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Close-Up with Pamela Evans, global digital marketing manager, IBM Software Group

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Pamela Evans has worldwide responsibility for IBM digital marketing strategies, Web analytics and content management for 70 IBM Software Group country Web sites. She is currently developing strategies to integrate online social networks in measurable ways to drive leads.

CMO Close-Up: How's the year shaping up for you at IBM?

Evans: We do see some very strong indicators that things are progressing. We have a lot of engagement online, which I feel is a good indicator of confidence. And certainly a lot of people are coming to our Web sites every day to learn about how they can better address the challenges they have. Within IBM marketing, we've seen a big shift toward a focus on ROI and transforming the way we interact with our clients.

CMO Close-Up: Please tell us about that, and IBM's social initiatives?

Evans: Social media has been responsible for a dramatic shift in the way we interact with people, including our own in-house experts. There's always that challenge of quickly connecting with like-minded experts who may be in a different department or business unit. We have some excellent collaboration tools that allow us to connect with each other, working more productively in sharing information.

And we apply it to marketing as well. We can monitor and identify online what our customers and prospects are interested in, and seeing their interactions on blogs, Facebook and LinkedIn. A good example was the online “Jam” developed by Jon Iwata, IBM senior VP-marketing and communications, where clients came together with IBM employees online to tell us what they're interested in. The Jam used real-time social networking such as text messages, chatting, blogging, a podcast, video clips and Web sessions.

Another excellent example is our “Smarter Cities” initiative last year, helping cities manage and plan for sustainable growth through an interchange of ideas. Initially it was just for two cities, but now has expanded to 90.

CMO Close-Up: How does IBM assess the ROI of its social initiatives?

Evans: We use a variety of listening tools to track volume and share of voice. We focus on quality. This helps us understand what our clients and prospects need. We look at external postings, including bloggers, to home in on the most influential ones. We use listening tools to understand not only the volume of those conversations but also the sentiment—what did they think of Lotus, for example, or WebSphere or IBM software. Were their comments positive or negative, and to what degree?

We're listening to understand the opportunities both to refine our marketing efforts and to improve our products. By way of example, we got lots of feedback in our live chats about interest in having Lotus Notes be available on the iPhone, so we added that feature.

CMO Close-Up: What about more “performance-centric” metrics?

Evans: In addition to establishing fundamental performance metrics, we're listening between the lines to help improve IBM's products, services, customer service and beyond. We then connect these topics to compelling offers on our Web site, where visitors engage by responding to these offers or interactive chat sessions. These warm prospects then can be passed over to our sales teams for follow-up.

CMO Close-Up: How does this affect your approach to marketing?

Evans: Some things haven't changed, of course. We still depend on data to guide us in everything we do. It's just that the amount of time we have to get information has changed dramatically. A few years ago we might look at quarterly plans and think about how to adjust them. But now we're applying these assessments every day and week.

It's wonderful to have a more real-time view of what clients are looking for. I feel we have more power behind the decisions that we're making. I view social media as an on-ramp to everything we do in marketing, giving incredible insight into what clients care about. There's also a change in how customers are part of the conversations, and looking online to participate in the discussion. Marketing now is really about participating together.

CMO Close-Up: Can you give an example?

Evans: A good one is Lotus Greenhouse, a live community Web site where customers can use Lotus Collaboration Products for free, collaborating with others and sharing information on projects. Another example is in our Rational brand, which mainly offers products for developers. But here, they're helping us with feedback. They're good at telling us in a very direct way if our products are meeting their needs.

We also had a very successful Lotus Jam in September, where hundreds of clients participated with our executives in interactive chat sessions. It was extremely effective in getting direct input on what clients care about. All of this complements live events, such as our January Lotusphere, in Orlando, [Fla.], a face-to-face opportunity to tap customers' direct feedback.

CMO Close-Up: Tell us about your marketing budgeting plans for this year.

Evans: We are continuing to shift investments to social and digital media, while we tap our most valuable resources, our people. We feature experts on Web pages and encourage participation in blogs, so there is an opportunity to take advantage of more voices across the company online.

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