Tag Archives: Marketing

The Secret Ingredient to Blogs?

(Warning: This ingredient may not be for every blogger.) The ingredient is mixing business and personal issues. Right off the bat, this flies in the face of accepted Public Relations rules. But, the more personal and authentic a blogger can be, the more readers will believe a blog. Why do I say this?

I was honored to have Christine Kent of Ragan’s Media Relations Report cover my story of cancer in this blog. She asked me if there was any upside to executives talking about personal issues in their blog. My response was, “if executives blog honestly and passionately about something personal, there’s no need to figure out if there’s a corporate upside or downside.” The question is not about upside; it should be about authenticity.

People are sick and tired of all the media relations filters. One principle problem with our US Presidential Campaign Death March is everything is filtered down to pablum. No surprise: the one moment Hillary Clinton got emotional in public, the media treated her more positively for her authenticity.

The majority of advice on writing good blogs is keep it short, be punchy, be pithy, be controversial, and the like. While most of this is reasonable advice, speaking from the heart trumps most of this. My longest blogs are my most well read. Another popular piece of advice is have a clear theme or subject for your blogs. Again, I stumbled on mixing business and personal issues at the risk of being scattered, yet today a woman who is a volunteer for Livestrong told me in an email, “I love that it’s corporate and personal at the same time: it’s you. In my work… I have proposed launching blogs with the same natural style. Now I have a good example to show my Board of Directors.” Lesson: Do not obey all the rules. Make your own.

But why mix business and personal issues? Well, it’s not for everyone as I warned at the start. I told Christine Kent it’s Steve Jobs’ business if he wishes to talk about his personal life. Also, the rules are different for public companies.

If you can mix the two, you open the opportunity of showing more passion, more heart, more transparency, and then all that Often Boring Business stuff just might have a chance of being a little more interesting.

The Pizza Strategy: 5 Tips for a Successful Business

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A Coffee shop opened on the corner near our office. What they are doing to launch their new business amazingly applies to most companies. It’s brilliant and common sense. The Coffee shop illustrated to me lots of attributes of how to think about starting a new business, and how not to do it…

1. The New, New Thing vs. the Pizza Strategy

Mistake #1 in Silicon Valley is the obsession with the New, New Thing. The opposite is the Pizza Strategy. It’s practical, you could eat it every day (if you work with engineers), it’s both lunch and dinner food. It serves a lot of purpose, but it’s common and a bit boring. Innovation is wonderful, yet not enough technology companies go after crowded industries where an unmet need still lies.

Coffee Bar, which opened last month in our neighborhood is an excellent example of my kind of entrepreneurialism. They opened one block away from Starbucks. People asked why they would do that? Dumb question. Starbucks is an Unholy Blasphemous Sacrilege to those of us religiously devoted to the Sacrament of Coffee.

I call JIRA our Pizza business. It’s the sincerest form of flattery because Mike and Scott chose a software product with tons of competitors yet found an unserved need: a useful, practical issue tracker for $1200 – $4800. Five years later, it still sells like hotcakes. There were lots of pizza shops, but JIRA pizza has a strong following.

2. Marketing vs. Product

It’s not that marketing is bad. Hell, I’m recruiting for a VP Marketing. The question is: what do you lead with? If you can’t win folks with the product first, pack it up.

Coffee Bar has sitting next to their menu a ranking of all the best, generally boutique coffee shops in San Francicso. This takes cojones because San Francisco has some great coffee shops in the North End that are historic with the Beat Generation. Coffee Bar ranks #1. The point is: they are proud of their product and determined to be the best. They lead with Great Product.

Coffee Bar does something else we try to do at Atlassian which is give customers fewer choices, but give them good ones. We apply this rule to pricing to keep things simple. The first time I heard about Coffee Bar’s food, Jonathan Nolen said “The menu is limited but everything is great.” Bullseye. Apple figured this out a long time ago: compare the number of add-on options available on a Mac to those on a Dell. With Dell, the choices are agonizing and confusing.

Lead with product and keep things simple.

3. Free Trials vs. Hassle

What’s the biggest problem with test driving a new car? The hassle from an annoying salesman. Why do software companies do this when all you want is a whitepaper…

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Why don’t more companies just let you try their products with the least intrusion and hassle? During lunch when I normally don’t have coffee, Lindsay at Coffee Bar asked me if I wanted to try the coffee for free. Just the act of offering me a free coffee warmed me to the place. When I asked for a double espresso, she said, “Perfect”, because she wanted me to taste the undiluted essence of the core product: coffee. She handed me the espresso with a pride and belief in her product. She expected nothing in return.

The more questions you get asked when you evaluate a product, the more you ought to run for the hills. Businesses need to be willing to trade bad customer information for engendering trust.

4. Marketing vs. Word of Mouth

When I told Lindsay at Coffee Bar lunch was excellent, she asked if I could tell my co-workers. I was more than happy to oblige. Lindsay led with great product, she has visible pride in her restaurant and product, she is happy to be a few feet away from the Starbucks, and she understands my recommendation is much more important than an advertisement.

Ask yourself what can you do to promote word of mouth? Advertising is no longer what it once was.

5. Branding only matters so much

Too many tech and Internet companies obsess over names. Granted, consumer companies have a greater challenge. If you are taking on, say Coca-Cola or Cheerios, I would support an intense effort on naming.

What I like about Coffee Bar is that it is imperfect but it works. It stands for Coffee in the daytime, Bar at night. “Oh, that’s cool”, was my first thought. I’ll remember that. Is it a boring, generic name? Sort of. But so what if the product is excellent, and they concentrate on what customers really want?

There are a few common, useful rules for naming from Rob Gemmell, a friend and Marketing God:

  1. Own-able — The name is unique and you can own it. “Accenture is ow-nable; “Pacific Lumber” is not. Any name becomes own-able over time if you either spend a lot of money on marketing, or you establish a large market of customers who know you.
  2. Spell-able — The one weakness of the “Atlassian” name. Sometimes related is Pronounceable, which is another Atlassian imperfection.
  3. Memorable — Related to uniqueness, but very different: will people remember the name?
  4. Relevant — “Reliable Roofing” is highly relevant: it includes the benefit. It is relevant to the customer. “Apple”, on the other hand is completely arbitrary and not relevant. It’s cute, but it’s not relevant to the customer. “International Business Machines” was extremely relevant at the time.

The other two useful, secondary rules are: 1) Start with a letter high in the alphabet, a strength of Atlassian or Apple, and 2) Try to keep it as short as possible.

“Coffee Bar” is imperfect. Once you understand it, it might be memorable. But it is too generic to be own-able, without a lot of marketing money behind it. It doesn’t matter as much as the product, the customer service, the ambiance, and of course, a motivated, smart owner like Lindsay.

How to Win the Atlassian T-Shirt Competition

Disclaimer: We have not formed a judging committee, I have no idea whether or not I will be on the committee, and the decision could be made by a couple of engineers over a lot of beer in Sydney. These facts do not prevent me from giving you, Dear Reader some valuable insights into this hotly contested competition.

As an employee I am officially disqualified from Atlassian’s T-Shirt competition, which irks me to no end as I would whip everyone’s ass in this competition. Nevertheless, I am compelled to dispense potentially useful information on how you might stand out from the crowd pounding down our doors with spectacular designs and ideas. Here are some possible strategies for you Closet T-Shirt Designers:

Strategy #1: Design something a woman might wear. Being engineers and being men generally, we have a terrible habit of designing things that are questionable when written across a woman’s chest. The original clean, simply designed Confluence T-shirt is one of my favs but as you can see…

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This is a risky, breakout strategy as our founders are 28 year-old Australian men and of course, engineers and opinionated at times. But I think the timing is right to do the right thing by women, as Kathy Sierra pointed out a long time ago.

Strategy #2: It’s all about a clever, funny tagline. With this strategy, the design is irrelevant. Take our most coveted JIRA T-shirt. To this day, people love the tagline:

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Strategy #3: Get edgy. This is risky as you might go too far. Here’s an example of one of our more recent T-shirts which may have gone too far:

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This one may say something about engineers who spend too much time in front of their monitors, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.

Strategy #4: Make something retro and timeless.
The problem with retro is it is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m not sure there’s anything retro about a 5-year old software company. My favorite example but a really sweet T-shirt is this beauty I got from Ted Leung:

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[Disclosure: I used a Newton for 18 months. I still own it.]

Strategy #5: Sex. That’s right. Sex would be a cheap trick but Hey, stooping to the lowest common denominator works often. Here’s Yelp who in a lot of their branding uses some of the same tricks as American Apparel:

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Yelp can get a bit frisky with their marketing of their apparel:

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Would this cheap tactic work with a bunch of young engineers in Sydney? You decide.

How to Write a Bad Resume

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There are three surefire ways to write a bad resume:

  1. Make it too long.
  2. Obscure your background with your interpretation of your strengths and skills.
  3. Give a vague chronology.

Kicking off our search for a VP of Marketing this week made me ruminate about bad resumes. For this role, the problem is that marketing people can make anything look good, or more accurately: they can talk at length about anything, even if it’s irrelevant. So, the primary problem is long resumes that put you to sleep. I thought this a good opportunity to get crabby about resumes in general.

The three best ways to write a bad or a good resume:

1. Length

Most mortals can fit their background on one page. After about ten years of experience, you might merit a second page. Maybe. But think hard first. It might take 15 years before we need to hear it all. I have seen some resumes that creep onto a third page that are well written, but these are people with 20 or more years of experience.

Four pages are uncalled for unless you are from a foreign country where the sheer weight of your resume is part of the Feng Shui and culture. In spite of this habit overseas, it is a practice that is doomed in a world of impatient, ADD Type A’s who spend more and more time on the Internet. Get over it. Practice using that delete key, Champ.

2. Identify Your Background, not Your Skills and Strengths

Let the facts speak for themselves. Nothing is more annoying than resumes that start with a half page or an entire page summarizing someone’s background and skills. Your experience is what counts, not your interpretation. I have seen good resumes that start with three pertinent bullets highlighting key experience, but unless you merit a two or three page resume, try to skip this. Your work history and specific accomplishments are what matters.

Here are two actual examples from resumes I received today:

  • “I am a marketing master that can develop unlimited campaign ideas from the fertile right side of my brain.” I kid you not. A Master with a Fertile Brain. Save me.
  • “Strengths (Source: Gallup Clifton Strengthsfinder): Maximizer, Ideation, Strategic, Self-Assurance, Activator.” Is this necessary? Aside from being very unclear on what a “Maximizer” exactly is, or for that matter an “Activator”, what God-Help-Me is the Gallup Clifton Strengthsfinder?

3. Specific, Clear Chronology

If you have ever interviewed with Heidrick & Struggles or any of the major executive search firms, you know that competent, highly paid recruiters are exacting about chronology. Even if you are a CEO, these recruiters will carefully go through every crevice, so no stone is unturned.

That means month and year, start and end to every job. Yes, the month matters. It demonstrates you are a concrete, specific person. Remember, this is your career. Here in swashbuckling Silicon Valley where folks go through jobs like hot knives through butter, a string of jobs all less than two years is not uncommon. Therefore the month becomes material.

Always show the year you received a degree. Vagueness can make one wonder what you are hiding. Did you get lost at a Dead concert for a few years? (There’s an appropriate way to describe this career move.)

If you can get these three things right: 1) brevity, 2) background not strengths/skills/functional nonsense, and 3) clear chronology, you are off to good start.

Why Radiohead Should Price Your Software

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If you are the typical software company, I have a hot tip for you. Call the guys in Radiohead and try to hire one of them to fix your pricing. I doubt they have the time, because they just did something that is turning the music industry on its head. As you probably know the recording industry is in serious decline, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. The record companies stuck to high CD prices like stubborn pit bulls for so long, iTunes became the only interesting game.

Pay attention to Radiohead’s new album pricing: users pay whatever they want from zero on up. I haven’t heard the album yet, but they deserve $25 for having the creativity and moxie to do this.

What does this have to do with traditional software pricing? A lot. Although the software industry is in much better shape than the recording industry, it has never been the same since the bust of 2000 – 2003. Enterprise software sales is a fundamentally broken model: it’s too expensive. I met with friend, and fellow musician, Fred Harman at Oak Investment Partners this week, and Oak has avoided software startups for years largely due to this phenomenon. Oak concentrates on larger growth investments to avoid the high cost of sales inherent in most software companies.

When I talk to experienced, traditional software sales and marketing people, invariably I get asked why Atlassian’s prices are so aggressive. “You’re leaving money on the table”, is the common refrain.

But it’s the high price tags that invariably command a squadron of Suits whipping out their Powerpoint presentations and flying all over the place. That’s expensive, and customers are tired of it. Tired of the high prices, tired of the secrecy behind pricing on websites, tired of having to register to get a white paper or request a sales call, tired of the whole process.

A new software company in the developer tools space approached us about a partnership recently. The CEO is a fantastic guy who I could easily see as a friend. When I asked what his software would cost, he said with big smile, “As much as possible”. I smiled back and said, “That’s exactly the wrong strategy.” Innovative companies like his will continue to struggle with faulty pricing strategies.

“This is the industry’s worst nightmare.” said music industry writer Bob Lefsetz about Radiohead’s bold and brilliant move. Although we certainly don’t think of ourselves in these terms, we do think there’s a _very_ different way to do business, to price, and to treat customers.

Microsoft Response to Google Gets an A

The most interesting aspect of the Google Apps and Cap Gemini announcement was not the announcement. It was Microsoft’s response. Regardless of your opinion of Microsoft’s products, this was world-class competitive positioning. Whoever wrote this deserves a raise:

  • Google touts having enterprise level customers but how many “USERS” of their applications truly exist within the enterprise?
  • Google’s primary focus is on ad funded search. Their enterprise focus and now apps exist on the very fringe…
  • Google’s apps only work if an enterprise has no power users…
  • Google’s tech support is open M-F 1AM-6PM PST – are these the new hours of global business?…
  • Google says that enterprise customers use only 10% of the features in today’s productivity applications which implies that EVERYONE needs the SAME 10%…

Now here’s what surprised me. It was not an official response. This was an internal response that was leaked. What a shame. I would like to think Microsoft is proud to produce this quality of a response to Google. I’m still impressed.

The Goggle announcement itself is terribly Ho-Hum. As fellow Enterprise Irregular Dennis Howlett pointed out on ZDnet, Cap Gemini is not a top 10 systems integrator in the US, where Google Apps have to be successful, if they ever will be. Also the desktop outsourcing business, which is what this announcement is about, is a bottom-feeder business with low margins. Why do you think Accenture concentrates on applications?

I would like to expect more from Google, but it’s not an enterprise software company, as Microsoft relishes in pointing out. Nevertheless, I would not underestimate what Google plans next.

Do Industry Analysts Matter?

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Conventional wisdom says, “Yes”. But we are generally skeptical of conventional wisdom at Atlassian. We like it when people try new models that are more customer friendly and by doing so, are successful. Like transparent pricing and product information.

Industry analysts are often viewed as a necessary evil, which may not be fair always. But there’s always a question: who paid for their opinion?

That’s why I really like the analyst firm Red Monk who says:

    “You should, in our opinion, be skeptical of all of the research you read. Every piece we publish is free to anyone, and every piece will disclaim who’s paying us and who is not.”

I also like what Red Monk focuses on:

    “We’re very open about the fact that we’re primarily oriented towards bottom up adoption. In practical terms, this means that if your main goal in life is getting on a CIO’s radar, we’re not the firm for you. There are plenty of firms that will (try to) do that for you. Our focus is instead on the grassroots, the bottom up adoption that’s made successes of projects that you may have heard of like Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. Those projects, in case you hadn’t heard, didn’t get to where they are today by virtue of CIOs.”

So here are my disclaimers: Atlassian has not hired Red Monk, James Governor [Red Monk #1] gave me a T shirt and some stickers, and I had to pay for my own lunch, and his, while at Java One. But we did get to spend some time together last week in San Francisco here…
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Sun, who does pay Red Monk to do work, gave them a community day venue at Java One. It is remarkable that Red Monk did not pay for this incredible opportunity. Jonathan Nolen and I attended, and it was well worthwhile because it was not a prognostication platform for Analyst Speak but rather an open exchange facilitated by the Monks.