FedEx exec shows opportunity for online advertising

Crowd listening to Mark Colombo of FedEx speak

Mark Colombo, VP of electronic channels and strategic marketing at FedEx, just gave a speech at the Internet Strategy Forum in Portland, Oregon. He took quite a bit of heated questioning from the audience because he came out strongly as being anti-blog and anti-participation in online communities. Lots of people came up to me after Mark was done and asked what I thought, because he basically was saying that FedEx has chosen to not participate in online communities, rather relying on their brand to speak for the company.

One guy in the audience told Mark that he could get better Google results if they would turn on a blog. Mark disagreed. Maybe the audience guy had a point. When I do a search for shipping on Google I see that UPS is far higher on the list than FedEx is.

But, I don’t get defensive anymore when execs tell audiences they don’t want their companies to blog. Huh?

I see it as an advertising opportunity. At some point FedEx will do something that they want us all to know about. Now, other, more enlightened companies might just call up 40 bloggers and write something on their exec’s Facebook page, which would help spread the news. In my own keynote I told how I told 15 people a year ago that I was leaving Microsoft and that turned into 50 million media impressions (according to Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft’s PR firm). But there’s lots of companies like FedEx. Apple and Target are two others that I can think of. They’ll just buy lots of advertising and have to hire expensive PR firms to get the word out.

Heck, if every company participated in online conversations there’d be no business opportunities for content guys like me.

I’m having PodTech’s sales team give Mark a call.

UPDATE: Mark does monitor online communities, even though he mostly chooses not to have FedEx participate. He told us there’s a Flickr group where photographers pay attention to the “hidden” arrow in the FedEx logo.

Comments

  1. For some (many?) corporations, the rationale behind their response to the question of “to blog or not to blog” comes down to one word: control. The same is true of their response to any viral opportunity. If the corporation is not primarily interested in control, then any opportunity to spread a message virally will be embraced. If control is a primary requisite, viral marketing will be shunned.

    In addition, I would observe that any person with the title, “VP of strategic marketing” probably has his or her performance evaluated and budget determined based partly (or largely) on being able to demonstrate return on the dollar spent on marketing. Tough to do that with viral approaches.

    I hear FedEx is serious about holding people accountable. That also probably figures into Mark’s response to blogging. If he endorses it, and somebody says the wrong thing, his job just might be on the line.

  2. For some (many?) corporations, the rationale behind their response to the question of “to blog or not to blog” comes down to one word: control. The same is true of their response to any viral opportunity. If the corporation is not primarily interested in control, then any opportunity to spread a message virally will be embraced. If control is a primary requisite, viral marketing will be shunned.

    In addition, I would observe that any person with the title, “VP of strategic marketing” probably has his or her performance evaluated and budget determined based partly (or largely) on being able to demonstrate return on the dollar spent on marketing. Tough to do that with viral approaches.

    I hear FedEx is serious about holding people accountable. That also probably figures into Mark’s response to blogging. If he endorses it, and somebody says the wrong thing, his job just might be on the line.

  3. Do you trust a company to deliver your important packages if that company doesn’t trust its employees to talk freely on the Web?

  4. Do you trust a company to deliver your important packages if that company doesn’t trust its employees to talk freely on the Web?

  5. I don’t totally agree with you Scoble, I think it certainly makes sense to have a blog. But if you’re a successful company that has a huge spectrum of visibility why do you need a blog? I agree FedEx can share a little about their Supply Chain expertise but I don’t see it as a necessity.

  6. I don’t totally agree with you Scoble, I think it certainly makes sense to have a blog. But if you’re a successful company that has a huge spectrum of visibility why do you need a blog? I agree FedEx can share a little about their Supply Chain expertise but I don’t see it as a necessity.

  7. RandomRat: you don’t need a blog. You also don’t need to give speeches at conferences. you don’t need to talk to the press. You don’t need to spend money on TV advertising. You don’t +need+ to do lots of things.

    The reason you do those things, though, is because by doing them they affect how people view your business and they cause people to become aware of your company and what you’re doing which could lead to sales, or other good outcomes.

    Sure, they don’t +need+ to do a blog. But I see lots of reasons to do one, if they cared.

    In the meantime, if they want to reach interesting influentials in business I know a few places they can advertise.

  8. RandomRat: you don’t need a blog. You also don’t need to give speeches at conferences. you don’t need to talk to the press. You don’t need to spend money on TV advertising. You don’t +need+ to do lots of things.

    The reason you do those things, though, is because by doing them they affect how people view your business and they cause people to become aware of your company and what you’re doing which could lead to sales, or other good outcomes.

    Sure, they don’t +need+ to do a blog. But I see lots of reasons to do one, if they cared.

    In the meantime, if they want to reach interesting influentials in business I know a few places they can advertise.

  9. Why did you include Apple in that list? Surely not because paid PR and media is the only way Apple gets noticed. They managed to get a raft of coverage in blogs for iPhone, iPod, Leopard, etc. FedEx and Target, you might have a case… They even managed to entice prominent bloggers to camp out in front of their stores and blog live. They’ve even recruited as moles the teenage children of prominent bloggers. Someone who looked a lot like you was on the front page of some newspaper recently.

    I know you won’t rest until Apple has a blog. But the truth is they already have more blogs than I can count–including yours.

  10. Why did you include Apple in that list? Surely not because paid PR and media is the only way Apple gets noticed. They managed to get a raft of coverage in blogs for iPhone, iPod, Leopard, etc. FedEx and Target, you might have a case… They even managed to entice prominent bloggers to camp out in front of their stores and blog live. They’ve even recruited as moles the teenage children of prominent bloggers. Someone who looked a lot like you was on the front page of some newspaper recently.

    I know you won’t rest until Apple has a blog. But the truth is they already have more blogs than I can count–including yours.

  11. “I see it as an advertising opportunity.”

    So you see blogs as a vehicle for companies to get their message across without actually having to pay for it? Well, at least now I know how to look at your blog.

  12. “I see it as an advertising opportunity.”

    So you see blogs as a vehicle for companies to get their message across without actually having to pay for it? Well, at least now I know how to look at your blog.

  13. I think that one fundamental reason that FedEx chooses not to get involved in online communities is because their largest accounts are in the B2B sector. They are targeting a different audience than many other consumer-related companies. Given that we are in a Free Enterprise System, as long as a corporation’s marketing and advertising decisions are legal and ethical – there is no reason they should come under fire from anyone. I personally liked the fact that there was a presenter who gave us another take on blogs as a marketing vehicle in that it made today’s event more balanced. When I attend events where everyone is “Me-tooing” there is little food for thought.

  14. I think that one fundamental reason that FedEx chooses not to get involved in online communities is because their largest accounts are in the B2B sector. They are targeting a different audience than many other consumer-related companies. Given that we are in a Free Enterprise System, as long as a corporation’s marketing and advertising decisions are legal and ethical – there is no reason they should come under fire from anyone. I personally liked the fact that there was a presenter who gave us another take on blogs as a marketing vehicle in that it made today’s event more balanced. When I attend events where everyone is “Me-tooing” there is little food for thought.

  15. Depends on your target audience. Blogging in Germany is still a ‘relatively’ new thing. The company I work for has over 80, 000 employees and are just starting to look into blogging in the past few months.

  16. Depends on your target audience. Blogging in Germany is still a ‘relatively’ new thing. The company I work for has over 80, 000 employees and are just starting to look into blogging in the past few months.

  17. As the producer of the Internet Strategy Forum Summit conference that both Robert and Mark Colombo spoke at, I wanted to chime in.

    Our primary target audience for the ISF Summit are corporate marketing and IT executives. By nature, many of the companies are more corporate, more conservative. They need to understand and learn about this stuff as well, but it is a difficult audience to reach because they would typically just send their internal “Internet guru” to an event like this. Then you are just preaching to the choir and that internal person would still be stuck trying to educate senior management on their own, which as many corporate Internet strategists will tell you continues to be an uphill battle.

    Therefore, to attract an executive audience to an “Internet” event that would not normally attend one, I put together a balance of speakers at the Internet Strategy Forum Summit that represent both the leading-edge and the more conservative approach because:

    1) If it is all leading-edge speakers that the more conservative executive target audience can’t identify with then they won’t register to attend (thus Mark and FedEx were a great choice);

    2) If it is all conservative speakers, then the audience won’t have a chance to learn enough about the new stuff.

    Therefore, it was no accident that I put Robert Scoble on right before Mark Colombo at FedEx.

    Mark Colombo a smart guy and he works for a successful company. But FedEx and every other company should be able to chart their own future course as long as they stay educated about where the marketplace is going with regard to changes in marketing and technology.

    Just for clarification, the name of our nonprofit professional association for corporate Internet Strategists is “Internet Strategy Forum” and the name of our annual conference that Mark spoke at is the “Internet Strategy Forum Summit”.

    Thanks.

  18. As the producer of the Internet Strategy Forum Summit conference that both Robert and Mark Colombo spoke at, I wanted to chime in.

    Our primary target audience for the ISF Summit are corporate marketing and IT executives. By nature, many of the companies are more corporate, more conservative. They need to understand and learn about this stuff as well, but it is a difficult audience to reach because they would typically just send their internal “Internet guru” to an event like this. Then you are just preaching to the choir and that internal person would still be stuck trying to educate senior management on their own, which as many corporate Internet strategists will tell you continues to be an uphill battle.

    Therefore, to attract an executive audience to an “Internet” event that would not normally attend one, I put together a balance of speakers at the Internet Strategy Forum Summit that represent both the leading-edge and the more conservative approach because:

    1) If it is all leading-edge speakers that the more conservative executive target audience can’t identify with then they won’t register to attend (thus Mark and FedEx were a great choice);

    2) If it is all conservative speakers, then the audience won’t have a chance to learn enough about the new stuff.

    Therefore, it was no accident that I put Robert Scoble on right before Mark Colombo at FedEx.

    Mark Colombo a smart guy and he works for a successful company. But FedEx and every other company should be able to chart their own future course as long as they stay educated about where the marketplace is going with regard to changes in marketing and technology.

    Just for clarification, the name of our nonprofit professional association for corporate Internet Strategists is “Internet Strategy Forum” and the name of our annual conference that Mark spoke at is the “Internet Strategy Forum Summit”.

    Thanks.