When I was 19, I presented a paper at a conference alongside former (and present) California Governor, Jerry Brown. Being a radical punk, I wore a Dead Kennedys shirt while chatting with him. Somewhere I have a picture. But Jerry didn’t “get” the message I was sending, and I’m not sure why I did it anyway. I actually respected what he said at the event about urban renewal, and his politics were much more to my liking at the time than those of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
I was reminded of this pointless stunt this week on hearing that EMC parked branded cars and power-washed their logo in front of rival NetApp’s headquarters. Aside from the glee of the EMC crew and annoyance from my NetApp contacts, I came away asking “what’s the point?” Was this stunt an effective way of messaging their new products? Would it demoralize the NetApp employees? Would it energize the EMC staff? Would it garner publicity and coverage? Or was it merely a silly and pointless stunt?
What’s the Point?
Marketers should always ask themselves this question when considering new initiatives. Creativity knows no bounds, and Internet and guerilla marketing tactics often turn to tactics ripped from the obnoxious MTV shows, Jackass and Punk’d. But even well-intentioned campaigns can go awry: It is common for technology companies to focus on communicating cool features instead of usability.
Do customers need “record-breaking” performance or easier systems management? EMC themed their entire January 18 announcement on the former, including claims that their new products were 2x, 3x, or even 7x faster than the competition. But, to me, the highlight of this product rollout was “Unisphere”, the simplified management application for their low-end systems. I believe that Unisphere and reseller support will sell more VNXe storage arrays than Xeon multi-core processors or 6 Gb SAS. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the technical references in that last sentence: The intended audience for these products don’t know or care about all that, either.
Making a Splash
“Candy doesn’t have to have a point. That’s what makes it candy.” – Charlie Bucket’s explanation of Willy Wonka
But not all marketing efforts are designed to make a point directly. Many are intended to make a splash, in hopes of attracting attention. Entertaining marketing is much more common and rewarding than dry, factual statements. This explains EMC’s world-record motorcycle jump, Mini Cooper stuffing, and (literal) record breaking on the 18th: They wanted to grab attention.
It worked. EMC drew the attention of the entire industry; even those that refused to participate joined in! This is my second writeup resulting from the event, and will not be my last. And EMC’s share prices rose to a 10-year high in the run-up to the announcement. Clearly much of the effort was executed correctly.
Weigh the Benefits
Although it is easier to count the cost, it is wise to weigh the potential benefits of marketing efforts:
- Will it increase visibility of my company or product?
- Will it spread the word about a valuable feature or benefit?
- Will it cause customers to consider buying from my in the future?
- Will it reassure current customers that they made the correct choice?
- Will it help my employees, vendors, and investors to feel motivated and positive?
- Will it cause my competitors to make a mistake?
If few or none of these outcomes are likely, perhaps it’s time to consider a more-effective strategy.