We have recently raised the issue of how to relate to analysts who are bloggers with a few of our peers. We wanted to see if the situation has moved on much from Tim’s PR Hype Cycle, and it has.
Quite a few of them seemed to be concerned with the move towards more reporting and less analysis. One major concern is that more and more analysts publish information from briefings onto blogs without going through the normal review process that allows the correction of misunderstandings that frequently arise.
Another issue that we have been discussing is the nature and role of regional bias in the context of analyst blogs? Jonny’s top 100 are all written in English, and overwhelmingly by analysts in the US and UK. What does that say about the adoption of blogs, the cultural preference of different forms of material and the importance of blogs for the English-speaking vendor community?
In an attempt to answer these questions, we need to ask ourselves about the origin of the stimulus to blog. Where does it come from? Most AR managers that we spoke to simply referred to the “vendors” as being the main stimulus. This is an interesting observation regardless of its accuracy (and regardless of most arguments about the independence of analysts). The statement that the blogs are “pretty much all vendor facing” does not seem to be right to us. Analyst blogs are aimed at various audiences and, certainly with firms like CMS Watch, some bloggers are aimed at end-users and not at vendors. It is therefore not correct to regard blogs as being solely vendor orientated. It would be very interesting to speak to Jonny’s top 100 in order to compare their motivation to blog with the opinion of clients and managers. One stimulus for posting is most certainly the rising pressure to “write up briefings” for clients right after the meeting. This used to be a faux pas, which misunderstood the analyst process. However, partly because it is nice to meet expectations and it gets vendors’ favour, analysts are often encouraged to write up their notes of what vendors say quickly (with little or no primary analysis or end-user feedback).
This leads us to another important, if not the most important question: what information needs do analyst blogs meet? Most posts are event driven and many offer reporting and not analysis. While quick reactions get readers, the value and differentiation they add compared to thousands of other industry pundits is limited. As one can see from Jonny’s list, one can become a well-read blogger without a meaningful client base or a rigorous research process. Some analysts however, like Gartner, PAC, Le CXP, Berlecon and Penteo will only release a small part of their IP because the research process they use is more onerous. As a result, their blogs are either a marketing tool for their paid content, or non-existent. Of course there is also some commercial common-sense at work here. If your research is funded by end-users then you need to convince them to pay for content, and you are more careful about what you give away. However, if your research is funded by vendors then you can more easily afford to give it away, especially if the vendors are funding your work on the expectation that the resulting research will be widely circulated.
There is an argument that ARs have limited resources, and they need to focus on the analysts that impact sales. On this basis, the effort vendors’ AR teams invest in blogging analysts is often a question of metrics. Those focused on sales often do win/loss analysis that encourages them to under-weight most bloggers and ignore those without notable influence on sales. However, there are others who think this approach is wrong. For example, companies that are more focused on the consumer and SMB markets, tend to spend much more time on bloggers. For those firms the choices are different, and often reflect larger resources focused on web communications. They sometimes have more resources than intelligence. Consequently, they can find it easier to respond to almost everything, especially if their metrics weights every blog equally. Their idea is that influence is dispersed, and not concentrated. Therefore, their audience is often not just the buyer, it is much wider: the channel, the regulator, the state, the developer and more.
AR managers who are focused on high-end B2B sales have learnt that the influence of analysts impacting deals in the board room is quite concentrated, and is not widely dispersed. Of course, this means that the vendors who sell to enterprises generally put less effort into the vendor-focused analysts. With the help of “blogging” some vendor-facing firms get to stimulate a response from vendors that have previously focused their AR on analysts with more influence on sales. It is a stimulus-response action waiting for a dissertation to be written about it.
Analysts blogs stimulate different responses from different vendors, because of the different significance of blogs to their internal and external audiences. It’s like an in-tray exercise. Do you prioritise the bloggers or answer the Magic Quadrant (MQ)? MQs are hugely time-consuming — an RFI with 2-3 briefings, maybe a SAS (before it’s in RFI stage), and often a 2-20 pages (note the range) or proof points and arguments. The MQ not only takes a massive amount of time, but also requires an experienced AR team prepared to focus on that one priority. Focus also requires the confidence to forego other opportunities. Many AR teams cannot focus. So they prefer briefing easy analysts and bloggers, then they get a positive blog or a quick take: that pleases internal stakeholders in some firms.
The issue for many AR managers is how do they evaluate the investment put into analysts seen as influencing sales when then also blog on briefing topics without peer- or vendor-review. The speed of blogs, and their individual nature, involves a typical quality/quantity trade-off. But it also creates more risk for AR managers, since analysts are more likely to publish mistaken comments on blogs, then can quickly escalate into reputational crises.
Of course the opposite question also needs to be asked: How many blog posts could be generated by the effort it takes to produce one MQ? How many positive blog postings from vendor-centric analysts would it take to neutralize one negative MQ?
For AR teams there is more work in stimulating 20,000 blog posts than getting one positive MQ, but – and this is crucial – responding to an MQ involves getting internal stakeholders to offer real candour and some detailed information. AR with no internal leverage is forced towards AR outreach with lower quality information.
That weakness often comes from weak relationships. AR teams with low internal leverage have more anxious internal stakeholders, and spend more time fire-fighting. The issue of immediacy (blog) vs. analysis is of growing significance for those firms. AR needs to decide whether to reach out to more analysts or to fewer. A broad focus often reflects the unfocused demands and fears of internal stakeholders. However for most firms selling to businesses, AR teams should focus effort and nurture carefully selected relationships.
Nurturing top analysis is tougher and needs deep interactions, and a tightly managed relationship. That is a challenging judgement, because it is also about the goals of AR and the target market. However, many AR teams are getting pushed to over-communicate with bloggers regardless of blogging analysts quite uneven influence on vendors equally different client base.
AR teams focussed on sales influence (especially those in markets like telecoms and outsourcing, with small number of deals of high value) should devote almost all their their resources to the fairly few analysts who impact their firm’s deals and concentrate on solid analysis to that they can use metrics to help internal stakeholder to understand why focus is crucial. But that’s not the right approach for everyone. AR teams with a remit to improve a perception with a wider audience, possibly because they sell through channel partners (large number of deals, low value), should focus on a wider ecosystem of analysts and influencers.
P.S. This blog has stimulated quite a few reactions, and I encourage readers to look at Dean and Dan’s comments here. Dea usefully points out that some of the trends I discuss here are not universally true (and that’s part of the reason why I also flagged up some contra-indicators in my post). He makes a powerful comparison between blogging analysts ‘quick takes’ and equity analysts’ short notes. Those notes, of course, are highly transactional, and exist to help brokers to stimulate investors to buy and sell stock. It’s interesting to see what work-flow is stimulated by analysts’ blog posts. Dan adds some important points from his Forrester experience.