In preparation for our first Environmental Innovation Practicum class at the University of Washington tomorrow, I did a little unscientific polling among the regional cleantech community to ask about their environmental priorities, where they feel we most need environmental innovation and where they see the greatest entrepreneurial potential. I also asked for ideas they’d like to see student teams tackle as part of the class — or elsewhere. The results are fun. Of particular interest to me were the intersection of environmental priorities and entrepreneurial potential. In some areas, ranked priority and perceived opportunity line up nicely. In others, not so much.
I’ve got a terrific panel talking about this tomorrow afternoon. Meanwhile, I just wanted to share.
So much about the Lean Startup model appeals, particularly the idea of testing a minimum viable product and letting customers guide further product development. If only it could work for developing classes.
The disconnect struck me as I added the link to John Sechrest‘s bio to my class syllabus recently. John wears a lot of hats: Project Director at Seattle Angel Conference; Co-organizer at Lean Startup Seattle; Global Facilitator at Startup Weekend. On my syllabus, he’s Lean Startup Guest Speaker and I’m thrilled to have him coming to class to talk about about the lean startup model. Completely redesigning my class has been a good deal more work than I remembered from creating it in the first place years ago. If there’s a way to a minimum viable product approach to developing a product for university credit, I haven’t figured it out. Seems to me it has to be fully baked on Day One. The testing comes during the first class (sorry Fall Quarter class, you are the test market). Only students in subsequent quarters can benefit from lessons learned Sept. – Dec.
Yet maybe that is as close an academic equivalent can get to a lean model. The big difference is that, unlike those innovator customers willingly trying out something new, the students didn’t opt in; they’re stuck with it.
Of course the other big difference is that I’m not searching for a business model; I’m just developing a product. The business model belongs to the University. Many would argue that secondary education could use a new business model. But that — thank heavens! — is not my job. I just have a couple classes to teach.
There is some absolutely amazing cleantech innovation happening in the Pacific Northwest! I know because last Thursday, I was in Portland and then on Friday in Seattle helping the regional teams competing in the CleantechOpen improve their pitches. Some of the teams were innovating in areas I’ve come to expect from entrepreneurs in our region. Others took me completely by surprise. It was a delight to meet all of them.
I found myself giving many of the teams similar advice to strengthen their pitches, so I thought I’d share the same tips here:
Know your audience. This is imperative. Find out who’ll be in the audience, what they’re likely to know about your subject and what matters to them.
Grab my attention immediately! You can do this with a bold description of what you’re doing or with a powerful outline of the customer’s pain. Don’t lose that opportunity to make your first impression count.
Convince me there’s a problem and it’s big enough to matter. Only one team out of the 11 I saw had no need to strengthen their story here. In that case, the need is so glaring obvious it wasn’t worth wasting pitch time addressing. If there’s a problem but it’s not big, you’re talking about a lifestyle business, which is fine if that’s what you want. Otherwise, this is your chance to prove this work is important.
Convince me you have a viable, working solution. I want to understand exactly what you’ve built/are building, precisely how it addresses that market need you just uncovered in talking about the problem AND that you are the team to do this. Recognizing you have competitors and acknowledging their strengths is part of this argument as well.
Convince me you know who’ll pay for your solution. It’s absolutely fine to have a number of potential target customer segments you genuinely believe will want what you’re creating it. But show me which one has the greatest initial potential because they really want this and are willing to pay good money for it.
This also marked my first trip by train to Portland, a ride between two renovated historic train stations. I had to be a tourist and snap this picture of Seattle’s gloriously bright King St. Station. Fun. Thanks for saving these landmarks, Seattle and Portland!
All summer, I’ve been blogging about the topics we’ve covered in my undergraduate entrepreneurial marketing class at UW as a way to 1) get back into blogging which I’d abandoned a year or so ago and 2) say goodbye to the content as I’m completely redesigning the class. It was an educational 10 weeks for me. Perhaps what I learned can be of use to other would-be bloggers as well:
#1 Twice a week is doable! I wouldn’t have believed it before doing it for a few months, but I can keep a twice weekly publishing schedule if I figure out in advance what I want to talk about.
#2 Lectures make for crummy blog fodder. Every single one contains too much information, especially for someone like me who’s guilty of cramming enormous amounts of information into every class. I’m suddenly much more sympathetic to my students! I started out trying to capture the highlights of lectures, but the posts were still long and time-consuming to write. Then I tried focusing on only half of the class plan to cut down the content I was trying to cover. That still proved to be too much material. Finally, I tried tips from a class — the way I might wrap up a class day. But that lacked context. For the last few, as I was admittedly getting bored with my own assignment and looking forward to the end of the quarter, I went back into reporting mode and looked for updated, free resources to share with readers. Meanwhile, I went back to an exercise I did when I very first started The Clarity Blog and intentionally made notes about how some of my favorite bloggers were constructing their posts rather than focusing on their content. From them, I re-learned that …
#3 Simple is much better. My favorite bloggers, those who weren’t professional bloggers, kept a narrow focus, which made the counsel really targeted. Very good. This is now my objective.
The other thing Summer School on The Clarity Blog did for me had nothing to do with blogging. It helped me re-evaluate every subject as I redesigned the class. I still have a tremendous amount of work to do, but thanks to UW’s wonderful schedule, I still have several weeks of summer left to get ready and still enjoy those dog days.
So now my old content can sail off into the sunset on Puget Sound. And I can test myself on a new commitment: two short, useful posts a week.
Guess we’ll all see if I can do it.
Summer School on the ClarityBlog: 17th Class
Today would be the last “regular” class in the Entrepreneurial Marketing course. The last two classes being dedicated to student final presentations. So this is a wrapup day, an “if you remember nothing else …” day, a day for students to do their evaluations of the course. We’ll leave that last part out, but here’s the rest.
As we talked about first thing this quarter, “doing” marketing for brand new companies differs significantly than doing the same work for established brands. For entrepreneurs, there’s never enough people, time or money to do what they’d really like to do or maybe even need to do.
On top of that, the stakes are high. A failed launch could mean failure as a company.
About half of the students who take my class are in the Entrepreneurship certificate program at UW. They may wind up doing the marketing for the startup they’re dreaming of creating or have already created, but it’s just as likely that they’ll bring in another team member to do it. So at the close of the quarter, I help them get a look at the function and activities from the manager’s perspective and offer five tips for managing entrepreneurial marketing.
#1 Know Your Customer. I long ago lost count of the entrepreneurs I’ve counseled who had what they thought was an amazing idea but could find no traction. The most frequent reason was that either that the customer didn’t genuinely want or need the solution or that the entrepreneur had failed to find the true customer. Solve a real customer problem. Knowing the customer isn’t a task that should be out-sourced. Knowing the customer also isn’t marketing strategy assignment. It’s ongoing – a daily task for as long as you’re in business.
#2 Be Remarkable. Seth Goden had it right in “The Purple Cow.” When there’s something remarkable about a business – amazing products, stellar customer service, a unique delivery system or trailblazing customer engagement – everybody talks about it. And if everybody is talking about your business, you have to expend a lot fewer precious resources doing it yourself. Find the inherent drama in your offering and put it in the spotlight.
#3 Position Yourself to Win. Positioning helps your customers decide to buy from you.
#4 Spend Smart. Make sure you know what you expect the return on investment/effort to be for every activity and that you can measure the results. Reserve a small amount of your budget – maybe 10% – to truly experiment. Track the results from those experiments, too. If something’s not working, dump it. Don’t wait. Redirect the budget to activities that are getting the results you wanted.
#5 Learn From Radical Marketers. I won’t be using the Radical Marketing book this coming year, but I’ll still recommend it because there are great stories in it and great lessons. The authors focus on ten lessons. I focus on seven:
- Get face-to-face with the customer. Don’t rely on hands-off research.
- Love and respect your customer. As Frederick G. Crane states in Marketing for Entrepreneurs: “The actual purpose of an enterprise is … the creation and retention of satisfied customers.”
- Create a community around your brand. Radical marketers were doing this long before social media emerged, but now that we have social networks, following this advice is more feasible than ever.
- Constantly rethink the marketing and promotional mix. Always ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you could do differently, more effectively, better.
- Be true to the brand. If you haven’t already, go figure out your brand’s personality traits and values. Combined with your positioning, these are amazing screens you can use to test new ideas to make sure they’re brand appropriate. Don’t be lemming and follow a crowd. Do what’s right for your brand.
- Hire only passionate missionaries. The team you build around you is so important. I love this idea that every hire should be someone as excited about what you’re doing as you are and just as willing to be an evangelist for the business. No duds allowed.
- Never stop learning. I hope this one applies to everyone, everywhere because if you didn’t a) life would be so dull and b) you’d be so doomed to failure.
That’s it. I hope you’ve learned a thing or two and had a good time while you were at it. Best of luck to all UW’s summer grads!
Summer School on the ClarityBlog: 16th Class
By this point in the quarter, student teams have just days to wrap up their marketing plan assignments and get ready to present the highlights to the entrepreneurs themselves. In an attempt to help them not lose points on stupid stuff, I run through a list of the most common mistakes I’ve seen over the years – mistakes they may yet have time to avoid. Some of the most common mistakes are common outside the classroom as well.
- The plan isn’t built on research. Research is the foundation beneath the entire plan. Base your ideas as much as you can what you know rather than what you just think.
- The position could belong to anyone. Positioning stakes a competitive claim in the present. It’s a bold assertion of what makes the business, the offering, unique. If you craft a position for your business and can substitute anyone else’s name for yours in the statement and have it ring true, go back to the whiteboard. You haven’t yet figured out your true position.
- The SWOT isn’t a SWOT. A SWOT analysis prioritizes what really matters most in setting a strategy for marketing the brand. It must accurately represents what’s most important in looking at the brand’s own strengths and weaknesses (top half of the SWOT) and the market place’s opportunities and threats (bottom half). Intelligent planning has to address all four quadrants.
- Tactical plans are brainstorms on paper. Getting creative is fun. But the point of an action plan is to make an impact on the business. What impact do you expect from every tactic you’re planning for your own business? My advice is always to do a few things really well. Focus particularly on the ones that play well with others.
- The budget’s incomplete. Funding marketing the programs is tough for young companies. Finding money later to make up for something not being included in the budget might be impossible. Be thorough.
How does your plan fare?
Summer School on The ClarityBlog: 15th Class
Can entrepreneurs afford to advertising? Yes.
I first wrote about Steven Clough’s guest lecture on digital advertising in 2011 after he visited the MBA class I was then teaching. Ever since then, he’s been a regular speaker for the undergrad class because he makes the students think about why they’d consider an advertising campaign and what they’d want out of it before they jump in and start creating Facebook ads. The focus on strategy first lines up well with the content of this presentation, What is Digital Strategy by Julian Cole, Head of Communications Planning at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, on Slideshare.
That focus on strategy is important since the lure of getting creative first and ignoring the “why?” part of planning is so tempting. It also helps combat the lemming effect — doing something just because a competitor or other company is doing it.
To put today’s advertising options into perspective, Steven runs through a terrific history of advertising parallelling, as it must, the evolution of media technology. “We started out writing on walls,” Steven says.
From the first print ads to radio, broadcast television and the first computers, Steven tells the story of how advertising evolved as media evolved until, “now we’re back to writing on walls,” this time of the Facebook variety. Both these images are from his slide deck.
We used to think of media as something published or broadcast by someone else. Today, we have to include “owned media,” such as a company’s website, YouTube channel, social network platforms, as well. Strategy setting has to consider a brand’s owned media, earned media (see my last post on PR for that one) and paid media — the realm of what most of us think of as traditional advertising.
Advertising used to scare the inexperienced because of the money involved. Now, it’s often the technology that most daunts them. Yet it’s the technology that also makes trial and experimentation low risk and inexpensive. While you may discover you do best advertising on a particular social network like Facebook (exactly the experience of OfferUpNow CEO Nick Huzar), AdWords is a good place to start. Google offers a host of guides to help neophites gain confidence such as this “What is AdWords?” presentation. Bing offers a similar set of guides to help you get started.
And sometimes just getting started is the whole point. It’s also the focus on KISSmetrics’ How to Create a Profitable Google AdWords Campaign (from Scratch).
The checklist isn’t long:
- Know your audience.
- Know what you need them to do, what your objective is for advertising in the first place.
- Give them a reason to care.
- Research the search terms.
- Set your budget.
- Make sure you’re set up to track results so can learn from experience.
- Start experimenting.
- Study your results, make adjustments and experiment again.
Summer School on The Clarity Blog: 14th Class
I believe it was Jay Conrad Levinson of Guerrilla Marketing fame who referred to PR as a secret weapon and, having spent decades working for PR firms, I naturally loved the reference.
Public relations is one of the most effective and most cost-effective tactics available to entrepreneurs promoting their businesses. It’s also got to be the most misunderstood.
Just a few weeks ago, British Entrepreneur Adam Pollard, co-owner of The Willoughby Book Club, wrote a terrific little piece for The Guardian’s small business network offering Top tips: how startups can harness the power of PR. Aside from thinking PR is part of advertising (marketing is the umbrella, Adam, not advertising), Pollard clearly understanding what PR has done for his business and can do for others. It’s quite a decent little primer.
The practice of PR has been changing rapidly with technology. In May, Startup Nation posted this tips piece by Melanie Rembrandt in May Small Business Public Relations Tips to Boost Sales Now, in which her top tip (which, I admit, would certainly not have been my #1) is to post a search engine optimized press release — something that was all over the PR, SEO and marketing news a week or so ago as Google issued new webmaster guidelines and stated that keyword-rich anchor text links within articles or press releases should be nofollows, just as they are in advertising. I saw dozens of posts asking if Google just killed press releases. This July 30 post by Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Land‘s news editor, helps explain what’s going on.
The mechanics of doing PR have changed dramatically as have the methods for integrating public relations activities and results with other marketing and brand management tactics, but the objective of PR hasn’t changed. PR is what people are talking about when they refer to “earned media.” The key lies in gaining an implied third-party endorsement because someone decided to write about you, talk about you, invite you to speak some place, give you an award or ask for your opinion — on the record. The objective of your PR program is incredibly simple:
Get other, credible people talking about you because you’ve earned their attention.
- Learn how to tell a good story. PR firms used to largely populated by former journalists. Why? Because a huge part of a PR person’s job was dealing with media and knowing how journalists work, what makes a good story and how to write it well were critical job requirements. While being able to write a great tweet might now be equally important, the ability to know what makes a good story and how to be a good source are still top of the heap in getting traditional journalists, bloggers, conference planners and the world on social media to notice you and take you seriously.
- Polish your expertise to expert status. Presumably, you know something about your business and your industry and are keeping up on what’s happening. What often separates everybody in your industry from those getting the most exposure is often the ability to provide a unique or at least interesting perspective and — don’t underestimate this — the ability to offer up a pithy soundbite.
- Be credible. Honesty and integrity, always commodities too rare and precious, play a bit part in earning your right to be covered, quoted, consulted, friended, retweeted, invited and awarded.
- Be genuinely remarkable. If you want the top journalists and top bloggers writing about you, the top social media folks in your industry pointing to you and the top conference planners asking you to speak, try being genuinely remarkable. Design fantastic products, offer amazing customer service, create a brand personality people can’t ignore. That’s really earning the attention.
These things are unlikely to change no matter where technology and integration take us. Beyond that, where is PR headed? PR Veteran Sally Falko wrote just today on Social Media Today wrote about the evolution of PR over the past 100 years and what’s next. Her advice is this:
… the one avenue that PR folk should be mastering is paid media. It’s a far cry from the old advertising model of banner ads or advertorial. Pay attention to social advertising, promoted stories and recommended content. There are many opportunities for smart PR pros to syndicate their owned and earned content to new audiences, blogs and media sites.
Climate Central yesterday released a report, called A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars, looking at total carbon emissions for different types of cars that included not only the fuel “burned” but also the emissions generated to create the batteries used in hybrid and electric cars. THAT’s what a life cycle analysis is supposed to do. The point is to understand any product’s total impact from cradle — including extracting raw materials used to make the product — to grave when that product is discarded. If it can be recycled, then the analysis is cradle-to-cradle. You don’t just look at one piece of the puzzle but the whole puzzle. Life cycle analyses expose “green washing.” Any company seeking to promote its products as any shade of green would be wise to invest in a true analysis to protect its reputation from being exposed later as green washing or trying to hide the nastier components of its product creation, production and disposal.
Anyone who reads this blog knows I drive a Nissan Leaf. I’ve used Tesla as an in-class exercise at UW. I use a cartoon of an electric car plugged into an outlet connected to a belching coal plant as an example of how FUD — fear, uncertainty and doubt — come in to play for both innovators and guarders of the status quo. So I’m particularly tuned into this particular study.
The gist of it is that your “greenest” car options depends entirely upon what’s generating your electricity. If your electricity comes from coal-fired utilities, then the nicest thing you can do for the environment is buy a gasoline car with terrific gas mileage. If your power comes from hydro or nuclear, all electric is the way to go. Lots of communities have mixed sources of electricity and many of those would be “greenest” to drive hybrids.
How long you’re going to drive that car also matters, because the emissions generated during battery production get amortized (my explanation, not that theirs) over a longer period of time. If the car goes 100,000 rather than 50,000 miles, a whole lot more states would be better off with all electric vehicles. Climate Central created a nifty little interactive map to showing the difference. Check it out.
It goes without staying, but I’ll say it anyway: the whole country would be dark or light green on this map if we stopped using coal. And wouldn’t that be a great idea.
Summer School on the ClarityBlog: 13th Class
A series of fantastic guest speakers have come to class to share their expertise and experience using social media for marketing. OddDog Media’s Chris Goddard, who took this class as an exchange student from New Zealand years ago, is the most recent. He’s giving Conrad Saam a run for “best guest” honors in student reviews. Andy Boyer, co-founder of Relaborate and Social3i and now himself a UW lecturer, and Blake Cahill, when he was still stateside, are two other fantastically knowledgeable and amazing speakers from recent years.
You’d have to live in a virtual cave to not recognize the way social media is transforming how brands communicate, foster relationships, get feedback, test product concepts and both hear from and sell to customers – among many other things. Entire courses are dedicated to the subject and a search for “social media marketing” books on Amazon returns 8,049 results! I’m very fond of Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen and intend to add it to my class texts starting Fall quarter.
Among many great tips and examples shared by Chris Goddard, Kiwi extraordinaire (Please don’t ask him if he’s English!), is the story of the 2011 Troy, Mich., public library campaign to save the library. If you’re not familiar with it, you’ve got to watch Save the Troy Library “Adventures in Reverse Psychology” on YouTube.
Chris talks about the famous Old Spice campaign on one end of the budget spectrum and infamous – and wildly successful – Dollar Shave Club (also a favorite of Andy’s) on the other. FastCompany wrote a great piece offering Three Marketing Takeaways From Dollar Shave Club’s F***ing Great Ad that’s a must-read. The “ad” has had nearly 11 MILLION views on YouTube.
What Makes A Campaign Succeed?
Chris offers these three primary reasons for campaign success:
- Built on Good Content. The foundation of online campaigns is content. Make it relevant to the target audience, in keeping with the platform (don’t send press releases on Twitter!), and remarkable (stand out from the noise).
- Creative – And Smart! Creative for creative’s sake will generate views and shares but it won’t drive actual results. Dollar Shave Club was funny and engaging, but it also appealed directly to the target market and very effectively communicated the product’s value.
- Integrated. Effective campaigns span online and offline channels. Maintaining consistent voice and messaging across channels, as well as driving people between channels (i.e. driving Facebook likes from YouTube views) in order to create layers of influence.
If you’ve never used social media to help build your business, start with this Search Engine Land primer: What Is Social Media Marketing? www.searchengineland.com/guide/what-is-social-media-marketing It’s got links galore to help you dig as deep as you want to get a solid foundation under you.
The pop over to Social Media Examiner www.socialmediaexaminer.com/getting-started/ for their latest posts on how to use the various networks for your business.
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