Marketing is hard and scary

Marketing is really hard, despite the rumors you’ve heard. The more I get into it, the more I’ve come to respect the skills (if not necessarily the tactics) necessary to deliver a message to prospective customers.

Up until this point, Snowtide has done virtually no marketing, and we’ve made out very nicely. We now have a mature product that really kicks ass. I’m proud of what PDFTextStream is doing for its users, some of whom simply would not be able to do their jobs if it weren’t for it.

But we’re past the point of working small niches. Scores of development shops, large and small, would have fewer bad days if they had PDFTextStream humming on their servers and in their products. So, the time has come to spread the gospel and make sure they know that.

To that end, we’re starting a new marketing strategy in July. It’s going to start slow as we learn our footing (the conventional wisdom is that summertime sees a slowdown in corporate software purchases because of vacationing). It will build through the end of the year. And, it will end with PDFTextStream being the only serious choice for developers in enterprise-class environments.

There’s the tricky part, though: convincing people that our product is better than its competition. The foundation for that has been laid for PDFTextStream — it’s been borne out in customer experiences. The problem is that, without appropriate marketing, the people that are likely to appreciate that fact will never even know about your product. In order to change that, we’ve got to write good ad copy, hire good designers to craft and mold that copy into digestable elements (ad banners, text ads, white papers, editorial placements, etc), and feed those elements into a cacaphony of interruptive marketing noise to be noticed and not ignored.

Technical people and marketing folks have always had their differences; they simply do not understand the difficulties inherent in their respective trades, and that often leads to disrespect. That is ever so slowly changing, in part because of pieces similar to this post, typically made by an in-the-trenches software company founder (like myself, I suppose), who inevitably describes how difficult marketing is. And seriously — it’s really, really, hard.

Every step in the progression of tasks I enumerated that leads to a prospective customer seeing, noticing, and acting on a pice of advertising is hard. And personally, I find it very unpleasant, simply because I am, by nature, technical. I know how the bits in software work, and I know those types of things very well. It’s a perfect occupation for someone who is a bit of a control nut. Yes, I am that.

So it makes me very uneasy to engage in an activity (like marketing) where I cannot readily control the outcome. It makes me even more uneasy to engage in an activity (like marketing) where I am less than fully confident in my (and in this case, our) abilities. We are fundamentally technical; we know how the bits work. Even with help, we find the fuzzy, soft, vague world of marketing just a little scary.

That will get better in time, as we fail a little, succeed a little, and do a little more of the latter and a little less of the former each time we try. It would be a high crime to not try, try hard, and try often; we have a great product, it should be seen, and it will be seen.

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3 Responses to Marketing is hard and scary

  1. Anonymous says:

    If the product is so good, why are your speed comparisons using your latest version against 2 year old products.

    • Chas Emerick says:

      We published the benchmark, the related code, and our testing methodology in such painstaking detail so as to avoid any appearance of dishonesty or that we were attempting to make false claims. The bottom line is that, if you doubt the results, download the code, and run the benchmarks yourself. I’m not sure how we could be more honest than that.

      Etymon PJ was abandoned in favor of PJx years ago; PJx hasn’t been under active development since April of 2004 though (see http://sourceforge.net/projects/pjx/), and in its current state provides no API for text extraction that we can see. However, our original benchmarks nevertheless showed the older PJ library to be the fastest of the available libraries (second to PDFTextStream), so we included it even though Etymon doesn’t appear to support it anymore.

      JPedal r14 is the current major release. It looks like there’s been a minor point-upgrade since the last download we did of that library, with no mention of significant performance improvements in the changelog. However, we have downloaded the most recent build (corresponding to v2.40b38), re-ran the benchmark, and posted the new results. They are almost exactly identical to those gathered in previous tests.

      You do have a point with PDFBox. v0.7.1 is out now, and we’ve been benchmarking against the v0.6.6 release (although that represents an 8-month lag, not a 2-year lag). So, we’ve downloaded v0.7.1 and tested against it. PDFBox’s numbers improved some, but not enough to significantly impact PDFTextStream’s performance advantage — it was 7.5x faster, now it’s 6.7x faster. I’m glad for the improvements Ben Litchfield et al. have made in that direction; it’ll keep us on our toes, and in the end, that’s what this is all about.

      I’ll have more to say about this in a regular post soon.

  2. Pingback: Benchmarks and honesty | cemerick

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