Monthly Archives: September 2005

Corporate Blogging

I’m in New York again this week, presenting at the Factiva Forum on the topic of Blogs and RSS. The audience is made up of Factiva’s corporate customers–information professionals responsible for researching and tracking content critical to their company’s business objectives.

I just finished presenting on a panel called Blogs and RSS: Friend or Foe, Fad or Future, along with Sandy Hamilton, EVP of Sales and Marketing at NewsGator, James Brancheau, Managing VP at Gartner, and David Scott, Author of "Cashing in With Content".

From a content perspective, I don’t think we broke any brilliant new  ground on the topic of Blogs and RSS, but we did present a broad and optimistic view of the power and utility of unstructured and unfiltered content, even in the face of significant challenges. There appeared to be a clear consensus among the panelists and audience alike that blogs represent the leading edge of a sea change in communications, and businesses need to move from asking whether or not the phenomenon is real to understanding and engaging the medium.

The audience seemed well ahead of the bell curve–70% read blogs regularly, almost the same number use an RSS newsreader, and at least 10% either write or contribute to a blog. That speaks well for the corporate uptake of blogs and RSS. Concerns focused mostly on control of content, including copyright and intellectual property issues, as well as general perception management.

Clare Hart, President & CEO of Factiva previewed some new information technologies they’ll be rolling out Q4. That’s a post in and of itself, that I’ll try to dig into that in the next few weeks. Suffice to say the challenge of information overload is becoming a market opportunity, and information science experts (formerly known as librarians), are coming up with some interesting tools to address the challenge.

One of the most interesting presentations was Steve Wilson, Director of Global Web Communications at McDonald’s. McDonald’s appears to have a pretty advanced approach to blogging and content syndication–and "Lincoln Fry" is not a good indication of what’s really happening at McD’s. They’re using blogs to collect and distribute internal corporate communications in addition to public-sphere marketing; they’re using blogs to stay in contact with franchise operators; and they’re rolling out a sophisticated RSS add-on to their CMS to provide subscription feeds to all their content.

Seth Godin at 4. Cocktails at 5.

Biting the Hand that Used to Feed Me

In the interest of full disclosure before delivering this post, I recently left BusinessWeek as a columnist for the online edition. The bottom line is that after 2 and a half years of writing for the small business section, our paths diverged. There’s a lot of good stuff happening at BW, but unfortunately I don’t think the Web site is as strong as it could be–from underlying investments in technology, to editorial focus. I wasn’t too inspired to say anything about the transition until I close a new gig, but a feature I read today changed my mind.

BusinessWeek is posting on its site its editorial picks for "best of the Web".  They frame the list by saying: "with only 24 hours in the day, we have to settle on a relative few as places to work, play, and get things done online. These are our picks for the cream of the crop". Take a look at the list, flip through some of the links, and then ask yourself how this serves the BusinessWeek audience? The listings are vaguely categorized, have no description, and worst of all, as a whole they have only tangential relevance to a business reader. Lets just take a few examples:

Travel is listed under "play", not under "@work". I guess business people only travel for pleasure.

There are more links relevant to personal entertainment than business.

"Blogs" as a category contains a random sampling of high-profile mostly-technology blogs, with no breakdown into business categories, like technology, finance, management, and oh, I don’t know, marketing?

What the hell is "collaboration" supposed to mean here? You’ve got a project management ASP, an SFA provider, an open source depository?? What is this category?

"Research" includes, a great social bookmark aggregator, but not, say, Edgars? Or Hoovers? Or Factiva? Or the US Patent and Trademark Office?

BusinessWeek has a great brand and a tremendous amount of goodwill in the market. Why are they having such a hard time using the Web to deliver the same quality of content they deliver through print? This list has all the hallmarks of an editor who’s had a task to create a "Best Of" list sitting on his desk for 3 months, coming up for review, and slamming out an email to all hands to submit their favorite sites before 5pm. Too bad. This could have been useful.

Back to Growth

I went up to San Francisco yesterday to catch a day of Oracle OpenWorld. Feels like old times. A packed crowd at Moscone Center–something like 38,000 people expected for the show–a packed exhibit hall, packed conference rooms. Not much of the over-wrought, over-the-top marketing that we came to know and love to hate during the hey day, though Larry parked his racing yacht in the exhibit hall.

The buzz on the floor was about ProjectFusion (bringing together all of Oracle’s products, regardless of origin, into a single platform), the Siebel buyout  (they were on a slide down anyway, right? wink and a knowing glance), and where to place bets on the next acquisition. Business Objects?

There was a big showing from the Supply Chain Management sector, the CRM sector, and the entire ecosystem of integrators and professional services providers. It’s a huge base when you see it all together in one place. Especially when you step back to consider it’s all B2B, with no fortification of consumer flash in the mix like you see at other big shows. The bottom line impression I got walking away is that Oracle is just shifting into third gear. I’m not an Oracle cheerleader, but I will pick up some shares.

99-Cent Salvation

Is it just me, or is this not one of the most nauseating examples of street-pimp marketing ever vomited up by a barrel-scraping network? NBC is launching dear God no not another Reality-TV-Show-But-With-A-Twist this fall, and they’re trawling for media coverage and viewers by dragging dollar bills through America’s trailer parks as a moving testament to Christian faith.

Here’s the story: Lagging behind the other networks in the popularity of its Slit Your Wrists programming, NBC has concocted a reality show designed to appeal to God-fearing WalMart shoppers from America’s heartland. In NBC’s Three Wishes, an "unscripted show" premiering this fall "singer Amy Grant travels to a different town each week in an effort
to fulfill the heart’s desire of needy families and community groups." It sounds sweet. Really.

So NBC, looking to stir up some coverage for this faith-based initiative hires a publicity firm to cook up some media impressions. The big idea? Stalk "needy shoppers" in the checkout lines of discount retail chains and trot in on a big white horse to pick up the tab with a conspicuous stack of 1-dollar bills. Why waste time and money on creative marketing when you can just buy viewers, and through the magic of stunt media, multiply your audience?

Now I know the professional marketing purists will protest that Hey, they did their job and got national coverage, who cares if it’s singularly unimaginative? My response is that the skirmish won for publicity is a battle lost for NBC’s soul–ahem, I mean brand. The entire stunt paints NBC as a cynical manipulator of America’s poor and needy, eschewing substantive acts of service in favor of Good Samaritan skits prepackaged for the camera. The fact they’ve enlisted Amy Grant, the spokesmodel of shrinkwrapped Christian consumerism, only amplifies the effect.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no voice crying out in the wilderness here. But this is a gravely disheartening view of America to me. The greasy aftertaste of this campaign is that faith and compassion in
America can only be signified by randomly showering money and
brand name appliances on unsuspecting poor people who look good on
screen being effusively grateful. Perhaps it’s a testament to the marketing company’s professionalism that they so effectively segmented their subject and target audience. Notice they’re distributing fistfuls of cash to people not so needy that they don’t have a credit card and an eye for brands.

I guess good faith comes with a minimum requirement of purchasing power. 

Coming In From The Cold

There’s a good article in CMO Magazine about the rise of marketing among technology companies. The article outlines the evolving landscape of marketing at high-tech companies, and the drivers behind the marketing department’s growing ascendance. The gist of the article is that a maturing landscape of technology buyers is more discerning than ever, requiring tech companies to think more deeply about their offering, and behave more collaboratively in identifying and responding to market demands. This has provided the opportunity for marketing to play a more strategic role in the company’s operations.

There are couple of other components I would add to the mix.

1. Technology marketers have long been one of the most isolated and under-valued representatives of the marketing profession. While marketers in other industry sectors, particularly retail, have long had strong peer associations, generous budgets, and a mandate for more strategic marketing programs like focus groups, surveys, and market testing programs, technology marketers have been relegated primarily to sales support. When the dramatic shift to accountability-based performance marketing caught many marketing sectors flat-footed, it was already old news for most senior technology marketers.

2. Technology marketers, by virtue of their chosen industry, are comfortable and familiar swimming in a sea of technology. They have to constantly adapt to disruptive innovations and rapidly learn new technology paradigms. In a world in which enterprise marketing requires emerging enterprise applications to leverage data and connect more responsively to customers, technology marketers have a tremendous edge over marketers who prefer to retreat to the world of demographic trends and marketing creative–and there are a lot of marketers still in that camp. 

CMO Views

I’m back in the office today after a week in New York to attend our Marketing Performance Measurement forum. We had a great turnout, about 75 marketing executives who joined us at the Thomson Financial headquarters a few blocks from Wall Street to talk about trends in marketing metrics. Jim Lenskold, author of Marketing ROI, keynoted, along with Geoff Ramsey, CEO of eMarketer.  We ran three panels featuring top marketing execs from companies like IBM, Avaya, Kodak, SAS and Factiva, covering different stages of program evolution, ending with a panel of CEOs who gave their perspective on current marketing trends.

A few quotables:

"You’ve got to be able to communicate [to the board] that Marketing is in the game, helping to move the ball. The vehicle for that communication is numbers. If you don’t have the numbers, you have no platform for communicating your value to the company."

–Bill Brewster, VP of Marketing, Konica-Minolta

"Sales is coin-operated–motivated by numbers and sales. Marketing needs to be coin-op."

–Deborah Rosen, Executive VP, Marketing – webMethods

"Don’t worry about doing it right. Instead, do it wrong fast. You’re going to do it wrong anyway,
so do it and learn, and don’t waste time worrying about trying to do it right."

–Mike Moran, Distinquished Engineer, IBM

"If you can’t track lead gen measurements through to closed sales, you just may be doing some great marketing which has no value to the company."

–James Lenskold, President, Lenskold Group

We followed up the event with a VIP dinner, and gathered 15 marketing executives around a table with a lot of wine and food to talk about marketing trends and challenges. Not too many places where you’ll see Google sitting across the table with Yahoo!, or hear the top brand executive from AT&T talk about what the brand means in a world of cable and VOIP. Lest this start to sound like the society pages, I’ll stop there.

Suffice to say the topics that have been rolling around on the street for the past three years, challenging marketers to get in the game, have engaged some of the smartest marketers around, and the dialog is getting interesting. I’ve started to schedule interviews with some of the voices that are emerging from the CMO Council membership, and I’m planning to bring those to Marketonomy in the next few weeks as podcasts.

The Need for a Bigger View

There’s a story my wife sometimes tells of an old woman back in the Azores islands where her family is from. The old woman had lived in a small village on the island of Pico all her life, and never ventured beyond it. By the time she reached her eighties, roads had been improved between the villages, and a young relative took the family on a drive to the other side of the island, about 10 miles away. When the old woman looked for the first time from the opposite shore and saw another island in the distance she gasped, “My God, the world is big.”

That’s what I feel like at my new job with the CMO Council. I’ve only been on the job a few months and already I’m getting an education that makes my career so far seem provincial. When I was running my own marketing agency, I had plenty of excitement serving a wide variety of companies large and small. It seemed like I was at the hub of enterprise marketing. But in retrospect, it’s evident I was always solving the same kinds of problems—developing competitive positioning strategies, establishing brands, building marketing programs, producing lots of collateral, messaging and Web sites. It was challenging work that is core to the marketing function. But now it seems like just a village on the side of a small island.

My work with the CMO Council, and with its parent GlobalFluency, has exposed me to a whole new set of operational marketing challenges that I haven’t had to deal with much in the past. They range from big company issues–like how to manage a global brand when it’s localized through thousands of agency partners–to issues that affect small and large companies alike, like how negotiate with the CEO over which key indicators matter in the measurement of marketing performance.

Many of these new issues were anticipated, and part of the motivation for my move. But other realizations have come as a surprise, the most startling being the state of the marketing solutions market. I’ve been on the front line for years reporting on the many ways in which marketing has been hammered by changes in the business environment–including the fragmentation of marketing channels, the explosion of new technologies, the demands for accelerated efficiency and effectiveness, the imperative to integrate with other key business functions, and the pressure to be more engaged with the customer.

What I failed to see was how rapidly a rabid market of proposed solutions to each of these problems circled the marketing profession. I’m not talking about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Sales Force Automation (SFA) platforms, which have been around long enough to have matured into reasonably viable tools in the marketing arsenal. I’m not even talking about the Business Intelligence (BI) or Business Performance Management (BPM) platforms, which have a strong lineage in other enterprise application arenas. I’m talking about one-off solutions for every tactical ill that ails marketers, from lead generation tracking to customer referral manage.

When I was managing a marketing agency, I would run across companies from time to time that would seek a partnership to reach my clients. When I joined the CMO Council, those infrequent calls became a tidal wave of requests to reach our membership. I did a recent informal survey only of companies offering solutions that affect the customer relationship lifecycle—the marketing pipeline—and came across 900 companies with some kind of offering. If you’re a marketer, 300 of them are probably calling you or emailing you every day.

I don’t know what percentage of these companies actually has a compelling solution for a critical problem facing marketers—I’ve seen some credible vendors with solid offerings, and I’ve seen some pitchmen hawking elixir. The problem is that they all look exactly the same. Rapid software development tools and the growing acceptance of Web-based applications have lowered the bar so precipitously that there’s almost no barrier to entry. Hundreds of overnight vendors can pop out of the woodwork when the opportunity arises, and the plight of marketing has proven to be an opportunity of epic proportion.

What has made this situation even more confusing is that every one of the vendors, from the mighty billion-dollar incumbents to the masses of new startups, is selling their product the same way. Whether it’s an email marketing platform or a marketing analytics package, just about every product in the marketing bazaar is being wrapped in the same package. After years of hearing that marketers are pressed for accountability, performance and efficiency, every product is being positioned as an ROI-based lead-generating powerhouse that offers a real-time dashboard on key performance indicators. It’s become parody.

But if there’s one thing I’ve realized in this larger world of marketing, it’s how important vendors are to the balance of the ecosystem. The demands on all business functions are growing along with the demands on marketing, and the challenges can’t be solved without a strong set of partners. The biggest challenge today is the void between marketers and vendors. Marketers need solutions, but they can’t make sense of the sea of solutions, they have few benchmarks to compare options, and they don’t trust vendors enough to take them at their word. Hmmm. I wonder why.

The only way the gap between vendors and marketers will be crossed is by moving away from the mindset of marketing as a predatory sport. Vendors need cultivate relationships with customers in a way that treats the market more as a channel than a field of prey. Rather than the typical approach of staking a positional claim, trumpeting a message as loudly as possible to the market, and then tackling prospects at the knees, vendors need to actively partner with customers to listen and define problems so that solutions can be positioned for a tailored fit.

Ironic, isn’t it? Matching problems with solutions is the very definition of marketing, and yet it’s precisely the missing mindset that prevents marketers from gaining the powerful vendor tools that can unleash marketing’s full potential. I guess in some way, we’re all stuck in an isolated village on one small island in a vast ocean. We need a bigger view.