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October 20, 2006

Community Marketing: Think globally, act locally

Swingline Red StaplerIf you want a successful company where people want to work, you need to market your company to your employees. For a company like Swingline, this isn’t hard to do. Every Swingline employee has one or more of your staplers on their desk. It probably isn’t difficult for employees to convey to other people in their social network what their company does and what characteristics set their company apart from the competition. They probably even have a humorous anecdote about rival Bostitch. In addition, since Swingline’s products are geared heavily to the consumer market, the same marketing materials used for your customers is also readily consumed and digested by Swingline employees. But what if you work for a company that sells something that the average consumers will never see on a store shelf or purchase?

PanavisionAn employee for a company like Panavision, makers of motion picture equipment, could easily extend their company product to the average consumer via motion pictures. But what if you work for a company that sells enterprise hardware, software and/or solutions—and your company or division is not a household name—the marketing material the company produces to promote sales is probably poorly digested by staff outside of the sales and marketing departments.

If your company’s product is consumed high up in the channel, it is important that all your employees be able to make the connection from your product to the consumer level, even if that requires linking in third parties or customers of customers. Some might argue that the non-sales employees probably don’t encounter prospects very often, if at all, so why does this even matter? The answer is simple: pride.

Can you succinctly describe your company and the benefit it provides society to relatives at Thanksgiving dinner without putting your audience to sleep? Tryptophan effects aside, if you are unable to provide the links between your non-technical relatives' daily lives and your company’s products, you probably aren’t able to take a lot of genuine pride in your company. That doesn’t mean you don’t take pride in your department, team or personal accomplishments, nor does it imply you doubt the quality of your company’s products and solutions. So how do you get employees outside of the sales cycle to live and breathe your products? You need to do some internal marketing.

If you want to unite your employees on a common front, they all need to be behind your products and solutions—employees need to understand the business. Externally, you may target key markets and individuals with slick campaigns full of acronyms and the latest analyst quotes; this is the language of your buying audience. Internally, your audience is much more diverse and includes many groups that have little time or interest to learn this language which, to many of them, may only be spoken at work by peers in other departments. This isn’t only their problem, it is the company’s problem. After all, the employees are all ambassadors of the company in their social networks. Wouldn’t you want access to this network for your community marketing?

September 21, 2006

Bridging the gap between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 in the Enterprise

bridging the gapI've been reading and seeing more and more Web 2.0 information (hype?) and thinking about the hurdles it will take to get the enterprise and general public to buy in more. The techno-geeks have long embraced it and now there is a litany of 2.0 suffixes everywhere. This got me to thinking about how major leaps in technology are actually executed and adopted. In general adoption rates for leaps in technology seems pretty low at the enterprise level--unless there is an intermediate step that can be taken that bridges that gap.

Take the typical fossil-fuel driven automobile. Long ago, visionaries predicted that everyone would drive electric cars. What happened? Almost nobody is driving electric cars, and those that do are doing so primarily in experimental or subsidized vehicles. Although I don't underestimate the political strength of the petroleum industry, the gap between the traditional car and the electric car has been too large for the average car consumer or manufacturer. Status quo prevailed for decades. Along comes the hybrid vehicle, which still burns gasoline but uses an electric drivetrain with regenerative braking. It is a transitional vehicle that is bridging the gap to electric vehicles for the masses. More interesting is what you could call, "Hybrid 2.0", or plug in hybrids. This technology was driven by clever consumers, like a youTube for auto making. Now the enterprise is starting to take notice as smaller companies are being created to retrofit existing hybrids with the technology. Check out calcars.org to learn more about plug in hybrids. The group that makes the first transitional vehicle for the masses will have more probability of success than the group that makes electric vehicles for the few.

I would apply this same analogy to Web 2.0, particularly the user generated content side. To really appeal to the enterprise, there needs to be more Web 1.5 - Web 1.9 if people are really serious about getting more buy in from the enterprise market, where many organizations are shy to embrace grass roots content publishing models and other Web 2.0 concepts. I think the key for getting us to Web 2.0 is by adding Web 2.0 features to existing Web 1.0 applications. I attended a demo of ConnectBeam the other day. They offer a social bookmarking tool for the enterprise. During the demo, it was clear this was a very powerful and useful tool, but how do you convince an existing user base to try totally new ways of doing things? One feature they had that was pretty cool was to overlay their technology to existing intranet search results. I think this additive approach has a greater chance of success than purely alternative models (e.g., instead, go here and do it this new/different way).

If we're serious about getting Web 2.0 into the enterprise, we need to build a passable bridge from Web 1.0.

September 19, 2006

Pandora's risks and opportunities

After attending lunch 2.0 at Hitachi Data Systems, I decided to try Pandora for myself. It's actually pretty cool. You get to listen to new music that matches your tastes for free. There are convenient links to iTunes and Amazon to purchase the music or album you heard. The only downside to Pandora is the licensing restrictions. You can't play a song on demand or skip more than about 4 songs an hour. You also can't go back and even hear a clip of music you just heard to make sure that was the song you liked. I guess you could go to iTunes or Amazon to hear a clip, which might be part of why they don't allow that, so they can get you one click closer to purchase.

All this got me to thinking about the new subscription based music buffets like Urge or Yahoo Music Unlimited. Apart from music catalogue, how do these services plan to compete with each other. Assuming that the subscription price will bottom out, if it hasn't already, features will play a large role in controlling market share. If you could pair Pandora with a music buffet you would essentially remove the things that suck about Pandora.

What a kick-ass service: find new music and listen to it again and again on demand and when away from your computer with no buyer's remorse. You could even queue up a Pandora-style playlist of songs you haven't heard in advance to listen to offline in your car or at the gym. You could then apply ratings through your player that would then sync up when you were online to further refine your playlist stations.

In this respect, I would think Pandora would hope to be bought out because if Urge or Yahoo built their own music genome (or even iTunes), I would think that investors might be shy about investing in Pandora.

September 13, 2006

Web 2.0 and the Freemium business model

WatermelonI recently attended a lunch 2.0 event at Hitachi Data Systems. There were some pretty cool companies there showing their wares. The mood was reminiscent of the booming dot com days, filled with buzz and optimism. I was particularly impressed with Pandora, a music streaming service geared towards discovering new music based on your current musical interests. I spent a while talking with Tom Conrad about the features. Although there is no classical music in their collection, they still have an impressive amount of music catalogued. I tried it out last night and was impressed. I do wish you could hear a clip of songs already played. If you were listening casually and remembered a song you liked earlier, it could be hard to figure out which song you liked. I would still recommend it for people who would like to expand their music collection to new/different artists without wasting time listening to radio.

A friend sent a picture to me from the lunch 2.0 event via flickr, and I got to thinking about the business model of flickr. In general, most of these new 2.0 web sites seem to be using the "freemium" business model, a term coined by Jarid Lukin and elaborated on this blog. As a person with kids, I am wary of wasting my time. I think of the time people spend uploading, organizing and tagging photos to flickr. I wondered to myself, "what if flickr goes under?" Sure it is free, and you get what you pay for (though power users do pay), but there is an inherent risk with the "return to mainframe" software movement.

With all this Web 2.0 hype, the looming bubble 2.0 could be lurking in our future. I am curious about the revenues these companies really get from ads. Are they significant? Is anyone making a profit? A lot of these new sites may be hoping to be gobbled up by yahoo, microsoft or google--or perhaps that is the safety net should things go sour. One can only wonder the shock of users of a site like flickr should it suddenly close up shop for lack of profitability.