Shoemaker's Children

You know the saying: shoemaker's children go barefoot. Nowhere is this more evident than in technology companies in general, and more specifically, technology companies that market "marketing technologies" to agencies and advertisers. Since this is an email column, I'm going to go into specifics about email technology companies in a second, but first let me set up the problem.

For the most part, technology companies are run by technologists, and technologists generally have a very dim view of marketing. It is no secret that in tough times, the first person out the door at a technology company is the marketing guy or gal, usually to adverse consequences.

There is also a built-in superiority and arrogance in the typical CTO's genetic makeup. This is not a bad thing, by the way. A good CTO should be arrogant and superior. In good companies, they are tempered by a forceful COO and CEO who understand the importance of marketing. A typical CTO believes that, once he has made the logical case for something, there is no more discussion to be had. I once had a CTO tell me, when told that the product we were developing for the advertising creative community needed to run on a Mac: "That's ridiculous. Just tell them to switch to a PC."

Unfortunately, strong CEOs and COOs who feel confident going up against a CTO are rare. And companies that are run by the "operations guy" and the CTO, with no one at the helm with a background in marketing, are a disaster. If you don't believe me, look at Microsoft. Few will tell you that Microsoft's success is based on superior technology. Rather, Microsoft's success is based on superior marketing.

I write an opinion column. For whatever deluded reason, there are people out there who actually believe and trust my opinion. And, to a large extent, I formulate my opinion about a company and its technology based on the way it is marketed to me. Do I see them at conferences? Do they send me press releases and product updates? Do they call me to set up a meeting when they come into town? Are people talking about them? And if they are, is it good or bad? Most technology companies would be surprised by the private emails I receive from people who have used their products, usually to negative effect. This is a small world, and there are no secrets. For better or worse, when I get together with my other Opinion Writing buddies at the Opinion Writers Chateau, we all assume that if we haven't heard from a company for a month, they are out of business.

And so, you would assume that a company that makes a "marketing technology," especially an Email Marketing technology, would be pretty good at marketing themselves. Again, it's a case of the Shoemaker's Children.

Rather than go into who I think does a bad job of marketing themselves, I'm going to focus on those that have done a good job, at least in making me aware of them:

At the top of the list, I'd put two companies: ExactTarget and SilverPop.

Once every couple of weeks I receive a personalized email from ExactTarget, an email technology company that differentiates itself by making it easy for companies to send out dynamic messaging. With simple-to-use templates tied to an integrated database, ExactTarget's clients can send out dynamically generated content in their email marketing programs that target their customers' needs and demographic profiles. Each email they send me is personalized with my name and company in the body of the email, and contains valuable email marketing tips and tricks.

SilverPop has a more personal approach in the form of Jay Stevens. Jay, who has gone from Radical Mail to Mind Arrow to SilverPop, has always been the connective tissue between me and the companies he has worked for. About once a month I get a call from Jay telling me the latest news, or an email sending me their latest free case study and report. And when times have been tough at the places he has worked, he is the one who always explains what's going on, which always makes me sympathetic to the challenges his company is facing and ready to write about it when things turn around.

Other examples of good marketing in the email space include Right Now Technologies (an email consultancy) that has sponsored a Best Practices White Paper written by Larry Chase and distributed places like eMarketer and MarketingProfs. And companies like Savicom have been proactive in helping me with materials for this column and providing me with trial licenses of their technology.

Some of the best marketing comes in the form of customer referrals. I was made aware of Britemoon because one of their satisfied customers called me and introduced me to their head of marketing by telling me: "This is a technology you have to know about. We use it, and it is great."

So, all you shoemakers out there: marketing is important. Little things matter, and bad practices get around fast. And if you want to add me to your PR list, I can always be reached at bill@emerging.com.

Next week: back to case studies.