Book Review: The Marketing Playbook

I really enjoyed the first part of The Marketing Playbook
by John Zagula & Richard Tong
but it took me forever to get through the last two parts.

In the first part of the book, the authors (old Microsoft Windows and Office marketing guys) explain the five basic marketing strategies they see.

  1. The Drag Race. This is the scenario you think of when you think of competition. Microsoft Word versus Word Perfect. Visa versus Mastercard. There are two players and you both solve the same problem in pretty much the same way. Drag races are very expensive money wise and time wise. A lot of people think that GNOME/Linux are in a drag race against Windows. I’d argue that we aren’t going to win that way.
  2. The Platform Play. This is the play for the company that won the drag race. They keep potential competitors away by making them into partners. Think Amazon.com and all the brands they sell within their store. Amazon makes it easy for those potential competitors to be their partners.
  3. The Stealth Play. This play is about identifying and targeting a couple of niche markets and becoming really good at them. Then you can either take over the whole market one niche at a time or you can grow until you can win a drag race. I think this is where GNOME/Linux should go. There are niches that we are well suited for like users with accessibility needs, netbooks, mobile, … You don’t have to do lots of PR and adverting in this mode. You want to stay some what quiet and just talk to people in the niches you’ve identified. It’s not about sitting back though – you have to be one step ahead of the big guy (the one that’s won the drag race) in each of the niches you are targeting. The goal of this play is to eventually move to one of the other plays.
  4. The Best-of-Both Play. This play is about defining a whole new offering. Think of the car industry when Japan had cheap cars and Germany had luxury cars. Toyota decided to market a “Japanese luxury car”, an oximoron at the time. This is the personal computer – somewhere between a calculator and a mainframe. This play is about the product (a whole new offering) and marketing (you have to tell everyone about it.)
  5. The High-Low Play. This play is for someone who dominates the high end or the low end, or both, and is trying to compete with someone coming out with a best-of-both worlds product. You tell your customers that compromise, a product that meets the low-end and the high-end, can’t possibly work and you market your low end and high end products agressively. It’s a temporary play – the book recommends that you actually develop your own best-of-both products while you keep the competition from winning by critisizing their best-of-both product. This play is all marketing. (And in this play, the marketing they were suggesting definitely felt like lying!)

In the rest of the book the authors explain how to map the terrain (yourself, competitors, what’s missing, etc) and how to run your marketing campaign. I found those sections to be much less applicable to things I do in real life. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t work at a large company like Microsoft or just that they couldn’t put enough detail into a couple hundred pages, but it definitely didn’t give me much useful information. One interesting point though was who is the most important player in a given strategy.

  1. In the Drag Race, the main player is the salesperson. In an all out competition it’s about convincing people you are the best, whether it’s more features, faster, better, whatever-better than the other guy.
  2. In the Platform Play it’s all about business development because you are trying to build an ecosystem of partnerships.
  3. According to them, in the Stealth Play it’s all about the CEO. However, reading why, it’s really all about leadership. It’s about dedication, patience, long-term plays, staying flexible and motivated. That takes lots of leadership. (And I’ve found that leaders are all over an organization, not just in the CEO’s office.)
  4. In the Best-of-Both Play, it’s the product team. It’s really your product that will win this strategy.
  5. In the High-Low Play it’s all about marketing. You’re trying to convince people that two very opposite products are both the best without confusing them. So you need to define both in a way that doesn’t compete with the other and market each one to the right audience.

If you decide to read The Marketing Playbook: Five Battle-Tested Plays for Capturing and Keeping the Lead in Any Market, my advice is to quit reading when you get bored and you won’t miss too much.

P.S. If you are interested in trying out marketing, please join the GNOME marketing team!