With the launch of its new web site on October 2, 2006, Cisco is taking a leadership role in showing businesses how to use a web site to get closer to customers, build communities and improve collaboration with those customer communities.  These are three goals  companies of all sizes can aspire to.                                                                                                                                                                   

How is Cisco doing this?  Well, the short answer is they are using the emerging, so-called Web 2.0 tools.  Web 2.0 is the catch-phrase for new Internet capabilities that really do make it easier for all of us—especially businesses—to interact online in new, easier ways.  Blogs, Podcasts (audio recordings), and Wikis (workspaces for online, group collaboration)are part of Web 2.0.  The longer answer is, Cisco is simply taking advantage of some new Internet tools that many companies of all size can also tap into.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Some Some of the new features and capabilities Cisco has added to their site include:           Networking Professionals Connection—this is an online forum where registered customers and users, can ask questions and post experiences and comments online about using Cisco’s products. Customers and users can then actually, answer each other’s questions.  Hence, a ‘community’, or, user groups on steroids.  And some of the ‘work’ can be accomplished by customers/users helping each other.  It is not all on Cisco employees to answer every question—and there are a lot of them already! 


Cisco also is hosting, Member Product Reviews (member refers to the fact, I think, that you must register in order to post questions and comments on these new web site sections).   So think of user forums—right on Cisco’s corporate web site.  And with all of the comments customers, users and other interested parties are allowed to make about using its products—after registering—you might ask why Cisco would need to maintain blogs.  (After all, the networking giant is trying to build communities, and you cannot build a community without knowing who your members are, so you must register.)  And more importantly, just how long will it take them to answer the questions?       

If your company takes this approach, be sure to have your employees available to respond to the questions. I viewed some questions on the Cisco site that were posted on October 9 and not answered yet.   See here for Discussion Forum on IP Telephony (Internet Protocol Telephony) where the red check mark indicates an answered question.  As of this writing on 10-15-06, I see only a couple of red check marks.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 In the Ask the Experts section, you find 2-week long conversations where you can post questions to key Cisco engineers and product managers and have an “…opportunity to learn with…” their experts on various technical topics that relate to how products, solutions and technologies function.                                                                                           

There is much, much more.  You should cruise Cisco.com to find all the nuggets.  I applaud Cisco for its openness, and willingness to collaborate.  Cisco always had lots of content on their site (they now even have ‘video datasheets’ for featured products).  But now Cisco has extended the content and added true, two-way conversations among their experts and their customers.         


How could your company participate?   Well, it could be easier than you might think.  Despite the fact that your web site budget is no where near Cisco’s, many of the web 2.0 technologies are within the reach of many smaller companies.  For example, you could host a question and answer forum on your company’s (soon-to-be-launched) blog or make a 15-minute audio recording interviewing your employees about what was behind the development of a new product or service.  You know,  a conversation-starter.  More on using new Web-based technologies to engage customers and prospects to come in future posts.


Michael Stelzner, of WritingWhitePapers.com blog, gave us some interesting food for thought regarding my post on How To Write A White Paper in 25 Minutes.  View Michael’s comments here.

So, Michael believes that White Paper Podcasts are a potential, but not here yet.  And he cites recent well-documented research.  I suggest, to businesses selling to other businesses—especially small/growing companies, why wait? 

From the perspective of Geoffrey Moore’s longstanding technology adoption curve, Podcasting is easily out of the innovation stage.  And it’s most likely more than half way through the early adopters’ stage.   ‘Barriers to entry’ are low:  iPods or other MP3 players are not necessary in order to listen to a Podcast (despite the name).  Podcasts are played easily on any computer with a sound card.

I’m not advocating that recording white papers as audio casts or Podcasts will replace all white papers.  Highly technical white papers focused on selling to engineers and requiring detailed schematics to make the case, will continue to be paper-documents.   I’m suggesting that with a new product or release, along with all of the other marketing content—technical sheets, capabilities brochures, etc.—you add in a 20-25 minute audio recording with the design team.  It’s an informal conversation with you team. 

A Podcast reveals the actual ‘voice’ and passion behind the product.  Prospects will think to themselves, “Hey—this is not just a widget or piece of software. There are authentic, real folks at this company who believe passionately in what there’re doing.”  You could also add a beta customer to the conversation, making the Podcast communication a word of mouth tool as well.

Why wait for your competitors to be the first to Podcast white papers in your industry?

My anecdotal findings:

  • Based on discussions with technology entrepreneurs and C-Suite members of startups is that they listen to business Podcasts or audio casts while commuting, working out, or during other ‘dead’ times (plane trips) —they’re not just listening to music on those iPods/MP3 players.   Additionally, they also listen at their desks, on their computers, as background while working.
  • Podcasts are showing up even in more traditional industries—Instrumentation & Automation for example.   ControlGlobal.com, the online version of Control Magazine, now includes a Podcast Library. 

MarketingSherpa’s new Business Technology Marketing: Practical Benchmark Data for 2006 report includes fresh insights on the Podcast topic–among tons of other useful updated findings.  (A free overview of report in a PowerPoint is here)

As part of the study, they asked approximately 650 technology and services buyers what most influenced a purchase made in the last year that they were actually a part of.  Now admittedly, Podcasts scored the lowest 2.7 percent—but they are on the radar screen.

As a side note on MarketingSherpa’s Technology Marketing: Practical Benchmark Data for 2006 —word of mouth scored as the highest influence to a tech or service purchase—48 percent.  And when you add in other word of mouth-oriented influences (blogs) the word of mouth influences are pretty high:

vendor blogs: 4.6 %

technology professional’s blogs: 19.6%

industry bulletin boards: 19.6%

(The numbers exceed 100 percent because interviewees were asked to list all of the influences on a recent technology, services purchase.)

Source: MarketingSherpa’s Technology Marketing: Practical Benchmark Data for 2006

What does it all amount to? Giving your small company, a big image.

White Papers Are Here to Stay

You might be surprised to learn that nearly 90 percent of technology buyers surveyed by the CMO  (Chief Marketing Officer) Council start the buying process by researching products and services on the Web.  So we know that Internet-centric, B2B, technology buyers are in complete control of how, what and when they learn about your products or services. 

White papers are widely used by technology decision makers to educate themselves before making major purchase decisions.  The 2005 CMO survey also revealed that “vendor white papers” are the most-popular content downloaded by tech buyers and shared with peers. 

Let’s accept that the humble online white paper is a powerful tool for demonstrating your company’s unique expertise and the distinctive capabilities of your products. How can your business easily tap into the overwhelming interest in Web-based research? 

But, however wonderful and useful white papers are for buyers, penning these techno-educational tools can be a time-consuming, pick-and-shovel effort for the authors. White papers that will attract and inform buyers are not puff pieces churned out by your trusty marketers. Tech white papers must demonstrate that the expert author/company:

  • understands the buyer’s problems and risks

  • has a handle on all of the available, competitive products

  • can make a valid case for the pros and cons of all options

  • can explain why your product/service delivers the best solution

Forget Writing, Record An Audio White Paper

The difficulty for most technology companies is that the engineers, directors of R&D, vice presidents of product development, and user-interface specialists who are the best spokespersons are also very busy people.

Record your white paper in the form of a conversation that can be delivered as a Podcast via your Web site.   Instead of reading about a product or service feature, now your prospects and customers can:

  • listen to your key message, in your voice,

  • hear, firsthand, the reasons behind your product development rationale,

  • understand how you solve problems better than anyone else.

Make It a Conversation

There are many benefits to sharing the knowledge of your product or service using an audio white paper.  Here are just five. Your Company can:

  1. Have a conversation with your top engineers about the key features of your product instead of forcing them to write, in simple terms, a similar description. Remember, you should write at an 8th grade level.  No one says you must have a conversation at an 8th grade level!
  2. Record a 20 minute Podcast in a fraction of the time it takes to outline, write, edit, and re-edit a multi-page white paper
  3. Allow your experts to spend a fraction of their time preparing to answer the Podcast interviewer’s questions—compared to writing and editing a traditional white paper

  4. Easily put your experts in the shoes of the decision maker—what do they need to know to make the best choice?   What are the factors to consider? Why did you select certain features and how do they work? What ROI can buyers expect?  What will reduce the risk in their decision making?
  5. Make the entire experience conversational for your customers—let’s face it, most (not all) white papers can be pretty boring

The audio white paper, or Podcast, is the perfect method to introduce a new product or service.

Your entire design team can get together around the table, relax a bit and then explain how they approached the product’s development.  Just like they would if they were chatting with a customer, after hours, at a trade show or other event.  

Podcasting (some of) your white papers will help you stand out from your competitors.  After all, it’s really just a conversation