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Every company needs to figure out the best way to beat the competition. What do you do if the other guy is already dominating the market? Should you challenge them head on or lie low for a while? Should you offer customers high-end features or a low-end price? Or both?
During their years at Microsoft, John Zagula and Richard Tong answered such questions so effectively that they helped Microsoft Office and Windows grow from a 10 percent to 90 percent market share. As venture capitalists, Zagula and Tong have continued to test and perfect their system with hundreds of companies of all sizes and at all stages.
Now they’re sharing their best ideas and methods in an easy-to-apply book that will be enormously helpful to marketers in every industry and leaders in every size company.
The Marketing Playbook explains the five basic strategies for a competitive market—The Drag Race Play, The Best of Both Play, The High-Low Play, The Platform Play, and The Stealth Play. It illustrates how each one works, how to pick the best one for a given situation, and then how to implement it effectively in the real world.
Just like a great sports coach with a well-designed playbook, managers who read this book will have the tools, tips, and tricks they need to leapfrog market research, craft a smart strategy, motivate their team, and start scoring major points with customers and against the opposition.
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John Zagula spent eight years at Microsoft, where he developed the Microsoft Office brand and marketed the desktop and server application product lines.
Richard Tong worked at Microsoft for ten years, serving as VP of marketing and business development for Microsoft Windows, Office, and Back Office. Both are venture capitalists with Ignition Partners.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
What do a rural telecom service provider, a fifty-person call center, a high-end computer manufacturer, a three-PhDs-in-a-garage start-up, the worldÆs largest software company, and you all have in common?
Probably lots of things. But certainly one of the most surprising is that, for any given product and at any given time, each of them follows one of only five marketing strategiesùor plays, as we like to call themùto win in their marketplace. Just five. Seriously.
Consciously or unwittingly, rightly or wrongly selected, well or poorly executed, these plays have been and are being used by companies as diverse as those above, each placing its bet on one of only five strategy alternatives to gain or defend its position in its market. And that includes you, whether you know it or not.
The Marketing Playbook has been over seventeen tough years in the making. Even before we knew we were following an actual system that could be articulated, we were continuously testing, retesting, and refining this bookÆs methods, tools, and guidelines in the rigors of the real marketplace.
The core concepts at the heart of this book were first forged in the furnace of MicrosoftÆs highly competitive market situations in the late 1980s and 1990s, when the two co-authors of this book were in the thick of the companyÆs crucial marketing efforts. Whether youÆre facing large, entrenched competition, numerous smaller players, or an as yet undefined market landscape, finding the right path to market leadership is a hard thing to do. But across all these situations, through repeated trial and error, we found a common thread, a basic logic that lay behind all the moves that ultimately succeeded.
It wasnÆt until we were asked to share our methods and techniques to help train other marketing and business folks that it actually dawned on us we were following a discrete, focused system.
When we sat down to plan out the lessons we wanted to share with other Microsoft businesspeople and reviewed all the strategies that we had in fact deployed across our various product launches, competitive battles, and customer targets, we were surprised to find that, no matter how hard we tried to come up with more, we discovered that in each case, one of only five basic approaches had provided the path to victory. And this was not because our imaginations were limited; it was because these five really covered all the situations we faced. These are the five plays, the heart of the Playbook system.
The people with whom we shared these plays were struck by their clarity and simplicity, and how well they fit every type of situation. Many were seasoned marketing and business professionals, but time and time again, they consistently found the plays one of the easiest ways to understand and effectively guide their own plans.
The five plays really seemed universally applicable. But maybe we were just biased by our experience; maybe these strategies would not apply beyond the scope of our current jobs. After all, very few companies have the market position or financial wherewithal of a Microsoft. And indeed, after we left Microsoft and started a venture capital firm, we found ourselves confronting a whole new set of challenges.
The companies we worked with boasted fewer resources, had less-tested products than their rivals, and often faced competitors much larger than themselves. Further, they were under the gun, knowing that one significant misstep and they could easily go under. So there wasnÆt a lot of room for error. These companies needed to find a simple, reliable way to map out an effective marketing strategy that fit their unique goals and means. And it turned out that no matter what the company, product, or challenge they faced, one of the five plays worked for them, too.
All five are great plays. That said, it became clear that no matter what the play, if youÆre running it on the wrong playing field or with the wrong resources, it just wonÆt work. Our experiences with small companies in different industries underscored how important it is to do your homework on these conditions before you bet your resources, reputation, and future on any given strategy. How well you do this homework can mean the difference between roaring success or auguring into the earth, fast.
And so, in addition to the five plays, we developed, tested, and applied a simple method for understanding your market and the conditions you face. This shorthand for plotting conditions as a map of your playing field has become a standard, both for how we as venture capitalists assess our investments and also for how our companies chart their course and choose their own play.
Finally, across all these companies and throughout our own careers, we have learned over and over that no matter how well you plan, execution is what ultimately determines the winner. Whatever your objective or strategy, you need a great, hard-hitting marketing and sales campaign to actually bring you across the goal line. And this is one of the hardest things in the world to pull off.
Through our work on multiple product launches of Microsoft Office, Windows, and related products, and in our work with portfolio and partner companies, we have accumulated a very tight set of skills, rules of thumb, and basic principles for pulling off great campaigns and ultimately capturing the lead position even in the most intense contests. These methods have also proven consistently easy to adopt and effective to apply no matter what the company, industry, or situation.
Another thing that this wide ranging set of companies and businesspeople we have worked with (and you) have in common is that they donÆt have a lot of time to spend reading marketing or business strategy books. TheyÆre too busy working their butts off trying to grab or hold on to the leadership slot in their market.
Why We Wrote This Book
ItÆs because of the same group of businesspeople that we decided to write this book. These colleagues have repeatedly let us know that what they want is a more helpful, straightforward marketing guide than the hype, buzzwords, or academic theory they typically see. They told us that they would like to read a book that not only shows them how to gain and hold on to their rightful leadership position but also helps them repeat the process over and over, a book they could believe, a book whose methods and suggestions have been tested and proven in the heat of battle, a book written by people who knew from experience how to attain and retain the lead in a market but who also knew how to make the process easy to follow and implement.
And they told us that the method we had developed, tested, and shared with them really worked. They were convinced that others would benefit as well from reading and learning how to use this system.
In addition to our own accumulated experience, our interactions with these businesses and businesspeople have taught us huge, consistent, and enduring lessons. It is these lessons that we share with you here.
The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.
ùJOE PATERNO, FOOTBALL COACH, PENN STATE
1. Getting Started
What exactly is a ôMarketing Playbookö and how do you use one?
Everyone thinks marketing is the fun and glamorous part of business, where you get to play around with creative stuff, brainstorm clever headlines, go to photo shoots, do press interviews, see yourself in print, and finally get a chance to toot your own horn. Marketing as imagination, art, and magic.
Sure, there is some of that. But marketing is deadly serious. Whether youÆre a stodgy financial services firm or a whimsical childrenÆs brand, winning companies with effective marketing derive even their most creative, off-the-wall efforts not simply from creative thinking but from sound strategy. Why?
Because winning mattersùand it usually takes a strategy to win.
OKùso how do you go about deriving a winning strategy in a way that makes sense?
You can hire a consulting firm, spend man-months educating them about your business, and hope that, besides regurgitating a lot of what you told them, they might also give you some valuable input that justifies the expense.
You can have a bunch of off-sites with lots of brainstorming, soft drinks, junk food, and scribbling on whiteboards. But even with a strong agenda and a good moderator, too often nothing focused or actionable or tangible results.
Or you can take control of the process. In a very short timeframe, you can build a ôPlaybookö to guide your marketing decisions and actionsùmostly using information you already know. Based on this homework, you can then choose which of five plays is appropriate to your situation, and then apply a set of straightforward guidelines for driving successful action that is practical and proven.
Fine. Sounds good. But, what exactly is this Playbook?
First of all, it is your Playbook. The Playbook isnÆt this book. This book is just here to help you write and use your own Playbookùthe version best suited for your needs. By this we donÆt mean that your Playbook helps you craft a nicely worded strategy or do a better job managing those consultants or running those off-sites (though it does those things, too). We do mean that your Playbook is the essential guide you will create and keep at your side to help you win, to help you define, establish, and defend your desired position in your marketù whatever that may be.
Your Playbook should be the tool you refer back to, to guide your actions and decisions and to motivate those of your team.
What does this Playbook consist of? ItÆs simple. Just three things:
First, your Playbook will identify one of five possible plays that you select as best fitting your situation and goals. (Sure, at this point itÆs hard to imagine that just five plays could cover all business situations. But as youÆll discover for yourself in Part I of this book, five are all you need to have a full range of choices.)
Second, your Playbook will include a carefully thought-out map of your playing field that will allow you to execute your chosen play with confidence. This map will show where you want to get, what youÆre up against, and what you actually have. You will create this map by reviewing your situation, goals, and challenges in a way that validates the play you have chosen and guides you to the right play for each step in your progress. ThatÆs Part II of the book.
Finally, your Playbook will prepare you for the true test of strategyùthe reality of running the play in action. It will arm you and your team with a set of simple guidelines to help you successfully run the play you have chosen and to best respond to the live action of the real market. ThatÆs Part III.
For each of these three sections of your Playbook, weÆll arm you with a corresponding set of basic concepts or rules that you can turn to for making sure that youÆre actually moving ahead in the most effective way.
The best part: it actually works, and in hours, not weeks.
HereÆs a quick advance look at what youÆll be doing.
Step 1. Your Strategy OptionsùThe Five Marketing Plays
Before you place your bets, before you jump into action, you need to understand your options. You need to choose a strategy with the best chances of success. This basic marketing and competitive strategy is what we mean when we talk about your ôplay.ö
One of our favorite examples of an effective play comes from the time when we were still at Microsoft.
The year was 1999, and one of the product groups was gearing up for the launch of Microsoft SQL Server, a terrific new database server product that was a key part of one of MicrosoftÆs most important growth businesses. At the time there was one dominant player in this high-end enterprise database server market: Oracle.
The Microsoft SQL team was all pumped up. They had delivered a great product, the first real contender for the space in a long time. They had also done their homework: they knew everything there was to know about the Oracle product, they had talked to lots of potential customers, and they knew their own product upside down and sideways.
When we first sat down together to map out the launch campaign, their plan was to attack Oracle head on.
And why not? Everybody at Microsoftùand a great many other people, as wellùwas sick and tired of Larry EllisonÆs bombast. And we envied OracleÆs loud, hard-hitting, and exorbitant PR and advertising claims. So why not attack? We had a great new product, it cost a lot less than OracleÆs, we knew we were committed to supporting it, and we had the marketing dollars to do it. We were Microsoft, for PeteÆs sake, we should be able to win.
The problem was, we were making some wrong assumptions. The straightforward, head-on play wasnÆt appropriate. Even though our product was better in a lot of ways, Oracle still had us beat on a few key dimensions such as the ability to scale up to very big installations and highly complex jobs. Even though most users would rarely if ever need the capability, Oracle always beat its chest over that one issue. To be candid, our competition had us on this one; it was OracleÆs true position of strength. And it happened to be the area that a lot of large companies were paranoid about.
Oh, sure, they also cared about price, but not that much. Also, our Microsoft heritage and reputation didnÆt really help us that much in this market. While everyone trusted that we built great, easy-to-use consumer software, we were far from being perceived as a truly ôenterprise-classö provider, at least not for mission-critical applications. Oracle, on the other hand, had enjoyed that reputation for years.
So the smart play ended up not being the direct attack (a.k.a. a Drag Race Play, as you will see soon)ùat least not at this stage. Instead, we decided to find the areas where OracleÆs biggest strength didnÆt matter as much. Rather than attack Oracle directly and get compared on the criteria that it had already successfully established, we would have to use something more like a quarterback sneak (which we call a Stealth Play).
The campaign we settled on said in essence, ôGo ahead, use Oracle. ThatÆs fine in those instances that itÆs really neededùbut on jobs like X, Y, and Z, do you really need to spend so much money and lose so much flexibility?ö
Stepping back and choosing the right play made all the difference. With this more humble approach, Microsoft SQL Server was able to gain a true foothold in the market. We reduced the barriers for initial trials and we got people to start using the product and experiencing its benefits. We focused on the targets for whom this made a lot of sense. And although the jury is still out, SQL Server sales have gone from zero to huge and market share from zero to a very significant percentage, in just three years.
Sounds good. But how do you actually pick the right play for your Playbook? Every situation is so different.
DonÆt sweat it too much. It may seem hard to believe, but our experience with hundreds of businesses and their specif...
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