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Finding the Information You Need Quickly, Reliably and Cost-Effectively

Someone raised the question on Quora a month ago:  Would most users rather have content delivered to them based on interests or by their social connections?  Then Arnold Waldstein started a Conversational Rant a few days ago on his blog, pointing out that he would like to “parse my world by conversations, by topic, by trusted connections daily.” Then Romain Goday of Darwin Ecosystem laid out five different approaches to content curation:

  1. Expert approach: curators
  2. Crowd approach: popularity
  3. User behavior approach: personalization
  4. Relationship approach: social graph
  5. Patterns approach: emergence

We all agree there is so much information available today that we need new methods (or new combinations of methods) to quickly, reliably and cost-effectively find the information we need. It’s a critical problem, compounded by the multiplicity of separate communities where information is shared, voted on, and reviewed. We are left with an uneasy feeling: what are we missing? That’s why we need content curation, a filter that helps us find what we want quickly, reliably and cost-effectively.

Finding the right filtering method can be complex. Some observations based on the foregoing sources and my own research:

  • What we want to do will determine which filters are acceptable.  For instance, if we want to assess raw information about “what’s going on” in order to draw our own conclusions about what’s coming next, filters subvert our efforts. Alternatively, if we want to know a good restaurant in town, we’ll seek the filter of connections whose restaurant recommendations we trust.
  • How quickly we want the answers will also shape the relevant filters. Crowd sourcing, for example, takes time.
  • The importance of comprehensive results also matters. If we need full confidence that no stone is left unturned, we won’t rely only on trusted connections. As Alex Clemmer noted on Quora, “It is inevitable that most of the interesting content in the world is discovered by people you don’t know.”
  • Why we want the information matters. At work, the priority may be to stay up to date on what the boss looks at each day or the activity stream related to a particular project.

Factors such as trust and the need for serendipitous information also play a role in the filters that best meet our needs.

So what does this mean for selection of the right content curation platform for your business? Here are three principles to consider.  First, curators who understand the context you need in your curation are essential because machines don’t have the discernment needed. The curators must be equipped with technologically sophisticated tools that make their work quick, easy, and reliably executed.  Second, even the best curators won’t be spot on for all users all the time.  Users must be able to select which parts of the curated content will be delivered to them. Faceted search, a robust taxonomy, and optional use of additional filters (e.g., popularity, recommendations of trusted connections) enable the precision needed in this selection. Third, ongoing discovery of new sources must be a priority because topics evolve, new experts emerge and sources change their emphasis. What other principles are relevant?


Today’s Rant: Why Marketing is Harder — and More Fun

A salesperson who is face-to-face with a prospect can vary his or her dialogue to accommodate the prospect’s needs and interests.  The salesperson knows the company size, location and industry as well as the prospect’s role and stage in the buying cycle.  She can assess the prospect’s level of knowledge and fill in gaps.  Most importantly she can use the prospect’s responses to guide the discussion.

Today the salesperson doesn’t get a face-to-face meeting until much later in the buying cycle.  It is the marketer who must keep the attention of the multiple buyers at a multiple companies through the early and middle stages of their buying cycles.  In order to keep each buyer’s attention, the marketer’s provision of information  must vary in the same way a salesperson’s approach varies.

Yet the marketer isn’t sitting across from a single prospect.  He is tracking and analyzing demographic and behavioral information about prospects, developing hypotheses about intent, gleaning insight from current customers, and mapping responses to prospect behaviors to move them to the next stage in the buying cycle.

Today’s marketers need to:

  • Sharpen core marketing skills, including:  knowing customers and prospects, understanding the processes that are affected by a product or service, mapping the buying cycle and buyer information needs, clarifying differentiation, and developing evidence-based value propositions.
  • Get comfortable experimenting, acting on partial information, and adjusting course as they find new information.
  • Put repeatable processes in place to leverage knowledge gained.
  • Select and properly use appropriate technology.
  • Collaborate fully with sales and lead the company into social business where “everyone is a marketer”
  • Draw insight from customer interviews, analyze data, demonstrate accountability…

…the list goes on. Yes, businesses hold marketers, and marketers hold themselves, to a higher standard today. Leadership matters. Strategy and management matter. Evidence tells the story.

It’s a lot more and a lot more fun.

Top Eight Reasons B2B Marketers Use Content Curation

Reason 1:  Many of the marketers who have stepped into curation on an enterprise basis are thinking about getting closer to their customers by providing an information service that draws people with similar interests and keeps them coming back. Marketers view content curation as a social as well as a content initiative.

Reason 2: Because curated sites draw search engine traffic, they aid SEO strategies. True, the search traffic often goes to the microsite used to feature the curated content (which of course also includes your company’s best work). Visitors often click through to the company website.

Reason 3: Developing a reputation as a thought leader drives many curation initiatives. Building that kind of reputation means going beyond publishing top-notch content from third parties. Thought leadership requires showing the best of what others have created, publishing high-quality original content, and communicating a clear point of view.

Reason 4: Some marketers start curating content to enable regular, valuable communication with customers, delivered through the customers’ preferred channels. Content curation can make you tremendously more productive as you interact on the web. After all, the good systems present you with a quality collection of relevant documents from which to select the ones most interesting to your customers. And they make publishing to multiple channels easy.

Reason 5: Marketers also start curating so they can stay up to date on competitor activities, issues facing their customers, brand commentary, and discussions in social media. This, in fact, may become major use of content curation systems because the really good systems yield relevant content with far less noise than encountered in the listening systems available today.

Reason 6: Marketers who are good at tracking how web visitors move through the pipeline can track leads and revenue that originate from the audience of a curated site or newsletter. For instance, when visitors referred from the curated site download white papers at the company site, they become a lead, which marketers can track through the sales funnel.

Reason 7:  Marketers can also capitalize on the “publisher” aspect of their curated site. Industry influencers want to publish articles. Customers like being a featured case study. One marketer explained to me that, in the old days, he’d have to beg sales to help him get a customer case study. Now customers are asking to be featured.

Reason 8: Marketers also gain insight from their customers’ article choices and social media engagement enabled by content curation. Most marketers I’ve talked with don’t think they are tapping into the insight they will eventually be able to garner from their communities. They are feeling their way slowly and building an asset.

If you are curating content on an enterprise basis, let me know why you started doing it and what you are getting out of it.


Choosing the Right Topic for Your Content Curation Initiative

Pawan Deshpande’s post on Crafting the Perfect Content Curation Strategy raised the important issue of how one chooses the right topic for a content curation initiative. The topic choice drives actions and investments. Moreover, the topic lays the foundation for engagement and becomes the focus for reputation building. Pawan points to three factors to consider in selection of the right topic: competitors’ content strategies, the volume of content on a subject, and audience interest.  These three are definitely important. But some refinements are in order.

The number one factor in selection of a topic for a content curation initiative is what is compelling to your target audience. A close second is relevance to a point of view held by your company. Don’t bother if your topic doesn’t meet these criteria. (Also don’t bother if you haven’t already set clear objectives about how a content curation initiative will achieve the business results you are seeking and how you will measure success. That is the subject of another post.)

In selecting a topic for a content curation initiative consider the following:

First and foremost, think about what is compelling to your targets. What information do they need to do their jobs? Where are major changes underway that will affect their success?

Secondly, look at your answers to those questions through the prism of your company’s products or services. What is the storyline that connects your products or services to either the information needed to do their jobs or the actions they will need to take to respond to important changes occurring in their business?

Thirdly, scan the topics competitors have staked out. Is their overlap with topics you now have under consideration? Drop from further consideration those topics that competitors are addressing well.

Fourth, reflect on your brand. How will leadership in a topic support your brand promise?  Drop topics that are incompatible with your brand.

Fifth, consider the significant information sources. How are they perceived?  You’ll be citing these sources frequently so their reputations will be associated with your company.

Sixth, consider the issues associated with the topics under consideration. Will exploration of the issues provoke rich discussion? A discerning perspective on controversial views will draw more attention and offer more opportunities for engagement.

Seventh, consider the research you might undertake related to each topic. How might you provide an ongoing service to your targets through research-based thought leadership? You may find some topics are more suited to original research than others.

Eighth, take stock of the scope and depth your experts can reasonably address. Will your internal experts be able to successfully engage in discussion of the issues? Engagement of customers requires the involvement of internal resources.

These are the factors I counsel my clients to consider and urge you to reflect upon before committing to a topic. What other factors are relevant? How difficult have you found topic selection to be in your content curation initiative?

Number One in Social Business

At Enterprise 2.0 this week in Boston, I found a few inspiring moments amid all the activity.  I particularly liked the opening keynote presentations by John Hagel from Deloitte on the first day and Lee Bryant of Headshift on the second day.  The big takeaway…my number one in social business:  it all starts with a problem that needs to be solved…and that you can affect.

Hagel described a simple metrics-based path to finding the right problem to address.  Start with business metrics (e.g., where are you spending the most money or where are costs growing faster than revenues).  Dig into the causal operational metrics (e.g., buses are breaking down and taking a long time to get back into service).  Then dig deeper into the processes that are leading to the operational problems (e.g., finding the right parts).  The discrete problem of speeding information sharing about availability and need for parts is the level where social business can have an impact.  Businesses don’t “become social.” Discrete problems get solved through new processes enabled by social technologies.

Bryant’s focus was on finding the things you can change–drawing actionable insight from the data and activity streams enabled by web 2.o and enterprise 2.0.  He pointed out that insights need to be shared widely so that the right person — the one who can take action — sees the information in a close to real-time process he described as discover, filter, action and evaluate.

Tony Martins, VP Supply Chain at TEVA Pharmaceuticals, added another layer to the role of social business in solving business problems, referencing spontaneous association to form ad hoc networks for solving problems.  By combining skills to solve a problem rather than escalating and following an agreed-upon procedure, his teams were reducing manufacturing cycle time by 40%.  And managers, who had been spending half their time handling surprises, gained valuable work time.

Debra Devoy, from OpenText, added her company’s findings:  that “strength of purpose” is the one factor that enables OpenText to predict the success or failure of an implementation.

Sure, it’s management 101:  start with your objectives.  Why don’t we do it more often?


New Research on Why CRM Fails…Also Lessons for Marketing Automation

MIT Sloan Management Review (Spring 2011) published new research on CRM in an article titled, “Why CRM Fails and How to Fix It.”  This is fantastic reading; truly an energizing piece pointing to down-to-earth advice.  The four key insights that the authors drew from their research are equally applicable to marketing automation.  They are (verbatim):

  1. “If the appropriate marketing capabilities are not developed, little or no return will be generated from investments made in CRM.”
  2. “The rate of organizational learning, rather than the size of the company’s CRM budget, determines how rapidly companies can change the way they relate to a consumer, which, in turn, is linked to the length of the consumer purchasing cycle.”
  3. “Top management can provide the money, software and authority to create a CRM program, but such investment must be informed by cycles of learning from consumer insight….an organizational culture that tolerates experimentation will be more successful at building new CRM capabilities.”
  4. “Hard work and commitment are what it takes to develop marketing capabilities…far from being a black box (marketing capabilities) can be developed through conscious, goal-directed learning by those responsible for CRM.”

While some scoff at my contention that today’s marketing is harder than ever before, these insights from the research support that view. Enough of the left brain/right brain argument.  Enough of the data/experience fuss.  Enough of the processs/technology discussion.  It takes them all…along with leadership and courage.  I’ll say that again:  leadership and courage.

Back to the article.  The authors display a matrix with four marketing activities (demand management, creating marketing knowledge, building brands, customer relationship management) on the left and three marketing relationships across the top.  The marketing relationships between companies and consumers are:  transactional (from the 1970’s), one-to-one (based on the long-term relationship focus of the 1980s ) and networked (flowing from online networks, the company supply chain and consumers).”

The latter (networked relationships) is characterized by “co-creating value with a network of consumers,” marketing knowledge coming from “key network participants and shapers,” consumers encouraged to “access a networks capabilities,” and consumer self service.  How different is this from where your marketing is today?  How does this vision apply to your marketing? How will you go about building the capabilities to succeed in this networked relationship between company and consumer?

Don’t be stuck in in the 1990s.  Please read the article and let me know whether it made you want to cheer also…

(Back to marketing automation:  Today’s ClickZ piece on Marketing Automation…Far from Automatic opened once again the discussion of why so many marketing automation implementations fail to deliver expected results.  It makes good points but doesn’t go far enough into a meaty topic that I’ve covered frequently.

Who cares about marketing data?

In a recent survey conducted by Patricia Seybold Group and the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (Survey on Data-Driven Marketing, March 2011), more than 100 marketers reported what types of marketing data most interested heads of other departments.  Customer data was the hands down winner, recognized as the top choice by CEOs, COOs, Business Unit Leaders, and Service Delivery Leaders.  The findings (see below), while not statistically significant, do raise some questions worth pondering.

Type of Data Top Choice For:
Customer Data CEO, COO, BU leader, Service leader
Sales Accepted Lead Data Sales leader
Markets Data CTO (2nd choice for CEO)
Marketing Programs Data CFO
Competitor Data None (2nd choice for Sales, Service, CTO)
Contacts Nurtured by Marketing None (4th choice for Sales)

Consider first, the kinds of data needed to understand sources of future growth (markets, competitors, customers) and the kinds of data needed to understand short term opportunities (customers, competition).  Then consider what is needed to forecast short term success (sales accepted leads, contacts nurtured by marketing).  Finally, what is needed to allocate budget dollars (marketing programs data).

It occurs to me that marketing has started its measurement activities in the area of least value to the company (marketing programs data).  It is, fortunately, moving higher in the food chain to using contacts nurtured by marketing to forecast revenue.  But still that is mechanics — can’t be ignored but not the source of the real value to the company.  It is time for marketing to set its sights on growth and provide credible information to the rest of the organization on customers, markets, and competition.

Approach this like any other project — understanding what other departments are trying to accomplish and then providing information that helps them do that better, faster, more easily, more expertly.  Providing credible marketing data to the rest of the company requires organizational outreach — crossing departmental lines, understanding needs, communicating effectively, and building relationships that foster mutual achievement.

That said, it is not all about the rest of the organization using the data…it is also about marketing’s uses of data to find new opportunities and capitalize on known opportunities.  Be just as disciplined about the needs analysis for the marketing department.  Afterall, you are/should be leading the charge.