This continues our conversation on What's Next?
As marketers, we need to act, innovate, and advance towards the creation of a future, added Ryan. "We can't wait on the bench and ponder the outcome of the game. We have to be proactively involved in changing it."
Some customers may be content listening, while others prefer to engage with you. Innovation needs to be externally-driven to work, focused on the customer, said Greg Krauska. And Toby Bloomberg contributed that
one of the important aspects of social media is providing customers (and other stakeholders) with the opportunity to engage in an authentic people-to-people dialogue. More often than not, blogs don't pull in a lot of comments. That does not mean customers do not find the information valuable or that they don't get a sense of the "people who are the company."
I concur with Ryan when he says that listening itself is an active form of engagement. People have to actually seek out the discussion. So while it's tempting to think of the "talkers" as the only participants, it would be a mistake to draw the line there. Can we get feedback from listeners?
Maybe that is where the perception of value comes in along with the tension between company control and external innovation...
Valeria Maltoni: I'm almost embarrassed to use the term 'value'. In the end, the value is in the eye of the beholder, we really have no business overusing the term on our end. Which probably gets us in the direction of your other question, “how much control can a company really give up?"
If we focus on the concept that our product, no matter what we sell, is a relationship, then it is easier to see how control is not really part of the equation. It's not in the cards. However, we can talk about guidance, expertise, and counsel. Those are much better terms to define what should happen on the organization side of the dialogue.
In that case, there was no control to hold onto in the first place. In the give and take of this relationship, the exchange, what the organization provides is experience and structure -- processes are good if they serve the people they were created (ideally) to support. So now you have people + systems on one side of the relationship. Better if passionately committed to the business they conduct.
Next to them, both looking at the issues, the problems that need to be solved, by the organization in question or a better-suited one, are the customers. In shifting our focus to the relationship being the product, we became more aware of exactly where the organization fits. And that would put everyone in listening mode, wouldn't it?
When the long term relationship is more important than the short term financial gain, then blogs are great tools to share knowledge, learn about each other, and assist in the decision-making process. Talking things through, so to speak. This then begs the question: how do you make money so you can be there when customers are ready to fit you into their buying model? What do you do in the meantime?
I know that everyone is under a lot of pressure to prove it works in the short term, even if the proof is going to be long term. How do you support growth? How do you pay your bills?
Ryan Karpeles: For the most part, business is driven by ideas. In the past, these ideas came from the company alone. For the last decade, however, the tables have been rapidly turning. Ideas no longer have to come from the inside. The floodgates are open, and you simply have to be ready for the rush. Your customers will give you insights. You'll have your own insights. Ideas are everywhere. The cost of trying out new products and services is incredibly lower than it ever has been. The risk might be greater (because everyone will hear if you bomb), but it's easier to get back on the horse. In other words, if you fail once, you're (usually) not down and out.
The key is to think of innovation as a continuous, overlapping process. In a sense, you almost need to have multiple R&D teams. While one product is being designed, another one is already being tested, and another is finalized and in the hands of the consumers. Most companies tend to wait for big ideas and do nothing in the meantime. This is backwards. It's okay to milk some products for all their worth, but you have to constantly be innovating while you're milking. You can't do one or the other. You have to do both simultaneously.
When you listen to customers on your blog, they'll give you ideas to try out. But you can't just sit around and wait for them to do that. Basically, when they're ready to fit you into their buying model, they'll let you know. But sometimes you have to present them with something in the first place before they realize they're ready. You can't only be listening and reacting. You have to take some action on your own. Customers are a part of the creation process, but they're not the sole drivers.
In addition, I think one of the biggest things we often overlook in this discussion is the caliber of employees who seek out ideas from within an organization. Some people are wired to look for new insights. These are the people you want. They'll go out of their way to search the deepest, darkest corners and come back with something juicy. Don't underestimate the power of your own people. Marketing is all about conversations. And while a good conversationalist is usually a good listener, they also do some talking as well.
Essentially, don't be idle. Don't be afraid to take action. The biggest problems you'll face will be when you get comfortable. Look at the RAZR from Motorola. That company figured it out. Slim was in. But it was only in for a short period of time. Motorola got a little lazy and it cost them. Don't get lazy. Stay on your toes, look for ideas everywhere, and never stop trying things out. There is no meantime. It's a continuous process that requires effort, devotion and a passionate desire to provide the best possible offering to your people.
So while you're building all those relationships, you're still being proactive in terms of innovation. Often times we try to separate the two, but I don't think we have to. They go hand in hand. Relationships develop around products. Products develop around relationships. When you do it right, it's a beautiful thing :)