Tech Marketers: The Right Mind-Set Drives Thought Leadership

March 16, 2010

As many of you tech marketers understand at this point, building credibility can positively impact the activities of your sales force. With a company wide effort to publish important and relevant content the sales process can be shortened by ensuring the tech buyers perceive your organization is leading the market and has deep expertise around specific issues. To be most effective with thought leadership, the marketing team needs to have a plan in place. I have suggested before that your team should think like publishers and put together an editorial calender outlining the topics to be covered throughout the year.

There is a large quantity of information regarding thought leadership on the web and I recently came across an article in marketing profs authored by  Paul Mckeon the president of The Content Factor. In the article, Paul outlines five best practices for generating thought leadership. He takes a different approach in terms of identifying the mind-set your organization should be focused toward to ensure a succesful thought leadership approach.

1. Clearly define your own brand of thought leadership

Before you embark, be sure you know where you are going. That means having a clear understanding of what thought leadership means in general, in your marketspace, and for your company. Such clarity will ensure that other key stakeholders in your organization follow you, and it will help them understand what it takes.

Experts agree that thought leadership is one of the most misunderstood, overused, and abused terms in business.

“Thought leadership is one of those terms people throw around with no idea what it means,” said Beverly McDonald, former chief communication officer at Infor, a $2 billion software company.

“People think it means repeating what has already been said in the marketplace and if they do it with more frequency they’ll rise above the noise. Or they think it’s an alternative way to get their name in the press when they can’t get attention with any real news. The bottom line for me has always been that you can’t be a great thought leader unless you have great thoughts.”

2. Be guided by generosity

Thought leadership is a commitment to a grander goal than lead generation.

On her blog, elise.com, Elise Bauer says that a spirit of generosity is essential to thought leadership, and it’s a good summary of the shift in mindset that should occur when a company makes the transition from business leader to thought leader.

“Thought leadership requires generosity of one’s time, intelligence and knowledge,” Bauer counsels.

Consider the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” as a mantra for your thought-leadership efforts, and understand that with a little patience your company will benefit from your work. Companies will look to you for insight and innovation. The media will quote you, and analysts will respect you. And rest assured that your brand will have earned a new credibility and glow that, although difficult to quantify on a spreadsheet, will build your company’s success over the long term.

3. Tell, don’t sell

In our post-credit meltdown marketplace, the consumer—whether B2B or B2C—is more skeptical than ever and can spot an insincere bit of “trust me” marketing a mile away. That is all the more reason for companies to exercise due diligence when starting a thought-leadership program. Be sure it is more “chalk talk” than “pep talk.”

For example, if whitepapers are part of the program, be sure you understand that they should offer objective analysis of an industry issue or problem, not promotion or technical documentation of your products. A whitepaper should accomplish the following:

  • Justify why the problem must be solved
  • Objectively explore alternative ways to solve the problem
  • Logically lead the reader to the conclusion that your organization has the knowledge, expertise, and tools required to solve the problem

4. Take yourself out of the story

Ken Anderberg, publisher and editorial director of Health Management Technology magazine, looks for people who take a bold stand on the issues when he selects contributors to the publication’s regular “Thought Leaders” column.

“The contributors should be presenting an overview that is not self-serving,” he said. “We’re looking for information that is useful for your readers, not a self-serving discussion of a company’s technology.”

5. Take risks; be visionary

Many companies measure a marketing effort’s success solely by how many leads it generates. That shortsighted view doesn’t take into account the longer-term return on investment of a thought-leadership program.

They are also apprehensive about sharing information that goes beyond what is contained in corporate collateral or on their website.

What they don’t stop to consider is that all organizations have a “secret sauce” or “family jewels” that set them apart, and keeping them locked away in the far corners of the organization is not the behavior of a true thought leader, especially not in today’s connected world.

Bottom Line: With the right mind set and expectations, your thought leadership can build your organization’s credibility and truly position itself as a thought leader.


Tech Marketers: CIOs Want To Create Value

February 5, 2010

It’s a given that today’s CIOs must use information technology to support and enhance business goals. Organizations continue to raise expectations towards how the CIOs will create value for the organization while enhancing business processes and containing IT costs. This is a tough challenge and puts quite a lot of pressure on the CIO audience. But here lies the opportunity for technology marketers. By developing messages that are relevant to this current CIO mindset and demonstrating how your technology solutions will create the value sought by the CIO, you become more effective in your marketing efforts.

Marketing your technology solutions with messages focused merely on cost reduction will not breakthrough in today’s economy. Almost every marketing message is talking about cost reduction, so how can your message standout? Map your message to demonstrate how your solution will extend across the entire value chain of the organization like streamlining internal processes, restructuring operations, innovative ideas to make the business more agile and responsive, integration of the partner ecosystem such as suppliers, customers, service providers etc. These can all be messages that prove out your organization’s innovation, and how the CIO can bring value to their organization.

The role of the CIO has transformed to a value creator and an innovator, rather than being a mere ‘techie’ in the organization so your messages need to support this shift in thinking to get on their radar and be considered. Try to rise above the routine and mundane cost-saving messages and specific IT function and align your messaging to the CIOs  need to create value for their organizations.

Of course this will take a few meetings with your sales team and product teams to gather the raw information needed to create relevant messaging. So I have included some starter thoughts about the top CIO priorities for 2010 as gathered by Gartner. Use these to map your messages that relate toward overall business value and you may have a better shot at getting to the table.

Top 10 Business and Technology Priorities in 2010

Top 10 Business Priorities Ranking Top 10 Technology Priorities Ranking
Business process improvement 1 Virtualization 1
Reducing enterprise costs 2 Cloud computing 2
Increasing the use of information/analytics 3 Web 2.0 3
Improving enterprise workforce effectiveness 4 Networking, voice and data communications 4
Attracting and retaining new customers 5 Business Intelligence 5
Managing change initiatives 6 Mobile technologies 6
Creating new products or services (innovation) 7 Data/document management and storage 7
Targeting customers and markets more effectively 8 Service-oriented applications and architecture 8
Consolidating business operations 9 Security technologies 9
Expanding current customer relationships 10 IT management 10

Source: Gartner EXP (January 2010)


Tech Marketers: Quick Reminder Strategy Comes First

January 26, 2010

CMO’s at tech companies need to ensure their team is focused on strategy first. I have had recent discussions with many marketing departments at technology companies that cause me a bit of concern. Often, the conversations among these marketers tend t0 focus on what marketing vehicles should be used. I can’t count how many times I heard ‘let’s do a direct mail’ or ‘we should look into social media,’ without a mention of the objective, audience, or – for that matter – the desired result.  This concerns me greatly as I believe these marketers have the talent and the know how, but seem to be so focused on the tactical efforts due to heavy influence of a sales team or perhaps their senior management to get something out there.

A common trap inside these corporate marketing departments assumes that when you talk about marketing, you’re automatically talking about tactical marketing – placing ads, generating leads, sending out mailers, attending tradeshows, creating brochures, implementing a follow-up system, and so forth.

There is a failure to realize that the strategic side  – what you say, how you say it, and who you say it to – is always more important than the marketing medium of how you deliver it.

The distinction between the two is critical and these marketing folks need to stay focused on their strategies without undue influence from other departments. Now, I am not suggesting that the sales team input is not important. I do believe in alignment, but the conversations seem to shift to marketing tactic versus the bigger objectives. Tactical marketing is the execution of your marketing plan, such as generating leads, placing media, creating marketing tools, and implementing a follow-up system. In other words, it’s the medium in which your message is delivered.

Strategic marketing has to do with the content of your marketing message and starts with understanding your customers and the issues that are important to them, understanding why they buy or make a decision.

Just putting a marketing message in an appropriate medium for your target audience to hear or read is not good enough. The strategy must derive from an understanding of what’s important to to the target audience. Otherwise, this tactical part of the marketing process will be much less effective, resulting in ads that under-perform.

Many companies simply try to craft their sales pitch more before they find out how to provide a solution to their consumers’ needs.

Sorry if this sounds like a rant, the true intent is to remind all of your busy tech marketers to stay focused.

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Tech Marketers: Too Much Proof = Bad Content

January 21, 2010

When developing your content to build credibility for your tech solution it makes common sense to include data to back up your claims.  Let’s face it, we are taught throughout our educational years to demonstrate and prove our intended results with documented evidence. There are so many technology solutions competing for share of voice, that incorporating proof data to build credibility in your marketing message should be automatic. Without the backing of data to support your claims, you leave your prospect simply wondering if they should take a chance on your solution.

But how much data? With technology solutions, I have reviewed many “pitches” that incorporate pages and pages of data to prove out their thinking. Marketing teams at technology companies that have adopted the content approach are gathering and analyzing data toward developing their proof points. Certainly they are demonstrating their commitment to content development which is quite necessary for their marketing initiatives. But I am often surprised by the results of this activity. Most often this content is delivered through heavy white papers and elongated sales brochures, powerpoints that can go one for days, all filled with mounds of data and proof points to back their claims.

I am not a tech buyer, but I read a lot of this content and am amazed at the quantity of data and the quality. There are some messages that have an overwhelming amount of data to support their claims, and causes me to become suspicious of their claims. It is almost too good to be true.

We can only comprehend so much. Our minds have limits in our ability to digest information and too much knowledge can undermine the intended message, greatly diminishing the intended credibility.

Developing content should be a critical component to your external marketing initiatives, but balancing the amount of benefits and proof points included within your messaging should consider the audiences ability to comprehend and digest your message. If you are truly attempting to build credibility for your tech solution, limit your messaging to four or five data points that can prove out your claims.

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Tech Marketers: When developing content, is speed or production value important?

January 18, 2010

As a CMO or marketing person at a technology company, I have to believe you are well into understanding the need to develop relevant content and its value toward driving leads, building credibility and differentiating your brand. With more and more content available to tech buyers both on-line and off-line I am beginning to question whether speed to market vs. production values will emerge as the crucial consideration for businesses and brands as they create and distribute new content.

Developing content can be quite laborious and requires a full marketing team effort. Listening to many CMO’s communicate the concern for cost and time necessary to develop and produce quality content has me wondering about the process and the budget necessary to achieve an organizations content goals. While one of the key issues in enterprise technology is cost optimization, I would suggest that this line of thinking can be applied to content development as well. Is there a tipping point with content development? How much production value should be embedded into the process to best serve your audience ?

As I think about video and audio content-creation for a technology company, I tend to focus on the basics. The content’s purpose will directly impact the tolerance (or lack thereof) that your audience will have for the quality of the finished content. The speed to deliver the content should reflect the audiences need for the information. With a fast paced world out there, I would lean more toward content relevancy and speed versus a high production value.

As an example: If you are reporting live from an event and the purpose of the content is to give your audience a feel for the event as it happens, speed is valuable and you can get by with little to no editing. In fact, the “in the moment” feel of almost-raw video helps support the purpose of the video and communicate the essence of the event.

However, if you’re putting together a reflection on the same event, with the goal being to provide a solid overview of the event as a whole and to draw larger conclusions, I would suggest that you have to balance time and quality. You have a little more time and you’ll need to more thoroughly edit your available footage to tell the bigger picture.

I believe web-content can follow the same measure of content purpose versus production value. Users expect different things from a post created as part of a live blogging activity vs. even a daily post on a thought-leader’s blog. Live-blogging is rawer but is immediately timely. A daily blog is still timely but should have the benefit of a little thought and at least a read-through before posting. If you are developing a white paper, Web site, or learning content, a plan and more substantial editing are called for to truly support the purpose of the content.

Bottom line is you should review your content development with cost optimization in mind. Match your resources against the audience, identify the purpose of the content and measure the added value you may receive from the extra time and budget spent to deliver versus delivering the message faster.

What do you think?

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Is Facebook Really a B2B marketing tool?

January 11, 2010

I have a constant internal debate over the use of Facebook as a B2B marketing tool. I truly believe in social media as a B2B marketing channel. LinkedIn, Twitter and other popular sites relevant to technology have proven to be quite effective as listening devices, and communication channels. But when it comes to Facebook, I have some comfort issues as I perceive Facebook as a more personal oriented forum. This may be due to the fact that my family uses Facebook to communicate with their friends and other family members. Most of the activity is very much oriented towards their organization and coordination of personal activities.

So when I step back and think about Facebook as a B2B marketing vehicles, I start to question how B2B content is going to be relevant in this type of environment. Perhaps if you are a smaller business, this may be a valuable social media choice, but when you think about enterprise based technology, even though your tech buyers and clients are probably on Facebook, are they there for personal reasons? Do they want to participate in business banter or is Facebook more of a respite from their busy work day?

But here’s my observation– most of the really good examples out there are of B2C companies using Facebook to reach their target audience. There are far fewer concrete examples of successful use of B2B companies using Facebook. And I’d caution that it’s not a very good tool for B2B companies to use – as least not right now, anyway.

Why? One simple word: blocking. Those of us who dabble around in social media all day from our laptops, iPhones, or the comfort of our Web 2.0-crazed agency jobs can easily forget that many people work for companies who block Facebook at work. For B2B companies, their target audience is usually (obviously) other companies, but more specifically, it’s the decision-makers within those other companies. This could mean purchasing managers, marketing managers, IT managers or the C-suite. You can have the coolest Facebook fan page in the world for your business, but if none of your target audience can actually access it during the day while they’re at work (and making those decisions about whether to use your company’s product or service), then it’s probably not the best way to engage your potential customers.

It’s not as easy to see how Facebook might be useful in the business-to-business marketing context beyond personal connections and networking. That’s in part why the B2B answer to social networking is often “We are all on LinkedIn (or Twitter)”

What do you think?

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Technology Marketers, The U.S. High Tech Is Healthy

October 26, 2009

As a CMO in a technology company, I am sure you and your fellow senior leadership have been looking at the state of the technology industry and wondering if the paradigm shift to off shore outsourcing will ultimately bleed your business model dry. The potential impact of outsourcing seems to suggest that the U.S. High Tech industry is on a crash course for an unhealthy future, according to some.

But in a recent Harvard Business review article authored by Laura D’Andrea Tyson, she recommends to look at the macro data more carefully and suggests that the U.S. High tech industry is not as bad off as it may seem.  In her article she points out that the U.S. retains significant shares of global markets for high-tech products and services. And the reduction in costs and prices made possible by outsourcing upstream component production to low-cost foreign locations has helped U.S. companies maintain their competitiveness in high-value-added downstream products.

Between 1995 and 2005, the U.S. maintained about a 40% global share in knowledge-intensive services and about a 35% global share in high-tech industries, keeping the lead in four of them. In fact, The U.S. share in communications equipment increased by more than 20 percentage points as Japan’s share plummeted, and the U.S. doubled its share in computers and office equipment, although it was overtaken by China in 2003. These are the two sectors that encompass most of the products and companies that are the focus of the argument that outsourcing is hurting the U.S. Tech Industry.

The increase in China’s share in computers and office machinery — from 2% in 1995 to 46% in 2005 — was remarkable, but it is not a sign that China has gained on the U.S. in innovative capacity in this sector or others. China’s exports of high-tech products turn out to be not very high tech and not very Chinese: 80%-90% of China’s high-tech exports come from firms that are partially or wholly foreign-owned — in many cases by American Multi-National Companies. Moreover, the evidence suggests that the off-shoring of activity by U.S. MNCs — either to reduce the costs of their supply chain or to serve foreign customers — increases rather than decreases their U.S. activities. According to a recent study by Mihir A. Desai and C. Fritz Foley of Harvard Business School and James R. Hines Jr. of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor Law School, both the domestic and foreign investment and the domestic and foreign employment of U.S. MNCs move together.

As Laura points out, overall, the data do not indicate that the U.S. has lost its innovative capacity or that the outsourcing of production to low-cost locations has undermined the global competitiveness of U.S. high-tech companies — at least not yet.

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