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Knowledge: The Essence of Meta Data:
Selling Meta Data is Not Like Selling Kudzu

online columnist R. Todd Stephens, Ph.D.     Column published in DMReview.com
June 19, 2003
  By R. Todd Stephens, Ph.D.

This month we will address the ever-present question of how you can sell, market and brand meta data to the executive and architecture communities. First and foremost, be sure that what you are going to try to sell has demand within the organization. There are two things you can't sell here in Georgia. The first item is pine pollen during the spring. Without a doubt, everyone in this state owns a greenish-yellow vehicle during late April and early May. A pollen count around 3,000 looks a lot like an Iraqi sandstorm. The second item is kudzu. I'm not sure who was the first person to buy kudzu, but they bought way too much. The problem is that it just grows too well! The climate in Georgia is perfect for kudzu. The vines grow as much as a foot per day during summer months, climbing trees, power poles and anything else they contact. Under ideal conditions kudzu vines can grow sixty feet each year. Of course, you must admit kudzu's ability to integrate into the environment is admirable.

Seriously, the principle around marketing meta data is the development of a perception of value. Whether or not you utilize these techniques of marketing is up to you, but be forewarned that meta data will have a perception of value. The only real question is, "Was that value created and supported by a well-planned design or a default view?" The default view is allowing everyone else's opinions, perceptions, experiences and knowledge drive your value-add equation. For the remainder of this column, I am going to use the word branding to mean the concepts of marketing, selling and branding.

Let me be crystal clear here, I am not talking about creating logos, fancy brochures, sales pitches or trying to create value where it does not exist. Take a look at Figure 1.

Figure 1: Meta Data Architecture Blueprint
Figure 1: Meta Data Architecture Blueprint

The green section in the middle describes the required components of a solid meta data strategy. The concepts of branding should not be treated as side activities reviewed at the tail end of the project. Rather, the brand should be integrated from the very start of the project. We can take the idea of branding and break it down into six mains points.

Promotional Materials: Promotional materials are the visual components that support the brand you want to establish. This may include Web sites, brochures, themes, promotional messages or any physical element used to communicate your message to the organization.

Educational Opportunities: One of the basic requirements of meta data is to have someone in the organization that understands all aspects of meta data. The goal of this segment is to create a level of knowledge and understanding where you see the value of meta data in every project, application and environment. This information must be disseminated through out the organization at every opportunity.

Expertise of the Brand: Once you have established the brand, then the real work begins. Everyone, everything and every element must support that brand. It only takes a small issue or problem to begin to destroy all that you have built. Unfortunately, the perception of meta data value is very powerful and very fragile. Understanding this fragility can go a long way in ensuring your message is not destroyed either internally or externally.

Metric Promotion: The world seems to revolve around the hard core measurements of success. Ensure that you choose what you want your meta data project to the measured on. Otherwise, someone will choose for you and they might not be so kind to choose the metrics that reflect your group in a positive light.

Hitching Posts: Thanks to the wonderful folks at Disney, we have a concept around a hitching post. In the wilderness section of Disney World are two horse-head hitching posts that are repainted solid gold every night. Why? Does anyone notice? Probably not, but you can bet your bottom dollar that every employee knows about the attention to the details that this effort represents. Find something that your group is going to work on that symbolizes your attention to detail. For my organization it is the meta data information imbedded into Web pages. The normal Web page may only have three to four metatags. For each page within our site, we manage 25 metatags based on the Dublin Core standard. How many customers "right click" the page to see the source? Not many, but every one inside the team knows the elements are there and the importance that meta data plays in our day to day job.

Spider Web: Finally, the spider web symbolizes the degree in which the repository architecture is integrated into the organization. Meta data solutions that focus on a single warehouse or application are subject to the success and failure of that project. The deeper and more penetrating your engagement can be, the greater the opportunity for expansion. If everyone else is doing it, then it's hard to argue against a meta data engagement. Close your eyes, see the kudzu..., be the kudzu..., think integration, integration, integration.

OK, we discussed the different vehicles to deliver your meta data message. Unfortunately, that's like describing to you the dessert before talking about the meal. In order for branding to actually work, you're going to need to do a few things first. First and foremost, you need to ensure you have a foundation to build that knowledge. You must have one or more of the following items in place before you begin the marketing process:

  • A solid product line that covers all aspects of the meta data spectrum,
  • A collection of services that add value to the product line, and
  • A thorough understanding of meta data.

This is the foundation of a solid branding program. Before I ever started branding meta data, I ensured that all of these were addressed, especially the last one. You might argue that the lack of budget can hold you back on the first two, but there is no excuse for not building your knowledge and understanding of the topic in today's environment. There is simply way too much information and knowledge readily available.

Finally, you need to decide on what message you want to send out within the branding materials. What is it that you want to be known for? Will you build your brand on quality, technology, responsiveness or content? Be careful here, it is very easy to just simply grab the quality term and claim that has your brand banner. However, nothing will destroy that image of quality quicker than poor usability, bad design of your Web site, lack of document meta data or even broken links. You see, if quality is your game then everything you touch must have quality embedded in it. It's very much like the saying that if the airplane seats are dirty and the tray table is broken, what must the engine look like? You cannot claim quality in one area and then forget about it in all of the other areas.

Selling, marketing and branding are neither simple nor trivial. The process requires careful planning, execution and continuous review. The best news is that very few internal organizations do it all. So, go ahead and take a risk and you might be surprised by the results of your efforts. As John Sculley put it, "The people who take risks are the people you'll lose against," Next month, we will take a look at the value of comparing meta data to a library card catalog.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Meta Data.

R. Todd Stephens, Ph.D. is the director of Meta Data Services Group for the BellSouth Corporation, located in Atlanta, Georgia. He has more than 20 years of experience in information technology and speaks around the world on meta data, data architecture and information technology. Stephens recently earned his Ph.D. in information systems and has more than 70 publications in the academic, professional and patent arena. You can reach him via e-mail at Todd@rtodd.com or to learn more visit http://www.rtodd.com/.

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