The way people research and make purchase decisions has changed drastically during the past few years.
Just look at what’s happening in the retail industry: online shopping is decimating iconic brands that have thrived for decades. It’s all about an empowered buyer getting exactly what they want, when they want on their terms.
And it’s not just the disruption of traditional retailing. iTunes transformed the music industry. Netflix has effectively made the video rental store industry irrelevant. SiriusXM Radio is redefining broadcast media. The Internet of Things (IOT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are almost certain to accelerate this kind of disruption.
Closer to the data center industry, in particular on the cloud side, there’s enormous pressure on many smaller providers coming from Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM.
Reclaiming Your Data Center’s Brand in the ZMOT Era
At the end of the day, your data center’s brand is no longer what you say it is. Your brand is now what the marketplace and more specifically your company’s core buyer personas believe it is.
Google’s Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) crystallizes this well: “The Internet has changed how we decide what to buy.”
The cruel irony in all of this: data centers should be at the forefront of understanding this trend and rallying their teams around the transformation. Instead, we often see data center leadership teams still sticking to the same marketing and sales playbooks that they’ve leaned on since the 1990s and early 2000s.
With an estimated 70%+ of the decision-making process now over before someone from your company is even aware of a new client opportunity, this is a huge challenge for data center builders and operators.
But it’s also a big opportunity if your team can get found early, in the right context, as trusted advisors. The way to do so: create and distribute helpful, educational, thought leadership content.
Understanding What Marketing Can and Can’t Do On its Own
The real issue, however, is that too many data center CEOs mistakenly believe that this is a marketing problem.
While marketing can be part of the solution, it takes a village to change the industry’s perception of your company.
Different people throughout your company get asked different questions, interact with different stakeholders, and bring vastly different perspectives.
And it’s only when all of these voices get heard that your data center can indeed be perceived as a company of thought leaders.
Data centers that are world-class communicators are the ones that attract world-class clients and a world-class staff.
Conversely, data centers that are terrible at communicating, that are never found early on, and whose entire business model depends on obnoxious cold calling and bids with threadbare profit margins, those are the data centers that settle for the bottom-of-the-barrel clients that no one else wants.
So the choice is yours.
Spotlighting All the Smart People and Great Advice Within Your Data Center’s Core Team
Do you have brilliant professionals throughout your data center company? Do they have collective decades -- even centuries -- of institutional knowledge, advice, and war stories just itching to get out there as a magnet for attracting great new clients and staff?
But the harsh reality is very few in that position have the time or interest to bang out 25 or 50 blog posts every year.
However is it possible that each person could find 30 minutes once a quarter -- perhaps even once a month -- to sit down for an interview over coffee or lunch?
From that 30 minute interview, a good writer can generate a piece of premium content that can become a lead generation asset. Perhaps it’s a downloadable planning checklist, a template, or a short report or eBook.
From that piece of content, the writer can then create a few blog posts that excerpt from and promote this newly created lead generation asset.
And each of these blog posts can be used to build several social media status updates.
To scale this editorial process, you’ll end up with a small team: a marketer, a writer, and perhaps a designer or multimedia specialist.
Who to Draft on Your Data Center Thought Leadership Team
But who should be on your data center’s thought leadership team?
- Sales - Because your sales team will be the ones that most directly and most immediately benefit from the great leads and opportunities that come from this effort, your sales director and sales reps should be the ones most excited by this kind of initiative. However, sales teams tend to be much closer to prospects and clients that marketing teams. So sales teams likely have dozens of questions that they’re answering every month -- on the phone, in emails, and during in-person meetings. In most cases, each can be repurposed into content -- as long as there are a strong process and a solid strategy.
- Operations - Think about how a sales rep spends a typical day. Then think about how someone on your operations team spends a typical day. Different questions. Different issues. Different stakeholders. All of this leads to very rich sources of content. Again mine the ticketing system, the call logs, the one-off emails, and notes from meetings.
- Facilities - Would a sales rep get excited about answering questions all day on power and cooling issues? But for those on your facilities team, it’s a critical part of running a data center. Just as with all the members of your data center’s thought leadership, if a client, channel partner, vendor, or employee is asking a facilities-related question, chances are someone else just like them will go to Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Siri, LinkedIn, YouTube, SlideShare, or Twitter and ask the very same question. Do you want your facilities team’s answers and advice to act like a giant thought leadership magnet, attracting world-class client opportunities and job candidates? Or do you want those strangers to be attracted to one of your competitors?
- Provisioning - While topics like meet me rooms and Open-IX might be an instant-snoozer for many of your employees, your provisioning team likely loves to talk shop about these issues. Again, if they’re asked questions, we want their sage advice in your data center’s thought leadership content to attract like-minded clients and talent.
- Finance - Tax incentives. CapEx vs. OpEx. Return on investment on outsourcing. Many data centers would not immediately think of their CFO and its staff as data centers thought leaders. But there’s an excellent chance their answers to common questions can also be used to draw in very particular kinds of IT influencers and decision makers.
- Executive Management - While many might instinctively think that your data center’s leadership team are the thought leaders, it’s surprising how often that there’s a massive disconnect on the implementation. The red flags? If your executive team only has mediocre LinkedIn profiles, or they’re completely absent from Twitter, or they have very little bylined educational content on the company blog, there are some significant gaps to be addressed. What’s even more shocking? We see a lot of data center CEOs and other C-level execs speaking at data center conferences -- and very little of the content is being repurposed and promoted as a magnet to attract good-fit clients and staff before and after the live events have taken place.
Who currently sits on your data center’s thought leadership team? How often is each person interviewed? For how long has the initiative been in place? And what results have you seen? Let us know your take in the Comments section below.
If you’re attending the Data Center World conference next month in New Orleans, be sure to catch Joshua Feinberg’s related session on How Data Centers Use Thought Leadership to Attract World-Class Clients and Talent on Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 10:20 am in room R215 of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.
Joshua Feinberg is Vice President and Co-Founder of SP Home Run, which helps data center, managed service, hosting, and cloud providers grow their leads, client base, revenue, and profitability.