This is part 1 of a series of blog posts on technology notables. Part 2 is available here.
While I was working in product management at HP I was asked to draft a “Technology Notable” for the usage measurement in the Mopier 320 (may it rest in peace). Technology Notables were single-issue briefs that were given to field sales people, channel partners, and prospective customers.
An HP technology notable at that time (1998) had three rules:
- Maximum length of a technology notable is one piece of paper, both sides.
- Format: the notable will answer “THE FIVE QUESTIONS”
- What is it?
- How does it work?
- What are the benefits?
- What is the strategy?
- What are the objections?
- Style: skull piercing enthusiasm.
At least, I *think* that skull piercing enthusiasm was required. Notables just came out of the tips of my fingers that way, and somehow I got away with leaving the enthusiasm in. Although, long-time HP marketers did speak about “bleaching” my words.
While writing the technology notable was considered a crap job by HP’s marketeers, for me, writing notables was a free day in Six Flags with no lines. Because writing notables is about the most delicious challenge a high technology marketer can enjoy!
Enjoying a crap job? How? Why? Because, … the purpose of a technology notable is to take one feature, and then translate that feature into customer benefits. And on top of the feature/benefit puzzle task, you have to write the notable in such a was so as to make the thinking required to learn and use the feature, worth the reader’s effort. So it is a fun tech marketing puzzle wrapped up in a writing challenge.
I don’t know the history of technology notables (Email me email@example.com if you do!) before I jumped in to writing them for HP. But, because technical products are forever adding features that customers never learn how to use, I would guess an engineer sat down to write up a feature in a simple format that even a marketer could understand.
Technical companies love to compete with one another by making lists of features longer and longer with each product revision. The only problem with this kind of competition, is that it forgets the customer. For example, I have no idea what sharepoint does besides share a folder. I know it must be something more. But I’m not a big Microsoft user, and I’ve never seen an explanation in plain English. Notables attempt to bridge the feature-customer gap via the shortest possible plain English explanation.
Writing a technology notable is a test. A test of whether you know who your customer is, and how they should benefit from the feature you are writing about. A notable author is a paradigm pioneer. A paradigm pioneer is someone who simulates the customer and new feature in their mind. I’ve included the 1998 Moper 320 Usage Notable here so that you can get a feel for the format
HP, I’m pretty sure that this is OK to show to the outside world since we in Mopy/Copy handed notables out to any customer who was interested without a non-disclosure agreement. The word file for the Usage notable is available here.
Figure 2 (Page 2)
Now usage measurement seems at first blush to be a boring and dry subject. But, in writing this notable, I learned valuable customer facts like:
- In a law firm using Equitrac page accounting, I learned that there was a systematic error in the pages counted by mechanical click meters. The pages printed and faxed, the pages of paper put into the system, do not match.
- In doing the simple math of toner cost estimation, I learned that a 100% black page on a printer cost $0.18. The paper is half a cent, and a 5% coverage of toner costs $0.009. This little fact has a big economic implication. The big implication is that toner = risk for companies selling pay for page programs. A $0.05 per page program loses money at a coverage over 22%!
- Page counting can be done two ways: based on paper or based on pages written to the photo sensitive drum. Of the two methods, because the leverage of toner cost per page is so much higher than the leverage of paper cost, measuring the pages written to the drum is economically superior.
So, in the process of trying to explain usage measurement, I began to build up a good understanding of customer page accounting economics. The economic picture of HP’s usage measurement was that it was superior because it allowed customers (who for the Mopier 320 were copier dealers selling on a Pay Per Page basis) to measure and therefore, control their toner risk.
This was the point of clear superiority around which the usage notable wrapped off-the scale enthusiasm. This technology notable received enthusiastic “Thank you!” voice mails from product managers, field sales people, customers, and twice, from sales people who had succeeded in killing a competitor by reading the notable before meeting with a customer.
Killing competitive sales is about the highest praise a notable can receive. Almost as high as closing a sale. Best of all worlds is to kill a competitor sale and close a sale for your own product, at the same time. Turning a loss into a win is what technology notables are all about, and they accomplish this by picking the most important aspect of a feature’s superior value to a customer, and then wrapping that superiority in off-the scale enthusiasm.
Technology Notables: 4 Lessons
- There is nothing a marketer can do that is more powerful than marrying a genuine point of technical superiority, to off-the scale enthusiasm.
- Even people who don’t like you, will be glad to accept your work, if you close sales.
- Technology notables are great tools for product evangelism.
- Don’t write notables about every feature. Write them about features that are high-value and low-understanding.