logo was rushed out to make production deadline and cost $35
  • Instagram: The now-famous service is a rebranding and outgrowth of the less popular Burbn
  • Twitter: Tweaked a $15 stock photo that came to signify the brand
One take-away that you shouldn't miss, is that the entrepreneurs behind the brands in the examples built the business and customer base first. Once customers love or simply believe in your product or service, you've proven yourself brand worthy, which is where the value of your brand comes from. 

Build value first, and the brand value will come.