April 24, 2014

How Manchester United Revolutionized Sports Marketing

Manchester United image for Koch blog postAsk me which English soccer, uh, football team I would support and I would say Liverpool. Not for any defensible reason; it’s just because that’s where the Beatles are from and because I know next to nothing about that kind of football (I think they made us play it once in gym class when I was in 7th grade).

I would expect that most other similarly ill-informed, old-fart American Boomers who were raised on other sports like me might say the same thing (Stones fans, don’t look for a “London” team to root for because it doesn’t exist).

However, among young people, not only is English Premier League football way more popular than any sport I watch, but one of those English teams, Manchester United, is the most valuable sports franchise in the world. According to a controversial poll commissioned by the team, 650 million people worldwide say they support the team.

Have a Backstory
Why do so many people around the world support a team from a little known, struggling industrial city in the northern part of England? Well, partly it has to do with tragedy (a plane crash in 1958 killed some of the team’s youngest, most promising players), a dramatic comeback (After being a perennial loser, Man U began winning a lot – and everybody loves a winner), and a charismatic manager named Sir Alexander Ferguson.

But Man U also did something else really smart. It didn’t just try to cultivate a fan base in England, it went global. Man U began enlisting players (and sponsors) from countries around the world and embarked on frequent tours of those countries. The franchise leadership also invested in marketing not just Man U but football itself as the true global sport.

What Happens When You Start to Lose?
But now that “Sir Alex” has retired and the team is slumping, how does Man U avoid the fate of the Dallas Cowboys, who were once known as “America’s Team” until they weren’t?

Research by my colleague Rob O’Regan has found that hanging onto the kind of global popularity enjoyed by Man U requires focusing on four key channels:

  • Social media. As part of its sponsorship of UK soccer team Tottenham Hotspur, Under Armour ran a social media contest that attracted entries from fans in more than 50 countries. Liverpool FC maintains 17 local language Twitter accounts.
    Some teams have set up “war rooms” to monitor fan sentiment and weigh in when appropriate. “Teams are paying a lot more attention to social media, because that’s where the younger generation of fans talks about sports,” says Mark Lehew, SAP’s Global Head of Sports & Entertainment Industry.
  • Fantasy sports. There’s real money in fantasy sports, which has grown into a billion-dollar industry. More than 36 million people from the U.S. and Canada spent an average of 8.7 hours a week playing fantasy sports in 2013, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. For example, the time fantasy players spend managing their National (American) Football League teams throughout the week – making roster changes, proposing trades, researching players – leads to a “halo effect” that drives engagement with other NFL properties such as the league’s website, individual club sites, TV programs, and game broadcasts. Fantasy league members generally view about seven times more content – text, video, and data – on NFL.com than non-fantasy users. 
  • Web/mobile content. Fan bases aren’t just becoming more global – they’re also becoming more mobile. Approximately 70% of the traffic to NFL.com comes from mobile devices – up from 10% just a few years ago.
    The NBA’s stats.NBA.com website, which houses player and team statistics from the league’s 67-year history, has helped double time spent on NBA.com while generating more than 9.5 billion page views last season – an all-time record for the site. The site has also emerged as part of what NBA officials see as a burgeoning second-screen experience for fans watching NBA games on TV.
  • Loyalty programs. One club in England’s Football League, trying to address the implications of an intimidating atmosphere during its home soccer matches, created an engagement program as part of a broader initiative to bring back lapsed fans and new generations of supporters to its matches.
    Swiping a season ticket card when entering the stadium would tip off fan experience personnel to acknowledge fan milestones such as a child’s birthday. “A family receptionist would greet them and offer a surprise like a seat upgrade, a free gift, or a chance to meet a player,” says Mark Bradley, founder of The Fan Experience Company, a consultancy that worked with the club. Sales of family season ticket plans increased from fewer than 500 in 2009 to more than 7,500 in 2012.

As for me, I’m going to watch a Liverpool match but I can’t forget the team that did all the work to pique my interest in English Premier League Football: Man U. I think I could be easily converted.

How about you, do you root for a team that’s on another continent yet?

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How Jimmy Fallon Redefined the Celebrity Biography

English: Jimmy Fallon CES 2009 in Las Vegas, NV

English: Jimmy Fallon CES 2009 in Las Vegas, NV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jimmy’s Fallon’s career – and much of who he is as a person – can be summed up in eight minutes.

Look, I don’t mean that as an insult.

Fallon has risen to become a star by doing just one thing: being himself. And that self is on full display in an eight-minute video made in 1998.

According to a profile of Fallon in the February issue of Vanity Fair (an unsatisfying excerpt of which is available online.), Fallon’s sole ambition growing up was to be a cast member on Saturday Night Live.

He insisted on watching the show alone so he wouldn’t have any distractions, and he spent most of the rest of his free time watching tapes of the show so he could practice the skits and develop his impressions of celebrities.

The Only Job He Ever Wanted
The moment Fallon says he had been waiting for all his life came when he was just 24: an audition for Lorne Michaels, the creator and lead producer of SNL.

Michaels has a practice of filming auditions of potential cast members so that he and the other principals of the show can review them later and decide who makes the cut. The auditions are completely unscripted. Just a camera sitting on a tripod with the record button on.

A YouTube Prototype
When Fallon did his audition in 1998, YouTube didn’t exist. However, in hindsight, his tryout seems like a prototype for the site’s most successful content: It’s unscripted, it’s funny, it’s a snapshot in time (spoiler alert: he’s skinnier), and perhaps most importantly, it’s short (just eight minutes).

But the Fallon video is also more than that. The bits are funny, but beneath them, the video hums with Fallon’s trademark genuineness. His voice shakes with nervousness in between bits when he explains to Michaels and the crew what he’s going to do next.

A Preview of the Everyman Talk Show Host
And at one point, he loses it and cracks up at one of his own jokes, giving us a quick preview of the guileless, almost childlike enthusiasm that has propelled him to the pinnacle of late-night franchises, the Tonight Show.

Whether it’s all a put on (Vanity Fair strongly suggests that it isn’t) Fallon comes across in 1998 just like he does now, as the kind of charming, funny person we would all like to be and, uniquely, the only one we can imagine being.

Michaels, the TV industry’s heat-seeking missile of undiscovered comedy talent, saw something unique in Fallon. “There’s a sweetness to him,” he told Vanity Fair. “I only hate to say that because it looks lame in print.” According to the article, Michaels offered Fallon his dream job soon after the audition.

A New Kind of Online Bio
What’s interesting about the video is that it captures the most important historical event in Fallon’s career while also offering insight into who Fallon is as a person. It’s a kind of encapsulated biography online.

Increasingly, this will be how we come to know famous people, for better in Fallon’s case, or worse, in Paris Hilton’s case. Online video is a new source for journalists and historians to profile their subjects. Indeed, the Vanity Fair author cites Fallon’s audition video and notes the nearly 3 million views it has had so far.

That’s a lot of views. And they happened despite the video being really hard to find. Unless you Google “Jimmy Fallon SNL audition,” the video won’t show up in the magic first two pages of a Google search and it is nowhere featured on Fallon’s NBC website.

Should the Industry Try to Capitalize on It?
From a business perspective the question becomes, what should the entertainment industry do with video moments that capture the history and personalities of their stars like this. Right now, the practice is to simply excerpt bits from their shows in “best of” compilations and market them.

Yet unscripted moments from people’s lives are increasingly becoming the way we learn about famous people (and everyone else). Ultimately, these moments will have a longer shelf life for celebrities like Fallon than clips of their latest performances. They are a new way for entertainment companies to market their celebrities and to track them over time without waiting for the book or the movie.

We’ve been talking to some entertainment industry experts at SAP and other companies to figure out how online will affect the future of entertainment. We’ll let you know how that turns out.

Meanwhile, what do you think?

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The last of the anti-social marketing tactics

Taglines are the last bastions of a classic, one-way marketing messaging strategy, preserving marketing’s perceived right to tell customers what to think.

In truth, customers have never listened, except in a few cases of companies with the budget muscle to pound the tagline into customers’ heads over and over again though mass marketing and TV.

In B2B marketing, we’ve never been given the right to tell customers what to think, much less the budgets to pound a tagline into their minds. I’ve spoken to hundreds of CIOs in my career as a journalist and I can tell you that at best, they ignore taglines; at worst, they feel their intelligence insulted by them.

And yet we keep spending hard-earned shareholders’ dollars creating these shallow soundbites that are supposed to protect our brands, even though the transparency of the internet, and now social media, have rendered such defenses useless.

Not that the defenses were much more than Maginot Lines to begin with. I recently did a search on some well-known B2B technology brands and compiled their taglines in the list below. Many of these companies compete with one another. Can you imagine being a buyer surfing providers’ websites and seeing even a handful of these in quick succession? I put them in alphabetical order so that you can feel the “Power of Repetition” in the words and “Experience the Selling.” I mean, some of them are just plain incomprehensible, communicating to buyers that we live in “A Certain World of Connected Freedom for Caring People to Passionately Inspire the Valuable Impact of More Enterprise Silliness”:

  • A world of communications
  • Agility made possible
  • Applying thought
  • At the speed of ideas
  • Building a world of difference
  • Building tomorrow’s enterprise
  • Confidence in a connected world
  • Creating business impact
  • Cutting through complexity
  • Experience certainty
  • Experience the commitment
  • Freedom to care
  • Inspire the next
  • Passion for building stronger businesses
  • People matter, results count.
  • The power to know
  • The power of we
  • The power to do more
  • Results realized
  • The value of performance
  • Working with clients, not just for them

It is also interesting to note how many well-known B2B technology companies do not use taglines (at least not that I could see on their home pages): BMC, BT, Cisco, Deloitte, EMC, Juniper, Lenovo, Microsoft, Nokia-Siemens, Oracle, Pitney Bowes, Xerox. Are the marketers at these companies not doing their jobs? Or have these companies decided that they are going to stop trying to sell themselves in a couple of hackneyed words and instead do it through relationships and experience?

There’s even one company, IBM, which inverts the focus of the tagline from internal “capabilities” to something that customers may actually care a whit about: Smarter Planet.

'a Smarter Planet' logo

Image via Wikipedia

Actually, calling Smarter Planet a tagline does it a disservice. Unlike traditional taglines, which generally hang on the corners of websites like misplaced socks, with no discernible connection to anything around them, Smarter Planet is paired up with a lot of interesting thought leadership content that lines up with IBM’s business strategy—it’s a business theme rather than a tagline. I predict that we’re going to see a lot more B2B companies moving in this direction in the coming year.

What do you think? What am I missing about the value of taglines?

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6 lessons on how NOT to market to customers

Here’s the kind of pressure that social media puts on us: After not posting anything to my blog in nearly six weeks, I feel compelled to offer an explanation. Isn’t that sad?

Hey, but that’s how it is. Social media are like a school of sharks; keep moving forward or sink lifelessly to the bottom.

Well, I have an explanation, or an excuse, and a damned good one at that. I broke my hip about four weeks ago (my bike slid from underneath me on a rainy morning on my way to work). More specifically, I broke my femur at the hip, which left me with a decision to make: pin together a 51-year-old femur (with its attendant wear and tear) or lop it off at the top and get a brand new, shiny fake hip. Since I can’t resist that new hip smell, I opted for the stainless upgrade.

Now, don’t think I’m looking for an outpouring of sympathy. I’m telling you this because:

  1. I don’t want to lose any more credibility and subscribers than I already have during this lull in activity (as any social media “expert” will tell you, six weeks may as well be six years—unforgivable, unimaginable, and definitely under caffeinated. As one “expert,” (who showed no evidence of ever having blogged herself) once sneered to me, blogging is as easy as “doing email.” Oh, I guess that’s why my inbox is so crammed all the time.)
  2. During my time on serious, hard drugs (narcotics, shh!) I realized that I really have become one of you marketing types. Any time anyone delivers a service to me now, I immediately start thinking about how the service is “being positioned,” and whether the “value proposition makes sense.” I’m a goner. A marketing geek. (I thought drugs were supposed to prevent that sort of thing.)

All of which is a lead-in to this week’s entry, which is what we as B2B marketers can learn from health-care marketing.

The answer is: nothing.

Healthcare marketing is awful, practically non-existent. Sure, healthcare knows how to sell drugs, but in terms of preparing the customer for the experience of service delivery, fuggedaboudit. Here are some examples:

  • Educate the customer—or don’t. Many of us in B2B can be proud of how we educate our customers and prospects on the business issues they face—from current regulatory changes to future “sea changes.” We help ease them into the idea that they need our services and solutions to solve these problems so that the experience of spending all that money feels a little less like stepping off a cliff. Here’s how a doctor introduced himself to me in the emergency room: “Hi, I’m Doctor X. We’ve looked at your x-rays and you’ve broken your hip. You’re going to be going to surgery. Somebody will be in to talk to you about it.” And then he excused himself and left the room and I never saw him again. I wanted to get right up and walk out of there. Oh wait, right…
  • Whatever you do, don’t let the customer meet the people who will actually be doing the work. Unfortunately, this one does often ring true in B2B, at least in my experience in consulting. Send your top dog, most empathetic, articulate, industry-savvy, alpha salesperson in to market the service, and then show up to do the work with the freshly-minted biz school grads and the interns.
    In the trauma ward of the hospital, perversely enough, it’s the opposite. Twenty-something interns come in and tell you how awesome the trauma surgeon is and how awesome your experience is going to be. Then the interns show up again together later on in a big group trailing behind an older, more confident surgeon (surgeons seem to have no shortage of confidence and gain more as they age), making it clear that the interns are still being educated by this person and/or institution, thereby calling into question any of their assessments of the awesomeness of the surgeon. But this guy still isn’t the surgeon. He’s a colleague. Then, as you are lying on a bed outside the O.R. waiting to be worked on, you meet the doctor who will be doing the work. (Thank goodness for Google—the day prior I found that he got five-stars on a health review site! Operated on a New England Patriot!)
  • Delight the customer with an upgrade—for awhile. In both B2B and B2C, we’re getting better about throwing unhappy customers a bone. A discount here, an upgrade there. The short-term costs are marginal compared with the longer-term goodwill they buy. When I finally made it out of the ER and was given my hospital room, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a huge room and I had it all to myself, in a newly constructed wing of the hospital. And the nurses were unbelievably attentive. One of them finally acknowledged that I was in the intensive care unit for heart patients (there wasn’t room for me in orthopedics) and that she was “used to giving constant attention to people with zippers in their chests.” Caring for me was “like a vacation,” one of them said. I was in heaven. All the ginger ale I could drink and nurses compulsively asking me what I needed or wanted whenever I opened my eyes.
    Then, the day after surgery, the nurse informed me that I was being moved to be “with my own kind” over in orthopedics. Now, the only time I got ginger ale was when it was delivered on a tray with green Jell-o and chicken broth at mealtimes. But the reduced attention did come with a benefit—I got a little “drug remote” with a red button I could push to administer my own morphine. Later that day, they took away the remote and gave me a roommate.
    Could you imagine after clawing your way to the suite upgrade at a hotel having the desk clerk say, “We’ve found a room like the one you were originally supposed to get—with cleaner carpets this time—and we’ve taken the liberty of moving all your stuff from the suite into that room. Enjoy the rest of your stay.”
  • Segment your audience. In B2B we pride ourselves on knowing our audience. We have marketing designed for the C-level executive, the buyer, the influencer, and the front-line types. Meanwhile, 51 is pretty young for hip replacement. I’ll probably need to have it done again if I hit the average life expectancy of an American white male and manage to hang onto some form of health insurance. Most people who have hip replacements are older. That must be why the exercise sheet they gave me pictured a balding man with white hair and extra lines drawn in his face, a floppy tank-top t-shirt covering a paunch, and spindle appendages meant to approximate arms and legs, wheezing his way through leg lifts. Motivational.
  • Market your strengths. The highest production-value material I received upon discharge was a two-color, 24-page glossy magazine entitled “A Guide to Taking Warfarin.” (They put me on blood thinners for a few weeks after surgery.) The guide to what I should do after having a hip replacement (including exercises) was five Xeroxed pages stapled together.
  • Above all, empathize with the customer. I think we do this pretty well in B2B. We hire marketers and salespeople with direct experience in the customer’s industry so that they can talk to and sympathize with the customer’s pain points. During one of my two two-minute conferences with the doctor in charge of the orthopedics wing (not my surgeon), I made the mistake of asking what sort of pain killers I could expect to receive upon release. He interrupted me with, “No one said hip replacements aren’t supposed to hurt.” Thanks, Doc.

Of course, I can’t complain. I have health insurance, I’m walking again, I’ll be able to ride a bike again, and the accident could have been a lot worse than it was. But healthcare sure could use some help on the marketing front. Anybody got any ideas?

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How to measure influence in social media marketing

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Image via Wikipedia

Measuring influence is the new obsession in the social media world—adding another layer of anxiety to the dark cloud of existential dread that is marketing ROI.

Social media present us as individuals seeking status within a community, which is something that humans have been working at since our days as monkeys. Indeed, science tells us that monkeys would rather look at pictures of high-ranking members of their troop than eat. The only difference between us and the monkeys is that we usually remember to eat while we watch the Oscars or check our Twitter follower counts.

Influence is the ability to affect others in their thinking or actions. But we need validation that it is happening. Since social media leave digital footprints, companies create complex algorithms to come up with simple answers to measuring social media influence. These fall into two categories:

  • The number generators. These tools assign a number to influence based on factors such as popularity, number of connections, and share of conversation. The best of these is still Technorati, because blogs are, in and of themselves, the most influential channel within social media. Face it, unless you can come up with enough to say to sustain a blog, it’s difficult to become influential. Others include Klout and Twitter Grader, which focus on the social networks. Another category of tools “gameify” influence by giving us fake shiny objects as rewards for engaging others. These include Foursquare and Empire Avenue. But all these numbers have little use beyond the ego stroke.
  • The monitors. These include the proprietary tools that look across all the online channels to determine how brands are being talked about. These social media monitoring tools have more use for marketers, but they require significant human intervention and can easily become very expensive versions of the number generators if not used with a goal in mind.

How to measure social media influence in a marketing context
Influence is usually presented in the context of figuring out who is engaging us and who we should be engaging with. But I think as marketers, we need to think bigger. I’d like to suggest that we look at influence as part of an integrated marketing strategy. In this context, influence has little to do with algorithms and more to do with something that marketers have been measuring for a long time: perception.

The two most important components of influence
I see successful marketers getting their companies to set two reference points to measure influence across all their marketing programs:

  • Who we are. Through surveys, both qualitative and quantitative, marketers ask their target audiences to tell them how they perceive the company. Classic versions of this are unaided awareness (“Name five IT services providers”) and aided awareness (“Have you heard of x company?”).
  • Who we want to be. This is where the strategy comes in. This reference point is in the future and requires careful definition. It requires all the key players in the company to decide how they want the company to influence the market in the future. For example, many ITSMA members are companies that began by selling B2B products but are now trying to become known as full-service solution companies. They have built or bought services divisions and created services offerings, but they cannot yet influence their target audiences to see them as anything other than product providers. Marketing’s job is to influence buyers to move from the existing perception to the new one—using all the available tools at its disposal.

Over time, we measure our influence by asking our target audience if they see our companies as we want them to be seen. Looked at this way, measuring influence becomes simpler and clearer.

What do you think?

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What the slow death of B2B publishing means for marketers

Marketers always struggle with what to do next. There so many channels out there and so little time. But if you step back and think about where the real opportunity is for B2B marketers, it is idea marketing. Start with a good idea and the channel questions will resolve themselves.

B2B buyers are tired of marketing, but they’re not tired of ideas. In fact, buyers are hungrier than ever for good ideas presented in an objective way that target their specific needs. The people who used to do that, B2B journalists, aren’t doing it so much anymore.

This cartoon making the rounds online captures the frustrations of trade journalists--and reveals the opportunity for B2B marketers.

The business model is broken
It’s not that the journalists have gotten lazy; it’s a problem with the business model for B2B publishing. The business side of these organizations is trying to maintain profitability by slashing staff and by maximizing online traffic to make up for lost print ad revenue (and other desiccated revenue streams like events).

But unlike the old print subscription models, where publishers qualified their audiences by setting minimum requirements for things like role in the organization and buying power (which allowed them to justify high prices for advertising), online traffic is essentially random. Today, publishers must substitute traffic quantity for quality of subscribers to get advertisers to buy. That drives publishers to produce a lot of short content designed to reach the broadest possible audience (at least one online story about Apple per day for a technology pub, for example).

Half your ad dollars wasted? Try all of them.
Meanwhile, B2B buyers still hunger for good, specific content just as they always have. But because advertisers don’t believe in print anymore, the economics aren’t there for publishers to provide it. We keep hearing that quote from John Wanamaker about how half of his print advertising dollars were wasted. Trouble is, with online that figure is closer to 100%. Advertisers have abandoned print display advertising that at least had some degree of targeting for online display ads that have no targeting at all.

It’s a no win for everybody except the ad agencies. Publishers are left with a trickle of revenue and B2B companies discover just how uninterested a generic online audience is in their products and services. Meanwhile, Google, which has become the biggest ad agency of them all, gets rich by presenting hungry content seekers with links to JC Penney.

From the ashes of trade journalism, an opportunity for marketers
However, the tragedy that has become trade journalism is an opportunity for B2B marketers.

Providers have the opportunity to fill the content gap themselves. Too bad more of them aren’t doing it. Though most respondents in our How Customers Choose research said the quality of their providers’ thought leadership was pretty good, nearly 40% said it could be better. The number one suggestion for improvement: Focus more specifically on buyers’ particular business segment and needs (which B2B print publications used to be measured on each year in reader surveys).

This longing for personalization isn’t just heard in the context of thought leadership, however. When asked to name the number one factor in choosing a provider, variations on the “know me” theme came through 42% of the time.

Measure relevance, not output
But most marketing organizations don’t measure relevance; they measure output—whether it’s in leads or downloads. Marketers need to invest their money where B2B publications used to invest it—in constantly researching their target audiences and identifying the trends and ideas that are most relevant to them. Then marketers need to provide that relevant content.

When they do, they win business. In our recent survey, How Customers Choose Solution Providers, 2010: The New Buyer Paradox (free summary available), nearly 60% of respondents said that idea-based content plays an important or critical role in determining which providers make it onto their shortlists. But if providers go farther and use thought leadership to help companies clarify their business needs and suggest solutions, 30% of respondents said they are more likely to choose those providers. Even better, more than 50% of this group said they would consider sole-sourcing the deal. And this potential windfall isn’t limited to new prospects. Existing customers are also looking for new ideas. There’s no reason you can’t explore the epiphany stage with them more than once.

Does that help clarify what to do next?

What do you think?

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15 things marketers should stop doing and thinking in 2011

Here’s a list of things I wish we would stop doing and thinking as of December 31st:

Social media

  • Social media cause people to waste time at work. Companies have a long and pointless history of resisting new forms of communication. From Facebook to email to putting telephones on employees’ desks (remember, the telephone started as a “consumer” communication technology, too), companies think that every new wave is going to lead to gajillions in lost productivity. Dude, this stuff isn’t heroin, okay? The problem is not with employees or with the communications technologies, it’s with the premise that employees come into work determined to waste time. Guess what companies, people wasted time at work long before Facebook came along. If the company is well managed, people who waste time will get fired. People who sell your trade secrets on the internet will go to jail. Stop wasting money on pointless, ineffective efforts to block this stuff and start finding ways to make these channels pay.
  • Social media relationships are shallow and meaningless. We all know twitter can’t start revolutions or substitute for gazing meaningfully into someone’s eyes over dinner, but what I don’t understand is why the critics can’t see a link between the bonds that we form on social media and the deeper links that we forge offline. For example, the viral relationship model of Twitter adds a new dimension to relationships, it doesn’t subtract. You meet tons more people than you would in more traditional permission-based environments and some of those relationships will wind up becoming the kinds of deeper, more meaningful exchanges that the critics say we are losing through social media. I’ve formed a handful of excellent business relationships on Twitter this year—we know each other on sight and (gasp) we’ve even spoken to one another. Now, are a handful of real relationships a good return considering that I have 1400 followers on Twitter? Yes, because these relationships would not have happened otherwise. Shallow relationships don’t have to remain that way and existing relationships don’t have to go all shallow just because you start interacting in social media.
  • Interactions substitute for relationships. Many seemingly logical, intelligent people send me automated direct messages (DMs) when I follow them on Twitter, making them seem like robot spammers rather than people. They think that by throwing that extra interaction in there that it is somehow going to deepen our relationship. Soon, we’ll be able to automate our social media relationships through bots that can judge sentiment. The theory is that social media powered by humans doesn’t scale well. It’s nothing new; authors automated their interactions with readers centuries ago with the printing press. Just don’t go believing that these interactions can ever be substitutes for a human relationship.
  • Filtered conversation reduces risk. The ultimate risk in business is that your customers stop buying from you because they don’t trust you. Preventing employees from speaking to customers because they might make a mistake ignores this much bigger risk—which existed long before social media came along. Customers want to speak to the people they will be working with. That’s why employees and subject matter experts should be on the front lines of social media rather than marketers or PR people.
  • External social media marketing is more important than internal social media collaboration. We did some case studies at ITSMA this year that showed that companies could easily blow up half their offices and do away with most of their administrative and bureaucratic structures without a single customer noticing. The technology for virtual collaboration is finally catching up to the promise of internal knowledge management that we’ve been hearing about for years. Plus, it can make both employees and customers happier than they are now.
  • More volume creates more influence. In traditional media, influence comes from sheer numbers—the more subscribers to your newspaper, the better. But influence in social media isn’t purely a numbers game (though numbers can certainly help). It’s also about the degree of interconnectedness. There’s a scary analogy here, to viruses. Viruses ultimately benefit more from infecting 100 people who travel widely across the world than from infecting 10,000 people in one place. The most influential people in social media will be those who can combine large followings with diverse groups of followers who themselves also have many diverse followers.
  • Social media has ROI. Unless you are selling products, and inexpensive ones at that, it is impossible to track a tweet or a blog post directly to a sale. For expensive, complex B2B products and services, social media can improve relationships with customers and increase awareness. Do you call that ROI? I don’t. ROI should be measured on a higher level—as in the ROI of all of marketing to the business.


General Marketing

  • Analytics can wait. We need to close the loop on what buyers do with our content and use that insight to predict what they will do next. Buying marketing automation tools or social media analysis tools aren’t enough. You need people who know how to create analytical processes and algorithms and all that stuff. Wall Street is already trying to make sense of the massive river of online conversation for business purposes. We need people who can do it, too.
  • We must measure the ROI of social media (or any other individual marketing tactic). CEOs don’t care about individual tactics; they want to know whether marketing in general reduces the time to revenue and improves the productivity of sales. We need to start measuring the larger impact of marketing rather than measuring activity or individual tactics.
  • Publish it and they will come. We have a crisis in marketing channels. All year, marketers have been telling me that they are having a harder and harder time getting noticed in traditional channels like white papers, email newsletters, and events. This is a typical comment: “I’ve got plenty of content. It’s getting people to pay attention to it that’s the problem!” We need to mashup some new channels out of combinations of new and old to stand out and be heard now. A few examples of things that ITSMA clients did this year:
  • Describing what you do is thought leadership. Creating compelling offers and descriptions of products and services is an art, it really is. But it ain’t thought leadership. Customers want ideas for fixing their problems and proof that they can trust you. Most companies still try to sell what they have rather than figuring out what customers need.
  • Sales support is marketing’s primary role. Many companies think that they are maximizing their investment in marketing by limiting it to sales support. What they don’t realize is that buyers have removed salespeople from the earliest stages of the buying process by doing their own research with colleagues, peers, on the web, and in social media. Marketing is most effective at this stage, when buyers want nothing to do with salespeople. Marketing organizations that don’t break out of the sales support role will be trapped in a Catch-22 of increasingly poor performance and waning confidence from the business side.
  • Email will always be cool. Hey, we’re humans. We resist change and we have irrational hope for the future. So we keep doing stuff we’re comfortable doing for longer than we probably should rather than embracing new stuff. Email is inconvenient, impersonal, slow, rife with spam, and not particularly intelligent. But we’re used to it. The kids have already dumped it in favor of texting and social networking. Email won’t go away tomorrow but it will gradually be starved of all meaningful human interaction until it becomes a graveyard of official business communications and, wait for it, marketing. We should probably start planning for email’s funeral now so we don’t miss it.

What things do you wish we would stop doing and saying in 2011?

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Stop doing PR. Start doing visibility.

Thanks for the great comments on last week’s post, “Is the Era of PR Over.” Okay, so if the traditional model for PR is failing, what do we do instead?

Most journalists have discovered social media as an important research tool. And research shows that even the stodgiest C-level executive does at least three web searches per day.

That’s why increasingly, PR is going to become a matter of simply allowing your subject matter experts to be found rather than enlisting armies of PR people to try to force journalists and customers to find those subject matter experts.

I’m not saying we fire all PR people. Every company needs a guard dog or two to be around in case of a PR disaster. But it does mean removing PR people from their traditional role as gate keepers between subject matter experts and influencers and customers. And it means taking the conversation out of the hands of PR people and putting it into the hands of subject matter experts, influencers, and customers.

Think of the traditional PR process as a supply chain with four steps:

  1. Subject matter expert identification and preparation. PR works to identify people in the organization who would be good representatives of the company, its value, and its offerings. Those people may receive media training, presentation and speaking training, etc. to prepare them to be public representatives of the company.
  2. Outreach. PR creates a communications campaign with press releases, calling and emailing influencers, etc.
  3. Gatekeeper. PR schedules interviews between the subject matter experts and the influencers and tries to influence the interaction to put the company and its offerings in the best light.
  4. Placement. PR tries to influence the placement of subject matter experts, content, and interviews in third-party channels (articles, conference and trade show speaking engagements, etc.)

Here’s a new that model cuts out the two middle steps and rethinks the first and last steps.

  1. Visibility. This is the new primary role for PR. Beyond discovering and prepping spokespeople for the company, PR becomes responsible for making them nodes on the online network that can be easily found by influencers and customers. Examples of how you do this are:
    • Make them visible on social networks. Make sure they have business profiles on the different networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.). Push them to get lots of peer and customer recommendations and connections. Also push them to join relevant groups and contribute to those groups.
    • Encourage them to blog. The best way to get press and influencer attention these days is to write smart things that are easily discoverable. If your subject matter experts don’t want to write, use other types of media to populate the blog such as videos and podcasts. Or interview them and ghost write the posts. Just don’t MSE (Make S**t Up). The thinking has to be from the mind of the subject matter expert, not the ghost writer. And the subject matter experts must make themselves available to respond to comments in the blog.
    • Get them twittering. Twitter’s viral relationship model means that your subject matter experts can build up their networks of influence much faster than through a press release.
  2. Facilitation. In France, the concierge is a combination building superintendent and busybody. They get a small apartment on the first floor of the building with a direct view of the building’s front door and the lobby (I’ve even seen two-way mirrors on their apartment doors!). Consequently, they know everybody’s business but don’t intervene unless asked. This is the new role of placement PR. You monitor everything your subject matter experts, customers, and influencers do and say, but you stay out of the conversations themselves. Don’t require them to come to you before scheduling interviews or responding to customers and influencers through social media. You can’t do what one B2B company did: require that subject matter experts submit tweets to PR for approval two weeks in advance of posting. I don’t have to explain why that’s ridiculous, do I?

What do you think? Is this the new model for PR? What would you add or change?

P.S. Valeria Maltoni, who writes the excellent blog Conversation Agent, offered an interesting vision for PR last week that you should check out.

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Is the era of PR over?

Among the many interesting ideas thrown around at ITSMA’s annual conference this week was that the era of PR is over.

As in dead. Don’t do it anymore.

First, let’s define what PR means from the perspective of the customer (i.e., a journalist) and the customer’s customer (i.e., the readers of the journalists’ publications). Looked at this way, there are only two types of PR: Guard dog PR and placement PR. Let’s look at each in more detail.

Guard dog PR. These are the internal corporate PR representatives. Unless the company they work for is a startup or otherwise desperate for attention, these people tend to be ground down by the risk management aspect of their jobs over time. Much like IT people, they don’t hear much from anyone inside their companies unless something goes wrong. Then they get plenty of the wrong kinds of attention. The pressures on the guard dogs lead to a lot of problems:

  • The emphasis is on risk avoidance. The outsized focus on the negative from the people that sign internal PR people’s checks inevitably turns them into risk-averse guard dogs. After all, the only real foolproof way to keep your people from saying stupid things is to not let them speak in the first place.
  • Message control cuts out half the conversation. Our lives are filled with good and bad, yin and yang. It’s called being human. But guard dogs don’t have that luxury. If they are to avoid risk, they must stick to the positive—or at least the not negative. Like that last phrase, what ends up coming out is crap that doesn’t sound human.
  • Your customer hates and avoids you. Journalists have always hated the system represented by the guard dogs. This hatred sparked a (not quite) equal and opposite reaction: investigative journalism. Journalists try to get around the guard dogs whenever and however possible, which often makes the situation even worse for companies.
  • The rigors of the job breed mistrust. Like the people behind the counter at the DMV, most guard dogs have had just enough bad experiences with people to make them wary and mistrusting of everyone. And frankly, the demands of the job favor those who come to mistrust naturally. These aren’t the people you want talking to influencers and customers.
  • Nobody reads your content. Back when we had a strong press, the fact that press releases were self-aggrandizing crap didn’t matter. In order to differentiate themselves from the many other journalists receiving the same releases, self-respecting journalists never used anything from press releases in their stories. They dug deeper and created original content. Today, the few remaining journalists don’t even have time to read the releases anymore. They do their research on the web. And customers never read the releases.
  • Press releases are not substitutes for real content. As the media melts away, companies can’t link to or highlight objective sources on the website. That means many companies have nothing to offer visitors to their websites besides press releases and offering descriptions. In B2B, that’s not going to build relationships with customers.

Placement PR. The second type of PR is based on getting the company’s thought leaders into publications and other externally-sponsored venues. Occasionally, the placement PR people are in-house, but in the vast majority of cases the placement people are contracted through PR agencies. This does a number of things. First, it focuses the agency on some clear goals—cranking out press releases and getting press mentions—and gives the guard dogs a degree of separation that helps with risk management. For example, if the agency-managed interview leads to bad press, the guard dogs can show that they are managing risk for the company by blaming and firing the agency (agencies are used to this and work with many different companies in order to manage the ever-present risk of getting fired). However, there are as many problems with this model as with the guard dog model:

  • Lack of focus. PR agencies generally serve as many different clients as possible in order to maximize their resources and profits. This usually means an avalanche of poorly written, completely untargeted press releases, and interview pitches that show no understanding of the target influencer’s publication or audience.
  • Metrics that favor activity over results. Agencies’ goals and metrics are usually based on the needs and wants of the guard dogs rather than on the needs and wants of the target customer—the influencer. This means that metrics are based on merely making contact and shoveling crap out the door rather than helping influencers meet their goals.
  • The emphasis is on contacting rather than helping. In fairness to PR people, if their metrics were entirely based on placements in articles, they’d all starve. Journalists can only do so many interviews and many of those don’t make it into articles. But most agencies overemphasize contacting—annoying phone calls, emails, etc.—at the expense of helping.
  • The pool of targets is shrinking. PR people have always outnumbered journalists, but these days it looks like a beehive surrounding the queen. Meanwhile, companies’ appetite for exposure continues unabated, which just increases the noise that the few remaining journalists are hearing to an unintelligible level. Companies that aren’t cutting the number of placement people are wasting their money.
  • The process is incredibly expensive and inefficient. The process of getting subject matter experts placed in publications or other third-party content channels is awful for everyone involved. The agency must go through the guard dogs to get permission for the subject matter experts to speak, then they must get the attention of the busy interviewee, then they must coordinate with the busy executive and the external parties to make it all come together. The inefficiency and expense of this process for the agencies was tough to justify even in the glory days of trade journalism, conferences, and trade shows. Now, it’s even harder to justify.
  • Control kills placement. I could always tell when my interviewees were coached and under a tight leash. They were uncomfortable, guarded, and hurried. And they never said anything of value. The entire process was focused on trying to use me and my publication for corporate messaging—as though that’s what my readers wanted. I’m sure many of these PR people went back to their companies proclaiming success after one of these interviews. I never used any of it.
  • Trust requires fewer resources. Most of the hundreds of CIOs I interviewed over the course of my career were happy to be interviewed. Most had no media training, and many spoke to me without PR people on the line. The CIOs instinctively understood that they were spokespeople for their companies while also understanding that spouting corporate pabulum would not get them quoted. And they knew the value of being perceived as a thought leader, both within their companies and with their peers. I think some guard dogs and agencies perpetuate the myth that their subject matter experts will crack under questioning and that companies need to spend lavishly on legions of PR people to prevent the inevitable disaster. It’s a myth.

I don’t hate PR people
Look, please don’t think that I dislike PR people or don’t understand their value. As a journalist I met up with some real pros that got it. They understood my publication, my audience, and my needs. They would work hard to get CIOs and subject matter experts to agree to talk to me in an open way. They didn’t coach CIOs to talk only about how they used the products and services of the company. On the contrary, they asked me to explain the story I was working on and supplied that information to the CIO or their subject matter experts prior to the interview. I truly valued these PR pros and always told them so.

But the death of the media and the rise of the web and social media mean that the traditional model for PR, already creaky and inefficient, is becoming indefensible. What do you think?

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Should we stop marketing to the CIO?

Technology marketers have spent the last 25 years trying to get and keep the attention of the people with their hands on the technology tiller inside multi-billion dollar organizations, CIOs.

And for nearly that long, pundits have been predicting that the CIO role would become extinct, and that the strategic decisions about technology would be subsumed into the business.

Those pundits have always been wrong. But this time, they may finally be right—at least about certain types of CIOs. For marketers, this diminished relevance of certain CIOs means two things, I think. First, that they must know more about their CIO audiences than ever, and second, they must rethink how they market to target companies.

Cloud creates a new buying decision pattern
In our ITSMA Webinar How Cloud Computing Will Change Marketing last week, one of our guests made a bold prediction: Major IT services deals will, in the future, bypass IT.

Now, you may say that few big IT services deals ever went through IT. They are too important not to be made by the business. Perhaps, but in most cases, CIOs were crucial to making sure that the deals didn’t completely fall apart. Business people heard grand promises of business efficiency, cost savings, and competitive differentiation, while CIOs provided crucial translation that weighed those promises against the reality of 30-year-old legacy systems, dispersed business units and geographies, business process vagaries, tangled infrastructure—basically, the IT hairball that threatens to choke any deal after it is signed.

CIOs’ power is rooted in complexity
For marketers, having good relationships with CIOs was like knowing the bouncer behind the velvet rope. It got you in the door and created a crucial ally for making deals that everyone could live with.

But while CIOs may have been crucial to the deals, there was always a problem. CIOs’ power has, to a certain extent, always been rooted in something that business people hate: complexity. CIOs were the only ones who had any insight into how the individual hairs of the IT hairball were knotted together.

Trying and failing to dislodge the IT hairball
For the last ten years, providers have been trying to dislodge the hairball. It began with Application Service Providers (ASPs) that promised to surgically remove the hairball from the throat of the business. But these outfits could never remove the lump entirely and failed to run things any more efficiently than internal IT departments could.

Then came the Software as a Service (SaaS) providers, who offered certain applications and business processes through their own servers. But most of these applications were peripheral and could only shave little slices off of the hairball.

Cloud moves IT outside the company
And now comes cloud, which is basically ASP with a lot more technology power and sophistication and without the reptilian brand associations. Providers now say that through some combination of cloud technologies, they can blast the hairball to dust and let companies create services that are not hampered by underlying technology complexity. A report from the Corporate Executive Board entitled The Future of Corporate IT predicts that up to 80% of application spending will move outside the company.

What will happen to CIOs
Let’s assume they are right. It seems like a good bet—Moore’s Law doesn’t show any sign of slowing down yet. Here’s what will happen to CIOs if the cloud prognostications come true:

  • The traditional technology-focused CIO will become irrelevant. There will be an entire category of CIOs that marketers should no longer waste time and resources on: Operational CIOs. These are the CIOs who keep the lights on in the IT infrastructure. They buy the hardware and services for the data centers. These CIOs will be written out of the equation when the infrastructure moves into the cloud.
  • Internal IT projects will become external services deals. Another CIO archetype, the Transformational Leader CIOs that have been focused on using IT to improve business processes, may disappear as distinct IT leaders. Those projects will happen outside the company, in the cloud. These CIOs could move to become heads of the specific business services that run in the cloud and manage the relationships with providers, predicts the Corporate Executive Board.
  • IT departments will shrink dramatically. The Corporate Executive Board predicts that 75% of in-house IT positions will disappear in the next five years. What few positions remain will be dedicated to supporting specific business services.

What will happen to marketers
Okay, so what does all this mean for marketers? I see four key shifts:

  • The technology sale will become the business service sale. All of this could spell the end of what we have traditionally called the technology buyer. The sale will have to be made on higher level technology-based business services. Marketers will need to stop focusing on technology-based pitches.
  • The importance of audience segmentation in B2B will increase. More than ever, marketers will need to know which CIO archetype they are talking to and make sure they are not wasting time on those who can’t impact the business service sale.
  • Idea marketing will become more important. With speeds and feeds no longer relevant, marketers must get the attention of customers through ideas about how to improve business services rather than technology comparisons.
  • Relationships will matter more after the sale. The cloud means that everything becomes a service. Without the IT hairball to lock providers and customers together in a death embrace, the barriers to switching providers will come down. That means that marketers will need to devote more attention and dollars to the loyalty stage of the buying process.

What do you think? How will cloud change the CIO and marketing to the CIO?

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