Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

Marketing to Strangers vs. Marketing to Friends

I've been meaning to weigh in on the discussions taking place over on the Lotus blogosphere (e.g.. here, here, here) around IBM advertising and marketing, but haven't had the time to really put my thoughts down in detail.  

And I still don't, but I thought this post by Seth Godin on marketing to friends vs. strangers was too relevant not to pass along today.

I was talking to an author about his next project. The question I asked him was, "are you writing this for strangers or friends?" The implications are huge. It impacts how you design the cover, how you price it, what it's about, where you sell it, when you publish it, how much you pay for store displays, etc...

You need to treat friends differently at every step along the way. First, don't confuse the moments you're supporting them or connecting with them with the moments when you are doing business. Second, understand that the most powerful win is when your friends tell their friends about you. This is worth 1000 times more than you talking about yourself.
Guaranteed: if you sell a friend the way you sell a stranger, you've made neither a sale or a friend.

Outside of our advertising (well, possibly including some advertising), I think a lot of the marketing IBM does falls into the "marketing to friends" category.  And the feedback I hear from a lot of the folks in the Lotus community is that you'd like to see us doing a better job of marketing to strangers.  The two questions that come to mind are:  

1.  Can we (IBM and our Business Partners) grow our businesses the way we want to by only marketing to friends?  Do we have the appropriate focus, resources, attention, revenue allocation split appropriately between marketing to friends vs. strangers?
2.  Have we made a conscious effort to only market to friends, or is it happening by default (because our marketing hasn't been designed to effectively target strangers)?

My concern is that in not making this choice explicitly, as Seth Godin points out, we're failing both parties (and ourselves).


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    Keith Brooks | Website: | 5/7/2009 1:36:18 PM GMT

    Interesting questions. I would venture it's a little of both and that may be the problem.

    Q1)we must focus on external companies, but the problem is that takes longer, more resources, advertising, costs, costs, costs thus you get "low hanging fruit" discussions from marketing, sales et al.

    If everyone does their job right all lotus shops would be running full speed ahead with 8.5 and all add-ons, needless to say this is not the case.

    Which is why we need to do both.

    Q2) Some sales will say keep going back to the well, but eventually that well is dry. So how do you tap the S or M of SMB market? They do not read what you read, work the way you work or have the infrastructure you have. Foundations is a great start, but IMHO it is too late in the business cycle for some companies. So you need to get Lotus and associated products into incubators, schools, universities, summer camps, SCORE and other startup helping systems.

    Failing that route, creative minds don't think a like. Some people prefer cold calling, others like alliances(partnering with a prominent accountant or lawyer), golfing, and social media/networking to an extent.

    The world is different, why keep trying to advertise like 10 or 20 or 30 years ago?

    Bilal Jaffery | Website: | 5/7/2009 2:13:18 PM GMT

    I agree that we have been advertising to friends for little too long. We do need to think outside of our traditional mindset and involve latest and the greatest out there.

    On that note, I've seen Smart Market campaign get more traction with 'strangers' as opposed to our 'own friends'.

    Many 'non-lotus' strangers have praised our campaign on social media as opposed to our own Lotus community.

    John Head | Website: | 5/7/2009 2:31:04 PM GMT

    Bilal - please provide links to these "Many 'non-lotus' strangers have praised our campaign on social media as opposed to our own Lotus community." I am on the social media sites as much as you, and have not seen a single thing. Providing vision to positive feedback of this campaign might help with the discussion. Otherwise, honestly, it sounds like IBM spin to me.

    Nathan T. Freeman | Website: | 5/7/2009 2:55:58 PM GMT

    @3 - Aw c'mon, John. Some of those YouTube videos have as many as FOUR COMMENTS and NINE RATINGS! That's crazy buzz, man!

    @Adam: 1) No and hell no. 2) depends on who "we" is. Senior management has made a conscious effort to market only to a narrow audience. That audience is increasingly unfriendly to IBM, largely because they get made fun of for being friends with you.

    Eric Mack | Website: | 5/7/2009 3:08:03 PM GMT

    Adam, I must respectfully disagree on both counts.

    Simply put on your consumer hat and ask yourself: 1) who is marketing product to you 2) how do you feel about the product as a result.

    Other commenters have raised good points.

    I saw a comment on another blog that suggested that IBM should employ marketers that actually use the products they market.

    It might help instill passion.

    People want to feel passionate about the products they use and companies they buy from.

    Some companies make this easy.

    Some make it very difficult.

    David Jones | Website: | 5/7/2009 3:26:56 PM GMT

    I hadn't seen this until it was on a post of Nathan's but to who was this "marketing" aimed and what was the intended message? I honestly can't answer either of those questions.

    { Link }

    If the people in charge of marketing the Lotus products actually think they are even in the ballpark of doing a good job with said marketing, from everything I have seen, they are delusional.

    Bilal Jaffery | Website: | 5/7/2009 6:18:52 PM GMT

    @ John Heed, for instance, IBM's Smart Market Predictions for 2009 was a hit on twitter. Many of my followers messaged, retweeted and even had a local Microsoftie friend call me up just chat on the topic.

    I've never had non-lotus folks pay this much attention to my own post (other than ComputerWorld and Microsoft Windows Server Foundation incident).

    I wholeheartedly agree that our marketing has to evolve to capture non-traditional markets and as Keith mentioned, we need to start targeting outside of our comfort zone.

    At the same time, I can attest that folks within IBM recognize this and working hard on this issue.

    You do have to consider that the old model is there because it is still generating big chunk of revenue for IBM. I once had a discussion with Microsoft's senior product manager and he was impressed by IBM's 'Enterprise' marketing and how Microsoft has failed in that space over and over again.

    With that said, I do agree that Lotus is different than our other Enterprise brands and needs a hybrid approach.

    Bilal Jaffery | Website: | 5/7/2009 6:25:30 PM GMT

    Let me also direct you to targeted advertising by IBM for SMBs (primarily a Microsoft market).

    Check out my current post for an example of simple, informative, and targeted end user piece for Lotus Foundations.

    { Link }

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