The following post also appears on the IAOC blog site where it is part of a week long discussion lead by Elizabeth Albrycht, entitled "Towards a New Communications Model." Let me know if you agree -- or have some other ideas.
I first started to explore how the Internet and new communications technologies
had impacted our own profession, I was really doing so with the idea of
catching up with the industry. I had been too busy with clients to spend much
time researching technology for my own business needs. But the economic
Silicon Valley, gave me both the time and the opportunity to invest in my own knowledge base. As I began to understand the true scope of the technological changes that came out of the dotcom boom (and bust), I was amazed. I felt like the legendary Rip Van Winkle who after going to sleep one night, awoke 20 years later to find that his world had changed.
Had I not been running my own high–tech marketing and PR firm for these past 17 years? Had I not been engaged in some form of communications each hour of each working day? How could I have missed the way technology and communications had impacted my work, my business--my life? Talking about it in theoretical terms for a press launch or brochure was one thing, but learning about the application of technology on a personal level was a revelation. The more time I spent, the more I was astounded. The world as I knew it was shifting right beneath my feet.
What a pleasure it was when Elizabeth Albrycht invited me to participate in The International Association of Online Communicator’s (IAOC) blog to explore some of these technological changes with those of you who are, perhaps most attuned to a new way of thinking. Thank you Elizabeth (and Dan) for creating this platform. As someone new to blogging, it is an honor to join in “the conversation”.
Today my post will highlight some of the seismic changes that are already underway as our country shifts from our roots as an industrial society to a knowledge-based economy. I’ll discuss how these changes are being played out in four critical arenas: micro marketing, new digital technologies, the “internetworked” enterprise, and measurement and analysis capabilities. Then I will explore how these are being applied at one company, Cisco Systems Communications. Finally, I will present a table of both old and new communications models for discussion and debate. (see the attached file at end of this piece)
Transition to a Newer
Concepts of Micro Marketing
“It is fairly widely accepted that the developed world is changing from an industrial economy based on steel, automobiles, and roads to a new economy built on silicon, computers and networks….There are new dynamics, new rules and new drivers for success.” (Don Tapscott, Digital Economy)
This shift mirrors a similar change from older concepts of mass marketing--selling to large targeted audiences through the vehicle of mass media (radio, TV, print)--to a new system based on micro marketing. Micro marketing allows companies to reach more finely targeted market segments through narrowcast technology (email, webconferencing, blogging, podcasting), and tailor content to those very specific needs. This move to “1-to-1” marketing—the holy grail for marketers--would be cost prohibitive if it weren’t for Internet technologies, which offer cheap, fast and effective communications.
The Internet-worked Enterprise
As marketing has fragmented audiences into smaller and smaller segments, new digital technologies have created bridges between disparate groups, and allowed organizations to be more connected then ever before. From internal communications between employee work groups and departments to external connections amongst a network of partners, vendors, customers, investors, analysts and press, digital technologies have opened channels that until a decade ago, were still swimming in a sea of paper. This extensive network of rich connections extends the concept of the enterprise to one which is streamlined, integrated and global.
These connections have been brought about and hastened by powerful new digital technologies, i.e. the Internet, search engine optimization, and RSS that both supplement and replace traditional means of communicating. While businesses still rely on personal contact, digital technologies have provided alternatives to the constant, disrupting stream of meetings, memos, and telephone calls that were an indispensable means for business interactions. (Tapscott)
The most simplistic analogy illustrates the profound impact of digital technology: the bricks and mortar post office versus email. Not only is email faster, more convenient, and less costly, but email can be saved, archived and accessed in ways that are impossible for traditional mail. Further, email can provide an accurate and permanent record of communications.
These benefits are compelling, but as just as vital is the impact digital technologies have had on human interaction, collaboration, and communications. Individuals can now be located anywhere in the world and collaborate in real-time, as a team. New social networks are redefining networking and social interaction – virtually.
Measured for Impact
Perhaps most importantly for those of us in marketing and communications, new media and digital technologies allow us to measure the results of our efforts. Marketing programs can be measured for impact, tested, refined, and then, tested again. The ability to get feedback while a program is in progress and make adjustments is invaluable in creating the most effective marketing initiatives. In addition, measurement gives marketing professionals the ability to prove the value of an initiative and demonstrate marketing’s effectiveness at improving the bottom line.
This is the helicopter view and a simplification of some of the profound changes affecting every aspect of how we live and work today. What I’d like to do is explore how some of these changes are playing out at Cisco Systems communications. I am not a Cisco employee or beneficiary—my opinion is strictly a third party observation, from several interviews I recently had with the head of the news portal at the company.
An Example: Cisco Communications
About four years ago, Cisco’s Communication department decided to streamline operations and communications. They wanted to respond to a growing demand for information from press and external requestors that was beginning to strain scarce company communications resources. Moreover, the communications team wanted to insure that Cisco would present a single, consistent voice throughout the company and around the world.
The company decided on a two pronged strategy: 1) an extranet or news portal to streamline and organize external communications, and 2) a communications intranet to improve internal operations. The two would be connected. While the news portal, News@Cisco, was built first and the intranet 2 years later, I will discuss them here in reverse order.
Cisco’s PR Organizer
Intranets are often the poor cousin of a company’s web site, generating neither money nor customers. However, an intranet can transform how a company communicates, improve operations and contribute to the bottom line.
The heart of Cisco’s communication intranet, or “PR Organizer,” is a scheduling tool, which connects to an online calendar. All Cisco communications events, press releases, trade shows, analyst briefings are scheduled using this tool. When a communications person plans an announcement, it is entered into the scheduler and immediately impacts the online calendar and database, alerting individuals and departments and providing team members the opportunity to comment on event timing and their participation. This ensures that the calendar is always up-to-date and that everyone in communications will have access to the same information. An approval tool then automatically generates requests for feedback on any corresponding documents, such as press releases and briefing materials , and later reminds participants that comments are due. Finally, the system collects and consolidates all comments offering all a way to track the approval process.
When the approval process is complete, an oversight tool automatically alerts those with final review authority for accuracy, legality and consistency of voice for all press materials. Once approved, a distribution tool will send the item to the web site team who will enter them into all databases, the news portal and send them out to the news wire services. The tool will also alert the system when an item has been sent out.
The time and labor savings from this approach are enormous, as anyone who has had to coordinate even a single major release can attest. But there are other benefits as well. As a result of the new system, Cisco can today create one piece of content and use it many times over, customizing the information for product, region, or industry. Because of the tool’s ability to track comments as well as changes, the communications intranet also helps to build consensus.
More importantly, all communications materials and information can be saved, searched and re-used. In the past, content at Cisco was lodged in “silos” of information with no easy process for their retrieval. Today, Cisco’s communication intranet provides a single searchable database that everyone on the team can access, 24/7, from anywhere in the world. In an emergency or crisis, Cisco can--as it recently did with the tsunami in Southeast Asia--coordinate a single, comprehensive, global response.
Utilizing the latest in database and networking technologies, Cisco Communications now has more control over its content, information and voice. Content can be created once – and used everywhere. Operations are streamlined, providing greater agility and responsiveness. Coordination has dramatically improved, and content, and even pitches and presentations, are routinely saved, searched and re-used. The Communications team reports that it sent out 300 in 2004, compared to 500 releases in 2003. The difference is due, in large part, to the use of digital technology, new media formats and Internet communications technologies—all of which have resulted in a substantial savings in productivity.
Like so many companies today, Cisco had primarily used its online news room to archive releases and provide contact information for the press. As demand for company information grew, it began to strain limited PR resources. The company found itself sitting on a veritable mountain of information most of which, as we discussed, was inaccessible, stuck information silos away.
In addition, Cisco Communications was concerned about its ability to reach an increasingly fragmented and diverse audience of customers, employees, partners, investors, analysts and reporters--from all over the world.
There was also the growing need to tailor information for a specific region or product or country. Further, the communications team wanted to respond to news directly affecting Cisco, its customers and partners as it occurred, and with a rich array of new media.
To accomplish this, the company transformed its online news room into a news portal built upon a powerful database, that takes advantage of powerful new digital media, and streaming video and audio. Now, users can search for very specific information by product, country or customer, and access their information in a wide range of new ways. In FY 2004 the company provided over 630,000 video streams per quarter, and the number is growing. In addition the Media resource room on News@Cisco not only provides press releases and information, but also offers images, photos, company logos, and, for broadcast media, b-roll and corporate videos.
Cisco now provides over 350 RSS (a web syndication protocol that allows for the sharing of content over the Internet) feeds that any reader can receive by subject. Now Cisco partners, customers or any external user can select the exact information it needs, and post that information to a specific department or reseller website. Editors can elect to pull in all Cisco news that relates to an area of interest. And Cisco can use the RSS feeds to alert customers to issues of security.
Not only have communications dramatically improved with the introduction of the new portal and intranet, Cisco Communications estimates that it has saved over $5.1 million in 2004 in productivity and headcount costs, deferred calls and a reduction in wire service use. And, the company reports a 44% increase in unique website visitors; from 2.3 million in 2004 and a total 17.4 million page views or 1140% increase over 2003.
The one area the company still needs to address is tracking, measuring and analyzing the impact of its content, media and delivery systems. This final element of the new marketing mix is perhaps the most critical, in establishing and quantifying the value of marketing and communications, and in demonstrating in no uncertain terms the contribution both make to the bottom line. Right now the use of RSS does not allow for analysis and for tracking who reads the feeds, but it will.
Cisco still relies on traditional forms of mass marketing as a foundation for marketing communications: advertising, PR, and direct mail. However increasingly these traditional tools are being used to complement new micro marketing practices and the use of powerful new digital technologies, internetworked and measured for impact. It’s hard to imagine these traditional marketing techniques will disappear. But, the fortunes of many companies will depend on how well they adapt to a new economic model in the chaotic transition from an industrial society to a knowledge-driven economy.
Towards a New Communications
As marketing has fragmented audiences into smaller and smaller segments, new digital technologies have created bridges between disparate groups, allowing organizations to be more connected then ever before. This extensive network of rich connections extends the concept of the enterprise to one which is streamlined, integrated and global.
These connections have been brought about and hastened by powerful new digital technologies that both supplement and replace traditional means of communicating. Most importantly these new digital media can be measured for impact and contribution to the bottom line.
While older mass marketing methods and tools won’t disappear they are being supplemented and often replaced, by newer methods and media. Below is a table of how these two paradigms look in the transition to a new communications model for discussion and debate.
Based in Silicon Valley, Robin Stavisky provides strategic counsel to high technology companies combining new online media with more traditional forms of marketing and communications.