There is a story about the Tower of Babel in which a great tower was built in the city of Babylon thousands of years ago.
Babylon was a cosmopolitan city, many of the citizens were very impressed with themselves. They were very important. They did important things. What they did, what they said eclipsed the value of everything and everybody else.
Across this city/state there were a myriad of languages spoken, roll all of this together and it was a very confusing and problematic place to be at the time.
All of this self impression along with the conflicting languages caused things to go badly.
Hmmm. Does any of this strike a cord? Did you notice in my blog posting I deliberately mis-spelled Babel? It’s typed as ‘Babble’. Dictionary.com defines Babble as “to talk idly, irrationally, excessively, or foolishly; chatter or prattle.”
Sound vaguely familiar yet? No? Ok, I’ll keep going.
How about this. Earned Media. Getting warmer? Tagging? Uh-huh. Uniques? Yep. Web 2.0? Sure. Tweets. Of course. What about this one: Link Juice. Ummmm.
Marketers have their own language that to others sounds like well, babble. Try an experiment. Set a meeting request to your company’s CFO and put in the subject line ‘Briefing on Earned Media, Tagging and Link Juice.
See if he or she accepts or instead, declines and emails you back asking what the @#!&# it is you want to waste their time with.
Respond saying you made a mistake. You want to share a few cost-deflection and lost revenue earn-back strategies you’d come across. You’ll probably get a different result. You see, marketers speak ‘promotion’, while CFO’s speak P&L (profit and loss). Accountants speak GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principals), VP’s of Manufacturing speak Lean or Cellular (as in Lean or Cellular Manufacturing). A few mutants still speak Six Sigma. Together at some level in the organization, the management committee made up of the C-level and EVP level peeps who make decisions like merge, divest, close the Scranton Office, etc. speak Revenue Center and Cost Center.
Revenue and Cost center is an interesting language, it has two intertwined dialects. The first, ‘Cost’ is brutal and gutteral, sort of like Gaelic. ‘Revenue’, on the other hand is more melodious and sweet; a joy to listen to.
Those who speak Revenue and Cost see things as, well…generating either revenue or incurring cost. Revenue and Cost speaks only of black and whites. You as a marketer are part of that world. Yes! It’s true. Unfortunately, you reside more often than not in the Cost side; not always a comfortable place. Sales sits in the Revenue side, which can be much more fun. The reason is metrics. Sales can show direct contribution to revenue. TV ads and guerilla marketing tactics usually don’t. Sales are easy to defend. Without hard metrics, marketing is well, squishy and couple squishy metrics with terms and definitions that others don’t get and you are on thin ice in terms of value and influence.
While the term Earned Media sounds cool and is important to help describe all of which help define the granular inner-workings of some marketing tactic, its impact or outcome, most people outside of the marketing department don’t care or even understand. Your marketing power points cause some in the organization to spontaneously bleed from the ears (note: this will usually cause them to exclude you from critical meetings like budget planning).
Not being understood is bad. If they don’t understand, you’re value to the organization is diminished (imagine getting a new boss who doesn’t understand what you do. How long will you last?).
If those who speak Revenue and Cost can’t understand your department or your program’s value, you don’t get the opportunity to actively shape how the marketing promise is delivered.
Those who control the business enterprise (the making of the widget, the pricing of the widget and the distribution of said widget make their decisions regarding the widget without you. Your input falls on deaf ears. Yikes! Hell on earth!
So what to do? Don’t live in the chaos of Babylon waiting for the impending doom. Be proactive! Learn a second language and communicate. When we as marketers are as versatile in the other operational languages our peers speak as we are in our own language, amazing things will happen. One: You will start measuring your activity and results in ways that are important to others (those who speak Revenue and Cost). Two: Your influence and work will amplify in terms of results. Marketing initiatives will begin to be baked into operational activities and visa versa.
What were previously siloed activities will begin to work more harmoniously (i.e. CRM and Social Marketing) and you as a marketer will cease to be viewed by the other non-marketers in the company (whom by the way out number you) as not just the creator of hokey messaging and some un-measurable brand promise but instead the gate keeper of customer loyalty, net profit generation, low-cost win-backs and heck, maybe even a cost deflection source!
Well, we are at the end of this blog posting and the four non-marketers who were reading this have already gotten their fill and left, so I will reveal the big important ah-ha. One that trumps even decoding Revenue and Cost.
You as marketers will hold the power of the customer in your hands and strong customer demand trumps everything. You will understand them better than anyone, you will know how to reach and keep them happy. You will know how to convert more customers using targeted, efficient techniques and tools. You will balance the promise of your marketing efforts with the delivery of those promises by the operation. You will be the master of customer engagement efficiency! You will drive profit, which you can measure and defend…and that is a very good place to be.
That is, if you like that kind of stuff.
So here’s the thing: I talk to tons of people every day. Some want to chat about community strategy; others want my grandmother’s recipe for strawberry mess. (It’s yummy) Community and cooking are equal passions of mine so people ask me about both…a lot. In either case, I never stop to consider: am I answering this question as a business professional or as a consumer. I just draw on the appropriate expertise and give my best advice and counsel. If I was having these conversations in a community, I’d gravitate towards places that congregate around community best practices or haul my virtual self to a foodie hot spot. Again, I’m the same person in either place. The only thing that changes is the topic and location.
So, I’m confused when I hear folks in the b-to-b world proclaim that social marketing doesn’t “work” in their industry, marketplace or environment. Huh? People don’t stop having conversations, seeking and making recommendations and taking the advice of known subject matter experts because they are in a b-to-b “place”. As a matter of fact, isn’t this the very essence of thought leadership, the core of b-to-b marketing? Business-to-business is not just selling auto parts to government motors. We live in a service economy where businesses sell high value services to other businesses. These businesses differentiate themselves through their human and intellectual capital and their collective thought leadership. The old-school thought leadership model was a three legged stool: conferences, publishing in third party journals and research/white papers.
Several factors have impacted this model: shrinking news holes, time starved people who can not ‘commit’ to the dense white paper you just published, dwindling conference attendance and younger decision makers who prefer newer, more social channels. This diagram shows how the thought leadership approach is changing.
Lead generation has always been and always will be a social activity. Think back to the old user groups in the tech industry that morphed into online forums and now are full blown online collaboration networks. Social media competence is a must for today’s thought leader. When was the last time you were at a conference that did not give out the conference twitter address or where the real action happened through tweet-ups? GE recently sought internal social media users to serve as mentors to others in the company. They teach each other how to set up a Linkedin account, upload video and comment on blog posts. The goal is to get people comfortable with social tools.
Today thought leaders need to think like a publisher. Content needs to be both smart and approachable. The voice should not be stiff, formal or corporate. Those days are gone. Remember, people are people whether they are reading an eBook or a recipe. Channels are a mix of traditional and new; some are even self-created. Smart b-to-b marketers have their own YouTube channel, LinkedIn groups, and Slideshare accounts. Content spreads virally through content syndication and aggregation. Giving customers and prospects tools to make this easy is a great way to deepen a relationship. Your people need to learn how to tag and re-tag content as well as create link juice. Many organizations have already figured out blogging, podcasts and webcasts, but have not figured out how to syndicate their content or grow their audience.
If done right, communities can be an ongoing research engine for thought leadership. You can use them to recruit people for surveys, gain invaluable insights and feedback that can be packaged for syndication across a variety of channels. You can use blogs and tweets for trend spotting. Many industry analysts signal what they’re working on through Twitter; ditto for reporters, trade groups, government bodies and academics. You can learn a lot about emerging trends and package your intellectual capital to leverage promising platforms.
This barely scratches the surface of how b-to-b enterprises can embrace social marketing and freshen their approach to thought leadership. If you’re interested, I have a deck on Slideshare that explores this a little more. Or, maybe you just want that recipe for strawberry mess. Here you go:
1 pint whipping cream
1 quart fresh strawberries
2 TBS. sugar
½ cup mini marshmallows
½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
Remove green stems from strawberries and slice thinly. Add the 2 TBS sugar and ½ cup lemon juice. Let sit for 15 minutes.
Whip cream until stiff (Don’t do too long or it’ll turn into butter!) Fold in the strawberry mixture and the marshmallows.
Fold into a freezer-safe container. My grandmother always used the metal tray of her ice cube trays, minus the metal cube divider. But, you can use a bread pan or a smallish plastic storage container.
Freeze until solid. Take out of freezer at least 3 hours before serving. Scoop out like ice cream and go, “yum”.
Tags: thought leadership, strategy, ComBlu, social marketing, social media strategy, business-to-business marketing,
I love everything about spaghetti. I love throwing it on the wall to see if it’s cooked. I love slurping the long noodles straight from my plate down my gullet. I even love wiping the excess sauce from my chin. (I’m getting hungry!) Spaghetti is a great meal but as a collaboration strategy, not so much. For that, you definitely need lasagna.
We’ve been working with a lot of folks to design and build internal communities. Some want them to drive customer experience; others want them as part of their reputation management programs. Many are most interested in using them for collaboration and knowledge management. They realize that their current cultures don’t facilitate change. As they move away from a transactional relationship with customers to being more customer-driven, they want their culture to morph into one of rapid innovation and growth. Internal communities can be an accelerant of change and offer a new model of collaboration with internal teams as well as with outside stakeholders. Communities provide a horizontal cut across the silos that stunt growth cultures.
As organizations adopt a more inclusive business model, they find that their knowledge and intellectual capital is stored in virtual vaults across the globe. This is the preverbal spaghetti bowl of resources with no elegant way to get to them. Despite spending quizillions of dollars on CMS, ERP, CRM, knowledge management systems and other ways to centralize and organize organizational knowledge, access to pertinent research, studies, background and strategy documents remains elusive Worse, the person sitting in the cube down the hall may have oodles of expertise locked in h/her head and the person who needs it has no way of knowing.
This is when my thoughts turn to lasagna. All those skinny noodles of information need to be merged into a single lasagna noodle. A well designed community can blend the best of social networking with access to multiple content management systems to yield an easier way to tap internal experts, access pertinent content in one place and manage projects and teams. The social tools of community can quickly winnow ideas and concepts, uncover and dispense with roadblocks, encourage sharing across silos and reward innovation and growth in a personal and meaningful way.
A simple but elegant design is just the starting point of any successful community. As with external communities, advocates are the heartbeat of the community. Or, maybe in this case, they’re the meat sauce! Advocates organize, mentor, collect and share information from multiple sources, step up when either leadership or expertise is needed and model new, desired behaviors. While the lasagna noodle is the unified infrastructure that provides a single platform for community functionality and content access, the advocates are the spice that gives the community its flavor and zest. Others gravitate because of their energy, but stay because they collaborate in a more meaningful, efficient way. So while I’ll continue to slurp spaghetti from time to time, I’m definitely going for the lasagna when building communities. Next week, I’ll tell you about strawberry mess.