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Close-up with Thomas J. Hoehn, director-interactive marketing and convergence media, Eastman Kodak Co.

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Tom Hoehn is in his 21st year with Eastman Kodak Co. and has been involved with the company's Internet activities since their inception. Most recently he's led efforts to extend Kodak's social media communications and engagement. He's also championed compelling content activities to drive traffic to fuel the company's online store, relationship marketing and product awareness, among his many duties at Kodak.

CMO Close-Up: Kodak is among the most active of corporate social media players. How was Kodak's social media outreach originally conceived?

Hoehn: It actually started four years ago. We were in the middle of a transformation, a tectonic shift, and people weren't understanding the transformation to digital at the company. Customers weren't getting the story right. It was easy to say, “Kodak, the film giant,” but we were innovating around photography in many more ways.

Of course, we asked ourselves, does the world really need another blog? Do we have something unique to say? We felt we did, that it would put a face on the brand, so we launched a blog in 2006. And it was successful; we haven't missed a day since then without a post. I'm very proud of that. Someone just called us the Cal Ripken of bloggers.

CMO Close-Up: With that track record, we imagine you aren't the only blogger at the company, right?

Hoehn: Right. We came up with a distributed authorship model, where we chose a number of Kodak employees and had all of them contribute one blog, a couple of hundred words once a month. And because we are Kodak, we combined engaging stories with imagery. One of our people talked about her preemie baby and shared photos. Another woman does missionary work on the side, bringing those stories back from rough locations with beautiful photos. Another did a post on dog photography; what she did was take a gorillapod—one of those small, flexible camera tripods—and wrapped it around her pug dog. So the dog was walking around taking photos from a dog's-eye view.

At the end, what we wanted people taking away from these posts was, “These are people who are absolutely nuts about good photography. I bet they make good products, too.”

On the b-to-b side, we also launched a technology blog, featuring a product manager and research scientist. The light bulb went off when we saw the media picking up direct quotes from the blogs—not the press releases—because they wanted input from the people involved in the game.

CMO Close-Up: What special challenges did you face in altering the conversation about the company?

Hoehn: With social media, it was logical to start on the consumer side, but we applied a lot of those lessons to the b-to-b space. You have to listen very closely to where the conversation is happening—about your products, category and brand—and who those influencers and advocates are.

We also had to learn when and when not to talk—and how to talk. At Kodak, we didn't want to be “that guy”; you know, the one who interrupts the conversation at the party and talks about what he wants to talk about.

CMO Close-Up: Avoiding that syndrome is quite a challenge. What did you do instead?

Hoehn: Here's an example: We entered the pocket video camera category in July 2008, and we soon saw tweets coming in about Kodak versus Flip, and which one should I get. So what we did was we found five or six side-by-side comparison reviews that people did on their own and wrote one blog post that highlighted these. Then, when we saw a conversation about which one to buy, a Kodak person would simply send the link to the reviews. Period.

Now, these reviewers weren't all glowing and gushing about Kodak. But it helped make the decision. That's how you engage in the conversation.

CMO Close-Up: How would you say social media “plays” with a b-to-b audience that's different than with consumers?

Hoehn: Businesspeople want information. They're not going to go to a Facebook page to buy a half-million-dollar printer. Rather, it's about establishing your presence on forums specific to industry topics. It's about identifying prospects and providing information and an awareness of thought leadership.

Thought leadership here is important. You're adding value to these conversations. You're seen as visible with your blog posts, You're publishing white papers. You're sharing innovations via intellectual property. People also can see the personas within the company and recognize that these are people who care about their products every day.

CMO Close-Up: In the new world of social conversations, how are Kodak's marketing and sales teams working most effectively together?

Hoehn: It goes back to listening. We may have our marketing messaging, and think it's right. But we also need to know if our messaging doesn't fit. With social media, you can get some real-time listening about what the industry is talking about and whether or not our products and services solve their issues.

With this real-time reporting on what's going on, what's happening with a product launch, what's the buzz—we're feeding this info to sales. We believe in listening to such an extent that on March 15 we hired a chief listening officer, Beth LaPierre.

CMO Close-Up: How would you characterize the ROI of Kodak's social outreach?

Hoehn: I think we're better-positioned than we were. I can say the sentiment and brand perception has changed. We can show measurements about share-of-voice and awareness, and the relationship between those and market share. But we're only in the middle of figuring that out.

In social media, you have to win the hearts and minds of people. ... Sentiment and ubiquity are big. If you're not in the conversation, you're in trouble.

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