CMO Close-Up: Explain your "bonding is the new branding" concept?
Ram Menon: Since we sell complex software, we try to keep marketing simple. We also have to realize that the product isn't what it is, but what it does. That means that, even in this age of social media and online marketing, nothing beats face time with customers. That may not make sense to somebody selling chocolate, but it definitely makes sense when selling complex infrastructure software that people are betting their companies on. In addition, the most interesting conversations are not the ones we have with our customers but the ones they have with each other.
CMO Close-Up: So the "bonding" you're talking about is customer-to-customer?
Menon: Yes. When we talk about our social media community, we try to focus on what our customers need. And what they need is the ability to talk to others who are using the software. Our online Tibco Community is up to 50,000 members. Conversations might be, for example, about a large airline company or bank facing a big issue. Someone in that arena who had a similar issue last week can respond immediately to the post about how to fix the issue. This is not a moderated conversation, but rather a private environment where people are talking about what they're doing with Tibco.
It also means good business for us, because a support call from a large company could cost $1,000, considering the downtime value in talking and finding out the problem to be solved.
CMO Close-Up: Do Tibco employees participate?
Menon: We do encourage Tibco engineers to participate. Say a large bank in Brazil posts that they need additional information about a solution. This way, in addition to feedback from other customers, they can get information directly from the Tibco guys who are building the products. We have awards for the employees who post the most meaningful information. Customers get real answers to real problems.
CMO Close-Up: You mentioned earlier that nothing beats face time with customers. How does that complement the online community?
Menon: We think about live events a little differently. When customers and prospects come to a Tibco event, they might hear from me or our CEO at the beginning; but then we quietly move away so other customers can talk about what the products do for them. At our users conferences, we'll typically have dozens of interactive sessions to explain new tools but always in the context of a customer who is using that tool. In fact, we don't announce a new product unless it's already live with a customer, so he can be available to talk about it.
CMO Close-Up: With 4,000 customers in 37 countries, Tibco must be on the road a lot?
Menon: We are. We did a road show last year hitting 41 cities around the world in 120 days. Yes, we could just go to a large single trade show, but with our own events we have our customers talking first. We'll verify the value of the event's contents with the preponderance of customers in that city, and then customize it. For example, New York will have presentations from financial service institutions and trading firms; in Washington, there will be government organizations.
CMO Close-Up: Would you say that letting customers be your prime marketing channel is a rather subdued approach to the task?
Menon: Some might say that, but that's OK. In this age, when you have so many ways to get information about a company and its products, the only thing that a marketer has left is trust.