Web 2.0, It’s About Cloud Computing, Now Buy Our Stuff

Last week, I went to Web 2.0, a conference in San Francisco at the Moscone Center looking for B2B stories. The last time I went in 2007, I was hoping to find some B2B case studies of which I found none. It was filled with companies all promising to be the next YouTube. All their names had x’s and z’s in them. This year, the exhibitors seemed much more grounded and the mood much more muted.

Outside Web 2.0 at Moscone Center, San Francisco

I found three general categories of exhibitors:

  1. The blue chips: HP, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe.
  2. The Web 2.0 platform suit vendors: Blue Kiwi Software, Tableau,  Opera Software
  3. The cloud plays: DAAS.com (datacenter as a service) specializes in ready to go Cloud Computing products. Clustrix - a brand new highly scalable database appliance.

In 2007, there were many more see-what-sticks consumer ideas, video on demand, parking space finders, widget download companies. This year, Cloud Computing was the magic word. I was impressed at how far the Web 2.0 space has developed. It seemed as though the recession cleaned out some of the never-gonna-make-it businesses (or at least limited their event sponsorship budget).

So what B2B stories did I find?

I got the pitch from the person in the Cisco booth, let’s call him Jim. This is how Jim’s story went:

  • Have you you ever heard of the human network? We’re enabling people to connect with each other in faster ways.
  • We believe that Cloud Computing will enable more possibilities for these connections.
  • Our routers, switches, and now this new blade server here (points to server) provide the backbone for businesses to create a Cloud infrastructure.

Being a marketing person myself, I felt that if I closed my eyes I could visualize the different departments’ and organizations’ messaging paragraphs as Jim told me the Cisco story… The first about about the human network comes from corporate, the Cloud comes from the worldwide marketing team and the last section comes from the product manager. The transition between the Cloud Computing story and the point about the blade server was so jarring, Jim seemd to have trouble connecting the two.

Just to show that I’m an equal opportunity critic, the HP story at Web 2.0 also went from Cloud Computing very quickly to the gear that we had on display at the conference. With hardware products, it’s often difficult for marketers to get from the customer problem and solution, to why they should by our gear. Since I’ve been working in HP Enterprise Services (formerly EDS), I find that they are very good at understanding the customer point of view, as mentioned in previous blog posts. Maybe a mashup or the two approaches could yield an effective story which combines the relevant points for the customer with the value proposition of the gear.

What is your experience?

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Put Yourself on Kool-Aid DeTox


Working in a large organization, it’s easy to get lazy with your marketing. Marketers like to market to themselves, their peers, their friends, create buzzwords, cool sounding phrases, repackage stale concepts. Just look at the evolution of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). Before SaaS, we were talking about SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), before that it was Web Services. At some point, someone in marketing coined these terms which eventually became standards. But, most of the time, clever phrases get cycled and recycled by marketers to the point where customers have no idea what we’re talking about. Check out Prose and Cons: Marketing Jargon Gone Wild. This entertaining blog tracks marketing jargon trends. When I posted this “Crowdsourcing” and “Trust Agent” were on the rise.

The best way to detox yourself from your own Kool-Aid is to talk to customers. Unlike with internal constituents, customers will let you know immediately whether what you are on target or full of c*&p. You’ll also get a real-world look at the problems they’re dealing with which you’ll be able to use later to improve your value proposition.

Last week, I presented our introduction to HP deck to an enterprise customer in the HR outsourcing business. Just preparing for the presentation forced me to lift my head up from my every day work and brush up on our news and acquisitions. I had to learn about areas of our business of which I was unfamiliar. I got rid of our “fluffy” slides attempting to dramatize, such as ”When a mother dials 911, you know you can count on us.” That may work for an ad, but I could never imagine saying that to a VP of IT. The presentation also forced me to speak in plain English and strip out all the “Complete Integrated Solution” and “Best-In-Class” language which we so often find so liberally sprinkled throughout tech brochures.

A lot of marketers I know rarely talk to customers because it can be intimidating. What if they ask me a tough question? What do I talk to them about? But, as a marketer, you gotta do it. It’s like going to the gym; it takes discipline, but if you don’t do it your mind gets flabby.

Here are some easy, low key ways to meet with customers:

  1. Go to an industry conference. Talk to customers in booths, at sessions, in networking events.
  2. Seek out industry bloggers and forums. Enter the discussion by posting comments.
  3. Connect with a sales person. See if they wouldn’t mind you sitting in on a presentation.
  4. Do a case study on a customer.
  5. Present your expertise to customers. (OK, this requires more involvement, but is the best way in my opinion).

Not only will this sharpen your marketing, but it will give you better “street cred” with your peers and the sales force you support.

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Herding Cats (Part II)

I thought the herding cats title would be apropos for the subject of this post as well.

“Let’s do a viral video!” I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a marketing director say this. From my experience, this exclamation is usually code for 1) we need to get as much exposure as possible for no money. 2) we’re bored with our run-of-the-mill product marketing and want to do something that will stand out among our peers. However, according to Brett Wilson, CEO of TubeMogul, only .33% of the videos on YouTube have more than 1 million views. 50% of YouTube’s videos get less than 500 views! You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than making a video that goes viral.

START with clear messaging and value proposition

Like all marketing communications, a video needs to have a clear purpose, a simple, simple message and strong value proposition which ties back to your business. If it doesn’t, you’re basically creating an entertainment piece on your marketing dime.

Here’s an example of an IBM Viral Video which lampoons the idea of viral videos:

Another “The Office” parody. Somewhat entertaining and funny. I’m sure the marketing team had a blast making it and it was highly viral inside of IBM. The only problem: 98% entertainment, 2% product bullet points. The only thing I remember is that IBM did a funny video. Was that the intent?

Strong call to action

Videos online need to have a strong call to action even if it’s a branding campaign. What do you want your audience to do or think after they watch the video? Unlike with TV ads where the viewer may be sitting on their coach watching 24, online videos are perfect to move your customer down the buying cycle because they are online already. These days you can even embed clickable links within the video.

A look and feel that adheres to the company’s brand

I’ve seen a lot of marketing videos that create their own unique look and feel. While it may adhere to the look of the campaign, it looks completely different than other videos from the same company. When this happens, the video misses out on leveraging the companies brand equity, or helping the company to build its brand. Check out this joint effort between HP and AMD.

Again, very entertaining and gets traffic, but at what cost? The brand was sacrificed here in order to get people’s attention. I’m not even sure that the knockoff of the MTV show resonates with an older, more conservative IT audience.

On the other hand, let’s take a look at an example Michael Parker presented from Symantec. They invented a fictitous character “Hal” who would be their spokesperson throughout a series of videos. Here’s an example:

Now, this video wasn’t nearly as racy or fun as “Pimp my Infrastructure,” but it’s effective, because it’s right on message, clearly identifies itself with an IT audience, and communicates the value proposition of the product. It also has 50K+ views on YouTube. Not too bad.

Quiet on the set

Once you’ve identified…

  • The video’s purpose
  • The value proposition
  • The message
  • The call to action
  • The airing venue (an online tutorial vs a keynote introduction)
  • The appropriate budget for the type of video

…you’re in much better shape to produce a video that will tie back to your business’ objectives and stay on track when your agency presents their ”Superheroes of the Data Center!” concept.

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Herding Cats (Part I)

I love video. It makes you laugh and cry. It educates and informs. For marketing communications purposes, it’s ideal for drawing the customer into the world the marketer wishes to create – telling the brand story. It is the most powerful medium for making your audience “feel” a certain way about your brand or product.

Here’s a famous Superbowl ad you may remember for a very difficult-to-communicate B2B service offering, IT outsourcing.

It’s simple, clever, and memorable. It’s successful because the folks at EDS had the discipline not to squeeze all their offerings into 30 seconds. They stuck with a simple analogy – “we herd cats”- and wrapped it with a humorous spaghetti Western theme.

What’s the catch with video?

Besides being one of the most expensive forms of communication to produce, it can be hugely wasteful if not done right. With video projects, many marketers get drunk with creative juices or seduced by the creative agency’s superhero concept and forget that their main purpose should be aligned with the business objective – whether it’s selling product or extending customer loyalty.

I attended the “Value of Video” breakfast in San Francisco hosted by video distribution vendor BrightCove. VP of Interactive at Symantec, Michael Parker first asked his audience, “Does anyone in this room want to be a Hollywood director?” Some folks raised their hands. “You should all move to Hollywood,” Michael says, “Because you have no business making marketing videos.” It was refreshing to hear a video evangelist advocate common sense rather than razzle dazzle.

Video ROI

The cost of the video needs to be in line with its objectives. Because of the sliding scale nature of video production, it’s easy for costs to escalate well beyond what makes sense for its purpose. If a video is intended as a product tutorial for the Web, you can produce this very inexpensively with voice over and flash or even still photos. Such a video should cost less than $10K. No need to go into a studio and film products. But, if you’re introducing Steve Jobs for a product launch at Comdex, you would be justified to spend more than $100K to set the tone and blow people out of their seats even if the video is only used once.

Like any marketing communication vehicle, a video communication needs to be tied to the business and communication objectives. The marketer should develop these core elements before the project moves forward and stick to them.

I’ll talk more about these fundamentals in the next post…

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Get Ready for the Upswing

Last week, I attended the IDC Directions conference in Santa Clara and came away with some interesting statistics. John Gantz, Chief Research Officer from IDC had some sobering data about how the recession hit the IT market:
  • The IT industry lost $1.7 Billion between 2007 and their forecast to 2013
  • BUT, there is a recovery it’s way
  • Nearly half of the new spending in 2013 is expected to come from emerging markets, where as in 2009, it was around ¼ of IT spend.
  • There will be an incredible proliferation of new devices and sensors which will connect objects to objects, devices to devices. You will be able to put a sensor in your FedEx package that tracks not only its exact location throughout the journey, but the surrounding temperature, and even vibrations.  Check out this video to get a glimpse of the future. HP Labs: Central Nervous System for the Earth
  • We’re about to hit an IT boom period. Companies have been holding off IT expenditures for as long as possible. When demand begins to pick up, these companies will need to upgrade ASAP to capitalize on growth.
  • John peppered us with all sorts of overwhelming statistics about how many petabytes, trillions of instant messages, and cell phone subscribers there will be.

If you have 5 minutes, you can get the full IDC prediction here.


Are Organizations Ready?

If John’s right, we need to begin turning on our jets in sales and marketing to get ready for the upswing. As many of you know and have likely personally experienced, marketing is one of the first areas to get hit when it’s time to tighten the belt.

What happened to the sales pipeline when they turned off marketing? Anything? Senior execs may not notice an immediate change in the bottom line which is why many conclude that marketing is a cost center, a waste of money. Over a long b2b sales cycle here’s what will eventually happen without the proper marketing investment.

  1. Fewer leads
  2. Deterioration of awareness and branding
  3. Lack of an overarching story that shapes your offering in the customer’s mind
  4. Fewer tools the sales force can leverage to convince customers of your value proposition

Marketing is an investment, not a cost center. Yes, sales will always close the deal and therefore get 98% of the credit for each sale. However, like a missile on its way to hit its target, there are thousands of touchpoints and variables both online and off that a customer hits before he or she ends up speaking with a sales person. And, once the sales person is out of the room, there are dozens more Google searches, conversations with colleagues, blog reviews, and industry forums the customer will use as he or she gathers information to make the final buying decision – many of these are “unmanaged,” out of the vendor’s control.

Customer Touchpoints

Touchpoints a customer may encounter throughout the phases of the b2b buying cycle.

Marketing’s job is to get into and influence as many of these touchpoints as possible to guide the customer down the right trajectory.

So, if you’re an executive wondering when the downturn is going to end, don’t wait until you report positive earnings to crank marketing back up. Like investors who sell all their stock and stuff cash under their mattress, those who keep marketing on ice too long will miss the boat when the turn around happens. Competitors will have already stolen your customers’ mindshare with their slick new “renaissance” campaign. Now is the time to recapture customer mindshare BEFORE they buy.

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What do Avatar and HP Enterprise Services have in common?

They say there are only seven original stories on which all literature, fables, myths, and movies are based. From Hamlet to Avatar, all the plots can be summarized in this short list:

  1. Man vs. nature
  2. Man vs. man
  3. Man vs. the environment
  4. Man vs. machines/technology
  5. Man vs. the supernatural
  6. Man vs. self
  7. Man vs. god/religion

Source: Internet Public Library (IPL) and the Librarians’ Internet Index (LII).

People remember stories, especially ones in which they can recognize truths about the world or their own experiences. But, so often in B2B marketing, we forget that we are communicating with human beings. I’ve seen tech brochures and Web sites frequently loaded down with endless bullet points of speeds and feeds, for fear that if it misses one detail our customer will bail.

Our customers are not robots. Just because they are evaluating more complex, technical products and have a longer sales cycle, doesn’t mean they will respond to or even recall all the facts and figures we throw at them. Our customers also go see Avatar and are equally driven by basic instincts when it comes to purchase decisions – risk avoidance, fear of making the wrong decision, peer pressure, group think.

At HP, I recently started working on the Enterprise Services business (formerly EDS). When I made my first trip down to Plano, I got a tour of their “Experience Center” – an operational control station in which they also demonstrate their capabilities to customers. I was amazed at how well they articulate their customer stories through a video series. For example, check case study out about the Royal Air Force.

Now, they could have just interviewed their clients in suits about how great HP is. They could have gone into the data center and pulled out a few boards. Instead, they show the end user’s experience. “The office moves around at about 500 miles per hour.” The Enterprise Services team understands how to add the “man vs.man” story giving it a much more theatrical and entertaining experience.

Here’s another story about how John Weir went the extra mile for a customer. This didn’t have the same “Top Gun” entertainment flair, but the producer showed the personal side of Mr. Weir – his family, his kids opening presents on Christmas time.

Watch the Video

I find that often in our marketing efforts we are hesitant to show our personality behind the scenes. But, this is what makes this video so much more compelling. A well told story in the context of B2B marketing can be a powerful tool to help marketers communicate a complex or intangible value proposition like Enterprise Services.

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Getting your executives onboard with blogging

At a recent event in San Francisco, I spoke with a CMO from Telco manufacturer in Texas who was wrestling with a common problem: he’s the only one in his firm who thinks social media has potential as an effective communication channel. His peers look at him like he’s nuts when he says he writes a blog. I’d like to share some of my experience from HP “outting” content experts and executives into social media.

At HP, we are making significant investments in trying to get everyone – all of our content experts – to dive into social media. For an executive or content expert, the most logical place to kick off his or her debut is through a blog. From my experience, about half the time, an executive blog starts off with great enthusiasm. Everyone’s delighted to bring their executive in the 21st Century. However, after a few entries, the exec runs out of time or patience. Don’t let this happen to your executive!

With only so many hours in the day, the most common concern is “Where am I going to find the extra time? What’s the ROI? Will it sell more product?” These are all great questions which don’t have easy answers. It really depends on the executive, the company culture, and the communication objectives of the company. Here’s an easy litmus test to determine whether you or an executive should start a blog. Choose the question that best fits your situation, then write down the number on a piece of paper.

Company Environment

  • Is your company a startup eager for PR and Buzz? (2) 
  • Do you work at a larger organization with a sizeable marketing budget (1)
  • Do you work at a company that handles highly confidential or regulated information (0)

Executive Patience Level

  • Does your executive have a strong point of view or a passion about his or her business? (2)
  • Is your executive somewhat interested in social media, but have very limited time? (1)
  • Does your executive have little interest in blogging (0)

Communication Objectives

  • Is it very important to be perceived as a thought leader or have differentiated products? (2)
  • Is awareness an important communication goal? (1)
  • Is every ounce of communication resource focused on driving sales? (0)

Executive Availability

  • Is the executive able to spend 1 hour a week on blogging? (2)
  • Will the executive only participate if he/she has a ghost writer? (0)

Add up your score…

Score 6 – 8: you’ve got a shot. Give it a try.
Score 4 – 5: Perhaps your exec can write a guest blog entry on a prominent team blog rather than starting his/her own.
Score 0 – 3: don’t bother.

I would not set expectations about expected results at the beginning. Some executives are able to have amazing successes with their blog, some flop. Don’t set yourself up for failure.

Please post your thoughts and comments.


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Hello world!

My name is Alex Flagg. I’m originally a New Yawkah and grew up in Manhattan. I spent a good part of my career in advertising media planning for clients such as P&G, AT&T, and Microsoft. One brutal winter in 1995 on December 12th after a severe snow storm, I decided I had enough of the Big Apple and got a job in San Francisco and one of the top Technology ad agencies of the time, Anderson & Lembke. There, I was introduced to the world of Silicon Valley in the heyday of the Internet Bubble – $250,000 megaparties to celebrate a future dot-bomb’s second IPO, complete with ice sculptures and chocolate fountains – venture capitalists who taught that “profit doesn’t matter” when planning a startup – startups that were around for four years without a business model or any hope of making a sale. Crazy times indeed. I was there. I worked at these companies, we all did.

What I’ve found through my experience is that in High Technology Marketing, it’s really, really tough to create great stories that sell your products. High tech marketers often start at the wrong end of the story – with their product, then work their way back to the customer. There are only a handful we all know of that do it the right way. Apple – simple, elegant innovation. Google - the Internet made easy. 

What I’ll write about in this blog is:

  • Creating awesome compelling content for complex and boring products
  • How to simplify a complex story
  • High tech marketing on a shoestring budget
  • Writing compelling value propositions
  • Getting your social media marketing plan off the ground
  • And more…

Stay tuned!

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