Monday, December 17, 2007

Have Marketing Launches Changed?

I am currently consulting to a company that is getting ready to launch their company/service. As a result, I have been thinking a lot lately about the different launches I have participated in over the years and I am going to use this post to wonder out loud, "how much time should be spent on getting the messages just right for a launch?"

My first experiences with marketing launches in the technology world was when I worked at Sybase in the late 1980s/early 1990s (yikes!). At Sybase, we used to spend an incredible amount of time preparing for our launches. In particular, we used to spend unbelievable numbers of hours getting our messaging just right. In those days, it made sense to get your messaging right since we didn't have the tools we have available today to change our messages easily. For example, when it came to developing a sales presentation, we didn't have PowerPoint so we used to send out sets of 35mm slides to our sales reps (I will pause a bit to let some of you younger people wonder how silly that sounds). If we made a change to our sales presentation, we would have to send new 35mm slides to each rep. Since you didn't want to do this a lot, you made sure you didn't change your messaging a lot.

Over the years, however, even when things like the Web and PowerPoint have made it easier to change messages, it still seems to be the mindset within enterprise companies to spend a lot of effort getting the messaging just right when preparing for a launch. A couple recent experiences of mine make me wonder if such an effort is worth it.

Over the last year or so, I have been involved with a couple launches that were very successful (a new release at JotSpot and the first public preview of Twine by Radar Networks). Based on these launches, here is my current thinking:
  • The messenger is more important than the message. Sure, time was spent on developing the messages for these launches but it was within reason. More importantly, in my mind, both of these launches had great messengers -- Joe Kraus at JotSpot, and Nova Spivack at Radar Networks -- who were able to effectively communicate the right messages.
  • A launch is the beginning of a continuous conversation, not a proclamation that needs to be "set in stone" for a period of time. Sure, you don't want to confuse the marketplace and change your messaging often. At the same time, however, it is now very easy (thanks to the Web, pdf, and PowerPoint) to evolve your messages as you learn more from the marketplace.
What do you think? Does this make sense? Or, are things different when you are marketing enterprise software to organizations, versus "Web 2.0 for business" software to individuals and small groups? (I recently wrote another post related to this segmentation.) Let me know your thoughts.


burganprell said...

Perry -- I definitely agree that messaging nowadays is only the start of a conversation -- especially with a product like Twine that is doing a real beta with user studies and testing that will help further refine the messaging. In general, early adopters are extremely marketing averse, and so the messaging that gets done at early-stage companies needs to bear this fact in mind -- think of the now prevalent buzzwords of transparency and authenticity -- does your early-stage messaging exhibit these two values, and is does it thus provide a foundation (perhaps a better word) for future conversation(s)? As a given product expands and opens up and starts targeting more publics, then more traditional messaging comes into play in order to scale to scope. But again, in start-up land, messaging is better figured in "the logical space of reasons" -- to entertain the philosophy geek in me, that is, an old Sellarsian concept that means, essentially, of justifying and being able to
justify what one says. That is where messaging is today, it's about creating a space where this process can play out among all stakeholders (an increasingly diverse and splintered group).

Perry Mizota said...

Great perspective, Josh. Thank you.

Amy said...

Perry, I also have to agree with your thoughts on this topic. I think with young start up companies, particularly in the business software space, a company’s messaging will and should evolve at about the same rapid pace as the company itself matures. Customers deploying the solution will find always new benefits as the product transforms and new customer challenges will continue to push the product in unique new directions, so staying on top of these trends with marketing messages that can be quickly refined is important for keeping a company relevant in a crowded market space. The fact that new tools like the Web and powerpoint exist today, really are a great catalyst for allowing marketers to stay on top of industry trends and appeal to a broad set of stakeholders.