Social Media; The Battle between Hype and Reality

I had the opportunity to speak to the Forrester Research Technology Marketing Executive Council recently in conjunction with the Technology Forum in Chicago. The central theme of my talk was simply stated, as marketers, we need to start integrating social media into the rest of your marketing strategy and programs and stop treating Social Media as some magical new quasi religion.

I do not mean that there are not unique attributes of each of the various new channels, media and technologies that comprise social media; blogs, social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter that we must examine, learn how to use and take advantage of in creating dynamic and meaningful experiences for consumers and businesses alike.

What I do mean is that instead of starting off with the attitude of “I’ve got to get me some of that Social Media stuff,” and invariably jumping right into figuring out which technology you need to buy, install and staff up to support, marketers needs to go back to their overall marketing strategies and figure out how each of the facets of social media can be leveraged to support their strategies, not drive them.

At this Forrester Research event, I had the privilege of delivering my talk on the heels of a presentation by Peter Burris, a research director at Forrester and a really smart and articulate guy. Peter’s theme was based on his recently released piece, Turning Your B2B Web Site Into A Community Hub. His premise, which I completely agree with, is that you need to start looking at how you integrate social media into your corporate Web presence. It is also related to the presentation I did at the Integrated Marketing Communications conference in Kansas City (see my post entitled, It’s time to look beyond Websites and start looking at an Integrated Digital Experience).

I won’t go through my entire presentation here, I’ve uploaded it at SlideShare and I encourage you to take a look.

Social Media, forget the hype and forget the technology

There was a full article in the Seattle Times this morning about social media. It’s amazing that a major media outlet either just discovered social media as a topic or there wasn’t enough new news to fill the dwindling number of printed pages. But let’s not get on the subject of newspapers and why most journalists seem to be more afraid of social media than taking steps to become the leaders of it.

What I want to talk about is not newspapers and not about what social media is, isn’t or what its good for. I don’t know and I’m supposedly an expert on the subject for my agency Ascentium. What I do know is that I don’t want to see, hear, blog, tweet or otherwise spew about the definition of social media and how it’s going to change the world, or at least our way of thinking about the world. Been there, done that.

It’s time to focus on the reality, not the potential of social media. Look at what Twitter is being used for politically around the globe. See how the Huffington Post has already redefined journalism. And as marketers, let’s start talking about the work we’re at our companies or for our clients. Let’s see what is working and what isn’t. And let’s define success, not at the nebulous level of “building brand awareness” or “increasing reach”. Let’s apply real metrics to determine the ROI of a very broad array of activities, campaigns and applications that we lump under the category of social media.

As president of the SDMA, we created an editorial calendar of the coming year’s series of monthly events. The kickoff event, to be held on 09/09/09 at the Bellevue Hyatt was listed in our working calendar as social media. From there, we went about selecting a speaker(s). It was easy to find some really smart people who could pontificate on social media. In fact, last week the Seattle Social Media Club had a great presentation on “What the f**k is Social Media?”
But we’ve tried to set the bar higher. Our moderator, Blake Cahill, of Visible Technologies, a social media expert in his own right, reached out to his considerable network and looked for marketers who were actually using various social media techniques and asked them for examples of what is and isn’t working in the very real world of corporate marketing.

The result is a great panel representing brands including Alaska Airlines, Comcast, REI and PCC Natural Markets who are willing and able to talk about what they have learned about social media.

So if you’re interested in going beyond the hype and seeing what social media can really do when applied by top marketers, come join us on Sept. 9, 2009 at 5:30p at the Bellevue Hyatt for the kick off event of the season of the SDMA.

Welcome to a new season of the SDMA

In addition to my role at Ascentium, I have been privileged to be elected president of the Seattle Direct Marketing Association, SDMA, and as we kick off our new 2009-2010 season of events I’d like to welcome back all our members, colleagues, friends and everyone that has an interest in the marketing profession.

We’re in the home stretch of summer. Our sub-baked brains are shifting from vacation to back to school, from playing hooky on a sunny Friday afternoon to getting the next proposal out the door. In other words, the fun’s over. But wait a second! Just because it’s no long 103 degrees outside, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to look forward to. The SDMA is here and it’s time to kick off another great season of speakers, events, networking and the continuation of our exploration into the art and science of modern marketing.

Last year we debuted a new tagline for the SDMA, “thinking outside the mailbox” in recognition that direct marketing has evolved into integrated marketing. We’ve taken the expertise direct marketers have gained in the areas of targeting, segmentation, analytics and ROI and are applying it to email, online advertising, search and social media. We’re extending brands across multiple new channels like mobile, branded content and the Web. And all while remembering that traditional media and direct still make up the lion’s share of marketing budgets and are evolving just as much as the new media is coming on the scene.

This season, the SDMA is going to mix things up a bit. In response to our success last year in Bellevue, we’re going to host some events on the East side and some in Seattle. We’re going to experiment with different formats including thought leader interviews, competitor panels and bring you real-life case studies showing how companies are using new ideas as well as re-inventing established methods to produce tangible and measureable results for their businesses. For this year’s calendar, visit

In addition to our monthly events, we are partnering with the PSAMA and the Social Media Club to produce the region’s premier marketing conference, MarketMix 2010, to be held on March 10, 2010, at the Bell Harbor Conference Center. Mark your calendars today.

If you haven’t checked us out in awhile, visit our website at, our groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, or even better, join us for our season’s kick-off on Wednesday, September 9, 2009, 5:30-8:00p at The Bellevue Hyatt for our evening event, “Transforming your Marketing and Customer Relationships with Social Media – Real Tweets from Real Practioneers at Leading Northwest Firms,” with panelists from Alaska Airlines, REI, PCC and Comcast. To register, visit, .

Looking forward to seeing you and having your participation in another great year for the SDMA and for the marketing profession in the Pacific Northwest.

On behalf of the entire SDMA board,

John P. Kottcamp, President

B2B Recommendations for Turbulent Times

I spend a lot of time with our clients figuring out the best strategy, the latest measurement tools and how to cut through the noise. But lately many of the questions have been around should B2B marketers be doing in times of economic turmoil, when no one is sure how far it is to the bottom and when we will start coming back up. So I carved out a little time and tried to come up with a few key best practices that might give at least a little direction. I’d really like to ask for everyone else’s thoughts. And maybe together we can chart the right course.

First, as the old saying goes, the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining. And while the weather metaphor may not match the current financial outlook, the lesson should be heeded by every marketer and by B2B marketers the most. Success in B2B focused businesses comes as a direct result to the quality of the relationship between companies. Traditionally this has been primarily the province of the direct sales force. But in an increasingly more online world, the quality of the relationship is measured by the quality of the online experience, which is most often managed by marketing rather than sales. So in hard times, when B2B purchasing is put on hold and buying cycles lengthen considerably, it is up to the B2B marketer to use all the tools at their disposal to nurture the relationship so that when the recovery comes and the buyers have money in their hands, they turn to those with whom they already have a relationship.

Second, in today’s world, the selling of technology is becoming a larger share of B2B transactions and the process of buying and selling technology is changing rapidly. IT purchases used to be the almost exclusive realm of technology professionals. They would recommend new technologies, deploy them and have complete responsibility for their support. And to many business users, how that technology worked and how it worked together was a mystery that went well beyond both their expertise and their interest. Now however, approaching the end of the first decade of the 21st century and when Gen X types are approaching what we used to call middle age, the roles are in flux. The rapid growth of Software as a Service and even Software plus Services, especially in the enterprise space, is testament to the fact that business owners are no longer willing to completely delegate technology to the IT department. For this new generation of business leaders, technology is not just the plumbing that runs behind the scenes, it is often the measure of innovation and a key differentiator in their business. For the B2B marketer, this means that technology can’t be packaged just for the geeks and promoted by the proverbial speeds and feeds, it must be presented to the business decision maker and must demonstrate the business value it delivers. It’s solution selling at its most basic.

Next, it’s not only that technology is moving out of the server room, it’s also being taken home. According to a recent survey of online adults, 77% used Microsoft Word at home as well as 58% used Microsoft Excel, once an exclusive business tool. What does this mean to a B2B marketer? The line between B2B and B2C customer is becoming blurred as the line between our work and our home lives fades. We are taking traditionally business applications like Word and Excel home and we are bringing Facebook and Twitter into the office with us. This is especially important as consumer products lead the innovation race and it’s just as likely that a business will be clamoring to get the latest B2C products and services, but use them in a business context. So the B2B marketer has to recognize that their audiences may be interested in their products as a consumer and that their companies are competing against consumer products in the business arena.

Finally and perhaps the most important tip for today’s B2B marketers comes from one of my favorite analysts at Forrester Research, Laura Ramos. She’s been posting a series on Forrester’s marketing blog entitled, “B2B Marketing Obsolete, Really?” And one her best messages is, “For marketing to evolve, we need to learn to listen more than we talk.” The world of Web 2.0 is no longer an abstraction. According to the most recent data I’ve seen, 75% of online adults in the United States participate in some form of social media. And that number is fairly consistent across most age groups. It’s not just a bunch of tweens on MySpace. Companies are being talked about on the Web, B2C and B2B alike. Business people are seeking out their peers to research and rate products and companies alike. And if you are not reaching out to find out what they are saying, where they are living online and who they are listening to, you can bet your competitors are.

Bottom line, despite the economy, there’s a lot B2B marketers need to be doing now and its not just this quarter’s sales that depend on it. The future of their companies may depend on how they step up to the plate.

Keeping Ahead or Keeping Pace with Customers

I’m attending the Forrester Research Consumer Forum in Dallas this week. As usual with Forrester, there is some very good information, the networking is great and the event is well run. My only criticism is that some of the analysts present snapshots of research that in some cases is months old and I’ve already reviewed it. This wouldn’t be necessarily bad if the in person sessions shed deeper insight or generated a lively discussion on the topic, but as in most conferences, the Q&A is weak and most discussions are conducted at a fairly low level of expertise.

The theme of this conference is “Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow’s Customer”. It’s a very important topic, especially in troubled economics times. And I was pleased to see that many of the sessions spoke to the guerilla in the room, namely how do we cope with the ups and downs we’re facing every time we look at the markets and the economic forecasts.

I will dive into some of the specific sessions in future posts, but I wanted to raise one question up front. While the theme is keeping ahead of tomorrow’s customer, shouldn’t the real theme be more of keeping pace with customers. It seems a throwback to the old school of marketing to think that we as marketers can keep ahead of customers, that we are responsible for controlling the conversation rather than being active participants.