Want a Wealth of Attention? Think Socks

Marketing Masterpieces: short essays on product marketing

In technology marketing we often think bigger will be better. Complexity must be cool, and sophistication is sexy. But with everyone locked in an arms race to one-up each other for attention, sometimes the best attention comes from going back to basics.

Such as socks.

This week is Dreamforce, the giant technology conference and be-in for those of us in the jeans-with-suit-jacket set. The expected attendance this year is 150,000. The show is so big Salesforce rented a cruise ship.

So it’s no surprise that there are lots of companies vying for everyone’s attention. On the expo floor, exhibitors are up to their usual tricks to one-up each other.

Did your team come dressed in matching outfits? There’s somebody else with a full farm getup. I didn’t catch what this company was selling or how coveralls and fake cherries were related to their product.

Farm theme was not differentiated

Did you hear about the sponsor that’s giving away a Tesla? Yes? Somebody else is raffling off a Maserati. I don’t see their logo anywhere on that ride.

Maserati was not differentiated

And there is no shortage of costumed characters. This robot was coming over to fist bump me. But mascots don’t talk, and I couldn’t spot this one’s company in the mob.

Robot was not differentiated

In short, these cries for attention didn’t make a huge splash at Dreamforce today. No doubt some people are talking about these tactics, and they are surely better than nothing. But they lack uniqueness.

What did stick out was a more understated approach on display at WealthEngine. Like hundreds of vendors, WealthEngine has a swag giveaway. Rub the scratch-off to win one of the four prizes: power pack, adapter, selfie stick… or socks. The booth staff told me the socks were the most desired item.

WealthEngine use of swag is product marketing perfection

After visiting WealthEngine I stepped to the side and watched people coming to their booth. Sure enough, socks were the biggest draw. I stopped a few attendees who were out for swag. When I mentioned that WealthEngine was giving away socks they became animated.

“I’ll remember WealthEngine,” one woman told me, “because nobody else is giving out socks.”

In retrospect, socks are an ideal giveaway item for this company in accordance with the MEDICAL method.

  • They are memorable because socks will go in a drawer for years – even if you only wear them for Halloween. No one keeps or remembers squeeze balls.
  • They are exciting because you laugh when you first see them. Pens are dull.
  • They are differentiated because no one else is handing out socks. A dozen companies are giving away t-shirts.
  • They are informative because they have the brand right on them. Candy and coffee are consumed and forgotten.
  • They are consistent with the brand. WealthEngine’s website invites visitors to schedule a free demo: “Try us on for size and see how we fit!”
  • They are actionable – to the extent any giveaway can be – because the brand is printed on them. See the socks, go to the website.
  • Finally, they are localized – again, to the extent possible – because this company can serve any industry. A company giving away only tech junk may imply that it only helps technical clients.

In the technology arms race, WealthEngine differentiated itself with the lowest-tech swag possible.

The lesson here is not to go print socks for your company. Rather, it is to use your show giveaway as something more than a way to get people into your booth for a conversation they’ll quickly forget. Use this overlooked aspect of event marketing to stand out and to further your product marketing strategy.

When I think about socks and WealthEngine, I imagine that the company is trying to say several things about itself:

  • Socks are one-size-fits-all. We are able to serve your organization no matter your size.
  • Socks are simple and useful. Our service is easy to understand and will add value, not complexity.
  • Socks are comfortable. Your buying experience with us will be low-stress and easy.
  • Socks are considerate and practical. Everyone needs new socks. Your grandmother puts them in your Christmas stocking because she loves you. We hope this giveaway will lead to a corporate relationship that is equally fulfilling.

Socks are just right for WealthEngine. What is the promotional item that could set your company apart?

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Why Do All Clouds Look The Same?

Serena and Venus Williams teach us about differentiation

Like millions of Americans, I was riveted by yesterday’s U.S. Open quarterfinal match between the matchless Williams sisters. It was a chance for me, a casual tennis fan, to learn more about these two great competitors.

I now know more about the professional careers of Serena and Venus, how each of them approaches her game, and what factors led to today’s outcome. I can differentiate them much more effectively.

So it was striking to see advertising for two different companies, each promoting its cloud technology in the same way. The ads came early in the match.

First up was a spot from IBM. In the ad, a woman is at a ridiculous-looking conference full of anonymous cloud-services vendors. She meets a salesman hawking a service based on “awesomeization”. The woman reels off several features that, presumably, IBM offers. The ad closes with a message that IBM is “The Cloud That Understands Business” and that 24 of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies use the IBM cloud.

A few minutes later, Xerox debuted an ad showing a business executive beset by cliché-wielding underlings. At an airport, the executive walks past a wall of cloud services advertisements. He buys a coffee. The sleeve encourages him to “be more cloud-tastic”. The closing onscreen message informs us that “Work Can Work Better” with Xerox.

Based on its positioning, IBM thinks of itself as the market leader. It is the choice of the largest of the large companies, so it must set the standard in terms of scalability. I would also suspect IBM comes with the highest cost, customization, and set-up time. IBM is for me if I’m also a giant company, or think I will be soon.

Xerox is positioning itself as the underdog with a superior service approach. When the world of cloud brings chaos to the modern executive, Xerox will bring simplicity. I would go with Xerox if I want more personal service and think an out-of-the-box setup may work for me.

Are these positions correct? I don’t know. It is too much to expect a 30-second spot to hit all the bases of the MEDICAL method. But it isn’t too much to expect differentiation, and I don’t think we got it.

Each ad used the exact same framing to set up its position. Each ad implied that the world is full of identical-sounding messages about the cloud. Each ad used a funny nonsense word to make the ad more memorable and shareable. Then each ad closed with a short positioning phrase, briefly introducing the brand.

Suppose you could take both ads and remove all voiceovers and brand names, then shake them in a Yahtzee cup. When the ads rolled out,  would you be able to tell which was for Xerox and which for IBM?

I don’t think so. Ironically, in trying to differentiate themselves, the two companies took almost the exact same approach, and came out looking the same.

This demonstrates an important lesson for differentiating your brand: To set yourself apart from your competition, it’s not enough to say something different – you also have to say it differently.

Even though only one Williams can advance, it’s clear from seeing them next to each other that Venus and Serena are unique talents. Can cloud services companies set themselves apart as well as the Williams sisters have?


IMG_6590.jpg by Ian Gampon    CC BY 2.0

Talenti: A Delicious Marketing Success

Marketing Masterpieces: short essays on product marketing

This is the first of what I hope are many excursions from the usual subject of B2B product and content marketing. Today we are going out for dessert. I hope that’s okay with you!

I love frozen treats, so I was really excited the first time I had delicious gelato from Talenti at a dinner party. The product is first-rate, but there is a lot of premium ice cream and gelato here in San Francisco. What really got me was Talenti’s unique packaging: clear jars with understated text and images, with the product totally visible from the outside.

From the Heart of Texas

Talenti is a classic story of start-up perseverance. Company founder Josh Hochschuler started the company in 2002 as a retail store in Dallas. After years of struggle and multiple brushes with bankruptcy, the company pivoted to a distribution model and reached $1.2 million in sales by 2007. Hochschuler then teamed up with Steve Gill and Eddie Phillips, the founders of Belvedere and Chopin vodkas, and from there everything changed.[1]

With an injection of capital and new distribution muscle, Talenti took off. Sales roughly doubled each year, reaching $120 million in 2014. In December of that year, Unilever bought the company for an undisclosed sum.[2]

How did an upstart like Talenti become the hottest thing in cold treats? The product is great, but that doesn’t matter if no one tries it. The secret is in the packaging.

Everyone Loves Jar Jar

Market research confirms that many consumers first bought Talenti because of its packaging, clear plastic screw-top jars which provide a literal insight into the product. Hochschuler wanted product displays to mimic the case full of colorful flavors in a gelateria.[3] Not only did he succeed at this goal, he got more than he bargained for.

The Talenti jars live much longer than the gelato (especially in my house!) They are incredibly useful for a variety of other things. Last year, I worked in an office where one woman brought homemade soup for lunch in Talenti containers. They were just the right size, easy to carry and hand wash, and inevitably sparked conversations about the wonderful gelato that came in those jars.

With such great “accidental marketing”, it’s no wonder Talenti grew 100% a year in a slow-growth industry, largely by word of mouth.

It’s Clear: Be Transparent

We can take two valuable B2B marketing lessons from Talenti’s success:

  • Be transparent with customers to win their trust.
  • Be so useful that your customers are compelled to share you.

Retail purchasers are four times more likely to buy products in clear packaging.[3] Yet most software companies have a hard time providing “clear” views of their products. When we go window shopping on the Internet, the software we’re considering is mostly hidden from us. We can see feature lists, testimonials, live demos, and even free trials – but does any of this have the magnetic pull and implied brand promise of a perfectly marbled Caramel Cookie Crunch gelato?

Usually, we hide our software behind many opaque layers. But why do this if our customers are going to love it? Why not strip away the gates in our marketing funnel and let them drool over our great software? There must be a way to do this – right?

A Talenti jar can get used over and over, tempting us to buy more gelato every time we use it to take leftover chicken to work. And then the jar can start a truly “viral” pitch, when a colleague asks about it. But B2B companies struggle to go viral. Even with all the marketing channels available to us, no billion-dollar budget is half as valuable as talkative, happy customers.

How can we put our B2B brands somewhere that millions of people will naturally see them, because our customers find our products too wonderful not to share? This is possible – isn’t it?

If we can apply the lesson of Talenti to our marketing efforts, then the outcome will indeed be sweet.

Talenti gelato is an example of great marketing packaging


[1] Got a whole gelato love – Fortune

[2] Unilever buys Talenti gelato e sorbetto for undisclosed sum

[3] Talenti Gelato’s Clear Packaging Advantage – Businessweek

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