Barbara on September 25th, 2009

What’s up this week in influencer relations? Here’s what I’ve been talking about offline when the conversation rolls around to, “So what’s up? Anything I need to know?” This week the gossip has centered around analyst blogs, HP and Dell. Feel free to add your nuggets.

EDS = HP. HP retired the EDS brand this week. Time to update your influencer lists with the HP email and titles.

Perot Systems soon to = Dell. Get your head around what this M&A means if your company relies on referrals and such from Perot Systems.

Who owns blogs - analysts or the analyst house? Are analyst-written blogs more the property of the analyst house or the analyst? Consensus: depends on whether it’s a “company” blog. Some say negotiate social media content rights at the time of employment. Otherwise, personal blogs may be considered company IP at the point of departure.

Top analyst blogs. Jonny Bentwood is preparing to issue his Top 100 analyst league tables. Big backroom buzz is on whether there’s any shakeup at all in the top few. Most gossip is about whether or not Altimeter is an analyst company. I’m thinking the Gartner and Forrester blogs will make a difference, based on the employee base, media reach and Twitter penetration. Usual under-the-breath gripes about RedMonk standings. Stay tuned on that. Not by coincidence, I’m doing a massive Tekrati blog directory update. Buzz me this weekend if you’re feeling compelled.

Enterprise Mobility Matters turns 2. Congrat’s to Philippe Winthrop, today marking the 2-year milestone of his blog.

Phil Fersht soon leaving AMR Research. Carter Lusher broke the news on Twitter. Phil’s uber-smart on outsourcing, offshoring, nearshoring, you name it. Another analyst whose blog has transcended several jobs. I’m not sure there are any top-tier analyst firms that haven’t benefited from his expertise and network. So I’m guessing he’ll jump next to a different kind of gig.

Analysts (and others) on analyst credibility. Must’ve been in the water. Still plenty of time to have your say:
Phil Fersht
Tony Byrne
Michael Krigsman’s take on Tony’s post

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Influencer marketing is on a collision course with the US Federal Trade Commission and its new guidelines for endorsements and testimonials in advertising. The revised guides span consumer endorsements, expert endorsements, endorsement by organizations, and disclosure of material connections between advertisers and endorsers. The FTC has already said it expects the revised guidelines to affect most businesses that advertise in the US.

Don’t hit the snooze button on this because you think expert influencers such as industry analysts are beyond the scope of the revised guidelines. Recall the case of Microsoft, META Group and the UK Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA upheld complaints that a Microsoft print ad comparing Linux and Windows(R) costs was misleading. The heart of the ad was a META Group benchmark study. (The Inquirer, 25 Aug 2004)

Duncan and I have written about these guides a few times (here and here). We know the revised guidelines are coming, we just don’t know when. Many, including Ogilvy’s John Bell, expect the new guides to go into effect as early as next month. An FTC spokesman told me this morning that the effective date has not been set; the revisions are still in staff discussion. However, I tend to give John his due. Seems likely that an advertising powerhouse like Ogilvy has an ear or two placed close to the FTC staff discussions.

The revised FTC guides deserve close scrutiny. In short, transparency is no longer an option. You need to provide information about where you’ve seeded free products, services or other considerations in exchange for an endorsement. You may also need to provide evidence of the grounds for an endorsement, including repeatable results that back up claims.

What can you do?

  • Team up with lawyers to understand the implications for endorsements and testimonials and to agree on how you will accommodate these guides in your best practices, approval processes and influencer relations.
  • Agree on a simple rating system for determining the risks associated with endorsements and testimonials already in use. Come up with one or two criteria that determine each level of risk — high risk, moderate risk or low risk. Keep it simple.
  • Review the endorsements and testimonials you’ve already released and rate the risk associated with each. Remember, the new guides will apply evenly to endorsements you initiate and to unprompted endorsements you pick up and use. You are accountable for claims made in both types of endorsements. If you use an endorsement, you’re accountable for it. Come up with an action plan as needed.
  • Use your risk ratings to update your approval process for future endorsements and testimonials.

Useful information links:

Old FTC Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising

Proposed revisions to the FTC Guides Concerning Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, published for public comment in November 2008 (this link opens a pdf)

Extension for submitting comments to the proposed revisions (this link opens a pdf)

FTC press release announcing the revisions, Nov 2008

Related posts at John Bell’s blog, Digital Influence Mapping Project

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Barbara on September 21st, 2009

Many of us are ready to recognize social media as a standard subset of our B2B and B2C communications channels. Even the slow moving Fortune 500 is adopting public-facing blogs, according to SNCR. So it’s time to stop thinking about analyst-written blogs as a novelty and start thinking about them as part of standard analyst business practice. One of the central topics we can start talking about openly is vendor sponsorship. That’s right: analyst-written blogs as vendor sponsored content.

In the analyst business at large, most (maybe all) communications channels contain a portion of sponsored content. The mix varies by firm. Some don’t license any content to vendors. Others license any and all content. Most firms are somewhere in between.

Sponsored content represents a mature, steady stream of income for many analyst businesses. I doubt many of us were around when the first vendor co-branded analyst report was circulated as a sales tool. Lots of us were around to witness the first analyst appearances in vendor-sponsored microsites, webinars and podcasts. These are commonplace today. We accept them — even mine them — as a natural part of everyday communications channels.

Why imagine that blogs will be any different? Or Twitter? There’s nothing about blogging as a communications channel that makes it a poor match to sponsorship interests.

Think about it. Some analyst firms won’t buy into sponsored blogs / blog content, some will. The question is, will you buy-in?

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Barbara on September 19th, 2009

IDC logoIDC is putting numbers around something tech marketers already know: 2009 is the worst year for vendor-side tech marketing jobs and budgets since the dot-com bust.

IDC projects that 6,000 tech vendor marketing jobs will be cut by the time the dust settles at the end of 2009. Marketing budgets will be down 8.3% over 2008 levels.

That’s the inhouse tally. Imagine the totals when you add agency and freelance personnel and reduced and canceled POs.

The 2009 vendor marketing cuts have come with changes in structure and authority as well. IDC reports more than 70% of senior marketers described their departments as experiencing “significant organizational change”. The focus tends to be sales-marketing alignment. The decisions aren’t necessarily brightening the picture for career marketers. IDC says some of the top tech companies are uniting global marketing and sales groups under one executive. And that executive comes from sales rather than marketing. Titles include Chief Sales and Marketing Officer and SVP of WW Field Operations.

Sooner or later we’ll find the bottom of this free fall and then start the recovery. This time ’round, I expect that the recovery will institutionalize some of the boot-strap adjustments taken in the face of these overwhelming cuts. More shared services, fewer heads, lower retainers, longer payment terms. More emphasis on community. Less priority on specialists the further you move away from the SEO/SEM and analytics axis.

Big hat tip to Kathleen Shaub, who blogged about IDC’s study and guidance for 2010.

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sethgodinSeth Godin recently pointed out the benefit of focusing on just one thing — being a “wallah” — as opposed to trying to do a little bit of everything. Being a wallah means focusing on excelling in one particular area of business. That strikes a chord with me and the evolution I see for analyst relations within tech marketing.

Today, most people see analyst relations as being all about the analysts. If you do analyst relations, they see you as the analyst wallah. You get the analysts to think, say and publish positions that benefit your business objectives. And you bring information back from the analysts that benefit your business objectives.

What I foresee is a shift from being the analyst wallah to being the relations wallah. Getting people across the company to build mutually beneficial 1-to-1 relationships with different kinds of decision-maker influencers. You mentor and support and measure the relationships that benefit your business objectives.

AR will continue to play a vital role in tech companies for years to come. Applying the AR skill set not only to analysts but also more broadly is a logical evolution for this role. For each of us it comes down to this: What kind of wallah do you want to be?

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Lots of people play a part in a typical B2B purchase decision and naturally, identifying them is an important activity for any influencer relations program. You need to know who they are, including their name, job and location. First, you have to figure out who they are. That’s no so easy.

The big temptation is to start by asking the primordial question, “Who’s influencing the decision-makers at my accounts?”, and then jumping right to the obvious answers.

Not so fast!

It pays to back up one step. Start by thinking about the different kinds of people likely to be involved in purchase decisions for your products and services. This exercise helps you form a more complete picture of the influencer landscape. It also helps you avoid falling into ruts. This step encourages you to think about new types of influencers that may have emerged in your market and types of influencers your company tends to overlook.

In my case, I use the 24 categories of influencers from the Influencer Marketing book (page 55) with some additions for some clients. Generally, this basic list covers the ground and more:

Authors and management thinkers
Bloggers (and microbloggers)
Business and trade journalists
Buyers groups, purchasing lists and procurement authorities
Commentators and other individuals
Complementary partners
Conferences and events
Consumers and consumer groups
Customer firms
Financial analysts
Government agencies and regulators
Individual and niche consultants
Industry analysts
Industry bodies, forums and federations
Internal influencers
Management consultancies
Online forums
Peers (role-based, industry-based)
Specialty consultancies
Standards bodies
Systems Integrators
VARs, distributors and similar channel partners
Venture capitalists and investors

Get the most out of this exercise by concentrating on the types of influencers likely to have an effect on decision-makers during the actual decision process. Influence can be exerted directly — one-to-one, influencer to decision-makers — or indirectly. Indirect entails exerting influence through intermediaries.

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Barbara on September 14th, 2009

Around mid-decade we went through a phase where corporations and agencies considered creating jobs such as “Manager, Blogger Relations”.  To this day that makes a lot of sense if you happen to work for a company that provides blog software, blog design, blog hosting, blog monitoring. For other kinds of companies, not so much. Because for other types of companies, blogs are just another communications vehicle. So are microblogs, like Twitter.

Chances are good that your company needs deep expertise in social media. Fill that need. Position yourself as the lead on the tech or the techniques. That’s a good thing to do.

But don’t let your expert role turn into a marketing silo. Social media specialization is a skill set — and a hot one — but that’s all it is.

Many C-level executives are deciding they can’t afford the luxury of marketing professionals with limited expertise, no matter how hot. They know that’s not the way markets operate. People touch companies through multiple channels — broadcast media, digital media, store visits, review sites, picking up the phone, writing an email, reading a newsletter and most importantly, through everyday casual 1-on-1 conversations taking place offline with people they know and trust. Blogs and Twitter alone won’t cut it — even Comcast’s Frank Eliason says so.

So get out there and bring your company into the 21st century. Just don’t let anyone stuff you into a marketing silo along the way.

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Barbara on September 14th, 2009

Influencer relations programs focus on 1-to-1 relationships and therefore can be resource-intensive. So it’s a good idea to figure out where you can achieve economies of scale and how to go about doing it. Here are 3 areas with big potential.

Flexible, modular playbooks. A grand plan may work well with a handful of influencers, but it won’t scale across geographies or different types of influencers. Instead, do what the software programmers do. Develop program components that can be reused again and again in various combinations and with minimal tailoring. Communications people have been doing this for decades with collateral. Apply the same principle to influencer interactions.

Examples might include guidelines for an introductory phone call with an influencer, requesting and capturing feedback from influencers on important market issues, producing speaker panels mixing different types of influencers, and templates for frequency and mix of influencer outreach.

Training. Influencer relations requires a baseline of people skills plus some specialty skills. Distance learning, mentoring and shadowing offer different levels of scalability. Distance learning and mentoring offer greater scalability for local and remote one-to-many training. Shadowing is less scalable yet more effective. This approach matches learners with masters, enabling them to observe each other engage with influencers in the real world.

A combination of these 3 models is best, company culture allowing. And, if you’re serious about scalability, couple any or all of these methods with a collaborative knowledge base.

Monitoring. Centralized procurement can help negotiate better pricing on the products and services used for monitoring influencers. You need to listen online and offline. That means monitoring across digital (and possibly physical) media, virtual and physical events, and virtual and physical communities. For multinational programs, consider negotiating with a short list of providers. That’s still the best way to secure consistent levels of quality and coverage across different languages and cultures.

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Barbara on September 10th, 2009

There are several good reasons to replace the terms “influencer” and “influencer marketing” in the marketing vocabulary. What are the best  alternatives? I don’t know the answer, however I see signs of a backlash against misuse and abuse of these terms.

What are the issues with the word influencer?

To start, not everyone likes being branded as an influencer. As Evan Quinn so often tells me (and I’m not the only one), many analysts bristle under the “influencer” label.

Then too, there’s the growing confusion around who is an “influencer”.  As Duncan Brown so often says, not everyone is an influencer. You can’t transform anybody into an influencer. Finding influencers is just not that easy, even in the wild west of social media.

Finally, as Nick Hayes says, “None of us has ever seen anybody with a business card that says ‘Influencer’.”

By contrast, there are the outstanding examples where the terms are applied appropriately and best practices applied flawlessly.  Case in point: Don Bulmer’s program at SAP. Such clearcut instances are more exception than norm.

The right words are out there. If we pay attention, we’ll recognize them when we hear them.

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Analyst relations is entering a time when the tech industry not only acknowledges – but celebrates – the rich diversity of decision-maker influencers. This shift to influencer marketing presents new opportunities for transforming AR programs and careers. Many of the skills that contribute to successful analyst relations translate smoothly to relations with other types of influencers.  And some skills do not. Building a checklist of AR skills is a good way to see where you stand.

A skills checklist can help you focus objectively, analyzing which skills have greatest value across the influencer relations spectrum and which are valuable only within classic AR. Plus, the process of creating the checklist can help reveal any significant gaps in skills, whether in AR or broader influencer relations.

Here’s a example of how I would build it:

Analyst-to-Influencer Relations Checklist

Skill: Influencer Profiling
Portable: Yes
Value beyond AR (0 to 10): 10
Assessment: Analyst relations provides a good model for developing influencer profiles. Typical AR profiles of analysts contain descriptive biographies, real-time media citations, blogs, reports and other recent publications, appearances, past and current consulting / services contracts, and ties to competitors.

Skill: Matching influencers with relationship owners
Portable: Yes
Value beyond AR (0 to 10): 10
Assessment: AR routinely matches analysts with company representatives for specific projects. They also do this for sustained relationships, as in executive buddy programs. Matches take into account the obvious – title, breadth and depth of technical expertise, shared experience, language – as well as subjective qualities leading to a healthy chemistry.

Skill: Cultivating influencer relationships
Portable: Yes
Value beyond AR (0 to 10): 10
Assessment: AR understands how to work with both analysts and internal stakeholders to help initiate, nurture and maintain relationships.

Skill: Mutual influence
Portable: Yes
Value beyond AR (0 to 10): 10
Assessment: Best-in-class AR professionals are skilled at facilitating analyst-vendor contact where the outcome is mutual influence. Much of this is achieved by structuring engagements as two-way dialogues and driving follow-through.

Skill: Ranking methods
Portable: No
Value beyond AR (0 to 10): 3
Assessment: The concept of ranking influencers on a relative scale is valuable. However, AR ranking methods rooted too deeply in an apples-to-apples context are not useful when ranking diverse influencers relative to each other.

And so on. I can easily think of 20 AR skills for evaluating this way.

This exercise is a good sanity check for career purposes as well.

Please let me know if you use this idea and build your own AR-to-Influencer Relations checklist. Or if you’d like my help.

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