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Three takes on customer engagement on the Web

Yesterday, two colleagues and I started the day at BtoB Magazine’s NetMarketing breakfast down the street here in San Francisco.

The event featured three high-tech marketing executives who spoke about how they’re engaging customers on the Web. Aside from a sponsor’s painfully long pitch at the outset, which ironically led to quite a few people suddenly spreading out their free copies of the New York Times, the well-attended event was worth checking out.

Speakers included Scott Anderson, VP of customer communications at HP (our very own client and by far the most impressive); Martyn Etherington, VP of worldwide field marketing, Tektronix; and Stephanie Dillard, global media manager, integrated marketing group, Intel. While they didn’t have time to outline their entire Web marketing strategy, it was interesting to see the differences in each company’s approach. They each shared more than a few nuggets of good information.

Scott Anderson began by presenting HP’s customer engagement strategy in the broader context of the media’s evolution in the US. First was the “merchant to customer” era, which I presume means merchants talking directly (in person?) to their customers. Then the “mass marketing age.” And finally the current era, which he refers to as the “dialogue age.”

In other words, companies that want to engage and deepen their relationships with customers need to facilitate a dialogue with them. The old communication strategy of “polish and push” ain’t gonna cut it today. And I wholeheartedly agree. Consumers are too smart and have too many media options now–as well as tools to filter or delete the noise they don’t want to hear.

Scott’s alternative is “engage and get out of the way.” In other words, break down the marketing filters and talk directly and honestly with your customers, even if it means hearing things that may not put a smile on your face. But wouldn’t you rather know what your customers think about your product or service rather than chugging along, ignorantly unaware?

One successful marketing program Scott mentioned was Change Artists. With it, HP produced a series of webcasts featuring CIOs speaking with their CEOs on the topic of business and technology. Aside from some slick branding, the program had nothing to do with pitching HP products, but rather showcased customers as the main draw. And guess what? It worked. The program generated a lot of leads. The take away: Think about spending less time and energy “polishing and pushing” your product message, and let your customers do the talking.

Martyn Etherington gave a concise overview of Tektronix’ Web marketing strategy. Based on the number of dashboards he showed (to his credit, he explained he didn’t expect anyone to read them), Tektronix is a metrics-driven company. And my guess is that he’s tracking his online campaigns effectively.

His presentation was good, but there were a lot of numbers on his slides, so I admit I tuned out a little. One thing I found interesting, though, was his summary of Tektronix’ most effective marketing channels. Not too surprisingly, it was the Web (search) 1st, word of mouth 2nd (hey, that’s customers talking to customers), 3rd PR, 4th the direct channel, which I guess means their sales force, and 5th was content. Interesting to see that customers finding Tektronix and customers talking with one another lead the pack. Again, Martyn seems like a bright guy and was good at getting to the point quickly, unlike the sponsor at the beginning. If you have a chance to hear him speak, check him out.

Stephanie Dillard from Intel was last, and she discussed Intel Island, the virtual island that the chip giant has paid for and built in the virtual reality Web site Second Life, which is becoming more and more of a reality. It must have cost Intel a pretty penny, or Linden dollar (that’s Second Life lingo for dinero) because it was fancy.

Stephanie showed a virtual tour of the island from her laptop, complete with speaking avatars, aerial views of the island, and presentations on Intel products in Second Life. It was hard not to be impressed. But at the same time, you can’t help but wonder: Is it worth all the effort in time and money? Stephanie said Intel was drawn to the opportunity to engage a technology-savvy, fast-growing global audience that was right in Intel’s sweet spot.

I believe Second Life is populated by a 60% male audience aged 20 to 32…something like that. But wait a minute, we’re talking avatars here, not humans. And who knows how old they are or whether they even use computers. The ones I saw on the screen had wings and were half human..oh, well, whatever.

Actually, Stephanie had some great things to say about Intel’s experience in Second Life and you have to laud them for taking the leap and experimenting. She said her measures for success are:

1. dwell time, or how long avatars hang out on Intel Island;
2. action taken, which again I take to be avatar action;
3. number of participants (avatars) in world surveys, which presumably means you can survey avatars;
4. and lastly, blog mentions and the buzz/PR factor (I presume this would take place in first life).

Another key bit of advice that Stephanie offered is that you can’t launch a Second Life presence and then slack off. It takes constant attention and refreshing of content–not too unlike most content-focused marketing efforts. Apparently avatars get irked with stale content just like humans. And as far as targeting and engaging the influential early adopters in its market, Intel couldn’t have picked a better reality.

Stephanie cautioned the audience to be cognizant of Linden Labs’ technology infrastructure. That’s the company that hosts Second Life. The number of residents in Second Life is growing at a rapid clip. I just checked and as of Friday, November 16, there were 10,923,896 residents in Second Life. That’s a lot of avatars. In other words, the site has been known to crash pretty frequently. When I created an avatar a few months ago to check the whole thing out, my computer crashed for the first time in a couple years.

Anyway, all three speakers shared some great ideas and experiences, plus BtoB magazine puts on a good event and serves good coffee. If you have a chance to hear any of these execs speak, or attend a BtoB magazine event, give it a go. And remember, don’t “polish and push.” Instead, “engage and get out of the way.” —Bill Golden, managing editor

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November 19, 2007 - Posted by | Bill Golden, Content Strategy, Customer Care, Web Content

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