A Bit More on Brand and Communities for Techies

This became part 3ish of a five-part series, part 2 being the Geek Whisperers podcast linked to below. Read part 1 here. Read part 4 here.

The Geek Whisperers were kind enough to invite me to join their podcast a couple of weeks back to talk about vendor-hosted communities as part of the marketing & sales mix. They just posted the results today. We wound up talking more than I expected about “the B word” (Branding). I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, since the whole point of the blog post that kicked off the G-W connection was that certs and these types of communities are built to foster brand loyalty.

Nonetheless, I found this sort of funny since the Branding department tends to be the bane of every product marketer’s existence. They make us spell out things like “Cisco Unified Computing System” or “VMware vCenter Operations Manager” in everything we write even though it makes for really awkward sentences and nobody in the real world ever refers to the products that way anyway. This is a very typical case where official Corporate Branding actually gets in the way of a product acquiring and building on an organic identity within its user base. If your users fondly refer to your product–officially known, let’s say, as the Fortuna Unified Zazzle Zapper 3627–as “FUZZ3k”…go with it sometimes..

Then today I came across a contrarian article which argues that people don’t really want relationships with brands, and “relationship-building” with your customers is all hooey. Now, it’s certainly true I don’t feel a need to have a relationship with every brand that enters my life. I can’t imagine why I would want to follow a consumer brand on Facebook, for example. But for brands that have a material impact on the development of my career? On the quality of my family’s life? These are things to which I have a very devout attachment.

Tech products can absolutely change people’s careers–and lives. IT people build their careers around their expertise with certain products and certain companies’ portfolios. Those relationships are not built around a few transactions, but the entire experience of being part of the user ecosystem–even of being a prospect.

This is perhaps the hardest thing for young companies to crack. Challengers tend to operate deal by deal, hoping to establish beachheads in key accounts and *then* build the relationship from there. I submit that this is backwards. In this case the challenger is trying to generate more business by doing it behind closed doors, hoping for further introductions within the account and formal references to take to other accounts–meanwhile likely bemoaning their relatively small marketing budget and the difficulty of buying enough airtime to compete with incumbents. Meanwhile larger and more innovative companies alike are conducting their business out in public, participating in and maybe sometimes generating interesting debates, getting people talking to each other, and benefiting from the word of mouth that comes along with that.

Bazaar - wikimedia

This is the modern tech market: back to the bazaar. Everyone knows everyone. Anyone can talk to anyone. If you just sit in your stall shouting at passersby, you’ll never hear what people are–and aren’t–saying about you…and your neighbors, and your enemies. Sit and drink a cup of tea or five? Toss a coin every day to the musician who contributes to the atmosphere, ask after everyone’s health, have a story to share? The whole village is at your feet.

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One final thought: as much as I appreciate the Geek Whisperers sharing my Vanna White impression for all the internet to see, I truly think the Bob Plankers-Anthony Bourke rendition is far more compelling, even if it’s perhaps marginally less compliant with Brocade brand image guidelines. This is one of those FUZZ3k moments.

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