Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Google, Apple, Microsoft: Platform perceptions

Monday, October 13th, 2014

GeekWirenewAs 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.

Analyst View of Devices: Microsoft BYTE FY15 from Frank Catalano

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

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

EdSurgelogoTwitterCustomers 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=""><img width="512" alt="USMC-090507-M-3035F-562" src="//

(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.

Do edtech products need Open Badges?

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

EdNET logoMozilla’s Open Badges provide portable proof of competence for students earning them and can live on outside of the issuing edtech product or platform. So should education companies adopt them?

Over at EdNET Insight News Alerts, I briefly define what Open Badges are, and offer my take on the pros and cons for education startups and established firms.

In brief: Open Badges are part of an open technical standard, free for anyone to use, to create digital badges that represent some kind of underlying knowledge, skill or accomplishment. There’s embedded information (metadata) in each Open Badge image that makes it easy to verify and hard to counterfeit. OpenBadges_Insignia_EarnOur_Banner

So, if an organization is already thinking of adding some kind of badging system to its product or platform to mark learner participation or mastery, or to provide motivation to progress, why not?

As a side note, the EdNET Insight post actually is a follow up to my EdNET 2013 conference presentation on Open Badges in September 2013. Open Badges have gained a fair amount more traction since then, and while certainly not ubiquitous, uptake is going in the right direction.

I’m not done with Open Badges, either. I’ve just completed a (cough) 35+ page detailed Insight Report for EdNET Insight that goes into some depth, with examples, on Open Badges for a non-techie education business audience. Plans are for it to be published in early July as part of the EdNET Insight market research service.

But in the meantime, whet your appetite with, “We don’t need no … Wait. Maybe we do,” over at EdNET Insight News Alerts.

A field guide to industry edu conferences

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

EdSurgelogoTwitterThose 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 eduSXSWedulogocation/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

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

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

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

GeekWire logo“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.


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.


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

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

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.

KMPScatalanoI’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: (more…)

Pitching an edtech (or any) startup

Thursday, August 29th, 2013


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

Friday, December 28th, 2012

GeekWire logoAs 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

Monday, August 6th, 2012

GeekWire logoNormally, 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

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Last 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.


If I (only) had 100 marketing dollars

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

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 Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commonsthat 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.” (more…)

Build a web presence ecosystem

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

If you just visit my blog, you’re only seeing one-third of me.By Heinrich Lautensack (Deutsche Fotothek (file:df_tg_0000882 )) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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: (more…)

When “leading” trails

Friday, August 13th, 2010

I get cranky when I see lazy marketing writing. Especially when the primary purpose of marketing writing is to motivate readers.Roundabout sign (what "leading" really leads to)

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.

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. (more…)

Myths and realities of marketing

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

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

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

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.

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. (more…)

Strategy’s downturn role, redux

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

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 the 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: (more…)

Naming the no-tears way

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Beware the familiar-sounding name.

Over the years I’ve been involved in a number of projects to name products, services and companies. And these projects can go pear-shaped in ways almost too numerous to contemplate, from endless free-for-all brainstorming to unilateral executive decisions  — only to discover later the exec subconsciously found a choice comfortingly appropriate because it was the name of a largely forgotten competitive product.

So I’ve developed a series of steps to avoid the most egregious mistakes while still coming up with a solid name."Hello" badge (not recommended for product branding use) And note that I don’t say the perfect name. No name is perfect out of the gate; it has to be used consistently for a product, service or company that actually delivers what is promised.

How do you get started? Here’s the short four-part version. (more…)

The good (downturn brand) shepherd

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

A downturn is no time to stop managing your brand. If a strong brand allows you to charge a premium in good times, that perception of value in bad times will help you recover when good times return.

But only if the brand itself is maintained throughout.

Bellevue Chamber of Commerce logoBellevue Chamber of Commerce logoGoing into my talk on the myths of marketing at the Bellevue Chamber, I’d just come off of several anecdotal exchanges about whether a company should even bother to think about brand now, and instead focus only on price and sales. “Who cares whether it properly carries our brand,” one paraphrased back-and-forth went with a high-level executive. “The customer will figure it out.”

Setting aside the hubris inherent in forcing the customer – the paying customer – to do your corporate identification work for you, this illustrates clearly my third myth of marketing in a downturn: The brand makes no difference; only sales do. Or, put another way, leave branding and brand maintenance to better times.

Certainly the financial benefits of having a strong brand aren’t in dispute. (more…)

Customer service as downturn advantage

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

A few thoughts about customer service and its role during a downturn. In short, customer service becomes marketing. Or rather, its absence becomes an opening for your competitors’ marketing.

Customer service seems like an obvious area to cut when times are hard. But that’s a myth (and the second one I explored in my Bellevue Chamber talk). What companies should do, if they’re cutting marketing aimed at customer acquisition – and as I noted earlier, they should re-balance before they reduce – is protect the money spent on customer service.

Why? Because customers with money in a downturn expect to be treated better.

Hertz logoAn excellent piece in BusinessWeek earlier this year cited the cautionary tale of Hertz. In January, Hertz  laid off 4,000 people, many of them front-line workers. The result? Customers in Hertz’ loyalty program didn’t have cars waiting for them as arranged, or couldn’t quickly return cars before catching flights. (more…)