The Double-Edge Sword of Iterative Marketing
I’ve always been an admirer of the marketing prowess of salesforce.com…although it always drives me crazy to comply with the lower-case spelling of their name because it seems to genericize their value in my eyes.
One of the specific aspects of the company’s marketing tactics which I’ve particularly liked is the way in which it continuously extends its brand identity by incrementally broadening and redefining its functional capabilities. This is a technique which I call “iterative marketing”.
Some people use this term to describe a marketing approach in which a company continuously tests its marketing messages and lead generation tactics to see which works best. I’m using the term differently to refer to the way a company can continuously evolve, extend and expand their marketing messages to gain greater mindshare and ultimately marketshare as well.
The simplest example of this marketing technique is salesforce.com’s seasonal releases which routinely include a set of functional enhancements which consistently add value to its existing capabilities.
The company also maintains a related marketing discipline which I like. It always previews its seasonal releases a few months before their actual market availability, then announces their general availability, and then reports the results of the rollout of the release when the next seasonal release is unveiled. This means the company gets three rounds of headlines for each seasonal release.
This marketing trick is one of the few which Marc Benioff overlooked in his new book, “Behind the Cloud”, which includes a wide array of tips and anectodes about the tactics and events which have helped to foster salesforce.com’s success.
In addition to reiterating its capabilities and accomplishments over and over, salesforce.com has also been able to continuously rebrand its offerings as they evolve to make them look even more timely and newsworthy. Here are a few examples,
- The company’s SFA application has evolved into the ‘Sales Cloud’.
- Its CRM application has evolved into the ‘Service Cloud’.
- The Apex source code has evolved into the Force.com Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or ‘Custom Cloud’.
- The AppExchange has evolved into the company’s new VAR program.
This is not to say that salesforce.com is simply renaming its existing capabilities to grab additional headlines. In each of these cases, the company has genuinely enhanced its offerings and expanded its capabilities.
However, in some cases salesforce.com has also succeeded in confusing its customers, partners, analysts and the press, as well as its own salespeople, who are trying to keep up with the latest iterations and keep them all straight.
This was clearly true at last week’s Dreamforce conference where many of the attendees I interviewed were confused about Chatter and unclear about what was really new in its Winter 2010 release.
As one attendee said to me, “After a long string of seasonal successes, I guess salesforce.com deserves a ‘mulligan’ on this one.”
I guess that’s the risk you take when you’re trying to juggle a broadening portfolio of services and messages, like salesforce.com.
The question is whether it is time to change its marketing tactics and slowdown the iterative process so everyone can catch up and get on the same page, or should I say ‘cloud’.
[Disclosure: Salesforce.com paid my airfare to Dreamforce and has hired me to produce whitepapers on its behalf in the past.]