A couple of weeks ago, Kevin Potts, VP of Marketing for Emptoris, launched a new blog, The Optimum, a self-described "Emptoris blog for ideas on delivering exceptional enterprise software for strategic supply management and enterprise contract management." Kevin's already hit the ground running with a number of posts. After reading a few of them -- which I could tell required significant thought and time -- I thought I'd reach out to him to find out more about the ideas and goals behind The Optimum, as well as Kevin's view on company blogging in general. Below is a transcript of an email interview with Kevin from last week.
SM: What is the main purpose of investing what's clearly already been a lot of time and ideas in your blog?
Kevin: First and foremost, marketing in the 21st century is undergoing massive shifts. No surprise there. However, I was slow to react. Ammiel Kamon [Kevin's former boss at Emptoris] always pushed me to get into the conversation on the web. It was on my marketing plan for two years; finally, one snowy winter morning a few weeks ago, I put my mind to it, pulled together some content sitting in my head, and created The Optimum.
The second purpose is to get our perspective out, all of it. All my marketing career, Jason, I have relied on impartial third parties -- blogs like Spend Matters, the industry analysts, the media -- to tell our story. While that is still as important as ever, what I found was these outlets wrote 25% of the story I conveyed. It was not their fault; they needed to remain impartial, and I had too much to say, or I was not clear in my communication. Now, I can tell the whole story for those interested.
SM: How would you like the blog to differ from others already in the Marketplace in terms of content, role, ideas, and overall educational focus?
Kevin: Great question. As you know, we are not a "me too" company, so, I wanted to talk about something relevant and distinctive. I did not want to create a weak sister (old Marine term) to what's already out there. You staked the claim for all things "spend" years ago, so I did not want to compete with that. Oracle and SAP do everything, so they must have blogs somewhere on the importance of doing everything; as we don't have 10,000 developers, I wanted to avoid competing with "everything." Ariba covers all things procurement, and we don't have a thousand consultants watching the full gamut from metals markets to invoice processing, so cross that off. Finally, I fell back to what we are known for -- delivering innovative software in this space. And I decided to contribute to the conversation with a focus on best practices in technology development, implementation, and adoption. We have something to say there that goes beyond any other blog in this area.
SM: How are you justifying your time commitment to it internally, when we both know that the opportunity costs of these things can be very large? How do you plan to measure its effectiveness?
Kevin: Another great question, Jason. Right now, I confess I don't know. It's too early. However, I have tremendous faith in its value. As I was creating the blog, I was trading emails with Sean Devine [former head of consulting at Emptoris]. You know Sean well. Funny; it was Sean who, back in 2005, wanted to launch a blog for Emptoris. He was going to write it but, regrettably, I pooh-poohed the idea. Anyway, I reached out to Sean for advice, and he told me that it is a large time commitment, but that customers love it. Statements like this give me faith in this investment.
Regarding measurement, this is also tough. Obviously, there will be all the usual tracking stats, but the real value will be when a customer tells me face to face that they read the blog and it helped educate them on their technology decision. And, if it doesn't work, Patrick [Quirk, CEO at Emptoris] told me not to worry. He would allow me to be taken to a big farm, where I would be allowed to run free forever. Alright, my apologies to Conan O'Brien.
SM: In your view, what is the role for vendor-driven blogs in this market relative to those of analysts and third-parties?
Kevin: Analysts and third parties like Spend Matters remain the number-one way to get my message out and build awareness. That will absolutely continue to be where I spend most of my marketing time. However, this blog allows me to put a personal face on our company and share a broader perspective -- albeit subjective -- than I could ever hope for from third parties.
SM: Do you see the blog as opening up a more direct channel of communication with customers and prospective customers (i.e., to answer questions more rapidly, candidly and openly)?
Kevin: Absolutely. As you know, Patrick's big focus is on "voice of the customer." This blog will allow me to share with customers what we are learning, and how we are responding to what they are telling us. Regarding prospective customers, our experience is that people don't just look at our website one day and buy from us the next. They follow us, sometimes for years. This will be a quick and affordable way to keep them up to date.
SM: Is there any early advice, based on what you've learned so far, that you'd give to others in the market (providers, practitioners, analysts, etc.) debating starting a blog like this?
Kevin: If you have something to say, the start-up cost is next to zero; all the effort is in the content. Once I picked the platform -- Google's Blogger in our case -- I was live in less than an hour with my first post, working from home. The approach is so forgiving. I don't need to know html. I don't need to bother Chris Perry [Creative Director at Emptoris]. If I go over the line or say something I shouldn't, people like you will call me on it, and I can correct it and apologize in a minute. It's not like a press release that will live out on the internet for years.
SM: What can we expect from you and the team going forward?
Kevin: Well, as long as Ariba's legal team doesn't get the judge to put a gag order on me, I hope to be making meaningful contributions for years. You probably understand this better than anyone. This is not just as an investment in Emptoris; this is also a personal education for me, and I will be a better software marketing executive for having done it. I hope that will continue to make me valuable to both Patrick and Bill Atkinson, Emptoris' chairman and Group President of Technology at Marlin Equity Partners.