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June 13, 2008

Content Delivery Methods Matter

mobile_rewvised.jpgAs the digital world changes to incorporate social communities, mobile devices, rich media, and user-generated content into the mainstream, marketers must evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of their users. While many B2B marketers have already heard this call and responded - consider how many podcasts, webinars, eSeminars and even Virtual Tradeshows exist that were unthinkable several years ago - there are advances that still need to be made, especially in how content is created and delivered.

1. Think Niche. Instead of reaching out to mammoth groups of users who may be interested in the topics you're presenting, give your users the change to sort themselves into small, category-specific groups that can be targeted with highly relevant content. Instead of letting users select from a few general categories related to your offerings, give them sub-choices within those categories. Once you know that a user is interested in learning about highly specific solutions within a larger category, they become highly qualified prospects when it's time to really promote your solutions. Users want to personalize their online experience, and offering them the option to define their interests in-depth allows them do this while giving you insight into their needs.

2. Mobile devices will as important as computers for content delivery. As it already stands, 64% of IT decision makers use their mobile devices to access electronic content. This number is only expected to go up as mobile networks become faster and are able to deliver content quickly and to a range of devices. If you're not already developing mobile versions of your website, landing page and marketing materials (enewsletters, email marketing messages), you need to start doing so now. When users try to access your website or open your enewsletter on their mobile devices, do you really want to lose them as a lead because their platform doesn't support your message?

3. Content needs to be convertible. Buzz Marketing (also known as word-of-mouth marketing or viral marketing) is how people are increasingly finding out about your content. People gather data from trusted sources, and their friends and co-workers fall into that category. Because of this, content needs to be packaged so it can be easily passed from person-to-person, regardless of the device they're using. While forwarding a white paper or emailing a URL that points to a video is easy, users will eventually need to be able to pass webinars, podcasts and product demos from device to device without considering that the file won't transfer. If you want your podcasts, webinars and other rich media to play, regardless of the device it's being accessed from, you need to develop these kinds of content with that goal in mind.

As a B2B marketer, one of your goals should be to make content as accessible to as many people, and with as little ease on their part as is humanly possible. This may mean re-tooling your product offerings to include mobile content delivery options, offering instant updates via micro-blog messages, or developing content that is accessible regardless of the device on which it's played. You may need to refine your focus when it comes to building eNewsletters, and consider sending more newsletters to fewer people so you get a smaller pool of more highly-qualified leads at the end of the day.

Developing new strategies for delivering content is challenging, but is essential to staying current in this evolving digital marketplace. When you do develop new products, you'll be better suited to meet your users needs and you may even attract new users when they see the cutting-edge content-delivery options that your company offers.

March 25, 2008

Have You Visited a Virtual Tradeshow Yet?

exhib_hall_225x147.jpg Ziff Davis Enterprise Virtual Tradeshows are 1-2 day live events that bring analysts, consultants, research firms, business decision-makers and vendors together in a virtual environment where they can learn about and discuss enterprise technology. In addition to expert speakers, live presentations and virtual "booths" staffed with vendor representatives, attendees have access to a full-service virtual environment packed with social networking and research tools.

Part of what makes these events so compelling - for both vendors and IT buyers - is the interactive nature of Virtual Tradeshows. When signing up for a show, you can create a personalized profile, upload an avatar and have your data transfered to a "Vcard" (a virtual business card). Once inside the event, you can reach out to vendors through their booths, network with other attendees in the Virtual Lounge, and chat with Ziff Davis Enterprise representatives at the Help Desk.

Each VTS is packed with resources to help you learn more about the specific topics being presented. You can add research materials to your virtual Briefcase, view live or archived webinars, or watch keynote addresses by industry experts. Because the focus of these events is on educating users, there are links to vendor websites and forums where you can further discuss the technologies being presented.

By presenting so much information via this virtual platform, Ziff Davis Enterprise has placed the user at the center of an educational, interactive experience. And with so many ways to reach out to vendors, industry experts and other interested users, you are given a chance to truly investigate new technologies in these pressure-free, collaborative learning environments.

To see the full list of Ziff Davis Enterprise Virtual Tradeshows, click here.

March 12, 2008

How Smaller IT Companies Leverage Social Media

As promised in How IT Companies Have Leveraged Social Media, I investigated some smaller technology companies to learn where they are spending their social media dollars, and how social media is playing a role on their websites and in their customers' experiences. I found it interesting, though not too surprising, that most of the smaller tech companies have not implemented fancy social media tools, and have instead chosen to focus more heavily on using traditional rich media practices (the use of white papers, case studies, videos, podcasts & webinars) to educate their users on their products and services.

For these smaller companies, the most popular use of social media seems to occur when developers are invited to collaborate on further developing the products, and have a need for a forum where they can discuss their ideas. Red Hat, Juniper Networks and F5 all have these kinds of communities on their sites. Otherwise, these smaller companies are using blogs, wikis, and customer stories told via videos to engage their users and create a feeling of community and collaboration on their sites. Comprised of various companies from the CNNMoney list of the 100 Fastest-growing Technology Companies, the list below is a sampling of IT hardware, software and service companies that aren't quite as large as IBM or Microsoft, but who use social media to create communities and engage their customers.

1. Akamai is the leading global service provider for accelerating content and business processes online. Akamai places a high priority on the customer experience, and has created a page full of videos in which their customers talk about their experiences with Akamai logo.jpgAkamai. And because Akamai has so many high-profile clients, including the NBA, Fox Interactive and MySpace, their video presentations are a great way of letting people know the heavy-hitters that use their products. Users can also tour the Network Operations Command Center online and watch the Akamai Real-Time Web Monitor. While there in no user forum or online community through the Akamai site, the company's use of multimedia tools and customer stories gives the impression that they want their customers to share their stories feel as if they are part of a greater Akamai experience.

2. Epicor is a global leader dedicated to providing business software solutions to companies around the globe. In terms of their social media strategy, Epicor offers standard live and archived webinars that are designed to introduce and educate their users about their products and technology. The Epicor site also has a Customer Portal, where users can join discussions and access reference materials from one location. And while Epicor is still relying more on in-person events than on online events, they do have a User Conference page where users can access videos, customer testimonials and opportunities to provide feedback about what they'd like to see at future events. Epicor customers can also chat with live company representatives and subscribe to company alerts.

3. F5 Networks, a leader in Application Delivery Networking, provides solutions that ensure business applications are always secure, fast, and available. The most prominent aspect of F5's social media integration is their F5 DevCentral site - a f5 networks.jpgcommunity driven portal that provides links to blogs, forums, videos, wikis and other resources. F5 Networks has combined all kinds of user-created content - from blogs to wikis - in one location, so their customers can find information on their products and services quickly and easily. They also provide access to the F5 "Labs" - a place where users can present ideas for new products, product upgrades and other development-related concepts. Tags decorate the right-hand side of the page too, so users can see what other community members are interested in, and find related resources.

4. The Juniper Networks high-performance network infrastructure helps businesses create a responsive and trusted environment for accelerating the deployment of services and applications over a single network. One of the first places I visited on the Juniper Networks site was the J-Net Communities, an online portal that connects users and lets them share and discuss their use of Juniper products and services. The J-Net Community lets users see information about who's logged-in to the site, the most popular forums and user-based information. Juniper also has links to their official blog, Got the NAC, and provides a range of rich media tools to promote their products and services.

5. NetScout Systems, a leading provider of integrated network and application performance management solutions, offers the NetScout User Forum (an independent user group), where netscout logo.jpg
NetScout customers can come together to share their experiences with NetScout products. NetScout users can also read the NUFBlog, however they must first register with the NUF community to do so. Another area where NetScout users can participate more fully in the company is the Online Training Center, a resource portal that contains educational materials, interactive Flash presentations, and audio/video training modules. By engaging their users to learn about their products and participate in customer forums, NetScout has successfully employed social media tools that highlight user needs and experiences.

Continue reading "How Smaller IT Companies Leverage Social Media " »

February 27, 2008

Will Social Media Kill "Campaigns?"

With the recent surge in the use and interest of social media as a B2B marketing tool, now is a good time to address the coming changes to how this industry does business. By incorporating new social media technologies into lead generation and marketing efforts, B2B marketers may have to reconsider how view their customers and their clients.

In Buzz Marketing for Technology, Paul Dunay makes an excellent point regarding the possible demise of the traditional "campaign" due to social media's impact on marketing. In his post, There is No "Campaign" in Social Media, Dunay defines traditional marketing campaigns as such:

When marketers use the word “campaign,” it tends to suggest an initiative to get a message out to a targeted group of constituents. It also implies there will be a beginning and, somewhere down the road, an ending.

With social media playing a larger and larger role in the B2B marketing industry however, "campaigns" become outdated. According to Dunay, marketing via social media modes (blogs, podcast series, virtual communities) requires long-term user participation. Because users have to get involved in order for social media to really work, you have to continue reaching out, engaging your prospects and asking them to join the conversation.

By relying on the user to respond to our offerings, it's possible that we will have to cultivate, nurture and score leads in a completely different manner. "Campaign" time frames may lengthen, and the way leads are valued may change. Lead scoring, and the management of leads over time, may become the most important part of lead generation, especially if companies discard time frames for lead guarantees and concentrate on lead quality instead.

February 19, 2008

Social Media as a B2B Marketing Tool

social media.jpgWith the popularity of social media sites like Twitter and Flickr, it's no surprise that B2B marketers are starting to reconsider social media tools for their marketing strategies. Overall, B2B marketers have not fully jumped on the social media bandwagon, it seems however, that the tide may be about to change.

Back in June, Jon Miller of Marketo published What's Wrong with Social Media for B2B Marketing on SearchEngineLand. com. In his article, Miller argues that to effectively use social media, you need to be marketing trendy or popular products or concepts that will motivate users to interact with your site. And while B2B marketing can incorporate some social media practices - especially for traffic generation, brand awareness, and direct selling - the relative straight-forward nature of B2B marketing topics limits user interaction.

Lately however, it seems that more and more B2B marketers are realizing the benefits of using social media and are trying to implement social media on their websites and in their marketing campaigns. Enterprise marketers are starting to offer more live and virtual events, bookmarking and tagging options, and Web 2.0 applications that let their users respond to, comment on, and sometimes even create their own content.

Have you begun implementing social media in your marketing practices? Are you interested in learning more about how you can use social media to enhance your B2B marketing campaigns? I've found a few resources that may help you get started. Feel free to start participating yourself and leave a comment - after all, we can only make social media a B2B marketing reality if we're all ready to take action and interact with marketing campaigns.

Social Media: Where Should BtoB Marketers Start?, is a free archived webinar that features Vice President, Principal Analyst Laura Ramos of Forrester Research and Rob Solomon, CEO and Founder of Bulldog Solutions.

Deciphering Social Media is a free TeleBriefing in which Anil Dash, chief evangelist of Six Apart, and Chris Howard, VP and Service Director of Burton Group's Executive Advisory Program, join Principal Analyst Mike Gotta for a lively discussion on the challenges and benefits social media presents to the enterprise.

You can also check out Koka Sexton's Super List of 50 Social Media Links if you want to learn more about social media in general.

-BH

August 15, 2007

A New Company, New Partners and New Programs

I’m pleased to announce that we have a new partner at the Web Buyer's Guide. In the past few months, the Web Buyer’s Guide's parent company – Ziff Davis Media, sold its enterprise group – consisting of the WBG, eWEEK, Baseline, and other enterprise publications to Insight Venture Partners. In doing so, we established a new organization called Ziff Davis Enterprise. The sale was finalized on August 1.

Our new business venture is an exciting and positive change for the Web Buyer’s Guide. We keep our enterprise partners at Ziff Davis, while gaining the resources (and potential new partners) who are aligned with Insight Venture Partners.

In addition to all of the organizational changes, Q3 and Q4 are gearing up to be our most dynamic quarters to date. Our Lead Generation programs have expanded, and the we now offer Video and Content Syndication programs in addition to our well-established Branded Landing Zone and Microsite promotions. And as usual, the Web Buyer’s Guide has other new programs in the pipeline –stay tuned for more information on our upcoming plans.

-BH

August 06, 2006

Buying technology is a process

The sales cycle for Information Technology is getting longer.

From 2005 to 2006, IT sales executives overwhelmingly indicated that their sales cycles were increasing, according to MarketingSherpa's Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide 2006.

That is a very disturbing trend. Setting aside the macro impact on our national and global economies, the micro affect is even more curious to me. When you consider the inherent company benefits that are promised by the implementation of new technologies (i.e. increased productivity, speed and cost efficiencies) - I wonder why we aren't in more of a hurry to make technology purchases which can offer real gains for our companies.

The truth is, we are in a hurry - both as buyers and sellers

As buyers, we want all the benefits of the purchase - but the decision process 'pre-purchase' is getting more complicated, powered by online tools, flowing information and a more collaborative work environment. Companies (both large and small) report more people than ever are involved in the decision process.

As sellers, we are even more impetuous. Rather than recognizing a new dynamic selling environment - we are using our powerful new online tools to drive dated 'targeting' techniques - a wishful strategy that presumes that there is a single purchase influencer, neatly organized by job title, function and size of firm, who will immediately approve an order (so we can play more golf). We are, in effect, guilty of skipping the necessary steps, people and dialogues in today's buying process. And, by leapfrogging the natural order, we are actually slowing down a sales process that is ripe to accelerate.

Doing this blog is labor of love. For more than 25 years I've been a student of the buying process and a self-professed 'speed freak'. I've always used my analysis of the buying process to guide my marketing and sales strategies. And, with this blog, I'll be using that same approach.

I hope that my simple observations and the analysis of our many contributors will help you unlock the buying process for your products and accelerate your sales process.

Let's get started!

Barry