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How WebMD Has Changed B2B Marketing Forever

webmd2Many B2B companies, and professional services firms in particular, do not succeed at marketing for two major reasons:

  • Failure to understand that the vendor selection process has fundamentally changed.

Prospective customers now turn to their personal networks and publicly available information — via digital and social media channels—to self-diagnose their problems and to self-prescribe their own solutions. In this new WebMD World of B2B Marketing, making the short list of potential vendors relies heavily on being visible and appearing smart in appropriate online channels on a consistent basis.

To appreciate the magnitude of this shift in how customers select outside resources, consider 2012 market research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board’s Marketing Leadership Council, which surveyed more than 1,500 customer contacts (decision makers and influencers in a recent major business purchase) for 22 large B2B organizations spanning all major NAICS categories and 10 industries. As depicted below, the survey revealed that the average customer had completed nearly 60% of the purchase decision-making process prior to engaging a supplier sales rep directly.  At the upper limit, the responses ran as high as 70%.

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The implications of this research are clear: B2B companies that fail to “show up strong” in the online world are missing engagement opportunities with potential as well as existing clients.

  • Failure to respond properly to the new vendor selection process.

Unfortunately, many B2B companies that understand the new dynamics of vendor selection have responded in knee-jerk fashion, by saturating every possible online / digital channel and social media platform with content that neither reaches nor resonates with decision makers in their target audiences. Although buyer selection habits have changed, when it comes to brand awareness and positioning of a company’s value proposition, less is still more. And this chart explains why:

Attention Web

The online world makes it easy to obtain information, but extremely difficult to gain attention over all the noise. Increasingly, B2B firms are learning that simply having all the online visibility tools – company blog, Twitter account, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, etc. – does not guarantee marketplace attention. They’re also learning that tactics designed to feed those online beasts – most often “currated content” from 3rd parties – can be akin to the “throw some shit on the wall and hope something sticks” marketing approach.

The firms benefitting most from the new WebMD World of B2B Marketing apply traditional marketing disciplines: they stake out intellectual territory that supports their brand with insights that are relevant and interesting to clients, prospects and referrals sources; they drive top-of-mind awareness (and new business inquiries) by ensuring that those target audiences receive their insights on a consistent basis; they create opportunities to engage, rather than talk at, decision makers; and they use online tools to enhance, rather than replace, direct communication with existing and prospective customers.

 

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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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White Papers are Not Dead. They’re on Life Support.

Have Marketers Killed This B2B Golden Goose?

Have Marketers Killed This B2B Golden Goose?

The original purpose of white papers as a B2B marketing tactic was to produce objective information, packaged as quasi-academic research, that might validate a company’s or product’s value proposition. White paper sponsors sought to educate, inform, raise comfort levels and eventually initiate sales conversations with prospective customers.

White papers gained significant adoption as a content marketing tool concurrent with the rapid growth of new technologies that often required explanation or context for non-technical buyers. Over time, however, the market education function was largely assumed by research firms such as Gartner and Forrester, whose opinions carry greater credibility than self-publishers of white papers.

Unfortunately, what began as a legitimate and sometimes helpful marketing tactic has morphed into poorly disguised sales promotion, packaged in a plain vanilla wrapper. The evolution of white papers from bona fide content into self-serving advertorials has been validated by vertical industry trade publications, in which companies, for a fee, are permitted to “feature” their white papers in a special section. White papers jumped the shark when they became paid content.

The outcome of widespread abuse of white papers – driven by marketers grasping for new ways to put lipstick on a pig, or too lazy to produce rigorous research that might empower customers to draw their own conclusions – is that the tactic has lost its franchise as an effective B2B marketing asset class. Increasingly, prospective customers do not believe white papers will be helpful or credible, and as a result, they no longer play a critical role in their decision-making process for purchasing products or services.

Some B2B publications, marketing consulting firms and other 3rd parties with a vested interest in promoting the use of white papers are capable of citing surveys, focus group results and case studies to support the tactic as an effective lead generation and lead nurturing device. And there are still many companies that produce legitimate white papers containing helpful, objective information.

But despite this quantitative evidence and the best efforts of producers of high quality content, B2B customers are avoiding white papers in greater numbers, not only because they are no longer viewed as credible, but also because marketers have erected too many registration barriers that restrict online access to content. Marketers, in turn, are finding white papers to be far less effective as a demand generation tool. Marketers may not have killed the white paper goose, but the tactic is certainly on life support, and is producing far fewer golden eggs.

So if diminished impact is the new white paper reality, then how do companies leverage whatever B2B marketing benefits this traditional tactic may still be capable of delivering? Here are few suggestions:

Repackage the Content: One of my grandmother’s favorite expressions was, “If you fly with the crows, you’ll be shot at.” If you’ve produced credible content, avoid guilt by association with self-serving white papers by publishing it with a different label. Executive Review? Research Report? Market Analysis? Blue Paper?

Scrap the Traditional Format: Regardless of the credibility issue, people simply have too much to read. Instead, produce a video or slideshare version of your white paper content. There’s a greater likelihood that interested parties will sit still for a 3-minute video production than invest 20 minutes laboring over a written white paper. Or create a visual version to serve as a “highlights” teaser that incents readership of the written version.

Grow a Set: Instead of producing the white paper in-house or hiring a freelance writer, engage a well-known, respected industry source to research and produce your white paper…and (here’s the tough part) give that writer complete editorial control. The report may take some shots that you don’t like, but the conclusions will be highly credible and your brand will gain a reputation as a company that can withstand scrutiny.

Slice and Dice Content: Rather than jamming your white paper content into a single masterpiece, allocate and publish the findings as a series of blog post installments. This method will increase readership and also produce multiple opportunities to communicate with target audiences, versus once-and-done publication of your white paper.

Kill Registration Hurdles: Your competitors will always find a way to get a copy of your white paper. Stop acting as though your white paper contains the formula for cold fusion, and use it to generate appreciation of your company’s intellectual capital by all interested parties, including competitors. As B2B internet protocol has evolved, people are far less inclined to provide contact information in exchange for what may be worthless content. Increasingly, registration barriers lose more leads than they generate.

White paper supporters need only be patient. Similar to other B2B marketing tactics that have fallen out of favor through over-use or abuse, the utility of white papers may eventually be fully restored. Even snail mail, long declared dead as a marketing channel, is now enjoying a resurgence as an effective means to cut through the clutter of email.

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An End to B2B Social Media Madness

20070805-humanLemmings

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:

PRN_landscape_social_media_users

  • 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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Should I Rekindle My Blog Love Affair…Or End It?

Can This Blog Affair Be Saved?

Can This Blog Affair Be Saved?

Here’s a sad letter from the Marketing Craftsmanship mailbag:

Dear Marketing Guy,

I’ve fallen out of love with my Blog and I need your advice. My sad story:

It was love at first sight. A company Blog had everything I was looking for in social media. It would drive SEO. Establish thought leadership. Engage clients and prospects. Create two-way communication. Build long-term relationships.

My competitors all had Blogs, and I needed one. It would complete my marketing.

Falling in love with my Blog was so easy. WordPress.com was the perfect matchmaker, and my Blog didn’t cost me a penny to build. I had big plans for my Blog. Topics we would cover together. Discussions I would moderate. I made a personal commitment to post regularly. My Blog and I would create beautiful leads together.

It was a great love affair…at least for a while.

After a few months, my Blog started demanding more of my time. But my Blog wasn’t living up to expectations. Few people visited, only employees commented on posts, and there were no leads in sight. My disappointment grew, but my Blog demanded even more content. “I need interesting ideas, not sales promotion,” my Blog would scream. We grew further apart. Weeks, and sometimes months, passed between posts.

Now, my blog and I are the office joke. Blog visitors wonder if my company has a pulse. My Blog has become a brand liability. I can’t look at the company’s website anymore, because my Blog is always there, reminding me of our failed relationship.

Does my Blog deserve a second chance? Or should I simply move on? Help!!!

Yours Truly, Blog Gone Wrong

Dear Blog Gone Wrong,

Lots of companies fall out of love with their Blogs. I feel your pain, but you’ll get little sympathy from me. Here are  a few questions to start you thinking about why your Blog relationship fell apart so quickly:

  • Was your Blog part of an integrated marketing strategy…or just a temporary infatuation?
  • Did you create an editorial calendar to provide content focus…or made promises you could never keep?
  • Did you assign sufficient resources to ensure your Blog’s long-term success…or were you just looking for a cheap date?
  • Was there a strategy to promote your Blog and to merchandise its posts…or did you think that would just “happen”?
  • Were there tangible and realistic business metrics to measure your Blog’s ROI…or did you think pre-nuptuals would kill the relationship?

My guess is that you were attracted to your Blog’s many fine features and benefits, but were unwilling to invest the time and resources necessary to build a meaningful, long-term relationship. If that’s the case, you really don’t deserve a Blog.

You might be better suited for a relationship with a Twitter account.

The Marketing Guy

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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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Porno as a B2B Marketing Tactic?

Here’s an interesting insight from the Decision Dynamics survey released earlier this week. Co-sponsored by the Financial Times and Doremus, this survey of more than 500 senior-level business executives suggests that if you’re attempting to reach corporate decision-makers, you may want to want to re-consider Twitter as a marketing tactic. Fewer than 10% use Twitter at work, and only about 20% use Twitter at  home. 

Apparently there are better ways other than Twitter to leverage digital media to reach business executives;  including webcasts, podcasts, blogs and…yes, games…which is likely to be of some concern to company shareholders and laid-off employees, as it appears that nearly 40% of these senior executives spend some part of their day playing games at work.

Given the survey’s game-usage insight, here’s something that deserves additional research: if nearly 75% of senior executives frequently or sometimes “view online video” while they’re at work, what exactly are they watching?

Digital Media: % Used Frequently or Sometimes

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