The State of The Industry Analyst

How’s that for a ridiculous title? This piece is nowhere near as ambitious as that; it’s a response to some typically provocative comments from Gideon Gartner, a founder and arguably the most iconic figure in our industry. In his blog post Advisory Industry, a future redesign: the Payment Model, Gartner challenges his readers to think again about the business model of technology research and advisory firms. I was moved to comment, as many others have been, and after posting my thoughts, I decided to put them up here as well. But before you read on, I encourage you to read Gideon’s post.  Go ahead – I’ll wait here. Read more of this post

AR: Analysts Don’t List Themselves on Social Media

Several AR professionals have recently asked me how to find industry analyst blogs or Twitter addresses. The immediate answer was to send them to Sage Circle, where a pair of excellent directories are maintained. But the fact of the questions made me revisit the issue with a simple test: if I looked up biographies, would the “official sites” list those links for analysts? Astonishingly, the answer was no. Read more of this post

IT Marketers: Oversold Announcements Weaken Your Story

Microsoft and HP’s recent announcement highlighted some of the ways in which poor announcements strain credulity and make it harder to get attention when you do have something worthwhile to talk about. Some errors crop up repeatedly in IT marketing communications, and this one suffered from several of them. Read more of this post

Tech Marketers Need Friends With Benefits. No, Not That Kind

Every software product developer, and product manager, and sales rep, needs friends in marketing. And they need to be friends with benefits – benefit statements. Clear. Explicit. Specific for a particular stakeholder. Sound obvious? Based on the last month of briefings I have taken, it’s clearly not. Read more of this post

AR: Continuity of Contact Makes A Difference

I’ve been an independent analyst for a few months now, and it’s been an eye-opening experience in many ways. One has been the way some organizations I dealt with for a decade forgot my name the next day. This is not intended to embarrass anyone; I will name no names. It’s about best practices for AR. In the practice I started for Forrester on AR, and in any commentary from authorities like Sage Circle, Knowledge Capital Group, and Lighthouse Analyst Relations, you’ll hear it again and again: “it’s the relationship. stupid.” Perhaps not in those exact words, but you get the idea.   Read more of this post

Captive Analyst Bloggers: Break Free! You Have Everything To Gain In Your Links

I spend a fair amount of my time checking in on the blogs of people whose work I respect. Now that I am no longer an analyst at a big-brand  firm, I do this more than I used to – and I can now recognize there is an insularity “on the inside” that one becomes unaware of as it creeps up  on us over time. And the big firms want it that way – they have designed their blogs to be private islands, disconnected from the rest of us. Read more of this post

PPT Wins Poll on Analysts’ Preferred Soft Copy Briefing Formats

Preliminary votes and comments are in – nearly two-thirds of our 46 respondents as of April 10 prefer Powerpoint format to PDFs, and a small minority is using annotatable PDF format, though several didn’t even know it exists. (Adobe, are you listening? Some work to do here.) Key themes in comments from AR and analysts:

  • Some analysts like to edit PPTs; when they can’t get them, some resort to other methods. Forrester’s Oliver Young told us, “I take screen shots of almost every Webex or Go-To-Meeting session I end up in since so many vendors never bother to send along the slides.” We heard the latter complaint several times; Guy Creese of Burton Group has the numbers: “Half the time (I keep stats on this, since I find it so aggravating), I’m not sent the Powerpoint.”
  • PDF had its champions too. HP’s Gerry Van Zandt noted its broad platform support and backward compatibility; “for those who DO use Office, you have the issue of the older Office 2003 .ppt/.xls/.doc and the Office 2007 .pptx/.xlsx/.docx files. If you don’t have the translators installed, it’s a pain.”
  • Send in advance; preparation makes the meeting more effective. Rick Brusuelas: “allows analysts to prepare better (isn’t the point to get useful feedback?).” It also helps AR do their job better; Duncan Chapple of Lighthouse AR noted, “if the analyst gets the slides, then so does the AR manager, and that helps spokespeople to be more coherent over time.” Jocelyn Eisenberg likes the active role it facilitates for her: “I insist presentation decks be provided to me in PPT format so I can edit them, if necessary, before sending them on to the analysts.”
  • Powerpoint’s file size can be an issue. Sandy Berman says IBM  “sometimes sends PDFs if the PPT file is too big for the firm’s firewall or gateway or whatever it is that returns huge files to me as undeliverable.” Of course, there may be a hint in there about the contents of the file, too…

Finally, the file is not the point; communication is. Curt Monash, for one, doesn’t want slides at all, and rarely looks at them a second time. Last word to Henry Harteveldt of Forrester: “What I CANNOT stand is the briefing organization taking me through slide by deathly slide. I learned to read at a very young age.”

The survey will run through April 20 and then I’ll do a wrapup.

How Should AR Provide Soft Copies of Briefing Content?

I had a couple of quick exchanges today with some analyst colleagues talking about what method we like to take notes during briefings. We all have our own way of storing them, sometimes a company repository, or a personal OneNote archive. I’ve always used a folder for each vendor within which I store content that can be searched with Google Desktop or some other search mechanism.

By far, my favorite way to take notes is inside Powerpoint files that the vendor gives me. I can keep the slides onscreen and make comments relevant to the picture in front of me. If I have to have a separate window for a text editor, I have to go back and forth, and I can’t easily connect the comments to what is being shown.

Some AR people tell me they use PDFs because they don’t want the content re-used, especially if it might be changed or taken out of context. A fair point, but why tell analysts things if not to have it re-told? There are rules we all follow about NDAs and such, and if we don’t – well, you won’t keep talking for long. John Rymer of Forrester offered a good alternative – annotated PDFs. The content can’t be changed, but you can take notes. Fair enough.

So: a poll.
AR: Which method do you use? And why?
Analysts: Which do you prefer? And why?
Please share, and use comments for color, as always. I’ll report on results when we have a reasonable number.

[EDIT: Poll was removed April 24, 2009. If you have comments please do add them to the comments. See later posts for discussion of results.]

Analyst bloggers – strong views abound

My post about challenging issues around analyst blogging drew hundreds of hits, and many interesting comments from analysts, AR and influencer relations practitioners and others. In this note, I’ll highlight some threads from those comments, and I encourage you to review the comments themselves – and to add your own thoughts. I’ve put in links to many of the blogs maintained by contributors; if I missed you, please let me know and I’ll update.

Blogs clearly matter, and their impact reflects on the bloggers. Bob Sakakeeny, formerly corporate AR at HP, said it well: “professionals who desire to maintain their profession must behave professionally at all times.” Lisa Rowan of IDC “take[s] the responsibility of my public persona and how it may reflect on my employer very seriously.” She self-governs with the idea that as an analyst, not a reporter, she’d “rather be right than first.” (No doubt most reporters want the same thing.) Still, Ray Wang of Forrester likes the immediacy social media provide, and advises that AR should not “fight the trend,” which he sees as dangerous for those whose approach is to “buy influence with fabricated marketing messages.” Not so fast, says Chas Kielt, that’s the offer analyst firms pitch – sales reps sell access to influencers, even if analysts would prefer to think of themselves as separated from such concerns.

Some analysts use two personas to separate personal from professional. Kathleen Reidy of 451 Group and Gordon Haff of Illuminata talk about personal and professional blogs being separate – but Gordon is not sure that doing so helps keep the topics separate. Rowan notes that tweeting is a choice and so, for her, was the selection of a handle people could easily identify, rather than an anonymous one. Sakakeeny cited the example of an analyst whose tweets mix professional with (to Bob, embarrassingly personal) topics. No credible argument was offered for the idea that “Joe Blogger” is different than “Joe Blogger from analyst firm X.” It’s not about intent. Segregating identities might temporarily separate the immediate “professional audience” from the personal one, but (controversial) word travels fast, regardless of the publishing channel selected. In fact….

“Brand” does travel with the analyst, and analysts want it to, agreed J’Amy Napolitan of Infonetics, Reidy and others. Analysts use social media as a platform for self-promotion to enhance their personal brand, says Donald Bulmer of SAP. Analyst John Ragsdale likes having his blog quoted; Steve says solo practitioners (some of whom arrive with an established “brand”) also can enhance the brand of the firm, rather than the other way around. In a private note, another analyst told me that maintaining a personal identity was a mechanism they needed to create and maintain marketability for the future, should they leave their firm.

Analyst firm policies are not yet settled, but are needed, says IBM’s Tony Niviera. Randy Giusto says IDC management reviews blogs before posting on its group blog; 451 Group also has established blog policy. Marc Duke, an AR and PR consultant, says branded firms are playing catch-up to smaller firms who have been using social media successfully – and says rules haven’t changed, just the timing. Bulmer opined that some analysts use the alternate channel specifically as a way to “work around established research processes (e.g. fact based and objective.”) Wang made the same point but about immediacy, not objectivity. Nothing about either speed or the mechanics of the channel prevent an analyst from Rowan’s “self-governance” – appropriately checking facts or being sensitive to offensive or otherwise inappropriate language.

AR’s responses need not be so different from established ones. Reidy likens blog entries to press quotes. Most AR organizations have policies and practices for dealing with unfavorable mentions. Some of those problems are self-inflicted, of course. Wang  points out, “Unfortunately, we deal from time to time with firms who no longer market based on truth.” He stresses that everyone’s credibility is on the line. Randy points out that vendor executive blogs misuse (misquote) analyst data too – and analyst firms have their own PR challenges as a result. Lisa Bradner at Forrester points out that all firms, on both sides, need to manage blogs. Everyone is still learning.

It returns, then, to communication – both sides have a stake. It’s reasonable for both parties to demand objectivity and accuracy. Honesty and courtesy on either side should trump publishing immediacy or marketing advantage. Ludovic Leforestier of the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations (IIAR) points out that analysts “have conversations behind closed doors that are based on trust.” Jennifer Bartolo of SAP points out that damage done in blogs or tweets is not easily reversed. This is equally true for analysts who uncritically rely on vendor-provided information that proves to be untrue and their reputation is thereby damaged. Still, closing avenues of communication – again in either direction – solves nothing. Cutting off briefings for “overly critical” analysts won’t help. Nor will refusing to give vendors “with poor credibility” a chance to respond in advance to new information. Everyone needs to talk. And finally…

Willingness to correct errors remains a critical point, though few commenters addressed it. In published analysis, press release claims or briefing assertions, errors and distortions get in the way of the objectives of both parties. Sales made on the back of untrue assertions about product capabilities (or price, or service) will end badly. Analyst credibility will founder if misstatements go unaddressed, or if bias seems evident for whatever reason.

Analyst Bloggers – Threat or Menace?

OK, I admit it – I stole that title idea from an old National Lampoon. But the issue is no laughing matter: what is the appropriate code of conduct when industry analysts who work for brand name companies like IDC, Gartner or Forrester have an “outside” blog or start using Twitter frequently? There have been several highly visible incidents recently involving the blogging or tweeting of contentious information that likely would not have passed muster in the normally rigorous methodology of the branded analyst firms.

Why is this becoming more of an issue? More analysts are blogging, and using other “outside channels.” We have had press processes figured out for years, but this is different. Three constituencies – analysts, AR, and PR – are all wrestling with how to deal with a changing world:

  • Analyst firms have watched their business model falter. It is harder and harder to sustain the old reliable revenue stream from syndicated publishing, as more voices appear on the internet competing to offer similar information and even advice.  Those voices come from other players, who may not have the same data behind their pronouncements, or rigorous methodologies for data collection, fact checking and peer review, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Even the vendor clients who pay analyst firms are now forming “influencer relations” teams and giving the bloggers a seat at the table (literally, at events where information is shared and business conducted.) So officially and unofficially, analysts are moving into the blogosphere and the twittersphere themselves, to build and sustain their personal brands. They may or may not follow the same processes when they go there as they use “inside the walls” of their firms.
  • AR professionals are unused to handling bloggers. As AR turns into “influencer relations,” a new set of people must be dealt with, and the rules of the game up till now don’t apply. “New” bloggers and tweeters are a lot like reporters – they traffic in immediacy, look for the singular event, and seek out the memorable headline. But they don’t have an organization’s policies and resources behind them to enforce agreed standards – press people do, even if they sometimes push the boundaries. And then there are the analysts who have an “outside” blog, or use Twitter a great deal, and claim they are “speaking only for themselves” there. How should AR handle that situation? Is it the same as published research, or more like quotes in the press?
  • PR knows how to handle the press, but this is different. PR professionals are accustomed to tracking a well-known set of journalists, in familiar outlets, and reporting to their employers on what is happening and how to handle it. But these pesky newcomers are appearing in different places that require new monitoring skills. That costs time and money – does the PR firm’s contract cover those costs? And new policies are called for in how to handle them – what new advice must PR give to the firms that rely on them for damage control and affirmative messaging? Or does AR, or “influencer relations,” do that?

This blog post is a call to begin a conversation about how we deal with these new realities. The thoughts below suggest some ideas for one population: the analysts who work for established firms and make blog and twitter pronouncements in “their own” blogs. They are far from definitive, and offered simply as a place to begin the conversation that AR (or PR, or …) will need to have with them. I invite all stakeholders to join the dialogue. I’ll be doing primary research on this topic in collaboration with experts in analyst relations at Sage Circle, and most of you who read this are likely to hear from us shortly to participate in a survey. Let me know if you don’t, and I’ll be sure you have a way to join in.

Consider this a beginning code of conduct for “branded” analysts:

  1. Know that your brand is on you. Abandon any thought that just because it’s “your” blog, not your firm’s, that anyone thinks you are not speaking as an analyst who works there. Even if you already had a blog, when you become a Brand X analyst, what you say is heard through that filter. It’s a plus, not a minus – but it carries some expectations.
  2. Admit – and correct – errors. Bloggers sometimes prefer to leave prior posts untouched even if corrections are needed, in the interest of preserving immediacy. Get over it. This is one way we are better than print media. Nobody ever sees newspaper corrections that run days later buried somewhere. Blogs can be fixed,and should be.
  3. Check the facts before you publish. True, this may not be research, it’s often reaction and – yes, admit it – reporting. But journalists rarely publish single-sourced factoids from unattributable, unnamed people. And you’re an analyst, even if there is not much analysis in a tweet. Apply your common sense; describe acts, not actors, when you can’t be certain, and if you opine, describe what’s wrong with that action. You can name names when you’re sure.
  4. Don’t chase headlines. Leave that to others. At the end of the day, your business is still the analyst business – dependable advice based on research and analysis, not who tweeted first. There is a market for your ideas in the blogosphere – make your mark with them, not with scoops.

What do you think? Agree, disagree, add your own. I make no claim here to having it all figured out, but I hope to help drive the discussion forward.