Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, imagining, creating, and distributing software was reserved for software companies. And all was seemingly well for marketers.
But then a few non-software companies decided to join the party, some purposely and others because a few entrepreneurial employees--as entrepreneurial employees are wont to do--decided they could better imagine and create digital products for their organizations and their customers.
So they did.
But those bottom-up efforts also shook up the traditional product development hierarchy and–as conventional leaders are wont to do–departments were created and structure was imposed in order to enforce order and structure.
And all was once again well for marketers.
But not anymore.
Today every company is a software company--or should be. Today every company imagines, creates, and distributes software. And the role of the chief marketing officer, and his or her staff, has forever changed.
In an application economy–and, more broadly, in a digital workplace–almost every organization finds itself creating software products. Some are customer-focused applications. Some are internal tools. Some are both: What begins as an application to streamline a process can easily become a perfect tool for vendors or customers.
Traditionally, especially where consulting products are concerned, marketing organizations crafted the product portfolio because they were in closest touch with customers. Their knowledge of customer needs and market trends drove product development.
Today, an internal champion drives the development of an application. Development is now being driven either by an operations department or by someone in the organization who has a great idea and decides to run with it. They do all the legwork, looping specific people in, deciding how the application will look and feel and operate--and marketing is nowhere to be found.
What does this seismic shift in product development mean to you as a marketer? How does this shift change your role?
1. You may not drive, but you can always shape product development: One of our clients is a highly successful professional service firm whose marketing department has had a relatively easy job, since the brand is well-established and senior partners do the bulk of the selling. Of course, that also created a challenge: Senior partners and salespeople were constantly adapting their message for every potential customer. Rarely did they describe the product consistently. (Some made it up when they got there, selling products or services that didn’t exist–at least not yet.)
In this particular situation, the salespeople were selling something different to every customer, and that created a huge problem. While a great consultant will adapt her approach for each client, no firm can build an entirely new software product for every new engagement.
For this client, it was vital that marketing be present whenever a new product was imagined. Marketing can help ensure new software is shaped by the overall business strategy and not just the most recent client’s needs. What CMOs know about the company, the competition, and the marketplace won’t drive product development, but it can and should shape product development.
2. You’re not the government; you actually are there to help: We’re finding that many service organizations don’t view the software they build in the same way they view products they create. When they create consulting products, they do their homework: They know the competition, they know the market, they know the customers. But that’s not always the case when a small group or an individual decides to wrangle some software.
It’s understandable, of course. The cowboys may be highly skilled within their disciplines, but have not been exposed to broader strategic or business issues. And even if they have been, a few may still choose to avoid rounding up some stray marketing discipline since they assume marketing input will only get in their way. (“Marketers don’t care about what software does,” the occasional cowboy might say. “They only worry about colors and logos and stuff.”)
Good marketers do worry a little about visual consistency, but they worry a lot about building effective products that are competitive. Your job is to help cowboys understand that, unlike the oxymoron joke, “We’re with the government, and we’re here to help.” You aren’t there to get in the way. You’re there to help projects turn out even better and hopefully be applied to more than one or two customers.
Your job is to help everyone in your organization understand that adding marketing to the mix can help a one-off side project become a major product offering–and even if that doesn’t happen, adding marketing to the mix can help that one-off project be even more successful.
3. You can actually help market internally: Most of the larger organizations we work with have many cooks in their kitchens. Some are extremely powerful and influential cooks. When it comes to driving a project forward, though, significant input from a variety of sources can create barriers and slow things down.
If marketing helps position the initiative in a way that includes and aligns the organization, many of those internal barriers disappear. That lets the cowboys stay cowboys while also receiving greater support.
Think of internal marketing as an entry point for your marketing team. Help cowboys advance their agendas, and you will build significant trust–and bridges–within your organization.
4. You can apply a meaningful layer of polish: Invariably we find that the people driving product development feel certain they can nail the functional requirements. (Otherwise, they wouldn’t even try since often they are developing that product on their own initiative.) They also feel certain their application will outperform the competition. In short, they know the internals will work.
But every product eventually has to face outward. As chefs like to say, “You first eat with your eyes.” The same is true for products; you first “eat” even software products with your eyes.
Product developers desperately need to add the right polish and sophistication to their product. They know they want it, they know they need it, but they don’t know how to ask for it and get it. But you do.
Given the seismic shifts in product development that continue to take place, marketers are not as involved in product development as they should be. So how do you overcome that? It won’t happen through memos or meetings or top-down mandates. The key is to help and to make a real difference in your organization. Digital products require different go-to-market strategies, different ways of selling, and different ways of developing and implementing new tools. Your job is to make that shift as well.
Every company should be a software company. That means every CMO should be a software marketer. And if you’re not, you definitely need to be.