Making B2B more human

Marketing In A Post-Covid World - 7 Ways To Make B2B Marketing More Human

There is a theme that keeps coming up in my interviews. A theme that relates closely to our services as an agency and that’s repeatedly entered my thoughts during long walks, showers and coffee breaks (the three sources of all my ideas - good and bad).

That theme is “Making B2B more human”.

Almost without exception, every brand disrupting a stagnant B2B or professional service market is doing so by applying traditional consumer principles to audiences that have long been treated as perfectly rational and void of emotion. The thinking goes - if you want to sell something to a business, drown them in features, benefits and technical detail and eventually they’ll have no choice but to accept your proposition.

It’s nonsense. As the great Dave Dye stated in our interview last year, “[In B2B, you’re still] talking to human beings. They’re a bundle of emotions held together by cello-tape and string. They’re driven by all the same underlying insecurities, pressures and dreams as any consumer audience.”

It’s a subject I wrote about several months ago in which I suggested the solution began with copy writing (as it does with most challenges in marketing). The subject goes a lot further than that, however, so many walks, showers and coffee breaks later, here are seven ways we can go beyond the features and make B2B more human.

 

1. We need to understand how the product/service really impacts the end user

For example, if the product is an expensive piece of cyber security software, the person isn't buying cyber security software. They are buying:

  • Satisfaction that one of their big jobs for the quarter is signed off
  • Peace of mind that if something goes wrong that they will be able to show the board that they did all their due diligence in the purchasing process
  • A better night’s sleep

And if the product is small business accountancy software, the person isn’t buying accountancy software. They are buying:

  • The ability to pay their mortgage
  • Control over their employees' wages
  • Ongoing funding of their Pokémon Go addiction

Whatever the product is, our goal as marketers is to tell the stories of the real people behind the purchase, and to write sales copy that resonates with these underlying drivers.

This is becoming particularly important within a lot of B2B technology sales where the target is no longer a senior exec with a $5m budget, but a mid level manager or specialist looking to purchase a flexible, low cost and subscription based solution. In other words, the people who will actually be using the product. If you don’t know why these end users are making the purchase, your marketing has failed before it’s begun.

 

2. We need to involve real people in our content strategies

In marketing speak, we call these people “influencers”. It’s a strategy used to exhaustion in consumer marketing, and not without good reason.

Influencers exist in every market, including B2B. Maybe not on instagram and Snapchat, but in industry magazines, on panel debates and headlining exhibitions.

By engaging these people you instantly add a human dimension to the stories you’re telling, whilst also benefiting from their credibility and reach. They can bring products to life in a way that conventional case studies can’t, and engage with the audience, be it online or offline, in a visceral way that directly drives behaviour.

 

3. We need to bring these people together

Having run a digital agency for a decade, naturally my first instinct is always to find the virtual solution. But having (entirely by accident) become involved in a variety of events, interviews and other traditional initiatives over the last few years, I’ve come to the acceptance that people will always connect best in person.

I know this isn’t a popular view during Covid-19 and I think the Zoom revolution is going to have a permanent and positive impact on the way that we work, but the bottom line is that marketing at its most human involves getting those humans together, pressing the flesh (footshakes will also suffice) and in all likelihood, sharing a gin and tonic.

Small, intimate events work best. Ideally it should repeat multiple times a year (from experience it’s the third encounter in which guards drop completely) and the attendees must share common challenges and opportunities. Every effort should be made to reduce formality.

The extent to which people are willing to share and help one another in this environment can be extraordinary, even direct competitors.

 

4. We need to create content strategies that can impact the brand’s vision

Most brands now understand the importance of having a lofty and inspiring vision, both to engage customers and attract the best people. However, all too often these are just words on a page. There is little substance.

One way to ensure the vision counts for something is to create a supporting content strategy that propels it forwards. For example, if you say your vision is about using technology to transform a particular sector for the benefit of all within it, your content strategy should be aimed at doing just that. So perhaps you could bring together people from that community and act as a facilitator as they exchange insight and experiences, then share those stories via blogs, email and social media to drive action across the broader market.

 

5. Consider how such a strategy could benefit a non-profit cause

This is not about conducting some half-hearted charitable work or boosting your CSR credentials. It’s about taking the vision for your content and the brand and asking “Is there a non-profit initiative that shares these aspirations?” If so, why not collaborate? You’re investing the time and resources anyway, so why not allow a good cause to benefit?

Introducing this philanthropic dimension will bring further momentum to your work, and reassure all involved that this is more than a fancy marketing strategy. This is about really making an impact.

 

6. Communicate in an authentic tone of voice

This point was covered in the previous article but it’s too important to skip over entirely.

This is not about being humorous for the sake of being humorous or inspirational for the sake of being inspirational. This is about being true to the people behind the brand. And if those people are super straight-laced, professional and a bit dull, then that’s okay.

The thing is, in my experience, successful business people are rarely like that. Whether it’s the CEO of a multinational or founder of a start-up, these people tend to be brimming with passion, energy and opinion. They are occasionally assholes, but almost never boring. After all, these leaders have successfully sold their vision to their employees and investors. All we’re trying to do is communicate that personality and passion more widely so it can be experienced by all who come into contact with the brand.

 

7. Tell the stories of the people behind the brand

It’s one thing to ensure a brand’s communications reflect the people behind it, but it’s quite another to thrust those people into the spotlight.

So often senior leadership try to hide themselves from public attention. Sometimes because they worry it may inhibit the scalability of the brand, sometimes because they think they have more important things to be doing and sometimes because they’re a small business and believe that appearing like a large faceless corporation will give them greater credibility.

They’re wrong.

Brands are stronger when they are personified by real people. Once you bought into Steve Jobs, you bought into Apple. Once you bought into Richard Branson, you bought into Virgin. And once you bought into Elon Musk, you bought into Tesla.

In fact, even if you don’t like these people as people - and let’s be honest, at least 2 out the 3 are/were appalling narcissists - you can’t help but be captivated and compelled by their energy for what they do.

Of course there are exceptions but 9 times out of 10 companies would benefit from making their leaders not only more visible, but also more real.

 

The biggest challenge of all for B2B marketers

There is one particular issue that I think warrants special mention. And that’s long form content: lengthy articles, detailed videos, extensive white papers and other heavy content assets that demand significant time from our audience.

The trouble is this - within the B2B world, there is a tendency to view short form and long form content as adhering to two very different sets of principles. We create lots of emotive content for our audience on social media because that’s just what you do, but then when we ask the same people to download a whitepaper, it’s as if we’re representing a different brand. Just pages and pages of words that are all perfectly accurate and professional but make absolutely zero effort to convey even a suggestion of personality.

Long form content is the backbone of most B2B marketing collateral and yet 9/10 such assets are entirely stripped of emotion. It’s nonsense. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about B2B or B2C markets, long form content needs personality. Arguably even more than short form content, as we’re trying to keep the user engaged for a much greater period of time.

I think the simple reason for this problem is that creating boring content is a lot faster than creating good content, and as we tend to create such vast quantities of information in B2B (often with limited budgets), we have little choice but to dumb down the creative process. Then we rationalise it by saying “Well, it’s only for technical people anyway. They love all this detail.”

They almost certainly don’t. And they’d definitely rather it was engaging.

So what’s the answer? Often the media costs involved in B2B are far lower than consumer markets, so ideally we would shift some of that budget over to content production. But if that’s not an option, then we should just create less stuff. Either way, we need to do it properly.

As an aside, if you want to learn how to create long form content in a way that really speaks to the human on the receiving end of it, read the script of a TV infomercial for a domestic cleaning product. You’ll quickly realise there is no such thing as a boring product - only boring marketers.

 


B2B SEO Question

B2B SEO: Companies hoping to punch above their weight need to ask themselves this one question

The vast majority of B2B customer journeys begin with a search into Google. This stuff really matters.

Typically, this will begin with a period of research, then once the person feels they understand the supplier landscape, they’ll make contact. Alternatively, they may download some content along the way, giving an immediate advantage to the provider of that content, particularly if it’s then followed by additional value via email.

However the journey looks, every company wants to be part of it. But with a huge advantage going to big brands, how do regular B2B organisations get in on the action?

(Before we go any further, I feel I should be clear that this article is not intended to be a detailed guide to SEO. You can find that here, here, here, here and here.)

The answer is that they ask the right questions. One in particular.

Before we get to that, however, let’s remind ourselves of how Google determines its rankings. In simple terms, it falls into two broad categories:

  • Website trust
  • Content

In other words, all Google wants to do is rank the best content from the most trusted brand, for any given search query.

The trouble is that the first part - trust - isn’t built over night. And frankly if you’re up against huge multi-nationals then even with heavy PR and link solicitation, you’re never going to get in the race.

The second part, however - Content - is a level playing field. And this is where we can punch above our weight.

We need to absolutely nail the content of the page that we are trying to rank. And this is where that question comes in.

The question is - “What are the long list of things that someone might be hoping to find when they make a relevant search query?”

This is all best illustrated with an example.

If a company is selling enterprise cloud solutions, they’ll presumably want to rank for terms like “Enterprise Cloud Solution Provider”. So if we put ourselves in the shoes of the individual making that search query, what are they hoping to find as they type that into Google?

If they’re technical, they might be hoping to find:

  • Detailed features and benefits
  • Information on compatibility with other systems
  • Lots of specific guidance under an FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) section
  • Links to related blog posts and articles
  • Testimonials from other technical people, just like them

While if the person is a senior executive, they’re probably more interested in:

  • The commercial and strategic benefits
  • What other companies from their market are using this solution
  • Testimonials from other senior people, just like them

The trouble is that you don’t know who the person is behind a search query like “Enterprise Cloud Solution Provider”. It could be someone technical, it could be someone senior. Or perhaps mid level management who wants to understand the impact on their particular function. Maybe they’re from the retail industry, maybe they’re from the manufacturing industry…?

The reality is that the person could have any one of a hundred different hopes and intents when they make this search query, so somehow we need to ensure that:

  • We satisfy as many of them as possible
  • And all while maintaining a reasonable user experience (which probably requires hiding lots of the content behind tabs and dropdowns so it doesn’t overwhelm the user at first glance).

In simple terms, that’s it.

The digital god that is Rand Fishkin explained this best 8 years ago(!) on one of his famous whiteboard Fridays. We like to think that the internet moves so quickly that the rules of SEO must have changed beyond all recognition since 2012, but having deployed this tactic at least 10 times over the last year, I can assure you that it’s as powerful as ever.

To reiterate, all Google wants to do is rank the best content from the most trusted brands, and for generic search queries “best content” is always going to be broad content.

Over to rand...

Until next time,

Dan


Social media success KPI's

The only metrics worth tracking for your B2B social activity

B2B and professional service firms often challenge the value of social media - they are right to do so.

Social media tends to attract a disproportionate amount of attention (and therefore budget) due to the fact that it’s not only new and exciting, but also more visible. You can’t easily learn what your competitor's email strategy is or what exhibitions they’re attending, but with one click you can hop onto their Facebook page and see every bit of content they’ve ever shared.

Social has a role to play, absolutely, but in order to understand that role you need to be clear on the metrics by which you’re judging success.

I’d suggest that there are three things worth tracking (with one clear priority). Everything else is noise.

 

  1. Driving sales qualified leads

The first and hardest to achieve is sales qualified leads. In other words, those people who are actually seeking to buy.

For most B2B and professional service organisations, it’s almost impossible to do this directly via social, particularly if the price point is high. Social is great for driving impulsive action, but complex B2B buying journeys are a different beast. If you’re a gym hoping to drive new members, Facebook is one of your hottest channels, but if you’re hoping to create beautiful content that “inspires” someone to spend £100k on a cyber security solution, you may be waiting a along time!

What is likely to happen instead is this:

  • The lead finds you via another source - a google search query, referral visit or perhaps a direct brand visit having seen you at an event or heard about you from another customer, etc.
  • Then they click on your social media to get a better sense of what you’re about as a company. A bit like the "About Us" page (one of the most trafficked pages on most B2B / professional service sites) but far more revealing and engaging, or at least it should be!
  • Having spent a few minutes scrolling through your content and building up a picture of your expertise, communication style and culture (are these people they want to do business with?) they then go back to the website and make contact.

Every year we will have half a dozen decent leads arrive via social media. Of those, 4 or 5 will have followed the path described above. The other one may have taken a more direct route straight from the social platform in question - perhaps we were just in the right place at the right time..?

This my not sound like a lot and it isn't reason alone to invest in social, but it's certainly something to be tracked. It's a metric that senior decision makers will understand and if just one of those leads comes off, it'll pay for all our content and social activity for the next two years.

 

  1. Clicks to the website

The second priority metric is clicks back to the site. To be clear, clicks carry zero inherent value, but there are two reasons why I personally include them in the KPI’s:

  • It is possible that referral traffic from social media platforms may act as a signal in your SEO efforts. This point is highly speculative(!) and is likely to be market dependent as Google’s algorithms are now primarily driven by machine learning, therefore the signals that apply in one vertical may not apply in another.
  • It demonstrates an increase in the level of commitment from the audience (most people do not like leaving their social platform for another site) and that commitment is essential in driving the third and most important metric.

Which is…

 

  1. Capturing MQL data

For me, this is the real point of your social media efforts. To build your database.

By MQL’s (Marketing Qualified Leads), we mean the contact details of anyone who falls within your target audience and has given you permission to make contact. They may not have a requirement today, but they tick all the boxes of your ideal prospect.

The data you receive may include telephone number which if you have an outbound sales function is fantastic. However, the real value for most companies is in the email, as this is an asset that can grow over time without a directly correlating increase in cost (unlike telephone numbers which are only as valuable as the sales people you’re paying to call them!).

The data you capture may feed into an automated email sequence that takes the user through a pre-defined journey, or they may just be added to a list of people who will receive targeted information every week/month. Either way, you are building one of just two real digital assets your company owns (the other being your website), and the compound value, if managed well, is likely to surpass the potential of any other single channel.

So, how does social drive this email capture? Lots of ways. Perhaps by driving clicks to the website which then generates a lightbox, or maybe you’ll be more aggressive and run direct response campaigns on the social platform itself. However, with likely cost per acquisition of anything from £5-£50 for most B2B organisations (depending on your audience, content and brand), the latter is probably only viable if you have a sales function making direct use of the resulting data.

 

And a bonus - the non-sales objectives

It’s also worth mentioning that not all the benefits of a digital channel can be measured in pounds and pence. Social media, as the name suggests, is probably the single greatest digital channel for communicating and strengthening company culture, making it a powerful tool for both recruitment and engagement of existing staff.

Unless you’re a really large business, however, this is likely to be more of a side benefit than anything that can justify direct commercial investment.

 

Final thought

Most B2B organisations manage to somehow  underestimate the power of social whilst simultaneously overspending on it. Social absolutely has a role to play. It’s a key touchpoint and has enabled companies to reach their audience in more targeted, cost effective way than ever before. However, in order to extract that value companies need to understand its place in the sales/marketing funnel (right at the top!) and the corresponding activities that need to surround it.

Above all, they need to know how to measure success.

 


The Resurgence of Traditional Media

An Offline Renaissance - The very dominance of digital is creating opportunities for traditional media

This is going to seem like an odd piece for a company with the word “digital” in its brand to publish. And to be clear, there is no question that in 2020 all companies should be thinking digital-first.

However, in the last couple of years we have seen across both B2B and consumer markets, that many of the best strategies have had a strong offline component. This short article will explore a few of the reasons behind this apparent resurgence.

 

1. It’s unexpected

Generally speaking, marketing is about identifying trends and aligning yourself accordingly. If everyone in your market is attending a particular event, attend that event. if everyone is on snapchat, there’s probably a strong argument for being on snapchat.

However, the real opportunities exist in surprising places. By adopting a channel that few of your competitors are using but that you have reason to believe will engage your audience, you are gaining an edge.

Billboard advertising
Marketing professional swipes right on traditional media, in spectacular attempt to find date. (Credit: DatingMark.com)

Last week I was with a Global CISO who told me the best piece of marketing she’d ever received was a personal note on a postcard. The week before that I was with the CMO of Habito, a tech start-up and now the UK’s fastest growing mortgage broker, who told me that the most successful channel tactic they ever used was the tube. At the time, no fintech’s were doing it. Now they all are.

The most successful piece of marketing I've done in the last 12 months has been a series of handwritten letters to the CEO's of large law firms. All but one sent me a reply. And all of those were positive.

In 2020, ‘surprising’ is hard to find online. Whether it’s email, webinar, social, blogs, press releases, PPC, influencer engagement or affiliate marketing, it’s unlikely you’re going to stumble across a digital channel that has significant impact on your audience whilst also being underused by your competitors.

The real world, on the other hand, is the last place most marketers are looking in 2020. So maybe that’s where you should begin?

 

2. People are more aware of their physical surroundings

In the digital world, we have trained ourselves to block out ads, which may explain why only 3% of them are viewed for more than 1 second. We have conditioned our brains to be focused on the thing we are doing in that moment, and ads, even great ones, are rarely more than an irritant to be blocked out.

However, in the real world, our senses have to be at least slightly engaged at all times so that we can hear the baby crying, smell the smoke from the fire, avoid the oncoming bus, etc. Furthermore, the real world can sometimes be just a bit dull. When you’re stood waiting for a train to arrive or sat in a waiting room or in the queue at the supermarket, your mind is likely looking for something to entertain it. If for some reason turning on your phone and flicking through instagram isn’t an option, a conveniently placed and strikingly designed advert suddenly becomes the single most interesting thing to take in, if only for a few moments.

That simply doesn’t happen online.

 

3. It carries greater credibility

Somehow, a paper brochure that you can see and touch just makes a company feel more real than their e-version. Likewise, physical billboards are only used by proper companies doing proper things, or so our brains tell us. And to advertise on TV, well you have to be a serious brand to do that!

Of course this is all nonsense. The physical brochure is just a horribly inefficient manifestation of the the e-version. Any cowboy can pay £500 for a billboard ad. And TV ads have never been more targeted and affordable. But as marketers, we would do well to remember that perception is as important as reality.

“The medium is the message”, as Marshall McLuhan once said.

 

4. Sometimes there is no substitute for human interaction

You can never say never, but this is one element of traditional marketing that I cannot see going anywhere in my lifetime.

People buy from people. It’s trite but true. Hence why organisations invest so heavily in developing the “personality” of their brands. The trouble of course is that it adds cost, and in many markets the customer simply isn’t willing to pay the difference.

However, in other markets, the buyer journey is so complex (and sufficiently valuable) that human involvement is appropriate. In these cases, you will likely find that human encounters, such as events events (particularly those that you “own”) are far more impactful on sales than any PPC, email or social media campaign.

 

Final thought

The answer of course is that you have to know your audience, both in terms of value and behaviours. Clearly handwritten letters sent to 300,000 19 year old students who don’t check their post is neither financially viable nor impactful. For these low value, high volume audiences, the best route is likely to be digital, where successful tactics can be scaled with a speed, efficiency and measurability that would be hard to replicate offline.

However, in many markets, the real world continues to form an irreplaceable part of the buyer journey. And as long as it does then as marketers we must reflect that in our communications, particularly when it's not expected.

 


Three good reasons for a b2b sub brand

Three good reasons to create a B2B sub brand in 2020

To be clear, there are hundreds of bad reasons to create a sub brand in a B2B market. The proliferation of brands is a real problem for a lot of very large companies. Every time they want to target a new market or launch a new product there is a temptation to create a new brand in order to ensure clarity of message and distinct positioning. This is a slippery slope and for the most part one that should be avoided.

However, sub brands do have a legitimate role to play in B2B markets. This article will look at three growing trends that are likely to require their (careful) use in 2020.

 

For firms looking to take a risk in a long established market

Sometimes it seems that innovation is now all anyone can talk about. The reality is, however, that the majority of so called “innovation” within traditional B2B markets is about doing existing things that little bit better rather than actually doing better things.

That’s because the risks are too high for true innovation. If I’m a CEO of a long established professional service firm and want to do something radical which may involve creating an entirely new organisational structure designed to compete with consumer brands and technology companies, then that is a huge leap, and one likely to represent unprecedented risk for my firm. Convincing the senior partners or board of directors that they should gamble their future profits on my hunch is going to be a hell of a struggle.

Creating a sub brand may offer a solution. In doing so we liberate those responsible for this innovation from the shackles of the parent brand, whilst protecting the latter from any direct risk.

It’s not ideal and at some point the parent brand will need to make a decision about its appetite for innovation or it will end up highly fragmented culturally and with no clear message to the outside world, but as a means of facilitating true change and proving new, exciting concepts within a highly complex and politically sensitive environment, it is likely to be the best of a limited set of options.

 

For firms looking to do something special with their marketing and communication

Most B2B and professional service organisations now understand the importance of having a compelling vision. However, few manage to translate that into an equally compelling communications strategy. The lofty nature of the visions are usually undermined by the lacklustre content the business serves to its audience via blogs, tweets, events and emails.

There is a further issue; in the unlikely event that the company is distributing content of a truly ambitious and engaging nature, there is still the barrier of the brand itself. Most people do not like to be seen sharing content from commercial entities at the best of times, least of all from markets perceived as traditional and dull.

There is a way to overcome this.

By creating a sub brand specifically for your content, you can build something that exists purely for the achievement of your vision, with no commercial messaging or any of the other unhelpful associations of the parent brand. Instead, this will be a brand that the audience can truly buy into, and that you can use as a vehicle to build a social community, run events, develop an email list and get in front of key influencers. Above all, it can signticanly reduce the cost per acquisition for MQL’s (Marketing Qualified Leads).

The downside, naturally, is that all of this brand equity you are developing is now on behalf of a separate brand, but there is no reason why you can’t make the affiliation very clear (at least in the direction of parent brand to content sub brand. Probably not the the other way around). You can even link to the sub-branded blogs and social channels directly from the parent website.

This is a strategy we have employed on a dozen or so occasions for ambitious B2B brands, and the results have been astonishing. In fact in one instance (within the health industry) the content sub brand became one of the best recognised names in the entire market. There wasn’t a door it couldn’t open.

One thing to make clear, however, is that this cannot be approached as a cynical marketing exercise. You must truly believe in the vision you are trying to achieve and ensure that it aligns in all its values to that of the parent brand.

 

Servitisation and productisation

This one I add with caution. There is a current (and important) trend for professional service companies to productise their offerings, while product B2B companies are adding layers of service to theirs. Both are intended as a means of differentiation and improving the customer experience, and in many cases it’s a critical shift for companies seeking to avoid commoditisation and retain share in markets becoming saturated or disrupted.

As part of this, it is natural for enthusiastic marketers and other senior decision makers to trial new brands in an attempt to crystallise the new offering. And in some cases, this is absolutely the right thing to do. A manufacturing company that wraps their product in layers of service never before seen within their market will be eager to demonstrate to the audience that this really is something new.

The reason I say “with caution” is that this is also an example of how a trend can lead to rapid brand proliferation. After all, if the new product is successful then it’s likely to spark others, each with their own separate brands. Very quickly a highly complex brand architecture will exist, with some of the new brands tying in very closely with the parent brand and others having far more distinct identities. Soon enough, the brand architecture will have descended into chaos and nobody will be quite sure how you got there.

 


Targeted media plans

Content Marketing Part 7 - Promoting Your Content Via Intelligent Media Plans

Transcription

A staggeringly small proportion of overall marketing content online receives any kind of promotion at all. I want you to think for a moment how crazy that is. Let’s imagine that you value your time at £50 an hour, and you spend 5 hours creating and publishing a really nice blog post. That’s £250 right there that has effectively been invested, and yet as it stands that piece of content will probably be seen by just a handful of people unless yo have a large and engaged email list. Simply dropping a link on to facebook may have once upon a time generated lots of organic views and engagement, but organic reach on facebook is now almost negligible. If you’re not paying for promotion then there’s almost no point posting content on there at all.

You may get a bit more success on other social media channels, but probably not much unless you have a particularly strong personal brand. So what happens is that we post that piece of content stick it on a few different social channels, nobody see’s it, and we move on to the next piece of content that will achieve equally little.

This is madness. We have effectivelly spent £250 and achieved nothing, when we could have spent just another five or ten pounds, so nothing i the grand scheme of things, and the reach of the content would be so much greater. Rather than being seen by a handful of people, it wold have been seen by thousands or tens of thousands.

This is why media plans are so important. There is absolutely no point investing in content if we are not also investing in its promotion. Your media plan, which like your content calendar, can be as simple as a few columns on a spreadsheet, needs to list the piece of content it relates to, the budget that’s being spent, the date the promotion will take place, the channel this applies to, who the target audience is and how success will be measured.

Media planning for the most part is a really very simple process, but it is often the difference between a successful campaign and completely wasting your time. If anything, I would urge you to create much less content, and take some of that leftover budget and stick it into ensuring that the content you do create actually achieves its goals.


Business foundations - marketing

Why better sales and marketing probably isn’t the answer

Most businesses believe that sales and marketing will be the magic bullet to all their problems. If they could just sell more stuff, all their other headaches would drift away.

Nonsense. If they have other problems in the business, selling lots more stuff will simply add fuel to the fire.

There are foundations that must be laid before scaling your sales and marketing, and for me, this is where it needs to begin:
- Clarity over the company’s core competence
- Clarity over the company’s position
- Clarity over the company’s product definition

Failure to address the above before launching aggressive communications or sales strategies is a bit like sticking Lewis Hamilton in a state of the art Formula 1 car and then removing the steering wheel. You can expect something spectacular to unfold but it’s unlikely be pretty.

It’s about doing things in the right sequence. I always imagine it like an egg timer with multiple bottlenecks that each get a little larger as they descend. The first and the most narrow of these bottlenecks is the clarity of the company’s core competence followed by its position and then followed by the product definition, so it doesn’t matter how much you widen the ones beneath it (culture, systems, marketing, etc), the sand isn’t going to get to the bottom any faster until you address those at the top.

 

Core competence

In simple terms, your core competence is the thing that sits at the intersection of the following:
- The thing you’re really good at
- That’s really important to your customer
- That’s largely neglected by your competitors

Sometimes this one thing is literally just one thing. So perhaps you’re a hardware company, for example, that develops one very particular kind of hardware solving one very particular problem. If so, fantastic, but that doesn’t work for every business, particularly those in busy markets, so instead you may need to pull two or three things together.

I always illustrate this with a conversation I had about 5 years ago with my cousin. At the time he was in his early 30s and already hugely successful within his field of medicine, having been featured in just about every major newspaper as well as The Lancet and New England Medical Journal. I asked him if he put this down to anything beyond hard work. He replied “Dan, I’m not the world’s greatest academic. And I’m certainly not the world’s greatest surgeon. What sets me apart is that I’m pretty good at both. I walk into a room full of academics and they all think it’s unbelievably cool that I’ve spent the day getting my hands messy in surgery. And then I walk into a room full of surgeons and they all think I’m some kind of supernerd because I’m writing code and contributing to exciting new academic studies. It’s this ability to talk both languages and bridge the gap that distinguishes me from others.”

Exactly the same is true in business:
- The accountant who combines deep technical expertise with high level business and finance strategy.
- The software company that combines some extensive functionality with great user experience
- The marketer who combines rich brand expertise with technical and analytical insight

Whether it’s one thing or the marriage of two or three things, few companies ever answer this question which is why few ever progress beyond resounding mediocrity.

 

Position

Brand position essentially just means - what you do and who you do it for.

Well we’ve already answered the first part with our core competence, so the next question is - who are we doing it for?

This issue of audience is just as important as what’s actually being sold. The lawyer who is also a technology enthusiast and speaks at technology conferences. She may not be the best lawyer, but she’s in a league of her own in the technology sector. The software vendor that has 30 years experience of solving problems for HR departments. There may be competitors out there developing better software, but do they have the same insight into the challenges faced by an HR department? Perhaps more importantly, do they have the trust and relationships with heads of HR, or are they completely unknown to these buyers?

Again, if you’re operating in a really competitive market, narrowing your position to focus on a very tight customer universe is likely to be really important.

 

Product definition

Once we have our core competence and position neatly defined, it's time to establish how exactly this translates into a set of products. And to be clear, when I say product, I include services in that. In fact, the distinction between products and services is becoming looser every day, as service companies seek to “productise” their offerings and product companies wrap their products in layers of service.

Each product must tie in closely with your core competencies. Those that don’t must be eliminated from your offering. This is the part that separates the best from the rest. How brave can you be in tightly defining your products and saying no to those customer requests that fall outside your areas of core competence? Most businesses are simply incapable of turning away customers, which is why so few (particularly B2B organisations) have a really neatly defined offering.

So, going back to our earlier example of the accountancy firm that combines deep technical expertise with high level financial strategy, their products may include:

Technical:
- R&D tax credits
- Audits

Strategic:
- An outsourced FD offering
- A business plan writing service
- A quarterly strategy review

But if someone walks through the door and asks for bookkeeping, the answer should be no.

That’s not to say that the accountants wouldn’t help to find another solution - perhaps there’s a great freelance bookkeeper based locally they can refer the customer to - but if it’s not within their core competence, they must not take it on. It will attract the wrong clients, undermine their core competence and harm the customer experience.

 

And finally comes sales and marketing

The above does still not guarantee a successful and scalable business. There are lots of other things that, if absent or broken, could still bring everything tumbling down (having the right senior leadership team, a strong culture of execution, robust processes for recruitment and training, etc) but what the above will guarantee is clarity of message so that all communications you now project (whether via a brochure or a tweet) will be developing your brand as one coherent, long term and ever growing asset.

 


B2B marketing

The greatest fallacy in B2B marketing

We’re taught that there is one small but significant difference between professionals and consumers; that consumers buy for emotional and self expressive reasons, while professionals buy for rational reasons.

Or, to put it another way, consumers are treated as humans while professionals are treated as machines. This may be good practice for when robots finally take over, but for now it’s a real problem.

Let’s be clear - there are two kinds of decisions we are capable of making as humans, regardless of our environment. Those that we recognise as being emotionally driven, and those that are still emotionally driven but that we feel compelled to rationalise.

Yes, the latter requires things that the former doesn’t. It requires greater detail and evidence, but it requires this detail and evidence to help us vindicate our emotions, not to override them.

People do not leave their personalities and emotions outside their offices in the morning. Whether it’s fear, excitement, enjoyment or frustration, there will be an underlying emotion forcing the buyer down one route or another, and the rational stuff is merely there to help them overcome the barriers.

Our failure to recognise this has led to B2B industries being flooded with content unimaginably dull and largely ineffective in achieving its goals.

 

What does it mean to be professional?

There is something else compounding this problem; the notion that the brand must present a “professional image”?

Well, what does it mean to be a professional?

The top sales person in your company, for example, does she make jokes? Yes. Does she talk in a familiar manner with clients? Yes. Does she open up and communicate freely and without barriers? Of course she does. Does she occasionally even sail a bit close to the wind? More than likely.

Well, as a marketer, your job is to be that top sales person when she can’t be there. Whether it’s via the blog, LinkedIn or email, it doesn’t matter. If you are interesting, people might just listen to you. If you’re not, they won’t, regardless how much information you bombard them with.

 

A magnet for the unambitious and unimaginative

Perhaps worst of all, this misunderstanding for what B2B marketing is all about results in the attraction of a certain kind of marketer. People who would rather spend their day finding reasons not to try things than to stick their neck out and take a risk. People who would rather follow the status quo and churn out yet another coma-inducing whitepaper, than to to stand out from the crowd and head in a new direction.

We call these people - B2B specialists.

 

Write like you’re chatting over a beer

So what do we do about it? Well the problems with B2B marketing may not end with copy writing, but that’s certainly where they begin.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was this - when writing B2B copy, imagine you’re with that buyer down the pub having a beer. How will you talk? What kind of language will you use? What questions will you ask? What stories will you share?

The person you are writing for is probably not fascinated by the technicalities of what you have to say. What they are is just like you - ambitious with their careers, nervous about the future, stressed out by their boss, and above all, just a little bit bored.

You have the tools to connect with each of these drivers, and you’re unlikely to do it with a 3000 word FAQ section. But I bet you have some stories up your sleeve that might just do the trick.

And if not, have another beer and try again.

 


Digital Content Efficiency

Content Marketing Part 6 - Maximising The Impact And Efficiency Of Your Content

Transcription

We have a tendency as marketers to become so absorbed in the job of creating great content that we don’t think about t practically. We fail to consider how we can extract the most amount of value from our content, with the smallest investment of time and money.

Operational efficiency, while not glamorous, is often the difference between success and failure, so I want to talk through a few ways that you can achieve more with less.
- The first is a principle known as CODE, which stands for create once, distribute everywhere. The notion is simple - while you may wish to tweak your content for each channel, it makes no sense to approach each channel individually. Instead you should approach them collectively, so a video you shoot may go up in its full length on your blog, but then chopped up into smaller sections for social media. You may pull out some powerful snippets from it to create visual assets for instagram or twitter, and use the transcription as the basis of an email. You may even feature quotes from within the video in a white paper download. By chopping up the asset and using it as much as possible, you not only save a tonne of time, but ensure a consistent story is being told across all channels.
- The next piece of advice is to focus on evergreen content rathe than topical content. Evergreen content is that which won’t go out of date too soon, which means you can repost it every few months, unlike more topical content which is out of date often within hours of it being posted.
- Then there is the importance of website content. Unlike social media content which is typically ephemeral in nature and is being published on a platform that you don’t own, website content is all yours and will bring in search engine traffic month after month. In fact most ewebsites generate the majority of their traffic in a given month, not from activity in that month, but from old content that already existed from previous months. This compound nature of website content makes it so much more valuable than other forms of content, and is something that most brands underestimate.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you need to ensure you are investing effectively in the promotion of your content, but I will tackle that one in a separate video.


Content Calendar

Content Marketing Part 5 - Saving Time With Smart Content Calendars

Transcription

I can think of nothing more challenging within content marketing than having to generate completely fresh ideas every day. Don’t get me wrong, there will of course be new events that occur within your industry or among your target audience that you wish to jump on, but 90% of your content should be created and scheduled long before the date in question.

By working with a content calendar, whether it’s monthly or quarterly, you can ensure a smooth and efficient workflow, particularly if there are multiple people involved in the creation and distribuition of the content.

There are various content platforms you can use to aid this process, but even a simple excel spreadsheet can work fine. Typically it will need to list the details of the content, its objective, which channels it corresponds to, the budget it has allocated to its promotion and whether or not it has been signed off by the necessary parties.

This may not sound like the most exciting of areas but as marketers time is all we have, and an effective process for your content calendar that minimises admin will ensure you can reserve as much of that time as possible for doing amazing work that gets results.