September 26, 2017

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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How to write blog posts from a white paper

If you’re a corporate marketer like me, no doubt you’ve been put in the situation I faced this week: you have a white paper that an external content person created for the company and now you need to make that content social. It’s an important part of social media management.

Let’s face it, there are some B2B executives who wouldn’t read a white paper even if you threatened them with lima beans (what, you like lima beans? Eeewww!). ITSMA research shows that buyers want the whole menu of content—not just a white paper here or a video there.

So this week I went back to the white paper writer and asked for a series of short blog posts based on the content in the white paper. This person responded with a good question: How would you like it to read and sound?

I decided to write down the ways. After circulating it with colleagues on my idea marketing team (who came up with good additions), we came up with this list. What would you add (or take away)?

  • New point of view. The white paper has one big idea. Each post should have its own strong point of view.
  • Conversational. Blogs need to take the tone down quite a bit from the formality of a white paper.
  • Humorous. White papers are serious. Too serious, in my mind. I’m trying to bring a lighter touch. But you need to try to make the blog post downright fun if possible. Need to poke fun at ourselves and our readers (without getting personal).
  • Challenging. Good white papers challenge, too, but blog posts can (and should) get away with grabbing a bigger fistful of shirt collar.
  • Passionate. Missing in a lot of white papers, this is the lifeblood of a good blog post. Readers have to feel your commitment.
  • Easy. Blogs are the comfort food of idea marketing: quick, tasty, and not great for your long-term health. That means lists and top tens and bullet points and lots of informative subheads. No long narratives. Unlike white papers, the posts shouldn’t pretend to be all readers need for their long-term thinking on a subject. We invite them to taste the healthier stuff by linking to the full menu through the blog posts.

What would you add to this list?

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Four reasons to hate thought leadership

You may have noticed that I’ve changed the name of my blog. I’ve changed it for two reasons. First, because I’ve left ITSMA and joined SAP, where I will focus on marketing the good ideas of the many subject matter experts there. I’m going to share my experiences in helping to build an engine for developing and disseminating good ideas for SAP (with names changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike). I won’t be focusing on B2B marketing in the broadest sense anymore; I’ll be narrowing things to idea marketing (and the role that social media play in it).

Second, I’m changing the name because I’m going to make it my personal mission to end the use of the term thought leadership to describe this method of marketing B2B companies. I don’t know of another marketing term that gets so much hate mail. I know because I have a column in my Twitter dashboard that searches the term. Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t serve up the hate on the term.

Here are three reasons why their hatred is justified:

  • It’s pretentious. The term implies that practitioners are smarter than everyone else—including every other thought leader out there.
  • It’s a set up for failure. Truly great ideas are rare. Mostly what we do with thought leadership is educate and inform. We add a new twist to an existing idea or we do a deeper analysis of a well-known issue than others. That’s not really leadership.
  • It’s bastardized. The term has come to mean so many different things that it has become a throwaway. I’ve seen the term applied to anything that carries a marketing message. But thought leadership is supposed to be the antidote to the stuff that we (and, more important, customers) dismiss as collateral.
  • It disregards social media. Thought leadership implies depth. It’s impossible for a tweet to be thought leadership but tweets have an important role to play in the development and promotion of ideas. Thought leadership and social media can’t be done in isolation. They are joined at the hip.

I also dislike another term that seems to be gaining ground these days: content marketing. “Content” sounds so achingly dull and bland. And it could describe anything. What customers are looking for are good ideas, not content.

What do you think?

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7 reasons why social media success has nothing to do with social media

This week I was asked to speak on a panel about social media to a group of B2B marketers in financial services. It was great getting the perspective of marketers outside of technology. But they call it “financial services” for a reason: They have all of the same struggles as technology services companies—with the added complication of tons of regulatory requirements.

But when the panel was over, I realized something scary: Most of the success factors we wound up talking about had nothing to do with social media. They had to do with other things that companies have to do before they can successfully engage in social media. Here are some examples:

  • Most C-level executives are not in social media—they’re in search. ITSMA research shows that 66% of buyers seek information themselves rather than waiting to hear from providers. They seek that information through search: 79% of c-level executives do at least three searches per day. They are more likely to encounter our content through search than through the social media channels themselves.
  • Social doesn’t happen in B2B without a culture change. When we surveyed B2B marketers last year, 50% said they do not have a social media policy. It would be easy to say that B2B companies don’t have social media policies because they just don’t get it, or they’re slow and lack resources. But I talk to them all the time and I know that’s not the case for most of them. They hold back because they know that they need the full support, commitment, and participation of the business in social media. Without those things in place, there’s no reason to get into it, because you will fail.
  • Before social media can happen, companies need an idea culture. A lot of B2C social media marketing can come out of the marketing group because consumers are looking for deals, product information, and peer reviews. Marketers can handle all that stuff. But you can’t tweet a 50%-off coupon in B2B. You have to tweet ideas for solving customers’ problems. Marketing can’t do that on its own. Social media is the easy part; idea marketing is the hard part. Top executives and SMEs must commit to making ideas part of employees’ individual expectations. One of the reasons I know that B2B marketers get this is because the number one goal of marketers in our survey was to integrate social media into the larger marketing strategy—to link social media to their idea marketing process and their events—the channels that are proven and where the business has committed to contributing content.
  • The business case doesn’t exist for social media; but it does for idea marketing. When we asked buyers how important good ideas are to the buying decision, 58% of executive-level buyers (people buying more than $500,000 worth of IT services at a pop) say that it is important or critical for making it onto the short list of providers. Let me repeat: More than half of your buyers say that if you can’t demonstrate that you have good ideas for solving their business problems, they won’t buy from you. We asked: If a provider brings you a good idea would you be more likely to buy from them? 30% said yes. Of that 30%, 54% said they’d consider sole sourcing the project. Social media are great for developing those ideas and for making them available to many more people. But first you have to have an engine for creating the ideas.
  • Many B2B companies have already said no to social media. I’ve spoken to marketers who have dipped a toe into social media and pulled it back because they saw that their companies simply weren’t ready. They’ve started blogs where SMEs posted three or four times and then got busy with other things or got bored and the blog went dark. Someone somewhere latched onto that and declared that blogs don’t work. They blame the channel rather than blaming their company’s lack of commitment. Then that gets translated into “social media don’t work for us.” Many B2B companies are just now contemplating getting into social media for the second time.
  • Marketing needs a system of record before it can succeed in social media. Businesspeople don’t care how many Twitter followers you have. They care about the size, speed, and quality of the pipeline. We need a lead management process to act as a place to bring people from social media. In our recent lead management survey, just 53% report consistent definitions of lead tracking that are adopted globally. Only 65% have defined the lead flow process. Without a process for integrating social media into lead management, the ROI of social media in B2B will never move beyond brand awareness and website traffic.
  • Thought leadership is more important than social media. At the earliest stage of the buying process, marketing owns the relationship with buyers. Buyers don’t want to hear from salespeople at this point. We call it the epiphany stage; it’s before buyers have articulated their specific needs. But at this point, buyers are trolling for good ideas, insight into industry trends, and news. Companies must have an engine for providing those ideas in place before they can expect to make waves in social media.

What do you think?

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9 attributes of the best idea marketing content

Some time back, I blogged about the attributes of a thought leader. Lately, I’ve been talking to B2B marketers about the content delivered by these thought leaders and asking, What defines good thought leadership content? Here’s what I have so far. Surely, you have a suggestion that will get us to ten attributes?

  1. Visionary. It’s best to address a problem before customers realize that it’s a problem.
  2. Provocative. The best thought leadership pieces are bold and attack conventional wisdom.
  3. Differentiated. No “me too” ideas allowed. The ideas should be new (to the target audience, anyway) or offer a unique angle on a familiar subject.
  4. Relevant. Defines a problem or issue that is important to the target audience.
  5. Timely. Being first to interpret the impact of a new regulatory requirement, for example, reduces the chances of being perceived as “me too” thinking.
  6. Has a narrative. Great ideas are better when they are presented in the context of a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
  7. Demonstrates mastery. The ideas should be presented against a backdrop of deep contextual understanding and experience.
  8. Can be delivered on. There’s little point in doing thought leadership if it’s something that the company can’t follow through on.
  9. Backed up by proof. Thought leadership is little more than an interesting opinion unless it is backed up with data and case studies.

What else would you add to this list?

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The 2 questions on every buyer’s mind

At any moment in time, C-level executives are looking for answers to two questions:

What should I be doing right now?

What should I be preparing to do in the future?

We need to create a mix of these two types of thought leadership content to maintain strong relationships with their target audiences. Here’s why: Marketers who do this are more successful. In ITSMA’s Thought Leadership Survey, marketers with formal thought leadership processes segment their ideas this way 95% of the time. And those marketers tell us that they are much more satisfied with the quality of the ideas from their SMEs than marketers who have ad hoc processes for thought leadership development and dissemination. Among those who parse ideas, most split the pie in half between two types of ideas:

  • Aspirational. These are the ideas that prompt buyers to think about change. Assuming that you’ve done the necessary research to understand your target audience, that change can be on a personal, organizational, or industry level. These ideas aren’t necessarily about predicting the future or painting a picture of how it will look. Often, they focus on a catalyst for change that may not be obvious. Consultant Fred Reichheld didn’t invent the concept of customer loyalty, but by identifying the marker for it, he changed how many companies approach managing customer loyalty. These kinds of ideas are generally most useful at the Epiphany Stage of the buying process, when buyers are casting about for ideas but haven’t formulated any specific plans.
  • Practical. If these ideas were offered up at a newspaper’s editorial meeting, they’d go in the news hole. They identify a current trend, say a regulatory change, and offer perspective on what the trend means and how companies should react. An excellent, though controversial, example of this is the McKinsey article I wrote about a few weeks ago, about how US health care reform will affect employee benefits. Another great aspect of that piece is that when you click through to the article, you’ll see an aspirational piece positioned next to it entitled “Redesigning Employee Benefits,” which advocates taking a product development approach to the employee benefits process. Practical ideas tend to be more useful to buyers who are in the later stages of the buying process, when they have a more concrete idea of what they want to do but are looking for insight into how to do it.

What’s unspoken here is that you need to develop thought leadership that is appropriate to each stage of the buying process so that buyers (and salespeople) can get the right information at the right time. For example, buyers who are in the Epiphany Stage are looking for new ideas and industry news, while buyers who are actively getting ready to buy and are creating a short list of providers will be looking for case studies that profile how their peers have generated business results. Marketing and sales must agree on the alignment of content to the various buying stages so that sales will get the right signals about when and how to approach customers for a sale. For example, IBM creates specific versions of its thought leadership materials for salespeople to use during their discussions with customers.

Do you segment your thought leadership content?

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The crisis of buyer information in B2B and how to fix it

cooling

Image by roboppy via Flickr

The other day, I kept getting calls on my cell phone from the same number. Never left a voice mail, (which my gut was telling me should have been a signal), but the number was local. Could it really be that someone I knew was trying to get hold of me?

So, like a fool, I finally called back (the iPhone makes it so easy to do!). With the kind of maddening irony that makes me flash on doing capital punishment-inducing physical harm to a fellow human, I heard a recorded voice say, “Thanks for calling back. If you would like us to stop calling you press…”

Too bad you can’t slam an iPhone.

Pushing the easy button
The episode reminded me of the sheer desperation, sociopathic lack of empathy, and .0000000000000000001% response rate it takes to do direct commercial marketing via the telephone these days. Some of you may not even be old enough to recall what it was like before the National Do Not Call Registry came along. Don’t ask. You think Wall Street and the banks are evil now? You should have seen what they did to doddering seniors’ life savings via the telephone.

It got me thinking, what if a similar easy button comes along for online marketing? We keep hearing that at some point web users may truly be able to stop you from learning anything about them. The “voluntary policing” being done by the ad industry today online is at best an uneasy truce with an internet public not yet bothered enough, too lazy, or too uniformed to do anything about shutting off the cookie oven for good. Certainly, you know that the kinds of douche bags who practice the aforementioned cell phone marketing are no doubt out there somewhere hatching an internet cookie scheme that will so outrage the American public that the little old ladies (and men) will finally rise up and demand relief, just as they did with telephone marketing.

Obviously, this is less of an issue in B2B than B2C. Cookies help us learn more about our website visitors, but you won’t learn nearly as much about the spending patterns of B2B executives through web cookies as you do with B2C buyers.

Privacy is a concern in B2B, too
Yet even in B2B, we have a growing concern over privacy in lead management. Anecdotally, we hear that content gets exponentially more clicks when there’s no registration form attached to it. And people’s B2C experiences have a habit of leaking over to their B2B behavior. Generally I think we can say that the trend and sentiment among B2B buyers is to hand over less information over time rather than more.

So how to stave off this impending crisis of buyer information? It may seem facile, but social media are the answer. Rather than trading information for value or simply stealing it through invisible cookies, what if we actually did it the way people do in real life: through a personal relationship?

Buyers click more on pages with people
Buyers want to get to know your subject matter experts. They really do. I saw a terrific interview recently with Ethan McCarty of IBM, who talked about how IBM is working to get its employees involved in internal knowledge sharing through social mechanisms. You should read the whole thing, but one bit jumped out at me as great data for proving why we need to get more personal with buyers:

“Through A/B testing we have found that pages with IBMers on them perform significantly better than those that do not have IBMers on them. For example, if we have a web page that is designed to get visitors to click deeper into our site, the presence of IBM experts on the page improves both the performance and the overall feedback we get about the page. It’s kind of no surprise—when we are transparent, people trust us and feel better about the experience. What was interesting to me is that this is even the case when they don’t interact directly with the IBMer on the page.”

Marketers who let their subject matter experts get more personal with buyers will win in the end.

What do you think? Are you making plans for a post-buyer information age? If so, how?

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How social media muteness endangers your company: The crisis at McKinsey

McKinsey recently learned a difficult lesson about what happens when the world takes your thought leadership marketing seriously—and when you lack the ability to respond in the moment through social media.

The trouble started when the McKinsey Quarterly published an article in early June entitled How US health care reform will affect employee benefits,  based on a survey the firm did about what will happen to employer-sponsored health care insurance coverage when the President’s health care law goes into effect in 2014.

A textbook example of pragmatic thought leadership
The article itself is one of the best examples of thought leadership I have ever read. It is bold, clear, authoritative, and based on solid research. It is a textbook example of what we at ITSMA call pragmatic thought leadership: it takes a current issue of concern to the company’s target audience and evaluates what may happen in the near term without any mention of company methodologies or offerings. The piece settles right into the Florsheims of the average HR manager and paints a picture of what might happen to their benefits programs when the law takes effect.

That picture is stark and scary.

The survey predicts that 30% of employers will drop health care coverage for employees altogether, throwing them into the government-mandated health insurance pool of individuals without company coverage. Among employers with the higher level of knowledge about the law, the percentage that would drop coverage rises to 50%.

Such a bold and relevant piece of thought leadership was bound to capture mainstream media interest, and this one certainly did—another coup in McKinsey’s long string of thought leadership marketing successes.

The chattering classes intrude
However, something as politically charged as the healthcare debate is not the normal territory of buttoned-down consulting firms like McKinsey. It was like letting a dumb teenager into one of McKinsey’s glass conference rooms with a stack of fireworks and handing him a match. Something important was bound to get damaged.

And so it did.

Republicans cited the article chapter and verse, because it lent some credence to the idea that the world would fall into communistic chaos as soon as the evils of Obamacare were unleashed. Meanwhile, the White House attacked McKinsey’s survey as an “outlier,” saying that other studies from Rand, the Urban Institute, and Mercer all showed that the law would have little impact on the number of companies with coverage.

Journalists look for trouble and McKinsey stonewalls
The political stir encouraged journalists and bloggers to try digging deeper into the story and that’s when McKinsey got into trouble. When a blogger for Time asked for more details on the survey methodology, she says McKinsey stonewalled. That information vacuum led some bloggers to fill it with questions about the quality of McKinsey’s research and its motives. The biggest credibility blow was struck by a blogger at the New Republic, who pointed out that unlike reports from the firm’s own “semi-autonomous think tank” the McKinsey Global Institute, the healthcare survey did not undergo a formal peer review process. Ouch.

Too late, transparency—and defensiveness
Of course, you know what happened next. On June 20, long after the bloggers had already moved on, McKinsey finally made the survey and its methodology transparent and issued a cranky and defensive statement about the survey that helped things not at all. Here’s why: One of the most compelling things about the article is its boldness. In one passage, the authors take on all those who think healthcare reform will be an easy ride, including none other than the Congressional Budget Office Itself:

“The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that only about 7 percent of employees currently covered by employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) will have to switch to subsidized-exchange policies in 2014. However, our early-2011 survey of more than 1,300 employers across industries, geographies, and employer sizes, as well as other proprietary research, found that reform will provoke a much greater response.”

Wow. That’s pretty unequivocal. Hey CBO, you’re wrong!

All of which makes McKinsey’s too-late response to the criticism all the more mealy mouthed. Check this out:

“Comparing the McKinsey survey to economic estimates, such as the CBO’s, is comparing apples to oranges. While the McKinsey Quarterly article about the survey cited CBO estimates, any comparison is not apt. We understand how the language in the article could lead the reader to think the research was a prediction, but it is not.”

Oh, I get it. We readers are just too stupid to know a prediction when we see one. That wasn’t a prediction, it just looked like one to the uneducated. Maybe if we had all gone to the upper two percent of business grad schools like the folks at McKinsey we would have known better. That’s the height of arrogance.

Companies without a human face will suffer
But hey, I’m not here to say yet again that companies should be transparent in a crisis and respond quickly and in a non-defensive manner to criticism rather than letting it fester. You’ve heard all that before.

I’d like to posit another important piece missing from the McKinsey picture: people.

Despite its prowess in thought leadership—McKinsey is simply the best—the firm is falling dangerously behind in social media. This crisis unfolded online and in social media. All the company needed was to get some of its well-spoken hot shots out there blogging to clarify thinking behind the survey and things would have gone a lot better. Companies that lack a human face and hide behind their brands—no matter how good those brands are—will suffer in the era of social media. That static, institutional explanation of the healthcare survey on McKinsey’s website is like a billboard flashing “We don’t get social media!”

It’s ironic, but there is a person who could have responded to this controversy in a very interesting way. It turns out that a McKinsey internal expert on the healthcare industry, Bowen Garrett, was one of the authors of the Urban Institute paper that claims that healthcare reform will not cause a big disruption in employer insurance. Gee, how about a quick blog interview with Garrett, or a video, or podcast? But McKinsey doesn’t do blogs or anything else timely on its website. It’s a slave to that big (admittedly wonderful) publishing machine called the McKinsey Quarterly.

There are many things that social media can’t do, but one thing they can do is give you the opportunity to turn on a dime and inject thought leadership into the conversation when it is most needed. Companies that can’t do it will suffer the consequences.

What do you think?

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How to get employees involved in social media: focus on ideas

Many marketers involved in social media management tell me that they struggle to get their subject matter experts engaged in social media. But focusing solely on engagement is the wrong goal. What we should be talking about instead is getting those experts involved in creating ideas.

In an interview this week with Stephanie Tilton (thanks, Stephanie!) on the Savvy B2B Marketing Blog entitled How to Gain Real Traction with Thought Leadership, I talk about how marketers need to create an idea network within their organizations to spur their subject matter experts to start thinking.
Create an idea network as the basis for social media
Marketers need to facilitate a process for internal development of ideas and for external feedback. The combination of internal and external creation and feedback creates friction and competition. Experts need to defend their ideas, get input and collaboration from others, and compete for attention. Here are some examples of how this can work:

Internal

  • Knowledge share sessions
  • Awards programs
  • Primary and secondary research
  • Competitive intelligence

External:

  • Customer councils
  • Collaboration with academics and analysts
  • Partnership with trade associations

Creating an idea network helps demonstrate the importance of ideas to the organization. Many companies take it a step farther by making idea development part of employees’ annual goals. The high-end consulting firms like McKinsey have done this for years. Ideas are baked into the culture. To rise in the firm, consultants know they need to come up with good ideas and try to get them published.

Marketers need to help create that culture in the company by facilitating the idea process. Companies need to create a platform—and an expectation—that enables subject matter experts to be thinking all the time.

When ideas are an expectation, social media participation is easier
When employees know that they are expected to be thinking—and getting that thinking out into the market—engagement in social media participation becomes easier. They have something to talk about! Social media becomes a great test bed for testing ideas and getting feedback. It also becomes a way to slice up big ideas into more consumable pieces.

What do you think? How are you getting subject matter experts to engage in social media?

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The prerequisite to effective social media: the idea organization

At the first of ITSMA’s series of road shows this week in Silicon Valley this week (there’s still time to sign up for New York and Boston next week!) I confirmed something I’ve been hearing in my research on idea marketing over the past month: idea marketing requires a deep commitment not just from marketing but from the entire organization.

Eric Wittlake makes this point in a blog post this week and I heartily agree.

But then this got me to thinking, without a commitment to ideas throughout the organization, all these dollars we’re starting to spend on social media will be wasted.

In other words, unless we become idea organizations, we’re not going to have much to say to customers, prospects, and influencers in social media.

What do I mean by an idea organization? Let’s look at some attributes I’m seeing I’m my research:

  • Show commitment to idea development from the top. Some management consulting companies have the commitment to ideas baked into the culture—you simply will not survive as a consultant if you do not create ideas that lead to new IP. For everyone else, a visible commitment from the CEO and other top leaders signals that ideas, not just offerings, are part of all subject matter experts’ jobs.
  • Appeal to their egos. Recognition from peers means a lot to subject matter experts. Some companies get pretty formal about this, creating invitation-only SME councils with entry requirements. For example, one company required that its council members hold at least one patent before they’d be invited.
  • Make ideas part of individual expectations. I’m hearing B2B companies tell me that they are starting to make idea development part of the yearly goals of their subject matter experts. Few go so far as to specify the number of ideas or idea-based content that these people are expected to produce each year, but they have made idea development a part of the yearly review discussion.
  • Give them the tools to think. We’re seeing some companies develop some creative tools for fostering idea development. One company has created an internal portal where project members submit ideas that are vetted and voted on by the project customers. The winning ideas are implemented.
  • Make it competitive. Some companies have companywide competitions for the best ideas or the best white paper. This process is usually facilitated by marketing.
  • Make it visible. You’ll never create an idea organization if ideas are developed in secret. Think about it: if employees aren’t comfortable sharing their ideas with each other, how will they ever be comfortable talking about them in social media? Collaboration—both internally and externally—will help embed idea development into the culture.

Can you start to see that by creating these idea development processes, it becomes much easier for companies to engage in social media conversations that will impress customers and influencers?

What do you think? How are you creating an idea organization?

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