Monday, August 13, 2012

Marketing to the cynical, skeptical, and jaded (us)

There was a good thread on the Security BSides Organizers’ mail list about sponsorships, and I shared some observations and opinions about the best ways for BSides sponsors to get the most value out of their investment.  It was suggested I turn my comments into a blog post about marketing to InfoSec pros in general.  So here it is, somewhat cleaned up and expanded, my suggestions for marketing to the jaded, professionally skeptical, and often cynical technology and security pro.

The key is contact. BSides events are different from most events because we want sponsors, not vendors, to keep the atmosphere non-commercial.  To get real return out of BSides the goal needs to be awareness, not lead-generation (although recruiting is generally an exception to the "no lead gen" idea).  This applies to most marketing, multiple low-impact points of contact or visibility might be ignored, but they are likely to have real reinforcement value if done properly- and are unlikely to offend or annoy people.  Simply driving for the leads often gives a pile of useless email addresses, and people who are annoyed with your calls and email.  This is not to say no leads will come from BSides or other “low-impact” events, but that they should not be the primary objective.

With BSides, there may be various underlying goals, brand awareness (look at Milton Security, or Astaro); awareness of what the company does/does now (wow, Tripwire does all that now?); or goodwill and brand reinforcement (Barracuda, IOActive, Qualys).  (Forgive me missing many examples here, I’m using these based on some BSides experiences, this is by no means a comprehensive list).  Sponsors who have a defined their objectives will do best- as with most things in life, having a reasonable goal is a pretty good idea.

No matter what, participation is key to amplifying the message and investment.  Having people at the event, speaking, volunteering, contributing, that is the key to maximizing value IMHO. (And remember, I'm in vendor land, I pay attention to these things for work, not just BSides).  That’s right folks, just sending money is great for the event, and has value for the sponsor- but you have to participate and engage to get the greatest results.  Prove you want to be part of the community, that you are listening, not just broadcasting, and have some fun too.

This is not to say that when I walk into your booth at a trade show and ask about your product that I am not a lead.  But when I walk by and someone leaps out to accost me- I am absolutely not a lead.  And by the way, if you are really serious about lead generation I’m sure you can answer the following questions about those leads:

  • What percentage of total leads are “real”, “qualified” or whatever terminology you use to determine level of effort in follow up? (You don’t treat them all the same do you? That would be foolish).
  • An easy one: what’s the cost per qualified lead?
  • What is the close ratio on gross and qualified leads?
  • What is the profit margin on those leads, and how does that compare to average transactions, and other to events?
  • Bonus for the hard-core: what’s the retention rate on customers acquired at the event?  (Assumes subscription, support, or other recurring costs related to the initial sale).

What, you can’t answer those questions?  Then surely you are working on setting up a metrics program so you can, right?  Otherwise, you are probably wasting a lot of time and money, and likely annoying a lot of folks in the process.  For the record, I spent many years paying attention to lead generation and lead metrics for a variety of industries.  That was in a past life, but it appears to still be relevant.

Words like “engagement” and “community” are overused by charlatans, marketing gurus, and social media experts- but if you cut the crap and actually engage the community, people will pay attention.

And while I’m on a roll: “influencer” is another abused term, but some people do have more of a voice in the community than others.  Ignoring people who “aren’t ready to buy” could be a very bad idea if they are interested in what you do.

Remember, “marketing” isn’t a dirty word as long as they’re buying the drinks.