July 31, 2014

I have seen the future of B2B marketing. It’s on Forbes.

I’m sure I don’t need to introduce you to Forbes’ “BrandVoice” program (used to be “AdVoice). The guy who manages the platform at Forbes, Lewis Dvorkin, (if he also created the platform he’s a freakin’ genius) recently wrote about its power to disrupt traditional journalism, citing my new employer, SAP, as one of the companies that sometimes get more hits for the stuff it posts than Forbes’ own journalism.

He concludes that journalism (what little is left of it) is safe from the assault of brands like SAP. I agree (journalism’s future will be determined by its ability to create a business model that pays better than the current one: giving away content for free and charging way too little for ads), but I think he missed the more important disruptive power that platforms like BrandVoice really do have: to disintermediate traditional marketing.

Reinforcing the no-pitch rule
For the past few months, I’ve been one of the authors of content on SAP’s little corner of the Forbes platform and I’ve become a big fan. I’m especially fond of the effect it has on my colleagues in SAP marketing: they understand that they no longer need to pitch products to get the attention of customers and prospects. Indeed, there is a sense among my colleagues (that has been voiced to me as a rule), that Forbes frowns on stuff that shills products or links back to stuff on our company’s website that does.

As a practitioner of idea marketing at SAP, that’s music to my ears. Our group’s mandate is to research the business issues that SAP’s customers and prospects care about and write exclusively about those issues—not our products and services. The Forbes platform is Exhibit A for marketers who think what we do is a waste of time and money. That’s because customers and prospects actually come to the Forbes site and read our stuff. More importantly, they see smart people from SAP featured in it and that helps everybody.

What’s Wrong with BrandVoice
I don’t see everything SAP is doing on the Forbes platform as contributing to the education of customers (and thereby hopefully increasing their loyalty to the brand). A lot of it still brags about how great the company is, even if there’s no direct link to our stuff. And some of it is, to my taste anyway, pure link bait (links that we’re sending to Forbes rather than SAP). But hey, I’m a known crank. I give us a B- overall—not bad for a product company.

A Step Toward Better B2B Marketing
So the temptation is still there for marketers to market themselves or their companies rather than ideas. But the Forbes platform is an important step in helping companies understand that there is a time for selling but there is also a time (generally much earlier in the sales process) when customers and prospects are simply looking to be informed, educated and entertained. Proving that this kind of engagement helps make customers more likely to consider the company is the next big hurdle that marketers (myself included) have to cross.

 

P.S. Forbes has an profile section that BrandVoice authors are asked to fill out. I filled mine out today and thought the questions were really fun and interesting. I’ve enclosed them and my answers below in case you’re remotely interested. I’d love to hear how you would answer these questions.

Cool profile questions Forbes BrandVoice asks authors (and my answers)
I’m Watching For…

Great ideas to help businesses and IT

This Is Annoying Me…

The costs of change

This Is Making Me Worry…

The freakin’ weather in the Northeast

This Is Bringing Me Joy…

My family and cycling (in that order!)

I’m Running From…

Crappy, self-serving marketing content

This Is Helping Me Create…

Awareness that there many smart people within SAP who do more than install software

This Is Making Me Think – Hard…

The melding of business, IT, and personal life

This Makes My Teeth Itch

Selfishness and lack of compromise in Washington

Can’t Do Without

Beer

Favorite Voices

John Lennon, Robert Plant, and MLK

My Most Awkward Moment

Don’t know where to start

My Secret Ambition

To raise a moral, thoughtful, and funny child who will change the world

I’m Known For…

Journalism and marketing

My Current Project

Build a library of library of interesting and fun stories that plumb the minds of smart subject matter experts to help companies make better decisions–without shamelessly trying to sell stuff

My Greatest Achievement

Besides standing around while my daughter was born and being smart enough to marry my wife, uncovering a cover-up of doping in cycling in the US–in 1984

My Biggest Regret

That journalism is dying

I Truly Respect

People who do stuff for others without telling anyone or expecting anything in return

Moments I’d Like To Forget

Pretty much all of junior high, high school, and college (I was a nerd before it was even remotely cool to be one)

How I Pay For This Wardrobe

Two suits bought 25 years apart!? Myself, thank you very much.

Blocks I’ve Been Around

Liars and phonies (interviewed two (that I know of) C-level executives who were later convicted of white collar crime)

Things That Really Happened

Sent to the hospital four times by drivers who hit me while riding my bike legally and carefully in traffic (one of whom told me to “use the f-ing sidewalk next time” before gunning it and leaving the scene)

Where I’d Like To Be 10 Years From Now

Living in a country that leads the world in promoting freedom, compassion, and honesty (hope it continues to be the US–I’m beginning to have my doubts)

Why Forbes

The Forbes platform is truly unique–a way for companies to add to the conversation about the future without having to resort to shameless self-promotion

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  • carmenhill

    Interesting post, Chris! Journalism’s downward spiral makes me sad, too. The silver lining is that journalistic standards and practices are seeping into the realm of my second career as a content marketer. It’s much more interesting than just writing ads and brochures! Thanks also for posting the profile questions. Still trying to wrap my head around the idea of itchy teeth ;)

  • http://www.christopherakoch.com/ Chris Koch

    Thanks, Carmen! Yes, itchy teeth took awhile but I’m sure my dentist would want money to make it stop so I put it in the negative category. ;-)

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