The Power of 7 (or 77) ! IBM Big Data, Wimbledon, and B2B marketing

10 Jul

Wimbledon

What a Wimbledon this was! From slides (all around the court) to falls (of top seeds), to a dream win for a relative unknown Frenchwoman followed by the win Britain was waiting for – it took 77 years for a male to win it; was the first one after 1977 (Virginia Wade – the media certainly took a beating on this one, didn’t it? – and this despite the felicitation to Ms. Wade during the championships!)) and was won on 7/7…wow, the power of 7! Maybe Murray will win it 7 times!

This number/ data crunching reminded me of the ad that I saw on ESPN while the match was being aired – it was one of the series of ads that IBM released for its “smarter planet” positioning….by the way, I like that positioning – and I do think that IBM is doing many things right to work towards fulfilling that promise.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here is the series

But I was really confused about why there was a Big Data campaign airing on TV! Who buys Intel? Businesses – so CEO/ CTO/ CDO and of late, ever since their CMO focus, the CMO. (See this interesting article about IBM’s focus on the CMO). These are ALL C suite execs in enterprises! Intel is the quintessential B2B marketing firm! On top of which it has traditionally focussed large enterprises though it did start a mid market push a while ago (just to check – a google search for IBM enterprise vs SMB shows a ration of 153 million to 4 million!).

So, what is the typical purchase process for IBM like engagements? Long drawn out pitches/ the typical commercial engagement cycle…resulting generally in bids against 2 others (Accenture and/or Oracle may very likely be atleast one of the others – interestingly, I found in my inbox today an email from Accenture talking about the looming shortage of analytics talent – talk about topicality! ). What is the ‘discovery’ process in this Bizdev cycle? Well, Intel in the appropriate circles I would imagine doesn’t need discovery – it may need outreach, but not discovery. Which means, that the relevant people in a buying situation WOULD reach out to IBM. Now, sure, the world is becoming more and more socially integrated – and ofcourse, the business that IBM in, has a core foundation of social. So, should they give a social presence to this new positioning? Certainly! And, to their credit, they’ve done so. I do think salience of IBM along with Big data, Predictive analytics and Smart is probably highest amongst all comparative business entities. They’ve also done outdoors visibility well on the “smarter planet” platform – including a massive hoarding just outside the airport in my hometown Bangalore. So, why on earth would they advertise on TV???

B2B branding

Which brings me to the larger premise – B2B marketing and the role of mass media – I think the only scenarios that justify the use of mass media for a B2B entity are:

a) Launch of company/ large product – one which is revolutionary! (Typically a big bang ad may work in this case if it is a well known company launching a biggie product – Apple/ Mac/ Superbowl comes to mind for this ofcourse! See my earlier related post here). If it’s an unknown company and u want to build traction very quickly, then you may want repeated airings over TV/ other media…

b) Existing company repositioning in that it is targeting a newer audience – say an enterprise oriented company expands to now address the SMB segment only – mass media seems ideal to tell you that hey we talk to you too (actually in a way, in tone atleast, the IBM ads seem oriented towards consumers/ SOHO and the SMB segment)

c) A company is going IPO – ofcourse then, the target for the ad becomes the consumer/ investing public – and given the company is B2B, the mass public may not know much about it.

d) The media chosen is very very select (and hence not “mass” at all 🙂 – but I meant select very targeted print specially if it’s a specialist domain that relies very heavily still on traditional media – Print and Packaging/ fragrances/ maybe even some tech e.g. select storage/ design etc may be good examples – these are journals that may be peer reviewed etc – and strangely enough still do not have online editions – specially in geographies across the world. (Autodesk was one such product category). A corollary is select very targeted media programs that are clearly and squarely meant for that select audience (so, not Wimbledon Men’s final on ESPN 🙂 )

Interestingly, writing this side of the story nearly made me forget the early pains of proving the utility of social media – then a relatively new life form – for B2B businesses when we were running EmPower Research. Specially the fight we had on our hands when we started selling our services to the large clients of our aquirer – these were companies that largely required BPM services from our acquirer – and so, were all B2B – and when I say B2B, I even mean utility/ transport/ heavy engineering companies. At one time, we even created a two by two matrix showing how B2B companies were NOT good targets for our effort. That is why, most articles online for B2B marketing currently are selling the utility of social media/ business for propagating B2B businesses 🙂 .

Our own experience – ultimately – showed us that social could be integrated into B2B businesses at various stages:

B2B Social

– Listening for reputation management/ disaster preparedness – this meant you constantly trawl social conversations to a) spot any broad reputation detractors (or enhancers for that matter) for your business; but also check for any broad/ macro events that may turn viral and therefore increase your risk profile (nice predictive algorithms could be created to show when something could get viral)

– Lead Generation – this use has been questioned – but, atleast in user groups/ domain specific sites of certain types of product categories, there are lots of questions on upgrades/ switches/ problem solution type issues. These could generally cue the smart Bizdev person to atleast prospect

– Customer service – similar to the above – just for existing users

– Thought Leadership – creating enriching/ engaging content realted to the business you are in – in an effort to broaden the horizon of what your brand stands for…

– Using Social Technologies for collaboration for better efficiencies and smarter decision making…

So, in a way, we circle back towards the points IBM is making – predictions to enable cleverer decisions, more “right” decisions, etc – and all these are what social will enable – so my point – why use mass media to make this point? And why 5 years after the point has been made already, and well?

Please note – I am not questioning the “Big Idea” of the Smarter Planet at all! I think, for a company that was to the larger world known as the chip/ processor company, the “Smarter Planet” was a really superb plank – it was motivational internally, focused on what was important – core research leading to ‘intelligence” – an idea probably before its time 5 years ago; was applicable across verticals or domains easily; and ofcourse was executed brilliantly by Ogilvy and Office. (read this for an eulogic analysis!) My objection is really to the use – after 5 years – of the campaign in mass media…still!

And ofcourse the Watson vs. Man @ Jeopardy idea was a gem – by all standards – PR, engagement, amplification, just stressing core brand values.

watson jeopardy

At the end, as the pundits would say though, what sells is success – as this, slightly older article shows, IBM certainly reaped the benefits of the campaign – whether they make incremental returns on continuing the campaign is anyone’s guess. (for those interested in some behind the scenes photos of the commercial production, click here )

To come back to Wimbledon, many may not know (I have to confess I didn’t – and in hindsight maybe as partners they get some media time anyway, and THAT”S why they aired this campaign that is making me froth at the mouth so much!!!) – but IBM actually crunches all Wimbledon’s and other Grand Slams’ data for the interesting stats and analyses – including giving tips to players, and prompting commentators as they give you a blow by blow account of what is transpiring on court! (read here for some details on their SlamTracker)

So, as far as I am concerned, advertising or no, power to IBM and its like!

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One Response to “The Power of 7 (or 77) ! IBM Big Data, Wimbledon, and B2B marketing”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. It really is about the PEOPLE | joshsang - November 18, 2013

    […] purer chocolate vs. smoother texture). To some extent, some advertising is changing – IBM’s smarter planet / (erstwhile) Nokia’s connecting people – were all attempts at getting to the raison […]

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