May 26, 2004

Switching from Consumer Packaged Goods to High-tech Marketing: Scott Langmack's Lessons

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Unlike most high-tech marketers, Scott Langmack started out in consumer package goods (CPGs), working his way up from being a Brand Manager at Clorox, Director of Worldwide Marketing for Pepsi Cola International, and a VP for Wilson Sporting Goods' golf club division.

Then Melinda Gates lured him away to join Microsoft. "She is a very smart, aggressive, and powerful in her own way businessperson," he notes.

The man whose consumer research efforts and internal political savvy were behind Pepsi labels switching from white to blue (the color white when tested with food products "meant nothing, meant emptiness"), found himself leading marketing for Microsoft's $7 billion OEM division.

The challenges weren't about internal politics, but in convincing outside partners to run great co-branded ad campaigns.

All the major OEMs were "in different budget cycles," he says. If Microsoft managed to connect with the OEM within its budget cycle, the sell was simply a matter of trying to fit into the budget. If they missed the budget cycle, "it took more time and energy," he says.

In that case, Langmack's team had to focus on the opportunistic value: "Hey, if you spend 10 million you'll get 6X or 7X the value," he says. "It was pretty interesting because it had a lot to do with selling."

Langmack had people whose only job was to work on co-marketing for a single company. "We had a team of 22 people, a dedicated Dell Group, an IBM group, an HP group," he says.

Negotiating creative was equally as hard as selling the program in the first place, Langmack says.

"The first thing we did was to try to simplify the creative control challenge," he explains. "There were seven words we wanted to be in the ads, having to do with reliability and ease of use. If we didn't get those in, we didn't even have the conversation."

He found that there were three different types of companies when it came to creative:

-> Sophisticated advertisers

Typically, the companies that were the most sophisticated with their advertising were the easiest to work with. "We spoke the same language," he says. "I didn't expect that."

-> The "little guys"

"It turned out that the little guys would have strange things they'd propose that didn't make any sense. The whole process was really hard," he says.

One OEM had a relatively young ad group, and they pitched some story boards for TV commercials. A couple looked good, the teams worked on them together, came to an agreement, and the OEM shot the commercials. The first resulting ad, one was beautifully done, matching the storyboard.

However, for the second commercial, the film director decided to get creative and film "underseas".

"They filled a guy's yard with water and got an underwater camera and followed it through the muck of the bushes and the garden," Langmack says. "It looked like deep dark swamp goo, almost like a high school film experiment. It was bad beyond imagination."

Unfortunately, there was no simple fix. It was a matter of constant presentations, back and forth, and negotiating until they could reach an agreement.

-> The "too busy to do it themselves" OEM

Some OEMs were so busy doing their own marketing that Langmack's team did the creative on their behalf.

"I won't say it was easier," he says. The challenge in that case was, it was as though his team was the ad agency. "We had to sell our creative to the client." His team dug in and did whatever the OEM needed to make the program work.

It worked. These co-marketing efforts helped drive in a 10-point increase in the overall penetration of the Windows NT/200 operating system.

Success like that can get you headhunted. Langmark wound up as Chief Marketing Officer for Borland Software, and then as Senior VP Marketing for Securify in April this year.

Langmark notes a consumer-marketing background is an enormous help in high-tech. Unlike many high-tech marketers who've had little formal training, CPGs, "go to college campuses, hire tons of MBAs, and put them through a really regimented approach, skill by skill, promotion by promotion."

One key lesson that's pounded into each CPG trainee marketer's head is that packaged goods is all about focus, finding the one thing a brand stands for. "Humans can typically only remember one thing. If you try to give them three things, they'll remember none," he explains. "I found it fascinating going into the tech world, they'd try to roll out the top 28 coolest features, never with singularity."

He adds, "To me, the most interesting thing about the world of technology marketing is the incredible complexity of getting simple.

"You have to be able to explain it to a nontechnical person -- the first step is synthesizing the message and value proposition to a business value perspective" he says. "By getting big ideas across to general managers, CFOs, CEOs, you can help dislodge entrenched thinking by technical teams. That's the first challenge."

Exciting work -- which is why although CPGs are a great place to start a career, once you've tasted the challenges of high-tech, you may never want to go back.

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