Why IBM is Hiring Hollywood Storytellers

It’s no secret that I’m a big proponent of storytelling as a relatively fresh way to approach marketing strategy and execution. Not only did it earn its own chapter in my book The CMO’s Periodic Table, I’ve featured other champions of storytelling like CMO’s Douwe Bergsma (Georgia Pacific) and Darren Marshall (Steinway & Sons) on this blog. In my heart of hearts, I keep hoping that having a story framework rather than a brand-centric messaging framework will reflect and capitalize on the changing dynamic between what a brand wants to say about itself and what a consumer actually says about a brand.

As you might expect, CMOs don’t all share the same perspective on storytelling. Douwe Bergsma sees it as something entirely new and even hired a storytelling agency to craft the story framework for brands like Brawny before getting his other agencies involved.  Darren Marshall believes in the importance of telling a compelling story in his communications but didn’t see the need to change his strategic approach.  So now, allow me to introduce Maria Winans, CMO of IBM Commerce to this on-going discussion.  Maria is a big believer in the power of storytelling and has hired professionals from Hollywood to support these efforts.  To understand why, read on.  

Drew: As you look to do more storytelling at IBM, has this changed your approach to staffing your marketing team?

Maria: Absolutely. As we look at our staffing needs for today and tomorrow, we are focused on three primary skills sets, digital, portfolio and the ability to engage an audience via storytelling. For the first area, we are hiring the best talent we can find to quickly create new ways of engaging with our audiences in the most personalized ways possible. The second area is more product / category specific in terms of finding talent with deep knowledge of e-commerce and marketing automation. And the third is all about content creation and storytelling in a manner that entertains and informs audiences.

Drew: Interesting. So let’s talk more about the skill sets of the storytellers.

Maria: Sure. These people are not traditional tech-centric IBMers. Their expertise is completely different in that they can create truly engaging content or they know how to lead the creative storytelling process. These folks will help IBM engage specifics audiences in a very different manner than we’ve done before. And working with the rest of our marketing team, the storytellers will help us translate some of our broader themes down to a very compelling and ideally, personalized conversation.

Drew: How else are you bringing the idea of storytelling into IBM?

Maria: One way is by collaborating with organizations like TED. The TED organization is among the best at storytelling and they helped us orchestrate a conversation about innovation last year in a completely new way for us. Presentations were limited to seven minutes, which forced us to make every word count and propel the story forward. We really learned a lot from that.

Drew: So why not outsource your storytelling? 

Maria: Frankly, that’s exactly what we did for a long time but it comes at a price. Not the cost of development, but the absence of expertise that comes with knowing how to create stories. Bringing this skill in house uncovering talent and skills in very different places. For example, I’ve recently hired individuals that were doing scriptwriting in Hollywood for film. Their ability to write scripts and plot out storyboards is essential to the kinds of communications we want to create moving forward.

Drew: How does all of the new product or divisional storytelling you’re doing fit into the bigger stories IBM is telling on a corporate advertising level?

Maria: One of the things that we’re looking to do is have content that tracks with the entire customer journey. While the corporate ads are great at positioning all of IBM we need to be more specific with our product and divisional stories, whether we’re talking lead generation or product research or demos. All of this content needs to be compelling enough and personalized enough to drive an action – an action that we can track, score and keep moving forward with other content.

Drew: Let’s dive into this more. Can a big story like Watson get translated into demand generation and lead nurturing for a specific ecommerce product?

Maria: Yes. IBM is telling big stories about the art of the possible by demonstrating Watson’s amazing cognitive learning capabilities. My challenge is to take that big emotion-rich story and appeal to a merchandiser or a supply chain manager with very specific challenges. I need to be able to show them how they can work with IBM in a way that pertains directly to their job and move them along from prospect to customer. It comes down to storytelling on a level that resonates with the target and helping them see cognitive as a competitive advantage for their businesses and an opportunity to excel for them personally.

Drew: How does big data fit into all of this?

Maria: Great question. We marketers have so much data. The key is to be able to use that data to drive personalization and deliver the best possible experience. Obviously, this is easier said than done. It’s important to recognize that data is a means to end and not an end in itself. Data informs the story, how we talk to you, what we share and when we share it. If we know you react to certain words or images, then we’ll be sure to zoom in on those in our stories. Ultimately, our goal is really to make an emotional connection and we think we can do that better by being personal without of course, being creepy.

Drew: So how hard is all of this?

Maria: It’s hard but we’re making a lot of progress. We’re getting better at not forcing a discussion about product too early in the process. Before we introduce a solution, we want to make sure we really understand a particular prospect’s challenge. Some of this we can infer through the data, which makes it a lot easier to start a fruitful conversation. And some of this is understanding narrative, bringing the prospect along through a series of nurturing activities related to their past behavior. Ultimately, this really is another means of being customer centric – we are trying very hard not to waste a prospect’s time by delivering superfluous information.


CMO Insights: How to Build Your Personal Brand

Risk taking, as you will soon learn, is an important part of Maria Winans‘ personal brand.  And funny enough, it was risk taking that lead me to her.  Truth be told, I was one of two males who dared to attend the Women’s Luncheon at IBM’s Amplify Conference, thanks to the cajoling of the peripatetic Tamara McCleary.  Leading a vibrant panel discussion on personal branding, Winans struck me as a consummate executive who somehow hadn’t lost her individuality despite 25 years at one of the largest business organizations in the world.  Curious to learn more, I weaved my way through the 300 or so ladies in attendance and almost sheepishly asked for an interview after the panel.

New Maria WinansWinans, whose title is CMO, IBM Commerce, Mobile and Social is a fellow believer in the power of AND.  She describes herself as business executive AND a mother, a friend AND a trainer,  an artist AND a boxing student.  Raised in North Carolina, she is also a first generation American AND a Latina.  Her secrets to personal branding are anything but and she is delighted to share them, especially with young women whom she hopes to inspire to overcome obstacles and do great things.

When it comes to personal branding, Winans is all about substance.  Set goals, figure out the skills required and then march forward, learning every step of the way.  Reputation, as she points out, can not be purchased.  It must be earned.  The reputation that Winans sought for herself was that of a risk-taker and innovator, one who was willing to embrace new challenges and unconventional career paths.  As this approach has clearly paid off for her, Winans encourages if not dares other women, particularly the perfectionists among them, to chose the road less traveled, to take chances and not be afraid of failure given the lessons it can offer.  With that advice, Winans certainly enters my pantheon of truly “renegade” CMOs.

Drew: I’m curious, why at the women’s luncheon at Amplify 2015 was the focus was on personal branding?

We chose that because typically these panels are more on topics like work/life balance and I wanted to focus this year on more practical advice from the successful women on the panel. I really wanted them to talk about how they’ve managed their careers. It gave us an opportunity to think about their growth, where they started and how they progressed forward in their career.   Regardless of your age or career stage, whether you are a Millennial or a Generation X or Baby Boomer, this was a topic just about everyone in the audience could relate to.

Drew: Do you think women executives need to pay particular attention to personal branding?

I think that men and women both need to. I think it’s critical for everyone to really think about how they build, how they cultivate, how they evolve their personal brand. I’m a strong believer that it is your thumbprint, is what represents you, what you believe and I think that your work in itself is another proof point of your personal brand. It’s important that you stand tall, that you really represent yourself.

Drew: Talk to me about your personal brand.

I take great pride in what I do, how I lead a team and what I stand for. I grew up in an environment of tremendous respect for my parents, for actions they took in bringing us to the U.S., for personal growth for my siblings and myself. So I came from a very strong culture of achievement and that diversity is something that you should cherish as a gift, and you should cultivate it, you should embrace it. So my whole philosophy when it came to building my career at IBM very early on was that I wanted to establish goals, I wanted to be successful, I wanted to grow my career and I knew that there’s different stages of that growth path.

Drew: How did this play out early in your career?

I came into IBM with my eyes wide open. I didn’t know if I was going to head into marketing or sales or strategy or finance. And so very early on I said to myself, I need to skill myself, find my passions and learn as much as I can.   But I also had a vision and a goal. I wanted to establish myself as a professional, I wanted to lead from the front, I wanted to become an executive and by the time I turned 40, I want to become a vice president. I had very established goals, and with that I set forward on really understanding what was it going to take for me to continue to grow in my career.

Drew: So how did you differentiate yourself?

I looked for opportunities that were about new initiatives and were about creating new businesses. I started to develop a skillset as an innovator, somebody who took risks and looked for opportunities that were different and required finding new teams and developing new skills. I cultivated that, and with that, created an environment for people to see that through my actions, that collaboration was a top priority, bright ideas were welcomed, innovation was the priority, and no idea was a bad idea.

Drew: Did your personal brand evolve?

I think a personal brand is in the way that you carry yourself as an individual in every walk of life; in your business and in your personal life. And at the same time, I’m learning every day. I don’t think a personal brand is something that you create and then never changes. I think it evolves — if your career evolves, it evolves in the type of jobs. But I think the core of who you are, your character, stays true within that. I am avid believer in the need to never stop learning. And I think when you look at strongest leaders in business most are lifelong students. They remain curious, aren’t afraid to tackle new initiatives and seek new paths forward.

Drew: It was clear at the luncheon that many women seek your advice about personal branding. What’s the first thing you tell them?

In life you can buy anything except your reputation. Your reputation can’t be bought; it has to be earned. And so protect it, live it. For example, just because your title says CMO, just because you lead a very large team, you still need to earn your leadership every day. And this is what I reinforce to people that I mentor, especially in the business, your reputation something you earn, something you work hard for and you stay true to.

Drew: Okay, what’s number two on your advice list?

I always get asked about risk-taking because I’m a risk-taker. I love innovation, I love trying new things and putting projects with people and saying to the team, ‘let’s go try it–the worst thing that can happen if it fails, is that we learn from it and we move forward.’ My biggest fear is regret. I fear looking back and saying ‘if we only had taken that chance.’ A lot of people fear risk taking, especially women, [many are] afraid to take those chances and everything has to be perfect and everything has to be T’s and I’s crossed. My message is that risk taking actually makes work and careers even more exciting.

Drew: How does IBM benefit from having employees like you with strong personal brands?

I think it goes back to a very simple truth–the strongest element of the IBM brand is the IBMer. That’s why we’re called IBMers. We have known ourselves and identified ourselves an IBMer and we’re proud to be IBMers. And so it absolutely is encouraged to go out and share whether it’s from a woman leadership perspective or the business that you’re leading especially at the executive level. This is the strongest element of our engagement strategy to the market. We have over 400,000 employees as you know, and they all are brand advocates of IBM.

Drew: Do you think there’s a point when it comes to personal branding that an individual can go too far, and how do you avoid crossing that line?

There’s always that self-promotional risk that you’re talking about yourself too much. We’ve all seen people that are self-promoters-it’s all about them, you know, their photo on everything. But I think that sometimes, we as women hold ourselves back. Sometimes we’re afraid as women that maybe we’re too visible, maybe we’re too self-promoting, we’re talking too much, we’re showing too much aggressiveness. So I encourage women to be vocal, to be ambitious, to show what they know and who they are, to promote themselves through their work and with that their personal brands.

Building Individual Relationships with Influencers

4 of the 25 VIP Influencers at IBM event: Drew Neisser, Brian Eisenberg, Sandra Zoratti and Robert Moore

“So do you think all this influencer marketing stuff is overhyped?” asked the CMO standing next to me last night. Like a veteran batter expecting and getting a curveball, I didn’t swing at this one too hard but rather went with the pitch so to speak, letting the conversation ebb and flow until it landed in just the right spot.  That spot, for me, is the influencer marketing program conceived and lead by IBMer Tami Cannizzaro.

And while I’ve covered some of my learnings about the IBM program on this blog already, I hadn’t gone to the source and discussed things like how the program came into being, success metrics and the importance of not just “talking the talk” as a client.  This last point above all really struck home–if you want to run an influencer program especially a B2B one, then at least one individual at the brand needs to invest the time to build individual relationships with the influencers and actively participate in their conversations.  Here is my conversation with Tami which also serves as an insightful preview into our panel discussion next week at the MediaPost Social Media Insider Summit.

Drew: When did the “VIP Influencer” program you are running for IBM Smarter Commerce conferences begin, where did the idea come from and what were your expectations Year 1?
I had to think about this one, Drew! I recall speaking at a CMO Club Summit event in New York about two years ago and Ted Rubin and Margaret Molloy were sitting in the audience. They both actively tweeted my session and it received lots of great pickup by influential people in the marketing community. It hit me that we could scale this phenomenon and invite prolific social influencers to our events to extend the reach of the content beyond the four walls of the conference. In year one, my objective was simply to drive a robust social conversation that would amplify all of the great content coming out of the conference.

Drew: Did the program evolve in Year 2 (2013) and if so how?  

By year two, we scaled the program to 25 influencers and hired social media reporters to amplify the content. These social reporters tweeted, wrote short blogs and created shareable video content about the event. All reporters tweeted under a branded backchannel and identified themselves as reporters hired by IBM, so it was transparent. Between the influencer community and the reporters on site, the single conference this year yielded almost 300 million impressions and trended on Twitter as well.  We also added a Social Business Command Center, which brought the activity to life and helped support broader participation and competition among our influencers. (I can still be heard bragging from time to time about my stint on the leader board!)

Drew:  What are the factors that guided you in putting together a list of influencers for the IBM Smarter Commerce Summits?   

My social media team monitors social channels and measures those influencers with the most “signal” in our industry—tools like OneQube can help you navigate, measure and manage social relationships.   We wanted to field a group of influencers who were prolific at generating content and who also had a very engaged following. Some notable people include Jay Baer, Ted Rubin, Pam Moore, Bryan Kramer, Kim Garst, and Glen Gilmore. They have an active and influential voice in the community and a daily cadence of active publishing.

Drew: Are there any pitfalls to avoid when putting together a program like this?  

The hard part is that you have to depend on good faith that the investment will yield. If you have a CEO focused on ROI, it may not be immediately evident how it’s returning back to the business. I liken it to a relationship with the analyst community. Nurtured over time, these relationships help you to build traction in the market and drive momentum for your brand. The pitfall is that it takes faith—and a lot of times, that isn’t enough to garner support for the program in the first place!

Drew: I couldn’t help but notice that your VIP Influencers bonded at the event. Was this part of your plan or just a happy by-product?  

The misconception exists that social is just about digital—and that interacting on Twitter or Facebook is the whole power of social media. But the biggest payoffs can happen when the physical and digital worlds merge and people from social channels like Facebook or Twitter become in-person friends, colleagues, and customers. It sounds hokey, but there is tremendous power in building community, and that, to my mind, is at the core of an influencer program: Building a community of like-minded people who know and support one another.

Drew: You personally have invested a lot of time getting to know these influencers. Is that an essential part of these kinds of programs or could a marketer try to run an influencer program like yours without being personally involved?
Outsourcing the program completely to a staff person or an agency is missing the point of an influencer program, which is to make these people part of your overall brand strategy, to treat them like VIPs and give them insider access to your strategy and brand. Influencers tend to be a passionate, entrepreneurial community. Sharing your passion for your business with them and asking for their help to accomplish this is perhaps the secret ingredient of a successful influencer program.

Drew: Clearly there are costs (time, OOP) associated with assembling an influencer program list this.  Can you speak to the costs and what kind of metrics/KPIs you use to rationalize this investment?  

The time and investment is significant, but it’s one of the best parts of my job. Becoming a member of the influencer community has enriched my knowledge of the industry and paid me back in a number of ways. There are also measurable success factors. We actively measure the increase in engagement for our properties. For example, years ago, we were seeing limited pickup and reach from our social efforts. Today we have surpassed over 2 billion impressions and we’ve seen a significant increase in engagement on our owned properties. Driving from owned to earned is a slow process since you need to build a community and following over time, but it is definitely measurable.

Drew:  Seems to me, you are still getting “ink” from some of the influencers (like me!) How do you extend the value of your investment in an influencer program?

We’ve asked some of our influencers to be guest bloggers on an ongoing basis. We also activity promote our influencers throughout the year so they receive value from IBM. IBM has a strong social fabric—one that’s getting stronger every day—and that’s helping to extend the value of being aligned with the IBM brand.

If you had one word of advice for a brand starting an influencer program, what would it be?

If you’re going to start an influencer program, take the time to think through the process of choosing the right brand sponsor within your organization.    The program need to be nurtured by someone who will invest the necessary time and personal investment. It’s not a one-shot event—it’s a strategy that will evolve over time.   Ted Rubin, Chief Social Marketing Officer of Collective Bias, has coined the phrase “Return on Relationship.”  I agree with his thinking here. Social business is not about making a business transaction. It’s about building a network of business relationships that will yield results over time. You’ll get as much out of the program as you put into it.

Tips on Influencer Programs courtesy of IBM Smarter Commerce

Craig HaymanEvidently, I’m an influencer. Or at least IBM thinks so which is why I was invited to their Smarter Commerce Global Summit in Nashville this May.  There I joined 15 or so true influencers like Pam Moore, Glen Gilmore, Sandra ZorattiTed Rubin, Dino Dugan, Rob Moore, Pete Krainik, Bryan KramerBryan Eisenberg, Peter Shankman, Tonia Ries, Kim GarstSteven Dennis and more including the emcee Jay Baer.  None of us were asked to write anything or say anything favorable about IBM but of course, we did.  Not because we felt obligated but because IBM served up genuine news, impressive case histories and provided access to senior sources for interesting content.

For me, the real education was seeing how to put on a world class influencer program. Here are a few of the tips I gleaned:

  1. Assemble an eclectic mix of influencers so they aren’t all talking to the same people.
  2. Bring the influencers together so they can bond, cross-pollenate and help amplify each other’s content.
  3. Have a social media center with a leader board so there’s a bit of a competition during the event.
  4. Have a photo booth of some kind to make it easy to get pics that will get shared.
  5. Let them do your video interviews–its fun for them and saves you the trouble.

Which brings me to the other purpose of this post–give you a quick overview of my video interview with Craig Hayman, General Manager, IBM Industry Solutions.  Figuring that most of you don’t have a spare 17 minutes and 7 seconds to watch the whole thing, here are some of the highlights of our conversation which focused on how big data is changing the way companies do business.

Drew: Tell me what you think are the three biggest takeaways from today’s activities at the summit?
First off– how big data analytics applied through mobile, social and cloud is better serving the customer. The second thing [is the] very exciting announcement here — Watson has another job. Watson, the doctor, is now Watson call center agent as an advisor or behind the scenes. And the third area [is] the moment of engagement. That precise moment when we as individuals, we as consumers lean in.  Lean in to a discussion that’s occurring and we become interested in something.  I think we all experience that as individuals but how do you get large companies to do that at scale [and in a] reputable way.

Drew:  Interesting. Can you share a real world example where a big company is leaning into an individual and catching them at that moment and doing something with it?
One of the examples we talked about earlier was ING Direct in Canada.  So, you know everyone’s got a mobile application for banking.  You can check your bank account.  You can move money. I think most of us are used to that by now.  They did that and they did something special.  They caught onto that moment where you don’t buy something where perhaps you forsake a purchase.  Maybe you don’t buy a cup of coffee [or an mp3 download].   And, so they found a way to connect that moment with their brand.

In their mobile application you can mark that moment by moving that money into the account, to say, ‘I just saved a couple of bucks here — I didn’t buy a cup of coffee,’  and even better than that you can share that we your friends.  Together you’re sharing to buy something, maybe a summer rental or something with some friends.  And you become a passionate advocate for that brand.

Drew: What role does IBM play in the ING example?
First, we have mobile capabilities that we deliver to allow them to deliver that mobile first application.  Secondly, we’re collecting the data allowing the transactional systems connecting to that mobile application.  And third we’re sort of guiding them in terms of reinforcing [and encouraging ING Direct] to do more of that.

Drew: How about another example?
We’ve helped Costco replatform their commerce engine on WebSphere Commerce.  We’ve connected their suppliers into a B2B network so new suppliers can on board as Costco goes through this amazing growth of over 50 to 60 million members of Costco.

But for me personally, a great moment was I was able to order a year’s worth of contact lenses [from Costco online].  It was delivered to the store in less than three days and this was an example of their supply chain connected to the online experience in the store.  And that’s the reason why Costco is in the top four optical suppliers in the United States because it’s just so easy to do business with them.

Drew:  I heard at the presentation today that IBM is helping Caterpillar, especially in the area of post-purchase support.  Tell me about that.
So, let’s assume you have a piece of Caterpillar equipment.  You need a replacement part.  So, what they’ve done is come up with QR codes that can be attached to the part that are actually in the Caterpillar goods as they’re manufactured.  So, if you need a replacement part for something, you hold your phone up, scan the QR code, and you’ll now get precisely the right part.  Not the part you think you need, but, precisely, the right part that you need for them.

The second thing they’ve done is connect through social and mobile to reach out to dormant customers.  To progress them.  Perhaps they had a relationship with their distributor.  Maybe today they don’t.  Maybe they’ve moved or something.  So, they reach them through social, mobile, progress them, and educate them.  Give them information about advances in technology.

And at the right time, hand that lead together with the information about what that person is interested in back to the distributor, to again convert from what is a digital handshake of relationship education into a physical relationship based on trust and authenticity.

Drew:  We’ve been talking a lot about big companies.  I’m curious, is there an opportunity in this sort of big day that customer service world person midsized companies?
I think for midsized [companies] this is where cloud really plays a role.  Of course, if you buy software, then you have to install it.  You have to buy the machines to install it on.  You need the services to configure the software, etc.  The beautiful thing about buying things through the cloud is you avoid all the capital expenditure.  You have minimal operational expenditure to run it.

So, what we have been doing is delivering more and more of our capability as a service in the cloud.  Most recently, we delivered Websphere Commerce as a service.  We delivered something called IBM Marketing Center as a service.  We’ve actually made this available to our business partners for one year for free, so they can kick the tires and make sure they understand it.  And so for these small and medium businesses, this is a great way to consume marketing or procurement capabilities or online e-commerce capabilities.

Drew: How is IBM using some of these tools to market themselves?
We push our own internal teams to use our capabilities.  So, for marketing, IBM Marketing uses Unica and Coremetrics.  For procurement IBM uses Emptoris. For commerce, we use Websphere Commerce.  And even internally, we’re using Watson ourselves to understand our customer.

Drew:  Interesting.  So, let’s sort of wrap up here and if you could sort of, as we look at smarter commerce and big data and customer services, give me sort of the best practices really in a nutshell in this world.
We have worked with [nearly] 3,000 global brands now.  And we spent a lot of time understanding what it is that they did that worked and understanding what they did that didn’t work and try to let everyone know what’s the recipe, right.

      • So, first, [leverage] big data and analytics, apply that through mobile, social and cloud.
      • The second is, understand your customer.  Capture data about that customer at every touch point.  Every time you touch that customer in store or online capture data so you can better predict their behavior.
      • Third, engage with that customer in a way that’s very compelling using that data.

Drew: Let’s dive into the 3rd point a bit deeper.
When you walk in a store and someone says hello, welcome to my store.  It’s not that engaging. Whereas perhaps if you know that you’re browsing the shirts and you’ll looking at a certain stack of shirts then maybe assist them [by] checking out a collar size or sleeve length or something, that’s an engaging dialogue.  Or do that online.  Progress and engage people.

CMO Insights: Short-Term to Long-Term Successes

While doing homework for another article, I ran across a recent study by IBM called “From Stretched to Strengthened” that offers insights into the challenges facing CMO’s around the world.  The study is well worth reading, especially if you are a CMO, and stresses a number of important themes including the needs to:

  • Deliver value to empowered customers
  • Foster lasting connections
  • Capture value, measure results

After reading the study, I reached out to IBM with some follow up questions and got in touch with Yuchan Lee, General Manager of IBM’s Enterprise Marketing Management business.  I think you will agree that Mr. Lee has smart things to say about measuring ROI, using social media for research, the importance of having a clear “corporate character” and finally, the need to think long-term when it comes to customer relationship building.

DN: Is ROI the right metric for CMOs or just one of many important metrics?
It is the most important, as reflected by our CMO Study. Other than a metric based on reflecting customer up-take (e.g., revenue, satisfaction level), which most companies already measure, marketing ROI is essentially the highest level scorecard for an organization’s ability to efficiently and effectively allocate its resource to hit marketing goals.

DN: Why do you think so many CMOs struggle to demonstrate ROI?
The heart of the challenge is the nature to which marketing activities influence buying behavior, and how behavior manifest itself over time. Measuring ROI in marketing involves sifting through tons of noise in the data to connect all the pieces of evidence that influenced the purchase behavior.  This is an inexact, statistically-based science that, until recently, was too hard to tackle.

DN: Why do you think marketers have been so slow to embrace research via social channels? (i.e. only 14% mine blogs)
Before a company embraces a social channel, it must first believe it has to.  This requires a shift in strategy based on the realization that consumers are more in control and the company is losing its grip on branding.  In my experience, this shift is scary to many companies and many are slow to realize it and to turn this realization into action.  Furthermore, even if one is ready to take action, the newness of engaging social networks makes it challenging to know where to begin.

DN: Why should marketers expand their research horizons beyond traditional channels to things like blogs?
We believe traditional marketers need to expand not just research but all areas of market and customer engagement as well as demand generation to the social channels.  That’s where the center of influence for purchase decisions is and will continue to be. That’s where detailed, real-time, and unfiltered market feedback data can be best gathered and analyzed, and ultimately where the brand of a company will truly be reflected in the future (if not already!).

DN: What’s in it for the more proactive marketers who are mining new digital data sources?
Additional data, if incorporated properly, allows a company to know what is relevant to its customers — potentially down to the individual customer level.  We believe the ability of a company to deliver relevant communication in sales/marketing/services is the basic ingredient to a successful customer relationship and a prerequisite to staying in business.

DN: A lot of marketers pay lip-service to their corporate values.  Will developing a clear ‘corporate character’ really deliver competitive advantage?
Having clarity on a company’s corporate character is a necessary but not sufficient element of success.  It must be followed by execution by the organization, every day, delivering a consistent customer experience that is aligned with the corporate character.  The true reflection of the corporate character will come out quickly, most likely in social media.

DN: Your report emphasizes the need to “foster lasting connections.”  Is this goal in conflict with the typically pressing need to deliver short-term revenue?
No.  In our experience, being relevant and adding value to the customer in every communication and interaction is the common denominator for forging a lasting connection with the customer AND the ability to drive successful short-term revenue.  After all, long-term success is made up of series of short term successes!

Developing a Social Business Program

I realize this was a long interview and you may be ready for me to move on BUT this last part contains some really smart advice for other companies looking to develop their own Social Business programs.  Also, this interview produced my latest post on FastCompany.com entitled Move Over Social Media; Here Comes Social Business.

Drew: What advice would you give to a B2B company interested in pursing a similar program?  What three things would you say to them?

Ethan: Probably, don’t use the word, “expert.” There are some cultures that are completely allergic to using that word in reference to themselves.

Drew: Makes sense. How did you get this thing up and running?

Ethan: One of the things we’ve done that’s been really helpful is we made sure that we had people from all around the world working on the project. I’m a member of a team we call the Expertise and Eminence Round Table.  It started with six of us just meeting on Friday morning and talking about the work we were doing.  The group represents some people from our hardware group, some from software and others from Services and the CIO office.  They heard about the work that my team and I were doing and they wanted to be apart of the project. We realized we were all managing lists of experts, so we got our lists together. We started with a base population in the Expertise Locator System that’s very diverse so we can learn a lot from that. From there we hit the ground running.

Drew: What else would you advise?

Ethan: We are trying to apply what’s called “agile development” to this system so we put out a new version or update it just about every two weeks. The idea is we try to learn quickly, and if we need to fail quickly, we’re failing quickly.  When stuff doesn’t work, two weeks later we’re changing it.  With Digital systems like the Expertise Locator,  you can’t spend 10 months planning it and then launch it.  From the point when we wanted to get this on ibm.com to the point we had it on ibm.com was four weeks.  It wasn’t a service at that point; it was this manually coded thing. In the next version we had the database set up, and in the next version we had the API described.

It was very iterative; my advice – you really want to get something up that you can start to have people experience quickly.  It’s complicated because people expect [that because] it’s from IBM, surely it’s done when it’s out the door. It would be quite different if this were a product that we’re putting into market, but this is a cultural program, a communications and marketing program.  In that way we have a bit more flexibility to iterate and learn as we go— that would be a very key lesson for anybody who’s going to try to get into this.  You’re talking about working with lots of people, and you can’t predict how people behave. It would be tremendous hubris to say that you could predict how people are going to behave.

Drew: Is there a component of this where the accessibility of these experts is giving away the very expertise that you sell?

Ethan: The interaction that experts have or that people have with IBMers right now through this is pretty light.  It’s not like a free six-month consulting engagement with a team of our principle consultants. I think it’s more of a means to get to know us, and we can help you build your business through that.

Drew:  What’s in it for the expert?  I mean they’ve got their own job.

Ethan: That’s a great question. First of all, there are some IBMers for whom interaction with the public, clients in particular, or prospective employees or whomever, is a facet of their job.  If you’re going to be one of our most eminent technologists, you’d be called a distinguished engineer or maybe you’d be a member of our academy of technology or a master inventor. These people already have it in their job description to interact with clients and prospects, and they’re supposed to be mentoring people. There are all kinds of things that they’re already supposed to be doing and quite directly participating as someone in our Expertise Locator System or participating in social business at IBM would allow them to do that more effectively.  Soon, they will actually be able to track it. You could say, “Look, I showed up on web pages 350,000 times.”

Secondly, these days employees are sort of global capitalists in a way. You’re a citizen of a digitally interconnected globe at this point, and your reputation is everything.  If you cannot manage your reputation— your digital professional reputation— you’re in real trouble. One of the things that we’re building out in social business at IBM is a personal dashboard that starts to show things like how many times you were surfaced and how many times people connect with you. We’re helping to establish each IBMers digital reputation with these tool, and a digital reputation is becoming vital in today’s business world.