Saturday, February 5, 2011

Marketing for IT

Before I started my MBA, I thought "marketing" was comprised of sales and advertising.  I knew little of focus groups, but I assumed that they had something to do with sales.  While this wasn't spelled out explicitly in any of my classes, I've begun to think of marketing as this process, in this order:
  1. Understand what it is your customer needs
  2. Understand how you can meet those needs
  3. Teach the customer about your product (Advertising)
  4. Persuade that your solution is worth money (Sales)
After looking at marketing in this way, I started thinking that the most important aspects are numbers 1 and 2, not sales and advertising.  Yet a very large number of companies focus on the last two.  It's not hard to imagine why.  These two activities have a direct, measurable impact on the company's bottom line.  Skipping steps 1 and 2 can lead to problems, but they can appear to be other problems if you don't know what you're looking for.

A great example of how this can be an issue can be found in a blog about native applications for mobile devices vs. mobile web for a particular company.  It's an interesting blog, but I was struck by this comment:
Eventually we came to the conclusion that we should stick with what we’re good at: web apps. We know the technologies well, we have a great development environment and workflow, we can control the release cycle, and everyone at 37signals can do the work. It’s what we already do, just on a smaller screen. We all loved our smaller screens so we were eager to dive in. Plus, since WebKit-based browsers were making their way to the webOS and Blackberry platforms too, our single web-app would eventually run on just about every popular smartphone platform.
They may be right in that web apps targeted for mobile browsers might be a better solution for their customers than programs built for specific devices.  But I would argue that their approach needs to be changed.  Their reasoning to move to mobile web is all about themselves, such as their knowledge of technologies, better control, etc.

While these points are important, it is much more important to consider what their customers need.  If their customers need the greater flexibility that can be found by creating device-specific apps, they will be short-changing their current customers and limiting their markets in the future.  They could also be alienating their current customers who don't want to be forced into a certain solution merely for the convenience of the developer.  Instead, they should determine what it is that their customers need.  Do they need cross-platform solutions?  Do they need top performance and ease-of-use?  Are there going to be a lot of updates to these apps?  Without answers to these (and other) questions, you can't reasonably limit yourself to one solution or another.

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