Tag Archives: marketing

Marketing In Another Dimension

Far ago and long away in a kingdom, whose name I don’t care to remember, was an emerging venture funded startup. We’ll call it StraightArrow. Its enterprise product for drawbridge management was a major improvement on what the feudal and knightly segments had traditionally used. The CEO, Lance A. Little, had tried everything from social media to ads painted on the sides of jousting horses to sponsored mead drinking bouts – all with indifferent success. StraightArrow was not hitting its growth targets and its investors were starting to dust off their management methods such as the rack and the dungeon.

Over a lunch at the ale house, Lance and his marketing team pondered ways to get their message across the moat. Clearly, mass media such as peppering a potential customer castle with logo bearing arrows was ineffective.

Theirs was a product appealing to a relatively small number of castles and princely buyers, so non-traditional tactics, even if individually more expensive, could still be affordable. Over the next round of mead, they considered placing a tempting object in front of the raised drawbridge. One which would be too tempting to ignore.

Candidates included:

A tethered unicorn
A damsel in distress
A bejeweled sword embedded in a bolder
A Swedish/Shiatsu massage throne
A Mysterious Unexpected Box

Reaching your target audience is difficult – whatever the communication medium. It has defenses for weeding out unwanted communication including yours. Most of your messages will die unseen in SPAM filters, voicemail, mute buttons, fast forwards, and waste bins. Real, as opposed to virtual junk mail, may be seen. It is seldom opened, let alone attended to.

A classic alternative is to send something sufficiently remarkable that it peaks the recipient’s curiosity. Something beyond the postcard or form letter, electronic or physical, which is hard to be immediately ignored. Something real and solid in three dimensions.

Dimensional communications can be effective because they are novel. How many have you received this month? They are uncommon in part because they are far more expensive per message. The marginal costs of most media are trivial. The costs of a dimensional campaign are not.

The higher cost makes targeting even more important. Many firms sling cheesy tchotchkes rather than send desirable tangible targeted premiums to real prospects. In other words, they trojan_horseabdicate marketing. Perhaps the best known example of using an enticing package is the myth of the Trojan Horse. The Greeks, so the legend goes, had exhausted traditional marketing media during ten years of war. Then they went dimensional with a precisely targeted package. Their campaign succeeded. Now you need the Wayback Machine to visit Troy.

Successful marketing campaigns have been built on dimensional marketing. They provide a compelling narrative by delivering a series of intriguing components to get the attention and engagement of an audience. For example, to reach technology decision makers, one might send in successive shipments, the components of a robot. When the final component arrived and the robot completed, it might invite the recipient to a presentation or event.

This requires a lot of thought to do well. Then there is the brute force approach.

I recently received an unexpected package about 10” by 4” by 14”. The label indicated it was from a supplier of office products. Though I have bought from them, I had no outstanding orders. The box was suspiciously light. In fact, it contained nothing but some sealed-air packaging and a single page print ad. The ad offered a trial on a package of “healthy snacks.”  The same ad could, of course, have been sent by many other media. None of these could have been as anticlimactic or disappointing. The predictable result – no sale at a much higher cost.

To cross the moat, you need more than hip boots.

Beyond Like

Micro-payment mechanisms, such as Bitcoin, have gotten a lot of media attention recently. In practice it is still relatively expensive and cumbersome to receive small sums. Processors typically charge both a percentage of the payment amount and base charge, such as $0.30 per transaction. iTunes, with its huge volume, can make good money on transactions of $.99  or even less – you can’t.

Why might you want small payments? Many content creators, bloggers, givers of advise, sketch artists, want-to-be app developers, not to mention candidates, causes and charities, don’t get enough $10, $25 or even $5 checks. They may get more, or at least something, by asking  less  if there were a convenient way to gather small payments.

If your browse-by visitors think your minimum contribution is too high and so contribute nothing, what can you do? You could still ask for a Facebook Like. A Like is better than nothing, but it doesn’t tell you much or pay for a beer to cry in. Suppose, however, visitors who do not open their wallets, could at least open their spare change purses and give a few cents or a small amount they set themselves. This would not only provide some marginal revenue, while you’re refining your offering or business model, but also valuable feed back on relative preferences and price points.

An intriguing new service promises to make it easier to “show a little loving.” It’s called appropriately douluvit (www.douluv.it). Users of the service can embed “lüv” icons Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 8.13.42 PM by any item on their site. When visitors click on the icon, they see a range of options specified by the site owner. For example, the campaign could request contributions of say 2¢, 10¢, 25¢, or  whatever the visitor wished, if she found an article helpful.

At this point in the campaign, any responses are non-binding pledges. Once a given visitor has accumulated $10 in pledges, she is required to make an actual payment by credit card. After a site has accrued enough paid donations, douluvit pays them less a 10% commission.

In effect, Douluvit aggregates mini and micro payments such that they can be made efficiently. This free service deserves more than a Facebook Like. It deserves a look.

A Legend in Its Own Mind

Apple (née Apple Computer) has been doing some high priced promotion to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of its Macintosh computer. Double page ads with pictures of original and contemporary Macs recently ran on successive days in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe and many other vehicles. The commemoration took over Apple’s home page. Apple acolytes can watch an infomercial featuring almost famous-like types, whose lives were made richer, fuller, deeper, and more transcendent when they got a Mac.

The promotion has all the trappings of a major new product launch, but without the new product. Reruns of greatest hits do not equal great marketing. Taking a trip in the Way Back Machine to 1984, was the original trans-luggable Mac such a success that it should be celebrated today?

In 1984, Ronald Regan was in the White House, but computers were not in the houses or offices of most people. Personal computers, even “portables,” were heavy and expensive. They made up for this by doing relatively little. Out of the box they did nothing but show a blinking cursor on dark screen of a CRT monitor. If you wanted apps with that, an extra $500 or so would get you a spreadsheet or a word-processing program. For some hundreds more, you could get a dot-matrix printer to make an ugly printout of an ugly screen. In other words, the bar for a superior product was none too high.

Even compared with this modest baseline, the early Macs were works in progress. Their implementation of graphical computing ideas borrowed from Xerox PARC was slow. Drag the mouse, and wait for the system to catch up. The original Mac was underpowered, overpriced, and not positioned toward a market, which valued its potential enough to pay a premium for it.

Apple had the graphical computing field essentially to itself at least until mid-1990 and the release of Microsoft Windows 3. With the Microsoft two button mouse, Windows became the first viable mass-market graphical computer system. By then the Mac was a more robust product, but could not sell enough in either the home or business markets to avoid losses. The company suffered near death experience in the mid-1990s, when it fired Steve Jobs.

Apple rallied and survived, yet its later dominance was based on its consumer electronics – music players, tablets, and phones – not computers. This is not to say that Apple isn’t doing well in computers. Gartner estimates that Apple achieved a share of 13.7% of US PC shipments, though in a shrinking market.

In its most recent quarter, Apple derived more than five times the revenue from phones as from computers. This shift has been happening for some time such that in 2007, the company formally changed its name from “Apple Computer” to just “Apple.”

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

The contemporary Mac is a good, if rather expensive, computer. I’m writing this post on one. Moreover, Apple’s OS X software is arguably superior in a number of ways, such as less prone to crashes and viruses. Yet this is old news. Over the last, say, half dozen or more years Macs have not improved significantly, though they have gone through a number of cosmetic changes – all in silver, a bit lighter and thinner, and slightly sharper graphics.

Rather than celebrating a thirty year old footnote, Apple might better use its resources to reinforce what they have done for us lately – even if that means actually doing something for us lately.

What’s Your Model?

A key question any organization, including non-profits, will have to (eventually) answer is what is What Is Your Business Model? How will you fund your operations to stay in the game, let alone prosper? The question is easy to ask. The answer – not always.

You don’t necessarily start with a Biz Model. Disappearing message phenomenon Snapchat has millions of customers and a rumored valuation of $3 to $4 billion yet no revenue at all. Whatever else it may be, no revenue is not a business model.

Similarly, Twitter, after seven years and tens of billions of tweets has yet to approach profitability. Its recent successful IPO gives it space to continue to optimize its business model.

Another increasingly popular phenomenon is online instruction. From rather crude beginnings, such as MIT’s open courseware  – at first not much more than an online syllabus and lecture notes – the online learning platforms have improved and the number of courses increases substantially. These have become complete courses, not just someone giving a lecture on YouTube.

Commentators some times call these online courses by the ungainly acronym, MOOC, as in Massively Open Online Course. MOOCs are created by individual universities but commonly syndicated to students through portals such as Coursera, Udacity, and EdX, which offer courses from many schools. For an overview of the range of online courses see mooc-list.

The courses are generally free. This begs the question – what is the business model? What pays for the software, services, video production, and staff let alone a return on investment? Visitors to MOOCs generally don’t see embedded ads or even offers to buy logo wear or tsatskes similar to what traditional colleges offer. Advertising and merchandising would detract from the platform, without providing enough revenue. A few MOOCs have tried explicitly charging up to a few hundred dollars per course, but the abundance of free alternatives just a click away has so far thwarted a direct pay to learn approach.

Looking at the latest crop of online courses, providers seem to have been thinking about other ways to increase revenue and been evolving from a free to freemium model. Freemium is common with services from online gaming, e.g. Zynga, to web based storage, e.g. Dropbox. Typically, there is no charge to start and you can continue to use a modest amount of the service at no charge. Use more or avail yourself of advanced features and you have to pay.

In the case of online education, refinement of the business model also entails changing the value proposition and the essence of the product. Instead of requiring students to pay for the instruction, MOOCs ask them to pay for verification that they took the course. That is, students pay for some form of an e-certificate of completion. As in the brick and mortarboard world, the product is not so much education as certification.

For example, visit Coursera and the heading on the home page proclaims – Take the world’s best courses, online, for free. However, select a course from the extensive course list at and you’re presented with a choice – “Learn for Free” or “Earn a Verified Certificate.” The certificate costs $49.

Verified certification is but a part of Udacity’s upsell. For about $100 a month, it offers “Udacity Coach.” Students get guidance with course projects and help with assignments. Students, who do not upgrade to Coach, can only ask questions to an online forum, with no guarantee of a satisfactory answer or indeed any answer at all.

EdX, the third major MOOC, seems ambivalent about selling addons. It does offer “Verified Certificates of Achievement,” for variable fees starting at $25 but suggesting that the student pay more. Yet it virtually apologies for doing so with a plaintive:

As a not-for-profit, edX uses your contribution to support our mission to provide quality education to everyone around the world, and to improve learning through research. While we have established a minimum fee, many learners contribute more than the minimum to help support our mission. The funds go towards class creation and improving EdX.

For any of these programs, would friends, relatives, or prospective employers be impressed with a stack of such certificates? How impressed would you be to see not a diploma on the wall, but a tablet with the image of a certificate?

MOOCs might try many other possible business models. What’s encouraging is that they are actively experimenting. When is the last time your organization examined its business model?

Bull Reaches New Heights

On October 14th, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner set several records including:

  • the highest balloon ascent
  • the longest skydive
  • the first man to break the sound barrier in free fall

Baumgartner didn’t float silently into the Guinness World Records on his logoed parachute. The feat garnered front page mention in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and leading world newspapers. It was featured on major broadcasts, while some 8 million viewed the jump streaming live in some 50 countries. In PR speak, it got a lot of ink.

Don’t try this from home:

Felix Baumartner about to jump

The big jump was more than the work of a stuntman and a few of his buddies going for bragging rights. It was the joint effort of a sizable technical and scientific team, which has been working on the project since 2007.  Who funded this effort? Fellow Austrian company, Red Bull, the maker of the caffeinated and sugared “energy drink,” seen in skinny 8.4 oz. cans.

Privately held Red Bull, won’t disclose the cost of this project, but from the roster of equipment and experts, it would have had to been eight figures. Whatever the budget, it could have bought Red Bull could have bought a lot of traditional advertising and sales promotion.

Red Bull sponsors sports and games such as skate boarding, BMX biking, and surfing. Events it believes will appeal to its aspirational target – young, , cool, active, male. In this case, it both connected with core customers and transcended conventional marketing to creating a phenomenon. The positioning and messaging were as on target as Baumbartner’s flawless landing. No amount of advertising alone could have done so.

We may never have the resources to stage such an event. Instead of being yet another sponsor at yet another show, we can still strive for promotions, which are relevant and remarkable.