Edited transcript of BriefingsDirect[TM] podcast with Media Survey's Sam Whitmore, recorded
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Dana Gardner: Hi. This is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you're listening to BriefingsDirect. Today, a podcast discussion about the future of marketing -- maybe we can call it Marketing 2.0?
We're going to talk about content creation as a strategic activity, and we're going to talk about what the PR and marketing folks in the field, in the enterprises, in businesses, are making of all of this.
Joining us to sift through it all, we have Sam Whitmore, founder and editor of Sam Whitmore’s Media Survey. Welcome to the show again, Sam.
Sam Whitmore: It’s great to be back, Dana.
Whitmore: It’s as close to substantial as it’s ever been. There are many segments, and we should be careful about generalizing, but in our world are the people that are likely to listen to this podcast. People understand about RSS feeds now. Microsoft Vista, entering the market with Web feeds, moved the marble a little bit -- and it's a very exciting time.
Whitmore: We're now getting people to understand the concept of "You don’t have to browse anymore." They still search, of course, probably more than ever before. But think about the two ways that people get their information now. It's either through RSS syndication, or through search. And it’s almost quaint to think back about, "Yeah, I think I am going to go through my bookmarks and see what I haven’t visited in a while." I don’t know anybody who does that anymore.
What’s been interesting for me is that as I have created content -- some of it of by my own creation and, and other content that is sponsored -- people want help in creating content. As an analyst, I can moderate a panel or discuss something with users, and then make that available to many people. But that content has now become a very powerful force in search, and I did not intend it that way.
I intended this content to be something that had more of an RSS play value. But what’s happened is that the content is a search-ranking benefit for the topics we cover. I will blog about this content on three blogs, and I share it with distribution partners who are often IT media companies like TechTarget and E-Commerce Times. I also share it with direct subscription-based content deliverers to IT decision buyers, including Books24by7, AnalystPerspectives, Gerson Lehrman Group's News, and Insight24.
There are a number of channels that this audio and text content then finds its way into -- where it's tagged, has a different URL, and is associated with a different Web domain. The search engine crawlers and the algorithms that rank content take a look at this content and say, “Wow, it's going across multiple domains, it's been tagged a lot, it’s been put into bookmarks, and linked to -- so it must be highly relevant." And this content tends to move up swiftly in the search ranks.
So, my question to you, Sam, is: Are you seeing search marketing as I am seeing search marketing -- that it is becoming as important as advertising?
Whitmore: In a word, yes. I'll know a lot more in a couple of weeks, because at the end of the month, out in
Whitmore: So, you tell me. How are you doing with that? Is it driving your business?
That’s sort of led me to another concept, which I call the "content pyramid." Interestingly enough, I’ve stumbled onto this in the same fashion that I stumbled onto search as an important element. Because I look at software development and deployment strategies as my main domain area for coverage -- and then I am more of a practitioner of Web 2.0 in terms of how I deliver content -- I’ve noticed over the past five years or so, a more strategic approach to software development.
That is to say, there's a new way, instead of small groups off doing their own thing, creating their applications that run autonomously on a monolithic stack of some kind, that have no real relationship to one another, and that at some point I might have to integrate and/or assimilate the data that they contain and create. The idea is to take a strategic overview and to think about applications from an architectural perspective.
The idea is to think of applications from their lifecycle, not just how we create them -- but how we might want to use them in the future, or even sunset them. Then think what we’re going to do with this pile of data that, in many cases, is about the same customer or the same product, but in a different format in a different application? This one-off approach is just not productive, and it’s expensive.
Companies are spending 70 to 80 percent of their IT dollars just on maintenance of these existing applications, and are not doing innovative new things. There has been a whole host of things that have happened around, "Hey, let’s create components, let’s use standards, and let’s develop around a common framework such as Eclipse." So, there’s more of a strategic approach to software.
Ultimately, the goal is a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) where you have lots of different business services that you can then package, mash up, and aggregate to create different processes. Then, you can tear them apart and build them up again. It’s more of a use-reuse, common-repository mentality, and not just one-off production.
Whitmore: All right, so let’s see how you pull this off with content.
But when you think about content more strategically, and can plan for and create core content that can be reused and extended across different uses -- like marketing literature, the documentation you provide for your services and products, your advertising, as well as your communications with your investors, with analysts, with the press -- you create more of a coordinated core set of messages and documents and content. We'll be seeing more audio and video increasingly in this mix.
If a company can create this content core and allow people to use it and make it accessible -- in the same way as with the development of software tools and components -- you can better control your costs. You can better control your message, because more of your messaging will be in sync, because it's all coming off of the same core. You can create a lot of this core without having to go through a sixth-month review process, and without taking up your experts’ and your company’s time by forcing them to write 80-page papers.
Maybe this whole notion of the conversation that is prominent in social networking and in Web 2.0 -- of having a series of conversations, capturing it as audio, turning it into text, reusing it across different aspects of your communications, and increasingly, capturing it as video as well -- will allow for a much easier way of gathering knowledge from your experts and users, keeping it on message, and then making that available as a set of core content.
Now, it’s a vision. There is always going to be a lot of need for exceptions, but conceptually starting to think about content strategically to me makes a lot of sense now.
Whitmore: Well, I know that Netflix has somebody in the CCO position, Chief Content Officer, and that they have looked into that as a fundamental principle of communicating to their constituencies, their prospects, their customers, their investors, and people like that. So, it is a good idea.
We now have the ability to distribute content far more widely, but, at the same time, in a more granular sense -- that long-tail concept -- more widely, yet more targeted, and more cheaply than ever. So, you can create a 30-minute movie, put it on YouTube, and almost anyone on the planet has access to it. Anyone, by the way, who does a search on the key issues about your value, your products, or your company gets to the content.
More companies will be making some pretty high-quality, interesting, 30-minute, maybe 15-minute movies. We are already seeing this. There was a great one on SOA that IBM did not too long ago. Are you, as a marketer, going to want to have someone else define your messaging for you? Or are you going to start thinking about doing this yourselves?
Again, IBM is a bellwether in this, at least in the IT space. They’re just creating scads of content. And when you go to Google, if you type in "SOA" or "Services Oriented Architecture," which is an important direction and business opportunity for IBM, the left hand side of the search page, that free-content stuff, is littered with IBM content. Discussions with developers, whitepapers, mentions in press – these are the things that get vetted by the search engine algorithms as being relevant.
Any company that has a strategic direction in which they are taking their business should say, “What are the keywords that relate to our future? What is the content we can create that will drive recognition from those keywords of our value, specifically as an individual company? And how can we create an ongoing process by which we’re feeding that algorithm machine over and over again to retain that high ranking?"
That to me is Marketing 2.0.
Whitmore: That model works hand-in-glove in uber-search environments like a Yahoo!, YouTube, or Google. But in the world that I follow, you've got the IT and tech media really trying to drive their brand, because they don’t want you to go to Google and type in “SOA.” That would be a terrible defeat for them.
Whitmore: But as you get closer to, “I've got to make a decision on a reseller or a solution provider or vendor," then I think that I am not going to trust IBM. They are not going to be my goal because they are going to be omitting the stuff about BEA and its competitors.
Whitmore: It absolutely is. They can work in parallel, and these IT trade titles and these people that are being rapidly disintermediated need to figure out how to get some of their content to rank well in generic search environments. That brings us back to SEO and the fact that you can subscribe to RSS search results. These people really are getting hammered.
Whitmore: I have an editorial bias, when I hear the word "content." I think about generic, by-the-pound content. Whitepapers have their place, and product documentation too, but as the 20-somethings and 30-somethings take over the world – and that’s happening – they are not going to accept the same blandness and pseudo-authority that a lot of content has for us.
Why not give the long tail its due, put up a series of five key discussions with the experts you would have interviewed anyway for the whitepaper, let people either read the transcript or glance at the executive summary of each individual interview or discussion, and then pick and choose? To me, that’s just a better way to learn. And it's also a lot easier for the experts as well as the authors. So, it really is a discussion.
There are more young people thinking about community and social networking, and so why not combine all of this into a happy discussion that is also substantive and educates at the same time?
Whitmore: It reflects real people with real attitudes, and not created by the lawyers and the PR people and the conservative forces within companies because that’s simply not going to work. One of my last points questions is, when are we going to see an example of a company relying on "content pyramid" philosophy, and could we prove that they were successful doing so? When are we going to see that?
The scale is much greater and the cost can be comparable or even lower. You are going to start to see what works in the field. When people recognize that if they are number one or assumed to be in the top several media outlets, they are going to have to be there. Vendors will cultivate the search option too through PR and AR and Investor relations and operate among different channels or distributions of content to reach their end-users and communities.
I can see "search relations (SR)" as another possible definition of people’s approach to this.
Whitmore: That’s a very interesting concept, but from a VP of sales perspective, Dana, I don’t want 30,000 leads. I want the 25 that are in an advanced state of consideration for the product that I sell.
Then, if they listen to the podcast, you get down to the where it’s a lead generation benefit. That’s where you separate the wheat from the chaff and you get real leads. It's also where the content pyramid works. You need the content to walk them down that path of self-selection.
But, I would rather start with a large universe and work it down, creating brand affinity and relationships with those people, and then find the content and the mechanisms that then bring them to the point where they are ready to sign up for the product or service.
The pyramid is, in that case, inverse – you start wide and you go narrow. But the content creation process should start specific and narrow and then go wide. It has to be two-way discussion. Once you engage the people on a discussion, that’s where you have a myriad of opportunities for bringing them into your business.
Whitmore: Are there examples of people that are prospering with this philosophy?
I’d look at some companies that are good at that. I'd again bring up IBM, but I have also noticed that BMC has a very good page, where you can go for information. And this page has got a listing of all sorts of content that has to do with specific values about what they bring their customers.
And they're saying, "Here’s the content that we have created. Here’s content that we found out there that others have created. Here are links to blogs and podcasts that we think are relevant to this. Here’s a download of whitepapers in the traditional marketing literature." It's really just a site or a destination around a topic that’s a subset of their business that people can go to, and then they could get an RSS feed from.
In a sense, BMC is doing their community a service through a knowledge triage around a specific topic that then hopefully will engage the community. So, BMC is a good example. They still have to populate this. People who come back, people who have a subscription to RSS, are going to need something new and fresh coming down their pipe every week or two.
But, they're creating this funnel, qualifying people, and then hopefully getting them into an engagement. It therefore requires these companies to become publishers themselves.
Whitmore: But, most companies don’t have the headcount for that.
Whitmore: Because usually the executives are going to say, “If I had any spare headcount, I'm going to put it in sales and field marketing and they're not going to get into the publishing business.” They might subcontract it out, but I don’t think they're going to bring it in-house. I’d be very surprised.
Whitmore: What kinds of companies?
Whitmore: That’s interesting, because they live in a viral world. And Apple’s the same way.
It will be a mixture. Some companies aren't going to be interested in being in the content business. They’ll outsource the whole thing. Other companies will say, “Listen, it just makes more sense for us to make this a core competency. We'll still use traditional media, but we're going to create our own media too.”
Let’s think about the numbers here. Let’s say you're a $5 billion-a-year company, revenue-wise, in the IT space. You and I have worked for large IT publications. What was the total editorial budget?
Whitmore: Back in my day? It was at least $1 million.
Whitmore: If I had strong enough leadership, I would.
Whitmore: Being a student of media, I have observed a collective lack of will across most segments most of the time. When you see the exceptions to this, that’s when you see a feature story. That’s when you see a Q&A. The journalists are out there beating the bushes to find people with spines who do something other than what's expected of them.
Whitmore: I love that site. That is the absolute archetype for vendor publishing, as far as I'm concerned.
Whitmore: Well, that’s a good place to send people. It’s newsroom.cisco.com I believe or is it news.cisco.com?
Whitmore: Well, I guess I’m old school and I never realized it. I tried to think of the destination but you're right, I don’t need to, and that sort of makes your point.
Well, we've been having an interesting discussion. I want to thank you Sam, but we're out of time. We have covered some Marketing 2.0, maybe even some press release 2.0. I've been tracking what folks like Shift and Edelman and some of these other firms are doing, where they create a whole slew of rich content that becomes available when a press release or a news event happens, I think it’s very similar thinking to what we've been describing.
Whitmore: That’s right, a content stack. We probably don’t have the time to get into that, but here are the two things, the two litmus tests, that I would point to regarding this social media press-release thing. Number one, who are the vendors using this approach and do they continue to use it once they have started? Do they stick with it?
The other thing is, are journalists publicly saying, "This helps me do my job better and I'm inclined to write longer or richer pieces when I'm communicated to in this new way?" When I start to see critical mass in both of those areas, then we’ll know that the trend is taking hold. Until we see that, I'm still skeptical
Whitmore: You've done it to me again. I didn’t think of "search" first.
Whitmore: Even though I started with it in this podcast interestingly enough.
Whitmore: That’s right. Well, Dana, I enjoyed it as always. It’s great to talk with you.
This is Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you have been listening to BriefingsDirect. Thanks.
Listen to the podcast here. Produced as a courtesy of Interarbor Solutions: analysis, consulting and rich new-media content production.
If any of our listeners are interested in learning more about BriefingsDirect B2B informational podcasts or to become a sponsor of this or other B2B podcasts, please fill free to contact Interarbor Solutions at 603-528-2435.
Transcript of Dana Gardner’s Podcast on Marketing 2.0 with Sam Whitmore. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC, 2005-2007. All rights reserved.