Category Archives: Marketing

Why I’m flipping my work model to writing more, consulting less

Three decades ago, I began my career in the tech industry. But what some don’t know is that working as a tech (or edtech) exec, whether on staff or as a consultant, has been my second career.

So after 30 years I’m returning to my first career: journalism and other writing, with consulting now as the side project.

In late 1987, I left a career in journalism (primarily in radio news, but also some TV and print) and as a budding writer of science fiction to become an early marketing manager for the Apple Programmer’s and Developer’s Association. That was when you still had to educate people about what a “personal computer” was before enticing them to buy one. For a journalist who had won Computer Press Association awards for a radio talk show (yes) about computing, working for APDA and its parent A.P.P.L.E. Co-op was a natural fit.

I went on to marketing management at Egghead Discount Software and became a marketing exec at a number of tech companies. My shift to edtech began with a consulting role as interim vice president of marketing for McGraw-Hill Home Interactive. That led to explaining tech’s potential (and limitations) in the education market. I’ve since held marketing executive staff roles at Pearson Education, Professional Examination Service, and SchoolMessenger (West Corporation), plus consulting senior roles with several more firms.

Always, it’s been with the tenets that tech marketing and branding must focus on what’s unique, believable, and true. It ties back to providing information from which a buyer can make a confident decision. If you’re missing any of these three elements, you may not be marketing in the best interests of the company or the customer. You could just be shilling for that fast buck.

Not coincidentally, those three tenets also are related to good journalism, even if the desired outcomes are very different.

Throughout my career as a tech exec and consultant, I’ve kept my hands — at careful arm’s length — in some form of journalism, usually as an analyst or commentator. I wrote the “Byte Me” column for a Seattle-area alternative news weekly for four years. For another four, I did television commentary about tech.

And for the past lucky seven years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a founding writer for the tech news site GeekWire, contributing columns, podcasts, and news stories as often as my day job would allow. In between all of this, I co-authored a couple of Dummies books, wrote some long essays, and did a lot of public speaking.

However, there were always things I would not write about because of my concerns about perceived or real conflicts of interest. That hampered topics I was willing to take on.

So now it’s time to flip the model.

Starting, well, already earlier this year, I’m returning to journalism, analysis and commentary as my main job. That work encompasses both tech and — more so than I was able to do in the past — edtech.

GeekWire will remain my home base, allowing me to expand the writing I’ve done about edtech, continue my special monthly podcast interview/story series about pop culture, science fiction, and the arts, and begin a new weekly column about the intersection of media and technology when it comes to creating and consuming “content.” I realize this experimental swap of emphasis won’t be all wonderfulness. It’s risky. And I’ll be trading one set of career annoyances for another. Don’t let anyone tell you journalism and fiction writing aren’t businesses, especially if you expect to get paid.

Will I write for others, beyond GeekWire? Yes. There may again be long essays, short fiction, and books.

Will I still consult? As time, interest and ethical considerations allow. But I doubt much consulting will be on standard marketing. That intellectual challenge, for me, is incremental after three decades.

Besides, unlike when I began, no one today has to explain digital technology to consumers or educators to get them interested in using it. More important, and part of my role now, is helping all of us better understand how to intelligently manage tech’s effects on our everyday lives.

Edtech fads, trends — and extra-credit myths

Education technology is a hotbed of activity. And some developments will stay warm, while others, now overheated, will rapidly cool.

It’s helpful not just to companies, but non-profit organizations in education and educational institutions themselves, to have an idea of which is which.

At the EdTech for Export conference in New Zealand last week, I flipped the questions I’d been asking other industry execs (“Fad, trend, or it’s complicated?“) into advice for the industry itself. It’s mostly U.S.-centric, and has only a three-to-five year time frame.  Both are key caveats.

Below is my presentation — with screen-by-screen notes — on nine developments (from Open Educational Resources to the rise of iPads and Chromebooks). Plus I highlight five bonus myths about education technology, corrected. The last has turned out to be one of the most popular parts of my presentation on Twitter.

Or, if you’d prefer, the full 30-minute video has also been posted by my New Zealand hosts, which may be more entertaining that clicking through slides and reading text.

(Et4e15 – Keynote 3| Frank Catalano, Intrinsic Strategy from Grow Wellington on Vimeo.)

As with any free advice, it may largely be worth what you paid for it.

Continue reading Edtech fads, trends — and extra-credit myths

Edtech needs information as much as data

In my annual EdSurge look ahead to the New Year, I instead take a look back at why I almost quit edtech in 2014. It has to do with information. And I don’t mean education “data.”

I’ve been fortunate to dabble in many interests and even call three of them careers (journalism, tech industry marketing, and education technology marketing and analysis). One common thread cuts through all of it: the power of clear, concise and accurate communication.

CatalanosaurIt doesn’t matter if you’re trying to inform or motivate, being specific, honest and unique (in voice or perspective) trumps trendy buzzwords or misdirection. Especially if you’re in it for the long haul.

Not enough of those now cloaking themselves in the mantle of “education technology” seem to be. There’s a lot of short-term thinking (be it for greed or political gain) and of using a thin veneer of edtech to promote or oppose issues that have little to do with the appropriate, intelligent use of technology for all levels of learning.

EdSurge had the clever idea of having this year’s annual outlooks be in the form of a response to a college application essay prompt. So mine answers the question, “Why are you here and not somewhere else?

Damn good question. My answer is in, “Frank Catalano’s 2015 Personal Statement: Harnessing the Power of Information,” at EdSurge.

Google, Apple, Microsoft: Platform perceptions

As any good marketer will tell you, a strong brand is a double-edged sword. It gives you power in the market, but it also may limit what customers perceive — or willingly believe. That’s true in tech, too, as Apple, Microsoft and Google can now attest.

At GeekWire, I explore customer perceptions — pros and cons — for each device computing platform at a high level. On purpose. There is only so much mind share people give any product or service, and high-level perceptions can initially count for a lot more than technical specifications and features.

This distillation also came about as a result of a very typical consumer pressure: time. The column is based on a nearly ad-hoc presentation I gave in a talk at Microsoft’s Redmond campus on short notice. Tell about three or four hundred of our staff who work with hardware partners how Windows devices shape up against the competition from your perspective, I was asked on a Thursday. Sure, I said, when? Next Tuesday over lunch, I was told.

Nothing so focuses the mind, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, as roughly three working days of advance notice for a 45-minute time slot. So I said yes, buckled down, came up with some fun slide images, and went to work.

Read a slightly less rambling and time-slammed version of the result, “Google, Apple, Microsoft: Propelled, and trapped, by their brands,” over at GeekWire.

(Oh, and Microsoft is not now, and never has been, a client of mine. After this talk, I suspect that perfect record will persist.)

The “believability barrier” to tech adoption

Customers aware of product? Check. Product works as advertised? Check. Customers believe the product works as advertised? Uh oh.

The believability barrier is where edtech (and other tech) products can get stuck.

Over at EdSurge, I look at this ongoing challenge for any new technology through the lens of two technologies that have been turned into education products or services: online proctoring in higher ed, which has recently surmounted the barrier, and automated essay scoring in K-12, which is still scaling it.

By English: Cpl. Patrick Fleischman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons" href="http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUSMC-090507-M-3035F-562.jpg">
(Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

Even if/when a technology product or service hurdles the barrier, it doesn’t mean that tech is appropriate for every use in every situation. Actually, often what makes it possible to make it around that third obstacle is creators and users of a new tech figure out where it will work the best, neither over-promising nor over-criticizing what it can or cannot do.

Automated essay scoring, for example, appears to be settling into a position that requires a human touch, both so machine and human scorer backstop each other, and so humans provide deep feedback when the technology is used to encourage student writing practice. (The human part delights me, of course, as a one-time fiction and current column writer.)

Read, “The believability barrier: automated essay scoring,” at EdSurge.

A field guide to industry edu conferences

Those industry-focused education conferences. EdNET. SIIA. CiC. GSV. SXSWedu. If you’re an entrepreneur or a teacher, how do you navigate them? (Let alone unpack the acronyms.)

Over at EdSurge, I’ve produced a sort of field guide to five of the most prominent in the U.S., all of which I’ve attended, some for many years.

The guide is from the standpoint of a startup entrepreneur or an educator who may little familiarity with the conferences aimed at companies and organizations that serve the eduEdSurgelogoTwittercation/edtech market. The calculus will be different for, say, an established company evaluating the five.

The guide doesn’t include the very many conferences aimed at teachers and other educators directly (like ISTE), though admittedly, it’s a continuum, as some conferences like SXSWedu straddle both sides.

So remember the lens as you read: for entrepreneurs and educators, and listing from broadest focus/newest events to the narrowest focus/most established events.

Now click over for, “An opinionated field guide to industry education conferences,” at EdSurge.

Startup marketing dos and don’ts

There’s a fine line in technology startups between learning from what others have done and being constrained by it.

It’s a line I try to walk in mentoring entrepreneurs in various venues (from Startup Weekend event roles to sitting on the Advisory Board for the inaugural SXSW V2V). Recently, I’ve taken part in two free webinars from the Education Division of the Software and Information Industry Association aimed at helping edtech startups navigate the odd and weird waters of the education marketplace.

And they are now posted for anyone to view.

The kickoff Ed Market 101 webinar, “Is Your Product Ready for the School Market?” covered some of the basics of making sure a startup was prepared to enter the market, and common obstacles easily overlooked by entrepreneurs more used to the somewhat more rational consumer or enterprise markets. (You can view the recording, or just download just the slides here.)

A subsequent Ed Market 101 webinar, “How to Spend Marketing Dollars (If You Have Any)” covered one of my favorite topics: long-fuse effective awareness and important sales support tactics in education technology, and the awful and persistent money pits. (That recording, too, is up for viewing, and the slides for downloading.)

I took part in only these two SIIA Ed Market 101 webinars, but it’s worth it for any startup to check out the entire series archive. Even established pros may find them useful refreshers on the current state of the art and science.

Four tech terms to forget in 2014

“People judge you by the words you use.” That phrase isn’t just part of a once near-ubiquitous ad campaign, it also applies to tech industry terminology. And based on what’s happened to some once-meaningful phrases, many in media and marketing would be judged morons.

Wyse_Cloud_cover

Over at GeekWire, I opine that if you use any of these four tech terms in 2014, your utterance may be judged meaningless due to how each was mangled by the end of 2013: “open,” “MOOC,” “cloud” and “high-definition.”

But thanks to reader comments both on the GeekWire site and Facebook, there were many more observations (and a few nominees that didn’t make my final list but might have). Such as:

Analytics, Curated, Engagement, Reach — reasons for all — ubiquitous application of these terms to virtually every product, service, or platform currently being sold. Add to this the term “Social Media” which jumped the shark back in 2011 or so.

Not a tech term, but “awesome” has been rendered utterly meaningless, thanks to techies.

Gameification

Anyone remember hi-fidelity?

I’m a maker, and in 2014 I’m looking to disrupt the cloud. Who’s with me??

Read, “Four tech terms to forget in ’14,” over at GeekWire.

A re-start, reflection and five recommendations

As 2014 begins, I’m re-entering familiar territory: independent, full-time consulting.

And by “familiar,” I mean really, really familiar. Consulting became my career (not a label I wore while looking for other full-time work) in 1992. I had been in marketing management at Egghead Discount Software, a national chain of some 200+ retail stores and a healthy (half of revenues) education, government and corporate direct sales business.

Egghead2-745183I had been in charge of product and sales promotion, so I had relationships with literally hundreds of technology vendors and had written and executed dozens of launch plans, strategic and tactical. So it was a natural move to consult more deeply some of the companies with which I’d worked at Egghead. A few consulting engagements became on-going or repeat relationships (Apple, Rick Steves’ Europe) or longer-term interim executive assignments (MetaMetrics, McGraw-Hill Home Interactive).

I’ve only left consulting thrice in the past 20+ years, each time to join a then-client in an executive role: iCopyright (briefly, during the dot-com days), Pearson Education (for four years last decade, primarily in the assessment businesses), and most recently for much of last year, Professional Examination Service.

I’ve now left ProExam’s staff because I recognized the work I’d begun as a consultant and joined them to complete as Chief Marketing Officer was fully implemented. And I realized that staff marketing needed to take a stronger sales support role. My “CMO” title was a distraction. So it has been retired, I’ve returned full-time to Intrinsic Strategy, and I’ll keep working with ProExam as a client to provide guidance (and continuity) as a strategic adviser.KMPScatalano

I’m thinking three times is the charm. I plan to stay here, focused on consulting, analysis and writing. (Plus speaking. My much-earlier broadcasting background demands to be set free from time-to-time and I’m told I clean up well.)

But in more than twenty years of consulting, with deep dives into executive and interim-exec work, I can offer five recommendations for consultants, those who hire them, or those who want to apply consulting principles to their own staff work: Continue reading A re-start, reflection and five recommendations

Pitching an edtech (or any) startup

I recall at one time, when it came to startup pitch fests in education technology, the Software and Information Industry Association’s twice-yearly Innovation Incubator was basically the only game in town. That is clearly no longer the case as nearly every edtech or education-focused conference has added a pitch fest, a special area or a dedicated program for startups to hawk their wares.

Now comes SXSW V2V, which has stripped away any pretense of incorporating startups into a conference and instead the conference itself was only and all about startups and entrepreneurs. And its pitch fest — for which the “V2V” stands for “Vision2Venture” (I think) — had five category competitions, of which education technology was a prominent part.SXSWV2Vlogo

Over at EdSurge, I combine the excellent advice of three top-notch coaches with my own experience as a mentor and judge for startup pitches (I was also on the V2V edtech Advisory Board) into seven tips gleaned for good presentations. These tips come from attending two days of closed-door rehearsals and final two-minute spiels of not just the edtech hopefuls, but of all the companies. So even though these tips are offered through an edtech story-telling lens, they have broad applicability.

Read, “Tips for Pitching Your Edtech Startup,” over at EdSurge.