Orlando Marketing Forum: Day 2

Lots going on here in Orlando; I’m glad the forum only lasts two days. Peter Burris gave a great keynote presentation this morning about how to engage your most innovative customers to drive change — because they are out solving problems that require innovation now despite business disruptions stemming from the economy.  In the current recession, most firms batten down the hatches and lie low hoping to ride out the storm. Risk seems amplified and to be avoided.

But smart marketers and product strategists see this market disruption as an opportunity to take some risks, but  to do so in ways that seem more familiar than. Your customers are doing this too, so tapping into their activity can lead to unique insight and deeper relationships.  They are willing to talk and starting to use social media to do so. The key insight here is that top companies reduce risk by driving these interactions – social and otherwise — with innovative customers deeper into their operations.  They use social media to support customers, help them adopt their products/services, and embrace as co-design partners.

Here is where Peter/Forrester introduces a short cut to help marketers and strategists think through how to embrace their customers. We use the acronym PLOT to capture the steps, and the letters stand for:

1) P = Persona.  With POST, we say that the first step in setting social strategy is to understand how your target audience behaves socially. To innovate, you need to go beyond demographic and behavioral segmentation to include motivations and needs. We believe that using personas to capture and use this qualitative information is essential.

2) L = Location. First idea: you need to go to where your customers are and hang out.  Your support forums are one of the best places to engage with innovative customers because it’s a trusted, captive venue; one not open to the world. This exclusivity breeds open, honest conversations. Second idea: you also have to give customers social opportunities to connect, especially if they are not active online today. Peter pointed to Adobe Groups as an example here because it lets the audience (creative types) drive.

3) O = Option. Customers can provide ideas and variations on a theme that your internal folks may not think of left to their own devices. Giving them ways to explore different options with you will help to shorten the development cycle and create products customers really want.

3) T = Test.  This is more about iterating with your customers to improve product fit, form, and quality. Serena Software improved cycle times and lowered risk by iterating with their “design parnter” customers first and then moving out to broader audiences, moving from point releases to a gradual rollout model.

So, you may ask, PLOT vs. POST, what’s the difference?  POST helps you set communication and marketing strategy that is outward facing/acquisition focused.  PLOT is more the inbound side — tapping into customers to understand the market, their needs, and be more agile about creating/implementing new solutions for them. I find it very insightful that both start with P – further proof that audience is key and that marketing needs to own the customer information and profiling responsibility within your firm.

My colleague, Tom Grant, will be publishing research on PLOT shortly. Check out his blog, the Heretech, for more best practices in embracing your most innovative customers.

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