Ariba's Minahan discusses new strategic vision

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Tim Minahan is CMO of Ariba Inc., an enterprise software company that was founded in 1996 as an e-commerce company.

Since then, Ariba has evolved into a software company that provides cloud-based computing and an electronic trading network for global corporations.

In the following interview with CMO Close-Up, Minahan discusses the company's transformation and its new branding efforts.

CMO Close-Up: How has your business model evolved from e-commerce to cloud commerce?

Minahan: Ariba was founded with a simple mission—to help companies manage their spend more effectively. So basically we started out and launched the whole Web-based procurement marketplace. About four years ago, we saw a shift in the marketplace in how companies were changing the ways in which they viewed and bought technology. They were tired of just installing hardware and software, and managing complex upgrade cycles; and they were looking at what was then a new thing called software as a service (SaaS).

So we've spent the last four to five years “rearchitecting” our technology to be delivered in a true SaaS mode. We just laid out our new strategic vision to “consumerize” business commerce, really building on our core assets of having SaaS and cloud-based applications, as well as the world's largest trading community (of 300,000 sellers), to make buying, selling and managing cash in the business world as easy as it is in your personal life.

CMO Close-Up: How are you communicating this new vision?

Minahan: We launched our new strategic vision at Ariba Live (held May 24–26 in Orlando, Fla.), which is our major conference we have every year. It made a lot of sense to use this event as a launch platform, because this is where we have the majority of our customers, prospects and key influencers in the market. So from a go-to-market perspective, that means we extend beyond our traditional procurement and supply chain audience to reach a broader audience of finance, sales, marketing and IT professionals.

Now, we are in the education-and-evangelizing mode, and, while we continue with our philosophy of routing everything through the Web for scale and tracking purposes, we certainly are using a broader channel mix, including print, online and events, all with calls to action that drive prospects back to some Web-based asset or landing page.

CMO Close-Up: Has the economy impacted your marketing investment?

Minahan: Yes and no. Last year, it seemed the economy was certainly in the depths of the recession, and we, like many others, took prudent actions to curtail spending and the like. Luckily, we had already morphed our marketing model to highly leverage the Web and social media channels, which allowed us to maintain our brand awareness and presence, and our marketing campaigns, at a pretty good clip.

Now, based on laying out our new strategic vision and needing to reach new audiences, we are in the process of launching a coordinated and integrated series of campaigns to our five core audiences: procurement, finance, treasury, sales and marketing, and IT. The initial phase of these campaigns will leverage both online and print advertising, designed to demonstrate that there really is a better and more efficient way to conduct commerce. All of these campaigns will have a call to action, whether to link to some form of content asset, like an e-book or a white paper; or a tool, like a value assessment calculator; or an event.

CMO Close-Up: How are you using social media as part of your marketing effort?

Minahan: Social media is a big part of our overall marketing plan. We started several years ago, like many others, with a blog. That blog is an issues-and-strategies-specific blog. We have made a very concerted effort to keep it as agnostic as possible. The name of the blog is Supply Excellence, and some of the issues that concern our customers are things like, “How do I buy temp labor in the most effective manner,” or “How do I create efficiencies in my invoicing and payment processes?” We now have close to 15,000 unique readers a month on that.

Then we moved on to test this new concept of community. We created several LinkedIn groups, again with the caveat that these need to be issues-based and not Ariba-specific. We created four initially—on sourcing and procurement, procurement contracts, sales-side contracts and financial supply chain. Those continue to grow at about 1,000 members a month and allow us to understand what is going on in the market.

That led us to the next maturity level of our social media strategy, which was to create a community specifically about Ariba. In January, we launched the Ariba Exchange, an online community designed to help our customers, prospects and partners ask questions, share ideas and get answers about how to use Ariba's services to help them do better commerce. We are also getting some great ideas on new-product innovations.

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