Why marketers should think more like entrepreneurs

A while ago I did this interview for a new venture of mine (Belgian Cowboys) with Johan Van Dyck. Now before you walk away because you have no idea who that is, you should hear me out. Johan used to be the CMO of the brewery Moortgat which is most known for beers such as Duvel, De Koninck, Vedett, Achouffe, … most of which are sold all over the world. So pretty decent job to say the least, one he did so well he became local Marketer of the Year his last year on the job. And yet, one day he decides to leave this all behind to start his own little brewery. In a market that is in decline and in the country with probably already most beers in the whole world – aka Belgium – that is not an easy one.

It’s not like it was a one-day decision, Johan had become fascinated with the history of beers that had dissapeared, some of which had been hugely popular at a certain point in time. One of those beers was Seefbier, during the 1900’s the most popular beer in Antwerp. But partially due to WWI and II it didn’t exist anymore. Even worse, the recipe was lost as well, nobody knew how it was made anymore. So while at Moortgat Johan went to great lengths to try to find that recipe during his free time. Libraries, old relatives of brewers, … you name it, Johan researched all. And with succes, because he found the recipe and got to make a sample.

What started of as bit of a hobby out of control I presume got really serious then. The beer tasted actually pretty good and he started planning for his own brewery. Something he couldn’t combine with his work at Moortgat obviously so he totally went for his own adventure. Today Seefbier exists again for about a year now and it’s pretty darn good.

So back to the interview. While we were actually talking about this adventure, marketing, …  a lot of it seemed to related to a kind of entrepreneurial attitude, but from a marketers point of view. Therefore I decided to write it down that way, why marketers should think more like entrepreneurs:

  1. Manage your marketing from the POV of the CEO. Plan as if it were your own money, is if it were your own business. This way you won’t just mark todo’s off your list but you will have to care about the full picture.
  2. Know your product. I know it sounds obvious to many but still not to all. New on the job or new people in the team? Provide a way to make them learn the product very well before starting. Not with slides, but there where the product is being made.
  3. Put the hours in.  If you want to be succesful as an entrepreneur you will have to have your business on your mind all day long. Work doesn’t stop when you close the office door at 6PM. There’s not such thing as a free lunch.
  4. Value entrepreneurship and not just success. This attitude is very different in the US compared to Europe. In the US people value an entrepreneur, even if eventually things don’t work out, you will still get respect for trying. It shows courage and initative. Don’t just value success.
  5. Take risks. You would expect entrepreneurs and startups to be much more careful when it comes to taking risks – it is their own money, their own loan right? And yet that is not the case most of the times. Marketers who work with other people’s money tend to be a lot more for playing on the safe side. Don’t.
  6. Take decisions, give directions. Don’t just distribute all the work incl. all decisions to other people or agencies, in the end it is your business and you’re appointed to be able to design strategy and direct marketing yourself. People can support you on that but don’t just put all the hard issues with other people.

A last thing Johan told me before we finished our Seefbier is something I want to share with you as well. I wondered if he wasn’t scared about the size of his competitors (AB Inbev, Moortgat, …) to which he replied: “The bigger the plates, the bigger the holes. I need big competitors to be able to function. Bring ’em on.” I like. Good luck Johan!

Presentation madness

Powerpoint, Keynote, … it doesn’t really matter much which piece of software you use to make a presentation. Trust me, there’s only little the software can do for you to make your presentation better, let alone good.

I get my fair share of practice making presentations since I make a few per week, but I also get to see a lot of presentations at events, with clients, suppliers, etc. The list below is an overview of my rules of thumb for creating good presentations.

The audience

First things first. Who are you talking to? It’s probably what bothers me most at conferences, all too often you see a presentation that is not at all tailored for the event. It’s more about what the presenter wants to say versus what the audience came down to hear.

But this doesn’t only count for conferences of course. Also when you’re presenting to your team, your boss or client(s), whatever the situation may be, the audience is key for what and how you will present. What is it that the listener wants to see? What do they expect? What is the context of this presentation? Trying to understand that is like a third of the success of your presentation.

The purpose

What is the reason for the presentation? What’s the goal? What was the briefing or what are you trying to get out of this? New business, an extra headcount, an extra effort from the team, understanding for a difficult decision, buy-in on a company vision, … How many times do you listen to or read a presentation and wonder: what’s the point? The presentation looked nice and all but don’t ask me what it was about.

What’s the point that your are trying to make? I think it’s important that you define the key take-aways well in advance. They don’t have to be crystalized (there’s room for that later in the process) but you need to have a good idea of what it is you want people to remember after the presentation. What it is you want to send them home with.

What is basically the end of the presentation is something you need to define at the start of making it. It’s where you need to build up to and it’s your first check on whether the presentation is in line with purpose you’re making it.

If you want me to do something, you better make that clear so I know what it is that you are looking for.

What do you need to get there?

So you know what your audience came down to see and you defined what it is that you want them to home with. Next step is to think of all the elements you need to have as key ingredients for your presentation.

Think of it as tearing out magazine photo’s before you can start making a collage. You have an idea of the end result and gather photo’s that you think will help you build a story to get there. With presentations it’s the same. Think of all the things that could be helpful to make your point. Quotes, articles, schemes, graphics, ideas, … and lay them all in front of you so you can see which ones you think you could use most.

Turning it into a story

Start with setting the scene. All too often I see a presentation that jumps right into a topic and only by the 3rd slide you figure out what the presenter is actually talking about.

“Bad storytelling is beginning, muddle, end.” (Philip Larkin – poet)

This is probably the most important part of your presentation. You know where you want to land with this, but how do you build up to that point? How do you make it so that within the timeframe that you got, you bring your story/presentation in the most powerful way? Will you start with laying down the problem? Or with the conclusion? There are many ways in building a great story and it’s up to you to figure that one out, but make sure you spend enough time on it. Make sure that you cut out all that is not necessary to make your story come to life.

Using post-it notes to lay out a grid of ideas in front of you and order them is a common trick but a really good one, and one that I also use when building more complex presentations.

Design

I love a nicely designed presentation just as much as everyone else. I don’t think it’s key to a good presentation though, it sort of adds an extra quality to it. Too many people seem to think design is amongst the first things to get right – that’s really not how it’s supposed to be. Some of the best presentations I’ve seen at conferences were of the worst design you can imagine… including Comic Sans.

Make sure the fonts are correct, the typo is the same throughout the presentation, the photo’s are aligned, … these are all easy to do and make the presentation from not looking sloppy. A great design doesn’t make it a better story, so make sure this is not where your main focus is. Or let me say it like this – a presentation full of quotes on a photographic background per slide is not a good presentation, just saying.

Check it

It’s ready so give it a swing. Go over it, maybe with a colleague or someone close to the topic, and see what you (and they) think about it. Did they see the point you were trying to make? Was it clear how you tried to build up to that? Did you feel comfortable with the story? Isn’t there anything missing or isn’t there too much you’re trying to say? The stage is a terrible place to figure out whether you made a good presentation or not, so make sure you got that checked before.

Another check that you need to perform is timing. I hate it when people don’t respect their timing, it’s a simple thing but a form of respect that you don’t abuse the slot that you were given for your presentation. Often people give presentations that aren’t specifically tailored to an audience nor a certain time slot and you can tell from the very first minute that that is the case. Don’t do it. If you want your story to come over right, you need to manage it within the time that you got. It’s different for everyone but I mostly count around 1.5 to 2 minutes per slide, which gives 15 to 20 slides max for a 30 minutes presentation (without title or exit slide)

Bonus check

Sometimes the organizer asks the audience to give feedback on the conference and when they do make sure you get the feedback on your presentation. You might learn something from it. And in case it’s a public event, check out Twitter after your talk as well. And don’t just look for kind words, but for what people tweeted about the presentation, see if are the key elements of the presentation, see if it are those things you wanted people to remember (and share).

Good luck.

How to please your I.T. Department

While cleaning out my little home office this weekend, I just found this A3 paper that was once distributed at Microsoft containing the following tips:

  1. When you call us to have your computer moved, be sure to leave it buried under half a ton of postcards, baby pictures, stuffed animals, dried flowers, bowling trophies and children’s art. We don’t have a life, and we find it deeply moving to catch a fleeting glimpse of yours.
  2. Don’t write anything down. Ever. We can play back the error messages from here.
  3. When an I.T. person says he’s coming right over, go for coffee. That way you won’t be there when we need your password. It’s nothing for us to remember 700 screensaver passwords.
  4. When you call the help desk, state what you want, not what’s keeping you from getting it. We don’t need to know that you can’t get into your mail because your computer won’;t power on at all.
  5. When I.T. support sends you an email with high importance, delete it at once. We’re just testing.
  6. When an I.T. person is eating lunch at his desk, walk right up and spill your guts right out. We exist only to serve.
  7. Send urgent email all in uppercase. The mail server picks it up and flags it as a rush delivery.
  8. When the photocopier doesn’t work, call computer support. There’s electronics in it.
  9. When something’s wrong with your home PC, dump it on an I.T. person’s chair with no name, no phone number and no description of the problem. We love a puzzle.
  10. When an I.T. person tells you that computer screens don’t have cartridges in them, argue. We love a good argument.
  11. When an I.T. person tells you that he’ll be there shortly, reply in a scathing tone of voice: “And just how many weeks do you mean by shortly?”. That motivates us.
  12. When the printer won’t print, re-send the job at least 20 times. Print jobs frequently get sucked into black holes.
  13. When the printer still won’t print after 20 tries, send the job to all 68 printers in the company. One of them is bound to work.
  14. Don’t learn the proper term for anything technical. We know exactly what you mean by “My thingy blew up”.
  15. Don’t use online help. Online help is for wimps.

I’m sure someone copied it from someone else back then (and again…) so maybe nothing new but I still find it a classic worth sharing. Made me smile :)