Planning Your Community Initiatives: Thoughts from National Instrument's VP, Product Marketing, John Pasquarette
Community today reminds a lot of the Web from 10 years ago. I was thrust into a position of running our Web team (and defining our Web strategy) in 1999. Everyone knew "web" was very very important, but nobody really knew why, or what we should focus on. For us, as a b-to-b business that sells fairly low-cost components and development tools for engineers at a very, very broad level (global presence, 25,000 customers, $700M in revenue) we settled on a couple key areas where we really used to web to drive our business strategy. For a lot of things, the Web ended up reducing our costs and made us much more efficient.
CONTEXT: WHAT WEB 1.0 HAD DONE FOR OUR BUSINESS
This isn't brain surgery, but we used the web to drive huge impact in the following areas:
1. Reduced support costs (discussion forums, more/better technical info online, etc)
2. More efficient/productive sales (product advisors/configurators to handle simple product discovery and compatibility, part numbers prices and basic info, e-commerce) - our goal was to make our Web handle the internal sales person role to allow them to serve our big accounts/orders
3. Reduced marketing costs with the same/better reach (literature costs were slashed - our 700 page product catalog was completely eliminated last year, online events and webinars, banner ads instead of print ads)
4. Intangibles (NI is "with it", they are a modern business that understands where we should be going, not where we've been, etc)
All of these efforts are obvious now, but back then they weren't. Also, because it was so important, we separated a lot of this activity into the Web team so we could fund it aggressively and move fast. Today, a lot of this has been rolled back into the functional groups to become integrated with our business. Our online event/webinar strategy is owned and executed by our Events team, who also run our physical events. Again, makes sense, but it was an evolution.
GOING FORWARD: WHAT WEB 2.0 CAN MEAN TO OUR BUSINESS
To me, the value of the community discussion is how do you tie it to important business objectives and how can we share best practices for using "community" to drive these different business objectives. Any discussion about "I'm rolling out a new community platform" or "what technology platform are you using" is totally irrelevant to me without some understanding of "what business objectives are you trying to drive with your community effort". I agree that every company is a little bit different, but I heard a couple common themes this week that I think you can capture and start to build best practices around - I also think for each of these topics, you can have a parallel discussion about using open, broad-based community efforts or private, smaller communities):
1. Influencing product roadmaps (the whole crowd-sourcing thing) - R&D and Product Management
- Ideamarket for broad-based
- advisory board for private, more intense engagement
2. Increase your marketing footprint at a fraction of the cost - Marketing
- internally-driven bloggers
- highlighting/promoting customer bloggers
- getting involved in conversations away from your web site (facebook, etc)
- building non-branded community sites (the Dell "mobile computing" site idea, or the girl site about dealing with their changing bodies to influence them later to look at certain products)
3. Closing larger deals/acquiring new customers (sales)
- Customer reference programs online
4. In-house, low-cost primary research - business intelligence
- using your broad-based community to get a read on customer attitudes, loyalty, etc...
- your company listens, acts on customer input, in general your company cares
In addition to these business topics, I think there are plenty of orthogonal discussions that could be organized:
1. Internal engagement - in addition to the obvious "how do I get executive support" question, there are more practical questions even when you do get support, like
- what does a moderator do? where should they live? what makes a good moderator?
- what do we separate into a different department and what do you integrate into existing groups?
- best blog policies for internal bloggers?
2. Technology platform questions
3. Private vs broad-based communities
Anyway, these are fairly obvious ideas, but I think too many business people (i.e. executives) might equate "community" with "facebook" and that immediately turns them off. We need to start to equate "community" with "lowering costs", "expanding marketing reach and brand awareness" or "closing new accounts". I look forward to continuing this discussion with the group of people you assembled this week. Perhaps there is a good community platform we can all join to keep the discussions going.