Author Archive

Keep social media programs on track

Monday, September 27th, 2010

With any sort of brand building effort — be it social media, PR advertising or trade shows — managing all the details from start to finish can be daunting and time consuming. Many times, the slightest error can undermine a good campaign, as seen in this rather embarrassing billboard:

While it seems that such errors are, at times, unavoidable, in the social media world at least a large assortment of tools have emerged to help your campaigns go more smoothly. You can find tools  to help you create, execute and track your brand-building efforts.  When it comes to selecting social media tools it’s a good strategy to embrace tools that span a number of different social media channels so you can roll out integrated, consistent campaigns.

Over at TopRank, an online marketing blog, Lee Odden offers up a list of 22 tools for social media marketing management. Some are completely free while others offer a limited set of services on a trial basis with pay models as you tap more of the tool’s capabilities. I’ve used a few of the services on the list and found them to be beneficial.   HootSuite, for example, integrates social media activity like Twitter and Facebook posts and feeds into a common dashboard with an assortment of charts and graphs.  Many of the tools go much deeper and will you help set up and manage full-blown campaigns.

Tools alone can’t save you from embarrassing or costly mistakes, however.  I’m sure we’ve all had our share. In my case, I’ve learned the hard way (although not as bad as that billboard) to never underestimate the power of typos. Good  editors in particular are worth every dime!

When it comes to ROI, why is social media different?

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

How many times have you heard or read that companies should just forge ahead with a social media program even though the return on investment is hard to quantify? I’m not going to point fingers, but it’s been repeated so often it’s become the mantra of so-called social media experts.

This is really bad advice.

Social media is no different than any other type of marketing activity. It takes time and resources to write blogs and record podcasts, build followers on Twitter or create decent videos for YouTube. If you’re going to suck up those resources they had better bring demonstrable value that advances critical business goals. Without that grounding, you’re just wasting your time.

Every solid PR or marketing plan I worked on over the last decade or so began with a SWOT analysis linked back to business objectives, like establish a foothold in market X with this demographic, or protect our flanks in this segment Y from low-cost competitors.  From there we worked out strategies and tactics – that could involve a social media component –  and thought through a set of metrics to determine if the programs were successful.

SWOT Chart

A major advantage with social media compared to traditional PR is the abundance of tracking tools. You can see the number of re-tweets or Facebook Like button clicks and then drill down to better understand the type of traction you’re getting. Ideally these efforts generate more website traffic which leads to more business.

Social media is ultimately a tool, another arrow in the marketing quiver. If you combine it with solid business and marketing practices, the ROI is sure to follow.

Helping Customers is a Smart Strategy

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

With technology in particular, there’s a tendency to get excited about a whiz-bang bit of “breakthrough” or “innovative” or worse “unique” gizmo or piece code that some smart guys in India cooked up for you. Seriously, who cares if something is unique or first if it’s completely useless?

I’m the first to admit that technology is cool, and I can easily get excited about a gadget just because it’s cool. I have many gadget sitting on shelves gathering dust for that very reason. Once the excitement was past, it turned out that the gadget wasn’t all that useful, reliable, or helpful.

In his Convince and Convert blog, Jay Baer makes the point that finding out where customers can use your help can improve your marketing efforts. He advocates implementing your marketing activities in such a way that customers will find some utility in your communication. One example I have is a newsletter we get from a local auto repair shop full of quirky tidbits and useful tips on gardening or cleaning out the attic. My wife actually takes the time to read it, and then gives me the coupon for an oil change.

Applied to technology marketing, helpfulness should be a big part of your strategy. It’s important to remember to always tie your messages back to what your product or service actually does for the customer. Ask the question, how does this help make the customer’s life better in some meaningful way. Ideally, you should be able to make that case that if people fit a certain profile, they will be significantly better off using your product then they were previously, or if they used a competitive product. If you are struggling to understand your audience’s needs, maybe it’s time to do a bit more research and message development.

Tools like ROI calculators that give customers a way to evaluate whether or not your product will help save some money are incredibly valuable. Yet, too often I hear about how hard it is to figure out ROI. These days customers are most interested in saving money so demonstrating how much money your software will save is a great strategy for anything in the B2B world.

On the B2C front, a big part of the iPhone’s success ties back to the huge catalog of apps. While many of them are fluff, a large number are actually helpful. Once people find something to be useful, they tell their friends who in turn run out and buy an iPhone. The real genius in the iPhone isn’t the touch screen, but a friendly UI that lets people discover and use truly helpful apps.

Want a blowout success? Think long and hard about how you can help your customers. What are their pain points and how can you help?

The Power of Massive Hype

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal today is reporting that the vast majority of Toyota accidents were the result of…driver error. Not sticky brake pedals:

The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that the throttles were wide open and the brakes weren’t engaged at the time of the crash, people familiar with the findings said.

The early results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyotas and Lexuses surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes.

What’s even more fascinating is how the grievance count suddenly shot up once people heard about the problem. Actually, we didn’t just hear about it, but were barraged by a non-stop, relentless news cycle involving electronic media, print and online media outlet and social media buzz.  Did the hype – not problems with Toyota – lead to the jump in complaints?  I’d say that looks like a pretty safe assumption.

toyota grievences

A similar case of hype leading to mass hysteria is the latest (albeit flawed) Apple iPhone.  While it’s a nice device, there is very little that’s truly new or groundbreaking. If you already have an iPhone or an Android device, there’s not much reason to run right out and buy one.  The rational response would be to hold off until your natural upgrade cycle comes around.

The irrational response, fueled by months of breathless expectation by media and bloggers, along with Steve Jobs’ showmanship at launch, resulted in the thousands upon thousands of people waiting in line to drop down their hard-earned money on a device virtually the same as what they already have. Say what? My take, is the hype created a form of temporary insanity on a mass level, perhaps akin to the way mobs work.

Another example is designer handbags among teenage girls. Although somewhat tempered of late by the recession, my daughter went through a phase where she simply had to have expensive purses.  Working a minimum wage job, she would save pennies to get the latest Dooney & Bourke offering. I would see her purses and just couldn’t understand why she along with many other teenage girls would pay so much for what amounted to a fancy label. Hype and peer pressure are the only explanations.

As a PR person, I’m aware of the influence of hype and therefore largely resistant to its influence.  I counseled friends to buy Toyotas when the sales crashed earlier this year, and tend to avoid overhyped, overpriced Apple products.

But I am fascinated by the incredible power of hype to shape people’s behavior.

To no small degree, this is what marketing, advertising and PR people dream about and strategize endlessly to achieve. Get enough hype, and you have just hit the lottery.  So what’s the magic formula?  Still working on that one, but I’ll let you know once I figure it out.

What’s happened to class?

Friday, July 9th, 2010

As we all know, the only constant in the world is change.  During periods of change we all go through natural cycles of resistance, denial and ultimately everyone moves on and accepts the new reality.

Maybe it has something to do with the speed that news travels via the Web and social media, but class in the face of pressure and change seems to be something that has gone missing in action of late.

The latest example is the scathing letter from Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert about LeBron James’ decision to join the Miami Heat.  In a display of absolutely zero class, Gilbert called LeBron’s decision “a shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own.”


What Gilbert fails to mention is that LeBron’s presence in Cleveland for the last several years has increased the value of his franchise by over $100 million and led to a sold out arena night in and night out. Gilbert should have been thanking LeBron for the contribution to his personal net worth and wished him the best in his new endeavor.

That would be the classy thing to do.  Sure Gilbert is in denial, but perhaps he should he should have just kept it to himself. While people in Cleveland might appreciate Gilbert’s diatribe, it’s unlikely this does much for the Cav’s brand around the country.


Will Write for Food

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Early in my career, I landed the job as the assignment editor for a small computer magazine targeting the Digital Equipment (DEC) market. We wrote stories about the latest VAX computers and provided lots of tips about how to make then run more efficiently, or to lower costs. It didn’t seem too complicated…to me.

When I needed some writers, I decided to bring on a couple of friends from college on a freelance basis. These were journalists and I figured they could write about anything. Turns out, they couldn’t get their heads around VAX computers, and what’s more, they hated it.

From that experience, I learned that the ability to understand complex technology, and write clearly and articulately about it, is something of a valuable commodity.

So why do I bring this up? As it turns out, even to this day of pervasive tech, media outlets are still looking for good technical content. That is, they want content that provides the technical depth their readers are looking for, and at the same time is understandable even to non-experts.


Trendspotting in the SAP Ecosystem

Friday, June 4th, 2010

For those of us who work to build brands within the SAP ecosystem, one of the most important strategies is to ride whatever waves SAP is creating. The momentum SAP creates can push you along and help you be part of the discussion. Since SAP is promoting these themes, you’ll get much more support from their partner teams, and media types who are writing about these themes will be more receptive to pitches.

While the themes evolve over the course of year, SAP’s agenda for the coming year is laid out during the annual SAPPHIRE NOW events, which recently completed. The job of setting the agenda falls to the CEO, or in this case, co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagermann Snabe.

Here are the main themes that emerged from the co-CEO’s 2010 keynotes.

  • Mobility – SAP is making a huge bet on mobile enablement of its platform with the acquisition of Sybase. While much is unknown about how this will play out, it’s not too soon to start thinking how your company’s products will mesh with mobile SAP applications.
  • On-Demand – According to Snabe, the SAP Business ByDemand will be ready for mass volume in July and you can bet that SAP will be pushing it hard, both as a complement to on-premise apps and as a solution for small- and mid-size enterprises.
  • Changing IT Stack – With social media and mobility, users are more empowered than ever before. This will require changes in the technology stack and a new generation of analytics to find knowledge. “This requires a complete new IT,” said Snabe. “This is an era that requires collaboration.” I suspect SAP will be articulating what this means in more depth in the coming months.

Unlike some years past when the media response from SAPPHIRE has been somewhat to even highly negative, the majority of coverage I’ve seen this year has been positive and upbeat. The media enjoyed SAPPHIRE and believe that McDermott and Snabe along with a re-energized Hasso Plattner have SAP headed in the right direction. After a couple of down years, it looks like IT spending is about to rebound and SAP – and with partners who play their cards correctly – are poised to take advantage.

Ten Buzz Building PR Strategies for Software Up-and-Comers

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Nearly ten years ago when I was part of the SAP public relations team, I remember sitting in the SAPPHIRE press room observing the various activities going on. One interaction stands out.  A marketer from a partner company had just dropped off his press kit (this was back when we still did paper press kits), and happened to see the name badge for a Computerworld reporter.

The marketer practically did a back flip and buttonholed the reporter into talking to him. The response from the reporter was not good. His body language said irritation. He didn’t take notes and he didn’t want a business card or a press kit.  He absolutely was not interested in what the partner company had to say. His job was to talk to SAP executives, analysts and a few customers. No one else mattered.

Ten years ago, tech pubs had budget and reporters had manageable beats – and they still didn’t want to talk to small companies. Now, the situation has gotten worse.  Far worse. Publications are cutting staff, or just going out of business, and are consumed about what drives clicks. Needless to say SAP, IBM, Microsoft, Apple or Google drive a lot more clicks than a small company – even one with awesome technology – that few have ever heard about.

So what is a marketer, like the one at SAPPHIRE, supposed to do to generate some visibility on a limited budget?  Here are 10 tips that do not include accosting busy reporters in the hallway at trade shows.

Do something interesting – Press releases about bug fixes or your partner program aren’t interesting to anyone, much less reporters.  Text mining software upgrades, even from a company like IBM aren’t that interesting. But text mining software that can understand emoticons, now that’s interesting.  An angle like that is out there. Work with your development team to come up with something with sizzle.

Make yourself useful – Complaining to reporters about how they never cover your company is sure to fail. You’ll get a lot further by demonstrating to reporters that you can be a useful knowledgeable resource about industry trends, or can provide timely comments. Are you tracking the editorial calendars? Publications are obligated to write up what’s on the calendar every month. Some smart ideas about how to address a topic just might get you quoted.

Groom customer spokespeople – Every company has customer references and can rattle off names of companies using their products. Your list is probably not that different from that of your archrival. The value to reporters comes when they can get the CIO or a senior IT manager on the phone, and he or she is quotable and can cite useful stats.  It’s hard work finding customers like this, but they are incredibly valuable when you find them.

Win awards — As Woody Allen famously said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Similarly, eighty percent of winning awards is just making sure you’re entered in the award contest, and that you’ve put together a strong, credible entry. While winning awards won’t necessarily lead to press coverage, reporters do notice such things and may opt to call you instead of a competitor.

Sponsor a study – This isn’t free, but reporters love to write up stories about studies. Look around for some topics that are timely and lack supporting data more or less in your space. Say, if you create developer tools, a study about the impact of Facebook and Twitter on developer productivity might be interesting.

Write, write and write some more – Publications and blogs are short of staff. This means they are always looking for content. You can fill the void with a steady stream of journalistic quality content. Leave the hype to your website. The point here is to get your perspective and company name out there on a regular basis. What’s more, this content can be re-purposed for your blog. Speaking of which…

Do you have a blog? – If you expect anyone to take you seriously, start blogging. Immediately.

Know what news is – It’s unbelievable how many marketing VPs seem to think that customer wins and partnership deals are of interest to reporters. They are not. Most publications have blanket policies of not writing these up, or it’s pretty much all they would be writing. Which would also cause them to lose all readership.  Be sure you’re putting out hard hitting news that publications can use.

Get on power panels – The company you keep can make a big difference. Like winning awards, getting yourself invited to participate in a panel with Microsoft and Google execs at a big trade show isn’t that hard. It’s a matter of pitching the show and conference organizers and putting someone smart from your company on stage. Reporters and bloggers attend these panels and write about them or make video blogs. Chances are your expert will get exposure.

Read, listen and comment – You can gain a lot of insights by reading what’s being written. Moreover, you can take advantage of commenting and social media functions to judiciously add your voice and perspective to the mix. Reporters and bloggers read comments thoroughly, so this is great way to let influentials know that you’re engaged.

This is by no means the exhaustive list of ways that small companies can drive exposure while staying on budget. By focusing on activities that work, you can generate the type of consistent buzz that drives revenue growth and helps you to steadily move up the food chain.  If you have some more suggestions and tips of things that have worked for you, please chime in.

Enough Leverage Already!

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

I had the opportunity recently to be a co-presenter in a media training session.  One of the tips we always give prospective spokespeople is to avoid the use of jargon and meaningless tech words.

We have a solid list of offenders:

  • Leading
  • Enhanced
  • Unique
  • Significant
  • Solution
  • Integrated
  • Innovative
  • Advanced
  • Sophisticated
  • E-anything
  • Best-in-Class

And, last but not least, the word I’ve found most bothersome of late: Leverage.

Most of the time PR, marketing and sales folks are leveraging leverage to such a degree that it’s meaningless.  Whether as a verb, noun, adjective, it’s been misused, overused and tweaked to the point where all relevance and impact is gone. There probably hasn’t been an enterprise hardware or software press release issued in the last 20 years without some leverage, somewhere.

It’s especially popular in headlines:

Oracle Service Architecture Leveraging Tuxedo

IBM reveals Long Term File System (LTFS) to leverage LTO-5

Webinar: Leverage Microsoft SharePoint in your Online Marketing

Leverage Your Existing EMC Centera Investment with OnBase

RIM’s New MVS 5 Leverages Cisco Unified Communications Manager

Maybe somebody knows what it means to leverage LTO-5 with a long-term file system, but you’ve got me with that one. The point of putting out a press release, for instance, is to communicate information so that it can be understood, not to leave people scratching their heads in confusion.  Most of time when I see the word leverage, it’s unclear what going on.  Or, maybe the author didn’t know either.

 If you’re a TV watcher, you know that leverage even has it owns series on TNT starring Timothy Hutton.  The series is well done, and the use of the word leverage here almost forgivable.  As names for undercover spy-like thrillers with a twist go, it’s impossible to top Mission Impossible. But Leverage perhaps isn’t horrible, as used in this trailer:

So if you’re producing a hit TV series, I’ll let you off the hook. For everyone else, take a minute and look at your copy or slide deck. How many times are you leveraging something? Three? Five? Ten? Do yourself and your readers a favor and cut that number in half. Or, if you’re truly committed to reform, delete them all.  You just don’t need any more leverage.

Enterprise Software Blogging in Full Swing

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

For longer than I care to admit, I have been marketing a variety of software products to enterprise IT professionals and managers, from cloud-based start-ups to SAP.  What appeals to about this space is the technical nature of the products and the challenges of differentiating a client’s products from their competitors.  It’s also gratifying to hear about the customer successes and how a client’s technology is making a very real difference.

Over the years, the marketing approach we’ve used has involved more or less the same set of tools.  To launch a new product release, for instance, you first get everyone together and figure out a press release and some messaging, tie into a trade show, update the web site, put together a slide deck for sales and follow up with telemarketing.

And while all that still holds true, what’s changed is the growing influence of blogging. Over the last couple of years, blogging about enterprise software has expanded by leaps and bounds. The list of bloggers on the SAP Community Network or over at Oracle is truly extensive and growing steadily. Moreover, there are dozens upon dozens of consultants and managers all with a story to tell and blogging regularly.

It only makes sense that enterprise software would be a fertile ground for blogs. This stuff is complex and changes constantly. And no piece of enterprise software ever dies.  It simply isn’t possible for a general IT publication to even do a passable of job of delivering on information needs across all the little niches and cubbyholes. Enterprise software bloggers play a critical role in keeping specialized audiences informed and educated.

You might think the IT managers are all business and no fun, but having tied one on at a few SAPPHIREs, I can safely say that this can be a lively community.  It follows that Facebook is a popular gathering place for various IT communities. For instance, the SAPPHIRENOW 2010 (not sure about that name) Facebook page has nearly 2,000 fans, sharing critical information such as this photo of Shaun White with an SAP airport sign:

Shaun White SAP Sign

With blogging and social media on the upswing in the enterprise IT space, it follows that as marketers and IT professionals, we need to be there too. No longer is it enough to just do the press release, the trade show circuit and webinars. You need to be blogging (or podcasting and videocasting), you need to be on Facebook.  You need to be active and participating in the forums. You need to build communities of your own.

The rise of social media changes what we do in marketing and PR. Instead of focusing on finely tuned brochures and trade show booths, we spend time encouraging content owners and technical experts to keep blogging and looking for ways to syndicate content across blogs and various social media channels.  An example of how this works is a blog post by Deb Lavoy of Open Text (a McKenzie Worldwide client) that ended up on the AIIM Facebook page. AIIM is a large enterprise content management professional association.

If you’re an enterprise marketer, it would be great to hear how you see blogging and social media changing your approach. What’s working? What’s not? What are some of the best ways to take full advantage of this channel? I plan on delving deeper into this subject in future posts. Let’s talk.

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