Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Answers to David’s (oops sorry Dennis) questions on Blogging

Following David’s sorry I mean Dennis Howlett's questions in his comment on my post Italian Bistro Engine I have a rather lengthy response:

It’s important to first say that I am assuming the questions are from a corporate perspective rather than their customers view point or my own interest.

Why is there a need? There is always a need to communicate with customers, getting across your proposition, or answering their questions, or providing a service etc. The challenge is doing this as effectively as possible, and that’s not just a matter of cost, there may be quality or image considerations. Customers today are spoilt for choice and information is abundant on the web, if a business isn’t fully engaged with its customers it may loose out to its competitors.

What have you identified as requiring change? Traditional marketing communications are almost always a one way affair. Some organizations have done well to segment their propositions to different types of customers but that doesn’t go far enough. Customers want individual interaction with their chosen vendors, they want to understand more than the glossy pre-packed messages, and above all they are looking for a relationship. Perhaps in the past this relationship was the preserve of the corporate account manager, now customers of all shapes and sizes want to get closer.

Who is ready for any of this? The answer to this today is not everyone, however there are market challengers and companies that see that this fits their open culture and can easily benefit from this type of initiative. It may also present a good opportunity for market differentiation. If it becomes pervasive in a particular market it may leave the remaining companies no alternative but to participate.

Why should they believe you? My own experience as a corporate marketing director gives me insight into traditional marketing challenges. I have been fortunate to have had the time to investigate the opportunities, something I never really had time for when in a full time corporate job.

Why does it have to be external marketing? It doesn’t – this works equally well for a limited community like a management team or the whole workforce, in fact I can’t think of a better method for a CEO to explain his vision or strategy. The only question is what’s so secret that you don’t want customers to share in it too? I’m sure large companies already leak this sort of information to customers. So make sure all the stakeholders benefit.

What are the risks? There are risks that people may publish things in error, but a well organized employee blogging strategy should set down the rules and train staff as necessary, just like you would train staff to talk to customers (sales folk) or the media. It may be a different set of conditions but it boils down to how much do you trust a specific employee to represent the company. Salesmen do it for a living everyday – admittedly on a 1:1 or small group basis but nonetheless they are responsible for their actions. The other risk is starting and not meeting customer expectations on an ongoing basis – there has to be a real commitment, and time factors have to be accounted for in the analysis – so that the effort can be justified and properly resourced.

Who is going to manage the change and do they have the qualities necessary to steer this kind of thing through? I would suggest this responsibility rests with the head of marketing in a company, they are best placed to organize and implement this strategy, but they will need total buy in from the executive team, especially the CEO. They will have to be ready for the open culture it will demand and that may mean changes in policies, processes and some people!

Show me the money!!!! It’s very difficult to measure how a brand or company is perceived; the final measure should be in improved business performance. By having a customer centric business your customers act as sales representatives – driving new business and improving loyalty. (Reducing the demand for expensive acquisition programs). Customers can also provide valuable feedback for future product development that drives the circle of satisfaction. In the strategy is successful it should build substantial goodwill and thereby the overall asset value of the business.

I recognize this is not an easy change process, but I really do believe we are on the cusp of a very significant revolution in customer communications.

Good luck with the conference. Let me know what you think afterwards.

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