January 21, 2018

Why your marketing to CIOs may be irrelevant—and what to do about it

When I covered CIOs for 13 years at CIO Magazine, I found that it was very difficult to generalize about the profession, beyond a handful of universal problems such as alignment with the business and the complexities and the voracious needs of the IT infrastructure.

If I learned anything in those years, it was that CIOs really are a diverse lot. And that has big implications for marketers.

To market to these people effectively, you’re going to have to get to know them as being part of multiple, unique segments. That means understanding not just the top 10 IT drivers for 2009 as predicted by Gartner or Forrester. It means understanding different CIO roles, skills, aspirations, and business contexts.

CIOs are in fact so different that marketing to them all with the same message means that you’ll be irrelevant at best, and offensive at worst to most of the people you’re trying to reach.

CIOs are not all the same
When I was at CIO, I was very frustrated with the findings from our State of the CIO survey because they were relentlessly identical from year to year. But I know that in speaking to hundreds of CIOs, very few fit into the exact same mold. I found that every CIO I spoke to had at least a few unique issues—whether it is unique industry requirements, organizational complexities, or other things that they were grappling with that I hadn’t heard from anyone else.

So one year when I ran the State of the CIO survey we decided to take a deeper look at this data. We came up with some interesting insights.

For example, we’ve long thought that CIOs in smaller organizations are hamstrung by a lack of discretionary budget to work with, small staffs, and a lack of access to the CEO in the business.

So we started pulling factors like these together, and sure enough, new insights began to emerge. We began to see the CIO in more segmented way, with different drivers and motivations.

This led to what we started calling the “CIO archetypes.” Since I did the original archetypes work at CIO, they’ve morphed a little bit. We originally had four, but today they’ve been reduced to three, and the names have changed:

Function Head. These CIOs focus on keeping the lights on, on the IT utility, and are usually at smaller organizations or divisions within larger organizations.

Transformational Leader. These CIOs tend to be in larger companies and generally serve multiple business entities. Because they have this cross-business visibility, they have the opportunity to become business process experts and use IT to make those processes more efficient and effective. Following through on those process opportunities requires more than programming and project management skills, however. They focus on processes and standards, different organizations, and they do a lot of work on governance; especially concerning what elements of IT are shared and what are local.

Business Strategist. These lucky devils have access to the business and are involved in strategic planning. The best have built up their business skills through direct experience. Others are successful CIOs who take on complementary business roles in addition to IT such as supply chain, for example.

Though CIO no longer tracks a fourth category, I think it’s important to mention:

Turnaround Artist. These are a small, powerful minority of CIOs who defy categorization. You can find the Turnaround Artists in any of the archetypes, but they have one important issue that marketers need to be aware of: they’ve been brought into fix what the business thinks is a broken IT department.

Can you see how these different archetypes have different needs and interests? Have you tried to segment your CIO audience?

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The Problem with Personalization

Customer segmentation in most companies is starting to look like a hairy knuckle dragger, mired in a Stone Age era defined mostly by demographics. The successor on the evolutionary scale, segmentation by vertical, is so commonplace that it is going to win as many battles for business as a Bronze Age spear.

We know that B2B marketing needs to become more personal. The demand is a byproduct of the civil war raging in most businesses between traditional corporate computing and the consumer-based applications that employees are bringing into work.

Good consumer applications live and die by their level of personalization—indeed, some predict that Facebook will be overtaken by more atomized versions that hew more narrowly to people’s personal interests.

But the problem with the rush to personalization—or personas, or role-based marketing, or whatever else you want to call it—is that B2B ain’t like consumer marketing. It is schizoid. The B2B “buyer” is really many people, from the CEO to the business user, from the CIO to the programmer. With so many different constituencies in the purchasing process (never mind the installation and long-term usage processes), and with many overlapping interests across these many groups (good project managers are interested in business value, just like the CFO) marketers can drive themselves crazy and drain their meager budgets pretty quickly.

Yet there is no turning back. IT people are the fastest adopters of Web 2.0 technologies and they have a growing expectation for personalized content that is not going away anytime soon. The issue then becomes refining the personalization strategy so that it has the most impact on a limited budget. I think that translates into six drivers:

  1. Prioritize. Of all the different job roles and people involved in the purchase, installation and long-term usage processes, some matter more than others. Interview sales people to find out who they are and start there.
  2. Automate. Clearly, marketers need to let the website and social media do the heavy lifting on personalization through such techniques as portals, dynamic content and online communities.
  3. Educate. Even if the content doesn’t turn out to be as personal as you wished or as customers expected, making sure that it educates all readers on an important business or technology issue—not just your products and services—will dispel much, if not all, of the disappointment.
  4. Reuse. You should have two different types of content: core content and personalized content. The fundamental messages of the white papers and web seminars can be used in many different settings. The personal content can be a tweak of the core—say rewriting the top and bottom third of a whitepaper—or a layer on top of the core—like bringing in an outside speaker to a webinar to add a personalized layer on top of your company’s presentation.
  5. Aggregate. A gazillion bloggers can’t be wrong. Using others’ content as a jumping off point for a more personalized dialogue is cheap and easy.
  6. Commit. You can’t love them and then leave them after they’ve purchased. The shift to personalization needs an attendant shift in marketing emphasis away from the almighty lead and toward the existing customer.

Various forms of personalization filled the agendas of most speakers at Forrester’s Marketing Conference in LA this week—a classy, informative event that I recommend heartily, even though the emphasis is more on B2C than B2B.

Many buzzwords are tossed about at conferences like this, but two stood out for me when it comes to personalization: personas and roles. The difference between the two seems to boil down to this: roles have a job and personas have a name. Personas are all the rage on the B2C side. Product development labs are filled with cardboard cutouts of people named Bob or Sally who are obsessively researched and compiled through techniques like ethnography.

Roles are more relevant on the B2B side because there is not a single buyer—there are many different people with different jobs involved in the decision. At the conference, Forrester analyst Alan Webber highlighted what he believes to be the seven most important roles in B2B:

  • Sales
  • Purchasing
  • Line of business
  • Product development
  • Accounting
  • Marketing
  • Corporate

Another Forrester analyst, Eric Brown, says that role-based marketing is beginning to take off: 23 of the 100 largest technology companies are doing it, up from just one in 2006. The best example he offered was SunGard, which carves out 32 different roles on its website.

However, SunGard groups the roles under the heading “users,” which demonstrates the complexity of the role-based strategy. There are a certain set of roles in the purchase process and others after the software goes in. Some roles will cross over between those two different stages of the relationship and some will not. It will be a challenge to manage that transition smoothly.

What do you think? Have you tried personas or role-based marketing? Do you think personalization is overrated?

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Ten Rules for Getting Started in Social Media from SAP's Steve Mann

Steve Mann is creating and implementing a social media strategy for B2B software giant SAP. He agreed to talk to me about what he’s doing for SAP and how B2B marketers should approach getting started in social media. With his personal interest in science and sociology, Steve also has some insightful views on the human side of implementing a social media strategy. I’ve summarized Steve’s top-ten ideas below. I first discovered Steve through this excellent interview that Mike Moran did with Steve on Mike’s blog.

To read my full interview with Steve, see my next post.

10 Rules for Getting Started in Social Media from SAP’s Steve Mann

  1. Audit your organization to find social media efforts that already exist within your company.
  2. Assess your culture: Are you a command-and-control culture? Can you tolerate negative customer feedback? If not, then start small with external social media—or stay away from it altogether.
  3. Examine your organizational structure: Highly stovepiped or diversified companies should use social media internally first to build collaboration capability before going external.
  4. Don’t strategize in a vacuum. Ask customers what they want to talk about.
  5. Build the internal processes and infrastructure necessary to follow-up on social media interactions with customers.
  6. Don’t pick a social media technology, pick a business goal and use social media to pursue it.
  7. Learn how different generations like to consume online content. Consider hiring an “inter-generational expert.”
  8. Talk to your IT department about restrictive social media policies. Millenials and other digital natives will not tolerate being barred from using social media.
  9. Examine your leadership style. Social media, as a means to support collaboration among your Millenial workers, requires an implementation that supports coaching and listening, not rules and edicts.
  10. Steal tactics from B2C marketers. They have a head start on social media and many of their their tactics are applicable in B2B.

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Why blogs should be personal—even if they are corporate

I don’t hold out much hope for the future of corporate blogs. Most customers won’t read them because they won’t trust them. Companies exist to sell things and make money and the people who work for those companies are paid to further those goals. We humans are tribal, and our tribal loyalties always come first. Readers understand this and operate from the presumption that corporations are going to have a bias toward making themselves look good and getting their agreed upon message out. Discerning exactly how biased a given corporate blog is—and how much of the total puzzle of information the reader may be missing by not going elsewhere—takes too much time and energy.

This is why we have journalism. Readers don’t have to do as much work to determine the motivations of the writers. Regardless of whether you believe that journalists are inherently biased, the business model and the tribal bond that holds journalists together is that they are supposed to sample the entire field and report what they hear. Otherwise, they will earn the wrath of their readers, bosses, and peers. There is tribal pressure not to take one person or company’s word for it. I would much rather read about Microsoft’s corporate strategy in the New York Times or see it on Fox News than read it in a corporate blog from Microsoft.

The relevance of blogs is that they are personal. That’s why corporations can’t do them well. As an employee of the company, you would never want to take a controversial stand on something in the corporate blog without first figuring out whether it accurately represents the opinion of your tribe. That’s why corporate blogs will never be risk-taking enterprises. They will be press releases for broader consumption.

That’s not to say that corporate blogs won’t be controversial. The numbing lack of controversy in the blog posts themselves will be in stark contrast to the comments about the posts. Take for example this innocuous post about GM’s new Pontiac G8. It’s written by one of a number of rotating authors on GM’s blog that include Bob Lutz (yet another issue for readers—whose voice really represents GM here and whom should we trust most?). This time it’s Adam Denison, GM’s Coordinator of New Media. And guess what! He really likes the G8! He congratulates Pontiac on building “an amazing car!” You know, maybe he really believes that. But it’s harder for readers to figure out his genuineness than to go elsewhere—or to point out their concerns in their comments. Like this one:

Adam Denison said: “So congratulations to Pontiac for a building an amazing car that is sure to be the brand’s flagship performance sedan. Great work Pontiac!”

Mr Denison,
Aren’t your congratulations misplaced? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the G8 only a rebadged Holden Commodore SS? Isn’t it a bit of a stretch to congratulate Pontiac for an amazing car when there role was little more than to put different badges on it and move the steering wheel to the left side?Shouldn’t the congratulations go to the Holden team who actually conceived and designed the car?
It’s a smart idea to bring the best models from GM’s overseas partners to the U.S., but credit for the design should go where it’s due. Wouldn’t you agree?Regards,Gary Dikkers”
Denison responds to other comments in the blog, mostly to correct errors in specifications and to urge readers to visit showrooms. But he doesn’t comment on this one. And that’s because he can’t. He may have an opinion, but likely GM hasn’t formed a tribal opinion about how to deal with the Oz issue. At least the comment wasn’t wiped off the blog, as other corporations have done.
For a corporate blog to be effective, it can’t be what we currently conceive of as the corporate blog. There needs to be a layer of separation between the corporation and the blogger or bloggers. The layer of separation gives the blogger and the corporation an out. For example, when the folks at ITSMA asked me to take up the blogging reins of my predecessors, my boss, Julie Schwartz, our senior vice president of Thought Leadership, suggested that I start my own blog rather than an ITSMA-hosted blog. Her suggestion stemmed in part from her knowledge that blogs are a lot of work and that the people doing them deserve some personal recognition for their efforts. She also knew that having a personal blog would motivate me more than doing one hosted by the company.

Julie’s has many smart ideas, but this one really intrigued me. I think blogging about marketing from an independent position benefits everyone involved. It lets me feel more emboldened to be personal and opinionated, and it gives Julie and Dave the ability to rightfully point out that stupid or incorrect things I might say are not necessarily reflections of their or ITSMA’s opinions (that was a shameless disclaimer in case you didn’t notice). I mean, let’s be real here. They don’t have the time to look over my shoulder while I blog through a corporate vehicle, so why not make that clear to everyone from the start?

I think this is where the corporate blog is headed. One of the models for my blog is Paul Dunay’s “Buzz Marketing for Technology” blog. Paul is a marketer for consulting company BearingPoint, but his blog is his own. He blogs on topics that interest him and his follow B2B technology marketers. It’s hard to discern any BearingPoint influence on his blog, and he puts a disclaimer on the front page absolving the company of any link to what he says. My work as a reader is lessened. Sure, Paul may be somehow advancing the corporate goals of BearingPoint through his blog, but as a reader I know he can’t hide behind the corporation or suddenly give way to someone else to do the talking. The result is that he looks smart and genuine, and, by extension, so does BearingPoint.

And that’s all corporations really can ask for from a corporate blog. The point is not to get a message across anymore, it is to engage people who are, or may someday be, customers, peers, or partners in a dialog—not with the corporation, but with smart people who want to help.

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Why I'm doing this

I’m viewing this blog as an experiment, as I think anyone blogging these days should. I’m convinced that this stuff is going to change very quickly over time, and I want to keep an attitude of experimentation at all times. Plus, I know that marketers—especially B2B marketers who will be the focus of much of my writing—are just getting started with social media and are confused about how to make it serve the traditional marketing goals of awareness, trust, and loyalty.

So I’m going to beg your indulgence while I write about my experiments with these new media. I will of course also include the research, best practices, and thoughtful opinions of those I encounter as part of my day job—as Associate Director of Research and Thought Leadership at the Information Technology Services Marketing Association, ITSMA.

Pardon more indulgence. Here’s more information about me: I am currently paid to learn and write about B2B marketing in the technology industry. I have a hard time imagining what could be more rewarding than being paid to learn about something—anything. As for writing, the rewards are obvious—50 gazillion bloggers can’t be wrong.

The kind people giving me money to learn are Dave Munn, CEO and president of ITSMA, and my direct boss, Julie Schwartz, senior vice president of Thought Leadership for ITSMA.

This blog will be about what I learn about marketing, my interactions and conversations with marketers in general and ITSMA members in particular. I prefer to think rather than just link, and will try to do that in everything I post. Point of view is more important than frequency. For that reason, I will not be the most prolific blogger in the world, but like my readers, I have a day job.

I have done this before. I blogged for about three years at my previous job, as executive editor at a technology trade magazine called CIO. I had a blog called “Koch’s IT Strategy.” The web people hated me because my blog posts were rarely less than 1500 words. But the longer ones got all the comments and were more fun to write. So I’m going to keep doing it that way.

I have spent most of my career in journalism, but it was interrupted for a few years by a stint as a marketer at a now-defunct consulting firm called CSC/Index. I did what they now call “Thought Leadership Marketing”: Developed and wrote case studies, ghost wrote articles for consultants, helped develop consulting content and edited publications. So I know something of what B2B marketers go through. I’m on a quest to understand the rest.

If you’ve gotten this far, I have earned the right to tell you about my other work experience, which is as a founding editor of a now-defunct consumer magazine about cycling, called Bicycle Guide. It was my first startup experience (my second was starting a bike touring company that took Americans to view the Tour de France bike race-so you can see how cementing I am about this stuff) and gave me a chance to learn and write about a sport I love more than any other. You will probably see postings somewhere on this blog about cycling.

You can see more about me at LinkedIn and Facebook.

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