The MEDICAL Method: Method or Madness?

Over the last month I’ve shared some details on the MEDICAL Method, a new technique to quickly and effectively evaluate your product marketing content.

MEDICAL is an acronym to help you evaluate your written content. I hope that it can be a useful tool for product marketers in their content generation efforts – perhaps similar to the 5 C’s of SWOT analysis. It can be a starting point to get you unstuck, or a checkpoint to get to you to a final product.

I’ve been using the MEDICAL Method for several months, evaluating both my own work and published materials to see if they are meaningful, exciting, differentiated, informative, consistent, actionable, and localized. And so far it’s working for me. I can create better materials faster using this framework, and I can easily see ways that good professional work can be even better.

So now I’d like to hear your feedback. Do you think the MEDICAL Method can help you? Or am I on the wrong track altogether? Are there any important concepts that it’s missing? What would help to improve (and prove?) this method?


MEDICAL is a useful acronym for product marketing

Localization: Talk To Your Target Customer


This is the story of Quokka. I started it when stories were the most valuable currency in Silicon Valley.

This cute quokka somehow demonstrates great content and product marketingBack in 1998, I was a cub reporter for the now-defunct San Francisco Independent newspaper. I was sometimes sent to cover events that showed up in our daily stack of press releases, including the frequent (and extravagant) launch parties of Internet companies.

One of these was thrown by Quokka, a company that promised to revolutionize sports media using the Web. I arrived to find scores of guests chatting in a colorful lobby, munching on a mountain of crudité and an ocean of shrimp. A band was playing somewhere.

The CEO took the press around the company’s new offices. He proudly showed off a 5,000 square-foot floor, full of new cubicles, which he promised would be full of employees within months. A constellation of satellite dishes graced the roof. Quokka, he said, would be the number-one site for all live streaming sports, providing a real-time experience that traditional networks could not match. The site would attract action junkies, loyal team fans, and statheads. It was the next ESPN, in short. And that’s roughly what I wrote.

Quokka ended up going public in 1999, and produced websites to broadcast sports events exclusives. They produced coverage of the 2000 America’s Cup race and the 2000 Olympics, a high-water mark for the company. Then the tide went out.

By the end of 2001, the company had shed two-thirds of its staff and pivoted to a model of providing network infrastructure to other content providers. Quokka limped along until 2007, when it finally sank under the waves.

Now, 17 years later, I can finish the story of Quokka Sports.

Everything To Everyone

Quokka presented itself as the sports destination for everyone. It was the source of action sports and mainstream sports, the place for live streaming and real-time statistics. Quokka would be the best at delivering the network technology and at creating the content. In other words, the site was going to be everything to everyone.

While the company may also have tried to do too much technically, it also made a serious marketing error in presenting itself this way. By attempting to speak to almost every consumer on the Internet, the company only succeeded in exhausting its voice. A man on the street who yells at everyone convinces no one.

Quokka failed at localization: specifying its message to a tightly defined audience of desired customers. If Quokka had localized its market, it would have tried to do fewer things, and may have been able to gain true traction with a customer base. The company could have succeeded as a network infrastructure play if it had focused from the start.

Unfortunately, Quokka was riding a bubble that demanded making the biggest splash possible. And the biggest splashes often sink the fastest.

Be Something To Somebody

A B2B company is likely to have a small prospective audience of potential buyers, particularly compared to a consumer business. Make sure you segment your market carefully and know who your customer is, then design your messaging to speak only to this niche. Several tips can keep you on the right path.

  • Make your target audience as small as possible. The more specific your audience, the more precise your message can be, and the more intensively you can try to reach this audience. People who will not buy your service are not prospects – they are a waste of your effort.
  • Feel free to specify your audience by naming it. If your target customer is an IT administrator for a hospital, for example, you might title your sell sheet with, “A message for hospital IT administrators”. This device can feel forced, however it is appropriate in many cases.
  • Speak your audience’s language. If your target customer uses specific acronyms or terminology, use them also so your prospects know you understand them and are talking to them.
  • While using specific language, avoid general weasel words such as “premiere” or “best-in-class”. These terms don’t help your reader understand if she is the right audience, and even suggest that you don’t know who is. No one believes these words. However, factually accurate terms (“#1 most popular”, “leading choice of hospital IT administrators”) can be fine if they contribute to your goals of excitement and differentiation.
  • One useful device for localizing your content is to tell a hero’s journey story, a case study of success form the point of view of your ideal customer – the hero. Your target reader will identify with the story, which will probably be more memorable than any benefit statement told from your own perspective.

Segment the Seven C’s

Effective localized content is only possible if you have accurately segmented your market, so you know who you are trying to speak to and why they will listen to you. There are many frameworks for segmentation, and any of them can be effective if the outcome is a specific addressable market that is small enough for you to reach with your available resources.

You will know your content is properly localized to your market if prospects are taking action and if every channel and group you target is responding.

Your business can’t roam the whole world and effectively win and retain customers. So cast your net in the very best place you can find, and you’ll be able to catch all the fish you can handle.

What is your most effective method of speaking to your specific, targeted audience? Tell us about it in the comments.

P.S. The image atop this post is of a quokka, an Australian marsupial that may be the most absurdly photogenic furball on the planet. Those links are so cute they are probably NSFW. You’ve been warned.


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