How times have changed. Back in 1997 when IBM wanted to convince global businesses that newfangled IT systems could help them, it spent $40 million with Ogilvy & Mather on TV spots, radio, and some banner ads.
Today IBM is shaping opinions of itself with the new site IBM.com/think, which combines 90% rub-your-chin content in the style of The Economist or Harper’s with about 10% self-promotion. IBM steers clear of politics and instead pushes science-report-toned entries on food, cloud computing, energy and the environment. The site is fed with banners around the web and dovetails with social media outreach on blogs, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Twitter (nicely run by real IBM humans @adamclyde, @jhodge88, @junkstar and others).
The starfish approach
Using quasi-editorial copy for corporate messaging is nothing new; Mobil broke the ground on this with its quarter-page, black-and-white NYT Op-Ed ads in the 1980s. But this feels different both in non-salesmanship of copy and in nuanced outreach. Tech blogger Robert Scoble calls this communication strategy a “starfish approach,” where various arms reach far into the web to give your audience multiple ways to receive and engage with your message. Perhaps the growing transparency of social networks, coupled with consumer skittishness of being sold ideas by corporations, is requiring large companies to provide more-objective value in their content. A decade ago IBM was a distant monolith. Now we can ping IBMers by their personal Twitter handles. That makes us think.