Great marketing content can fuel your company's demand generation engine. It can boost your brand's visibility to key audiences and bump aside competitors. Most of all, it attracts buyers interested in the types of challenges your company can solve. Because, as successful marketing execs know, business buyers don't buy your products and services; they buy into your approach to solving their problems.
"Hello, I'm Laura Ramos, and I write for chief marketing officers."
That's the standard line around here. It'll take a little gettting used to saying it. Heck, I still find myself saying "Xerox" instead of "Forrester" from time to time, but I hope to get out of that habit soon.
Luckily, I won't have to break my habit of thinking and writing about the issues that face large companies that sell highly-considered products and services to other businesses through a direct sales force or channel partners. I've always been a business-to-business (B2B) girl, and I'll stick to that focus here at Forrester.
Understanding the priorities of fellow tech marketers is a great way to tune one’s own 2012 initiatives. Over the past two months, my Forrester Technology Council colleagues and I have spent quite a bit of time surveying and talking with members (~ 50 tech CMO’s and VP’s of Marketing) about their priorities for 2012. Before the champagne pops up here in Boston, I wanted to share a few of the priorities my colleagues and I are hearing most about for 2012:
Demand management wins out across the board. In years past, the top priority for our tech marketing members centered around "driving leads into the funnel." In 2012, tech marketing execs still care about driving leads, but there is an increased desire to trade lead volume for better lead quality. Quality that comes from strong nurturing activities to help leads move from the top of funnel into the middle and ultimately into a position where they are "sales-ready." A vocal number of members expressed commitment to building a more comprehensive demand management process where they would balance their lead nurturing and lead generation initiatives appropriately.
Brand/rebranding comes into vogue. Many of our members have put brand and/or rebranding at the top of their lists for 2012. The need to create greater market differentiation against competitors and to build market awareness in new markets (e.g. verticals, geographies) were cited as the top reasons for steering funds, resources and time in brand or rebranding initiatives.
Since there's no systematized, look-it-up-in-your-economics-textbook definition of thought leadership, people generally lapse into metaphor when they try to describe the concept. The language usually gets very Joseph Campbell-ish. Thought leaders might be visionaries, Delphic conduits into some shared future. Or, they might be heroic trailblazers, clearing a path into places that no one knew existed, or they were afraid to venture.
Our recent research into thought leadership points to a different metaphor. Thought leaders are not seers, like Cassandra or the Sibyl. They're closer to trailblazers or founders, like Romulus or (less mythologically) Alexander the Great. But even that's not exactly right, since thought leadership depends critically on communication. Alexander got a lot of good press; Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, got much less (at least in the West). As a result, people are still sifting through Alexander's career for nuggets about successful leadership. Cyrus the Great? Not so much.
Thought leaders are, to a big extent, more like Homer than the people whom Homer chronicled. They're good story-tellers, which demands far more than relating a collection of incidents.
Just ask anyone reading a success story on a tech vendor's web site.
Yesterday, I was talking with members of the SAS government team about recent developments, such as the state of their business, acquisitions (here's my take on one of those companies), and success stories. I was very, very happy that they wanted to devote the majority of time on the success stories, since you often get more insight from discussing how customers are using technology than running through the list of new features and functions.
Funny thing, that's exactly the conclusion of our research on thought leadership: If you want to be a thought leader, talk about how you've made people successful. Actually, there are more aspects of thought leadership, but success stories are a good place to start. Not only do they illustrate how a vendor can contribute to a project, but they also identify the types of projects worth pursuing.
SAS is involved in well-established, well-understood government activities, such as preventing fraud in corporate tax collection and social programs. It's also involved in far less established and understood areas, such as nipping new cybersecurity threats in the bud and dealing with recent IT requirements for health care. Not only are governments trying to figure out how to fit technology into their strategies for dealing with these new challenges, they're still figuring out the strategies.
Our first application of Agile principles to the research process, which occurred during our study of thought leadership in the tech industry, was a very Agile-esque journey into the unknown. We learned a great deal that applies to future applications of Agile Research Development, so here's my retrospective.
You Can Be Agile Up To The Boundaries Of What You Control
Ultimately, you control only part of the value stream. This maxim holds true wherever you apply Agile, and software developers learn this principle right away. You can be the most disciplined developer imaginable, never checking in code that doesn't work, always building in tests, and still be at the mercy of your own QA team. And even if the larger team, including testers, works in blissful harmony, someone needs to deploy the code on a live system. (Which is why dev ops is receiving a lot of attention from within the Agile community these days. See Jez Humble's recent book for a good example.)
If a stream is an appropriate metaphor for value creation and delivery, then this stream always takes many twists and turns, frequently encountering dams and obstructions. The success of Agile, therefore, depends to a great extent on eliminating these kinks, navigating around them, or learning to accept them as part of the value stream's trajectory.
Realistically, comments will have an impact on the final document if you post them by the end of the week. After that, I'll be writing the actual document.
Also worth mention: in drafting the outline, I realized that some of our earlier work on B2B evaluation, selection, and adoption is applicable here. Expect to see a cameo appearance from some of that interesting research in this document.
As I said in my last blog post, we're looking for feedback on the questions we're asking about thought leadership in the technology industry. At the same time, we realized that it has been a while since we held an open house in Forrester's Foster City office. (If you're not aware, we did a few informal sessions for product managers and product marketers, to give people in that role an opportunity to talk amongst themselves about topics of interest, sprinkled with whatever useful information an analyst like myself can provide.) Suddenly, a spark leaped across the two neurons carrying these separate ideas.