The voice of reason: getting the analyst perspective on product and strategy messaging

30 November 2011

There are probably many marketing and communications professionals out there who at some point may have slapped their foreheads over lackluster responses to their company’s product or strategy roll-outs. Thoughts such as “Why didn’t it work? “, “We did everything by the book and yet there are still people complaining that they don’t get what we do” might have crossed their minds.

A key component of a product and strategy roll-outs involves message testing and market research with customers, partners and the media including engaging with internal stakeholders every step of the way. Yet despite these efforts there can be instances where the final message doesn’t resonate with target audiences by the time it goes to launch. Has this happened to you?

There might be several reasons why the messaging could have been off target but Hill & Knowlton has identified the top five as:

1. You didn’t care
2. You didn’t understand
3. You didn’t believe
4. You didn’t know how to apply it to the real world
5. It sounded like something a competitor was already saying

By involving some of the crucial stakeholders I highlighted above, there is one category that we have often found missing from the messaging testing mix – analysts. Which brings me to ask, how many of you thought about talking to a trusted analyst during the message testing process?

The analyst perspective during the messaging process can be vital in getting competitive intelligence. An analyst inquiry provides insights into not only what your competitors are saying or doing (which isn’t under NDA of course!) but the market’s reaction to a particular product at a particular time.

Analyst discussions at the planning stage of the messaging process means you get an advance preview of the business and economic trends that can impact the time you go to market. Most importantly it can also aid you in how you should structure your messaging and review who else is saying what you are planning on saying.

As many of you start planning and discussing strategy roll-outs for new products or messaging, I would recommend giving some thought to how you can involve your analyst teams and contacts in the process. Getting analysts to give you their perspective during this process is where you will get the most value during the planning and preparation stage.

Going to market with a message that rings true, is compelling and succinct are all crucial factors. But messages that provide a call to action and differentiate you from your competitors really indicate that your messaging has hit the mark. Without these factors, it might be too expensive an exercise and sometimes too late to go back to the drawing board.

A step in the right direction – my thoughts on the Forrester Acquisition

24 May 2011

Forrester’s acquisition of Springboard Research comes at an opportune time. The move finally confirms Forrester’s renewed foray into Asia Pacific by acquiring Springboard, a firm that has an established name as well as recognition in the region.

As the lead for Hill & Knowlton’s Analyst Relations offering in APAC, I welcome the news. With clients in the IT, telecommunications and financial services sector, I am constantly on the lookout for more region specific research, particularly on markets like Australia, China and India. While we have other leading analyst firms covering this space, I say the more the merrier! There is still a hunger for insights that showcase an on-the-ground understanding of trends, vendors and customers from Asia Pacific.

No doubt, Forrester has a lot to gain from this acquisition. Springboard will definitely add to the allure of Forrester’s offering here as it has been having conversations with APAC CIOs for a long time.

Springboard has a strong understanding of not only the region, but that of the vital government IT sector as well. What we can expect to see is more than just a focus on numbers but deeper insights from stalwarts like Springboard’s CEO, Dane Anderson and Vice President, John Brand.

With the announcement having recently been made, Forrester has been quick to include joint Springboard research on its site. One that I have already found quite useful is The Asia Pacific IT Market Comes of Age by Tim Sheedy (Forrester) and Dane Anderson (Springboard)*. The report covers how Asian economies are growth engines for IT vendors. It also reaffirms the growth in IT budgets in China and India. A very interesting report and one which I recommend others to read/buy, particularly those who want to get a snapshot into the high growth markets in Asia.

I can only see the best of two worlds being combined under the acquisition, and look forward to seeing more region focused research coming out from Forrester in the coming months.

*The link to the report: http://www.forrester.com/rb/Research/asia_pacific_it_market_comes_of_age/q/id/59206/t/2

Immediacy of Social Media Models Gives Marketers the Twitters

03 December 2010

Like many revolutionary technologies, it’s taken the human species a little time to figure out the best uses for Twitter—and along the way we’ve discovered some glorious mistakes, as well. Twitter Product Management Head Elizabeth Weil and Cotweet CEO and Founder Jesse Engle shared their perspectives with the CMO Club Summit in a discussion moderated of Jeff Rorhs of Exact Target on where Twitter does—and doesn’t—drive business forward.

Nobody can deny it—Twitter is crossing into the mainstream. With approximately 175 million users and about 90 million tweets each day across the platform, Twitter has become the marketing opportunity—and threat—we can’t afford to ignore. No argument there.

So what do marketers do about it? Twitter would suggest marketers first take a look at three new advertising products they’ve launched: Promoted Tweets (which lets advertisers broadcast specific tweets to broader audiences), Promoted Trends (which lets advertisers kick-start or seed a viral discussion by leveraging a highlighted discussion trend on Twitter) and Promoted Accounts (which boosts the visibility and following of a specific advertiser on Twitter).

But even those promoted products are just the beginning. Weil was quick to note that only discussions that are truly resonant—that are interesting, organically followed and re-tweeted—will break through and achieve meaningful results for marketers. “Tweets are supposed to be spontaneous and right for the moment,” Weil commented, adding that when marketers over-think tweets and try to make them brand-compliant and on-message, “it makes it artificial and it starts to not feel like Twitter.”

According to Engle, the first task is to find ways to take advantage of conversations taking place on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and to find the most natural place for a brand to dive into the discussion.  Weil concurs. “One of the biggest misperceptions around Twitter is that you need to Tweet,” she noted. “Such a great way to get into Twitter is to observe just what’s going on.”

Engle also points to a fundamental difference between Facebook and Twitter: the speed at which bad news travels. “Facebook is something you can choose to do or not to do as a marketer,” he noted, “but Twitter is something you have to pay attention to. A single tweet can disrupt your whole brand.” He advised being ready, knowing what discussions to watch for, and having a response plan in place.

But one thing Facebook and Twitter do have in common is the massive database of information and insights they are gathering about their ever-growing populations. What we tweet, when we tweet, where we tweet from, and what we do with other tweets all speaks volumes about our connections, our desires and our preferences. One participant was curious to know what kind of data Twitter is in fact capturing, and at what point Twitter could transform into a data targeting and research entity.

“I can’t tell you,” noted Weil, “But advertisers tell us they want to geo-target better and demo-target better … and we have something unique.”

“Getting more from Agencies and Partners”

03 December 2010

In an environment where marketers face such fierce pressures to cut costs, deliver fast results, and continually adjust to the ever-changing business requirements and sales strategies of their internal clients, it’s easy to think of your agencies less as partners and more as outsourced commodities.

But according to Brad DeHart, Practice Leader with ICG Commerce, thinking of your agency as an extension of your in-house team—and treating them that way—can actually lead to long-term cost savings and improved ROI from your agency spend. He and Ivy Bennet, CMO of Harris Bank, presented their approach to marketing and PR agency partnerships at the recent CMO Club Summit in San Francisco.

According to DeHart, a procurement specialist with an intimate understanding of the value of good agency relationships, simple things like giving your agency team access to senior management, letting them in your strategic plans and business initiatives, and asking your agency for their ideas on how you and your team can work more efficiently all have an impact on productivity, cost and program success.

What’s more, it’s in CMOs best interests to quickly resolve issues they may have with their agency team rather than going straight to an agency review. “Re-pitching your business costs a ton of money and takes months,” DeHart noted. “Onboarding a new team can take as long as a year. It’s not something to do lightly.”

“One-hundred percent of major agency-client financial disputes I have been involved in took two to tango,” DeHaro added. “Make sure your people know how to actually work with agencies and manage them, and make sure your agency lead is doing the same.”

Bennet concurs. She also says a best practice is to conduct regular account reviews with your agency teams to “get beyond the nice talk” and get down to quantitative and qualitative assessments of how everybody’s doing.

And throughout the relationship, Bennet advised CMOs to respect the financial constraints and concerns of their partners. Don’t just go for the lowest cost, go for the highest value, and negotiate for mutual benefit. “It’s all about communication,” Bennet reminded the audience. “Be up front about the parameters they’ll be working with, constraints and managerial challenges.” That, says Bennet, is how to turn the “agency” into your “trusted partner”—and to make sure the whole team is on the bus with you.

Leveraging Mobile in Integrated Campaigns and Customer Engagement with Brands

03 December 2010

Mobile marketing. We know it’s coming. With all the CMOs have to juggle right now, some of us might wish it weren’t.  But it is, and the time is now to decide when and how we’re going to embrace it. At the recent CMO Club Summit in San Francisco, CMO Club CEO Pete Krainik convened a panel of three progressive marketers to share their views, early experiments and lessons learned in the nascent field of mobile marketing.

The first most important lesson any CMO who’s ever dabbled in mobile marketing learns is this: it’s not just about cramming laptop-sized content onto a palm-size screen. Adriana Rizzo, VP Mobile for ESPN, takes a content company’s perspective. “We’re guided by the three-screen philosophy,” Rizzo shared. “You have to develop content and think about all three screens at the beginning of your process, not just retrofit it.”

Sophie-Charlotte Moatti, Head of Product Management for Nokia, says it’s also about translating the experience to the device. “Take advantage of location-aware functionality and social graph-aware applications,” advised Moatti. For example, she points to Nokia’s work with OASIS, a fashion brand in the UK, who created a treasure hunt that led consumers to their stores through the use of location-aware messages.

It’s this sort of visceral immediacy that creates such compelling marketing experience on the mobile device. Bill Gajda, head of Global Mobile Product for Visa, says being able to message to a customer when they’re in a specific frame of mind at a specific point in time is very powerful, when architected correctly. Imagine a scenario in which a shopper swipes their card at a coffee shop known to be in a shopping mall, and the shopper receives real-time coupons redeemable at their favorite stores at that mall. It’s the ultimate win-win scenario. “Real-time interaction is going to be a very valuable tool for merchants,” Gajda predicted.

But there are challenges. For example, ROI can be tricky to measure. And for B2B marketing, the promise of mobile is not quite as compelling. As Forrester CMO Dwight Griesman noted from the crowd, mobile content and service adoption is driven by location-based relevance, real-time relevance, and being away from a desktop or laptop screen. But for B2B buyers, who are more likely to take their time comparison shopping from the comfort of their desks, these factors just don’t play as big a role.

And there’s the ever-present concern around privacy and permission—never more relevant then when marketers reach consumers on a device many consider to be their most personal mode of communication. Making sure experiences are opt-in, rather than opt-out, and keeping the marketing messages as relevant and alluring as possible may help to mitigate consumer annoyance and privacy concerns, but given the privacy and security regulation already underway in Europe, the panel advised the US to get ready—because we’re next.

Curating Digital Content—Control vs. Collaboration in a Consumer-Driven Paradigm

30 November 2010

In the first wave of the digital marketing revolution, companies had to come to terms with the fact that they now share brand power with their customers. Consumer-generated content reigned, and some marketers began to wonder how much control they were going to have to acquiesce to the rising groundswell. But this was just the first phase in an ongoing negotiation between customer and company. The pendulum is swinging back to intelligent and shared control, and the time is now for companies to move from just co-creating to actively curating content in a way that boosts the brand.

To explore how to strike this balance, the CMO Club convened Dolby’s Vice President of Global Communications Catherine Ogilvie and Netflix Global Corporate Communications lead Catherine Fisher in a discussion moderated by Velocidi CEO David Dunne.

One thing to note is that this discussion was led by two corporate communications professionals. Some would argue that PR plays a natural role in content curation because the discipline focuses on earned discussions rather than paid-for discussions. While the explicit discussion of where PR and marketing overlap was not raised on this panel, the panelists’ perspectives were uniquely suited to the topic.

What the discussion did focus on were undeniable trends: audiences expect both real-time and high-quality engagement. Professionally produced content is certainly high-quality, but lacks immediacy. On the other hand, consumer-generated content is immediate (and authentic in the rawest form), but lacks quality. A fierce consensus quickly emerged: we no longer fear this change.  Better insights, free marketing, and a more elegant way to participate in word-of-mouth? What’s not to love? So the question is, how do we curate content that remains real-time, authentic and high-quality?

For Netflix, a fundamentally B2C company, the guiding principles are to engage your audiences on digital platforms where they already are (Facebook) and talk about what they’re already passionate about (movies) and find natural ways to insert corporate messages (streaming services) that feel organic.  “What works best is showing up and talking and being transparent [with our consumers],” Fisher observed. “We keep the conversation going, and they become our brand ambassadors.”

For Dolby, a predominantly B2B company, the context is quite different. Dolby is a company with admirable brand awareness, but few actually know what all the company does. So for Dolby, the challenge is all about storytelling, and to leverage the power of social media to get the word out about what the companies does. “Personalization is key,” noted Ogilvie. “You have to give people a framework to use, and then create the content and evolve it over time.”

The hardest question remains metrics. As one attendee observed, “It sounds like the content that’s the most meaningful and high-impact is the hardest to track financially. Smaller companies can’t invest in content creation that isn’t founded in solid ROI.”

Immersive, Measurable, and Mobile—The Guiding Principles for Digital Marketing in 2011

30 November 2010

It’s no secret that the paradigm shift toward digital marketing is accelerating. Depending on which research you read, offline marketing spend is down in double digits, while online marketing is up about 10% and mobile marketing is up nearly 20%. But the open question for marketers in 2011—and especially B2B companies—is what kind of digital marketing experiences to create, and what bets to make. Recently at the CMO Club Summit in San Francisco, Adobe CMO Ann Lewne shared some views around the principles that drive digital marketing decisions and the illustrative marketing priorities at Adobe, whose self-described mission is “to change the world through digital experiences.”

A few clear themes emerged from the group discussion. First, the most viral and valuable digital marketing experiences are those that feel the most immersive to the customer. Lewne observed that digital marketing provides unique opportunities for creating experiences that draw in customers, hold their fascination, and drive engagement all the way through funnel. Second, digital marketing allows you to measure not just engagement, but conversion  both on and off your web site (even through sales channels), which is essential for proving the ROI of your campaign. And third, the single most important bet for marketers to make in 2011 is on mobile marketing.

“Next year is the crossover year for mobile,” Lewne observed. “Everybody now has to reformat their content and create experiences that are mobile-oriented rather than taking what you have and slap it onto a mobile device.” And after a robust group discussion around the multi-screen revolution now underway among consumers, Lewne encouraged the audience to get ahead of the digital curve, now. “Get ahead of it and mandate it at your company. Because that’s where people want to get their information, purchase products, read magazines, watch movies. That’s where the world is headed.”

What was most interesting about the discussion was the discussion around which metrics matter most when it comes to digital marketing. Many attendees seemed to be thirsting for a hard ROI argument to take to their CFO, and while digital does offer a variety of metrics miracles, which one you turn to depends on your business objective—and your culture.

“Making it beautiful isn’t enough,” Lewne told the crowd, citing various metrics such as customer loyalty, sales conversion, brand position and consumer engagement. Even reputational standing can be enhanced through philanthropic endeavors such as Adobe’s Museum of Digital Media. “We’re not selling on this thing,” she noted. “This is just about connecting to our customers.”

And that, perhaps more than any other statement, captures where the smart bets in digital marketing appear to be right now—making meaningful, beautiful and authentic connections with your customers.

Ovum PocketAnalyst: Just sound bite snacking, or harbinger of change for the Analyst industry?

26 November 2010

One of the more interesting developments this month in the AR world was the recent launch of Ovum’s PocketAnalyst tool, which maps its research and intelligence services to the schedule of its clients. At present the application can only be downloaded to the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

Fit for use, but for what purpose?

The focus on ‘jargon busting’ implies that it will be used for skimming information, rather than deep dive analysis – which makes sense given the form factor. It is likely to just be a smart way for Ovum to drive general awareness of the latest research among prospects and journalists, with a view to cross selling existing research to their current clients more effectively. Further down the line, Ovum could build in geo-locational features, so that users can plan their attendance at Ovum events and symposium.  Perhaps a partnership with FourSquare might be a logical option at some point?

What about the other analyst firms?

It will be interesting to see if Gartner develops something similar to promote its summits. My colleague, Jay Andersen, over in San Francisco, has heard talk from Gartner, and other firms, about using mobile devices for ‘snacking’. And as Jay likes to say, the medium is the message! With its strong digital track record in digital thought leadership I can’t imagine Forrester leaving the mobile app field alone for long either. Ovum has dipped a toe in the water. Which analyst firm is going to cross the Rubicon next?

Deeper opportunities

For me, potentially the most exciting aspect of this kind of app is bringing analyst insights to new audiences who do not currently have direct contact with analyst firms. For example, this kind of app has a lot of potential for syndicating free research – potentially moving past the traditional audience to a broader audience. In the UK, firms such as Freeform Dynamics, TechMarketView, Redmonk, MWD and Quocirca are doing a great job at popularising their research online. It is not much of a leap to see any of these players following a similar approach to Ovum and launching their own mobile app.

Target Small Businesses? Surely not!

An ideal market for an analyst app is the small business segment which the analyst industry has, by and large, ignored. This is a huge, potentially addressable market that is being left untapped. There will probably come a point when the Gartners, IDCs, Forresters and Ovums of this world plateau the addressable large enterprise audience for IT and have to turn to other markets. The SMB IT market would be the next logical market to gun for. It is that, or face cannibalizing each other within a mature and saturated market.

A bite size mobile app focused model (executed well) may successfully address the small business market – increasing analysts mind share over the purchasing process, whilst also diversifying their revenue streams. It would not be much of a stretch to see the CEO or manager of a small business benefiting from the jargon busting aspects of an analyst app. Will the analyst app become a Trojan horse that will redefine the analyst industry? Or will it be just another digital channel to drive information through? The AR team here at Hill & Knowlton would love to hear your thoughts.

Is Analyst Relations a prisoner of its own success within the IT sector?

15 September 2010

Analyst Relations remains a relatively new practice within communications, but even during its formative years it seems to be going through an identity crisis. Every section of the communications industry has been challenged by the economic crisis that has beset the global economy, but none more so than AR. In the ferocious scrum for budget between advertising, PR, social media and AR it is by no means the case that AR has emerged as a number one priority for technology firms.

AR for PR, or AR for AR?

This is hardly surprising, whilst the case for AR (when it is done correctly) is compelling – strategic transformation, sourcing and consuming market intelligence to increase competitive advantage and of course influencing the sales cycle – too few within the communications industry have a grasp of the full extent of what is possible with AR. Even when companies are very positive to AR, they often adopt an ‘AR for PR’ mentality. Taken to its logical conclusion this approach can pervert AR, turning it from a strategic discipline into a highly tactical exercise in chasing positive analyst quotes in trade media.

Measurement Matters Most

Many within the industry complain about the maniacal focus that their clients often place on positioning within Gartner Magic Quadrants and Forrester Waves. Yes, the quadrants and waves are often misinterpreted and simplistically used in the battle for sales and mindshare, but this criticism misses the point. Many people like the quadrants and waves precisely because they are easily digestible. They provide a method of quantifying a discipline that can appear highly esoteric at the best of times. Vendor positioning reports are not only invaluable in providing a framework for AR practices, but they remain one of the most accurate yardsticks to measuring AR’s impact and success.

Illuminating the Way Forward

It is no coincidence that AR still remains a heavily IT focused discipline – other industry sectors such as Finance, Energy and Industrials, Manufacturing and Healthcare can have a potentially strong AR play, but these sectors remain much less of a focus for most AR professionals. There are no Gartner Magic Quadrants or Forrester Waves to show the way. Indeed AR often has to sneak into those sectors under different labels such as consultancy. In some cases it is the discipline that dare not speak its name at all!

The Need to Diversify

IT remains a growing sector and there will always be a healthy market for clever, dedicated AR practitioners. However, if the AR sector is to grow market share and address the many misconceptions currently held by those in adjacent, sibling disciplines, it has to do a better job at justifying its place within the communications industry. It needs to grow industry mindshare as well as increasing its economic footprint. A good example of crossing traditional IT boundaries is Better Place – a visionary organisation which aims to redefine next-generation transportation and infrastructure to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and end the world’s addiction to oil. Better Place partnered with H&K at various points for its global influencer programme and helped to change perceptions about the industry and its solutions through, in part, the use of AR.

Exploration and Innovation

The slow pace of economic recovery globally will hopefully act as a catalyst that encourages the AR industry to develop new approaches and tools to successfully establish and embed itself as an essential part of the communications mix within new sectors. It will not happen overnight, but with diligence and inventiveness it is possible.

Magic Quadrant for the oil industry anyone?

Understanding Analyst Briefing Policies is Only Half the Battle

12 July 2010

On Wednesday, July 7th, @IIAR Tweeted “Hearing rumours about reputable analyst firm only taking briefings from current or about-to-be clients. Anyone else coming across the same?” This is a familiar rumor which can stem from a number of sources. Analyst firms change their policies, new, boutique or hybrid analyst/consultants have policies different from those of the largest firms, and vendors that don’t get their briefing requests accepted complain that industry analysts are “pay-for-play.”

Let’s address these separately.

First, we checked with Forrester, IDC and Gartner. All confirmed that they do accept briefings from non-clients. All briefings, be they from clients or non-clients, are at the discretion of the analyst. So, if your product, strategy, technology or company is relevant to the analyst’s research and is compelling, you’ve got as good a chance as anyone to get your briefing.

Second, there are a number of smaller analyst firms that have varied policies depending on their business models. Some firms take briefings from anyone about anything; the idea is that the shotgun effect will net them the broadest industry information and business development opportunities. Others are highly selective and due to limited schedules, emphasis on custom research or narrow topical focus take briefings only from a handful of vendors. Still others fall into a grey area of analyst/consultants who take briefings from vendors who are clients or are soon-to-be clients. These firms are focused on custom consulting, so they spend their time learning about the companies they specifically work for. Where the confusion arises is that ALL of these folks are generally referred to as “industry analysts” regardless of policy.

So know your analysts and analyst firms, or work with someone who does.

That said, let’s get to the heart of the issue; not all briefings are accepted. There are a number of reasons for this of course; wrong analyst target, uninteresting content, bad pitch, lack of news, timing not in synch with trends, etc. etc. The truth is, many briefings are requested with little or no insight into the expertise, research agenda or interests of the analysts they are aiming to speak with. The reason for this is that many vendors, and the agencies that support them, practice only Outbound AR. Doing only Outbound AR means doing only half of AR’s job – from which one can logically expect half the results.

Inbound AR consists of doing the research, preparation and relationship building to inform yourself before you strike out to inform the analysts. This is best accomplished through inquiry (which does require a client relationship) conducted either by the vendor themselves or through the support of an agency with dedicated AR specialists that hold research and inquiry seats. Executing Inbound AR nets the information about research priorities, emerging technology themes, areas of client interest, competitive insights and analyst opinions that not only ensure a briefing is accepted, but turn a briefing into a long-term influencer relationship impacting your market perception, sales and valuation.

Think of it this way; AR is a lot like the U.S. judicial system. Justice is guaranteed for all, but more money gets you a better lawyer. Likewise, analysts do not operate in a primarily pay-to-play environment – access is provided fairly to clients and non-clients alike. But paid access to the analysts and their research makes it that much easier for you to target the right analysts and understand their agendas.

The balance of Inbound and Outbound AR is the real secret sauce of doing Analyst Relations, and that is a rumor we can confirm.