Offering Marketing Strategy Office Hours
I’m setting up monthly ‘Office Hours’ to provide marketing strategy advice to local tech companies here in Utah at two locations. If you’re local and would like to schedule some of that time to discuss your company or project marketing efforts, you can sign up at http://bit.ly/Kiln-Mktg
Here’s some background on why I am doing this: Prior to joining Microsoft in 2006, and after selling my software company, I co-founded a consulting company with a co-worker (Dr. Michael Meehan) and former advisor to my startup (Jack Katz) called Red Hill Partners. While we pursued many projects independently (I had a couple large projects with HP and Cadence Design Systems), much of our work was with startups and entrepreneurs in the bay area, and we occasionally aligned forces to work together on projects. Some of these client prospects came through our attorney (Mario Rosati, WSGR), while others through our contacts within the startup community at both UC Berkeley and Stanford. Some of these were pro-bono, as the student-led projects were usually pre-seed. But I found that time in my career to be one of the most interesting and fulfilling. I thoroughly enjoyed working with the students and their advisory boards, extending the “runners high” of my years as a startup founder and CEO. I often describe myself as a “builder” versus “ongoing operations” personality.
Most who know me understand that I am also a huge “community” person, not only because I believe in collaboration and tapping the collective unconscious to solve problems, but because my learning style is more on the verbal/visual/interpersonal side of the spectrum, akin to the dialog-driven Socratic method. I prefer discussion to most other forms of learning.
When approaching people to offer “free advice,” the natural tendency is to question the intentions of the person, because nothing in life is truly free, right? We’ve all seen “offers” that quickly devolve into a sales pitch. That happens, and people are understandably cautious. But for most community-centric personalities, it’s not about creating leads, but in sharing what we know and helping others regardless of our own self-interests.
A few years back, I had a difficult manager who could not see the connection between community and business value. After returning from a lunchtime “table topics” event at the company in which I had volunteered to provide help and guidance around collaboration and social technologies (a lot of SharePoint questions), this manager told me that she did not see any direct value to our organization by my participating in this community event. In other words, my helping others in the company (during my lunch, mind you) did not add direct value to her team. I quickly snapped back something to the effect of “I’m not so selfish as to think that *I* must get value out of every community activity. If I can help others to be successful, I will.” She wasn’t happy with that response, and I probably shouldn’t have been so sharp with her, but I stand by my response.
There is inherent value in community participation. Call it “pay it forward” or even “karma,” but we all benefit when we regularly offer service to our fellow humans. If you took the time, I’m sure you could measure the impact and economic benefit of your community activities. Marketing attribution can be incredibly difficult to track and measure, but you could follow a number of indicators if you tried. Or you can trust your gut that helping others is a good thing, because it is.
Marketing people probably understand these indicators better than most, because we’ve made a career out of providing (or attempting to provide) quantitative measurements out of qualitative improvements (which, in reality, is more art than science). In the broadest sense, doing more for the community increases the level of awareness of you and your company, and can generate a lot of good will. Will I meet potential customers by offering free advisory services? It’s possible, sure, but that does not mean it is the reason for doing it. Nor am I writing this to tell the world what a great community member I am. My point here is to share my perspective — to share what drives me, personally — and to encourage others to find a way to do something similar and give back to their community.
I can’t promise a one-to-one economic benefit from your community involvement, but I can tell you that helping others will make you happy. And you’ll get to know new people, learn about their unique issues and start to identify common patterns between them, all of which will help you to better understand and resolve your own work issues.
When you’re actively engaged in community, everyone benefits at some level. The phrase that comes to mind is “A rising tide lifts all boats.” So get out there and serve your community.