NetApp: Global Digital Strategy, Field Research, Social Media Governance and Program Development

Part 1: Global Web strategy and redesign (2007)

I've been working on and off with the NetApp digital marketing team since 2007. My first exposure was through Omnicom digital agency Organic where I was lead strategist for a global Website redesign. Organic's process at the time was to begin with customer insights, then build the strategy around those to inform an exceptional experience. 

Sort of terrible: before the Organic team got its hands on it.

Sort of terrible: before the Organic team got its hands on it.

NetApp believed that the key to selling more comprehensive storage solutions (including entire rip-and-replacement of data centers) was to start speaking  with executives in IT to sell more comprehensive storage solutions. So we built a strategy that completely reconfigured how the Website provided more relevant content to more people involved in buying for IT organizations. NetApp's greatest strength was that it builds bulletproof storage devices and a unified operating system, winning it legions of fans among database administrators and architects who are typically authorized only to purchase point solutions.

We discovered that successful delivery of higher-level business content required a mouthpiece, or "bridge" of middle management Web users in IT organizations, to speak to vice presidents of IT and CIOs who sign off on larger, enterprise-grade purchases. The strategy I created focused the content and the architecture to reflect this new direction. NetApp's rebranding coincided with the Web redesign. The company has steadily gained market share since. 

One of my favorite aspects of the strategy was several key recommendations that gave birth to the NetApp communities, which passed over 100,000 technical members worldwide in 2011. This gave NetApp's earliest core customers a place to gather, collaborate, and solve problems while the Web content offered more to middle- and upper-management. Since the communities' inception, millions have been saved on ticketable support cases.

Enterprise IT vendors typically have very wide (and deep) content architectures. By establishing and understanding seven different buyer/researcher personas better, we were able to cluster the content into three primary buckets, thus reducing the cognitive load of about ten primary navigation elements down to those three areas. UX lead Tomas Roldan and creative director Elliott Smith of Organic's Toronto office did a bang-up job reflecting the strategy in the design.

Part 2: Social engagement program development (2012)


A more recent ten-month engagement gave me an opportunity to evolve NetApp's social media strategy into a real working program with headcount and budget. I wrote corporate policy, created training, and developed a social listening-into-acting framework for employees.

All of this sounds like a lot of heavy process...and some parts are. (The bigger policy sets the agenda and ground rules for all official NetApp branded social media accounts, large scale marketing programs, and corporate blogging.)

Foundational to this complex governance is a very liberal policy that encourages employee subject matter experts to be active in communities and forums wherever IT storage infrastructure is discussed. 

The policy that is actively promoted to employees is exactly nine points and fits on one page. It is designed to encourage social participation rather than drown employees in discouraging rules and regulations. 

It respects their intelligence, gives basic guidance, and turns them loose to do good work and be more directly involved with customers. It prepares them to go wherever a conversation is taking place and provides tools for them to report back on the results as part of a formalized social CRM process, complete with listening vendors and analysis.


I also ran a three month pilot program with a dedicated team of employee volunteers to prove that getting more employees involved could pay dividends on support avoidance, sales intelligence, and net new sales leads. It started in one region, focused on two product families, and formalized a process for support and sales. It also showed remarkable early results. I presented the findings and business case for expanding the program to executives. The team has added headcount, invested in technology, and is beginning to shape a more social business practice far beyond the corporate marketing department and into the support organization and product engineering teams.

I collected the best tribal knowledge from team members and formalized a practice that pays off.

I collected the best tribal knowledge from team members and formalized a practice that pays off.