January 21, 2018

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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Six ways that marketing needs to lead the organization in social media

Social media creates the need for marketing to lead within the organization.

At least that’s the conclusion we reached at ITSMA recently when we did our social media survey (there’s a free summary if you’re interested).

Now what do we mean when we say that? We mean that within the organization the leadership of social media is falling to marketing. We think that’s because social media is seen primarily as a tool for marketing. Therefore, the marketing group is becoming the default center of social media, right?

I’m really excited about this because it’s rare for a function like marketing to get an opportunity to lead the entire organization. But think about it. Marketers are the not the only ones who are going to be doing social media. Our subject matter experts (SMEs) are talking to customers. We’re seeing HR departments using social media for recruiting. We’re seeing companies use social media to bring customers into the product and service development processes to collaborate on new ideas and improvements. We’re seeing companies use social media for customer support. (Shameless plug here: My favorite B2B blogger Paul Dunay is going to talk about how Avaya uses social media for customer support at ITSMA’s Marketing Leadership Forum on May 25-26.) The entire organization needs to get involved in social media and marketing needs to lead that effort.

I have to say that we were pleasantly surprised and I have to admit a little shocked when we discovered that many marketers seem to get this intuitively—67% of marketers said they are taking on the responsibility of identifying the appropriate subject matter experts and assigning them to engage with their target audience and influencers in the online conversations that are happening out there.

But if marketing is truly going to be the catalyst for social media in the organization, many things are going to need to change. To be a leader, you have to have your own house in order. That means that marketers need to integrate social media with the larger marketing and business strategies. That’s why at ITSMA we’re calling 2010 The Year of Marketing Transformation (sound the bugles!—a little portentous, I know, but we really believe it and the data really shows it). And social media is the main driver behind the need for this transformation. We don’t think marketing can afford to continue doing more with less. With marketing budgets as percent of revenue being an all-time low — less than 1% — social media can’t just be another add-on to everything else that marketing is already doing.

Remember that marketing can’t do this alone. Social media gives us the opportunity to bring the rest of the organization into our efforts. But to do this effectively, we have to define new processes, roles and competencies for marketing and we have to play a large role in leading social media for others inside the organization.

So in our research and our discussions with members and influencers on social media, we’ve identified six major areas that marketers need to focus on to lead the rest of the organization effectively.

  • Research. We have to figure who we want our SMEs to talk to so they don’t waste their efforts.
  • Ideas and content. We need to create an idea engine within the organization to help SMEs come up with things to Twitter and blog about.
  • New roles. We’re seeing a role that is sort of a director of ideas and content emerge. Someone who helps identify smart ideas and people within the organization and makes decisions about how to develop them. We’re also seeing directors of community—Jeremiah Owyang tracks these people on his blog.
  • Governance. Social media policies are the foundation of social media governance. And even small companies can benefit from having a social media council. Listen to IBM’s Sandy Carter talk about how she set up a social media council in her group at IBM.
  • Training. We shouldn’t just turn employees loose without helping them learn about the tools. But we also need to teach them about the strategies for using those tools. Telstra has a cool example of social media training that anyone can watch.

What do you think? What have I left out here? Anything to add?

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It’s official: Marketing owns social media management. Now what?

We just completed our ITSMA survey on social media. I’ll be reporting some of the major findings here and at ITSMA.com over the coming weeks.

But one finding sticks out. Marketing owns social media management. That’s right. It’s our job.

In our survey, we asked, “In your company, is marketing the catalyst for social media being used by others in the company (product development, HR, etc.)?” 68% of our respondents said yes.

That means that if we are to keep up with our competitors, we’re going to have to take the lead on developing a strategy not only for marketing with social media, but for getting the rest of the organization involved as well.

Will social become a silo within marketing?
This has big implications for how we organize marketing. The biggest implication is that we cannot afford for social media to become a silo or an add-on to our existing marketing organizations. Marketing as a percentage of revenue for technology services companies is at an all-time low—less than 1%. The Great Recession certainly has played a role in that, but the percentage has been dropping more or less steadily since before the dotcom crash, when it averaged about 3%.

Back then, we could still run lush print ads, design fancy brochures and whitepapers, create monster trade show booths, and wine and dine CIOs at the Super Bowl. And to business people, that all represented value. Salespeople and businesspeople could see the talent and creativity in the ads and brochures, relationships being made at the events, and the business cards in the fishbowl.

Today, we do a lot less of that stuff. That’s not to say that these more traditional tactics don’t work anymore and should be abandoned. But we have to find ways to stretch the dollars we do invest in those tactics farther. And we have to use other tactics that, in and of themselves, build trust and relationships with buyers.

That’s where social media comes in. So much of what I see out there today treats social media as a standalone. But the real successes I’m hearing about in B2B use social media to support and extend more traditional tactics. Such as using online communities and social media to build up interest and discussion about our traditional live events both up to, during, and after those events.

Reorganize in an integrated way
So the question for marketing becomes, how do we integrate social media? That was the number one goal of respondents in our survey for the coming year.

Social media consultant Jeremiah Owyang has a good post about different ways that he sees companies organizing for social media that you should check out. It will jog your thinking. But the question I have after reading his post is how does this fit with our existing models of marketing?

As I told Jeremiah in a comment on his post, I don’t doubt the rigor of his (as always) insightful thinking. But I wonder, are companies really reorganizing around social—and should they?

From our research we see that marketing tends to own social media for the rest of the organization. So we’re really looking at how much the marketing function is going to change as a result of social. Today, we see most marketing organizations divided up between corporate and field marketing (central and local) and basically divided up between marcom and everything else. So the real question is how does social impact the ways that we organize marketing today and how does it integrate with the things we already do?

I don’t think we can afford to create a social media silo inside the larger marketing organization. Do you? How are you fitting social into your organizational models?

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There is no social media strategy, only marketing strategy

The Twitter fail whale error message.
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been working with my colleagues at ITSMA on another survey on social media for B2B marketers that I hope you’ll take by going here.

As we put together the questions, we struggled with the issue of social media strategy. I resisted treating it as a standalone in the survey. I’m hoping that all the articles, books, and blogs I’m seeing that look at B2B social media strategy in isolation are a function of our excitement over this new channel (and don’t get me wrong; it is really, really exciting).

I’m also hoping that the excitement (and the needs of social media consultants and authors to drive their businesses) will not drive us to distraction. B2B marketing lays the path to a sales discussion and supports relationships with existing customers. Social media is another channel—one of many—for making the connection and building the relationship with customers.

Social media is no silver bullet. Other channels are more effective for reaching high-level B2B buyers—and that situation may never change. I say this even after discounting ITSMA’s recent research showing that marketers don’t see social media as being very effective components in their marketing strategies. It’s clear that social media are still new and most B2B marketing groups haven’t gotten the hang of them yet. It’s too early to reach any definitive conclusions on effectiveness.

It’s tempting to say that because B2B sales are highly dependent on relationships, social media will eventually reign supreme. But I think the nature of B2B makes it harder for companies and customers to have a satisfying relationship that’s entirely virtual than it is for B2C companies.

We all know that B2B decisions take a long time and are made by committee and logic rather than individuals and impulse. It’s hard to imagine that kind of a complex, long-term, multi-person relationship ever happening entirely or even mostly in social media. At the C-level especially, face-to-face remains the killer app for everyone involved.

What’s been proven to work in B2B is for marketers to reach out to prospects with smart, engaging, educational content that leads to trust. The trust leads to a more personal relationship and hopefully, a purchase.

Looking at social media in isolation distracts us from the real revolutionary trend, which is that marketing strategies need to shift to an emphasis on content and relationships.

Social media simply makes starkly plain what we’ve known for some time but haven’t had to face yet: We don’t have a lot of content capable of generating trust and relationships.

Trust comes from buyers deciding that providers are as interested in their concerns and needs as they are in selling stuff. The only way we can do that is by providing a range of different content—thought leadership, news, education, training, support—in a range of different channels—events, white papers, communities, private meetings—at all phases of the buying cycle.

If you look at social media in isolation, you’re not going to see the larger strategic issues until they slap you in the face—blogs with nothing to write about; LinkedIn groups with no substantive conversation; Twitter streams that link to nothing but brochures and press releases.

That’s why I’d love to see the social media conversation turn more towards integrating social media into the overall marketing mix and arming marketers with the additional skills they need to make it happen. It’s why I left strategy and metrics out of the four components of social media management. The strategy is a marketing strategy and the metrics should happen across everything you do. I’m trying to get at the issues of integration in our survey, and will report on our findings.

What do you think? Are we overemphasizing social media strategy at the expense of overall marketing integration? Please let me know.

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Social media isn’t enough. We need a marketing transformation.

During one of the first few days I went to work at CIO magazine in 1995, I had what we called a “vendor visit”—one of many I would have in the coming years. The idea behind the visits was to avoid having us journos become isolated in our ivory tower. We needed to hear from marketers who were out there day-to-day listening to CIOs’ problems and aspirations. Plus, many were advertisers, so the visits made it seem like we weren’t completely ignoring what they had to say.

But mostly we were.

Back then what marketers had to say was all about their offerings. And why not? The IT industry was on fire and the stuff was flying out the doors. Marketers and salespeople didn’t have to do much coaxing to get CIOs to buy, so why get complicated?

But a quick read of our magazine showed that we didn’t write about products. We wrote about the typical concerns of a C-level executive, such as strategy, leadership, organizational design, and change management. Kind of a Fortune magazine for IT executives.

Bibles, vacuums, and boxes
But the vendors had little need to engage with CIOs at that kind of level. And the guy that showed up to see me that day was a representation of the times. Big, stony-faced and intimidating, with a lapsed football player’s gut and a big school ring buried into one of his fingers. He wasn’t a marketer, but he had been sent by a marketer, who hadn’t bothered to accompany him or even send an agency PR person for translation and kind supplication. So much for hearing about the latest strategic trends affecting CIOs.

This guy was a salesman. Could have been bibles or vacuum cleaners, but they didn’t need sales guys for that stuff anymore. They needed guys to take orders for these boxes. He swung his expanded briefcase up onto the table, pulled out a media kit bulging with press releases about speeds and feeds and plunked it down on the table in front of me. “That’s for you,” he said. Then he launched into a pitch, delivered in a tone and with an expression that made it clear that this time could be money in his pocket if it wasn’t for me.

For my part, I made sure I conveyed the same body language, while choosing the chair nearest the door. I counted the minutes (these things go even more slowly when you have to listen).

Michael Jordan and the baseball bat
When it finally ended he said something that I’ve never forgotten. As he grandiosely snapped the buckles on the briefcase and dragged it off the table, he snorted, “CIO magazine, huh? Why don’t you have CIOs writing it?”

At that moment, I realized that I wasn’t just wasting his time. In his mind, I shouldn’t even have been working there. Given my minimal knowledge of IT at the time, I guess he had a point.

But it was clear that he had no concept of how difficult it is to write clear, compelling content about complex subjects. Assuming CIOs would be willing to accept the pay cut, and smart and determined as they are, I’m certain that few have the talent for or interest in the publishing process.

What am I paying for?
Marketers today are in the same position I was with that sales guy in 1995: Wondering how to explain the value and difficulty of creating clear, compelling content about a complex subject.

Except that today many of those sales guys are gone. Today, more salespeople are able to have business and strategy discussions with customers and take the time to listen to their needs. Thus, their skepticism becomes sharper and more justified. If I can do all this in a sales call now, why do I need you?

At ITSMA, we’ve seen investments in the things that we used to identify as the key contributions of marketing—like advertising, brochures, events, and trade shows—shrink consistently. And today we’re seeing marketing budgets as a percentage of revenue dipping to their lowest levels ever—at or below 1%.

Businesses are asking if you’re not doing all these things you used to do anymore, why should I give you more budget? And if I do, what am I paying for?

The model needs transforming
Pledging to do more with social media isn’t the answer. What we need to be telling the business is that we’re going to transform marketing completely. Getting into social media really means getting into publishing. It means creating a constant stream of idea-based content that keeps buyers interested and engaged. That’s hard, and it means a real shift in skills for many marketing departments.

I think the suspicion that we see of social media, which is justified, is mixed with fear. Let’s identify that fear so that marketers will have an easier time making the transition. I think it’s fear that the hardest aspect of marketing, content development, is ascending to become marketing’s most important role, as advertising, traditional PR, and events shrink and fall away.

The content engine
Marketing departments are going to have to transform themselves into content development engines. And just as important, they are going to have to sell the value of that engine to their businesses to prevent further cuts to the budget. As McKinsey consultant David Edelman said at the ITSMA annual conference last November, we can’t make social media an add-on to a system that isn’t adding the value that it once did. We need to look at how to do things differently.

Here are some of the key aspects of that transformation:

  • Marketing is becoming data. We couldn’t measure the effectiveness of ads in the old days, but the CEO saw the ads and signed off on them, so that made it okay. We couldn’t measure the effectiveness of events and trade shows, but sales people saw the crowds at the booth and the bar and so it didn’t matter. But as we shift to a content focus, it is all online and its impact is invisible. There is no visual, visceral confirmation of its impact. But a white paper isn’t just content; it is data. It can be tracked and measured.
  • Automation creates metrics. We tear our hair out trying to devise metrics that we can’t report on because we don’t have the data. If we automate the processes that matter, the metrics we need will be staring us in the face.
  • The funnel becomes electric. The impact of our content will be visible if that content is linked to an automated, closed-loop lead process. Getting agreement with sales on a sales-ready lead is critical. And with all the SaaS-enabled software available today, there’s no excuse for not automating the lead management process—at least up to the point where marketing hands over sales-ready leads. You don’t even need to involve IT anymore. And the excuse that these systems don’t integrate with old CRM systems is becoming less and less valid. If the vendors can’t help with the integration, IT can. Marketing needs a better relationship with IT.
  • Content creates relationships. It isn’t enough to develop idea-driven content and ship it out; we have to redesign the creation and dissemination processes so that readers are lured into conversations and relationships. This is where social media tools are helpful. But developing and disseminating content that builds relationships—think publishers and subscribers—takes different skills.
  • Buyers become approachable. After consolidating their power for years through internet search, B2B buyers are beginning to emerge from behind their firewalls and show up in places where marketers can find them. We have to meet them halfway. That requires a culture shift in the company and new skills for marketers and employees.
  • PR becomes conversation. We’re all PR now. Employees, subject matter experts and marketers all need to represent the company, but in a way that is transparent, constructive, and cordial. PR people meanwhile should use their thick skins and relationship skills to help build the conversation in social media. But it means shaking up the PR department and our relationships with PR agencies.

At ITSMA, we’re calling 2010 the year of marketing transformation. We wouldn’t use such grandiose terms if we didn’t see a real need for change. When she saw the trend in the numbers that we prepare our annual budget study, my colleague Julie Schwartz asked an important question: “Do we want to spend another year doing more with less? Marketing has to do things differently.”

We’re going to offer more specific on how marketers should make this transformation backed up by selected data from the 2010 survey at our webcast, The Year of Marketing Transformation: ITSMA’s 2010 State of the Profession Address on January 26.

In the meantime, do you agree that marketing needs a complete transformation? If so, how would you do it?

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Top B2B marketing posts for 2009 (hint: social media)

Who says B2B marketers are lagging in social media? If they are out there, they aren’t reading this blog. Of the top ten posts on my blog this year, only one did not involve social media. Though I’m supposed to be an objective researcher, I have to admit bias here. I think the social media phenomenon is the most exciting and important thing to hit communications in my lifetime. So writing about this stuff is fun. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do writing it.

Thank you so much for your comments, links, and tweets this year. I’m happy to say that traffic to my blog has quadrupled (I’ve gone from a D-list blogger to a C-list, I think) in 2009 thanks to you. I look forward to collaborating even more in 2010. Have a happy and safe New Year!

Check out these top posts if you haven’t already:

  1. Six factors driving B2B social media marketing adoption
  2. The four components of social media management
  3. Want proof that the C-suite is into social media? Here it is.
  4. How to create B2B social media policies
  5. Why B2B marketers hate social media
  6. Social media strategy for B2B: what’s required and what’s optional
  7. Why bother with thought leadership? Five questions and answers.
  8. Eight reasons to monitor social media and a list of tools for doing it
  9. Where should your corporate blogs live?
  10. Why B2B marketing will become more visual, vocal, and mobile

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Why B2B marketing will become more visual, vocal, and mobile

The mobile phone has long been an object of affection and obsession for people who like to talk incessantly. But now that mobile phones have become computers that happen to ring, they have become irresistible.

There’s something about having this little device in our pocket that makes it so much more personal—dear, even—than any phone or laptop. (Desktops? I haven’t loved a desktop since my Mac Classic; besides, you can’t even really call them desktops anymore because we do everything we can to hide them from view under our desks, so no love there.)

More than smart
We root for our smart phones to become gifted. I’ve never been as vigilant about new application development as I have since the App Store came along.

And which apps really make us catch our breath? The ones that give us more freedom of time and place. Mobile also drives a craving for immediacy. Inevitably, it’s going to drive us back to our roots as visual storytellers. And that is important for marketers. Increasingly, we are going to have to deliver our messages visually for mobile devices. Here are some reasons why:

  • Mobile drives substitutions for the written word. I’ve often cursed Steve Jobs for not making an external keyboard that would attach to the iPhone (that would be the end of my laptop altogether). But when you see an iPhone app that lets you dictate voice into text with reasonable accuracy (for free), you start to wonder. And when it’s possible to do live, streaming video from your iPhone, you start to realize why Jobs isn’t making the keyboard a priority.
  • The cloud drives mobile to the center of computing. The emergence of the cloud is making these devices more independent. Google is offering offices in the cloud so that corporate IT systems become little more than sync devices for all the work being done away from a desk.
  • Mobile drives an urge for immediacy. The hottest collaboration applications on mobile are those that duplicate the immediacy of a phone call. One of the great lures of Twitter is that we know that it is always changing. IM and texting would be nothing without the real-time dynamic.
  • Mobile makes everything visual. Why have the iPhone and the Droid taken off? Because we can now see into our phones. We can see what others are doing. Even the words are visual now. Would you dream of Twittering without a profile photo or image? And who can resist the river of content that moves before your eyes? Twitter is every bit as visual as it is textual. And nowhere is the visual more dramatic than on your personal mobile device.

What does it mean?
For B2B marketers, this means that video and interactivity are something we need to be thinking about and doing now. Our target audience is ready. For example, a Forbes survey found that C-suite executives are more likely to make the time for a video than other executives. Sure, there are technical issues. Video search isn’t great yet, though it’s improving. But video case studies and interactive product demos—even for B2B services—are going to become more popular on mobile devices. And as mobile devices become our computing devices, that means B2B buyers are going to have a greater appetite for the visual.

What do you think?

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Where should your corporate blogs live?

Earlier this year I surveyed B2B marketers about their approaches to corporate blogging. Their strategies take two basic approaches.

Onsite. These marketers take a direct role in finding and supporting internal bloggers and in helping them develop content. The blogs are an integrated part of the corporate marketing strategy and are usually hosted on the corporate website. Most say that they try to suggest topic areas that fit with the company’s overall thought leadership strategy.

Offsite. Whether through choice or through necessity, these marketers take a more hands-off approach—the “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach. They encourage subject matter experts to blog, track what they write about, and offer blogging guidelines and help when needed. They do not set up or tend corporate blogs. The subject matter experts have independent blogs or speak through third-party platforms like Linked-In, etc.

I don’t think that one approach is necessarily better than the other. But I’d like to hear your opinions. Here are some strengths and weaknesses of both approaches.

Onsite advantages:

  • Built-in traffic. It can takes years to build enough word-of-mouth to build a marketing worthy audience for a blog. The corporate homepage can direct a fire hose of traffic to the blog from the start.
  • Integration with other marketing. Blogs are only part of a thought leadership marketing program. Surrounding the blog with links to other sections of the site gives the blog credibility and helps build interest.
  • Brand respect. Impress visitors by having a summary page of your blogs set against the corporate backdrop.
  • Incentives for bloggers. Being on the corporate site is a good way for bloggers to raise their visibility inside the company and promote their careers. It’s also easier for marketers to justify spending their time supporting bloggers when the blogs are on the corporate site.

Onsite disadvantages:

  • Suspicion. You can’t have a disclaimer on your corporate-hosted blogs. Readers will assume that corporate bloggers will sanitize their opinions and do what they can to promote their companies. That runs counter to the spirit of the best blogs. Of course, a good blogger can break through that suspicion with content that is interesting, unbiased and altruistic.
  • Content inflexibility. Bloggers will feel more irresponsible taking flights of fancy on their corporate-sponsored blogs than on their own personal blogs. And visitors will frame their expectations of the blogs through the expectations they have of the company. For example, visitors may not feel that an executive from a computer networking company should be writing about tangential topics, even if he or she is qualified to do so.
  • Technology inflexibility. Corporate websites are complex beasts that are difficult and expensive to change and require going to another department, IT. Meanwhile, social media technology is changing constantly. Corporate-hosted blogs won’t be able to take advantage of the latest social tools that complement blogs without going to IT and getting some custom coding.
  • Life sentence. It looks bad when corporate-hosted blogs shut down unless there are others to take their place.
  • Failure runs deep. A bad blog with little traffic and no comments reflects badly not just on the blog but on the corporation hosting it.

Offsite advantages:

  • Resource savings. Letting bloggers do their own thing requires little support from marketing. A blogging policy is generally enough.
  • A degree of separation from mistakes. Gaffes by independent bloggers generally don’t lead back to their employers.
  • Thought leadership farm team. Marketers can spot and encourage budding subject matter experts and re-purpose their content as thought leadership.
  • Half-life is less important. Independent blogs can appear and disappear without reflecting badly on the blogger’s company.
  • Technology flexibility. Independent blogs can take advantage of new technology quickly and easily, because most independent platforms are built on standard internet technologies.

Offsite disadvantages:

  • Building traffic takes longer. The search engines don’t pay much attention to blogs with little content. Building up that foundation of content takes time.
  • No integration with marketing goals. You take what you get with independent bloggers. You can’t pick the topics.
  • Limited incentives. Marketers won’t be able to do much for their independent bloggers.

What do you think? How are you handling your corporate blogging strategy?

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