In yesterday’s post about creativity in advertising and marketing, I divided high-tech Vice Presidents of Marketing into two categories: the Suits and the Engineers. Today, as promised, I’ll talk about the Suits.
Dismissing the Squishy Stuff
The Suits I worked for were, of course, non-engineers with MBAs from one prestigious school or another. They had worked hard, learned the five Ps of Marketing, passed statistics, and absorbed the B-School lesson that the best decisions come from crunching numbers.
Quants, as the number crunchers are known, are the surgeons of the MBA world: cold, emotionless, quick decision makers, ruthless when necessary, and quite arrogant in their assumption of superiority over lesser beings.
They make their decisions based on numbers alone and have little regard for or interest in “the squishy stuff.” The squishy stuff constitutes things like hiring and retaining good people, managing both employees and agencies well, planning and executing good programs, and—of course—generating creative marketing ideas.
The funny thing was that the Suits did not really understand the target audience that they were addressing with their marketing programs. The men (yes, all men) were firmly grounded in reality and had little use for or tolerance of anything even remotely fanciful.
They read books about history and biographies of famous men, perused business magazines and online research, vacationed in luxurious places, and saw reality-based dramas and comedies in the movies. They never went to a science fiction convention, watched a science-fiction movie or read a fantasy book.
These men couldn’t pick out the Alien Queen or the Predator in a line up, much less know how they were different or who would win in a one-on-one fight. Ditto whether a Dalek is scarier than the Borg or the Cylons are worse than either. They wouldn’t have the foggiest idea whether TNG was better than classic Star Trek or why everyone sneered at Wesley. Or hated something named Jar Jar Binks.
They had no clue that their target audience not only knew about these things and cared, but felt passionately about them. Thus they did not speak a language that was of great consequence to the individuals in their target audience. Worse, they didn’t think it was important to do so. Opportunity missed.
It’s the Individual, Stupid
As Joseph Puthussery, VP of Demand Generation at Cisco says: “Whether it’s B to B or B to C, it’s the individual that needs to be marketed to. And understanding the needs of the individual is really becoming critical for B to B companies.” It’s about time.
With my experience and background, I gave the Suits a secret weapon for reaching the software / hardware engineers and computer science graduates to whom they were marketing. Having published two science fiction novels, I attended conventions to reach my target audience of readers. I also read science fiction and fantasy books regularly, watched the movies and TV shows, and knew how to speak the language, including quotes and references. The Suits could have used my experience to supplement their business knowledge and develop some truly creative marketing messages and concepts. But no.
Because anything that required suspension of disbelief was beyond their experience, they dismissed this whole avenue of communication. Even when I tried to make the case, use the messages, and talk the language, the Suits didn’t get it.
A Borg Hottie? No Way!
Once when working for NetScout Systems, I was planning our strategy for Interop, the big networking trade show in Las Vegas. Our goal was to get as many people as possible into our booth so we could gain visibility, give demos, and collect leads for sales opportunities. It was and still is a fiercely competitive show and the promotional draws that companies put into their exhibits were big, flashy and expensive. You had to work hard to stand out in the noisy crowd of exhibitors.
The most popular science fiction program on TV at the time was Star Trek: Voyager and the cast included Seven of Nine (Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix One), played by Jeri Ryan. Seven of Nine was, despite her Borg bio-technical augments, gorgeous and she wore an extremely form-fitting costume. A Borg hottie: what could be better?
I knew that if I could get Jeri Ryan into the booth for photo ops, even dressed in ordinary street clothes, I could get every male attendee (which was most of them) into a demo to score a ticket. Our booth would be the talk of the show: “You have to go there and watch the demo but you will get your picture taken with Seven of Nine.” And they would stand in line with their tongues hanging out for the opportunity.
So I did the research and determined the cost for two hours of meet-and-greet out of costume, which was significant: the CEO would have to approve it. I put my proposal together and made the case to my Marketing VP. To his credit, he moved the idea forward, albeit without great enthusiasm. He had no idea who Seven of Nine was or why—beyond her obvious beauty—she would be a draw.
The CEO at the time, one of the founders, looked at me in astonishment. He could not believe that I was proposing to spend that much money on something he saw as frivolous. I made my case again but my proposal was futile. Even though both men understood the attraction of a beautiful woman, they were not willing to take a risk with marketing creativity. Instead we did something more conservative, less expensive—and much less creative. It was also much less effective.
Insanely great? No way. (BTW: If you think they made the right decision, you’re a Suit.)
Know Your Stuff
To reach the individual in B-to-B marketing, as Mr. Puthussery says, marketers must understand the individual. In this case, the opportunity was to use a science fiction TV show but it could be anything, depending on your audience. Whether it’s through science fiction, jet airplanes, MMORPG, fast cars, high fashion, cat videos or Hello Kitty®, you have to talk to their enthusiasms using language and images that indicate you know your stuff. If you look like an outsider trying to fake it, you’re toast.
Then you have to have the courage to do something that’s totally different from what any other company—especially your competitors—is doing. Even if it’s outside your comfort zone. Especially if it’s outside your comfort zone. And have the courage of your convictions to stick with it.
I remember my early days at DEC when many of the suits came with engineering backgrounds. There was more risk taking, more innovation and certainly more creativity. Today’s suits are stuffed – afraid of what the investors and the board will say and without permission or ability to think outside the box. As them who they are and what they do and they will be hard pressed to give you a concise answer.