European Alliance Summit Speaker: Ecosystem Marketing Communication Is Within Everyone’s Reach
Ecosystems are everywhere, both in plain sight and in corners of the business world that casual consumers might not be aware of. Every industry is seeing ecosystems sprout up to serve perpetually changing customer needs, whether it’s the Apple Store or Google Play in the consumer world or enno energie, the European energy company serving a wide variety of IoT services companies. Companies might assemble their own ecosystems or participate in existing ones.
Either way, staying on the sidelines is not a choice when it comes to ecosystem participation. Everyone needs an ecosystem strategy, and Andrea Monaci, director of IT Services marketing and strategy at Ricoh, concluded the 2021 ASAP European Alliance Summit with some tips on how to create and operationalize one in the session “Digital Ecosystems: Using Platforms to Bring Your Partnerships to the Next Level.”
Yes, value creation and partner recruiting are essential elements—and Monaci tackled those issues in the session—but not as much attention has been paid to the marketing efforts that are required to launch an ecosystem and keep it in the air. Monaci, whose career started in engineering and R&D, has held an eclectic collection of roles at HP and Ricoh over the course of more than two decades, including his current marketing position at Ricoh. This diverse experience was reflected in Monaci’s three broad components of ecosystem development: 1) create a community of players around a theme, 2) build a platform to curate the collective knowledge and assets of the ecosystem members, and 3) communicate the group’s value proposition externally.
The Initial Ecosystem Vision: Start Small, Stay Flexible, and Tell the World Through Social Media
Monaci urged companies pondering the idea of starting their own ecosystem not to expend too much energy building out a mission statement and detailed strategy for this new ecosystem at first. Rather, they should leave room for the prospective inaugural members to customize these elements to the group’s collective needs.
“That does not mean [the initial vision] has to be rigid or perfectly defined at the beginning. In fact, one of the lessons learned to date is to start with few partners that represent the ecosystem. Typically, we bring them together and we would present to them the strategy that we had in mind—‘What’s the type of ecosystem you want to create?’ Make this creation a joint activity,” he said.
Once the ecosystem’s value proposition has been determined, a platform must be built to “curate and communicate the ecosystem knowledge or the solutions one can find there,” in Monaci’s words. What specifically should be housed on this platform out of the innumerable types of documents and information an ecosystem can offer prospective clients? Monaci urged listeners to keep in mind that browsers have usually arrived seeking something new that they didn’t know was possible heretofore or looking to achieve a broader outcome. The ecosystem should deliver Information that fits these two profiles in a streamlined and easily searchable manner.
For that third pillar of ecosystem management, Monaci pointed out that social media has democratized marketing and communication capabilities to a large degree—it’s free and effective if used wisely. This was a theme he would return to throughout the presentation.
“Promoting is an important topic. There are some very efficient tools,” he said. “One can easily build a partner ecosystem that communicates exactly how you want to communicate.”
Building an Ecosystem in Eight Steps
Monaci broke the process of developing an ecosystem down even further, listing eight steps of development:
- Ecosystem creation/partner onboarding – Convene prospective members to discuss the ecosystem’s vision
- Publishing for partners – Aggregate assets—PDFs, blog posts, manuals, sales materials, etc.—that classify the problem areas the ecosystem will address
- Website creation – Portals should house articles, customer success stories, data sheets detailing the ecosystem’s offerings, pages for the individual partner organizations, and tags for easy searching of all site content
- Cobranded customer stories – In addition to being housed on the website, case studies are arguably the most important piece of collateral for every type of campaign
- Partner social plan – Ecosystem members should coordinate communication through email, social media, and other vehicles
- Partner lead dashboard – Partners should have every piece of data needed to advance a prospect through the funnel at their fingertips via the technology platform
- Follow-up materials – If a client asks for something specific, additional information can be delivered expediently
- Performance of content and leads – The ecosystem’s value should be measured and displayed at all times
Getting Messages Out to Clients Is Easier Than Ever. Are You Ready to Be Strategic About It?
With modern web and social media tools, Monaci stressed that these eight steps can be performed more effectively than ever before. Coherent branding is not only possible, but easily trackable.
“Getting your message out to the clients of your partners, as well as your clients, used to be very complicated. Now it has accelerated a lot with social media,” Monaci reiterated.
In addition, software platforms have instilled greater organization and transparency in joint operations, particularly when it comes to the sharing of client contact details and leads.
“Who owns that data now? That is also now very transparent with these solutions, and it’s fully shared and tracked,” Monaci noted.
Because technology tools have brought operation costs down and eliminated many bureaucratic tasks, ecosystem managers have been freed up to tackle more strategic issues, something not everybody is ready for, in Monaci’s observation.
“There’s a change in role required by some of the partner managers. Instead of doing administration, they had to [answer questions like], ‘What is the joint value? How do we identify the right partners? Are we spending on the right partners—[making] the right investments—or are we just doing this in a relationship way?’ Because when the costs go down so much, and many of the activities start to become transparent, there’s also change in the culture and the way these partnerships are managed,” Monaci said.
Although Monaci’s presentation brought the 2021 ASAP European Alliance Summit to a close, our coverage will continue with a profile of at least one more session in the coming weeks. Check back in with this blog for more insights from the EU Summit and other corners of the alliance management community.