Sunday, December 05, 2004

Most People Never Market a Blockbuster

One of the things that occurred to me on this trip is the fact that I have never marketed a "blockbuster". This isn't really a matter of my marketing abilities, just a matter of statistics.

A vast majority of products that are produced out in the world of business never make money. A large number of them muddle along, making a little money, but never quite hitting critical mass. A very small number are breakout successes creating vast sums of money for the corporation and kudos and promotions for those involved.

Business articles mainly concentrate on either the large successes (the Mustang, Viagra) or the huge failures (the Edsel, Vioxx). They don't mention the vast majority that are mediocre successes or silent failures. I find that most of the products that I have worked on fit in these categories:

TMS320C30 - This was one of the first 32-bit DSPs (Digital Signal Processor) on the market and the first product I ever marketed. It was actually successful in it's segment - floating point DSPs - but it sold in a year what 16-bit fixed point DSPs sold in a few weeks. Despite large profit margins, the revenue was so small that no one in corporate would pay much attention to it.

TMS320C40 - This was a "parallel processing" DSP, and more a science project than anything else. This product was created by the techies in design and thrown over the wall to marketing (me) to sell. It sold well in very high end, very low volume segments that already were using multiple DSPs per system, but the volume did nothing to raise my visibility at the company, especially as fixed point DSPs were skyrocketing thanks to a new-fangled device called a "cell phone". The product was eventually killed.

TMS320C67x - My company tried a floating point DSP one more time - this time with a VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word) architecture. By this time I was the "go to" guy in this product category, but I was tired of marketing products that, although I liked and thought were cool, didn't make much revenue and thus did nothing for my career. I stayed with the company through product introduction and then went off to do other things. The product still seems to be muddling along.

MFC1000/2000 - I joined another company and came into this project "in media res" (in the middle of things). The project was signed off by management a full year before I came on board, but it was still not on the market due to design delays. I did a marketing analysis and told management to kill the product - it was simply too late to market. Although I was potentially killing my own job with the proposal, I thought that this was a better alternative than spending more money to create a product that never made money. Management ignored my suggestion and brought the product to market. I did my best to sell it, and won a socket here and there, but the end result was what I predicted. I left this mess of a company for a start-up.

YM-3120, YM-i320 - These were great products being introduced just before the market was ready for them. Customers saw their potential and were interested in buying lots of them - in a year or two. Unfortunately by that time the start-up had become the victim of the tech meltdown and had run out of money. If the company had survived, these two would have been good - maybe even great - successes, but I will never really know.

Commodity Electronics - My next job was at a large multinational mega-corporation doing strategic marketing for commodity electronics products. How do you do strategic marketing for a commodity product? I didn't ask, I just took the job since I was unemployed after the tech bust. I did my best to create differentiation with brand identity and service. I never got any real feedback on my efforts since commodity products - by definition - are sold based on price. I left this job after the tech job market picked up and the minimum amount of time had passed to save face for both me and the company (one year).

Manufacturing Services - Today I am not selling products, I am selling manufacturing services. The service I am selling is a new one for my company, and I was brought on near the beginning of the program to make this segment successful.

After a year in my current position things are looking good, and the next six months will be make-or-break for my "product" (service). This time, I actually have a shot of marketing something that could be a large success, but there are plenty of things that could go wrong during that time. However, these things aren't marketing related - I already have lots customers signed up - they are execution and delivery oriented. This means that I am no longer "marketing" for the success of my product, but doing program management and factory oversight.

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