Interview with Thomas Purves, Futurist, at the Canada 3.0 Forum

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The Tie that Binds Great Design: Marketers Must Be Conversation Starters (Part 2)

Thomas Purves, Toronto-based blogger, futurist and technologist spoke to me at the Canada 3.0 Forum about how the social web and mobile ubiquity will change the game for marketers. Having a good product is not good enough; marketers have to create the conversations for consumers to involve themselves, and their peers, with the brands they support.

Virtual training and online seminars are favorite tools of marketers and sales people because they are practical, cheap and the technology behind them has improved significantly over the past few years. Let’s face it; “Connect with your clients, without ever leaving your desk chair!” is a pretty strong sales pitch to lazy marketing and sales folks. I am not knocking the utility of Webex or GoToMeeting.com as sales and training tools, but when it comes to creating meaningful conversations with clients that help you glean insights about how they are using your product, virtual interactions are kind of like taking a photo with your finger covering half the lens.

My point is nothing beats real face time with users. This is a more traditional approach to sales and marketing but the opportunity to get designers, engineers, sales and marketing people in the same room with customers is an important way to learn how users are interacting with your product. A company conference, training retreat or a refresher course luncheon are great ways to get some face time with the end users, but make sure you drag a few of the engineers and techies out for the event too. This can be a challenge because often engineers are not comfortable interacting with clients but get inventive in terms of incentives. Otherwise,
find support from senior management as they often have special powers of persuasion.

Salesforce.com with their Dreamforce Conference, Apple and the Worldwide Developers Conference, Berkshire-Hathaway’s annual general meeting, and even Budweisers’ Bud Camp have all achieved rock-star status in creating branding and marketing opportunities out of events designed to interact with their supporters
face-to-face.

An Example

I did some work with a company that provides a database and research platform for the financial services industry. One of the issues the company faced was that it was very difficult to make sure their users were up to date on training and understanding all the features the platform offered. The end users were most often junior analysts,
responsible for compiling and analyzing massive amounts of data and creating models on tight deadlines. This service is an amazing tool that makes their life much easier, however, because of the relatively high turnover in these positions, it is very difficult to ensure that all of these power users are well trained, getting the maximum potential out the service, and acting as brand ambassadors to their friends and colleagues. What is more, often these power users had little or no involvement in the sales and training process that was done with the higher-ups in the corporation. It goes without saying they were not invited to the fancy lunches or after work drinks by the sales team.

The company sought to get the under-serviced power users more involved by getting as many as possible together once or twice a year at an off-location training camp. Given that most of these analysts are young, overworked and underpaid, the opportunity to get out of the office for a two day training event was pretty appealing, but even more so because the company made a point of interspersing the training sessions (with the developers, product designers and user experience people all helping out) with some great social activities. Give i-bankers a chance to shoot each other with paintball guns and play poker for charity and watch the magic happen.

Another strategy the company implemented was providing the financial research platform to business school classes for free. Out of the deal, the b-schools got a
great research and analytics tool for teaching finance. The company got a laboratory to study how the next generation of users is interacting with their service. An added benefit is that when the university students join the workforce, they are already familiar with the service turning them into Super Mighty Morphing Power Users! (So cheesy but I couldn’t resist!)

Creating and analyzing the conversation between consumers and the company is an essential role for modern marketers. Allowing product designers to learn how the end user interacts with the product could mean the difference between a producing a white elephant, and creating a really sexy product, intuitive in its design and execution, and something that people use every day to make their lives easier. A recent post on Onedegree.ca, looked at the Top 20 Business Productivity Tools For Small Biz Marketers. Take a second to put yourself in the shoes of the top marketers at the companies on that list. Think about how you could use Lynda Partner’s coverage to
spur a conversation with your existing clients? How could your design team learn from the other companies that have been given the nod for providing great service and value for small businesses? These are the types of conversations modern marketers must be creating, monitoring and jumping all over when the opportunity presents itself.

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