Writing Stuff or Content Marketing?

Posted: April 14, 2015 by Agnes Lamont in Marketing topics

The difference between a hoarder and a collector is organization. The same holds true for the distinction between collateral creation and content marketing. Creating and posting piles of “stuff” online is not the same thing as cultivating and engaging an audience as a trusted expert and thought leader.

Having a strong content marketing strategy can improve the effectiveness of inbound marketing through all buying phases, from awareness through purchase, and increase overall brand equity. Answering the following questions should help guide your strategy successfully:

1. Who is my audience?
2. What can I offer that will interest my audience?
3. Does my offering tie back to the products/services I sell?
4. What is my brand voice/personality?
5. How will I distribute the content I create?

Having the answers helps bound what you should be creating, align content with your overall marketing and business objectives, and helps you manage a realistic delivery plan.

Sure, you may know a great deal about a range of subjects, but by focusing on a specific area, you can build credibility and provide meaningful value to an audience that is truly interested. Research what is of interest to the folks in your target audience. Do you have expertise to fill in knowledge gaps, answer questions, and offer guidance? Do you have controversial thoughts and ideas? Whether your content creation takes the form of videos, blogs, white papers, guides or whatnot, you should aim to create content that provides valuable insight and useful tools for your audience around your chosen topic. Every piece of content you produce should be of high quality and very relevant to your audience. That is what helps credential you as a trusted source and builds equity in your brand.

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

The more prospects who choose to register their contact information with you the better. Someone who opts-in to your house list is demonstrating an interest in your message. Some may represent immediate sales opportunities. Others can be inexpensively nurtured over time using email until they purchase, opt-out or are disqualified as a prospect.

To build your house list you need to give your prospects a reason to share their contact information with you. Having a great product or special offer may not be a good enough incentive because many visitors will not be in purchasing mode when they first get to your web page. Most will be in learning mode. Keep that in mind when deciding what incentive to offer.

Here are the most common motivators that entice people to register their contact details on a web site:

    1. To request pricing or other information
    2. To access or download a white paper or article
    3. To see a product demonstration
    4. To attend a webinar (or to view a recording of one)
    5. To attend a telephone seminar (or to hear a recording of one)
    6. To read a research report
    7. To download an e-book
    8. To access a trial product
    9. To subscribe to an e-newsletter
    10. To subscribe to a print magazine
    11. To get special access to VIP benefits
    12. To participate in a forum
    13. To access technical support
    14. To access a peer network such as a user group
    15. To use an online tool or calculator
    16. To get a coupon or discount code
    17. To register for an event such as a trade show or seminar
    18. To receive notifications (e.g. product availability, new listings, etc)
    19. For a customized experience (e.g. to store preference data)
    20. To download an audio file (e.g. a telephone seminar, podcast, music)
    21. To enter a high-value sweepstakes
    22. To join an affiliate program
    23. To join a loyalty program (e.g. airline miles)
    24. To receive a gift
    25. To participate in a survey

Best practices doe choosing the right opt-in motivators

The best incentive for your business will depend on your unique situation. However, in general the following best practice rules apply:

  • Offer credible value-add information related to what the visitor is looking for. Your brochure does not qualify as an incentive to register.
  • The offer should be of value to a prospective customer, not to the general public. Remember you want sales prospects, not just a list of names.
  • Keep the title of your offer relevant to what you sell.
  • The offer should relate to a prospect’s purchase decision process.
  • If possible, provide immediate gratification once the form is completed.
  • Always tell the visitor what is in it for them.
  • Don’t ask for too much information. You can get more information later. At least ask for a full name, company name and an email address.
  • Build trust. Clearly state your privacy policy on the registration page. Tell the visitor what will happen when they register and assure them they can easily opt-out.
  • Keep it simple. The page must look and work simply. Don’t let the programmers over-complicate it.
  • Test different incentives and registration page designs.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

Almost every marketer uses email to keep in touch with prospects and customers. To do that they use a bulk email system so they can send the same message to many subscribers, track who gets what message, who opens the emails and who clicks on the enclosed links.

There are many bulk email applications. They can all send high volumes of personalized email, track open rates, track clicks as well as manage bounces and opt-out requests. So which one is best?

We looked at ten options. Nine were software-as-a-service (SaaS) and one was a software application you install on your own server. We included the ARP Reach software application because we were familiar with it. We used it for years. It’s a great package. However we found it challenging to maintain the server and frustrating to depend on an IT person’s availability. Therefore we wanted to see if a SaaS package could meet our criteria so we looked at Campaign Monitor, ConstantContact, ExactTarget, HubSpot, iContact, MailChimp, MailJet, Salesforce.com, and VerticalResponse.

By a process of elimination we ended up recommending iContact. Here’s our review.

Methodology

Our methodology was straightforward. We believe it was consistent with that of a marketer looking for a bulk email application.

We started with a list of email services that included the well known brands. We then added to the list by searching for lesser known providers. We reviewed each provider’s package as described on their website and, where possible, we telephoned the provider to get answers to specific questions. We eliminated many providers based on the answers to those questions. We tested those that were not immediately eliminated. Out tests primarily looked at email format, personalization of message, and ease of use. We did not test integration with a CRM application or 3rd party applications that may be required to make that possible.

Our review criteria included 5 assumptions and 5 comparison elements. We are experienced email marketers. Therefore some comparison elements were so critical to us we eliminated packages based on poor performance in those areas.

Assumptions

Email Volume: Our sales prospects are organizations, not consumers. We would only email people who opted in online (subscribed) or requested information by telephone or at a trade show. Therefore we would be sending emails to a “House List” that may reach tens-of-thousands, but not hundreds-of-thousands or millions. We’d likely send an email every 4 to 6 weeks to people who had not opted-out (unsubscribed.) We assumed we would have approximately 5,000 subscribers within the first year.

Disqualification: Salesforce.com’s Professional edition includes email campaigns but we disqualified it because it is restricted to 500 emails per day and because opt-outs had to be manually processed.

Email Type: We favor personalized sales letters, not generic newsletters. Therefore the arrays of fancy newsletter templates were not important to us. We wanted our emails to look just like an ordinary email one might get from Microsoft Outlook. Accordingly, the emails must appear to come from our web domain and replies must go directly to the sender. Additionally, the emails must not include the SaaS firms’ branding.

Email Sender: The list manager and the instigator of email campaigns would be a marketer, not a salesperson or IT person. Therefore, that person could learn how to use the email application, they could format a letter in HTML, but they were not expected to maintain a server.

Technical Support: We know that problems arise at the most inconvenient times. Therefore, we expect prompt telephone support.

Standard Features: We expect to monitor bounces, opens and clicks. We also expect the software to provide opt-in forms and to automatically manage opt-out requests. Almost all email applications offer these standard features. Some offer email forward tracking but this feature depends on the reader using a special button/link so we considered this nice to have, but not essential.

Comparison Elements

Ability to Contact: We assumed that a SaaS provider that could not be contacted by a prospective customer could not be reliably contacted by a customer with a problem. Therefore we disqualified SaaS providers if we could not find a phone number for them, if they failed to respond to our email/form inquiry, or if technical support was limited to forms and/or email.

Disqualifications: MailChimp, MailJet and ARP Reach were disqualified because we could not find a phone number and/or because support is by email only. We’d like to say they were immediately disqualified, but we did invest more time than we should have trying to get in touch. Campaign Monitor did call us, but their service was disqualified because technical support is by email only.

Salesforce.com Integration: We believe that every firm needs one definitive source of information about its prospects and customers. One well mainlined CRM system is critical to accurate reporting and therefore it’s critical to decision making. Reconciling multiple data sources is difficult, slow, and prone to errors. We chose the popular Salesforce.com as the reference CRM application, not because we expect salespeople to manage email campaigns, but because we wanted campaigns and responses to be visible to the team.

Integration with Salesforce.com was critical to our review. It did not matter which Salesforce.com package was required so long as a mail list could be pulled from Salesforce.com and bounces and unsubscribe information could be synchronized. In general, SaaS email packages that work with Salesforce.com require the Salesforce.com Campaign features so we used the Salesforce Professional edition as our benchmark. We did not consider Salesforce.com’s Pardot application because it’s in a different league to most bulk email applications and we thought it was prohibitively expensive in the context of this review.

In some cases additional software is required to integrate a SaaS email system with Salesforce.com. We were OK with that so long as integration between the three applications appeared to be reliable and the total cost was not completely out of line with other options.

Disqualifications: MailChimp reportedly integrates with Salesforce.com using Cazoomi. However, online reviews indicated that it did not work to the satisfaction of many users. MailJet reportedly integrates with PodBox, but the combined cost appeared uncompetitive.

ConstantContact was a finalist contender but online reviews indicated that integration with Salesforce.com did not work to the satisfaction of many users. iContact did much better in the integration reviews.

Price: There were differences in subscription rates and how SaaS providers calculated their fees. We were not particularly price sensitive because it was more important to have the features we wanted and because in the overall perspective of a marketing budget, email is not a big item. We anticipated a budget of $1000 to $1500 for the first year.

Disqualifications: MailJet, ExactTarget and HubSpot were disqualified because the pricing appeared uncompetitive with other options. These applications have valuable features, but we did not need all of them.

Piggyback Branding: Most SaaS email packages automatically include their own branding at the end of their customer’s emails. That piggybacking should be unacceptable to a professional marketer that’s paying to use their service. However, upon request most SaaS providers can change the settings to eliminate this piggybacking.

Disqualification: VerticalResponse said they could not exclude their branding from their customers’ email campaigns.

Deliverability: Almost all the SaaS providers promise a deliverability rate around 98%. That’s a great number because 100% is not realistic. Every campaign can expect some undeliverable bounces because subscribers leave, email addresses change. However, the SaaS marketers don’t commit to 98% deliverability to recipient inboxes. Our tests showed that until the sender was white-listed, emails were flagged as SPAM and were delivered to the junk mail folder.

One SaaS salesperson acknowledged our complaint but promised that inbox deliverability would be considerably higher for paying customers because their emails are sent from different servers. Apparently, the free trial customers are assigned to servers that have already been flagged by SPAM mitigation applications. And to be fair, many free trial users may send email that looks like SPAM.

Disqualifications: We could have disqualified all the SaaS applications that we tested. We didn’t disqualify any service because our test was limited to free trial accounts and we emailed our own addresses. It was not possible to conduct a more comprehensive test.

Conclusion

Marketingsage-Recommended-RibbonAfter weeks of reviewing the many bulk email options we ended up with three finalists: iContact, ConstantContact and ARP Reach. We decided to recommend iContact because ConstantContact and ARP Reach had some undesirable traits.

ConstantContact customers did not rate Salesforce.com integration very highly. At the time ConstantContact had an average 2 star rating from 17 reviews. Additionally, ConstantContact did not accommodate personalized subject lines. iContact had an average 4.5 star rating from 160 reviews.

ARP Reach is a great application and because it’s software, you buy it once and email as many subscribers as you like. However, we passed on it this time around because of the difficulties associated with server maintenance. Additionally, they did not respond to an emailed question about Salesforce.com integration.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

CloudBeat 2013 Review: A showcase for cloud success, software defined storage and encryption key management

Posted: September 17, 2013 by David Lamont in Opinion, Reviews, Security, Uncategorized
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Now in its third year, VentureBeat’s CloudBeat September conference in San Francisco consists of discussions, case studies, breakout sessions, and announcements reflecting the growing maturity of the cloud. From what I could tell (from the profiles displayed by the innovative Bizzabo iPhone app. that facilitates networking at the event), the 100+ audience at CloudBeat consisted of entrepreneurs, investors, CEOs and CTOs, as well as business development, sales and marketing VPs/directors.

This conference has an unusual and interesting format that consists of on-stage interviews. Unlike most conferences, the speakers do not present the corporate slide deck. They are interviewed on stage by a knowledgeable host, they answer questions and tell related stories. For example, Ilya Fushman, Dropbox’s head of products for business and mobile, talked with analyst, Paul Miller, about going beyond storage for 10 million users and 2 million businesses to become a platform for application developers.

Audience

The lineup of speakers was impressive. CloudBeat attracted 85+ knowledgeable C-level speakers from established players, start-ups, cloud users and investors:

3Scale, Accel Partners, Adobe, Alchemist Accelerator, AppDynamics, Artisan Infrastructure, AT&T, Axxess Unlimited, Bessemer Venture Partners, Box, Braintree, Canvas, Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group, CITEworld, Citrix Systems, Cloud Foundry, Cloudability, Cloudant, CloudImmunity, CloudPassage, CloudPulse Strategies, Cloudscaling, Dark Matter Labs, Data Collective Venture Capital, Define the Cloud, Dell, Disney, Diversity Limited, Dropbox, Edmunds.com, Egnyte, Elance, Emergence Capital Partners, Engine Yard, Epignosis, Eucalyptus Systems, Firebase, Foley & Lardner LLP, GGV Capital, GlobalLogic, Harshman Phillips & Company, Hillenby, HP, IBM, Industry commentator, consultant & investor, Internet2, Issac RothShasta Ventures, Jive, Joyent, LED Source, LinkedIn, Metamarkets, Microsoft, MuleSoft, Nebula, Netflix, Norwest Venture Partners, Numecent, Okta, Optimizely, Parallels, Parsons, PayPal, Pivotal, ProgrammableWeb, Red Hat, Relevance, Room Key, Salesforce, Sanmina, SAP Ventures, Scale Venture Partners, Scribe Software, SendGrid, Inc., Silicon Valley Bank, Simple Signal, SimTable, SoftLayer, Spoke Software, SwiftStack, Symantec, Totango, Twilio, Vidyo, Wanelo, Xero, and Xerox PARC.

The event sponsors had tabletop displays outside the main room. I’m not sure the cloud-related vendors expected to generate many sales leads from this event. In at least one case, the vendor was there because it was a local event and one of their marquee customers was a speaker. Having a name-brand customer talk about how they use your cloud product is a good enough reason for a local upstart-up to sign up, especially when the interviews are recorded.

IMG_2556

CloudBeat 2013 Sponsors

Interesting storage and security vendors included KeyNexus, Scality, and SwiftStack.

Scality and SwiftStack provide highly-scalable, software defined, storage solutions to larger organizations. These are object storage systems based on the OpenStack framework. The software takes advantage of commodity servers and hard drives. Rather than use a SAN or NAS for storage these systems pool the storage in each server and make it available in the cloud. Unlike NAS and SAN, the number of processors and network controllers scales alongside the storage allowing the system to support a very high volume of concurrent users. The software then centrally manages data protection (replication) and performance (caching using server-based RAM or Flash). Cool stuff!

KeyNexus launched their cloud-based encryption-key storage and management solution for Amazon Web Services (AWS EC2) at CloudBeat. KeyNexus enables organizations to store, manage, and audit their encryption keys separately from the cloud, addressing the principal inhibitor to broader, faster, adoption of the cloud by enterprises — security!  Here’s how they describe it.

There are three typical cloud security scenarios. First, the key to unlock encrypted data is stored in the same cloud as the data. That’s like locking your house but leaving the key in the lock. In the second scenario, companies employ vendor solutions that host the key in an undisclosed location. That’s like having to call a security guard to access your home and unlock the door (and trusting the security guard never goes in when you are away). Option three involves securing the key on-site within the enterprise, which can be costly. The KeyNexus approach separates the “lock” from the “key” in the cloud, while also promoting encryption interoperability across the public cloud. Using a hardware appliance to create the keys, KeyNexus simplifies the management of remote key rotation as well as the migration of encrypted data between various cloud, SaaS and mobile platforms.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

 

Back to back acquisitions are adding to the excitement in the Flash arena. As Pure Storage pulled in another $150M in Series E funding and EMC was putting the finishing touches to its VNX2 with an all-Flash option complete with controller and software enhancements, even bigger Flash news was brewing.

Western Digital/HGST announced acquisition of PCIe Flash and software company, Virident, for $685 million on September 9. This is the third Flash acquisition the company has made in recent months. After acquiring SSD veteran, sTec, for $340 million, WD/HGST apparently beat Seagate to the punch in acquiring cache company, VeloBit, for an undisclosed sum. Seagate, along with Cisco, was also an investor in Virident.

On September 10, Cisco announced that it will purchase Flash array vendor, WhipTail, for $415 million. Undoubtedly there are folks out there humming along to the tune of the “Hokey Pokey” and wondering how serious Cisco is about storage as it expands its Unified Computing System.

It’s appears that the ability to aggregate, manage and manipulate Flash through software is a good place to be as the market moves towards consolidation.

Fusion-io and Violin will certainly be under increased scrutiny as the industry-wide game of musical chairs progresses. Will Seagate ever manage to snag a Flash chair? What shall we see at Oracle Open World in a few weeks?

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, cloud and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

FIDO - making fast work of secure online data access.

FIDO – making fast work of secure online data access.

Have you ever given up on reading an article or buying something online because you forgot one of your many passwords? If password management stymies you, then join me in the small joyful anticipation that comes with the news that BlackBerry has joined the FIDO Alliance.

Fast IDentity Online (FIDO) looks like the best hope on the horizon for securing online access to data. Mind you, it’s looking like a pretty far horizon. The FIDO Alliance was formed over a year ago by Agnitio, Infineon Technologies, Lenovo, Nok Nok Labs, PayPal, and Validity. FIDO’s noble aim is to change the nature of authentication by developing specifications that define an open, scalable, interoperable set of mechanisms that supplant reliance on passwords to securely authenticate users of online services. This new standard for security devices and browser plugins will allow any website or cloud application to interface with a broad variety of existing and future FIDO-enabled devices that the user has for online security. I, for one, can’t wait!

FIDO is expanding membership and, in addition to BlackBerry, has added Allweb Technologies, Check2Protect, Crocus Technology, CrucialTec, Diamond Fortress Technologies, Entersekt, Fingerprint Cards (FPC), Google, Insyndia Global and NXP Semiconductors.

As data security becomes an ever more pressing concern for users and IT pros alike, storage vendors would do well to delve deeper than encryption when adding security innovation. Consider how a tight coupling of authenticated users and access devices with underlying storage could transform the cloud market. A while back, SNIA had a storage security tutorial that talked about trusted platform modules in storage devices. That seems like a likely connection point with FIDO.

Maybe it’s the canine association (Fido is a dog’s name after all) that makes me optimistic, but I really hope that the FIDO Alliance gets the support it needs to quickly come up with a globally beneficial standard that will make all of our online data more securely accessible.

FIDO Alliance: http://fidoalliance.org/

About the Author

Agnes Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, security, and enterprise software products. She can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join her network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

The VMworld 2013 expo was all about storage, cloud (storage) and securing the data (on the storage). I wouldn’t be surprised if a trade show analyst declared this to be the enterprise storage event of the year and a preferred alternative to Storage Networking World (SNW). I’ll expect the same next year because the vendors I spoke with told me it was a good event for them. They said they met more end-users this year and most have exhibited for many years.

All in all it was a great event, but by the time I hit the expo the booth babes were looking a little rough.

Apocalypse

WD says “Apocalypse Never” but they were clearly wrong. This event had more than it’s share of zombies thanks to Bluelock, Sandbox and one other vendor (who deserves credit…help!).

I checked in with the storage-related vendors: Aberdeen, Asigra, Avere, Bluelock, Cloudbyte, Cloudfounders, Codefourtytwo, Commvault, Coraid, Dell, EMC, FalconStor, Fusion-io, Greenbytes, HDS, HP, Maginatics, Maxta, Micron, Nasuni, NetApp, Neverfail, Nexsan, Nexenta, Nimbus Data, Nutanix, Permixdata, Pure Storage, Qnap, Quantum, Racemi, Scality, Simplivity, sTec, Synology, Tegile, Tintri, Violin Memory, Virident, VirtunetSystems, WD, X-IO, Yuruware, Zadara, as well as other neat firms like Brocade, Cognizant, Rapid7, Sandbox, Splunk, Thinking Software and others.

From a marketing perspective it was clear that almost all the vendors had innovative products and if you gave the salespeople a chance they could articulate what makes their particular product special. Frankly, it was important to give them a chance to talk because many booths failed to adequately communicate to passers by what their company was selling, let alone what made their particular product special. It’s easy for marketers to assume that everyone else knows as much as they do about their offering. However, they assume too much. I can name 75+ Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash Memory — that list excludes standard HDD-based storage, and most of the software solutions, including a gazillion backup/recovery products. There are easily 200+ firms vying for the attention of enterprise storage managers, analysts and journalists.

Nimbus Data was clear. They were showing “The most resilient, future-proof flash memory storage ever.” And, it must be fast to set records.

IMG_2502

Nimbus Data: An example of clear messaging.

Coraid’s value proposition was not immediately clear to me from their signage. However, when you talk with Coraid you can learn that their storage uses ATA over Ethernet, rather than iSCSI, Fibre Channel or Infiniband. I haven’t checked the specs., but they told me it was faster than iSCSI and Fibre Channel, it offers parallel performance, and it’s not limited by cable length. I’m sure storage buyers can see the value in that, especially if the price is right and they are open to another interconnect standard.

Coraid Sign

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas) pricing models helped differentiate some products. Bluelock offers recovery as a service where they continuously backup data to the cloud and enable failover to the cloud if an issue takes down the primary data center. Asigra also offers recovery as a service. Brocade allows enterprises use networking infrastructure on a subscription basis. Users rent the equipment and can return it anytime. Zadara will also ship hardware to customers on pay-as-you-go terms or you can subscribe to their multi-tenant infrastructure in such a way that the infrastructure used is dedicated and not otherwise shared. As a 4-P marketer I’m always interested in innovative pricing and place-of-sale (delivery) strategies so I’m looking forward to seeing if the hardware rent models work.

Brocade Sign

There were a number of Software Defined Storage and Unified Storage vendors and firms that are betting on a shift from SAN and NAS. Such firms include Cloudfounders, Nutanix, Scality, Simplivity, amongst others. The unified server/storage approach fits well with the development of DIMM-based Flash modules showcased at the recent Flash Memory Summit. Like PCIe Flash drives, the DIMM Flash fits directly into a server (like RAM) taking advantage of available DIMM slots. So with the right software, all the direct attach hard drives across multiple servers can be pooled and managed as a unit while the servers’ Flash is used as a cache for application acceleration.

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Nutanix. Interesting product and great booth (useful whiteboard)

The well known performance issues associated with VDI had all the Flash system vendors and Intelligent Caching products on display. Although most storage systems have some form of caching built in (usually read-only), Pernixdata offers read and write caching at the kernel level for VMs, eliminating latency. VirtunetSystems has a similar VMware enhanced offering.

Cloud storage also had a big presence with the most interesting being Maginatics and Nasuni. These firms cache cloud-based data so it works like the data on your local hard disk. Racemi offers cloud to cloud data migration service and charges only for successful migrations.

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Maginatics Booth. An iPad accessing the Cloud (no rack required)

Of course, all the typical storage product categories were represented — everything from innovative JBOD chassis, to backup/recovery/archive software, to RAID and Flash systems. However, I’ll leave the product reviews to the analysts and journalists and move on to other marketing related topics.

On the promotion side of things, firms love to make make big announcements at trade shows. StorageNewsletter reported 33 storage-related announcements for VMworld 2013. I’m not sure why everyone follows this strategy, other than a trade show is a useful milestone that can get the engineering team to release the product. My PR and lead gen. firm, Marketingsage, has looked at the publicity firms achieve with trade show timed announcements. Unless you are a really big firm with a really big announcement, most firms simply get a mention in a roundup that covers everyone’s announcements. However, if you take Marketingsage’s advice and announce either before or after the event, you can get a nice story all to yourself. It’s simple supply and demand. Provide news when it’s scarce and you’ll get better coverage.

That said, I did have a very amusing encounter with one startup that absolutely did not want to announce the product they were promoting at VMworld. As I approached their booth, a representative spotted my “Blogger” badge and immediately intercepted me, blocking my view. I asked about their product. He answered with a few nebulous words that meant absolutely nothing, despite the information on display on the booth wall and monitor. It was a conversation akin to a cop on TV asking the guy they just pulled over: “Is that your Porsche?” To which he answers nervously “It’s my friend’s. She said I could borrow it.” “What’s your friend’s name?” “I forget, she’s really just a friend of a friend.” “I see you’ve started her Porsche with a screwdriver, didn’t she give you a key?” “No, she lost her key and I wanted to surprise her by getting the car started without it…”

So what would you do if someone blocked your view and said something to the effect of “move along now, nothing to see here.” Precisely! I stayed. It turned out they are planning a big PR announcement when they add a few more customers and did not want to dilute that announcement. I’ve seen that before. Some marketers call it a “soft launch.” It doesn’t work well. The pundits will know about the product, because they see it at the events (or at a briefing). Like me, they may respect the vendor’s request not to go public (as if a trade show is not public). However, soon the so called news is not news to the people who deliver it to the public, so the eventual announcement fizzles. The soft launch becomes a weak launch.

There were two trade show innovations that I think are worth a mention. First, there were several booths with whiteboards (see the Nutanix picture above.) A whiteboard is really helpful when discussing a network or a software stack. The second was HP’s lightbox rack. Sure it’s just a picture, but I’ve always questioned the benefit of shipping a ton weight of equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, then having 2 engineers spend hours setting it up for a so called demo that amounts to a bunch of flashing lights. If it’s a canned demo, why not record it, ship the hardware face plates (blinking lights) and replay it on a screen?

HP Lightbox Rack

The HP Lightbox Rack

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

The August 2013 Flash Memory Summit in Santa Clara had a record attendance estimated at just under 5,000 people. There was a wide diversity of sessions ranging from an introduction to 3D NAND technology, to Flash DIMM components, to SSD enterprise systems, to product differentiation (my Differentiate or Die panel discussion with editors, analysts and VCs). Frankly, there was nothing new on the marketing side from the vendors selling enterprise SSDs. If you took the logos off the slides, one deck could tell the story for them all. They all have fast products, they all have similar use cases (OLTP, VDI, etc) and they all have customer success stories to tell. It appears that most have some market traction as well. Several announced new VC funding allowing them to scale up their businesses.

The fact that we now have 75+ vendors targeting enterprise buyers with products that are remarkably similar made the VC forum session the stand-out session for this marketer. It was a small crowd, probably because most of the vendors have funding and because business capitalization is not a topic that concerns most engineers and marketers. Nevertheless, it was a very valuable session that had many insights that should interest any C-level executive. Some of the same points were raised by Guarav Tehari of SAP Ventures in the earlier Differentiate or Die session. Here are the key take-away points with some added insights for CMOs.

VC Forum

Panel: Bob Witkow of Westwood Marketing, Alex Benik of Battery Ventures, Jacques Benkoski of USVP, Kambiz Hooshmand of Archimedes Labs, Ketan Patel of New Ventures Partners and Roy Hercules of Technology Growth Capital.

Flash market insights

  • The is so much competition that it will only take a year or so for the vendors to achieve product parity. Then it’s a race to the bottom with price. VCs are not seeing pitches that would compel them to fund new entrants.
  • VCs are interested in seeing products that do something interesting as a result of having Flash, but they are not seeing much so far.
  • Large enterprise has already accepted Flash. There are opportunities to sell to the mid-size enterprise.

General VC insights for entrepreneurs seeking funding

  • VCs judge proposals based on the team’s track record, the product and the problem it solves, and the business model.
  • A-Rounds fund product development and beta testing. Currently these rounds are hard to get and the product should be beyond proof-of-concept if it is to be attractive to VCs.
  • B-Rounds fund sales development, but the product should already be with some (beta) customers who will vouch for its value.
  • C-Rounds fund scaling a business that has proven its value and ability to win customers.
  • Entrepreneurs should seek enough funding to get to the next stage (funding round) and anticipate that it always takes longer, and can be more difficult, than initially thought. That means a big A-Round is important.
  • Expect to give up 30% of the company for a sizable A-Round.
  • Each large investor expects 20 to 25% of the stock so it’s important to plan capitalization through to the end. Of course, it often gets contentious.
  • VCs don’t put much value on the analyst charts that show rapid growth and large future markets. They want to see the predictions, but don’t build your funding case solely on them.
  • VCs want to see go-to-market realism and they know how hard/expensive it is to sell to a large number of small and medium businesses (SMB).
  • When presenting, start with the management team. What products have they worked on? What are the successes and failures (with lessons learned)?
  • When presenting, define your customers, the problem, how you solve the problem, and how your named competitors do not solve it.
  • When presenting, define the 3 key variables that drive your business. This is more insightful to a VC than the revenue model.
  • When presenting, specify what you will accomplish before the cash runs out for each round.
  • Intellectual Property (IP) is not seen as critical until the scale-up stage. That does not mean it’s not ultimately vital.
  • If ultimate profitability depends on high volume economies of scale, VCs are not very interested. They recommend seeking strategic investments from the large manufacturers (OEMs).
  • Ask for references from your prospective VCs (when serious negotiations start). Make sure there is a good fit amongst the people involved.

Marketingsage insights for marketers at VC funded startups in new markets

  • You are dealing with a new technology that is still evolving: new products with little or no track record; a yet-to-be-solidified market that doesn’t quite know what it wants; a new firm with VC owners whose goal is to exit profitably within 5 years; a new team that may include executives that have no hands-on marketing experience; market hype that inflates everyone’s expectations beyond reality; and a flood of big spending, noise-making, competitors. That’s as tough as it gets for a professional CMO.
  • Pessimists don’t get funding. Pessimists don’t get hired. You are on the hook for achieving some lofty goals and you may be expected to have a “magic bullet” strategy that delivers a high volume leads/sales, quickly, at a low cost.
  • Your ability to generate critical sales leads largely depends on your discretionary budget (money you can direct at lead-generating programs such as advertising and events). However, by the time you pay for employees, analyst contracts, software, pet projects, and multiple agencies, you may not have enough funds or time to get the required volume of leads. Typical A-Round and B-Round funds usually mean you have to achieve a lot with constrained resources. Of course, leveraging an integrated multifunction agency, like Marketingsage, can help solve this problem.
  • Market hype (see Gartner Hype Cycle) around new technologies results in a low conversion rate for sales leads because lots of people want to learn (triggering an inquiry/lead), but few have actual projects underway. However, the sales team articulates this phenomenon as “marketing only produces poor quality sales leads.” Of course, this can be managed with lead filtering, pre-qualification and nurturing, but it’s not unusual for sales-marketing politics to get in the way of the necessary cooperation and mutual understanding.
  • Purchase decisions can take a lot longer than anticipated, especially if the technology is new, product installations are complex, and/or the prices are relatively high. It’s not unusual to see sales cycles lasting 6 months or more. That means December sales depend on leads generated in June (or earlier).
  • Most firms go through 2, 3, or sometimes even 4, VPs of marketing between start-up and exit. Marketing executives are often last in and first out. The initial VP is highly unlikely to be there for the exit/harvest.
  • Most VPs stay about 2 to 3 years, but employee stock options often vest over 4 years.

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

This is a list of positioning statements used by firms who make storage products using Flash memory. For the most part these statements come from the first line of press releases. The list was compiled for a session I was chairing at the 2013 Flash Memory Summit. However, it’s updated periodically when new vendors appear or old ones disappear.

Positioning Statements

  1. Aberdeen — a leading manufacturer of servers and storage
  2. AC&NC — custom designed and pre-configured JetStor plug-and-play storage solutions that meet and exceed each customer’s application(s) requirements
  3. Amax — a leading innovator of Dynamic Enterprise IT & High Performance Computing (HPC) solutions
  4. Assurance — leading The Way In High Performance Enterprise, Cloud and HPC Storage Solutions
  5. Astute Networks — the leading provider of performance storage appliances
  6. Atlantis Computing — the leading provider of Software-Defined Storage
  7. Avere Systems — the leader in network-attached storage (NAS) optimization
  8. Balesio — the leading provider of Native Format Optimisation (NFO) solutions for unstructured data
  9. BiTMICRO — a leading developer and manufacturer of flash-based SSD (solid state drive) technology, products and solutions.
  10. BridgeSTOR — the company Advancing Deduplication to the Cloud
  11. CacheIO — the high performance storage leader for intense media applications
  12. Calxeda — a leader in the low power server market
  13. Coho Data– a leading innovator in web-scale flash storage for the enterprise
  14. Cisco — the worldwide leader in IT that helps companies seize the opportunities of tomorrow by proving that amazing things can happen when you connect the previously unconnected
  15. Condusiv — the leader in high-performance software optimizing technology, people and businesses
  16. Coraid — a leading provider of scale-out Ethernet storage solutions
  17. DataCore — the premier provider of storage virtualization software
  18. DataDirect Networks — the world leader in massively scalable storage
  19. Dell — listens to customers and delivers innovative technology and services that give them the power to do more
  20. Delphix — the leader in agile data management
  21. Dot Hill — a leading provider of SAN storage solutions
  22. Echostreams — a leading provider of server, storage, and system packaging technologies for today’s fast growing vertical markets such as Cloud, Datacenter, Video/broadcasting and Telecommunications
  23. EMC — a global leader in enabling businesses and service providers to transform their operations and deliver IT as a service
  24. Enmotus — provides users with their critical data when they need it
  25. ExaGrid — the leader in cost-effective and scalable disk-based backup solutions with data deduplication
  26. Fastor — engaged in bringing future-proof solutions to the rapidly growing Cloud and Enterprise SSD markets
  27. Fixstars — Speed up your Business
  28. Foremay — ULTRA FAST, HIGH RELIABILITY, ULTRA LOW POWER, SECURED SSD
  29. Fusion-io — delivers the world’s data faster.
  30. GreenBytes — a developer of full-featured virtual desktop optimization solutions that uniquely support existing infrastructure
  31. Gridgain — a real time Big Data software company
  32. Gridstore — the leading provider of optimized storage for the modern data center
  33. HGST — develops advanced hard disk drives, enterprise-class solid state drives, innovative external storage solutions and services used to store, preserve and manage the world’s most valued data
  34. HP — creates new possibilities for technology to have a meaningful impact on people,businesses, governments and society
  35. Huawei Symantec — a leading provider of storage, networking and security solutions
  36. IceWEB — an award-winning Unified Data Storage appliance provider for cloud and virtual environments, as well as the highly secure, scalable IceBOX BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Private Digital Cloud Solution
  37. Infinio — inventor of downloadable storage performance
  38. iXsystems — builds rock solid enterprise-class servers and storage solutions
  39. JDV — a cutting-edge developer of innovative enterprise-class SSD server appliances
  40. Kaminario — the leading scale-out all-flash array provider
  41. Kove — a pioneering leader in high performance storage
  42. LSI — designs semiconductors and software that accelerate storage and networking in datacenters, mobile networks and client computing
  43. Marvell — a global leader in providing complete silicon solutions enabling the digital connected lifestyle
  44. Micron — one of the world’s leading providers of advanced semiconductor solutions
  45. Nasuni — a provider of enterprise storage to large, distributed organizations
  46. NephoScale — creator of the NephOS next generation cloud infrastructure services platform
  47. NetApp — creates innovative storage and data management solutions that deliver outstanding cost efficiency and accelerate business breakthroughs
  48. Nexsan (Imation) — a global tiered storage and data security company
  49. Nimble Storage — the leading provider of flash-optimized hybrid storage solutions
  50. Nimbus Data Systems — the leading provider of unified all-flash storage systems for enterprise and cloud infrastructure
  51. Nutanix — the leading provider of hyper-efficient, massively scalable and elegantly simple datacenter infrastructure solutions
  52. OCZ — a leading provider of high-performance solid-state drives (SSDs) for computing devices and systems
  53. Panzura — a leading provider of global cloud storage solutions
  54. Permabit — the recognized leader in data efficiency technology
  55. Pivot3 — a leading provider of converged storage and compute appliances
  56. Proximal Data — the leading provider of hypervisor I/O intelligence software solutions
  57. Pure Storage — the all-flash enterprise storage company
  58. Qsan — making data smart
  59. RAID Inc. — an end-to-end customized solutions provider in HPC, Big Data, and Virtualized Environments
  60. SanDisk — a global leader in flash memory storage solutions
  61. SGI — the trusted leader in technical computing and Big Data
  62. SimpliVity — a provider of simplified IT infrastructure solutions for virtualized environments
  63. Skyera — a disruptive provider of enterprise solid-state storage systems designed to enable a large class of applications with extraordinarily high performance, exceptionally lower power consumption and cost effectiveness relative to existing enterprise storage systems
  64. SolidFire — the leader in all-SSD storage systems designed for large scale cloud infrastructure
  65. Starboard Storage — a provider of unified hybrid storage systems that simplify and consolidate NAS and SAN storage for midsize enterprises
  66. sTec — a leading global provider of solid-state storage solutions
  67. StorageQuest — a global leader in data and archive management software and hardware
  68. StorTrends Performance Storage with Proven Value
  69. SuperLumin Networks — a leading provider of scalable, high-performance media proxy and application acceleration solutions
  70. Supermicro — global leader in high-performance, high-efficiency server, storage technology and green computing
  71. Symform — a revolutionary, distributed cloud backup service
  72. Tegile — a leading provider of hybrid storage arrays for virtualized server and virtual desktop environments
  73. Tintri — the leading producer of storage for virtualization and cloud environments
  74. Violin Memory — provider of memory-based storage systems
  75. Virident Systems — a performance leader in flash-based storage-class memory (SCM) solutions
  76. Virtium — a leading innovator of storage and memory solutions designed specifically to meet the dynamic requirements of embedded systems
  77. WhipTail — the data storage-industry innovator powering faster applications and more energy efficient computing for today’s global businesses via flash storage
  78. X-IO — a recognized innovator in the storage industry

About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).

I’m chairing what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session at the annual Flash Memory Summit in August 2013. A lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems. This post is the 3 part of a primer on product positioning. It highlights a dilemma for CEOs, CTOs, and marketers who position their products as part of a new technology solution.

Riding the Solution Wave

It’s very common to position an enterprise IT product as part of an overall IT solution. For example, positioning an SSD or cache as part of a Big Data, virtualization, or Cloud solution. Usually, these solutions relate to trends that get lots of press and analyst attention. There’s nothing wrong with riding the latest wave. It can be great for PR and lead generation. However, sometimes it does not result in as many sales as you might expect. If sales are falling short of expectations, it’s important to understand what could be happening. You may be at the front end of the Hype Cycle.

Gartner Hype Cycle

Gartner Hype Cycle

The Gartner Hype Cycle describes a common occurrence in the technology industry. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity for a new technology. The early publicity produces a number of success stories. As a result, IT people start to download white papers and attend events to learn about this latest breakthrough — triggering lots of sales leads. Some early adopters take action, most sales prospects do not. That results in a low conversion rate from market qualified leads (MQLs) to sales qualified leads (SQLs).

In this case, I believe that Big Data is somewhere approaching the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” It’s a promising area, but at this time most people are still figuring out how they would use Big Data — more of a business question than an IT question. They need to figure out where would the data come from and when they have the data, what questions should be asked to turn it into actionable information. Those questions need to be addressed before an organization gets to storing and analyzing data. On the other hand, server and storage virtualization was the new, promising, technology 10 to 15 years ago. Many of the issues have been resolved and that technology is somewhere on the “Slope of Enlightenment” with a large number of real customers for virtualization-related solutions.

Misunderstanding the Hype Cycle/new market situation is a huge problem for IT firms, especially start-ups. It frequently results in changes of executive management as the VP of sales and VP of marketing each incorrectly assumes that one or the other is not pulling his/her weight. The sales team wants more leads. The marketers generate more leads. The leads don’t turn into enough deals so something must be wrong. Is it the quality of the leads (marketing is blamed), the quality of the follow-up (sales is blamed) or the product itself (engineering is blamed)? Of course, any of these could be real issues. However, assuming the team is qualified and experienced, and there’s nothing wrong with the product, the problem lie with the market. Put another way, the product is positioned for a young “market” that has a lot of people who are interested in learning, but few actual buyers at its current stage.

It’s not just the VP of marketing and VP of sales who suffer by misunderstanding the Hype Cycle (and the Honeymoon Period.)  I could name one firm that bet it all and lost (sold at a low valuation) by repositioning their product from an intelligent cache to a Big Data solution, despite good advice to the play the cache position. Obviously, this also hurt the CEO, the VCs, and the entire team.

If your product is a critical enabler (must-have, not nice-to-have) then it may be bought as part of the overall solution. However in a new market triggered by a new technology, the early adopters will need some time to figure out what’s really needed to create a working solution.  Many of the early “solutions” will fail, resulting in the “Trough of Disillusionment.” As a result, the number of vendors thins out significantly as they fail to sell product and run out of capital.

The Positioning-Publicity Dilemma

The positioning dilemma is obvious. It’s much easier to get publicity and sales leads when you position your product as part of an exciting new trend. If there is one thing worse than low sales, it’s low sales and no buzz.

Buzz matters because editorial and social media coverage ultimately lowers promotion costs and builds brand recognition. A recognized brand is twice as likely to be selected (trusted). However, you have to be pro-active at creating this publicity, especially when repositioning your products.

Interestingly enough, in June 2013 I listed 50+ vendors promoting an enterprise solution that uses Flash memory. As of writing at the end of July, that list is now 75+ vendors:

Aberdeen, Amax, Arkologic, Astute Networks, Assurance, Avere Systems, BiTMICRO, BridgeSTOR, Cachebox, Cisco, Condusiv, Coraid, DataCore, DataDirect Networks (DDN), DataON, DDRdrive, Dell, Dot Hill, Echostreams Innovative Solutions, EMC, Enmotus, Fastor, Foremay, Fusion-io, GreenBytes, Hitachi Data Systems, HP, Huawei Symantec, IBM Systems and Technology Group, IceWEB, Infinio, Imation, Intel, iXsystems, JetStor (AC&NC), JBOD, JDV Solutions, Kaminario, Kove, LSI, Marvell, Micron, NetApp, Nimble Storage, Nimbus Data Systems, OCZ, Oracle, Panzura, PernixData, Pivot3, Proximal Data, Pure Storage, QLogic, Qsan, Radian Memory Systems, Reduxio, Renice Technology, Runcore SSD, SanDisk, Scalable Informatics, SeaChange, Skyera, SolidFire, Soligen, Starboard Storage, sTec, StorageQuest, Super Talent, System Fabric Works, Tegile Systems, Tintri, VeloBit, Violin Memory, Virident Systems, WhipTail, and X-IO.

Many of the firms that I forgot to add to the initial list were very familiar to me. They were typically 10 to 15 years old and had survived the virtualization “Trough of Disillusionment.” However, to many analysts, journalists, and admittedly myself, they are not perceived to be part of the latest trends. They are perceived by the pundits as HDD RAID suppliers or suppliers of older data management software, even though their products have evolved over many generations to include SSD, intelligent provisioning, real-time de-duplication and caching. That said, I expect they are doing better on the important sales side. Of course, the positioning issues with the pundits could be fixed by a good agency – obviously not one they are using, so I’ll take the opportunity to plug mine — Marketingsage.

In general, it’s smart to position your products for a new trend. Besides the publicity advantages, you may be entering the next big market at a time when you can make a real difference. However, there are some strategic implications, particularly for start-ups whose VC funding and the ability to attract talent is based on a new trend approaching the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” If those firms do not also position their products effectively for more mature markets, or if they are not funded for the long game, then such firms can, and do, fail.

About this Series on Positioning and The Flash Memory Summit

Join me and a lively panel of experts, editors, and analysts at what may be the first ever marketing-oriented session for CEOs, CTOs, and marketers at the annual Flash Memory Summit. We will be discussing product differentiation in a growth market in a session called: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems on Wednesday, August 14, 9:50-10:50 am. This is an Open Session so you can register for free up until 8/11/13.

You can follow this blog by signing up in the left sidebar. You can find related posts like these by clicking the Flash Memory Summit 2013 category:

  1. Flash Memory Summit 2013 Session: Differentiate or Die – Marketing Flash-Based Storage Systems
  2. The Positioning Game: 75+ Vendors Promoting an Enterprise Solution that Uses Flash Memory
  3. Competitive Positioning of Flash-Based Products – A Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers
  4. Market Changes Impacting Flash-based Products – A Positioning Primer for CEOs, CTOs and Marketers

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About the Author

David X. Lamont is an accomplished marketer of IT products and a partner at Marketingsage, a PR and lead generation firm that specializes in marketing data storage, data management, and enterprise software products. He can be reached by email at blog [at] marketingsage.net. Fellow marketers and IT professionals are invited to join his network on LinkedIn and to subscribe to this blog (see sidebar).