Discuss amongst yourselves

Breaking workforces into sub-groups to brainstorm and then competitively defend ideas is standard team-building practice. Such workshops give employees a sense of inclusion and, tellingly, are often used in mergers to avert moral issues. The recent Microsoft/Yahoo announcement is one big sales job in need of a focus group, now that the market has reacted negatively – much to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s obvious annoyance.

A little experiment I conducted on LinkedIn (you need to register) proves that the blogosphere is not yet convinced either. The LinkedIn Answers I got are exactly the sort of issues that a Binghoo ‘Focus Group’ needs to connect with right now. Staff retention loomed high as a concern for Carol and Steve, even in these times of IT market consolidation. The emphasis on ‘now’ is important. I know first-hand how disruptive mergers are for key personnel (no matter how well-intentioned or received by the stock market). Address communications too late and any chance of keeping key players is lost forever.

Collaboration is the future for marketing – whether you are selling products or the benefits of a merger. Savvy marketing teams, including the B2B marketing agency Wunderman, have long recommended ‘conversational marketing’ as a way to build preference for brands. Pre-Web, advertising aimed to ‘interrupt’ buyers while they were away from their desks. But this will not create buyers in today’s highly-online Attention Deficit world.

Many companies, such as SAP, are busy creating online communities to nurture such discussions. Even though, the Terms of such communities forbid slating their sponsors, they show commitment. Such discussions are long-term persuasion projects. No sane advertiser expects customers to drop every other thing they are doing online to consider buying something they never heard of before. Start a conversation though, they may become intrigued, possibly convinced, and so persuaded to, spend (or even stick around at your company).

A recent Razorfish study looked at when the new constituency of ‘online conversationalists’ matters most in the marketing funnel. It shows that the time when independent bloggers, Tweeters and contributions (to sites like LinkedIn) matter most is during the awareness phase of marketing. That is early on. So although it is a ten year deal, the Binghoo management team needs to start conversations with key staff, customers and prospects, rather than persist with the ‘brave face’ PR they attempted so far.

The importance of blogs is too often exaggerated and even prone to abuse (see this story about Crocs shoes and journalism entitlement). However it may be smarter to carry on the discussions in public now than have to pay for team-building workshops and morale-boosting in the face of a staff exodus down the line. Otherwise it will be resumes, not just Answers, that are being posted on LinkedIn.

Let us know if you agree or disagree, on here or via Twitter or LinkedIn.

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