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Marketing and Advertising

Marketing is in the Middle: Jennifer Doctor

So the next person to participate in this series of interviews is Jennifer Doctor, she is a product marketer who tirelessly gives time to volunteer for the community of marketers with participation in Product Camp ATL and Product Camp Minnesota.

Jennifer is also an active blogger and I’m thankful she took time out of her hectic schedule to participate.  On to the answers….

What marketing roles have you had and in what markets?

Over the last nearly 20 years, I’ve worked in marketing, product marketing and product management. This includes everything from marketing communications and pr/media work, web development and marketing, and classic product marketing and product management. I’ve been in a variety of industries and technologies, including nonprofit agencies, hardware, b2b software for enterprise and small business – ASP (forerunner to SaaS,) ERP and desktop, and also services.

When you look at your career in marketing, what activities have you found most interesting/challenging?

I haven’t found the activities involved in marketing “hard;” rather, I believe what is hard is understanding and adapting to the different cultures I have entered and left. Each environment brings its own set of expectations and rules, mostly unwritten and tribal driven.   This can make it challenging to drive to what is right and make a difference.

Based on your experience what activities do you think get the most return?

I believe that investing in any activity that brings about a greater understanding of the market is the where you are most likely to get the result. Tactics are driven better when you have that understanding of how your buyers, the potential market, will respond. Without this, no amount of marketing effort will succeed.

What do you feel is the most important component of a successful marketing gig?

The most important element of a successful marketing gig is to understand the buyer.  I believe that you have to understand what the buyer is seeking, so they will invest in the sale. This understanding is important for any size product or sale. Without this knowledge, no amount of marketing of your solution will matter – regardless of how creative, flashy, interactive, or informative.

If you could design the perfect corporate environment for a marketer to be successful what would that be?

Wow. Not easy to answer. A perfect corporate environment is where the silos of the organization do not exist. Teams are formed which are more agile (not capital A agile as in development process,) and combine skills and talents from different focus areas to come together to solve the problem for the market – at that time. These teams need to have a single challenge to tackle, and be in alignment with the overall strategic vision. They also need to be empowered with the right resources – from talents to money to time – to make it happen. It all comes down to creating a collaborative atmosphere, which exists without the barriers.

How far is this from reality?

I have no idea how far my ideal is from reality. I know that when it is achieved – and I have seen it work in  organizations – it can produce amazing results. Unfortunately, I believe that it takes leadership, leadership which embraces collaboration and empowerment.

So what’s next?

Next?  I have seen great strides in recent years from marketing (including product marketing and management) coming closer together in alignment to execute.  I also would like to see more organizational leaders break down the walls that still exist. It’s time more people start worrying about who is right, and focus on what is right. It’s business. It’s not personal. More environments need to embrace this.


Blog: Outside-In View

Twitter: @jidoctor

Marketing is in the Middle: Chris Cummings

The fourth interview for Marketing is in the Middle is with Chris Cummings.  I’ve been reading his blog for quite a while – Product Management Meets Pop culture.  Not only does he have a cool blog, he’s got an interesting gig as the Director of Product Management of Games and stuff at Lycos’ Gamesville.      Chris provides clarity with every post by trying to look at the product marketing and management delima through a pop culture lens – movies, comics, and other pop culture ephemera.  Not only does it resonate with a gaming, tv watching and comic liking geek – it provides everyday examples which are easily digestible and fun.

I’m glad Chris was willing to share his take with y’all.  So here are his insights:

What marketing roles have you had and in what markets?

My first professional job was working in the marketing communications office of a college database company called CMG, which soon started spinning out different web-based startups. That was back in 1997. I’ve been in online ever since. The majority of my time has been in online games, and I’ve recently branched out into web publishing.

When you look at your career in marketing, what activities have you found most interesting/challenging?

The most interesting and challenging has been defining and explaining what it is, exactly, that I do. Over the years, more than one person (including multiple CEOs) have noted that: a) they’re not entirely sure how I do what I do but b) I always get the job done, and bring real value to the business.

On the one hand, that’s a big compliment. On the other, it made me a little nervous: I never wanted to be a magician or to live in a black box!

Based on your experience what activities do you think get the most return?

I’m really focused on digital, so I’d say making sure your website or app has customer-focused content and interactive features that speak to the needs of your customers or prospective customers is paramount. Part of that “interactivity” should be providing clear, and plentiful, ways for them to reach you. So many businesses still rely on the “Contact Us” or “About” page to drive leads, it’s mind-boggling. But then again, almost half of all small businesses don’t have a digital presence at all so there’s clearly plenty of room for improvement!

What do you feel is the most important component of a successful marketing gig?

Understanding the problems of the market you’re focusing on. If you don’t get that, then you basically just have a really cool tech demo and not a business. That applies to everything, even online games. What problems does solve? Part of it’s psychological, part of it’s pure advertising. Gamesville provides a place for people to come together, create community, and encourage each other playing games while also pulling together a valuable demographic that advertisers want to reach in an environment uniquely suited to getting their messages across.

How have you seen organizations change in the last 3-5 years to better support the needs of product marketers, product managers and communications teams?

I think we’re seeing more strategic integration on the metrics that drive our businesses, and that’s helping everyone including the roles you mention… providing they’re doing a good job. Not everything is measurable online, but many key things are. Focusing on those key metrics helps everyone understand our joint success and failure, and you’re individual role in it.

If you could design the perfect corporate environment for a marketer to be successful what would that be?

If I was going to design the perfect corporate environment, we’d have a product organization that reports directly into the CEO along with the other C-level functions. The Chief Product Officer would be responsible for leading the product while working with the other members of the senior team to make sure finance tracks key metrics (not just costs!), that our marketing is effective, sales is selling, and engineering is making the magic happen. Team work among the senior team is critical, including productive conflict, but everyone needs to respect and understand who’s driving which parts of the business — and which “key drivers” are really key.

How far is this from reality?

I think we’re getting closer and closer to this every day. Thanks to web analytics, there’s so much information available — and anyone with the right credentials can see it, at any point, including the CEO. Step one was getting everyone to see the same data. Step two is getting everyone to agree on which metrics actually matter!


I think the Chief Product Officer (CPO) will definitely be an emerging role in the market as Chris suggests.   I also think that Chief Marketing Officers and CPO’s will need a key technology role to support them in the goal of improved processes and metrics.  Organizations are going to not only need to invest in developing products to be successful, but also leverage tools and content to drive efficiencies and increase ROI of marketing programs/investments.

Twitter: chriscumming01
Blog: Product Management Meets Pop Culture (

Integration isn’t just technical for social

I’m seeing more and more of the integrated strategy approach to social in presentation.  Jeremiah’s pitch from Altimeter is spot on in that every touch and channel needs to support engagement.  While on the surface you could see this as a technical set of tasks, it also a set of strategic decisions to make sure your brand is easily available where your customers are.  This slide set demonstrates how to strategically address social in your website, as a channel for interaction.

You wouldn’t even read your own case study

Image by spatiallyrelevant via Flickr

Case studies have always been an interesting pain point for most technology organizations and marketers.  You always need more (according to sales), they are difficult to push through to completion and no one in sales uses them once they are done because many times they are fact free, devoid of numbers and generally represent a feel good piece about your product or company which doesn’t help a buyer decision anything or discern why they should further evaluate your product/solution.

Sales Has Some Needs, Ideas and Some Candidates For You!

The typical case study process starts with a sales feedback session and as you would suspect — they need more stuff.   We can always debate if they ACTUALLY need more stuff, but why wouldn’t you want more case studies anyhow, right?  After all, sales is kind enough to give you a handful of companies to talk to, but 99% in the list can’t do one due to some corporate policy or other lame reason like being too busy, but y’all luckily find that 1 which says “yeah we can do a case study if you want”.

It may not be the one you wanted, it’s in a corner case industry for your product, but it’s the one you got and the next time you talk to sales it’s like: “Victory! We have a case study in progress and MARCOM is working with the customer”.

Ready, Set, Write!

So it’s off to the races and it’s a pretty straight forward process for the person in MARCOM who’s been assigned to get it done:

  • Interview the contact
  • write a little
  • work the approval process with the customer
  • 3-6 months later you may or may not have case study.

Providing you are lucky enough to get final approval,  you probably have  some watered down document which doesn’t work for sales or the marketplace at large and looks something like this from a flow perspective:

  • Generic statement that “we worked with big or not so big company to do stuff”
  • Customer Company overview with Logo
  • Perfectly reverse engineered problem statement
  • Quotes about how nice your product is in sidebar call outs from Jeremy,  the Project Manager
  • Your company’s boiler plate

There could be any number of reasons why this happens, the contact wasn’t the the right one, we asked the wrong questions or we just couldn’t get the cool content through their legal – some competitive differentiation/advantage thing.   While, it would be great to think our products do actually provide a competitive advantage, most case studies aren’t discovery sessions around how well the implementation went, it’s a checklist of questions which MARCOM  goes through like case study best practice robots.

Asked, Answered and Outta Here

In many companies it’s MARCOM which works the checklist of obvious questions with no real involvement from Product Marketing or Management and the main reason is they have a list of questions which they have used historically and the cookie cutter questions typically get the job done.  Pretty formulaic stuff for most technology companies.   In fact it is so formulaic that MARCOM may even outsource it, because it so easy – after all we have the corporate communications template, the style guide and a list of questions we can hand off to anyone.

Once we get the answers to the questions we have a case study right?  Probably not, more than likely we have yet another document which sales won’t use and buyers won’t find any real benefit from.  So what can you do to improve the likelihood that you will have something of value when done?  Notice I didn’t say case study, since not all customer stories are really case studies.

Qualify the Case Study

While case study candidates are hard to find, fluff pieces immortalized in Adobe aren’t that helpful to most sales people or buyers.  Try to better understand why someone/a company might want to do a case study.   It’s not that hard, just ask them “So why are you looking to do the case study?”  The types of answers will vary, but might look like:

  • Hey our marketing guy thinks it will improve our SEO
  • To fulfill some contract term which got slid in for a 55% discount.
  • We reduce cycle times by 12%, increased utilization by 3% and lowered costs by 8% resulting in an additional $18M in profit in the first 6 months.
  • I selected the solution, I think it’s implementation will improve my career, so let’s put it in print – k?

So there are lots of answers you could get back and other drivers than true partnership with your company or success with your product which could make a organization want to talk about their implementations.  It’s these type of nuances which makes MARCOM and definitely an external third party probably not the right resource to work the process via a hand off from sales.   In fact, why does sales often represent the starting point for case studies and not professional services?

Conversations, not Case Studies

So as you have probably guessed it might be best to not go in search of case studies, but to have regular conversation with recent implementations and find out how folks are using your product.  While having these conversations you just might find a real case study, a customer focus blog post or other quicker to write (and get approved) web content piece which would help buyers in the discovery process better understand the problems solved by your solutions/product.

I know — sales still wants case studies, but I betcha they would be really cool with video testimonials though.  It also just might be easier to get big brands with a video approach.  How?    Have MARCOM setup a video camera at the next users conference and solicit participation in quick 60 second testimonials around your products, after all everyone loves your product at the user conference and you can slip in some “right to post/tape language” in your click through license for the online conference registration.   Just an idea…..