Tim Barnes is a widely experienced consultant and author. He has provided strategy, market research and branding services to industries as varied as semiconductors, software, banking, furniture, industrial design and life insurance.
His unique philosophy and working style have enabled him to achieve an industry-leading 95% rate of repeat business.
Strategy & Marketing brings unique consultative tools that deliver actionable answers rapidly and in a cost-effective manner.
I like to write. That’s why this website is here. But I’ve also written fiction, songs, a play, and a couple of technical books.
Publishing is harder than writing, I find. My first book, Electronic CAD Frameworks, was published by Kluwer—now Springer—(it’s out of print now, alas). Since then I’ve used lulu.com , which offers an easy interface to self-publishing, and it’s free to publish (although you pay for the books).
Here are some links to books I’ve written:
- Electronic CAD Frameworks .— this book describes the core technologies involved in electronic design software that provide databases, user interfaces, tool interaction and more.
- The Art of Flows — a discussion of techniques for managing complex sequences of programs required for software and silicon development.
- Ollie’s New Beginning — a children’s story, written for (and to some degree with) my younger son.
- Rock, Paper, Scissors — a play about the war in Afghanistan, developed into an opera by Michael Sanie.
Writing is a powerful and well-tested marketing tool. The use of extended written materials is a key part of much technical marketing: white papers, brochures, documentation, and more. Creating a whole book to tell the story of a product or capability is less common, but no less valuable.
Over the past several months I’ve been co-authoring a book with Andrea Casotto, founder of Runtime Design Automation. It addresses technical strategies for the management of complex computational tasks that involve multiple jobs, with dependencies and pre-requisites. The management of these jobs is an important part of the design of software and semiconductors, and Runtime’s FlowTracer product is a leader in this space.
The book focuses on building up a perspective on three implementation alternatives, through examples. Makefiles and scripting are two common, but flawed approaches, which we compare with the power of FlowTracer.
I’ve spent years in the marketing business, working with companies large and small. I’ve been on the inside as a Vice President, and on the outside as an Executive Consultant.
There’s a key problem with a lot of marketing.
It’s too easy to get hung up on making your product look better than it is, in the hope that people will be fooled into buying it.
The issue is that marketing is not just about “putting lipstick on the pig”-or making things look good. It’s about negotiating a relationship of value between your company and your customers.
Marketing has inbound responsibilities and outbound responsibilities.
Inbound marketing is about really understanding what customers need, want, and will buy. It’s about understanding segments, measuring, and gaining insight. That’s so fundamental, because that’s what enables marketing to operate with integrity. It’s based on real knowledge.
Outbound marketing is how you tell your story. A product or service story can certainly be compelling and persuasive, but you need to remember one thing: a disappointed customer will tell ten people, while a satisfied customer will tell one or two. So if your marketing message is not supported by reality, expect your customers to become your counter-marketing agency!
So marketing with integrity means finding out what the market needs, building the right product, and telling the story elegantly and powerfully.
Ultimately, truth is the most powerful thing in the world.
Great products always have a market. The question is this: What’s the value proposition that makes sense in difficult times? If your product is all about quality, you have two advantages over lesser products:
1. Your product can enhance your customer’s brand
2. You can offer risk-reduction purchasing strategies to your customers.
Both of these differentiators depend on the quality of your product. If your offering is really well-designed, and it stands out from the crowd, you can offer your customer a way to differentiate, simply because they own and use your product. This applies to furniture, lighting, stationery, web design, product packaging and a host of other things. If you can enhance your customer’s brand, you have unique value in a tough economy. Your customer needs to be differentiated, just as you do. This is one way you can be successful in tough times.
The second factor is about risk reduction. Of course you can always offer money-back guarantees, performance guarantees and the like. These are time-tested selling strategies. The problem is that if you don’t have a great product, too many customers will call in the guarantees. Ideally you want to offer the guarantee and have no-one take you up on it, because it costs money to service a guarantee. That’s why there’s such a strong link between quality and risk reduction. The better the quality of your product, the better a guarantee you can offer. The better the guarantee, the more…
The more companies I talk to, the more convinced I become that thinking clearly about the segments you serve is the key to effective marketing.
The value of segmentation is really that it causes you to be objective about the kinds of people who will find your products and services interesting. Objectivity includes understanding the positive and negative aspects of each segment’s needs, frame of reference, and belief system.
I find that belief-based segmentation is the most powerful: if you can accurately characterize the beliefs of your various segments, you can build value propositions that speak to those beliefs. People’s behavior is driven to a large degree by their belief systems. Here are some of the beliefs you might find in your customer base that might indicate how easy it will be to sell to them:
- Cost is king
- It’s all about quality
- We are a conservative company
- We’re leading edge
- Buy locally made
- We want partnership, not transactions
- Our focus is innovation
- We emphasize safety and predictability
There are many more, and they have to do with company brands, company mission statements, and the perhaps unwritten cultural elements of your customers. It’s probably obvious to you why these things matter: it’s harder to sell an avant garde product to someone who believes conservatism is an important aspect of their brand.
So the goal is firstly to identify the most important beliefs that characterize your potential market, and then to craft messages and strategies…
There are many ways to innovate, but one of the most reliable is in the customer relationship. It’s reliable because you can quickly measure the impact of changes in the way you manage the relationship with your customers. You don’t even have to have a brilliant idea—your customers will often provide it for you (if you ask!).
Nordstrom’s is a great example of a retailer that has achieved differentiation through a unique approach to their customer relationship. Not only do they establish a customer-centric approach to doing business, but they specifically empower their salespeople to go out of their way to give customers a unique level of support and service. There are not many stores where you can return something you didn’t buy there, or where you can ask them to get something they don’t stock. At Nordstrom’s you can do either of these things, and they will try to help. Their personal shopper services are amazing, and lead to a very high level of customer satisfaction and loyalty.
This works because even though one instance of this level of support may be expensive, the cost of acquiring customers is higher, and the value of a loyal customer is higher still.
In this article I want to focus on one simple idea that will help you to differentiate in the customer relationship: it’s called the referenceability metric.
The idea is simple. Ask every customer this one question: “On a scale of…
But not every company takes it seriously. Innovation is what keeps your business relevant as the needs of your customer change, and as your competition evolves.
It’s tempting to believe that in a cost-driven, mature market, efficiency is the key – that close management of costs and efficient and predictable processes are what makes the difference. But this is a mistake.
Of course, efficiency and cost management are part of every company’s operational plan, and in the environment where there’s not a lot of overall market growth, cost overruns can badly hurt a public company through missed operating margin targets. But the real challenge in a mature market is to change the game. Find a new way to deliver value. I’ve written before about how differentiation can be found even in the most mature and commoditized markets. If your market is not growing, or if competitive pressures are eating into pricing and margins, innovation is essential.
Innovation can take place in many areas of your business:
- In the business model
- In the customer relationship
- In the channel
- In your core offerings
- Through solutions and higher levels of value
- Through new approaches to marketing and lead generation
…and in many other aspects of your company. The bottom line is that every business needs innovation, and you neglect it at your peril.
The recommendation phase is the process of establishing common understanding and buy-in, so that implementation can proceed.
The good news is that you have gone through a thorough process already, if you’ve followed the seven steps have a good audit trail of information and ideas all the way from the original problem definition, and you’ve also taken the time to keep others involved along the way. If you’ve done a good job with the earlier phases, the recommendation is easier, because the key people have some exposure to the ideas, and most of the difficult questions have been asked and answered through research and validation follow-up.
The fundamental task of the recommendations phase is to drive action. That means your recommendations need to be clear, simple to explain, and that the value must also be clear. Most strategy processes are followed by a corporate budgeting cycle, in which funds are allocated to new and existing projects. New projects by definition have a harder time, because they are more risky than continuing to invest in projects that already produce revenue. That means that the financial arguments need to be as clear as possible.
Here’s a check-list of the elements of…
A strategic hypothesis lays out your view of the market, the opportunity, the risks, and a prioritized set of options. Once subjected to internal review and discussion, there are bound to be a number of additional questions raised, and perhaps some preferences expressed.
The purpose of validation is to test the preferred options with friendly customers and internal stake-holders, and to find answers to the questions raised in the hypothesis review process.
Validation can be short or long, depending on the scope of the strategic leap proposed, and upon the style of the organization. I always try to keep the validation phase short, because you have established some momentum as a result of the hypothesis review, and you don’t want to allow too much time to pass between the establishment of a hypothesis and the delivery of final recommendations.
The key elements to be assembled in preparing for validation are these:
- The list of unanswered questions raised by your stakeholders that need to be addressed to complete the strategy proposal
- The list of objections and concerns raised in presentation and discussion of the hypothesis
- The best sources of answers to the questions, objections and concerns
Once you have the validation data, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I still…
If your web site doesn’t use RSS, you’re missing out on a great way to increase your visibility. This technique makes your content available in a customized way to every reader who wants to stay up to date with what you have to say.
RSS stands for “Real Simple Syndication”—which may not help much. But it’s a powerful technique for publishers and consumers of information. With an RSS feed you can make information available to your audience so they can keep up with the latest changes—articles, offers, information, news and more. RSS feeds are formatted in a number of ways, but they are based on XML, (eXtensible Markup Language) which is an industry standard format that contains structure and content in a consistent and recognizable way. That means that it’s easy for a separate program to understand and present the information. The good news is that you don’t have to understand any of that! The chances are that your website can already support the generation of RSS feeds—you just need to switch them on.
There are many RSS readers – you may be able to read RSS feeds on your mobile phone, and there are lots of choices for Windows, MacOS and Linux. One simple way to read RSS feeds and keep up with everything that interest you is through Netvibes, which allows you to build a custom home page with content pulled…