Twitter and The Hive Mind – Assimilation is Good!

Twitter The BorgWe’ve all heard the concept of the hive mind, where when one member/node/bee/ant etc. knows something it gets transmitted instantly throughout the hive. The Borg from Star Trek is the hive made evil, with no free will.

Twitter behavior is starting to look more and more like a benign hive, where participants have free will but often willingly join in collective behavior.  A recent example of this came from Demi Moore (twitter user “mrskutcher“) who saw a tweet from someone in San Jose who said she was going to kill herself.  Demi re-tweeted one of these horrible tweets from sandieguy and the collective jumped into action.  The San Jose police were contacted.   Hundreds of Twitter users sent supportive messages (a few a-holes were mean), and we all hope that the crisis was averted and @sandieguy is getting the help she needs.

This is only the beginning.  Imagine as tweeting gets even easier, and more pervasive.  The ability to mobilize the hive mind to deal with a crisis, inform the world, solve problems, generate action and more is only going to get more powerful.  

A collective/hive mind can be powerfully negative as well.  Imagine at some point a Rush Limbaugh-like personality who uses Twitter to mobilize hate and fear-mongering in a way that is destructive.  Imagine Hitler with a Twitter account (no, I’m not comparing Rush to Hitler).  Scary, though perhaps if there was a Twitter in the 1930’s Hitler may never have been able to go so far.  Maybe the benign, voluntary, and informed collective would have forced a quicker response to the threat.  

For marketers, this collective mind is a huge opportunity – and an even larger threat.  Never has it been so easy to inform a huge community of influencers about your experience with a product or service.  We all know that people are much more likely to complain than to compliment, so downside risks from the hive will impact more brands than upside.  A strange trend, though, is that my informal scan of the environment shows that there are a LOT of positive tweets about brands.  Perhaps this is because collective participation is so easy and immediate – it takes only a few seconds to tweet about that great customer service you just got, so why not?  If you’re not following your brand on Twitter, you are missing a huge opportunity.  Someone talks you up?  Reward them!!  Someone puts your brand down?  Make it better and win them back – instantly.  They’ll tweet about how impressed they are with your attention. 

One brand that gets the collective is Zappos.  Tony Hsieh (CEO) follows most of his followers, and he probably has a whole team dedicated to tracking the conversations about his incredible service.  There are over 350,000 people who follow his tweets.  Most are huge fans and never miss an opportunity to say so. 

For good or for evil, the global collective mind is here – and it’s growing.   Resistance is futile – assimilation has begun!

Marketing the Presidency

Open for Questions

Yesterday a post from Barack Obama appeared on my Facebook feed.  It was about the Open for Questions system on Whitehouse.gov.  The Open for Questions application allows anybody to register and vote up or down on questions related to the economy, health care, security and other topics of interest.  You can also ask your own questions.  On Thursday (tomorrow), President Obama will answer some of the most popular questions in a town hall setting.

Open for Questions 2

It cannot be overstated how innovative and powerful this concept is.  The established model is that you communicate your wishes and concerns to your elected representatives in Congress, and they’re supposed to advocate for their voters.  Of course, nobody trusts these (mostly) guys to listen or to do anything other than what’s in their own interests – which are often not in alignment with the voters who elected them.  Plus – to get your voice heard you need to get to three members of Congress who may or may not have a great and responsive staff.

Obama just bypasses Congress to gather the Will of the People on a national level, and uses highly viral social media to do it (bypassing old media as well).  He can then look at the results –  and with the support of hundreds of thousands or even millions of votes and voters he can steer the discussion with far more legitimacy.  By letting us in, he’s binding himself to the people.  By giving us voice, he’s removing the filters and communication blockages that occur with any leader.  Obama describes the presidency as a “bubble.”  When you’re in the bubble, you can’t know that people are thinking or feeling.

Open for Questions is a powerful way to burst the bubble and get close to the voters — his customers.  Sure, this makes for good policy – but this is mostly about marketing.  His supporters love him even more for his openness and proof that he “gets” the social graph and why that matters.  Even his detractors have to stop and admire the openness and leveraging of new media, and some of them will – perhaps grudgingly – grow closer to Obama’s view of the world.

What are you doing to listen to your customers?  Are you using social media to bypass the filters from sales, marketing and customer service that make it difficult to know what your customers are really thinking?

B2B Websites – Now Comes the Hard Part

Many hours are spent on building the best website for the money.  We think about site structure, content, look and feel and other elements to the design and delivery of the site.  As much work as it may be to get this new beauty out the door, it’s just the start.

There was one client I worked with a while ago who wanted a new website.  We discussed where there business was coming from, how they wanted it to grow, and the types of clients they wanted to attract.  Once we had an idea of what the site should say, I tried to engage this client in a discussion about how they were going to get people to see it.  If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it… Well, you get the picture.

Let’s make something clear – their monthly unique visitor count is in the low hundreds.  Very low hundreds.  Most of the inquiries they get from their site are related to a service that they have listed but they don’t perform anymore.   The website was actually worse than nothing – it was costing them time and effort to respond to these unwanted inquiries.

When I tried to steer the conversation towards marketing, the client looked at me like I was from Mars.  The site was their marketing, right?  At least that’s what they thought.  Even in B2B, many people get to a vendor or service provider site through search.  Or ads, or PR, or some form of marketing activity.

They were willing to spend $ on redoing their site, but nothing on marketing it so people would visit.

Folks, it’s simple.  The website is a tool – it’s not the marketing plan.  The really hard part is driving traffic to the tool to start them down the sales funnel.  And programs that work for one company may not apply to yours.  So, you need to have a comprehensive plan to test different marketing vehicles — and this can be done without spending a lot on the programs.

Would paid search yield results?

What about SEO?  Is the content relevant, current, and do you have people linking to you?

Do you post your own blog?

Do you have lots of great referenceable clients and can you post their stories on your site and alert a bunch of bloggers who may care about them?  Not just in your industry, but in theirs?

Can you showcase your talents by making something interesting for people – like a microsite on something with interest in your target audience?

You don’t need to have  a huge budget these days to generate traffic.  Note – for this client, a few hundred more visits by people who are interested in their offerings could result in a big jump in business for them.

Services Marketing is Harder Than Product Marketing

I have recently done work for a couple of IT services firms.  One in NY and the other in Cambridge, MA.  As a guy who has primarily been involved in product organizations over the years, the marketing challenges of services businesses were harder than I expected.  Really – products are way easier to market than services.

The explanation is fairly simple – competition and differentiation

First, the competition for services is way more intense than for products.  How many vendors of a specific type of technology can you find?  In some product markets there are less than ten viable competitors.  Like CRM or DBMS or Internet Banking – there are not that many credible vendors.  Same is true for any goods you buy — be it electronics, autos, etc.   But services – wow!  There are hundreds of Web development shops in Greater Boston, and tens of thousands nationally.   IT outsourcing may have some big names like Infosys, Accenture and Wipro.  But there are several hundred firms of reasonable size outsourcing to India.  Think of all of the law firms, doctors, dentists, advertising agencies and the like.   So, I think you can make the point that services are, to a great extent, more competitively intense than products.  That’s because it’s fundamentally easier to launch a services company.  Just start signing up clients and you’re in business.  Products take time to develop and bring to market.  That means capital, which means fewer entrants.

The next issue is differentiation.  Now, I can differentiate myself from the next guy.  But when there are a hundred or thousand people in a firm with widely diverse backgrounds and capabilities, how can you differentiate them from the other companies with their merged hoards of people?  Some firms, liked Goldman Sachs, are known to attract the very best and brightest.  But in your average Indian outsourcing shop, how can you – the buyer – really understand how one group of people may be better for you than the next?  And what about in two years when some of those people are at another shop and you’re working with new people?

That’s where you have to start thinking more like a consumer branding guru than a product person.  Now you’re into the realm of true marketeers – where it’s not the feeds and speeds, features and wizbangs that get you noticed.  Positioning must, by definition, be far more emotional and conceptual.

Look at Accenture – their brand is all about “performance.”  Sure, you don’t have millions to put Tiger Woods into your ads, but Tiger’s just an image that goes with the positioning statement.  What you don’t see them leading with is anything about their people being the smartest or most capable.  In reality, they are not.  Accenture has plenty of good people, but they are not on par with the tech folks at Google or the folks that worked at CTP and Sapient in their haydays.

Marketing of services is really about marketing the outcome.  With Accenture the outcome is business performance.  With IBM it’s innovation.  With Infosys it’s about winning in the “flat world” – which means being global to win globally.

Most services companies don’t do this well.  They describe what they do – not what they cause.

Your Corporate Website Stinks… Now what?

So many times I go to look up a company and take a run through their website to get an idea of who they are and what they do.  More often than not I am thoroughly underwhelmed.  It’s not for lack of effort – many of the worst sites I’ve visited were professionally produced with good design and graphics.  Hey, they look like real companies.  Most of the time what sucks is the content.  The content is well written, in the sense of grammar and editing, but after about 2 minutes I’m practically begging for mercy.    What’s my problem?

First, if I read one more absolutely worthless line like “we leverage our unique capabilities to drive strategic value for our global customers” I’m going to go break something…  Really, WTF does that mean??  Your competitors say the same thing, so why not?  That’s precisely the problem.  They all say the same stupid, meaningless and impossible to prove crap.

Oh, but you put it in a CMS with RSS feeds and lots of flash – doesn’t that make it good?  No – sucky content cannot be improved with technology or sizzle.  It still sucks.

My friend recently took on a new career as a counselor at a well-known outplacement firm.  He has learned more about marketing in 2 months than most marketers learn in a lifetime.  Beyond helping with the transition process and giving his clients confidence to move forward, one of the first transformations he can accomplish is with their resumes.  Recruiters and hiring managers don’t respond to stuff you find on most resumes.  Why should your customers respond to the same level of crap on your site in in your collateral and presentations?

The problem with most resumes is that they focus on responsibilities (features) and not on accomplishments (benefits).  Employers want to hire people with impact value.  What was the result of your 10 years with XYZ corp?  So what, you managed this function.  What improvements did you make?  Or, did you fail to move the business forward while it was under your care?  If so – you’re not getting hired by me…

Instead of writing your site like everybody else – how about writing it like a resume?  I can tell you right now that it’s very hard to do this well – but what things of value aren’t hard work??  It starts with a brief (2 sentences, max) summary of who you are.  Then an exploration of your capabilities as told through your accomplishments.  Let me give you an example.

Sybase Trip

I love to give my ex-employer Sybase a hard time because, well, they’re easy…  Anyway, look at what they put in the image to the left This is what shows up on their home page.  And actually this is better than what you find with most companies.  Now, imagine if the what you saw front and center on their home page was the following:

Sybase’s iAnywhere mobile solutions helped McKesson Corporation save millions of dollars by delivering solutions that reduced calls for delivery errors by 97%, eliminated imaging costs, and reduced delivery claims by 30%.  What can Sybase help you achieve?

As a buyer, CEO, business line manager or even technologist, which approach is more powerful?  Which message might make you more interested?

What if all sites were written like resumes with accomplishments front and center, and perhaps a framework of capabilities to show where the successes fit in your strategy?  Then, everybody could easily see that your old, features-oriented and tripe-laden site just plain sucks.

I’d love to give you examples of sites that do this really well, but I have not seen any recently.  Have you?  If  so – let me know.

Time to Get Vertical!

With the enterprise IT marketing going to hell in a hand basket, many people are asking what they can do now to keep the wheels on the bus.  One way to make sure you stand out is to shift the efficiency vs. effectiveness formula in the direction of effectiveness.

That means that everything you do needs to be more about being effective than just being efficient.  A horizontal sales and marketing focus is efficient.  You can hit lots of companies in lots of markets with a horizontal technology message — bits, bytes, flops and all the rest.  But, you can’t be very effective in any one customer segment with this approach.vertical

Verticalizing your sales force is pretty expensive, and depending on the size of your operation, may not bring you the effectiveness you’re looking for.  Before going that route, consider verticalizing your marketing.  What does that mean?

Let’s look at what marketing means.  In a classic sense, it’s the “four p’s” of product, pricing, placement and promotion.  Let’s take each one in turn.

Product
Even a horizontal product can be given some vertical content.  At Sybase we had an also-ran application server (Sybase EA Server) which had little or no chance against WebLogic, WebSphere and other app servers.  In 1998 we decided to add some vertical content in the form of financial messaging – FIX, SWIFT, OFX, etc.  Voila!  We now had something to sell to our customers in the financial vertical.  There is not a doubt in anybody’s mind who was involved with Sybase Financial Server that we had a big impact on moving the horizontal application server with this strategy.

There’s also the third-party add-ons to your product if you can find them.  Sybase made a lot of money being resold inside of trading and risk management systems on Wall Street.  These were database licenses that they would not have gotten otherwise.

Pricing
This one is harder.  It’s not easy to charge different groups of customers different prices for the same product.  In some markets it may even be illegal.  Skip pricing…

Placement
For enterprise tech, this means channel.  You can impact placement by recruiting vertically embedded channel partners – integrators with a focus on a key vertical such as healthcare or government.  Service partners with vertical specialties are incredibly valuable in penetrating markets.

Promotion
This is really the content and promotion section.

Most horizontal technology products and services vendors have some content on their site about their markets or “industries” they specialize in.  Most of it is crap.  It’s a throwaway that RBS uses your security solution, or that Verizon embeds your linux in their switches.  That they bought from you is no big deal.  What’s often missing is anything about your specific differentiation related to a customer’s market.

For example, if your columnwise database format makes realtime risk calculations 10x faster, driving more profitable algorithmic trading – that’s relevant!!  Or if your security products have been certified for standards specific to the target industry – fantastic!

The promotion side – programs such as PR, advertising, events, direct, web/emarketing, etc. – can be a big area of verticalization.  While your competitors spend money fighting their way into the same 5 CRM publications, you could be getting coverage in American Banker, or Securities Information News.  Instead of buying a booth at “Enterprise 2.0″ and other lame-o horizontal tech chose (ugh – LinuxWorld!), how about sponsoring a Wall Street CIO breakfast or showing up at the SIFMA conferences.  Be careful though!  Don’t bring your horizontal game to a vertical playing field.  You need to target your message in your programs too.

Being more effective at vertical marketing is more work than most people understand – and the results are predictable for those who do this halfway.  However, if you take a wholistic approach to vertical markets and do it right, perhaps you’ll establsh a leadership position in a key segment that helps you weather the downturn.

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