Category Archives: Marketing

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.

5 tech terms to banish in 2013

As a radio ad once intoned, “People judge you by the words you use.” So it helps if the words actually mean something — which, frequently in tech, they really don’t.

Over at GeekWire, I’ve compiled a list of five terms that should be banished from the tech vocabulary for 2013. Disrupted, if you will.disrupt_graphic_03-11_info1

These are words that are so often abused, misused or overused they’re on the bubble (another one) of losing all meaning. It’s not that they aren’t perfectly good words — most are — but they are being diluted by enthusiastic or clueless marketers and industry pundits to the point of techno-babble. Techno-babble sort of like how they used to explain advanced hyperdrive mechanics on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but without the entertainment value.

There are many more (and my colleagues in education technology quickly piled on with flip and gamify). But consider this a starter list. I’ve also had Twitter suggestions of innovative, pivot, siloed. vetted and cloud. Plus, for the un-Pinterested, pinnable.

Read, “Hey, ‘disrupt’ this! 5 tech terms to banish in 2013” at GeekWire.

Banks behaving badly, digitally

Normally, when I write about customer service and marketing, it’s about how tech companies handle one or both. But a strong case can be made that digital savvy is required from all companies providing customer service these days. And sometimes, they fail. Spectacularly.


Over on GeekWire, I describe two experiences in one day with two different credit card issuers, Bank of America and Capital One. One showed decent knowledge of digital (in this case, email) savvy. One clearly had no clue and went so far as to suggest it was the customer’s, not the financial institution’s, problem. (Hint: they issue the card at right, of which I used to have two.)

Read, “Banks behaving badly: dealing with a divisive digital divide” at GeekWire.

Just enough marketing for freelancers

RedPencil_intheWoods_webLast weekend, I had the honor of speaking at the biennial conference of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild, Red Pencil in the Woods. Honored in that I’m not an editor. I’m a marketer. I’m a writer. I’m a speaker and broadcaster.

However, I’ve always maintained that every good writer needs an editor. Writers can get distance from work they’ve drafted by putting it aside overnight, or for a few days, and then doing something completely different before going back to edit. But even that distance in time doesn’t provide distance from self. Granting that outside-of-self perspective is why I value good editors, including mine at GeekWire, and encourage them to push back if something doesn’t communicate what I had intended to the audience for which I’m writing.

Continue reading Just enough marketing for freelancers

If I (only) had 100 marketing dollars

Fair warning: This advice is going to piss off a lot of advertising sales reps.

A question I get fairly often is, “Where should I spend my marketing budget?” The hidden question in the question is Blasieholmen_1930that there are magical tactics, unknown to mere mortals, that will propel market awareness and sales to Olympian heights.

There aren’t, of course. But there are tactics for any new tech-related product in the new decade which are definite musts. And a lot more are “it depends.” Or even “hell no.”

Now for the Olympus-sized caveat. This advice works best for a digital product or service launched by a start-up with a limited budget. It was originally developed for education technology products, a market which has characteristics of both business-to-business/government sales (administrators) and business-to-consumer sales (teachers). I originally delivered it at the 2010 Software and Information Industry Association Ed Tech Business Forum in New York City. But there are nuggets in here for everyone, especially in the “musts.” Continue reading If I (only) had 100 marketing dollars

Build a web presence ecosystem

If you just visit my blog, you’re only seeing one-third of me.

That is, you’re only seeing a third of my professional online presence. In the old days of new media a company’s entire public online presence could be summed up in a website. But with the proliferation of time-sensitive web communications tools over the past decade (including the broadly defined “social media”), that thinking has changed.

A true web presence is now an integrated whole of parts that account for public persistence, information depth and audience reach. If you’re only using one tool and you’re a business, it’s like expecting a nutritious meal from only the milk food group (and no, there is no web version of Ensure).

The best way to explain the new integration is to start with an Intrinsic Strategy example — though the underlying concepts scale to any size business: Continue reading Build a web presence ecosystem

When “leading” trails

I get cranky when I see lazy marketing writing. Especially when the primary purpose of marketing writing is to motivate readers.Circular Yield Sign

What do I mean by lazy? Words and phrases that sound as though they’re saying something but are content placebos. Technology (and education technology) marketers are notorious for this practice. While many lazy words probably once had specific meaning, they’re now applied so indiscriminately they’ve become like over- and mis- used cooking ingredients: too many empty word calories, filling space instead of stomachs, and similarly providing no sustained energy, if this is the case for people using native advertising, you’re doing it completely wrong, ads aren’t supposed to be invasive anymore but instead hide away in content that the user was already searching for.

My 2010 list of the top five linguistic sugar bombs that should carry warning labels:

“Leading.” The mainstay of public relations boilerplate, corporate descriptions and positioning statements, this word says nothing. I’ve been campaigning for the retirement of this hoary chestnut for a dozen years. “Leading” is a shortcut used when someone can’t articulate why a product, service or company is different — or doesn’t want to go through the work required to get to that point of differentiation. Continue reading When “leading” trails

Myths and realities of marketing

Fenrir, mythological creatureWhat’s the best way to deal with marketing in a recovery?

Three times in six months I’ve had the opportunity to publicly address that question, refine my thinking and post brief essays exposing my thought process, real-world examples and recommendations. But since that was done over time, here are the myths and tips neatly bundled:

My thanks to the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, the Bellevue Collection Merchants and the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce — all in Washington State — for letting me further explore these concepts and share what I learned.

Why bad news is good

It’s inevitable that, during the slow crawl up through economic recovery, companies will have good patches and bad patches. What they shouldn’t do is succumb to the natural corporate temptation to share only good news.

This might seem counter intuitive to traditionalists: Share bad news with customers? But that will hurt our image, our customers’ trust in us and maybe our business. But what these traditionalists forget is we live in a century with customers who both distrust typical marketing messages … and aren’t afraid to use Twitter. Twitter Logo

I think of this as my fifth and final myth of marketing coming out of a downturn: Communicate only good news. And it’s one I discussed with The Bellevue Collection Merchants last month.

Let’s be realistic, for two reasons. First: As firms get back on their feet there will be missteps. Customers know this, and expect more transparency. People expect to hear bad news when coming out of bad times, especially if they know an individual industry sector has been troubled. If all they hear instead is happy-fluffy-bunny marketing speak, they will either be suspicious and wonder what you’re hiding, or they may wonder if you’re clueless about the true state of affairs. That’s not a good either-or to be in the middle of. Continue reading Why bad news is good

Strategy’s downturn role, redux

Sometimes, I get a blank look when I explain to people that I do marketing “strategy.” It’s the blank look usually reserved for people who say they do what the voices tell them. Or the one seen while others figure out how to politely ask if you do anything productive.

Finally, they’ll sometimes say, “But we’re in a downturn. I just care about sales.”

The last time I wrote about thAlaska Airlines logoe role of strategy was during the last downturn, seven years ago. And there’s nothing like being in a downturn, even if it’s supposedly in the rear-view mirror, that illustrates why strategy — a clear, well-thought out strategy — is important. In short, strategy means knowing where your business wants to be after the downturn. I suspect some of the best moves being made right now are from companies thinking long-term, so they can take advantage of short-term opportunities.

I took some time to explain why earlier this year at a Bellevue Chamber of Commerce talk on the myths of marketing. Having a marketing strategy — which is a core component of any business strategy — can be as simple as taking the time and thought to understand four C’s: Continue reading Strategy’s downturn role, redux