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A Fond Farewell To Lisa

July 27, 2011

It’s with mixed emotions that Carol and I announce that our partner, Lisa Busby, is leaving Crowded Ocean. Lisa founded Crowded Ocean with me back in September 2008. Our timing was perfect; the market crashed four days later and we ate Alpo for the next 10 months. But we soldiered on, gaining traction one VC and one company at a time, until we were past capacity and welcomed Carol to the agency.

Lisa’s joining Druva, a Crowded Ocean client, as VP of Marketing. Every marketing professional should have the experience of joining a startup and taking that ride; Carol and I have each had that opportunity, now it’s Lisa’s turn. And while we’re going to miss Lisa, we won’t miss her that much– Druva’s offices are in the same building as Crowded Ocean.

Best of luck, Lisa.


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A Few More Startup Marketing Terms

July 21, 2011

We like to bring you new terms used in startup marketing from time to time.  You know, to keep you fresh.  Here are three new ones that we use all the time now:

Vision juice– With a nod to President George Bush, #41, and his quip about needing “the vision thing” we like to hear startup founders proselytizing about their product in the context of broad, global market trends and customer needs.  But, when a technical founder has built the latest, greatest widget, it’s easy for him to get bogged down in the details (that was known as “speeds and feeds” back in the day.)  Whenever a technical co-founder gets mired in the details of their own product, we prod him to pay attention to the broader market context and inject some “vision juice” into his commentary.

Scrum We know all about scrums when it comes to software startups.  A scrum is the iterative, driven project management approach that brings a team together on a daily basis to nimbly manage to an urgent deadline.  But we’re hearing “scrum” applied to marketing efforts, too, as in a scrum for a revision to a website, for example.  It’s a handy term because, just like a software development project, a scrum for a website revision involves convening a cross-functional team of stakeholders — developers, sales people, content providers and brand owners – to meet every other day to develop, revise and finalize content, design and functionality to meet an aggressive deadline.

Swotty If you consult the dictionary, “swotty” is a British term that translates as “studious” in American English.  But we use it to describe what sometimes happens when startup founders lose their way during the positioning workshop phase of our marketing engagement.  Typically, we kick off a workshop by soliciting input from the founding team to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (or SWOT).

A SWOT analysis is a rather familiar way to begin.  But when that discussion never moves from the theoretical and into the meaty realities of various weaknesses or threats, we admonish everyone “not to be so swotty.”  In other words, what’s the value of self-analysis if the founders won’t grapple with the implications of the reported gaps?  The term “swotty,” is a favorite of Crowded Ocean co-founder Lisa Busby.  Thanks, Lisa!

If you’ve got a new startup marketing term for us, please let us know. We’re all ears.

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Don’t Be A Dullard, Learn From The Best Demand Generators

July 15, 2011

Guest post by Jeremy Barnish, Principal and Owner of TrueSalesResults and co-founder of White Label Communications.

It goes without saying that last 24-36 months have been challenging.  According to analysts, while the economy has shown some improvement, the top B2B sales and marketing pressures today remain the difficult economic environment, fewer dollars, reduced headcount, an inability to move leads forward to a sales cycle, a noisy competitive landscape and too few leads.  In other words, spending less is getting you even less.  Something has to give.

This is not my opinion… this is simply the facts from multiple analysts in public reports.  Few would dispute them.  It all adds up to the need to be smarter with your money and, more importantly, your time.  To think ‘out of the box…’ more in how you do your demand generation.


What’s more interesting to me is that many companies are still not being smart. Companies are either intuitively getting the need to change or they aren’t.  And some are locking themselves in the box voluntarily. All the time, we talk to executives who are stuck on the organizational boundaries of ‘who owns what’ versus ‘how to I build enough qualified pipeline with all the options possible.’ Or marketeers who forlornly cling to the hope that the tens of thousands of unqualified names in their lists and databases will yield results without working more closely and better with sales.

On the other hand, sales needs marketing more than ever too.  I believe many VPs of Sales rue the day they ‘took over marketing’ and converted the headcount… only to find they ran out of content to sell or fresh blood in their pipe.

For more than a month now, we’ve been stringing together hard facts from public reports from both sales and marketing watchers – from Meta to Aberdeen, and CSO Insights to Sirius Decisions.  We’re doing this because of our continual desire to search for ‘best practices’ in the business case for more closely integrated sales and marketing (which is bottom line what we believe drives better results in 2011).

Here is one result of our research on the research.   For example, taken purely from the head of sales perspective at CSO Insights, the top sales effectiveness initiative remains from last year… enhancing lead generation.

The $64,000 question… how?

Read more…

The “No Assholes” Rule

July 6, 2011

Crowded Ocean was at a recent Incubator/Accelerator Summit sponsored by Orrick. The room was packed with entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs looking for advice and resources from the panel on the stage. (One interesting side note: when asked their primary needs in starting up their enterprise, the room was fairly evenly split between funding, services and space.)

Near the end of the Summit the question was asked; what are the characteristics you most look for in a founder?  Surprisingly, the answer across the board had nothing to do with vision or management.  The number one requirement was that the founder couldn’t be an asshole.

“I know everyone thinks they need to be cocksure, like the next Steve Jobs,” one of the experts said.  “But the critical element, in dealing with us, is that they have to be receptive to criticism.  And when it comes to growing a company, they need to know how to attract and manage people.  Assholes won’t take criticism and are lousy with people.  They’re a bad investment.”

At Crowded Ocean, we have a different version of the “No Assholes” rule.  When we first meet with a prospective client, we explain to them the two components of a great client…

The first is the old saw: “Know (and admit) what you don’t know.”  Our clients, for the most part, are technologists.  We don’t know as much about their technology as they do—we readily admit that.  A good client will make the same admission about marketing.  A bad one (read: “asshole”) will employ the little they’ve learned (or overheard) about marketing to show off for their staff and question everything we recommend.  It makes for a long engagement.

The second rule is simple: “Recognize and reward our vendors for the work they do.”  In the course of our standard six-month engagement with a client we generally bring in 6-10 vendors (PR, web design, SEO, writers, etc.)  If we get a client that bullies the vendors, delays payment, or rewrites the rules of engagement mid-contract, we exit the account as soon as possible.  First off, if we’re going to be working with these vendors on other accounts for years to come, it’s the right thing to do.  Second off, if that’s how our clients treat our vendors, it’s only a matter of time before they treat us the same way.

So, like the Orrick panelists, we also screen for assholes during the courting period.  Usually, though, the tendencies only come out under stress and once they start working with vendors, whom assholes regard as ‘underlings’.  But once those tendencies manifest themselves, run for the exits.  Because once an asshole, always an asshole

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The Name Is (Part of) The Thing

June 29, 2011

How important is your company name to the success of your startup?

We think it’s an essential component of your brand.  We’re big fans of branding, both from the ‘skin and voice’ perspective and by how the brand advances a startup’s business objectives.  A brand is not a stand-alone entity; it is the sum of your audience’s impressions of—and experience with—your company.  You can control part of that process (name, skin and voice), but the company and its individuals also have to live up to the ideas and values that are defined as part of the branding process.

In that context, your name is a critical step to building your brand.  When we work with the founders of a startup, we always plan to invest time making sure the company name and brand attributes have been defined.  At the outset, we want to be sure that your company name will work hard to advance your business goals.

As part of three recent marketing engagements, we helped rename the startup.  We named the advertising targeting company Buysight (formerly Permuto), the web content management platform EndPlay (formerly Canvas) and the mobile social sharing app Thrutu (code name Calistoga).  We’re always on the lookout for new companies with great names that are striving to build a great brand.

Below are some of our recent favorites – startups with names that are memorable, easy-to-spell and instantly help to communicate the value proposition…

  • Klout: influence measurement on the social web
  • Inkling:  online textbooks for tablet devices
  • Zoosh: fast mobile payment technology from your mobile device
  • Impermium: technology to fight social spam

And a not-so-favorite:  Xaxis

The name is derived from the term “X-axis” but pronounced “zaxis.” It’s a new media company selling more than 500 million consumer profiles and technology for targeted advertising to digital ad execs with a name rooted in mathematics.

Have a favorite startup name to share?  Let us know what new names hit the spot for you.

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Your Launch Checklist: Startup Marketing Best Practices

June 21, 2011

Anyone trying to get things done right will do better with a checklist, according to The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande, a MacArthur Fellow, surgeon, professor at Harvard Medical School and writer for The New Yorker Magazine.

Dr. Gawande’s focus is on complexity – from the cockpit of a 747 to a hospital emergency room.  Professions of all kinds, he asserts can do better if they use the discipline of a checklist.

We couldn’t agree more.  Launching a new tech product can involve a tremendous amount of complexity.  Startup marketing chiefs can manage that complexity and increase their chances of a successful launch by using the power of a checklist.

We recommend these ten checklist items be met in order to launch:

  1. Clearly define how your product benefits the customer, and how those values stack up against competitive offerings.
  2. Coalesce your product’s unique value proposition (UVP) and ensure that every employee can repeat it consistently.
  3. Once you’ve nailed down the UVP, be sure your message can hold up to these two simple questions:  “So what?” and “Who cares?”
  4. Build a brief product demonstration that articulates those benefits.
  5. Define a customer acquisition model that shapes your website, sales tools and demand creation programs.
  6. Create several downloadable assets that describe your product and its value:  video, data sheets, product collateral, white papers
  7. Identify three referenceable customers who will validate your product benefits with objective commentary
  8. Secure your company IP by making appropriate patent/trademark filings.
  9. To leverage the media’s ability to raise your visibility and shape your customer’s buying decision, identify the most influential voices in your market as part of your PR strategy.
  10. To measure the return of your marketing investment, agree on what you will measure before you launch.

Another interesting point that Dr. Gawande makes in his book is that using a checklist is a powerful management tool because it helps build a team.  We agree again.  When we have led complex, global product launches that require many months of preparation, we are working with a diverse team from marketing, engineering, legal sales, customer service and more.  There’s nothing like the long hours and late nights preparing for a launch to bond a team.  But a checklist can make that investment even more rewarding by helping to ensure a more successful launch.

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Top Ten Tips for Creating Great Whitepapers

June 16, 2011

Guest post by Sue Fenner, co-owner of WriteAway! Group

Press releases, brochures, Web site copy, blogs, and customer success stories can all add significant value to a company’s marketing arsenal. White papers are also a great way to inform your audience, especially when delivering in-depth information on the company’s products or service offerings. White papers can also provide an excellent opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership on emerging industry trends or technology advancements.

But white papers can be one of the trickiest forms of communication to implement correctly. The following tips will help you create documents that effectively deliver your messages — quickly, accurately, and creatively — to each of your many different stakeholders, including existing and potential customers, industry analysts, investors, the news media, and various trade publications.

1. Start by defining your intended audience.

Is your white paper meant to impress executives and company decision makers — or educate more technical readers with the finer details of your product or services? Both audiences need addressing, but require completely different approaches. One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is trying to create “a-little-bit-for-everyone” paper. With that approach, you are likely to alienate both your technical audience and C-level readers. The best tactic is to create separate documents — one (or more) for your business readers, the others for more technical constituents.

2. Define the scope and length of the paper.

What messages and information do you want your readers to take away from the paper? One of the biggest mistakes companies make is trying to cover every possible topic in one very long white paper. When was the last time you sat down and read an entire white paper from start to finish? If you are like the rest of us, you barely have time to read all of your email messages each day. Try to keep your white paper to about 8-10 pages max. Any longer, and you’ll put your audience to sleep. Any shorter, and you’ll leave them wanting for more.

3. Minimize the “white” in your white paper.

Today’s readers expect a visually compelling presentation from every form of collateral, even white papers. They expect to be engaged and entertained – with multimedia and visually compelling copy. The old “just the facts” approach has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Include graphs, tables, pictures, and screenshots – anything you can think of to break up the text and present your ideas in an appealing and entertaining format. Remember, a picture is worth a “Millinillion” words. (No, that’s not a typo, that’s 103003 in case you wondered!)

Read more…