Anyone who's ever talked to me probably thinks that I have little respect for marketing as a profession. That's not true!
What I have little respect for is most marketing professionals. Marketing is a necessary part of commerce. Marketing, done right, is fun.
What sucks is marketing for its own sake. A lot of marketing professionals are infected with terrible "not invented here" syndrome. For example, you can always tell when a company has gotten a new marketing director. Why? Their logos change. Even stalwarts like UPS change their logos when they get a new marketing director. It's idiotic, but they simply cannot resist the urge to make it theirs by peeing on it. Also, you'll see marketing professionals frequently forget they are supposed to be marketing something and just do something hip and cool that has no intellectual connection to the company's products and services. That's just a waste of money. If you see a marketing professional doing something like that, they're just building up their resume of cool hip stuff so they can get a job someplace else after they've done screwing up your company's marketing. Back at NFR we brought in a new marketing director who immediately set about changing the logo (in order to pee on it and make it hers) - after working in secret with the rest of the "executive team" she had the logo changed and then showed it to me. All the new letterhead and everything was already printed so it wouldn't matter if I complained. Does this logo look like anyone else's logo to you? What an absolute idiot.
The reality of marketing is that it's extremely simple:
Tell the customer how your product solves one of their problems without insulting their intelligence.
I recently got an Email from a marketing professional who commented that "that's sales not marketing." Well - if that's sales, then who needs marketing at all?
Customers, except for the really stupid ones, don't care about your logo. They care about how your product solves their problem. Given that, all marketing has to do is make an association between the problem, and solutions for that problem, and tie it with your product. The "message" if you will is: "we offer solutions to this particular kind of problem" and if you make that association effectively enough your customers will consider you as a candidate provider for that solution. When you walk into the convenience store on a hot day, you gravitate toward the drinks that look as cold, and as wet as possible. None of this is rocket science.
For a technology guy, I've done a tremendous amount of marketing in my career. I didn't realize at the time that I was doing marketing. I just thought I was tying to tell the customer how my product solved one of their problems. When I founded NFR I was responsible for marketing for the first 2 years we were in business. During that time, I was spending approximately $150,000/year on marketing. On my $150,000/year marketing budget we were competing with Cisco and ISS and were about as well-known in our market niche. They probably spent more money on one trade show than my entire marketing budget. So, for us to get that kind of attention with a measly $150,000, we had to be doing something right. About $40,000 of that was "gimmes" and the rest was magazine ads. I derived a philosophy of gimmes:
- Make 'em great.
- Make 'em out of paper.
- Make lots of 'em.
- Give 'em away.
- Have a "high end" gimme for special customers - Tshirts are great for this.
- Have an "elite" gimme for resellers, investors, or ultra-special customers. Make sure your staff get the "elite" gimmes if they want them - that sends an important message.
Paper's cheap and packs and ships well. It's not fragile. Tshirts are more problematic because they come in sizes and cost more. But if you have some basic creativity you can make something that is fun, high-impact, and memorable. And you don't have to feel like you're a sleazy marketing idiot, because you can share the amusement value and not have to be embarrassed by the fact that you're doing marketing. Customers don't like being marketed to, so if you're making a Tshirt, put your logo in some small out-of-the-way place where it doesn't detract from the overall value of the marketing piece. At NFR I put the marketing on the bottom of the Tshirt where it tucked into your pants and was invisible. It used to make me smile when I was wandering the reception at USENIX and I'd hear someone talking to someone else say, "cool Tshirt! Where did you get it?" "Oh, it's from NFR..." That's marketing. I used to have people come up to me at trade shows and ask me if they could reserve one of our next Tshirts, whatever it was, when it came out. That's marketing.
You've heard of the legendary SourceFire.com computer security calendar, right? Now it's online.
The Sourcefire calendar was an idea I actually had for someone else. But they couldn't commit to doing it. So I shopped the idea around and Marty Roesch said "go!"
The Traffic Tickets
When I was CEO of NFR I made these tickets as our second marketing "gimme." They were so popular we actually sold $5,000 worth of them to one ISP. The NOC staff used them as a way of leaving each other phone messages and it was a core component of their trouble ticketing system. The idea came from a comment Fred Avolio used to make back when I worked for him at DEC: "we need to give those guys a network traffic ticket for being stupid, or something." I brainstormed with Mark Sienkiewicz and Andrew Lambeth to come up with some of the content and took the rough concept to our graphic arts guru Ralph Lucci at I/O360, who oversaw the production. The tickets were printed up on a pad of paper with post-it note stickum at the top - you can safely and easily stick one to someone's monitor. One of my acquaintances from way back actually lost his job by giving his boss one of the traffic tickets, citing him for cluelessness. It makes you wonder who in that particular situation was really clueless...
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Our first marketing "gimme" at NFR was "security stickers" - the concept was one I cooked up one night while I was reading a mailing list posting from a security products vendor that was selling snake oil. I was writing a reply to the effect of "this product is basically magic computer security spray"... and the idea hit me. What if we made a marketing gimme that was designed to wrap around a can of air freshener..? I wrote up the concept and the text and gave it to the geniuses at I/O360 and they came up with this absolutely fantastic set of stickers. The I/O360 guys realized that if they made the stickers a certain set of sizes and a simple set of colors, they could have them printed as a single sheet, then cut apart locally and we could save a ton of money. These were incredibly popular marketing, and I hit a deal with CSI that I'd do a free tutorial for them if they included one of the stickers in their next mailing. It was a huge success. I found a company on the web that sold plastic spray bottles with trigger/squirt heads and ordered 1,000 of those. We mailed them (with the stickers on) to lots of influential and important people in security, and gave them away at trade shows. It turned out that 1,000 squirt bottles pretty much filled my 3-car garage, so there was extra incentive to get rid of them. I still get a warm feeling when I walk around some high-tech office and see a can of fire-wall spray sitting on someone's desk!
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The Flow Chart
Back before they became a screaming clusterf*ck example of the stupidity of the dotcom boom, UUnet had some of the best and brightest engineers. I was visiting there to do a talk on something or other and one of the engineers had this flow-chart on his white board that purported to be their management process. It was cynical and very funny. I asked permission to steal the idea, got it, and distilled my years of computer security experience into a similar flow-chart. The flow-chart became an ad that I ran in Network Computing Magazine, and also became a popular Tshirt.