Jul 25

Levers of Preference

As we’ve said, everything drives preference. Preference is inherent in the product itself, and all marketing is oriented toward building preference over all competitors.  For example, every piece of marketing copy needs to play on the reader’s desire to accumulate the “four currencies.”  This can be a stealth mission, with subtle and indirect gestures pushing the reader to consider how your product will give him or her a newfound wealth of money, time and security. A few specific marketing activities, however, should be pursued distinctly with preference in mind.

  • Demos – A demonstration of your product has to be larded with calls for preference, even if they are not overtly stated.   What you have to realize is that everything you say in a demo is prefaced by the unsaid, “Compared to everyone else, we do…”  How can you frame your demo to make that statement sound like, “Compared to everyone else, we are better, because of xyz.”  For example, the Kwikapp photo portal offers better security features than its competitors.  It integrates with all the leading identity management systems, while the competitors only integrate with one ID system.  The “feature barfing” approach to showcasing this advantage is to say, “We integrate with all identify management systems.” There’s no harm in saying it this way, but it would be a lot more effective, in preference terms, if the advantage were stated along the lines of, “You don’t have to worry about integrating with your identity management system.”  This latter approach emphasizes the true advantage of the Kwikapp in human marketing terms.
  • Public relations – PR is the first of three work areas that can drive confidence and preference.  Like the other two, analyst relations, and case studies, publications is all about showing off neutral third parties that have good things to say about your product.   In PR, your goal is to get reporters, and increasingly bloggers and other hybrid personalities, to write about your product.  The PR field has changed radically in the last five years.   Online “clippings” are everything today, while an article in a print magazine is nice but actually useful mostly as a PDF that you can share online.  The end goal has remained the same, however, which is to get other people to talk about how great your product is and build preference through the confidence that instills.  Media mentions take several forms, each of which is helpful. However, not all PR is created equal.
Influence CIO Magazine Wall Street Journal
“Vertical book” USA Today


What’s worth more, a thousand words in an industry vertical publication or 200 words in the Wall Street Journal?    It depends, of course, on what you are trying to accomplish, but in general, the more influential the publication and the greater its readership, the more helpful the “ink” is going to be in driving preference and confidence.  A positive mention in the Wall Street Journal instills confidence.  A feature article in the Wall Street Journal is golden, assuming it’s saying something good about you.  The chart shown above depicts this tradeoff between readership and influence.  The old adage, “I don’t care what you say about me. Just spell my name right,” doesn’t apply to technology PR and confidence building.  A negative product review will hurt you probably worse than being omitted from the review altogether.


  • Analyst relations – Reports by recognized industry analysts can have a huge impact on preference and confidence.  Analysts offer themselves to the market as the ultimate in third parties.  They are neutral and knowledgeable. They compare products and select top candidates for consideration.   As a result, as you may know, analysts can command serious dollars for their work.  Analyst relations is a subtle game, however, with many misconceptions and myths surrounding it.  We will delve into AR, as analyst relations is often called, and PR, in depth a bit later on, but for now, consider the following:
    • There are two classes of analysts.  A small, select group are paid by enterprise buyers for their opinions.  The biggest, of course, is Gartner, though Forrester and some specialized smaller firms also belong to this elite group.  Other analyst firms are able to offer market insights to vendors and publish reports that are of general interest. However, they are not viewed as being completely impartial by the buyer.
    • You cannot buy good analyst coverage.  There’s a myth that you have to “pay off” the good analysts in order to get positive coverage. This is not true.    What’s true, though, is that if you are not a client of the analyst firm, you will not likely get much attention from them.  And, there’s some truth to the idea that you can engage with the analyst firm to the point where you make your products and views better known to them than if you did not engage with them. In other words, if you invite analysts to visit you for consulting, they will get much more exposure to you than if you didn’t.  But, it will cost you.  At the end of the process, you will still get an honest review, which you will listen to if you are smart.


  • Case studies – True accounts of real customers using your product are a fantastic way to move the needle on preference and confidence.  Buyers like to see companies like theirs using your product before they will entrust you with their business.  No brainer, right?  Well…  Case studies are not all that hard to create.  Typically, you interview the customer and write a two page document that summarizes the business challenge the customer faced and how they solved it with your product. So far, so good.  The problem arises, however, with permission.   Small companies generally don’t mind being the subject of a case study. In fact, they might feel flattered and enjoy the publicity.  Big companies, especially those that are publicly traded, hate having their names used (or misused, as they might put it) by vendors.  Big companies are very reluctant to grant you permission to publish a case study about them.    Their reluctance is based partly on a concern about brand dilution and possible liability.  If Coke allows a vendor to use their name, and that vendor is later accused of fraud, does that reflect badly on Coke?  Maybe, but in my experience, big company hesitation about case studies is a bit of a baseless hangup.  It’s a power thing, too, and that can actually be your ticket in the door for case studies.  If you are willing to grant favors or discounts, you may be able to buy a case study from a big client.