Tag Archives: B2B communication

Why and How to Market Your Firm’s Brand Integrity

As the limitations of a virtual marketplace continue to reduce most B2B firms to commodities, it’s become increasingly important to communicate not just what your company does, but to generate interest in what your enterprise stands for. This task of expressing your firm’s raison d’être involves far more than sticking a “Mission Statement” on its website.

Prospective clients not only want to know what makes your firm unique; before they put you on their short list for consideration, they also want assurance that your company is a “safe choice.” Decision-makers at every level are unwilling to risk their career on selection of an outside firm that may fail to meet expectations, or even harm their firm.

Regardless of whether your firm is the leader or an upstart in its marketplace, brand integrity matters. And it’s a corporate asset that needs to be marketed.

Unfortunately, telling target audiences and opinion leaders that your company is smart, honest, unique, innovative, creative, cutting-edge, trusted, etc. never succeeds. People require hard and soft evidence to support their own conclusions about your brand attributes, notably its integrity.

So how does a B2B firm market its brand integrity through online and offline channels? Here are 10 tangible and intangible factors that, on an individual and combined basis, can drive marketplace opinion on brand integrity:

  • Transparency: Is information regarding your firm’s philosophy, products / services, processes and people available and easily accessible? (Acid Test: How much digging is required to gain a basic understanding?)
  • Consistency: Is all information kept up-to-date, and relevant to current market conditions? Does bad news get communicated to your clients as quickly and openly as good news? (Acid Test: What’s the frequency of content generation, and the number of direct and indirect “touches” with target audiences?)
  • Enthusiasm: Does your firm appear genuine and enthusiastic about communicating with external audiences? Or does communication appear to be treated as a necessary evil? (Acid Test: How often are innovation and fun baked into those efforts?)
  • Values: Are your company’s core values expressed in a compelling manner? More importantly, are those values demonstrated through its actions? (Acid Test: Are they aspirational and inspirational? Is there tangible evidence that values really drive decision-making?)
  • Clarity: Are explanations clear, devoid of technical jargon or mystery, and easily understood by all outside audiences? (Acid Test: Would an 8th grader get it?)
  • Culture: Is there a visible common culture, beyond shared academic credentials or charitable activities? Are there tangible signs that employees are valued, have a unified vision and enjoy working together? (Acid Test: Other than the annual mud run photo, do employees appear to be engaged as a team?)
  • Associations: Who and what are the people, organizations, ideas and causes associated with your firm? Are those associations respected, credible and trustworthy? (Acid Test: Is the firm actively connected with the outside world?)
  • Validation: How is your firm’s value proposition validated by objective 3rd parties? Do reliable sources express open support or inherent endorsement? (Acid Test: Do credible media sources cover the company? Do clients identify themselves by name and company?)
  • Leadership: Are efforts made to share / promote your firm’s intellectual capital in a helpful manner that’s not directly self-serving? (Acid Test: Do other opinion leaders reference your firm’s ideas or contributions? Are white papers just poorly disguised sales collateral?)
  • Persona: Does your firm appear to be run by interesting human beings, or hide its personality behind an opaque, institutional veneer? (Acid Test: Does the overall impact of public-facing communication project warmth and sincerity, or distance and arrogance?)

Marketing tactics aside, companies looking for a guiding principle on brand integrity are well-served by heeding the advice of the late John Wooden, basketball coaching legend, who said, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

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The Attention Web: What B2B Marketers Need to Know

For B2B marketers who are too busy to keep up-to-date on every marketing trend and buzzword, here are a few thoughts on all the current noise about the Attention Web:

  • Attention as a marketing asset is not a new concept: Top-of-mind awareness has always served as a cornerstone of effective B2B marketing.  In their 2001 book, The Attention Economy, social scholars Thomas Davenport and John Beck proposed that in today’s information-flooded world, the most scarce resource does not involve ideas, money or talent. They argued that unless companies learn to effectively capture, manage and maintain attention – both internally and in the marketplace – they will fail. Here’s one way to understand what’s happening:

Attention Web

  • Pageviews, Likes, Clicks, Shares and Downloads do not measure engagement: Now that the advertising industry is using actual data to evaluate online behavior, smart B2B marketers can validate what they’ve always suspected about the metrics that are used to measure the effectiveness of the content they produce. There is now hard evidence that shows the number of clicks, comments, and shares are not indicative of how much time people spend engaged with the actual content. One recent study, reflected below – produced by Chartbeat and based on a boatload of data – demonstrates that there is no relationship between how often a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention the average reader will give that content. The good news for B2B marketers is that there are now editorial analytic tools that can provide attention and engagement metrics and insights.

article sharing

  • Attention, engagement and business relationships are driven by quality content: Beyond whatever products or services they sell, all B2B companies must establish credibility and trust with clients, prospects and referral sources. Initial inquiries and longstanding relationships are not nurtured by bombarding target audiences with aggregated content from 3rd parties. The most successful B2B firms only associate their brand with highly relevant content, most often home-grown, that supports their value proposition, stakes out intellectual territory, avoids self-serving claims and truly differentiates their company from competitors. Less can be more, when it comes to B2B content.


  • Don’t rely on the internet exclusively to generate market attention. For B2B firms, direct communication (email, snail mail, face-to-face, etc.) with target audiences remains the most effective means of gaining and maintaining engagement. If you’ve created high quality content, ensure that it earns an adequate marketing ROI by consistently putting it in front of the right people; don’t expect them to find your content by themselves on your company website or blog, on LinkedIn or through Twitter. Those online channels should be considered a secondary, rather than the primary means, of generating attention and engagement through content.

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Thought Leadership Merchandising: Rising Above the Noise


Thought Leadership Programs Must be Accountable for Business Outcomes

Thought Leadership is one of the most widely used terms in B2B marketing.  But there’s a range of opinion regarding what Thought Leadership is, and fuzzy expectations with respect to its tangible benefits.

Researching the term “Thought Leadership” yields everything from a sterile Wikipedia definition, to blog posts featuring marketing insights similar to this online gem:

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur, an employee, or a student – your ability to become a thought leader will catapult your success.  A great way to accomplish this, is on LinkedIn.” And we wonder why the marketing discipline is held in such low regard.

Broadly, if Thought Leadership is a marketing strategy that leverages intellectual capital to engage target audiences, then there are two critical components and issues:

  1. Content — What qualifies as legitimate and effective Thought Leadership?
  2. Application — How should the content be applied to drive tangible business outcomes?

A coherent and concise description of bona fide Thought Leadership content is contained within a checklist (shown below) developed by Jeff Ernst, VP of Marketing at Forrester Research, who broadly describes the strategy as “expressing a viewpoint that influences others…” as a means to “generate conversations that build trusting relationships over time.”

It’s important to note that Thought Leadership should not be limited to pushing one’s own viewpoint. True Thought Leaders are those individuals or organizations that define what topics or issues are important, and also provide opinions on those topics (other than their own) that are worth listening to. Thought Leaders seek to manage, rather than control, the conversation.

For example, rather than featuring a message from your CEO in each issue of the company’s quarterly newsletter, consider publishing guest commentaries (not promotional messages) from clients, prospects, referral sources and recognized opinion leaders in your discipline. In return, you’ll gain higher readership levels, greater credibility and top-of-mind awareness, and the likelihood that the client / prospect will distinguish your brand from competitors.

Merchandising Strategy Precedes Content Development

To the consternation of CXOs, some marketers employ Thought Leadership as though it embodied some mystical higher purpose; as a tactic that’s not held accountable for increasing leads, clients or revenue. Apparently through marketing osmosis, a brilliant OpEd piece in the Wall Street Journal or a rousing keynote presentation at an industry conference will somehow bolster a company’s balance sheet. All too often, Thought Leadership’s only benefit involves corporate egos.

Proper application of Thought Leadership-based content begins with development of a content merchandising strategy, involving two basic questions:

  • What measurable outcomes do we want our Thought Leadership to achieve (other than having people think we’re smart)?
  • How will we apply our Thought Leadership content (other than dropping it on our website) to achieve those measurable outcomes?

Creating any Thought Leadership content before fully addressing these two questions is akin to building a large sailboat in your basement. It may be a beautiful work of art, but you will never sail it around the lake.

Ultimately, the most effective merchandising of B2B Thought Leadership content yields credibility tools that:

–        support your company’s value proposition,

–        deliver an inherent 3rd party endorsement,

–        can be presented in a non-self-serving manner,

–        contain content that has a very long shelf life,

–        integrate seamlessly into your firm’s sales process,

–        engage target audiences in conversations that build relationships, and

–        drive tangible business results.

In fact, the acid test of effective Thought Leadership should not be based on your CEO’s level of satisfaction in seeing her byline in print. Instead, you’ll know that your Thought Leadership is effective when the head of sales or new business development is nipping at your heels regarding the campaign’s progress.


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Three Myths and Realities of Client Newsletters

Client newsletters are the most widely used, often abused and hotly debated marketing tactic for professional services firms of any size. Here are three highly subjective myths and realities to help your firm determine whether it’s a worthwhile tool, or how to improve your current newsletter.

MYTH #1:        Your B2B Firm Needs a Client Newsletter

Marketers want you to believe that your firm needs a newsletter. But traditional newsletters – containing commentary ranging from tax legislation to new technology, or who’s joined the firm – are not a marketing necessity. In fact, at many firms their client newsletter is a marketing albatross. Each issue involves a frustrating hunt for timely information of genuine interest. Some firms avoid this pain by slapping their logo on boilerplate content purchased from a 3rd party, but those firms can pay a bigger price, in terms of brand damage. It says to target audiences, “We value our relationship, but we don’t really care enough (or know enough) to produce our own newsletter.”

REALITY #1:     Your Firm Needs to Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness

The intrinsic purpose of tactics that communicate with clients, prospects and referral sources is to reinforce the perception that your firm is smart, trustworthy and prepared to help. Beyond keeping and growing existing clients, your primary marketing goal is to drive top-of-mind awareness with target audiences. That way, when a prospect is seeking assistance, there’s a greater likelihood your firm will be selected, or at least will be put on the “short list” of candidates. If that’s the goal, then consistency and quality of the contact are critical; neither of which necessarily require a newsletter format to accomplish.


MYTH #2:        People Want to Learn About Your Firm’s Success

It’s nice to think that clients and prospects really care about your firm’s growth and accomplishments. The sad truth is that your success is more important to your competitors, and to current and prospective employees than it is to people who generate revenue for the firm. Blowing your own horn can also backfire. When your firm touts that a senior partner has just published a book and was a guest on CNBC, your target audiences may wonder why that partner isn’t focused on client matters, or whether the cost of his book’s publicity tour will result in higher hourly rates.

REALITY #2:     Your Clients, Prospects and Referral Sources Care about Themselves

Understanding that all people are self-interested can make you a better marketer. Rather than creating newsletter content that’s based on what you know, on what you’ve done or on what you can do, focus instead on the ideas, talents and accomplishments of your target audiences, regardless of whether your firm played any role in their success. This is a very tough concept for many B2B firms to understand and embrace: that the most powerful form of thought leadership does not involve pushing out your own ideas. Instead, it involves deciding what ideas merit the attention of your target audiences, as well as what voices are worth listening to. True thought leaders seek to manage the conversation, not to control it.


MYTH #3:        A Newsletter is a Cost-Effective Marketing Tactic

The old saw, “Cheap is dear” rings true when it comes to newsletters. If it’s created in-house, few firms actually track the hours required to write, edit, approve and publish their newsletter. If it consists of cut & paste content, few firms consider the cost of producing a newsletter that very few people will read or respect. Regardless of content, only a small number of professional service firms proactively work to expand their newsletter’s reach, to maintain an adequate CRM capability, or to properly leverage readership analytics from open and click-thru rates, if their newsletter is delivered online.

REALITY #3:     Your Marketing Requires More than a One-Way Conversation

Newsletters often are one-way conversations. A fundamental marketing objective is to engage clients and prospects in a conversation regarding their specific needs and opportunities. Despite the buzz regarding social media, that channel also falls short in terms of engagement. If your firm’s traditional and social media marketing tactics do not serve as catalysts to drive Face-to-Face discussions and Word-of-Mouth referrals, then their “cost-effectiveness” can never be measured on a meaningful basis.


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An End to B2B Social Media Madness


Rapid, lemming-like adoption of social media tools by small and medium-sized B2B firms – fueled by an army of self-proclaimed social media experts – has resulted in wasted dollars, missed opportunities and heightened distrust of the marketing function in the C-suite. As if CMOs needed another cause for termination.

The past decade’s social media debacle is akin to introduction of desktop publishing in the early 1980s, when personal computers arrived in the business world. New software programs enabled companies, for the first time, to design and produce their own graphic materials in-house. Every company needed desktop publishing; corporate bean counters promoted the cost savings; anyone who learned how to use the software claimed to be a graphic designer, and the trend resulted in the most unprofessional and ineffective marketing & sales collateral every produced. Over time, even the bean counters came to understand that misapplied technology can be very costly.

The impact and potential of social media is far more significant than desktop publishing, but this also means that its range of casualties and cost of misapplication are exponentially greater. Simply, there are far too many B2B companies that are either:

–  using inappropriate social media tools,

–  not using appropriate social media tools correctly, or

–  missing opportunities to use appropriate social media tools.

At the risk of generating a firestorm of debate from social marketing gurus armed with clicks, likes, re-tweets and other forms of meaningless ROI validation, and based on the social media casualties we’ve seen or treated first-hand, the following guidelines are suggested for small and medium-sized B2B firms:

  • Focus on Your Website. This is the online mother ship of your brand. Don’t bother with social media tactics unless this tool is all that it can be. If your website has not been refreshed and updated in the last 3 years (which means more than simply sticking press releases in the “News” section), then your company is due for an overhaul.
  • Blog Correctly, or Don’t Have One. A company blog is the most effective way to leverage social media. But if you are unable or unwilling to generate meaningful content on a consistent basis (at least twice a month), or to merchandise your blog content properly (which means taking specific steps to promote the content with target audiences), then do not start a blog. If you already have a blog and you’re not meeting those goals, then shut the blog down. It’s a brand liability.
  • Forget Facebook, Twitter and Google+. These are primarily personal and B2C social media platforms, and there are few good reasons why most B2B firms should be investing any time or resources there. In terms of demographics, it’s telling that Twitter’s top 3 profiles belong to Justin Bieber, Lady GaGa and Katy Perry, but if your B2B firm needs quantitative evidence to support dropping these social media platforms, here is some recent research from Pew Research Center:


  • Use YouTube Selectively. YouTube can be a very effective social media channel for B2B firms. But your video products must be sophisticated, professionally produced, and no longer than 3 minutes. Resist the temptation to include sloppy, home-made productions, or hour-long webinar presentations. They reflect poorly on your brand, and few people will watch them. Ensure that you develop ways to drive consistent traffic to your YouTube channel.
  • Build Your LinkedIn Presence. LinkedIn is 3x more effective for demand generation than either Facebook or Twitter. LinkedIn has become an essential part of the business world’s due diligence process, and your company is conspicuous by its absence. Unfortunately, few companies take full advantage of LinkedIn’s social media potential. Their corporate profiles often do not contain adequate information, they do not merchandise blog-related and other relevant content, fail to connect through industry user groups, and their employees’ profiles are inconsistent and sometimes unprofessional. Most B2B companies would be well served to invest 100% of their social marketing effort through LinkedIn.

Very often, the root cause of dysfunction and disappointment related to the application of social media tools by B2B firms has less to do with the shortcomings of the various platforms, and more to do with the lack of a coherent and articulated marketing strategy. Chances are, if a B2B firm is spinning its wheels in the morass of social media, they’re having similar challenges with traditional marketing communication channels as well.

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Do Most CEOs Lack Social Skills?

Do CEOs need charm school, rather than business school?

According to a new study sponsored by Domo and CEO.com, CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are participating in social media channels significantly less than the general public. The study claims that 70% of them have absolutely no presence on social media.

On the major social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and Google+, the participation of Fortune 500 CEOs was minimal, with only 7.6% on Facebook, 4% on Twitter, and less than 1% on Google+. In comparison, more than 50% of the U.S. population uses Facebook and 34% uses Twitter.   No Fortune 500 CEOs are on Pinterest.

LinkedIn is the most popular social media site among Fortune 500 CEOs, with 26% on the network, compared to just 20.15% of the U.S. general public. Of that group, ten Fortune 500 CEOs have more than 500 LinkedIn connections, while 36 CEOs have 1 LinkedIn connection or none.

Six Fortune 500 CEOs (or more likely, their PR departments) contribute to blogs, and only one of the six CEOs, John Mackey of Whole Foods, maintains his own blog.

Given the demographics of Fortune 500 CEOs, none of this news is jaw-dropping. Older, well-established corporate guys (and gals) in the business world’s stratosphere are not wired for social media.

But here are some potential take-aways from the research:

  • The propensity of C-level executives at companies of all sizes – well below the Fortune 1000 level – to invest time on social media outlets is extremely low. Top decision-makers spend most of their day dealing directly with people within their own sphere of influence. And most C-level execs still are not convinced that social media is anything more than a technology hula-hoop that will eventually run out of steam.
  • Marketers attempting to reach and influence C-level decision-makers are still best-served by leveraging the channels that are used and respected by that target audience…including traditional business media sources and professional forums; and by seeking to influence the 2nd and 3rd tier corporate executives who provide insight and guidance for  C-level decision-makers…which may involve selective use of social media tools.
  • Aspiring CEOs may still be more likely to reach the top of the corporate ladder by joining the right country club, rather than by having 500 connections on LinkedIn.

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Jimmy Webb and the Power of Storytelling for B2B Companies

Music critic Miss Universe on "A Hard Day's Night" movie set

Songwriting legend Jimmy Webb has written some of pop music’s most enduring ballads, including Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Galveston, The Worst That Could Happen and the rock cantata MacArthur Park (simultaneously heralded as a musical masterpiece and the worst song ever written.)

The 66 year-old Oklahoma native now lives in Long Island and performs year-round at small venues in the US, Canada and abroad. Baby boomer fans pack the room to hear Webb strain to hit his own songs’ high notes, to listen to his tales of life on the road, and to get the real stories behind how and why he wrote specific songs.

At a show last weekend in New Jersey, Webb told fans about his first trip to London in 1964, where he fell in love with Miss Universe, who he met on the set of the Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night. According to the rambling story, in his attempt to impress the beauty queen – who had been cast as an exotic dancer and appears for 6 seconds in the film – Webb invited her back to his hotel room, where he sat her down next to him on the piano bench and performed his then unrecorded version of MacArthur Park. Unfortunately for Webb, the 7 ½-minute song failed to put her under his spell. She told him it was a silly song and left. Or so Webb’s story goes.

For the 450 people who heard Webb’s London adventure, all of whom have listened to MacArthur Park for decades, their musical experience has been forever re-shaped. When they hear that song in the future, it will provide a different context or a different meaning. Now, instead of cakes left out in the rain, they’re more likely to envision Jimmy Webb serenading Miss Universe in London. That’s the power of storytelling.

Social media and technology provide efficient ways for people to tell stories. But according to Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, “The human brain has been on a slower evolutionary trajectory than the technology. Our brains still respond to content by looking for the story to make sense out of the experience.”

Writing in Psychology Today magazine, Dr. Rutledge notes that, “When organizations, causes, brands or individuals identify and develop a core story, they create and display authentic meaning and purpose that others can believe, participate with, and share. This is the basis for cultural and social change. This is a skill worth learning.”

Increasingly, in B2B communication, companies focus on the medium and the technology, rather than the underlying message, its meaning or purpose.  In our world of websites, blast emails, podcasts, webinars, analytics, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, marketing automation, smart phones and mobile apps…it’s easy to forget that the quality of a company’s narrative drives people to notice, participate or care about what’s begin sold – whether that be a product, service or a philosophy.

We’re all familiar with how the big brand companies such as Harley Davidson, Jack Daniels, Levi Strauss, IBM and Ben & Jerry’s have leveraged their corporate narratives to build awareness and market interest. But most small and medium-sized companies, and B2B firms in particular, are at a loss to understand how the power of storytelling can showcase their core values, mission and marketplace differentiation. But this goal can be accomplished…not by cooking up elaborate tales about the company’s founders or its early struggles… but rather, by pulling back the curtain on how and why the company makes decisions, and by using real-life examples and incidents to provide interest and context.

A great example of effective storytelling involves Davidson Trust Company, a Devon, Pennsylvania-based investment manager with around $1 billion in assets under management. In a series of columns published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Davidson’s CEO Alvin A. Clay III used stories to establish relevance for his thoughts on issues of importance and likely interest to his firm’s current and prospective investors.

In one of his columns, Davidson’s CEO described how his father – a longtime professor at Villanova – had been the beneficiary of kindness as a young man, and had devoted much of his teaching career returning the favor to others. In another, Mr. Clay recounted a heated debate he had experienced with other business leaders, and how that exchange had shaped his decision-making process regarding publication of his company’s ethics statement on its website. In all of Clay’s columns, he used storytelling to deliver insight and to position the Davidson brand in a genuine, credible and memorable manner.

At his concerts, Jimmy Webb spends more time telling stories than he does on singing his songs. And these events typically end with a 10-minute standing ovation.

Earlier this month, Davidson Trust Company received its own standing ovation. Publicly traded Bryn Mawr Bank Corporation (NASDAQ:BMTC) announced plans to acquire Davidson.

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