User Generated Content is the Key to Social Engagement: Interview with Ken Wach

 
Glenn: Hi, everyone. I’m Glenn Gow, Founder & Advisor of Crimson Marketing. Welcome to Moneyball for Marketing where we talk about the incredible changes happening in marketing organizations around big data and marketing technology. We feature marketing technology insights from the top marketers in the world. The reference to Moneyball is from the story of how the Oakland A’s baseball team were able to win and win and win because they figured out how to use data and technology to their advantage. If you’d like to learn about how to use big data and marketing technology and marketing to help you win visit us at CrimsonMarketing.com or email us at info@CrimsonMarketing.com. And now on to our podcast.
Today I am very pleased to welcome Ken Wach the VP of Marketing for the Small Business Group at Intuit. Ken’s responsibilities encompass all product marketing and go to market activities including online and offline advertising, customer marketing, brand management, content and social marketing and related analytics, one of our favorite topics here on Moneyball for Marketing. And the Small Business Group is in fact Intuit’s largest organization with an annual revenue of over $2 billion and the primary product is the well-known QuickBooks a Sass business management solution for small businesses. So, Ken, it’s great to have you here, welcome.

Ken: Thanks very much, Glenn, pleasure to be here.

Glenn: So we were talking earlier about the social challenge and how difficult it’s becoming to really engage with prospects and customers and you are starting to think about some of those issues and how to address them. Share with us what’s going on in your world.

Ken: Sure. Well, like all companies we’ve been very conscious over the last couple of years about how we raise our profile out in the social world and we’ve got, of course, presences on all of the major social networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, et cetera, but what we started to find over the last basically year or so or a little bit more is that it’s getting harder and harder for us to get our message and our content out to our fans and followers and I think there’s a couple of things going on that are driving that. First and foremost it’s just the volume of content that is out there. I think all of us from our own experiences know if you’re on Facebook, you’re on Twitter there is so much content being so quickly that if you look at your Twitter account or your Twitter and feed and then you come back 30 minutes later so much information has passed through that if you’re an advertiser or a company that wants to get a message out to a prospect or a customer, unless that customer is looking at their feed real time it’s not likely that they’re going to see your content. So it’s just a crowded space and it’s getting harder and harder to get your message out there.

Glenn: Right and I just want to add to something there. It’s not just the fact that some of these social streams are actually streams and once it passes it goes away, but it’s also because of the massive increase in content we’re now competing with everyone for a little bit of mind share and that’s becoming more and more difficult.

Ken: That’s exactly right and, of course, the network companies understand this and what they’re trying to do is curate the content and anticipate what their participants, what their members want to see. So you’ve got an extra set of logic now that’s been introduced into the system and what we’re finding is that we’re subject to the algorithms that the Facebooks and the Twitters have out there that are determining what content is getting to which user. And so the net of the combination of just the pure volume of content plus this additional logic that we can’t control is making it harder and harder for us to reach our message and we’ve got different data points, but our estimate is somewhere between two and ten percent of the messages that we are posting to our fans are actually getting into their feeds.

Glenn: That’s a pretty low number.

Ken: Yeah, it’s a real low number and so this is the challenge because, obviously, these are people that have raised their hand and said, “Hey, we’re interested in your brand. We want to follow you. We want to learn more about it,” yet we can’t get to them. So that’s the business challenge that we’ve seen arise in the marketplace over the last year. Now, the way we’re thinking about handling it frankly is trying to get more control over our community of prospects and customers and essentially bring a lot of this in house.
And so what we’re beginning to think about is building out, in our case, a small business community, our customers are small businesses typically 1-25 employees and what we’re beginning to think about doing is building out a community, a forum where these folks can come and engage with us in terms of consuming content, but also engage with each other in ways that help them succeed and help them grow. That’s what we’re really all about. So this isn’t about selling our product, this is about helping small businesses succeed by giving them the content, the information, the context, the contacts that they need to help them grow their businesses.

Glenn: And, Ken, just to jump on what you’re saying I gave a talk today on the whole topic of content and I got a question which was an excellent question around, “How do I provide content to my prospects when they know it’s coming from me so they know it’s bias. They know I’m trying to sell them something. How do I remove that bias?” And I think the best answer to that is you create user generated content, or you don’t create it, but you enable user generated content which is what happens in a community. And it sounds to me like that’s the direction you’re going.

Ken: That’s exactly right. We call it hosting the party. So we want to create that platform and be that matchmaker that brings together influencers and experts in different parts of running small businesses and let them tell their story and provide their—because you’re absolutely right. Nobody wants to hear from the manufacturer, nobody wants to hear from the brand. It’s much more genuine when it comes from industry experts, influencers, frankly it’s even more genuine when it comes from our own employees because people, and again there’s data on this, that people will listen to content and comments from employees probably 2 or 3x more favorably than if it’s coming from a brand handle or a brand site.
And so the idea with the community is have heavy user generated content, but again unfiltered by third party algorithms and so it’s going to be all small business all the time and the other thing that we know about our customers is if you talk to somebody who’s a small business owner they don’t self-identify as being a small business owner, they self-identify as being a florist or a carpenter or a plumber.
Glenn: Right.
Ken: Their passion is the industry that they’re in and the craft that they’re building their livelihood around and so what you get is, of course, natural aggregations of common interests. And so we believe that by building a community that will also foster the ability of people to meet others that are like them with similar interests, similar challenges and then we can start to content up that caters to those sort of sub-communities if you will.

Glenn: Good, and if we time later I’ll ask you some questions about content. I wanted to go to a story you were sharing with me earlier though about how there’s even demand for what you want to create here in terms of a community and you told us a story about a campaign you ran. Tell the audience about that story.

Ken: Yeah, Glenn, that’s absolutely right. If you go back about a year, a year-and-a-half ago at Intuit we ran what we called, “Small Business Big Game,” which was a really fun campaign that resulted in giving a small business owner a commercial in the Super Bowl and this actually ran in Super Bowl XLVII or XLVIII the one before the one that just happened last month and this was about a nine-month campaign where we asked small businesses to register and basically tell their story. The theme of the campaign was giving small businesses a voice and recognizing them as heroes, sort of the unsung heroes of the economy. Something like 60 or 70 percent of the private sector jobs come out of small businesses. And so we built this campaign, a lot of energy, a lot of engagement, we had something like 3,000 or 4,000 people put videos together and submit them to tell their story and it was wonderful. We got about 12 or 13 billion impressions, a lot of national press–

Glenn: That’s an amazing number.

Ken: Yeah, really big numbers and most importantly we made a bunch of small businesses really successful. The top 10 or 20 finalists all had material improvements to their bottom line and to their business growth and obviously the winner had a significant amount of benefit that came out of the program, but one of the big learnings that we got as we exited that program was we heard from some of the people who participated that said, “Hey, this was great. What happens now? What’s the [Inaudible 0:10:17] I met all these other people, we have a shared experience, and we realized we weren’t leveraging the asset that we had created. We weren’t leveraging the content, we weren’t leveraging the level of engagement and the level of interest and so set that aside.
Then last year we ran another big event called QuickBooks Connect which had a whole different intent. That was, if you will, a user conference the first of its kind for us where we brought together not only small businesses but accountants and third party developers who write to our platform. So we were really introducing the fact that QuickBooks is an open platform and a community that goes beyond small businesses to some of the their partners and influencers.
Another great event that met all of its objectives. It took place in San Jose in the fall, but we repeated the same situation where the event ended, a lot of people met interesting associates at the event, at the physical event, but we didn’t provide any way for these people to stay connected. And so we saw two different instances, two different programs both very effective in their own right, but we saw a common thread which was that both of them should have been seeds that we were planting in service to a bigger engagement story and so now as we think about building out our small business community we believe that programs like these and whether we—we’ll undoubtedly do another QuickBooks Connect, we’re debating whether we’re going to do Small Business Big Game or not or something equivalent but whatever programs we run we are going to embed them into the community experience so that long after those programs are over, again, we’ll be there hosting the party and people who have built relationships will be able to continue to speak with each other and hopefully help their businesses grow.

Glenn: It’s interesting you bring that up because we have helped one of our clients build a community and they kept asking us, “What level of engagement is there?” And we said, “Well, the level of engagement that’s occurring is primarily between the participants directly where they want to communicate with one another,” and that’s why they’re seeing value inside of this community. It’s not about engaging with you, the brand.

Ken: Yeah.

Glenn: And it took a while for them to get comfortable with that.

Ken: Yeah, it’s true, but again what we have found and we see this even in our day-to-day marketing that there’s a real, natural affinity for people to listen to people like them. We call it “Right For Me Marketing,” which is to say, again, if I’m a plumber and I’m shopping on the QuickBooks website and I’m reading a bunch of testimonials about how good QuickBooks is the one I’m really interested in is the one from another plumber because I know that that person is living the life that I’m living, has the same needs, has the same work flows, has the same business challenges and so that affinity is very strong in the small business space and that is where the value of the community comes. And so it’s our job to foster those connections and then basically get out of the way and just seed the content, again, through influencers and through third parties. You’re basically lighting the match to light the fire and then the community members keep the fire alive.

Glenn: Well there are a couple nice things about what you’re suggesting here. One is you have to treat your current customers even better than you are today because by default if they join the community they’re advocates or they’re enemies.

Ken: That’s right.

Glenn: So the pressure for you to help those customers be successful and become advocates goes up and hopefully that’s a conscious thing on your part. And the other part is—oh, I have a question for you around how do you personalize that content? How do you seed the conversations? How do you play a role as it relates to content within the community and you don’t just have plumbers talking about what type of pipes to buy?

Ken: Yeah, a couple of things there because you talked about the importance of engaging customers and again they’re either going to be promoters or they’re going to be detractors so it’s very important that you give them the right experience, but at the end of the day when I think about this community and the value that it can bring to us as a business it’s almost stronger in the area of prospects. So, again, what we’re about is helping small businesses succeed. Now we believe QuickBooks can help them do that, but first and foremost it’s about them being successful with or without QuickBooks and so our hope is in this community we will be engaging not only customers but also prospects.
Now, you get a couple of benefits the one we’ve been talking about which is they’re engaging with each other, they’re learning best practices, they’re reading content from industry experts. From a business standpoint this is a tremendous opportunity around data because think about all these prospects that are out there now, they’re not customers so we don’t really know who they are, but over time we can learn an awful lot about them. First of all, they’ll register so let’s assume we have some sort of identification and email, but more important than that we will be able to observe their behavior. We will be able to see who are they speaking with? What sub-communities or sub-groups are they connecting with? What content are they consuming and you begin to build up a profile, if you will, of prospects and this is really the Rosetta Stone of marketing, right?
Because now if one of those prospects some time down the pike says, “You know what? I’m interested in buying some business management software. I think I’m going to take a look at QuickBooks,” and they come to QB.com we have a chance of really knowing who they are, okay and offering them a truly customized, right for me experience that says, “Oh, I know this guy. This guy’s a plumber and he’s been on our community for four months and he’s read this article and he’s engaged with these people,” they should get a different shopping experience from somebody else. So that’s where data becomes really important in terms of the value that we seed from this community.

Glenn: That’s fantastic and one of the things I talk about is as the world moves towards personalization, which I think is the right direction and your example’s a great one, the pressure to develop content that’s unique to that personalization just goes up because now I know a lot about that plumber and I know what they’re interested in, I better have content ready to feed to them to move them to the next stage and that just—the volume of content and the quality of the content has to increase as you become better and better at personalization.

Ken: It really does and we’ve been talking a lot about sort of the front end of the experience in terms of the community and what prospects and customers see when they get on to the site, but all the magic is on the back end and this becomes a huge content management challenge and opportunity because as you said, Glenn, you got to have the right content, you’ve got to be collecting it, it’s got to be refreshed, it’s got to be curated and stored, and you’ve got to be able to have the algorithms and the logic in place to serve up the content to the right people at the right time. So we’re doing a bunch of work now working with a number of partners around content management systems and what is the best tool and what are the best processes to put in place to ensure that we are gathering, curating, and distributing that content. It’s a supply and demand problem. We know we’re going to create the demand by creating the community, we have to make sure we have the supply of content on the other end. But again this goes back to why there’s no way we can do this ourselves. We can’t possibly generate or scale the amount of content, the variety of content that we’re going to need, the community will have to do that for us as they engage.

Glenn: Right.

Ken: Now we can help guide and hopefully provoke and coach and moderate dialogue, but at the end of the day hopefully the community members themselves begin to connect with each other and bring content aboard to help the thing move along.
Glenn: Well, I think it’s a fascinating concept because you’re creating trust in a sales environment and that’s actually very hard to do, right? Because the prospect knows that someone’s trying to sell me something at some point, but if they can trust the content, especially if it’s coming from their peers, and then they finally make it to a point where, “Okay, I actually want to ask QuickBooks some questions and then QuickBooks can provide me with content that’s kind of interesting to me that’s really going to make it easier for me to do business with you because I trust what you’re doing and you’re helping me make a decision.”

Ken: I think that’s right and frankly we’ve got to do whatever we can to make the community environment not feel like a sales environment.

Glenn: Right.

Ken: At the end of the day people will understand that this is sponsored by QuickBooks or Intuit or whatever it is, but I go back to our campaign Small Business Big Game one of the fascinating things about that campaign, again, which was all about the grand prize being in a Super Bowl commercial for small businesses I can’t tell you how many conversations we had with the press and others and they kept on saying, “What’s the catch? What’s the catch here? What’s in it for you? What are you guys doing? What are you guys selling?”
And the answer was, “Nothing, there’s no catch. We’re giving away a commercial to a small business in the Super Bowl, period, end of story. This is not a commercial about Intuit, this is not a commercial about QuickBooks, this is going to be a commercial about a small business. Why are we doing it? Because we stand for small business success and we’re going to shine a spotlight on one lucky small business and we’re going to make them a hero.”
Now that’s an extreme example, but that kind of mindset is what we want to bring to the community which is we’re first and foremost about helping you succeed. We have to build the trust that way and then the expectation is hopefully over time should they come to a point in their journey where they need to consider financial management software they’ll consider us.
Glenn: Well, I would argue that trust is a big factor when it comes to making a decision in the financial software arena so it sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job there. So, Ken, we’re actually out of time. I want to thank you so much for sharing this with us and I wish you great luck moving in this direction. It sounds like the right way to go.

Ken: Well thank you very much, Glenn. It’s really been a pleasure and thank you very much for the opportunity.

Glenn: All right, talk to you soon.

Ken: All right, bye bye.

Glenn: If you like this podcast please subscribe and rate us on iTunes and tell your friends about us. You can also go to our website, CrimsonMarketing.com, and sign up for our free monthly newsletter featuring the very best of our marketing insights, featured Moneyball for Marketing podcasts, and one of our favorite features called, “Bad Marketing,” or email me at info@CrimsonMarketing.com. Thanks for listening to Moneyball for Marketing from Crimson Marketing. Have a great week and let us know if we can help you in any way.