Monday, March 15, 2010

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Welcome Miltenyi Biotec!

What does a product for isolating T-cells from mice tissue have in common with a commercial time-scale system designed to function as a nation’s official clock? They are both the world’s leading technologies in their respective fields. The other thing they have in common is that I get to help introduce them to the world -- as I did this past week. Oh -- and one more thing -- neither one is IT.

I’m very pleased to announce Miltenyi Biotec as my latest client (#244). Based in Germany, the company has offices, production and distribution worldwide. One of their key areas of innovation is isolating specific types of cells by placing them in suspension with sub micron-size magnetic beads bonded to antibodies. The target cells are bonded to complementary antibodies, which makes cell and bead come together like a key in a lock. Applying a magnetic field then extracts the cells while keeping the cells viable. Neat, huh?

Last week I wrote web pages introducing their latest products.

Meanwhile, in California, a client I’ve had for nine years — Symmetricom (#163) -- published a white paper I wrote promoting the world’s first commercial off-the-shelf time standard. It’s similar time-scale technology to what the U.S. Naval Observatory uses in Colorado Springs to set U.S. time. But it is packaged in a way that is much more -- well -- scalable.

National time service is a core and growing business for the company. A year ago I wrote a case study showing how Brazil synchronizes the equipment on its power grid using Symmetricom products.

I keep hearing -- as I did at the MIT Enterprise Forum last week -- that the real action is moving out of IT and into areas that are more engineering intensive. Given what some of my more recent projects have been, I wouldn’t argue.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tough Times for SAP Professionals

“I got the best looking resume I’ve ever seen.”
-- Raymond Mannion, SAP Consultant
Last month’s departure of SAP CEO Leo Apotheker underscores the challenges everyone faces who makes a livelihood doing anything connected with SAP. Today more software profit comes from tweaking a web interface than from making hardcore engineering innovations like those that drove profits at SAP for decades. “Big Software” is today what “Big Iron” was in the PC era. One solution (SAP’s in 2009) is to raise service prices for customers looking to cut costs. Hence, Leo’s departure.

More evidence of the shrinking value of IT engineering innovation is the size of the checks that venture capital firms and angel investors write. It simply costs less to start companies like Twitter that require less new engineering content. That’s why the return on venture capital has been zero for a decade. In the wake of the 1990s’ capital overhang a flood of money chased deals that simply don’t need so much cash.

This shift has profound consequences for the tens of thousands of SAP professionals around the world. They’ve invested years learning SAP. That knowledge will never again have the value it did during the glory days.

These trends are no secret. The press has covered them for years. If you’re an SAP professional you certainly already get this. So here’s what I don’t get: why don’t SAP professionals market themselves better? If your pond is shrinking, then you have only two options: either find a new pond, or learn how to stay on top.

Looking at the SAP resumes posted online you would think most of these men and women have just given up. The resumes are a mess — bad English, poorly organized, full of punctuation mistakes — pretty much everything you can do to make yourself unattractive. Most SAP professionals don’t even include a photo, and those that do seem to have no sense of lighting, composition or the existence of Photoshop.

Nor do they seem to understand the concept of a database. One thing that sets SAP careers apart is that education and experience are highly structured. Careers can be summarized (and therefore tagged) by industries, modules, toolsets, languages, countries and so on. You should be able to find candidates just by typing something like: “8 years auto + 5 years MM + 2 years SD + Chinese language + US national.” (MM and SD are SAP modules.)

Yet hardly any SAP resumes are structured that way. Online resume databases either employ unstructured text searches or make the candidate fill out separate forms for each database, plus submit a resume. Why can’t the resume itself be the form? That way the resume could be portable across databases — and people (not just software) would always know where to look for relevant search criteria.

To see how such a resume can look, check this one out. (And read the candidate’s own thoughts on his resume experience.)

Rather than engineering innovation, more ROI today comes from innovating how engineering value is presented to the market. Apparently, that’s something SAP professionals need to learn from the top down.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Tech Companies Should Perform a Public Service

"The USO understands the importance of a private message to a lonely spouse, the impact of photos on children missing their father, and the urgency of legal documents awaiting a soldier’s signature."
-- Smiles Over Miles Sponsorship Kit

One item that can play a key role in almost every high-tech company’s marketing program is public service. Aside from the intended, obvious and important benefits to society, public service campaigns offer some unique opportunities for you as a marketer:

You can showcase tangible benefits in a big way. If you really can do something better, faster and cheaper, then what better way is there to show that than in public service?

Campaigns tend to be highly integrated. It is usually not a stretch to involve multiple marketing tactics, touch points, and channels -- giving you much more leverage than might be the case if you just, oh say, hold a webinar to introduce your next product.

Free advertising. Speaking of leverage, that’s what you get with the publicity a public service campaign can generate if it addresses a genuine public need. In fact, now the press has an even more legitimate reason to cover you, because if they don’t then they would deny others the benefit you are providing.

Third-party endorsements. Public service campaigns, by definition, are public. Which means you will probably need approvals and advice just in the process of getting the program off the ground mechanically. That approval and advice can often be used as endorsements.

For some creative inspiration, check out this recruitment kit from my client, SenditCertified -- designed to help attract sponsors for a program the company is running with the USO. What you see here is an eBook version of the physical package.

SenditCertified makes a messaging platform that lets you send email in a secure way on the public Internet with just a web browser. What’s really cool is that you can even “write” your email as a video (and include up to 10 file attachments) of almost any size. So, let’s say you are a soldier deployed in Afghanistan and you want to send a video home to your kids. You can use anyone’s laptop with a camera and you’ll have complete privacy. No more worrying about the bad guys intercepting private messages and building a database. And no more standing in line back at base waiting to use the “approved” PC.

So the campaign is to provide free SenditCertified accounts to all deployed military personnel. Brilliant, yes? I wish I had thought of it. I’m just glad I had a role writing the copy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How To Label Innovative Products

"Outsmart the everyday."
-- Dymo tagline
One of the biggest challenges of marketing truly innovative products is not knowing what to label them. (Why people called cars horseless carriages before they called them cars.) Until the public settles on a label (hopefully with the help of your thought leadership), you risk mislabeling the product just because you have to call it something people already know.

Choose the right label, and you instantly confer a whole bunch of meaning every time you use it — a branding principle that school children get at a very young age. If the label doesn’t fit, you’ll have a whole lot of explaining to do (which makes you look defensive and tends to legitimize the label even more). If it does fit, then half your positioning job may be over before you even use the label in a sentence (never mind a paragraph, ad, white paper, brochure or website).

By the way, one sign of how much innovation a product actually contains is by the method used to label it. Products that lack genuine innovation tend to be called by made-up words. Think FiOS -- fiber optic cable service offered by the phone company instead of the cable company. If you want to create an impression of differentiation where there is none, then one way to go is to use a made-up word and define it with heavy amounts of advertising.

But that’s not the problem most of my clients face. They tend to be smaller highly innovative companies whose challenge is to convey an actual value difference — one that target customers would likely buy if they only understood what it is. These clients have to use the same words that everyone else uses — even if the product category they invented has (by definition) never existed before.

One of the most straightforward ways to do this is with an attribute that distinguishes the product from the category it replaces. Take my client’s solution, for example -- essentially an email substitute that provides enhanced security (encryption, authentication, non-repudiation, etc.) outside the walls of a protected network.

Until now, this type of solution hasn’t happened because the necessary infrastructure has been far too expensive and requires too much effort for organizations to adopt widely. On the other hand, the need is huge — for example, if you are a government agency and you want to email local law enforcement a case file -- or if you are a doctor and you want to email test results to a patient.

To communicate both the familiar and the innovative in the same label, I chose the qualifying attribute “easy as email.” To create the label, I applied this attribute to a specific use case. For example, in a healthcare brief the label is: “Easy as email” HIPPA-Compliant Communications. For an intelligence community brief the label is: “Easy as email” Ultra Secure Communications.

The quotation marks allow me to make the logical connection without being too technical. On the one hand, we immediately establish that this product is definitely NOT email. On the other, readers understand that this is an equivalent experience with the added value of enhanced security (as relevant to a particular vertical).