Businesses, at their most basic, fall into two categories - either providing a product or a service. The two are often interchanged, and arguably a service is a product, but not the other way around. FedEx's "product," for example, is the shipping service they provide, not the packaging the customers use.
When starting a business, whether a one man shop, or growing into a small business, this distinction is something to keep in mind, specifically when it comes to your brand. Unfortunately, I did not realize the importance of this until several years after Big Bang released the Universal Imaging Utility (UIU), and it has likely cost us.
The advantage a FedEx, or any other "service" oriented business, is that their name is synonymous with the service they provide. If truly successful, it even becomes a verb. It's not unusual to hear someone will FedEx a package. It's what they do and who they are.
On the other hand, consider Research In Motion, or RIM if you prefer. Now most technically savvy readers will know who RIM is and what they do. The rest of the known world knows them as BlackBerry. Their product branding is so strong, that most users of BlackBerry devices likely don't know that Research In Motion is the company behind the product.
Let me explain how the branding has worked for Big Bang and how it has affected us. When Big Bang first released the UIU, we distributed it through Binary Research International, the original creators of the Symantec Ghost product. It was a natural choice. We worked with them providing Symantec Ghost training services, they were still involved with Symantec and selling Ghost world wide, and they had a huge database of existing Ghost customers. Our experience was in supporting the software. Their experience was in selling software. Perfect!
Because distribution and sales was not our expertise, we relied very heavily on Binary to market the UIU, and they did that very well. However, we did not insist they market Big Bang, and to an extent, that was a mistake. Their job, as a company that specialized in bringing products to market, was to promote the product to increase sales... and to promote themselves in order to obtain more products. This caused us two issues.
First, our customers, the end users implementing our Universal Imaging Utility software, did not know who Big Bang was. We did not do nearly a strong enough job of getting our name out there. Rather, the UIU was the focus. So, like RIM and BlackBerry, we have created a situation where there is a disconnect between our product and the company. While the business was first taking off, no one thought anything of it. However, as we grow and look to release new products, we don't have the name recognition we would like as a company. Our UIU "Power Button" logo is far more recognized than the Big Bang logo, which has caused our marketing team no end of problems. How do we want our customers to identify us, by product or by brand name?
The other issue that arose with our distribution and marketing model, is that customers associated the UIU with Binary Research, not Big Bang. I can't begin to tell you how many times we have contacted a customer only to be told, "We only deal with the manufacturer." We are the manufacturer! But as I said before, Binary's job was to sell themselves as well as our software. To this day, despite the hassles, I do not begrudge them this. That's how their business as designed, and in order to grow and thrive, they wanted more products to bring to market. It makes perfect sense - for them. We didn't realize early on though what a problem it would cause for us down the road. We have spent the last year trying to educate our customers about who Big Bang is. In some cases, these customers have been using our UIU software and support for years! It has been a hard lesson to learn.
Consequently, my lack of foresight regarding "product" branding versus "company" branding has cost Big Bang a considerable amount of marketing equity. It's something to consider during all the excitement of bringing your first product to market - hopefully there will be a second product! I can only apologize to my sales and marketing staff, and hope they will forgive me.
The nature of the cliché, "Do what you love," is not lost on me, although I have espoused that very advice more times than I can count. Along with that, I think owning a business must also be associated with, "Do what you're good at." Most clichés though, like most stereotypes, have some basis in truth, and I truly believe that this one is perhaps the most important and accurate.
The great challenges with this bit of advice though? First, identifying something you truly enjoy. Second, identifying those things that you are indeed good at.
Arguably, American Idol is the easiest and best example of these two principles. Undeniably, the finalists both love singing and performing, and have the natural talent to go along with that drive. Also, of the several thousand applicants, even though most love singing (although obviously some just want the 15 seconds of fame) and many are undoubtedly talented, all but a select few will not get their chance at stardom for whatever reason. Who do we remember the most though? Those poor wretched fools, who love to sing, who truly believe they can, and have been lied to by their parents and friends all their lives!
Realizing your dreams and aspirations requires understanding your dreams and aspirations, and then establishing whether you have the talents and skills to make them a reality. As much as I might enjoy the rock star ideal, I also realize that I have a great voice for radio... announcing. I'm never going to be a rock star, and that's OK.
When I started college (which I never finished), I started off along a path toward the maths and sciences, most likely leading to some type of engineering degree. Why? Because in high school I had excelled in the maths and sciences, having completed pre-calculus, physics, chemistry, etc., mostly by my junior year. They were a natural fit, I was good at them, and being 17, and obviously heading to college, they were my destiny.
Fortunately for me, it sucked! Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy some of what I was doing. I've found my math, chemistry and physics knowledge to be very helpful throughout the years. However, it wasn't my calling. I was a different type of geek.
Do you remember the dread that sat in the pit of your stomach when you discovered that you had to take "Speech" class in high school. My recollection is that it was the class that students were the most scared of, and I was no exception. Yet there it was, staring me in my pimpled face, sophomore year. Here I was, a member of the chess team, an outcast from baseball having been hit by the pitching machine, and now faced with the terror of speaking in front of twenty or so other teenagers. As a child of the 80's, all I can say is, "Gag me with a spoon!"
However, that semester of speech class may have made more of an impact on my future career than any other single educational experience. I loved it! And I was good at it. I never expected that I would go on to become an actor or great orator, but I found that I was very comfortable in front of people, and that I could readily get my point across to an audience.
Of course, it wasn't until years later that I finally put two and two together, after a failed college extravaganza, and the realization that I would never be an engineer. The truth was that I continued to return to teaching in some manner: My years at FedEx lead me to software and ISO 9000 training there. Later, I did technical training on A+ certifications, QuickBooks, and Visual Basic. My favorite class to teach - Intro to PCs, which normally consisted of twenty or so 70+ year old students who had never touched a mouse in their lives. I loved it. Teaching became my passion. Eventually, that led to my teaching Symantec Ghost training courses, and running into a gentleman who introduced me to what became the Universal Imaging Utility, which has allowed Big Bang to thrive.
My passions and skills have changed over the years, but I am eternally grateful for that sophomore year high school speech class.
In the next few weeks we will be releasing a new product to the world. We’ve spent almost a year on development.
It’s going to be a great product, and bring real value to our future customers.
In order for me to type that last sentence confidently, a great deal of work had to go into not just the creation of this new software, but in determining market need, saleability, and perhaps almost as important as the quality of the product – who my target market is and how to get them to buy it.
Needless to say, the market need for the Universal Imaging Utility System Deploy Plug-in (UIUSD), after speaking with quite a few Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) admins, is pretty ripe. The software is priced competitively, and we feel that reception will be overwhelmingly positive.
The biggest issue?
Our target market is almost too defined.
You read correctly, I did just declare that we know EXACTLY who our target audience is and where to find them, and I made it read like it actually might be a slightly negative thing.
The reason I feel this way is due to the extremely specific, and small number of individuals to whom I need to market.
As an illustration, the advantage of our existing product is that target messaging carries with it secondary, and even tertiary possibilities depending on the interaction. For example, our current product, the UIU, is designed to work with any operating system cloning and deployment solution to reduce the number of OS images an organization needs to maintain down to ONE by, among other features, handling all the drivers needed for any hardware component. The messaging is such that any entry-level help desk individual, IT Manager, all the way up to CTO or CIO of any company utilizing anything like Ghost, Altiris, Zenworks, , Acronis, FOG, ImageX, etc., can be made aware of the time-saving benefits.
In contrast however, the UIUSD is a plug-in specifically for SCCM and as such, our target market is limited to SCCM admins only in Enterprise environments actually utilizing SCCM. In addition, the innate complexities of the robust SCCM platform greatly reduce the likelihood that anyone in the organization not intimately familiar with SCCM would benefit from the kind of targeted messaging able to generate quality leads.
So on one hand my job with our new product is easy when defining my ideal prospect, but on the other hand, quite a bit more difficult in planning campaigns that reach the exact right person at the exact right time.
Won’t stop me from selling the heck out of our awesome new product though.
Have you ever had a target market that was too specific?
I have made mention often, particularly in this post, that as a small business marketer, my marketing options are really only constrained by a small business budget. The choices I have, unfettered by big corporate policy are exciting, and I am constantly bombarded with possibilities.
One facet of marketing that is often presented, and which I typically ignore, is the “Big Bad Site/Publication Advertising Pitch.” Due to my small business budget, I can’t afford to shell out 10k a month in ad spend for a PPM display ad, or a full page print ad for a broad-target publication. But primarily, anytime a big company comes after a small one, I can’t help but wonder why they want my money so badly. Consequently I usually don’t even bother even reading the proposals from said offers.
But there was this one time…
I should have known better, but I was courted, promised some pretty sweet results, and most importantly, assured that I would have long-lasting web visibility for my target audience. This company, which shall remain nameless, is a World-wide Business targeted news and information website with representation in something like 16 countries, and local writers in 13 of them.
So even though I approached this opportunity with the usual level of skepticism, the Account Rep provided some pretty convincing data, and a feasible first-time price point, to convince me to try and advertising campaign for three months. The assets included a crafted campaign focused on our Universal Imaging Utility (UIU) software and its unique ability to create a single hardware independent image that can be easily deployed to any PC regardless of manufacturer. Case Studies we provided were to support this campaign, which would correspond to targeted display ads linking to a custom designed micro-site packed with great links and content.
Fully admitting that I chose poorly, but without expounding on the details, the main problem with this ad campaign was that the assets were randomly hosted on their site with no continuity, and the display ads only appeared on our content. Needless to say, the return versus spend was abysmal.
The part that really escalated feelings of regret over having made a poor decision, was that when I contacted my rep to try and get some metrics from the campaign, she totally blew me off. Even after everything was finished, and I wrote a respectful, but data-packed email clearly expressing my tremendous disappointment with the outcome of the campaign given what she told me I could expect, she completely ignored me.
I take full responsibility for going against my better judgment of dealing with big companies offering advertising to small companies, and if I possessed a lesser degree of business tact I would be smearing this company’s name everywhere I could. But I simply must lament yet another case where a Big Bad Company duped a small business, didn’t deliver on any of the promised results, and then completely ignored them because they knew there was nothing the small business could do about it.
Needless to say, making this poor decision once is all I need to never make it again.
About Big Bang Blog
There are many reasons to write a small business blog, we wanted to bring you at least a few reasons to read one. The Big Bang Blog covers the ins and outs of running a small software business, as well as a variety of small business marketing and media topics. Please leave us your comments and questions.
Be sure to visit our UIU Blog for Industry Insights, Product Updates, Support Notes and more.
|About Adam Murphy -
Adam is the President and Owner of Big Bang LLC and espouses a pretty progressive small business philosophy based primarily around hiring the right people and getting the hell out of their way.
|About Nate Bauer -
Nate is the Marketing Director for Big Bang LLC and pretty much spends his days tip-toeing on the pinnacle of how to most effectively implement strategy given the wide open cookie jar of small business marketing possibilities.
|About Kelley Burian - @kelleyburian
Kelley is the Sales Director for Big Bang LLC. Responsible for everything from GSA contracts, resellers and international customers, she has her hands full doing whatever she can to make sure our valued clients are thrilled with our fantastic products.