Unextreme Exploring

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We can name many famous explorers, but can you name those that never returned from their expeditions?

The unknown is the danger within every new territory. Venture into an unblazed forest and you may never find your way home. The same goes for new markets, or even markets that are rapidly changing (the sense of panic is palpable in the book publishing market these days). Yet marketing in virgin territories is not unlike exploring a new continent. In each, testing is essential.

When the pilgrims landed in what later became the United States, they did not make a mad Lewis and Clark dash across the continent. They rarely ventured away from the shore and whatever rivers provided fresh water. In small steps, they set off in one direction for a short distance, blazed their trail and returned the way they came. The next morning they would try a different direction. Once several compass points had been tested, they would select the most promising of the paths and go a little further, testing again until they found a good place for a new encampment. The process was repeated from that outpost.

New markets are always appearing, and with the advent of wired-everywhere technology, many markets are changing (for example, e-books recently outsold the dead-tree variety in the adult paperback category). With each new/changed market, we enter uncharted territories. Like explorers of old, it is better to make many small forays in different directions than to leap down one trail … and off one cliff.

The problem is that marketing budgets are finite, and the number of potential marketing tactics isn’t. Testing all possible avenues is impossible and unaffordable. A better approach is to mimic our ancestors – the ones that survived – and make small sorties into the field on different vectors, taking sightings and measuring the natural resources. Soon enough, certain strategies and tactics will appear vastly more appealing than others.

Let’s relate this to the publishing industry. In the old days, publishers had delivery cycles that extended beyond a year. They assembled catalogs of future titles, went to trade shows to give those catalogs to distributors and book store representatives, sent books to every major metro newspaper and national magazine for review, printed thousands of copies in advance, bought massive advertisements, scheduled book signing tours in book stores … and prayed.

Due to Amazon, e-books and print-on-demand technology, new publishers have a 12-week delivery cycle, rarely send galleys for review to newspapers, are causing book stores to go bankrupt, and are keeping the middleman cut for themselves. For marketing they turn to social media, targeted banner ads and bloggers. None of these marketing tactics were immediately obvious to the new breed of publishing houses. There have been many dead publishing explorers, each venturing down one or another promotional path a little too far. Aggregated, however, they tested most permutations. More and more are returning to the fort still alive and with freshly killed game.

Testing is the key. The Internet gives us great testing options, be it simple A/B testing of web page content or using surveys to test buyer responses to pitches and images. This applies not only to software marketing in general but is nearly essential in SaaS marketing. Web space costs nearly nothing and HTML coders are cheap (content management systems are even less expensive). Optimizing messages, images and offers costs next to nada. In surveying, structured text can be administered when web traffic has yet to be generated. Social media provides numerous methods for interacting with individuals and assessing which modes and memes work best. Some really sly traditional software vendors have even incorporated A/B testing in user interfaces (admittedly this is rare, but doing so online during prototyping is feasible and profitable).

These are the ways to explore new and changed markets … in small and safe outings. Testing means you will make it back to the fort with fewer arrows in your back.

Guy Smith is the chief consultant for Silicon Strategies Marketing.Guy has led marketing strategy for a variety of technology companies vending high-availability backup software, wireless middleware, enterprise software, infrastructure software, mobile applications, server virtualization, secure remote access, risk management applications, application development tools and several open source ventures. Before turning to marketing, Guy was a technologist for NASA, McDonnell Douglas, Circuit City Corporate Headquarters and other organizations.

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