One other thing: Why ‘LobsterPot’?

I get this question a lot.

I don’t mean just ‘every so often’, I mean all the time. It would average out to daily, but there are still days when I only see people who have already asked. Either way, it’s definitely a lot. And they always put it the same way: “One other thing: Why ‘LobsterPot’?”

For me, it’s all a question of branding, which fits in nicely with Jen McCown’s new “Un-SQL” blog theme, explaining the image I’ve put here to the right. I’ll talk about the LobsterPot logo in a few paragraphs’ time.

At LobsterPot Solutions, we don’t have salespeople. None at all. Instead, we rely on word-of-mouth marketing – people telling each other about us, about how we’ve helped them, are good value-for-money, approachable, knowledgeable, and so on. That means making sure that all our staff (currently five of us) understand the values of the company and represent the company accordingly.

But still, the idea of branding is still something that takes some effort.

Before I go too far into this, I should point out that I’ve had conversations with at least one company about LobsterPot’s branding, and how to leverage this better, through press-releases, advertising campaigns and the like – but I’m going to write about the name, logo, and how I’m trying to differentiate the company brand from my own personal brand.

I wish I had a really good story about a LobsterPot that I could share. Unfortunately, I don’t. I can’t relate some story about some time I was cooking seafood, and forever branded myself with the shape of the pot handle, deciding to name my company after it. Instead, it just comes down to my thinking about brand-names in general.

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When people tell me about successful brands, they frequently include Google, Microsoft, and IBM. I had this experience just yesterday even, during an explanation of my branding. These are all successful companies, but I think their brand strength is a reflection of the general company strength, rather than the brand itself being compelling. I can’t deny the two go hand-in-hand, but when considering a start-up, I wanted something to differentiate my company.

I saw four types of company names that I wanted to avoid.

The first type was made-up words. Accenture and Avanade, even Google and Microsoft are all great names once you know the name, but I’m not sure they stick in the mind very quickly. I could tell you about the excellent pain-killer the paramedics used when I had a back-injury in 2003, but I can never remember its name. I just refer to it as the ‘green whistle’, which suggests to me that ‘green whistle’ would make a better brand name than Penthrox (and yes, I just had to look that up).

Another type of branding is the opposite of a made-up word, but rather a word that is so indistinguishable from lots of other brands that it gets lost. A name like Data Solutions is never going to grab me, never going to be able to turn up in a search engine, despite describing the company quite well. Plus, it might not expand too well if the focus of the company shifts away from data.

Third is the dreaded TLA – the three-letter-acronym. IBM is the classic example of this, but there are countless others. I guess there are a limited number of these, but when you start including HP and KPMG, you quickly realise that there are just about as many as you can imagine, and the struggle that these companies must have in being remembered. We might all find that KPMG rolls off the tongue, but if someone told you it was actually KBMG, or KPMC, then you’re relying on the company reputation to remind you. I guess most TLAs have been formed because of company names that begin as either my second brand-type or my fourth, but the brand gets established as the acronym rather than the longer name.

The last kind I wanted to avoid was the “I’ve named the company after myself” scenario. This isn’t so bad on the whole, but I don’t actually want to have a company that can’t be separated from myself. You all know companies that have the person’s name featuring in the brand – shops do it a lot. Almost all the big supermarkets are named after the person that started them, and while this can speak of a personal touch, and a reputation that is attached to an individual, I’m not sure it works so well for a consultancy if I want to be able to send someone else to do a job.

In fact, being able to separate my own branding from the company is something I need to constantly battle. I’m the one who travels to conferences, who received the MVP award, who sits on committees, and so on. Being in Australia, in a different time-zone to where many of the world’s SQL experts live, and being in Adelaide, a city which is disregarded by many Australians even, I can’t ignore my personal brand. If I go somewhere, I want to be larger than life, and deliver a talk that is both educationally jaw-dropping and memorable. I want people to be talking about me after I’ve left the room (hopefully in a nice way too). I can’t be at as many events as many of the SQL celebs (like Jen herself), and I’m asleep when most of them are using Twitter too. I need to be different enough personally to be noticed.

And to be a company (instead of just Rob), I was going to need company branding that ticked a lot of boxes.

I wanted red. I see red as a strong colour, which can help its memorability. Solid red too, not shades of red, or a small amount of red. A large solid block of red, which isn’t devalued by other colours thrown in.

I wanted strong imagery. I wanted people to immediately recognise the words being used, and to have an image come to mind. Hopefully something that would lend itself to a logo.

I wanted strong association and emotion. The imagery that comes to mind should be associated with good feelings, memories of good times.

I thought of companies like egg.com (a financial services company in the UK), Angry Koala (a BI consultancy run by my good friend Grant Paisley, with whom I had a number of conversations around branding), and Banana Blue (an online supermarket). These are all company names that you just remember. They’re ‘funny’, if you like. They all involve a thing, but are slightly more than the thing. It’s the Angriness of the Koala, or the Blueness of the Banana, or the Interwebsicality of the Egg which provides the hook. There’s an absurdity which helps you remember the name.

So one day the Lobster motif occurred to me, and the idea of the Pot, rather than the Lobster itself. Ok, so it doesn’t have the absurdity aspect, but as a company of people, I think the Pot seems to work. Plus, the cooking pot is the delivery mechanism associated with getting Lobster onto your plate, which works.

The Lobster is red. The imagery associated with the claw is strong – it’s easily turned into a logo (and in fact, the logo I use is clearly a logo, not a photo, easily reproduced, minimal number of colours, yet clearly a lobster claw and almost possessing a personality if your imagination can go far enough). When people think of lobsters, they remember the time they were at a fancy restaurant, celebrating some event, or cherishing a loved one, splashing out on some luxury – all emotions I’m more than happy to associate with my business. There’s even a big lobster in South Australia, which helps the connection to where the business is based.

lp2_front_side_all_201006_rfOkay, so there’s nothing about LobsterPot that suggests business insight or databases (except perhaps the “SELECT Claws"), but I’m not sure that matters. I can wear a bright red shirt which stands out at conferences, and have business cards which even show a lobster in a pot. The name is different enough to make people remember, and perhaps they even spend a moment thinking about if there’s a connection between the business and brand. I do often say “sounds like a restaurant, but isn’t”, which helps people with the imagery, and provide extra hooks for memory.

But most of all, everybody asks.

PASS Summit North America 2010

My first PASS Summit didn’t let me down.

LobsterPot Solutions sent two people to PASS this year – I was joined by Roger, who also wore the First Time ribbon on his conference badge. Roger is presenting in a couple of weeks to the Adelaide SQL Server User Group (a PASS Chapter), so was keen to get content ideas. He’s covering “What’s New In Denali”, which should prove to be very interesting for all attending. Roger managed to get to several sessions about that, as well as being present in the Keynotes (of course). Speaking to him at the start of the flight home, he told me he’d both had a great time and learned a lot too.

For me, the experience was set to be a bit different. I hadn’t been at the last couple of MVP Summits, so this was my first US conference since April 2008 (the time I met Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the lift – I’ve provided a link so that you don’t feel a need to search for “Rob Farley” “Tutu”, expecting to find anything of interest), and my first trip to the US at all for over two years. Because of this, there were lots of people I was overdue to visit, and a long list of people I had never met (despite plenty of interaction through the SQL community). I won’t try to list people – it would be far too long, and I would surely miss someone unintentionally. I will mention Jeremiah Peschka (@peschkaj) though. As Program Director, he must’ve been under all kinds of pressure, and I think he did an excellent job.

As well as meeting people, I had a number of commitments to fulfil. I was a Guest Blogger at the keynotes, I had two sessions and a Lightning Talk to deliver, book signing, a Birds of a Feather lunch ‘table’ to host, and more. Dinner invites from sponsors and Microsoft events to attend added to the week, with prayer meetings (hosted by Mike Walsh) to start each morning. You might think I was a little busy.

I managed to attend some sessions, but that wasn’t my priority. For example, I had been hoping to get to one of Conor Cunningham’s session, but when asked by Kendal van Dyke (@sqldba) to be part of a panel at his session on getting into blogging and presenting, gave it a miss. Kendal’s a good guy, and I always try to help when possible. The panel was made up of some of the most extroverted people on the planet, including Thomas LaRock (@sqlrockstar), Buck Woody (@buckwoody), Todd McDermid (@todd_mcdermid), Aaron Bertrand (@aaronbertrand), Patrick LeBlanc (@patrickdba), Brent Ozar (@BrentO) and others, and I hope some of the people in that session picked up some tips on how to get started in blogging and presenting. I personally think that presenting is a skill that as many people as possible should develop, and that CVs that include public speaking are very much more valuable. As well as presenting in person, this year has had me presenting to the AppDev virtual chapter twice (two presentations each time), a couple of 24 Hours of PASS events, and remotely to the Columbus (Ohio) chapter. I’m sure I’ll do more of this type of thing over the next year, and it was definitely good to meet the people involved in those groups, like Aaron Nelson (@sqlvariant), David Taylor (@dyfhid), Thomas LaRock (@sqlrockstar) and Jeremiah Peschka (@peschkaj).

Marc Souza is someone who always amazes me. He runs the SQLCAT team (so he’s a proper SQL celebrity), and works with people all around the world, but also has a keen interest in the little people (like me). I remember the second time I ever met Marc, and he remembered me without hesitating (I had a similar experience with Donald Farmer earlier this year, which was equally humbling). At one point during the week, Marc arranged for one of his staff (Larisa) to provide me with a pile of swag for the Adelaide group – over 10kg of small SQL Server branded stuff, which I’ll give out over the coming months. Getting to spend time with Marc this week so soon after seeing him at SQLBits was good in all kinds of ways, and I’m definitely looking forward to the times we’re in the same country again.

One of my big disappointments of the week was the constant heaviness in my heart for my good friend Simon Sabin, who couldn’t be there. Simon and his family are very much at the forefront of my prayers, and I kept finding myself missing him. He’s a giant in the SQL Server world. He is the driving force behind the SQLBits conferences in the UK, runs user group meetings around the UK, and was due to present two sessions at the PASS Summit as well. Not going was the correct choice for him this year, but I sincerely wish that things were different and that he could have attended.

As for my sessions, I think they went down okay. The official feedback won’t surface for many months, but people suggested they went okay. I had given some of them before, and if you’d like to know what kinds of things were in the Incredible Shrinking Execution Plan talk, I would currently point you to the free video available from SQLBits. Even many of the jokes are the same, which may or may not help. Luckily, most of the jokes I did in my Lightning Talk were ones that I put together especially for PASS, but to get them, you may have to buy the PASS DVDs and guess at what was going on for some of the visual gags.

Hopefully I’ll be back next year – I guess I’ll need to start working out some content ideas. Maybe I’ll expand on the good and bad of collation.

In my presentation

So I’m in the middle of a presentation at SQLPASS, and thought I’d just write a blogpost. (Here’s the key – it’s the Zoom function)

My session is on the Incredible Shrinking Execution Plan, and the basic idea behind it is to demonstrate stuff that the Query Optimizer can do to avoid work. It’s much like some of the people I’ve worked with over the years…

Anyway – my audience is looking at me funny, so I’d better get back to it.

The SQLPASS Keynote – part 6

Sitting on the bloggers table is turning out to be fun.

I’ve scared off Buck Woody (@buckwoody) (he said he had things to do), and Thomas LaRock (@sqlrockstar) has sat down in the spot he had assigned before the start. Despite the fact that there’s mostly keyboard noises going on, rather than people saying things to each other, the community here, from people sending Twitter messages to each other and writing posts is producing a community experience that I haven’t often felt before.

We’re all trying to get information out about Denali and the other new SQL announcements as quickly as we can, and there’s a commonality here which is feeling quite powerful. Most of us are MVPs who have already had a bit of advance warning of the features, and I know some people have had blog posts prepared.

They’re now showing Project Crescent – with Hans Rosling style charts. It just makes me wonder if the next version will use plastic storage boxes.

In all honesty, Crescent looks really compelling. It lifts reporting to the next level, and I think many people will be itching to get into this new technology.

Now off to some other sessions. I think Chris Webb’s talk is up next.

The SQLPASS Keynote – part 5

Atlanta is getting announced. It’s a system which runs on your SQL Server system, uploading information about your system, its configuration, performance, and so on, to a service in the cloud. This information can then be browsed (or queried, of course), using a dashboard of information. Access to it can also be given to Microsoft Support, so that if you have problems with your SQL box, they can get a much better picture.

The idea behind this is that Microsoft are recognising the part they have play in making sure that their customers (our clients) have the support they need to be able to have great running database systems.

I understand that not everyone might like the idea about their system information being sent up to the cloud, but if you’ve ever had to make a support call, particularly if your system is down when you’re making the call, you understand the significance of being able to provide this information ahead of time.

I’m sure it’s very much the first iteration of the product, and will change a lot in coming months – but the idea definitely seems to have legs, and this is very interesting.

With CTPs becoming available for SQL Azure Web Admin, Reporting and Data Sync, the connection between on-premise and cloud is increasing, and I think cloud is providing far more than just databases and applications in the space. On-premise systems are being enhanced by the cloud, whether through reporting, syncing for disaster recovery, or uploading system information through Atlanta. It’s thought-provoking stuff, and it makes me wonder the cloud might start entering peoples thoughts in different ways.

<just imagine a nice cloud-shaped thought bubble picture here>

The SQLPASS Keynote – part 4

Dave Mariani from Yahoo (VP Development, User Data and Analytics) is on stage at the PASS Keynote, talking about how they analyse 120TB of data each day, delivering insight and the information they need to provide for advertisers.

The specs are 3.5B events per day. 1.2TB of data to be loaded (50GB files every hour), with a 12TB cube.

Funnily enough, they use the SQL Server Business Intelligence stack.

The SQLPASS Keynote – part 3

The announcements are coming in more quickly now.

http://www.microsoft.com/Presspass/press/2010/nov10/11-09PASS10PR.mspx

I’m quickly pushing this link out there, because it’s a good summary of some of the information. It’s not everything, and I’ll be writing more about things as the day progresses. I’ve also heard that I may need to be changing parts of my spatial talk later this afternoon.

Ted Kummert is currently talking about the Parallel Data Warehouse, which has now been released to manufacturing. Appliances seem to be a big thing going forward, significantly reducing the impact of purchasing hardware and software. They have two racks on the stage, and are connecting to it to show off the functionality that comes with the PDW.

The SQLPASS Keynote – part 2

One of my favourite bits about keynote sessions are the videos that get shown leading up to the main speaker. Here at SQLPASS this year, they’ve just shown a few minutes of people talking about the early days of SQL Server. My favourite quote from it was about the first internal build of SQL 7 – “it looks good, but we need it to run two times faster” (which they did achieve prior to release).

Now Ted Kummert is on stage – Senior Vice President at Microsoft – so I need too start getting some information out there about what’s being announced.

The SQLPASS Keynote – part 1

Not sure I was expecting to see a Tina impersonator at before 8:30am on a Tuesday morning, but this is SQLPASS 2010.

There’s lots of big announcements this week, particularly around Denali – which is SQL 11. The first public installation (CTP1) became available for download this morning. In fact – one of my guys searched for it recently and found the link.

I’m going to be blogging quite a bit of stuff this week, hopefully even a few posts during this Keynote. I’m sitting at the Guest Bloggers table, with well known folk like Grant Fritchey, Jen McCown, Andy Leonard, Brent Ozar, and plenty more. Those are the four that are sitting in front of me, blocking my view of the stage – but everyone here seems to be a blogger that I follow.

More soon…