The Ideas You’ve Been Missing
SAP is known for its products. But there are also many good ideas floating around this place that never make it into a product. They are interesting ideas worth sharing. But for a number of reasons, they never make it into SCN.
That’s why they hired me (I’m not just an SAP employee, I’m a marketing employee).
If your reaction to that is “Yuck,” then this is the point at which you should move on to reading something else on SCN.
Because this post is about marketing.
If you’re still hesitating, it’s fine. Go ahead. Leave. Really. It’s okay. I’ll try not to take it personally.
Why I’m Here
I work at SAP doing what’s commonly known as “thought leadership.” Many people consider that term a joke. I must admit I’m not fond of it either. It’s often used to describe warmed-over brochures that have been given an expensive, four-color, coffee-table-book treatment—nothing leading or thoughtful about that. But it’s the most recognized term for what I do, so I use it when I have to.
One of the reasons SAP hired me was to bring a more journalistic approach to the way that the company does thought leadership. I’ve spent most of my checkered past as a journalist—most recently 13 years at CIO magazine after spending years at newspapers and magazines, including a stint starting up a magazine about cycling (which remains a major passion of mine—but hey, everybody has to get a real job sometime, right?). Most recently, I was a researcher focusing on how to market IT services to customers (with ITSMA). (If you’re a real glutton for punishment, you can read more about me at my personal blog.)
If you can’t see a common thread in all this, let me help. Some people love to hear themselves talk. I’ve always preferred to listen. What I like listening to best are ideas. As long as the discussion involves ideas, I can get interested in just about any subject—even ERP.
At CIO, some of the other journalists used to snicker quietly at my passion for ERP—and laugh openly at my bad impressions of Hasso Plattner. But I loved ERP. Not because of the software, but because of the stories that the software generated.
Installing ERP software at a company is meat and gravy to a storyteller like me. Some of the stories I wrote about ERP implementations would have made good serial dramas: “This week’s episode: ‘Tears on the Eyeshade: Separating an Accountant from the Spreadsheet He’s Been Using for 40 Years.’” No kidding, people really do cry during ERP implementations.
So What Does This Have to Do With Marketing?
When I heard last fall that my boss was going to start a thought leadership “center of expertise” within SAP to sniff out interesting ideas and create stories about business and IT issues rather than products and services, I asked to sign on. My mandate is to never mention SAP products or services in my writing. Which is great. I’m not opposed to selling stuff, I’m just not very good at it—and I’m even worse with numbers.
If I’m selling anything, it’s goodwill. My hope is that by informing and educating people, it makes them more likely to think of SAP as a company they can trust. It’s the same kind of marketing that the management consulting firms like McKinsey have been doing for decades. It’s just rarer for a product-centric company like SAP to be doing it.
That’s what’s exciting—and frankly, very challenging—about my role. Places like McKinsey have what I call “an idea culture.” Consultants understand that they won’t make partner unless they come up with good ideas and communicate them. Marketing is focused heavily on promoting ideas—indeed, it’s just about all management consulting firms have to sell because they sell services, which are invisible.
Talking about the ideas floating around the products and services at SAP is a harder sell both with customers, who are used to associating the value they get from SAP with products, and with some SAP employees, who think that marketing that doesn’t lead directly to a product or service discussion is a waste of precious budget.
Why Ghost Writing Is Necessary
Feeling sorry for me yet? If you are, you’ll probably stop when you read what I have to say next.
That’s because the way that I’m planning to engage with you on SCN is by channeling other people’s ideas, not my own. Some people call that ghost writing and dismiss it as being inappropriate in social media.
I think that’s short sighted. If we limit the discussion on SCN only to those subject matter experts who have the time and skills to blog, I think we’re missing out. I hear this a lot: “I love the passionate rants. Keep the ‘articles’ out of social media.”
What if I told you that I think I’m pretty good at channeling other people’s passion? And I’m also pretty good at sifting good ideas from uninformed hype. Here are my other arguments for letting me present others’ ideas to you here:
- Most people—even really smart people—can’t write worth a damn. Why do we assume that anyone can channel passion into his or her writing?
- Social media is biased toward English. Most of the people I speak to at SAP are German and while most Germans are amazingly skilled at English, that skill rarely translates to the written word.
- It’s not about the style, it’s about the ideas. One of the best aspects of social media is the opportunity to put ideas to the community and gather feedback. I’m excited about the prospect of not just presenting ideas to this community but also in building ideas with this community. As I interview SMEs around SAP and external influencers like analysts and customers, I want to be able to share the raw ideas in their earliest stages so that you can be part of the thinking process.
- Transparency is the “hidden” problem. I think what people object to most about ghost writing is that the real people behind the prose are hidden. I will always blog as myself, introduce the ideas myself, and will always tell you whose ideas I’m channeling. I will attempt to respond to all comments myself, based on the work I’m doing with the SMEs. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll go to them and get the answer and come back to you with it. I’ll also give you the names of writers that I have working with the SMEs as we are doing interviews and working towards the “final” products: white papers, videos, etc.
I hope that this approach works for you and that we can engage in a dialogue about relevant IT and business issues and ideas. If it doesn’t, I guess I’ll be ignored or flamed. I’m willing to take that risk; though I can also take a hint and will leave if enough people really object to what I’m doing.
How about you? Are you willing to engage with me about ideas that come directly from SMEs’ brains rather than their keyboards?