Entrepreneurs breathe their own exhaust. Marketing managers ask the audience what it thinks and try to keep entrepreneur-exhaust from poisoning it.
The DEMO Innovation Tour came to town last week and held a reception at the office of one of the sponsors. Plenty of entrepreneurs were there, and their enthusiasm was palpable. In fact, it was dripping from the rafters, like Dali’s soft watches.
Marketing managers, you need to rescue your audiences from entrepreneur-exhaust.
Movie dubbing in arcane languages
A woman with impeccable skin and vibrant, focused eyes told me about the dubbing platform they’re building. (Whenever I hear “platform,” I know I’m going to have to work hard to understand whatever comes next, because it won’t make sense if I just listen to the words and try to add them up. “Ecosystem” is in the same category.)
The platform allows movie studios to outsource overdubbing projects to small vendors. Think “Ironman” in Urdu: Few studios would want to fund that, but a small vendor in Pakistan might, if it had the chance.
Her colleague with the crew-cut joined her and explained that multiple vendors would, over time, compete with their respective overdub tracks, and users would rate them. This product will benefit an entire ecosystem (!) of small, in-market dubbing vendors, who can earn royalties on their work; of movie studios, who can wring a few more bucks out of titles they would never have paid to dub; and of users, who get the titles they read about on Yahoo! and Amazon in their own language.
There was a clock on the wall behind them, and I watched 15 minutes of my precious attention span go by before I finally understood their story. Or at least, the first part of it. There was more, but I excused myself from the entrepreneur-exhaust and grabbed some food.
Router and database – all in hardware!
I ran into Rick, whom I know from one of my former clients. That company has since folded, and Rick related the saga to me. His description of the final days there was breathless but entertaining, and I was enjoying his company. And then I went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like…
“So, what are you working on now?”
With equal breathlessness, he told me about his long-standing plans for a router modeled on gate arrays and EPROMs – “nobody wants to fund a chip” – with a database in hardware so that nobody could ever copy it, and about the crying need for this in SQL Server because the database instances can’t synchronize to one another fast enough to keep up in high-volume environments. He’s found the opportunity for some funding from a Russian investor, but they don’t look at things the same way as venture capitalists, so he’s still getting comfortable with the new financial language…
I like Rick’s accent, his barrel-chested delivery, and his penchant for invoking childhood recollections of Alexandre Dumas novels. It was an entertaining chat, but after a while my smile began to wither from entrepreneur-exhaust, and I felt my face begin to crack. I feigned dry mouth from the pita bread appetizers and excused myself to search for water.
Contracepting pigeons in the park
A husband-and-wife team is building a business around a pharmaceutical agent that interferes with the process of fertilization in pigeons.
The Mrs. had impeccable skin also – I should wear my glasses to these events more often – and a delicate frame, and the Mr. was affable and gregarious. They had sensible, concise answers for how the drug works, and they even had a few customer success stories, but their entrepreneur-exhaust was still oppressive.
They took me through an audio tour of their business six ways from Tuesday, explaining why it works on pigeons but not many other birds, how they’ve successfully navigated EPA and FDA, how PETA is on their side, and how their closest competitor – a purveyor of poison – has thrown in the towel, leaving the market ready for a new take on the problem of the uncontrolled pigeon-fecundity.
“Go ahead – ask me anything about pigeon birth control,” they tacitly said in unison. “For that matter, don’t bother; let me just tell you.”
Ask them what they think, already!
I’ll ask again: Do you do things like that to your audiences? Or do you ask them what they think of your idea? Do you care what they think of your idea? Can you turn the corner from unidirectional persuasion to marketing as a conversation?
All of these happy entrepreneurs talked about their product’s features and benefits at length. I didn’t mind – as long as they were talking, I could fill my mouth with free food – but if I had had a purchasing decision to make, I would have become cranky that they weren’t interested in me and the problems I have to solve.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nobody cares about your products or how cool they are. They care about their business problems and whether they can trust you to solve them.
Most organizations don’t understand the function of marketing managers, but in a startup, they protect the audience from entrepreneur-exhaust.
photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Jonathan Chandler