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Companion Article:

Product Management, Part I:
How To Build Consistently Successful Products
A Guide for Prospective Entrepreneurs


Product Management, Part II
Selling A Better Mousetrap
Beating a path to the customer's door

By Robert Lamm

Many novices think the biggest part of developing a new product is coming up with the product itself. They assume that once that's done, all you have to do is announce it, maybe buy a few ads, and start taking orders. Au contraire, my friends, that all ended with the demise of communism! Today's consumer expects you to come to them and make a strong case why they should buy your product. So, no matter how good your mousetrap is, you still need to sell, sell, sell...

Since this is written for an engineering publication, the most important point I'd like to stress is that it's the customer's perception of the product that counts. Engineers often think about what a product can do in terms of the capabilities they've endowed it with, but customers tend to think in terms of what they can use it for. You have to tell them that in their own words.

Unlike engineering, marketing is a 'fuzzy' science: There are no hard-and-fast rules and many of the best marketing campaigns are little more than inspired ideas. But marketing does have one very quantifiable measure of success that it is invariably judged by: sales.

Two observations, based on many years of experience:

1) Once you start selling it, the product's merits will be immediately evident. You'll know if you have a winner right out of the box: Customers will slather over it at trade shows, the trade press will go gaga over it, etc. If your product doesn't excite right out of the gate, ageing won't help! You need to do something about the problem right away, either with the product itself or its positioning.

2) Getting the business established - reaching a reasonable sales valume - will take a year or more. This always seems to surprise engineering folks, who have no problem with taking a year to develop a product but are then surprised when it takes just as long to develop a market for it. The reason is that most marketing mechanisms have a long lead time: It takes a few months for a magazine ad to go from inception to the reader's mailbox, trade shows usually take place only once a year, reviews take time to set up, complete and publish, etc. Building a distribution channel - the time it takes to sign up dealers/distributors/representatives, set them up with demo systems, train them, get them some prospects, etc. - can take months - sometimes much longer if they need to be talked into it.

And customers can take a long time to bite too, especially if they're from the video production community, which is highly project-driven: They'll shop around and budget, but won't actually buy anything until their production gets a green light. New studios and other large projects can take years from initial budgeting to final purchase. That's a looooooong sales cycle!

Try to get a head start on all this by preparing as much of your marketing materials while the product is still in development and making sure enough money is set aside to keep the enterprise in operation while the product is being introduced. A rough rule of thumb is that the money needed to launch a product is about the same as the cost to develop the product itself.

The Pitch
What makes your product special?

Behind most good marketing campaigns is a whole lot of stuff that people don't usually get to see: Research on user needs and preferences, a competitive analysis of how the product sizes up against the competition, and considerable study on how to best implement the new product's functionality. Out of this comes 'the pitch': Whatever it is that makes your product unique. From this, everything else tends to follow naturally.

The rest is a lot of brainstorming about ways to bring this to people's attention in memorable ways. Not having any inspired ideas? Talk to the 'launch customers' (aka guinea pigs used during the development stage) or beta testers to see what they like about the product and how they think it should be sold to their fellow users. Or present your product prototype at a few small professional meetings where you can see what makes people's eyes light up.

Mull everything over and write up a 'Product Mission Statement' that explains why this product is worth buying. Once this message has gelled, you can start marketing.

The normal sequence of things in our marketplace is:

  • Build the product and create prototype marketing materials in parallel.

  • Preview product and marketing prototypes to potential business partners and small venues to test the positioning and presentation while beta-testers do real-world testing.

  • Marketing rollout and formal product introduction at a big trade show.

  • Mad rush to build sales while production and shipment begins.

  • Continued refinement of marketing materials with endorsements, user stories, magazine reviews, white papers, feature highlights, FAQ's, etc. to firmly establish the product and develop new markets while management starts thinking about what to put in Version 2.

Creating Marketing Materials
Spec sheets/brochures usually come first

Unless you make a consumer item, consider that you probably know more about your market than an ad agency. So plan on writing up at least rough drafts of all your marketing materials before handing them off to agencies and artists. I like to prototype everything in Word (for lit) or simple HTML (for web stuff).

A brochure usually consists of three sections: A front page or header that catches the user's attention and summarizes what the product does, a central section that seduces the customer with sexy product features, and a specification section that covers details that people might want to check like dimensions, I/O formats, file compatibility, etc. Add lots of pictures and some quotes from prominent users to add credibility to your claims and you've got a nice brochure.

The hard part about writing these materials is capturing the user's language and point of view correctly: You consider it a database, they call it an EDL; you call it a file, they call it a clip; you think of it as media, they think of it as TELEVISION...

Engineers-who-are-doing-their-own-marketing: Be careful about trying to build content out of your specs: By that I mean fluffing performance figures (horsepower, cc's, etc.) into wordier but no more informative text: "Our automobile has a stupendously powerful 3-horsepower motor and an incredibly spacious 17cc's of engine capacity!" Better to say something like "This car will take you to Mongolia on a single tank of gas. Over the ocean too." Now that's a car people are going to want to see!

Keep information that dates quickly (like the processor speed of the computers you use) out of the glossy (expensive) brochures and put it in a Xerox insert that you can slip in when you give the brochures out. (People often put current pricing on them too.) That way the brochures have a longer shelf life.

Date everything you print with small mouse type in a corner so you can tell if the spec sheet you're holding is the current one.

Pass your rough draft around for review: Have another marketing person (or the ad agency) go over it to see if they understand it the way you intended. Then run everything by engineering (to make sure it's accurate), sales (they're the ones who are going to have to use it) and even a few friendly customers (to make sure you understood their priorities correctly) before handing it over to an agency or artist for execution.

I usually ask agencies/artists for two versions back: One reflecting the concept I've roughed out and another according to whatever they feel like. (They can even change the copy.) Not all of them bother with the second version, but when they do, it often results in some really good ideas - I recommend this practice.

Make sure the brochure will look okay in B/W so people can print out PDF versions on their printers and ask for PDF files that have been paginated and compressed for the web. (The evaluation PDFs that artists provide for design approval are usually relatively uncompressed plate images that show how the pages are arranged but don't read in the proper sequence.)

Even though your brochures will be available on your web site, you'll still need paper versions for trade shows, seminars, press kits, etc. Don't just print them at the nearest place: Get samples from a variety of printers around town. The quality will vary quite a bit, mostly in the area of photo reproduction. Examine the samples carefully to see how fine the image screening is and make sure you bring the sample in with your order so you can show the printer the image quality you expect. Take the time to find a printer who'll do justice to your pictures: This business is all about pictures! If the picture quality of your brochures is questionable, what are folks gonna think of the picture quality of your products? Be sure to check turnaround times too: Some high-quality print shops can get pretty backed up.

Most printers can take a Quark file, either on CD or at an FTP site. But make sure you (or your brochure designer) understand any format requirements they may have. After you send them the file, you'll get a plate proof. (The best-looking version of your brochure you'll ever see.) Examine this for dust and blemishes (circle them with a marker) and they'll make corrections on the plate. You can also get a print proof as they start the press run if you go to the printer just before they start your job. I've never done it, but you might want to if you're the nervous type. (Note: The brochures will get lighter towards the end of the run.)

Order more brochures than you think you'll need: The extras won't cost very much and you'll kick yourself if you run out.

Pictures
The soul of our business

Never forget that the ultimate purpose of most of the gear in our market is to make beautiful pictures. Big, beautiful pictures of media created with your product should be prominently displayed in all your marketing materials - in our business a picture is truly worth a thousand words. I'm sure you've seen plenty of examples of what I'm talking about, but Discreet 3ds max - the animation package - is really outstanding in this regard: Their literature and web site are brimming with the most unbelievably fantastic stills - all created with their software. And they have a killer animation reel they play at trade shows. It takes a lot of effort to get all this material - they run a contest - but the result is a spectacular oevre of art that shows their product at its best.

Even if all you've got are product shots, make sure they look good. I love Sony's sparse, stylish literature with it's clean, elegant product photography: I think they've been doing it better than anyone else for over 25 years.

How to get good pictures:

Professional photographers have the wide selection of specialized lighting, high-quality cameras and artistic expertise to make your product look its best. As soon as possible, arrange to borrow a product prototype and have lots of photos taken from every angle, including interior shots, closeups of the control panels, individual shots of each component/accessory, group shots etc. Don't forget to get some 'hero shots' of the product looking big and sexy, and go ahead and take some pictures from oddball angles just in case you need a wacky shot for something. If the product has lights, take second shots with all the room lights off so you get the product lighting by itself. That way you can add some extra glow to the base image to make the product look more 'awake'. If you do all this in one session (it'll probably take all day), you'll take care of all your photo needs for your literature, instruction manual and press kits in one swipe.

If you're taking the photos yourself, get some neutral-color studio paper to use as a base and background (at photo and art stores), big sheets of white cardboard or foamcore (to use as reflectors), stuff to hold it all up with (gaffer's tape!) and plenty of lights. (You can improvise with Home Depot utility lights, but they won't give you as much artistic control as the more expensive ones at photo stores.) Use a high-resolution camera on a tripod and capture to uncompressed TIF files so they won't pixelate when printed. Use plenty of light - consumer digital cameras are noisier than film or the digital cameras pros use. And be aware that pictures will get darker in printing, so avoid dark or very contrasty situations.

Take the time to pose your product - clean it off carefully, tuck wires in neatly, rub a little shoe polish into engraved metal nameplates to make the lettering stand out. Don't forget to turn it on! But don't worry about putting anything on the CRT display - you'll paste that in later with Photoshop. Set a primary light to model the subject or reveal the most important details (like the faceplate). Objects that face upwards like mixers and keyboards often look best when the primary light is behind and to the side so it can rake across the control surface and reveal the texture without washing out the inevitable CRT behind them. Set additional lights as needed to illuminate the edge of the subject to separate it from the background, reveal shadow detail, highlight special features and illuminate the background. If your product is shiny, try cutting down on glare by using softer (not dimmer) lights or bouncing the lights off the white cardboard and foamcore.

I've used a 3-Megapixel digital camera to take brochure photos, but I was careful to fill the frame with the product, kept the printed image as small as possible, and cut the (noisy) background out.

Screenshots (pictures of computer displays) are easy: Just press the 'Print Scrn' button on the keyboard and paste into Photoshop. Try to do them on a machine with a high-res display and watch out for display anomalies like doubled lines and the weird traces that seem to sneak into these so easily. Get screenshots of every panel of your user-interface as well as artwork that has been created with your product. Photoshop's Edit:Transform:Distort function will paste these onto your product's computer screen. Be sure to get permission for everything you use...

Shots grabbed from NTSC video (use an NLE to export individual frames) will look fuzzy if you make them much larger than a few inches across. The de-interlace function in Photoshop will remove the double-exposure on moving objects, but at the cost of resolution. Therefore try to use frames without a lot of motion in them.

Finally, don't hesitate to ask other manufacturers you may be allied with for media: If you make a Panasonic-compatible editing system, you might be able to get Panasonic to give you some of their footage to show how well it edits on your system. Expect to get it on a Panasonic (or whoever's) format!

Quotes
Nothing has more credibility than user-testimony

Whenever you run into anyone who's enthusiastic about your product, don't be shy about asking them if you can publish their comments - most will be very flattered. Put it in writing - either as an email or on paper - so there's no question about what was said. Some people will ask you what you want them to say, which is a shame because it's never as good as when they come up with their own ideas. You might want to have some standard questions to draw their opinions out: What specific things do you like about our product? What are the advantages of our product over comparable systems? What projects have you used our product for? How did our product help you? Although you don't need legal permission to quote from correspondence sent to you, you should always make sure the person being quoted is agreeable to it and be sure to run the excerpt you're using by them for approval - especially if you fixed the grammar or otherwise altered the text. And always observe the Golden Rule of quote etiquette: Tell them when and where their quote will appear so they can check it out and tell their friends.

Another great way to get good quotes is to ask for customer feedback on warranty registration cards. (Make sure the cards end up in the marketing department.) The same rules apply: Clear the quote with the person who said it before you use it to make sure they haven't changed their opinion, etc.

When you get a quote, try to get pictures of the person, their facility or the project they're working on if you can...

Web Site
Your best marketing investment

Your web site is likely to be your most cost-effective marketing investment by far. Once made, the cost of maintaining it on the Internet is often less than $100/month! Just the savings from being able to refer prospects there to download PDF versions of your spec sheets instead of having to mail paper copies will make this worth while.

Put up as much information up about your products as you can, even technical support stuff and driver updates. (You can password-protect these so the general public doesn't see how many patches you've had to post.)

Keep it simple: The front page should summarize everything on the web site, including the products you make, current promotions, a list of your local dealers, user stories, downloadable demo-ware, galleries, news, technical support, etc. Have all these elements one or two clicks away at most - people with slow connections won't have the patience to wait for lots of pages to download.

Many novices put in lots of links to other sites without realizing that these siphon away visitors to their own site. Limit these links to partners working with you to promote your product. (Check with them to make sure the pages you're linking to on their websites won't change.) But do make the effort to get online industry guides and web portals to put links to you in their websites: Not only will this feed you potential customers, search engines like Google use them to find and evaluate sites for listing.

Think twice about whether your really need Flash animations (especially the ones that don't let you get at the rest of the web site until after they've played) as well as any other elements that might require the user to wait or download plugins. (Most won't.) Also leave out stuff like daily industry news, technical glossaries and other web portal stuff - they're distracting and require constant updating.

Some companies put demo versions of their products up on their web sites so people can evaluate them. These usually allow the user to create media but not to output or save it. When the user purchases one, they get a registration code that unlocks the demo copy so it works properly. Obviously, this only works for relatively compact software products that can be downloaded in a reasonable amount of time and don't require special hardware, etc.

One issue that's often contentious is whether to include pricing: I'm generally for it: It weeds out a lot of window shoppers and tire-kickers. There are a couple of different ways to do this: You can list the prices of all your products and options as if on a restaurant menu, or you can put in an auto-pricing mechanism where the user inputs his desired configuration and it spits out a price quote. The menu method is easier to create and more convenient to use: Users can get a printout with all the option prices listed and easily see how much they save by dropping various options. To do this with an auto-pricer, they have to get a separate quote for each configuration change. But auto-pricers make it possible to take orders online - the user gets a quote, adds in his credit card number and the purchase is made.

The biggest problem with taking orders over the web is the effect it has on your dealers: They'll think you're going into competition with them. If your product basically sells itself and you're careful to stick to list price and not undercut your dealers, occasional gripes are all you're likely to get. But if your product requires a great deal of effort on the part of the dealer to drive sales, sabotaging his efforts with competitive internet pricing could end up being very counterproductive.

Another thing to consider for your web site is a password-protected dealer section with dealer price sheets, coop program info (more on this later) and current promotions. And a press section with hi-res pictures of your products, Illustrator versions of your logo, press release archive, etc. will be very appreciated (and hopefully used) by the technical press.

Make sure you have contact info (phone, fax, e-mail) on every page and that all pages print out properly on a B/W printer. Also put up PDF versions of your spec sheets (which should have the same content as the web site) so people can attach them to emails, print them out, etc. Direct prospects who express interest in spec sheets to the web site: They'll get them faster than if you mail them, plus you'll save cost of printing/postage and the hassle of sending them out.

Finally, be careful about listing anyone except salesmen on the 'contact us' section of the site: the only people who seem to read these are spammers and telemarketers looking for victims.

Web Site Construction

When you build your web site, you'll have the option of a simple HTML pages or more sophisticated server architectures that store the content separately from the pretty window-dressing. These fancy architectures allow you to change the look of the entire web site by changing a single template, but force your pages to conform to the template. In addition, these dynamically-generated pages can be harder for designers and other non-IT people to work with, so unless your web site changes a LOT, consider staying with plain HTML. I would also not bother with an in-house web server: Commercial web-hosting services are incredibly cheap, more reliable, and have their servers at optimal nodes where traffic doesn't bottleneck.

Aside from your company domain, also try to register domain names that might apply to your product. For example, McDonald's not only owns mcdonalds.com, but also bigmac.com, quarterpounder.com, etc. If the domains aren't available, consider changing the name of the company or products so users who try finding you by typing them into their browser automatically go to your web site. That's why Discreet Logic lost the 'Logic' part of its name: They wanted the company name to match its discreet.com URL. It's also why 3ds max was rebranded from a Kinetix to Discreet product: The kinetix.com URL belonged to someone else.

Be sure to put meta keywords on your main page so that search engines index you properly. Put in any possible word people might use looking for your product in all its spelling and grammatical permutations. Some people even put in their competitors' names so they show up everytime somebody is looking for them, but you didn't hear that from me.

Test your web site with old browsers and on old computers with slow modem connections. We high-tech gods often forget that we have better equipment than most folks.

Advertising
Making people aware of your product

Magazines: Full-page color ads in trade magazines will run anywhere from $1000 to $10,000 depending on circulation, volume and how desperate the salesman is. (Broadcast Engineering, Millimeter, Video Systems and Post have circulations of between 30,000 and 50,000 readers and typically cost around $3000-$5000/ad.) You can get their official rates by downloading their media kits from their web sites. You can usually buy space up until about a month before the issue comes out and the actual ad needs to get to them about a week later. All pricing and many deadlines are flexible, especially now that the publications are hungry. Don't obsess too much about circulation and cost-per-thousand statistics - it's the quality of the readership that counts. Ask around to find out what publications your particular market segment reads and avoid the ones that inflate their circulations with students, hobbyists and freebie giveways that get thrown out unread.

To this you need to add the cost of making the ad up, which after photography, copywriting and paste-up usually costs several thousand dollars at least. Fortunately, all magazines now take electronic files and they'll even do simple things like strip your NAB booth number off ads that appear after a show.

Negotiate to get good placement - some people prefer to be as far front in the book as possible on the right, others want to be opposite the table of contents, some like to be next to a particular section that's relevant to their product. The media kits will include an editorial calendar to tell you what the subjects of the coming year's articles are going to be, supplements and bonus distribution (magazines given out free at trade shows). Magazines will even give you occasional research from questionaires that are sent to their readership and sometimes this provides interesting info. The salesman can explain it all.

Web ads: All the trade magazines have web versions, and there are lots of independent web publications. Web banner/button ads are cheap - usually a few hundred dollars/month - and many print publications will throw in web advertising for free if you buy a big print run. Many sites charge by the 'impression' (number of people who actually see it), so you can really get your money's worth if you place your ad on a web page that's tightly focused on your market segment. Web ads are also usually cheaper to make (simple, small, low-resolution GIF's or Flash animations) and you can change them in a day. Almost all commercial web sites are audited so you can check on the exact number of people who saw your ad on a day-to-day basis, how many people clicked through, etc.

Many web ads rotate: A particular position is sold to several advertisers and their ads are delivered to viewers in sequence. So yours might come up every fifth time someone clicks on the site. (Viewers are likely to be clicking on several pages on the site so they'll see several ads in the rotation.) Ads on less popular sites or in less popular positions will come up more often and are sometimes more effective than ones that are lost in a crowd.

Many web publishers put out several related sites. For example Digital Media Net has over 30 related sites, including one for editors (digitalvideoediting.com), another for post-production people (digitalpostproduction.com), two for animators (animationartist.com and digitalanimators.com) and even one for HDTV users (HDTVBuyer.com). A lot of the material is redundant - an article on an HDTV editing/compositing system will also run on the editing, post and HDTV sites. To this one should add the email newsletters and discussion groups that some of these sites host. Discussion groups in particular are becoming very popular with people seeking unbiased advice on purchases, problems, etc. Ask users which web sites/newsletters/discussion groups they read - it's a fickle, ever-changing world of 'hot' and 'old'. Keep track of which ones actually perform for you, and you'll get a very big bang for your internet advertising buck.

But be sure to monitor the sites you advertise on - they have a way of accidentally dropping ads. And try to keep an eye on discussion-group dialogues: Every so often some hothead will say something totally outrageous that you may want to respond to.

How to beat the high cost of advertising:

1) Target your ads: For example, if you make a plug-in for a piece of software, see if you can drop a postcard, flyer or even a demo disk into the software pack itself!

2) Split the cost with your suppliers: Ever wonder why every PC ad has an 'Intel Inside' logo and that obnoxious 'bong'? That's because Intel subsidizes between 25% and 75% (!) of the cost of those ads if their vendors put them in. Even market leaders like Dell and HP find these 'Market Development Funds' (MDF) too hard to resist. Big companies like Intel have formal programs with specific budget amounts (usually a percentage of sales) and lots of rules on the size/placement of their logo, text copy that has to be included, etc. Mid-size companies tend to be looser: General guidelines and final approval of the ad before they pony up any bucks. Small enterprises can often be pitched into it if you explain how your ad will sell their product. And don't forget that multiple vendors can subsidize an ad!

3) Split the cost with your customers: Testimonials are one of the most effective ways to sell a product, and even more so if you can get your happy customer to cover some of the cost of the ad he's appearing in. Avid used this technique very effectively with a campaign they ran when they were starting out: They bought face-to-face ads in the trades whenever a customer bought a system: One ad was the facility advertising that they had bought an Avid, the facing ad was a congratulatory ad from Avid. This was a coordinated buy that was very cost-effective and rewarding for Avid and their customers alike.

4) Stretch your advertising: Supplement your ads with news coverage in the trade press...


Press Coverage
The best advertising you can get - and it's free!

Magazine editors are always desperate for news to fill the space between the ads, so it isn't hard as people think to get yourself mentioned in the media. This coverage has a lot more credibility with the readers than ads. Just follow these two rules:

  • Make it interesting to their readership.

  • Do the legwork: Get all the pieces together: pictures, interviews, etc.

Press Releases

These have gotten so legalistic and filled with hair-splitting terminology that they're almost unreadable. This is good for you because yours will be snappy and interesting and actually get picked up by the media!

Whenever your product is bought by a prominent person or used for an interesting purpose (the salesmen will know), ask the user if they'd like to issue a joint news release. (Most production houses will love the idea.) Swap quotes with their PR guy: They'll say how glad they are to have bought the state-of-the-art product from you and that it's now available for rental, you'll give them a quote about how thrilled you are to have someone of their caliber as a customer. Have them put in some stuff about the project they're using your product for (or hope to), the reason they think your product is so hot, etc. You should say something about how they're the leading facility in town and that your technology will now enable them to reach new heights of creativity/productivity/speed previously undreamt of...

Send out press releases whenever you make deals with OEMs, partners, dealers, in fact just about anytime anyone is willing to say something nice. All this activity makes you look busy and successful and keeps you in the public eye.

Make the press release interesting and newsy - and sneak your product in modestly. Press releases that sound like ads go directly to the magazine's advertising salesman. (So do the newsy ones, but at least they get published first.)

How to get your news releases published:

  1. Have a large mailing list! Pick up all the magazines at trade shows, surf the web, ask people what publications they read, etc. Make note of the type of publication and the phone number/email address of the editor and columnists that cover your market segment.

  2. Target your releases to the appropriate publications: Engineering news should go to techie magazines, etc.

  3. Take the time to research the local trade press: The production house in Cleveland that bought your latest frambellitizer will have trouble rating a mention in the national magazines but might make the front page of the Ohio Production Gazette.

  4. BE SURE TO GET PICTURES! MAGAZINES ARE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO RUN YOUR NEWS IF THERE'S A COOL PICTURE THEY CAN RUN WITH IT! Got a picture of a customer using your product while standing on his head? It'll probably get more play than an announcement that you're partnering with Microsoft.

Getting Articles Written Up:

Press releases will get you mentioned in the news sections of the magazines, but feature articles usually take a little more promoting. Call up the publication editors and pitch story ideas. Pitch different ones to different publications so they each have an exclusive on something. Obviously, it helps a lot if there is really some news value to the stories you're suggesting:

New Product Announcement: Did your product just appear? That's NEWS and their readership should know about it! Lots of pictures, product description/explanation, quotable quotes including endorsements from super-secret launch customers and beta testers who have been muzzled until now, maybe even an inside quote or two from the technical people. A demo disk for them to play with?

Product Reviews: Beware: not all publications do them. If it's a specialized product, you may have to wait until they review a bunch of related products.

How to get a good review: Make sure the product works! Don't send a beat-up development system with all sorts of beta code and messy system configuration - send one that represents what the customer will get including proper labeling, accessories and packaging. Clean it off/rebuild it for each review just in case the last reviewer messed around with the settings. Make sure it's packed for rough handling with the boards properly secured for transport and a brand-new set of instructions and the direct phone number to your best tech support person. (Who has been warned to be nice and helpful!) Finally, if you have a competitive analysis document that summarizes how your product sizes up against the competition, go ahead and slip it in. Mark it 'Confidential - Sales Dep't Use Only'. You may see it repeated verbatim in the review.

User stories: Did an one of your users complete an interesting project with your product? Magazines will fight over this one, especially if it's somebody famous or a really unique project. Make sure you have lots of pictures.

Technical breakthrough: Has your product broken through a technological barrier? Or is it interesting from some engineering angle? The engineering pubs will drool over this, especially if your CTO spends some time with their writer and explains it all clearly and puts it in the larger context of industry developments. And many engineering magazines actively solicit articles from companies on their newest developments. (Like Broadcast Engineering and SMPTE Journal.)

Business news: Then there's froth you can create like strategic partnerships with other manufacturers. It doesn't have to be earth-shaking news: Do you support a new file format? See if you can get one of the applications this makes you compatible with to offer a co-promotion to celebrate! This is a great way for both of you to increase your visibility and maybe even hide a desperate price promotion behind a news screen.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to be an advertiser to get good news coverage. (Although it helps and a salesman will call if you aren't.) Most trade pubs' mission is to bring all the wonderful developments in the industry to their readers' attention and they will very rarely trash or even severely criticize a product or company. A columnist writing an extensive article about you will often send you an advance copy so you can point out factual errors. But do take into account that they strive to be balanced and impartial, so they'll mention some drawbacks or shortcomings - hopefully minor ones. In the rare case that the reviewer thinks the product really stinks, he'll usually offer to kill the review 'until the product is really ready'.

User Stories
Perfect for niche-marketing

There's nothing like reading about how someone just like you is doing something you want to do yourself. You want to know everything about how they went about it, what tools they used and how it all turned out. That's the power of user stories - they convice prospects that your product is ideal for them. They can be posted on the web, given out at seminars and trade shows and sometimes even fed to the media as article ideas. They're ideal for addressing the concerns of niche markets as well as demonstrating that your product can be used in a wide variety of applications.

The salesmen can steer you to good candidates: Interview them to find out what they're using your product for and the details of the project and their facility. Try and get some unique, insightful and humorous details to personalize the story. Don't forget to ask questions likely to get good product quotes: How did you use the product? What did you like best? How did it contribute to the final production? What was its most important feature? How did it help you? How do you hope to use the product next? You get the idea...

Do these on a variety of customer types such as a corporate user, a research lab, a government agency, an effects house, a wedding videographer, etc. so that prospects can easily find one they can identify with. Be sure to mention the specific advantages you bring to their particular industry application so it sounds like your product was designed with them in mind.

Did I mention that you should get lots of pictures?

Email Newsletters
Your own news

As time passes, you'll accumulate a large mailing list of prospects who asked for information, came by a trade-show booth, attended a seminar, etc. One way to keep in touch with them is to send out occasional email newsletters.

Fill it with newsy stuff like price promotions, a list of upcoming seminars and tradeshows where they can see the product, new product/version news, user stories and other things that you probably want to tell them about anyway. Useful information like tips on how to use the product or the latest FAQ's will keep people from unsubscribing.

Don't send out too many (more than once every month or two). Also make sure it displays properly on email readers that can't handle HTML. (My UNIX-based reader can't.) The SMPTE/NE meeting notices I send out are plain text - they're very plain but can be read by everyone.

Trade Shows
Where buyers congregate

NAB isn't the only one: Here in New England alone there's the Northern New England Broadcasters' Show, several dealer shows, the SMPTE Nonlinear/Post-Production Technology Showcase, SBE has recently started a show, etc. Larger markets like New York, LA and Chicago have even more, with specialist shows like HDTV Expo, Streaming Media East/West, and more..

But the main show in our industry - worldwide - is NAB. It's the one show everybody goes to: Manufacturers, dealers, representatives, the trade press, and most importantly: customers! It's where manufacturers introduce new products and customers go to check them out before making any important purchasing decisions.

But it's an expensive show, so you'll want to maximize your return:

Start by exhibiting at some smaller events to practice your pitch. A good idea is to host a few small seminars and then exhibit at some regional trade shows in your home area. You'll gradually pick up on what the customers are most interested in, the questions they're likely to ask, the best way to respond to them, and how to demo the product most effectively. By the time you get to NAB, you'll be ready for it.

Some people do so well with small events and regional trade shows that they consider skipping NAB. I think that's a bad idea because NAB is where all the action is: It draws far more qualified attendees than any other show, many of them with shopping lists in their pockets. Dealers come looking for new products to carry. Large enterprises such as station groups will bring in their chief engineers to check out the latest offerings and make a group buy. The entire trade press will come wandering down the aisles looking for article ideas. (Be sure to warn your press contacts about your new product introductions in advance so they're sure to come check your exhibit out!) A correspondent/editor who sees something they like will often make arrangements to write about it right at the show. And if you're hoping to do business with other companies in the industry, make sure your business development guy stays for the last day because that's when all the exhibitors leave their own booths to go check out everyone else's. A lot of OEM business is discussed on that final day.

If you're planning on selling worldwide, the next show to consider attending is IBC. This show takes place in Amsterdam in the fall and is basically the European NAB. It's when the PAL versions of a lot of gear first shown at NAB are trotted out and the show draws a clientele from around the world. Don't worry about speaking Dutch - everyone will speak English.

Add in Asia/Pacific shows like Broadcast Asia (Singapore) and Inter BEE (Japan) and you'll have covered 95% of the broadcast market.

Show Booths: Almost all of the local shows you go to will consist of 10x10 foot booths that you can rent singly or combine into larger units. Read the fine print or ask the show salesperson if they supply tables, chairs, backing, etc. or if you have to order them separately. A typical 10x10 booth configuration consists of two tables (one for a demo system and one for literature), a half-dozen chairs, a plain curtain to separate you from whoever is behind you, and skirts (sort of like tablecloths) for the tables. Check to see if you have to make special arrangements for electric power, especially if you have special requirements. You would normally bring your equipment and literature, as well as optional stuff like a company sign or portable background, literature rack, pretty lighting, etc. Keep it simple - everything should be as pre-assembled as possible and fit in a station wagon or SUV - including two people to man the booth.

Large Show Booths: Small 10x10 booths don't work well for large shows like NAB unless you're a very small enterprise just starting out. Spend some money, rent a larger space and build a booth for it. A 20x20 booth is large enough for at least four demo stations/equipment displays, possibly 8 if you put them in back-to-back. Don't cram the booth with lots of stuff - leave room for the customers!

Have a desk near the main aisle where people can come up to ask for literature, their salesman, to have their badge scanned, etc. Put the 'booth administrator' here with the schedule of when everybody will be around, their cel phone numbers, the demo-room appointment schedule, etc. They're usually also responsible for making sure each station is supplied with literature and that there's a stash of refreshments on hand.

Be sure each demo station/equipment display has a large sign visible from the aisle identifying the product(s) and a few of its most important features. People walking by the booth should be able to figure out what you make and what it does without having to make the effort to come into your booth to find out.

Give some thought to what the best way to demonstrate your product is: If your software requires a long explanation, consider dedicating a large part of your booth space to a 'theater' with a video projector and seats where you can give a complete 5-10 minute presentation to lots of people at once. If you have a variety of different products that need individualized attention or plan to give short, superficial tours to individuals making pit stops, put in lots of small demo stations. Space everything out so it's easy to get to everything from the aisle and you don't get traffic jams.

Don't use regular tables for demo stations - they're too low. Set the demo-desk level at the height of a bar-counter and put the demo persons on bar stools so the equipment they use is easily seen by standees. Put monitors high enough above the station so a crowd can watch. Give the demo persons headset mikes and amplification so everyone can hear and the demo people don't lose their voices. Keeping the stations some distance apart from each other will keep the crowds and amplified sound from each station from interfering with one another.

If your booth is big enough, have a separate system in an enclosed room for long sit-down demos, press briefings and other important meetings. (It should have a way to tell if it's being used so people don't constantly open the door to check.) Put in some snacks and sodas for guests and booth personnel to recharge.

Each demo station should have a person assigned to it, preferably for no longer than a half-day at a time. Don't assign the salesmen to demo stations if you can - they should float around the booth to greet customers, guide them to the appropriate demonstration and hopefully discuss big deals. They should know their schedules well in advance so they can make appointments. Make sure everybody scans badges or takes business cards from people who appear to be serious. (Treat business cards respectfully - always read them and put them away carefully because this has significance in some cultures.) Once someone is guided to a demo position, the salesman may want to excuse himself to help someone else, but should keep an eye on the prospect so they can return when the demo is complete to follow up.

How to maximize demo time: Don't demo the entire product - just show what's important. Prospects who want a full 1-hour lesson should go to their dealer or come back just before the show closes for a private session when nobody else is waiting. Press and important prospects should be taken into the private room or somewhere else where you can give a proper demonstration and answer questions without lots of other folks jostling around trying to listen in and interrupt. Treat dealers (and potential dealers) as important prospects. Especially small ones that you're unlikely to see until next year: This is your only chance to motivate them!

Some people book magic acts, showgirls, etc. to attract people to their booth. I don't think this really works and it's often so disruptive that it stops sales activity while it's going on (!). And don't stand outside your booth trying to drag people in (yes, I've seen people do this) - you'll just clog it up with people who aren't really interested. Better your booth traffic is light so important customers can get immediate attention.

Similarly, some people like to give out little knick-knacks like pens, key chains, candies, miniature flashlights, etc. with the company or product name on them. I don't think these help sales very much - I prefer to give out product literature instead! But do make extra T-shirts and hats - the same ones the booth personnel wear: They make the folks you give them to feel like part of the team. Hide them under the front desk and only give them out to special people: Dealers so they can wear them at their own events, special customers you want to bestow a special favor on and as prizes to people who sit through a long theater presentation.

Consider having a small party or meeting for your dealers before the show opens: Give them a preview of the show demo, find out if they're planning to bring any super-special clients over who'll need special attention and iron out any problems/conflicts/misunderstandings that you wouldn't want to surface on the show floor. This is also an excellent opportunity for your engineering and operations people to mingle with the folks who fund their paychecks and get a feeling for what they really care about. (Bigger margins!) The dealers will also get a thrill from meeting 'insiders' - this is a rare instance where one engineer is worth two showgirls.

Try to have your press appointments scheduled before you set out for the show, but be prepared for a lot of no-shows and latecomers as they get caught up with prior engagements. Local columnist Bob Turner (Video Systems, The Cut) won't even make appointments during show hours - he comes when he gets there. (He's never late.) Consider meeting with press people over dinner at a nice restaurant (your treat): It's a more relaxed time and they're trapped with you until dessert.

Give each person manning the booth at least two half-days to wander around the show floor to size up the competition. Some companies make a formal thing of it: They assign particular competitors to various people and then have them write up reports.

Have fun at the show: Go out to dinner, check out the casinos, maybe take in a show. Bring a customer along - this is business! Go to bed early...

After the show: Get the badge-scanner file! It'll be an Excel file with a list of all the prospects who came by with their addresses, emails, etc. Follow up promptly while they're still interested: At minimum, send them an e-mail or thank-you note with information on how to contact their local dealer/distributor/salesman. Do the same with the business-cards you collected. Then split them up among the salesmen according to territory and have them follow up or forward to their dealer/distributors, etc. Be careful who you forward dealer-leads to: You don't want to accidentally send a prospect that a dealer brought to the booth to his competitor. Don't just mail the leads, use lead distribution as an excuse to call and check on how the dealer is doing.

Do a post-mortem: Have a meeting after everyone has had a chance to recharge and collect their thoughts about how the show went. This is a good chance for everybody to trade notes on other exhibitors they saw.

By the way, you don't have to schlep your booth to Las Vegas every year: Many keep them in one of the many storage centers in town. Saves a lot of freight and hassle!

Finally, I should mention that it isn't always necessary to rent a booth at NAB to exhibit there: If your product works as a plug-in or in collaboration with another company's product, you may be able to talk that company into letting you use a station in their booth. This is a common practice since it helps both parties promote their wares. But because you aren't an official exhibitor, you're going to have to make a special effort to get yourself listed in the various show guides.

Seminars/Open Houses/Professional Society Meetings
Where your product is the star

Whenever possible avoid having these in hotels or other public venues: People associate these with the high-pressure marketing used to sell vacation timeshares. The ideal location is a customer's facility where folks can see the product in action and hear an actual owner talk about how it's working for them. Most facilities will be glad to host an event of this type because it promotes them too.

Send invitations out no more than a month in advance (people rarely plan much earlier and the invitation will be forgotten) and send an email tickler a few days before the meeting to remind people. Send as many invitations as you can: Typical attendance rate is 5-10%. Go through your prospect database, have your local dealer send invitations to his own mailing list, and you might even want to look through the internet yellow pages for additional leads.

A good way to increase attendance with very qualified prospects is to coordinate your event with an organized interest group such as SMPTE, SBE, SIGGRAPH, user-groups, etc. They not only have a mailing list of members, their sponsorship will give your event additional credibility.

Door prizes are another good way to pull more people in. A business-card raffle at the end of the meeting to give out a free copy of your software will guarantee you an audience of genuinely-interested people who may buy your product if they don't win it. T-shirts and caps with the company or product name on them also make good meeting giveaways. Don't give away unrelated things that draw in people more interested in the prize than the product.

The invitation should focus on the facility/customer and how they're is using the product. A typical one might read:

Open House

An Evening of High Definition
or
"Everything you wanted to know about HDTV but were afraid to ask."

BigShot Productions, Smithtown's first HDTV facility, is proud to unveil their new array of HD production and post-production equipment, featuring ParaLogic's BelliCam, a variable frame-rate HD camcorder and the eXXite RaZZoR uncompressed HD nonlinear editing/compositing system with real-time effects.

Come see the new equipment in action. Take it for a test drive. And get a tour of BigShot's unique facility, including their newly expanded soundstage, editing suites, animation/graphics department and more...

Presentations by:

John Doe, CEO and Creative Director, BigShot Productions: John will show excerpts of recent HD productions, discuss some of the creative and production issues involved, and talk about the technical and economic factors that are driving the emerging Smithtown HD production scene.

Charles Johnson, Product Engineer, ParaLogic Corporation: As Senior Product Engineer for ParaLogic's HD camcorder, Charles also served as Camera Training Supervisor to the 2002 Spring Olympics. Charles will demonstrate the BelliCam's design and operation and explain its powerful BelliSpeed variable-frame recording technology, which can record frame rates between 1fps to 10,000fps on a standard BelliCam tape.

Frank Smith, HD Editor/Compositor, BigShot Productions: Frank will demonstrate the RaZZoR post-production platform, a film-quality editing and effects system with realtime effects. He will show the system's functionality and demonstrate how he achieves some of his most spectacular special effects.

Thursday, July 12, 2002
Refreshments and tours from 6:30pm
Presentations start at 7pm

BigShot Productions
23 Little Rock Lane
Smithtown, WX 56789-8765
800-555-1234

Directions: Take the Big Highway to Exit 5 and make the first right into the BigShot parking lot.

For more information, please see:

  • BigShot Productions: www.bigshotproductions.com
  • ParaLogic BelliCam: www.paralogic.com
  • eXXite RaZZoR: www.exxite.com

In the example, two complementary manufacturers are demonstrating their wares: This is a good way to increase attendance - the greater meeting scope and combined mailing list will pull in more people. Arranging the second sponsor is usually easy as long as schedules don't conflict - contact the local salesman for the other company to start the ball rolling. If these joint presentations work out well, you may want to make them a regular practice.

Don't require attendees to pre-register: It discourages people from coming. (People won't register if they aren't sure they can make it and then won't come because they didn't pre-register. And a lot of people don't like giving out their email addresses and phone numbers because they don't want to get spammed.) Instead, have people sign in once they get there or collect business cards from the serious prospects who come up to ogle the product after the main presentation. This weeds out a lot of the unqualified randoms who would just clutter up your mailing list anyway.

Spend some money on light snacks - soda and pretzels - after all you're probably getting the venue for free!

These seminars are a very good value - cheap, easy, and they usually yield lots of sales. The only problem is that they're hard to cover with a limited sales force. Fortunately, local dealers are in an ideal position to do these for you. To encourage them, offer to send a product specialist every so often to help them out and give the event a bit more pizazz.

This brings us to the subject of dealers and sales channels in general:

Creating A Sales Channel
Getting your product in front of the prospect

In the video business, the biggest obstacle to sales is usually the desire of the customer to get a demonstration. Most video products could be sold off a web site if it wasn't for the need to provide a convenient local venue for demos.

Dealers: People like CYNC, Crimson, the Camera Company and HB Communications - are the traditional 'sales channel' for video products. They not only maintain equipment showrooms, they usually also have connections with the local market and might even know some immediate prospects who might be interested in buying your product. They also carry a lot of the local marketing load: They publish catalogs, advertise in the local publications, exhibit at the local trade shows, sponsor informative seminars, and have salesmen who call on big accounts regularly. They will also often act as the front line of tech support and are usually very good sources of marketing feedback. But the biggest advantage of having a dealer network is that the demo systems they buy are your first wave of sales.

The big drawback with dealers is that they expect a margin in return, usually around 20-30%. (The higher commissions usually come with bigger inventory requirements and can be as high as 50% for some consumer stuff.) And if the product is unknown or requires a fair amount of active promotion to sell, they may want an exclusive - which means you can't put any other dealers on in the area. (In return, you can insist that they not carry any competitive products.) And some dealers just 'surf' the leads: They take orders from customers you send their way but do little else to promote the product. But you can do something about that...

Be careful who you set up as a dealer. A good dealer is one who carries complementary products or serves your type of clientele. Insist that the dealer buy a demo unit - that's the main reason you're putting them on in the first place - and you might even be able to insist that they buy one or two additional units 'to go' - meaning those are for them to stock so the customers can walk off with their purchases.

This and quantity discounts that encourage dealers to put a few units into stock in order to get a better price are your best way of pushing the dealer into making every effort to move your product. (There's nothing like unsold inventory on the shelf to motivate sales efforts.) If you kick back a few percentage points of sales toward advertising (a typical amount is 3% of sales towards half the advertising costs), you can encourage dealers to publicize your product in the local media. This is called 'coop funds'.

Often, the main problem with finding dealers is that all the qualified ones may be carrying competitive products or feel that your product is more effort than it's worth. Sending a prospect their way might change their mind, but you may find yourself in a position with no dealer willing to take you on. High-end products in particular do not lend themselves well to a dealer channel because there are too few prospects to assure them a return on their effort.

OEM: (Original Equipment Manufacturer) That's when you arrange for someone to bundle your product with theirs. Premiere was hugely successful this way: It's the editing software that ships with almost every capture/playback card and they captured (pun intended) a huge segment of the market without having to sell very many copies on their own. Competitive applications never had much of a chance because users who got Premiere with their hardware were usually satisfied and didn't bother shopping for anything else. At this point, other successful applications are selling themselves as OEM add-ons to Premiere! These include Boris Effects, Inscriber, Media Cleaner and DVDit. But the classic OEM Cinderella story in our industry is Final Cut, given up for dead when Macromedia owned it - now a dominant editing platform because Apple bought it and started bundling it with their computers.

The advantage of OEM relationships is obvious: The other company takes on the job of selling your product. True, you 're usually selling at a huge discount. But you make some of this back in volume and many manufacturers turn this to their advantage by making the OEM version an 'entry-level' product that merely gives the user a taste of what a full version can do. Then they make their real money selling upgrades to the full versions. This is how a lot of CD and DVD-authoring software is sold: The copies that come with most capture/playback cards are very basic, introductory versions.

The big problem with OEM relationships is that you're totally at the mercy of the OEM client: If they don't market their product well or decide to replace your product with someone else's, you're totally hosed. The best way to guard against this is to put a salesman in charge of the OEM account and have him visit the account regularly just to say hello and see how things are going. (That's right - a lot of amateur OEM's try to save themselves the cost of commissions on these low-margin accounts by not assigning them to the sales force!) A salesman with a warm client relationship will usually catch wind of trouble brewing. Many successful OEM relationships have blossomed into great prosperity. I mean, how many Pentium chips has Intel sold? Almost all of them OEM...

Finally, it's very hard to preserve ruggedness and stability when various bits and pieces of the final package come from different manufacturers. This really bedeviled Premiere for years because stable operation depended on the drivers written by the various capture/playback card manufacturers. They instituted a testing/certification process that solved most of the problem, but the bad word-of-mouth took years to wear off.

OEM deals are less cut-and-dried. But volume discounts, coop kickbacks (called MDF at the OEM level), and various exclusives are common. All you need to do is look at some of the stuff Microsoft got sued for to get an idea of what goes on...

Mass Market Retailers: If your product is targeted at the general public, you may want to try getting it into stores like Micro Center and Fry's. They can move huge volumes, but you'll have to do all the marketing yourself because they won't do much more than put your stuff on the shelf. And they'll send it all back for a refund if it doesn't sell.

Distributors: To get your product into the smaller stores, market them through distributors like Ingram, Broadfield, Wynit, etc. Most small video/computer/software dealerships have accounts with one or more of them and they'll handle the job of keeping track of all the small mom-and-pop operations better than you ever could. Some industries have specialized distributors - for example Digimation is the main distributor for 3ds max plugins - if you make one, you really should talk to them: Their catalog goes into every copy of 3ds max. Look for distributors with a special edge like this. Otherwise the customer may never be aware of your product or you'll spend a fortune on advertising trying to bring it to his attention.

Many companies appoint a distributor for foreign countries: They take care of import hassles, maintaining a local inventory and setting up a local channel. Again, since these are almost always exclusive relationships, make sure it's a good match - they have a product line and distribution network that complement your product - before getting into bed with them...

Direct Sales: From manufacturer directly to consumer. Contrary to popular belief, this is often the most inefficient and expensive way to sell a product: Every demo requires you to get on a plane to visit the prospect. And it's hard to keep track of the local markets and service local trade shows and seminars, etc. It's also very hard to scale: You can't realistically hire enough people to cover every single town in the USA. Media 100 is the classic case of a company that ran circles around a competitor's direct sales force. They vastly outsold Avid in the corporate/independent arena for many years by setting up a chain of dealers all over the country while Avid struggled to cover the same market with direct salesmen. The situation didn't really turn around until Avid set up their own dealer channel.

In practice, direct sales are only feasable for branded commodity products that users can buy sight-unseen or expensive high-margin products that can carry the high sales costs. For really elite products, there may be no other alternative simply because the prospects are too thin on the ground to interest other channels.

Some notes on channels in general:

1) Don't 'stuff the channel' with more inventory than can be sold in a reasonable amount of time - it'll come back and bite you: Sales for the next period will be depressed while your dealer/distributors work thru the stock, they may be slow paying their bills (which means you basically still own the merchandise), they may ask to return it (all scuffed up from shipping), and maybe worst of all: they may dump it - sell it at cost or below to whoever will take it off their hands. This will wreck the channel because a product whose market price is less than dealer cost won't have dealers for very long...

2) Keep costs consistent from territory to territory. Some manufacturers price the overseas versions of the product higher to account for a foreign distributor's markup and the higher costs of doing business in foreign countries. This always results in lots of 'grey-marketing' - overseas customers and sometimes even dealers buying from US sources instead of their country's official distributor. As with dumping, you lose all control over your market - your legitimate dealers (assuming you have any left) are completely priced out and the fly-by-nighters selling the grey-market goods get you into lots of trouble by selling inappropriate versions, not paying the proper import duties, poor product support, etc. Keep in mind that conducting business overseas is not as difficult or expensive as people think: Europe (Ireland) is actually closer to Boston than Los Angeles and the cost of just about everything there (including beer!) is lower than in New York. Go with the global economy and price accordingly...

Promotions
Jump-starting sales when things are slow

An occasional promotion will push people off the fence and clear some inventory off the shelves, but constant discounting to induce sales is a symptom of a sick product or a very lazy marketing department. Attention should always be paid to whether the discount is actually increasing sales sufficiently to offset the loss in margin: A 10% price cut might yield a 20% increase in sales, but if it's cutting your profit margin in half, your sales really needed to double for you to break even!

Discounts also have a way of making you look desperate (which you often are). Here are some ways to mask your motives and preserve profits:

Combo With Another Product/Company: Here the trick is to assemble an attractive combination. But if things click it can be very successful because your joint marketing may drag people out of the woodwork and the deal preserves your standalone price. How to work: One of you ships the combined item or offers a rebate to purchasers who present proof of ownership of the other product.

Competitive Upgrade: You allow people to 'upgrade' a competitor's product to your newest version, often at a cost similar to what one of your own users would pay for an upgrade. This draws in customers who wouldn't normally buy your product, but you have to be careful that the deal doesn't encourage people to buy your competitor's product just to get the cheap upgrade price.

Rebate: Contracts with large customers (like TV networks) are often written in terms of the discount they get off the retail price. This can make it very expensive to cut the list price. Rebates allow you to offer the price reduction you want without affecting these contract-discount sales. And you can ration the rebate to selected markets or customers so you don't kill your entire market.

Seasonal Promotion: Okay, people know you want to clear the shelves every so often. Don't count on having a very good month afterwards as you may simply have accelerated purchases rather than stimulated new ones.

Price Matching: You match the competitor's price. Make sure you get it in writing. Great way to start a price war.

Permanent Price Reduction: Come out with a 'lite' version of your product. Don't just cut the price on your existing product and make everyone who already bought it feel like they were ripped off.

Set price promotions carefully as the sales curve tends to move in steps as your pricing moves in relation to other products. I like to price products an inconsequential amount higher than the competition - just to put people on notice that our product is superior.

In the long run, constant price cuts will take you down the road to insolvency. Try to find a market niche where you have a competitive advantage and don't have to give the product away. I know, easily said...

Research: Keeping Track Of What Works
Things never turn out quite as expected

Old joke: 'I know that only half of my advertising is really working, but I don't know which half.' Good marketers measure the effectiveness of everything they do: Use slightly different URL's for each publication you advertise in so you can see how many hits each one generates. Take the time to see how many hits each web site you advertise on is actually delivering to you.

Be a little experimental and try some offbeat stuff as well as the regular standards just to see what happens - the results may surprise you: When I first experimented with web advertising, one oddball site consistently delivered more hits than all the other sites combined. I double-checked with the salesmen, who confirmed that a large number of new purchasers mentioned our ad on that site. A little research established that the reason that website was doing so well for us was because they were in the middle of a series of product reviews that were attracting people who were on the verge of buying systems. So naturally the next step was to look for other sites doing similar things. The honest truth is that I probably would never have realized any of this if I hadn't been tracking the ad statistics.

Warranty cards are another good marketing research tool. Put in some space for users to comment about how they heard about you, what they like or don't like about your product as well as suggestions they have to improve it and make sure these cards end up in the marketing department. You'll get lots of ideas about what features to promote, quotes you can use in your advertising and leads on users using the product for interesting purposes that you can write up as user stories.

But your best market research resource is often just down the hall: The salesmen. They're your eyes and ears on the marketplace and you should go to their sales meetings and talk to them regularly. Hear what they have to say about what seems to be working, listen to their suggestions and run your ideas by them for feedback. Think twice - nay thrice! - before doing anything the salesmen recommend against.

Visit your dealers, go to trade shows, sit in on seminars and demos. Try different pitches on people and see what excites them. When you really get down to it, good marketing is often just a case of good listening.

Bob Lamm was the Director of Product Marketing at Truevision, Inc. the developers of the TARGA capture/playback card. He has a long history as a product-development and marketing consultant. Products he's worked on include several editing/compositing systems, a 3D compositing system, an automatic lip-syncher for animated characters, 3D streaming software, an HD editing/compositing system and more. He is also the coordinator for the Annual SMPTE/NE Nonlinear/Post-Production Technology Showcase and a partner in CYNC, the New England video dealership. He can be reached at 617-277-4317, blamm@cync.com.

Copyright (c) 2002 Robert Lamm

Posted: 31 November 2002
Bob Lamm, SMPTE/New England Newsletter/Web Page Editor
blamm@cync.com