Thursday, January 28, 2010

Social Media, Strategy and Moon Shots

How do these ideas relate?

In a recent tweet I made the statement: 
The question isn't "What is our social media strategy?" but "How does social media help implement our strategy?"

It seems to have touched a nerve with an "amen" and a couple of RTs; so now I have to explain myself.  

The above questions apply to any media since the word social is simply a qualifier for a type of media.   Do we get worked up about 'what's our billboard strategy?' just because everybody is out driving around?   Nope.  And, since social media are tools for facilitating sharing (more on my thoughts defining social media here) having a strategy for a tool is viewing everything from the hammer or drill's point of view.   

As a business we need to achieve an objective defined in clear, measurable terms.   The best objective I can think of is: 
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."  President Kennedy - May, 1961
Clear. Unambiguous. Measurable.

Strategy is not how we will achieve an objective; it is why will achieve one.  

Business strategy is often framed in two questions:  Where will we play? and Why will we win? Neither of which focus on the how; that comes later.   Positioning, differentiation, and alignment all help to frame the answers to those questions into a cohesive reason why the objective will be met.   In fact, strategy could often be replaced with the phrase 'reason for success.'   The moon shot was successful because people, industries, the military, and the government all came together for this mission.   That was the strategy: cooperation and collaboration on a humongous scale. 

In a more down-to-earth and contemporary problem, consider the marketing of Master's degrees - a very competitive market (have clients in this world.)   If the objective is to be a ranked program then there needs to be a reason for the outcome.  "Quality", "reputation", and "scores" are assessments or metrics that back up the reason.   An example of strategy for a well-funded research university might be 'commercialize our research into a series of successful start-ups.'  Now that's a differentiated strategy. 

Just how you pull off a strategy is all about tactics.  

Only when we know why we may be successful should we look at the portfolio of tools and figure out which ones to use.   Given expansive goals and strategies sometimes we have to make up the tools to do the job.  In 1961 we didn't have the rockets (or even the knowledge) to achieve the objective.  We created the tools.   It was not 'what is our Redstone strategy' it was 'how will the Redstone rocket help implement the strategy?'      The Redstone rocket provided a platform for man's entry into space - it was a first step. 

Like all media, social media has its strengths and weaknesses; it is appropriate for some objectives and strategies but not others.   If the strategy will benefit from collaboration and sharing then social media would be appropriate.   If the strategy requires stealth and big bang then it would not be appropriate.   Since these elements were so much a part of the success of the moon race it probably would have been considered by the program director.

So, if social media where around in 1961 - how would it help create a sense of community and purpose in order to put a man on the moon? 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Venture Capitalists and the CMO

Who's the most important member of the team?

There has been a lot written about the success or failure of a start-up resting on the shoulders of the CEO.  While the buck stops there, where does it start?

For technology companies the marketing function represents the conduit for moving from start-up to business.  As commented on "Cool is not a Strategy"  it is a long way from cool to cash.  Since venture funding goes to firms that have proven that there already 'is something' the real challenge becomes translating early adoption into a sustainable growth model.   Since marketers are paid to change history (new products, markets and segments) they are responsible for the road map of getting from here to there.    This means crafting a vision of the customers' world, even if they themselves can't, and leading the development of a series of incremental steps to get there.    

In a recent WSJ article on strategic planning the point was made that plans needed to be much more flexible and adaptable because we can "no longer count on a 'reasonable set of assumptions'".   Who better than the CMO of a young company to take on the responsibility of understanding the shifting sands?  She is out there every day; she can sense opportunity and respond.  

So when the venture capitalist asks about your team start first with the CMO.  Don't have one? Get one even if you have to rent one for a while.   This is too important to leave to the intern.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cool is Not a Strategy

Why should cool be banned?

Last week I sat through several presentations by start-ups; technical companies working in very different areas.   One phrase in the pitches stuck out like a sore thumb:  'this is cool'.   While cool relates to passion and can sustain a lot of late hours of development, it does not necessarily relate to a sustainable business.  Ok, Apple may have proven that wrong at the perceptual level -  but they are the exception and certainly didn't start that way. 

Customers rarely buy because something is cool, they buy because they suffer a pain.  It is this transition from garage geek to a business that requires a heavy dose of marketing.   It is our job as marketers to align the solution to the need and make the pain go away.   

There are numerous ways to present a start-up, often rooted in financials, market sizing, and barriers to entry.  What I really want to hear in that first minute from entrepreneurs and innovators is:  "Here is the pain that really pissed me off."   Now if enough people suffer the same thing and they can solve it in a cool way, so much the better.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Presenting Social Media as a Bike

How do I explain social media?

A while ago I wrote a post trying to explain social media using an analogy of bicycles.   Since this concept has found its way into meetings I summarized it in presentation form and posted it on slideshare.   Here it is for those interested in another take:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Job Descriptions for Products

What role does a product fulfill?

It's an old saying that customers don't need drills, they need holes.
Simply put, we buy products to increase our personal satisfaction - by either improving the positive or eliminating the negative.   So, we know what we want, but may have difficulty expressing it to companies.
A good job description consists of three key elements:
1. An overall description of the role. 
2. A defined set of responsibilities
3. A clear set of experiences or qualifications. 
Sounds like what we should publish for products. 
For a good description this topic see "Finding the Right Job for Your Product" in MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2007. 

Technology Branding and Positioning

What are the biggest challenges for new products?

Positioning products, particularly technical ones, requires addressing three key tradeoffs.
1. Omnipotence vs. Versatility:  you can't be all things to all people.
2. Marketing vs. Engineering: you offer features, but people need solutions.
3. Early adopters vs. Mainstream:  the original problem solved is rarely the same as what the overall market needs.
Giving up perceived size of market in order to gain traction is often a difficult concept to swallow.  However, it is sually worth it in the long run. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New B2B Tools: White Room and Paper Chunks

What should we do next with white papers?

The following is excerpted from a position paper I've been nurturing for some time; thought it was about time I shared it. This renewed interest was prompted by a webinar I recently heard on B2B marketing and social media from Tippit.

Originating in British Parliament, white papers present an authoritative overview of a particular issue and layout specific actions. Businesses adopted the term in the ‘90s as a moniker for sales and marketing documents that aim to educate the audience.

In B2B marketing, white papers are an integral part of the buying process and serve a variety of purposes. From the vendor point of view white papers accomplish the following:

  • Establish thought leadership and a presence.
  • Keep a vendor ‘in consideration’ and ‘top of mind’ during a long sales cycle.
  • Provide the tools to generate a cost benefit analysis.
  • Generate interest and leads.
  • Breed a sense of trust in order to reduce risk in making a decision.
They are part of risk management and lessen the fear associated with B2B buying decisions. A post from Marketo outlined four ways of managing risk:
  1. Get on the approved vendor list before a decision is needed.
  2. Facilitate peer recommendations to reduce risk; peers are often the first resource people turn to when researching.
  3. Leverage sales for referrals in addition to closing sales.
  4. Establish credibility and thought leadership to garner the ‘wisdom of the crowd.’
From a buyer’s point of view white papers help get a project funded.

While white papers are read and used by a large number buyers (and committees) the form factor remains the old document-based ‘paper’ in this day of tweets, Diggs, sharing and comments.

Borrowing from the success of ‘social media news rooms’ this [post] describes a new delivery model for this valuable content. Rather than just producing a PDF, the social media white paper consists of a variety of elements that facilitate content distribution and sharing of information. From quotes to slides to a printable version, reports are presented in a variety of forms that make it most useful to the audience.

White Room

Rather than a listing of PDF files behind a registration page, the concept creates a diverse set of objects that readers can use to meet their needs. To accomplish this; a new section [should] be added to a firm’s website tentatively called the ‘white room’ – a combination of the white paper and news room. To provide control of the functionality, content, and track distribution the white room is a separate part of a web site that contains a variety of sections. Using the standard sections of NewsCactus or PitchEngine as a guide it could take the form of:

  • Home: an introductory page for the section. Similar to many blogs, it contains a synopsis and listing of recent contents.
  • Overview: Provides a place to discuss what the section is about (optional)
  • White Papers: Listing of white papers with links to the actual page. Each page is designed to be found as part of inbound marketing strategies.
  • Highlights: Links to other events related to white papers, e.g. presentations, or speeches.
  • In the News: Listing of mentions of the firm as thought leader.
  • Multimedia: useful objects to associate with the white paper.
  • Company Kits: Fact sheets for company, leaders, and products.

Paper Chunks

The Internet has changed how we read and consume content [see the "Twitter Paradox"]. To facilitate consumption and spreading of information the following should be supplied.

  1. Content written in form that can be scanned. Use of bullets and short sentences, paragraphs required in this day and age of Internet-reading.
  2. Sub-heads written in the form of tweets that can then be used with url-shorteners to deep link and drive traffic.
  3. Plain text (not Word) and PDF versions of full white paper and key paragraphs.
  4. Audio version of paper (mp3 format).
  5. Three to four specific recommendations or points that can be forwarded quickly. Written for retweeting.
  6. Links to outside, relevant resources within the copy. No more than one link per 150-200 words.
  7. A description, synopsis of the piece in 30-50 word that can be emailed to others like the reader's boss.
  8. A list of key words associated with the piece; used to develop content to facilitate search traffic.
  9. Two or more multi-media objects – pictures, video, or audio interviews.
  10. Charts in clear template form for both PowerPoint and Keynote as well as on slide share – with speaker’s notes.
  11. Spreadsheets if providing calculation tools.
  12. Full contact information for key resources: all relevant channels.
  13. Links to social bookmark and network sites.
  14. Simple registration – accept LinkedIn, Facebook and twitter profiles.

Business Model

I have some ideas here too....

Designer Degrees

Where is education headed?

State-funded education continues to get hammered as budgets are cut. Colleges and universities will be "eating their seed corn" or dipping into the "rainy day" funds. And it's a vicious circle - laying off adjunct professors, which were the solution to the last budget crunch, means limiting enrollment caps, which means people can't get in, they can't take what they need, and they can't get out on time. High unemployment means both more students and less tax revenue. Education is being squeezed like a week-old lime; there's nothing left to give.

Kaplan (client), with its reverse articulation agreements with community colleges, is on the right track for some of the structural problems of education.

From a product perspective it might be time for a new marketing strategy: Designer Degrees

The only higher education degrees that are in demand, have students paying rack rates, don't have huge infrastructure costs and be created quickly based on contemporary needs are the "Master's". The once and former mark of failure or esoteric job requirements, i.e. flunked out of a PhD program or were in Social Work, these are now becoming products in their own right. In the past we’ve worked on general Master’s degrees like MBAs. Today we’re seeing the rise of specialist degrees. Recent articles in both the Wall Street Journal and NYT give credence to this trend and often stress the technical or specialist skills that they provide.

All categories fragment. The time appears to be ripe based on economics and market needs for this pattern to accelerate in the post-graduate world. The marketing challenge is learning how to develop and market tightly-focused programs.

From the beat of the wings of a butterfly comes the Master's in Jurisprudence in HealthCare (another client) targeted to hospital compliance professionals.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dear CEO: How to use social media

What would I tell a CEO?

We often talk about social media at the tactical level rather than strategic. So for a recent viewpoint in Utah CEO magazine I tried to relate social media to the business processes where communication was vital: Reputation, Customer Service and Establishing a Brand.

But first I had to come up with a definition that was grounded in business rather than technology. And that actually meant I needed to define marketing as well.

Here's what I came up with:
  • Marketing is the alignment of your company’s solutions with a defined set of needs to everyone’s mutual benefit. While it may incorporate advertising and promotion, those are not the primary functions of the marketing team — it is making sure that your product is in demand.
  • Social media are the vehicles that leverage human interaction to convey a message. Of particular interest to marketers are recommendations and complaints.