CMO Close-Up with Asim Zaheer

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Asim Zaheer, VP-head of corporate and product marketing at Hitachi Data Systems, has brought a more aggressive marketing approach to his unit at Hitachi Ltd. This was evident in the marketing efforts that accompanied HDS' launch of its Virtual Storage Platform last year. Using a combination of events, online marketing and social media, the VSP launch was a successful one—and Zaheer has the data to back that up—as HDS has had two record-breaking quarters in a row. CMO Close-Up: What changes have you brought to HDS' marketing efforts? Asim Zaheer: Hitachi has a very large portfolio of companies, and we're in a lot of different markets—from heavy industrial equipment all the way to computer technology—which is what we focus on at HDS. At HDS we were known for many years as a very large, enterprise-focused storage company. We focused very heavily on technology—speeds and feeds—and we moved relatively cautiously in the marketplace. We were not typically very aggressive in our messaging and in our outreach. What we've been looking to do for the last couple of years is transform ourselves and focus less on technology and more on customer problems. The protection of information, access to information, the storage of information and, obviously, the analysis of information—that's what we're trying to position ourselves as (providing) going forward. CMO Close-Up: What tactics have you used to change your perception in the marketplace? Zaheer: There was a fair amount of effort we undertook to create a message that was differentiated in the marketplace, and we did that early on. And then ... we executed that in a number of vehicles: online communications to our customers, a lot of face-to-face with customers and potential prospects. We also embraced social media as a vehicle to get our message out. All of this came together really in 2010 when we made a major new-product launch, a product in a category that represents close to $1 billion in revenue to us, and that's our Virtual Storage Platform. We ended up doing a lot of analyst and blogger outreach. We executed a social media buzz campaign. We introduced a microsite associated with the product and launch that attracted over 18,000 unique visitors over the course of three months. But a big focus was also the face-to-face interaction with customers, especially in our market where the average sale price is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. We visited over 40 cities (around the world) in a period of about three months, and we had direct interaction with over 8,500 existing customers and potential prospects over that period of time. We found that one of our biggest assets is our customer base. They're very loyal and very committed; and we use that as an asset to help amplify our message to the marketplace. ... We've really embraced the blogger community, which has become very influential in our market segment. We brought them to Japan, which is where we do a fair amount of our R&D. We gave them an in-depth, behind-the-curtain view of how we develop our products, what our road maps are, and gave them an opportunity to provide us input on how we're going to market. CMO Close-Up: How did you go about measuring the effectiveness of your efforts? Zaheer: The two major things that we're focusing on are awareness and demand generation. One of the things we wanted to do was increase overall awareness of our company and our message in the marketplace. We measure very regularly in a fair amount of detail how many people are touching HDS through all the various vehicles that we use. We look at page views on our microsite, downloads of information. We look at how many people are commenting on our blogs and viewing our blogs. We are also touching other people in social media and commenting on their blogs. We have a cadre of what we call “evangelists” who go out and touch influencers in the marketplace. We measure how many people are looking at our material. And from a demand generation perspective, we measure all the people that we touch over the course of a period. For example, all those potential customers that we visited in those customer events—over 8,000—we tracked those from that day forward to see did that convert to revenue for the company and in what period of time. We use a CRM database to track and measure by campaign. CMO Close-Up: Are you satisfied with the ROI for the VSP introduction? Zaheer: In terms of demand generation, the VSP launch has been very successful for us. At the 40 or so customer events where we had on average a couple hundred visitors, we articulated not just our company message and our vision but we also articulated this new platform for the marketplace. That has resulted in very good revenue to the company, which is ultimately how we measure ourselves. The quarter immediately following the introduction of that new platform in the market, we had the biggest quarter in the history of HDS (fourth quarter of 2010). Then on the heels of that, this first calendar quarter (in 2011), which is our fiscal Q4, we had the biggest Q4 in the history of HDS. A lot of that has been driven by increased awareness and also by demand generation—most recently focused on that VSP platform launch. CMO Close-Up: How important is content marketing in your business? Zaheer: We created literally hundreds of new pieces of material in the last 12 months, but we also retired a fair amount of material as well. You can't inundate your target market with too much information. It has to be meaningful, and useful and align to what you're trying to say to them and also what they're trying to do. We retired a fair amount of material that didn't resonate with our message. And then we created a fair amount of material, hundreds of pieces: white papers, short documents, ROI analyses, customer case studies by industry segment. We also study how the target customers within accounts—be it a business-level decision-maker or a technologist—how they consume information and what's meaningful to them. We tailor our marketing assets to the demographic within the account that we're targeting. For example, a lot of studies have been done that show CIOs or CTOs within large distributed companies value white papers a fair amount. They won't go to companies' websites; they won't necessarily attend too many customer events or seminars, but they will read white papers. So we have made a focus on white papers at the business level or the technical level tailored to those particular audiences.
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