Eric Huber’s post about Guidance vs. AccessData touched a nerve (as you’ll see from the comments I left there). Over the last 18 months of business-building, I’ve read many a blog from marketing/public relations/social media people who all say the same basic things:
- If you want loyal customers who consistently buy your products and services, build relationships with them.
- Connect those customers to one another via your products and services.
- Your relationships with them, and theirs with each other, constitute a community.
- Be part of that community, not outside it or over it.
These are the values that create loyalty over the long term. They are part of an organization’s culture. And I worry that too many digital forensic solutions providers, at least the “big guns,” are not part of the community they serve. They’re too focused on competing with one another.
Community vs. competition
It’s not just what I’ve heard and read that leads me to say this. It’s the almost complete lack of presence on social networking sites. There are exceptions — the SANS Institute and AccessData, both of which put out valuable information as well as engage customers — but most everyone else? Might have a presence via blog or Twitter or LinkedIn, but only rarely update.
Which is a shame, because they’re missing out on a phenomenal little community. A community of developers and examiners, investigators and problem-solvers, many of whom blog or podcast their thoughts and expertise. What if forensic brands regularly joined these daily conversations?
I suspect one or more of several reasons why they don’t:
- They’re afraid of getting too cozy, of the chance that an off-the-cuff comment might betray an important secret.
- Their PR staff running the social networking show aren’t privy to enough of what’s going on in the company.
- Their PR staff know plenty about what’s going on in the company, but not enough of what’s going on in the industry to be able to talk about it.
- They’re afraid the competition will go after customers with whom they actively engage online.
There are probably at least a few more reasons. But the upshot is, even if they are monitoring the blogs and podcasts, they are still too busy looking sideways to focus on things the community wants and asks for beyond product-specific features. Of such needs and desires is innovation born, and companies too focused on remaining the leader of the pack can never rock their customers’ world by breaking free and doing something truly special.
Sure, they might offer intriguing and even ground-breaking information in conference labs or lectures… but those only reach the people who are there. And you can’t earn loyalty by taking business cards and putting the email addresses you find there on an email list that spits out the same content. Loyalty comes after customers recognize that you’re trying to make their lives better: easier, faster, more efficient.
Community-building as business strategy
So whether it’s great content that teaches, great products that help them do their jobs, great customer service that solves their problems, or (best of all) some combination of the three, good value-adding, community-building strategy has got to be part of more forensic vendors’ offerings. You’re not helping digital investigations by keeping your cards close to your chest, and you may even be making them harder.
All the while, you’re leaving a gaping wide opening for community members who do understand each other’s needs to come along and take what you’ve been taking for granted all along: customer loyalty.
Because at that point it won’t be about the products anymore. It will be about all the intangibles that go with them: the things you can never compete with because your C-suite isn’t willing to share enough of its passion, values, personality, the things that drove the company into the digital investigations industry to begin with.
What can you do today to become more fully a part of the investigative community?
Image: diamondmountain via Flickr