In my last post, I introduced a strategy that software companies can use to differentiate their ideas in the increasingly commoditized and crowded landscape of content marketing. I suggested a rather bold strategy of “open sourcing” some of your Intellectual Property (IP). By IP, I am not talking about the secret sauce that makes your algorithms work. Instead, I am talking about the IP related to helping customers implement your technology to solve their problem. In other words, the best practices, tools and methodologies that your customer support or professional services teams for implementation, testing, training, upgrades and support. An example might be a sample project plan in Microsoft Project format. Or a sample testing plan in Microsoft Word. Or perhaps a sample Go-Live Production Readiness checklist in Microsoft Excel.
New Approach to Content Marketing
Putting your best practices and expertise out in the public domain is similar to publishing code in an open-source model. If you were to open source your code, you would enable users and partners to customize, extend and improve upon your software. The goal is similar with marketing. By sharing some of your intellectual property you are enabling your customers to customize, extend and improve upon your methodologies and best practices.
“Open sourcing” your IP will not only differentiate your content. It will differentiate your company during a sales cycle as well. Most software provider focus their content marketing efforts on materials that help a customer choose a vendor. But buyers are just as concerned, if not more, about the implementation and realization of the value as they are designing the right strategy up front. By showing off the “real world” expertise you have gained through working with other customers you are establishing credibility and proof of your ability to execute.
Risks of Sharing Your Intellectual Property
However, there are downsides to this IP-driven content marketing strategy. If you adopt this approach, you should expect to get a lot of resistance from a vocal minority of leaders within your organization. You will hear lots of “sky-is-falling” rhetoric from solution consultants and professional services managers who believe:
- “Our competitors are going to download all of our intellectual property and eliminate any competitive differentiation that we enjoy.”
- “Our customers are going to take our expertise and use it for a DIY project in-house.”
As I mentioned in my earlier post, I am not suggesting that you need to share all of your IP, but perhaps 10%, 15% or 20%. Nonetheless, the Chicken-Littles are correct. Both of these things are going to happen.
The DIY Customer Threat
In any market there are a handful of companies that are going to try to solve the problem your software addresses by themselves. These companies simply have an “in-house” mindset that is driven top-down from the CIO or other executive. And many of these DIYers will use questionable ethics to gather the information they need. Some will do more than download content from your website. They may send out RFPs and request software demos. They will chew up lots of time from your sales team and never buy anything. They are using your sales process as a strategy to gather the information needed to build their own custom application in-house.
I would argue that these companies are not going to be more or less successful by acquiring a few best practices and toolkits from you. If they are an innovator (think Amazon, Facebook or Google) they are going to figure out how to be successful independent of whether or not they gain access to your intellectual property. And if they are not innovative they are likely to fail at their DIY initiative. In fact, I would argue that sharing best practices with many DIYers will enable them to fail faster – and potentially bring them back to your doorstep sooner.
The Competitor Follower Threat
If you publish some of your intellectual property on your website or social media, it is highly likely that some of your competitors are going to download the materials and use the information to improve their own methodologies. First, you are naive if you believe that your IP is not being leaked to your competitors. Laggards proactively recruit talent from their competitors in leadership roles. Along with the transfer of staff comes the transfer of knowledge and documentation.
These are the tactics of the followers not the leaders in your industry. They know they are behind you trying to catch up. Most of these companies are followers due to their lack of ability to execute rather than their lack of the right strategy. These followers don’t have a strong sales organization or the right corporate DNA to win. If you give them a copy of your implementation guide, testing plans and training curriculum, they are unlikely to change their whole approach to copy your methodology.