Tag Archives: marketing ROI

Skip the Marketing Plan. Try this “Easy-Bake” Recipe Instead.

betty-crockerThe first question we ask prospective clients is, “Do you have a Marketing Plan?”

Most prospects sheepishly acknowledge that they don’t have a formal Marketing Plan. This group earns big points with us for honesty.

Some less forthright prospects will claim they do have a Marketing Plan, but when asked to show it to us, this group responds with, “Our plan isn’t written down,” or “It’s being updated,” which really means that they don’t have a plan.

There are several good and bad reasons why companies (of all sizes) don’t create a Marketing Plan. Those spoken and unspoken reasons include:

·     It’s too much work to create and maintain a Marketing Plan.

·     We had a Marketing Plan once, and it just sat in a 3-ring binder on the shelf.

·     Senior management doesn’t understand marketing. Why confuse them more?

·     It’s easier to just keep trying different marketing tactics, to see what works.

After decades of watching companies either earnestly struggle to create a Marketing Plan, or strenuously avoid creating one, we recently had an epiphany. We realized that most companies should SKIP the Marketing Plan altogether.

Here’s why: The ratio of companies without (versus with) a Marketing Plan will never change. So rather than badgering and shaming the “No Marketing Plan” companies, we should help them focus exclusively on the critical components of marketing that will help them succeed. We call this process the “Easy-Bake Marketing Cake Recipe.”

In Betty Crocker fashion, here are step-by-step directions for creating an Easy-Bake Marketing Cake for your company…completely devoid of all marketing jargon:

The Strategic Ingredients

Step 1: Determine why customers should buy your product / service. This seemingly simple goal – to understand what’s special about your company – is the most essential element of marketing strategy. Many companies either don’t have a clue, or have an unfounded / unrealistic viewpoint on why people should do business with them. You need to nail this step.

Step 2: Learn why customers are buying from your competitors. To gain a reliable answer to the Step 1 question, you need to possess a thorough understanding of the competitive landscape. The most successful marketers know everything about (and closely monitor) current competitors, to gain insight into why customers buy from them. They also work to anticipate new competitors, and explore potential customer solutions that could disrupt the entire category.

Step 3: Learn what your customers want and don’t want. If you’re not having a continuous, two-way conversation with current, prospective and former customers, then you are flying by the seat of your pants, marketing-wise. And you can’t rely exclusively on surveys to gain that market intelligence. Pick up the phone and talk to decision-makers at least once a quarter to really understand what they think and what they need.

The Practical Ingredients

Step 1: Define what your marketing resources are. Marketing requires money and people. Work backwards to build a marketing strategy. First decide what resources are available to invest, and then determine what strategies / tactics you can afford to apply properly and consistently. Having an “open budget” for marketing makes you a target for the latest gimmick, and is a sure way to waste a boatload of money.

Step 2: Put your sales process under the microscope. Marketing is not a religion. To justify its existence as a corporate function, marketing must help produce tangible business outcomes. Most marketing activity should be related to sales…and the sales function requires close scrutiny in advance of any marketing investment. If your sales process is broken (or non-existent), then your marketing will likely yield nothing of value.

           Step 3: Define exactly what you want your marketing to achieve. Your marketing goals should be directly or indirectly connected to activity that drives revenue. If that revenue connection is fuzzy, or based largely on wishful thinking, then either refine or eliminate the weak strategies and tactics. Be ruthless in your evaluation of all marketing activity at all times.

The Tactical Ingredients

Step 1: Select one effective direct marketing tactic. Most email solicitations go unread, with good reason: they are self-serving, poorly written and lack a compelling rationale for people to respond. But because the email marketing bar is so low, there is plenty of opportunity to stand out from the crowd. There’s also a big opportunity to leverage traditional snail mail, largely because marketers have abandoned that channel in lemming-like fashion.

Step 2: Select one smart content marketing tactic. The objective is to showcase your company’s intellectual capital (which is very different from a sales pitch), either through respected print / electronic media sources or social media, primarily to gain online visibility for that content. The 2016 marketing reality is this: If potential clients can’t find you by searching online, then you are not in the game. If you prefer to stick with the “We’re a relationship business, and don’t need an online brand presence.” marketing approach, then please let me know. I would like to short your stock.

Step 3: Select one consistent tactic to keep in touch with clients, prospects and referral sources. With so much media noise and competition, and because you can never know when people will be ready to engage, it’s important to remind decision-makers that your company is ready to help them. Quarterly communication is sufficient, and will avoid being viewed as a pest. Standard “all about us” newsletters are boring, so provide content that’s meaningful and of interest to your readers.

This overly simplistic, 9-step planning process is unlikely to gain the endorsement of the American Marketing Association. But for the vast majority of businesses who don’t have the time or interest to create a bona fide Marketing Plan, this “Easy-Bake Marketing Cake Recipe” should more than suffice.

Compared with some of the overly ambitious, non-productive Marketing Plans that we’ve seen over the years, it’s also likely to produce a much tastier outcome. Bon appetit.

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The 2 Most Deadly Sins of B2B Marketing

deadly sinsThere are two major reasons why marketing is failing at your small- or medium-sized B2B firm:

You view marketing as business triage. Your company applies a collection of tactics (often labeled as a “marketing campaign”) only in response to a problem; typically involving the loss of a key client, or decline in revenue. When business is good, little or no time is invested in marketing. When business (inevitably) takes a dip, only then does marketing becomes a priority.

You expect marketing to deliver immediate results. Either because your company always views marketing on a “cause & effect” tactical basis, or because marketing triage must be applied quickly to revive an ailing company, the marketing function is given insufficient time to produce tangible results. It’s no surprise that marketing professionals have the shortest tenure of any corporate function in the asset management business.

The hard truth is that very few B2B business owners either understand the marketing function, or have the discipline to design, implement, measure and adhere to a consistent marketing approach that builds brand equity and market engagement over a sustained period.

To establish the infrastructure and internal culture necessary for the marketing discipline to succeed, we offer the following simple path:

  • Create a Written Marketing Plan. This need not be in a 3-inch binder; a two-page document is often sufficient. Include goals, strategies, responsibilities, timelines, budgets and ways to measure results. Without a Marketing Plan you’ll waste lots of time and money. And unless it’s a written document, you won’t have commitment or accountability.
  • Gain Senior Level Commitment. The honcho in corner office (which might be you) must understand, endorse and support the Marketing Plan. This involves more than lip service. If your Plan isn’t properly staffed and funded at the outset, there’s no real commitment to marketing.
  • Do a Few Things Very Well.Your marketing success will be based on the quality and effectiveness of a limited number of strategies / tactics. Firms sometimes go overboard, thinking there’s a correlation between the size of its marketing investment and business results. But less is usually more, in terms of marketing ROI.
  • Build and Nurture your Database.Direct and easy access to your company’s clients, prospects, referral sources and opinion leaders is essential. Without an email pipeline, the marketing value of the content you create is close to zero. If your firm’s thought leadership simply sits on its website or social media, you’re missing the opportunity to build relationships with people in your target audiences.
  • Create Meaningful Content. Self-serving, long-winded white papers and research reports have very limited appeal. Generate content that validates your company’s intellectual capital, that’s easy to read, and focuses on timely topics that people have a genuine interest in.
  • Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness. To be included on the short list of candidates for an assignment or sale, you need to build awareness with key decision-makers. To accomplish that goal, share your content directly with target audiences on a quarterly basis. (More frequently than that, and you may be viewed as a pest.)

Most importantly – with apologies to Glengarry Glen Ross – B2B firms must commit to:

A…..Always

B…..Be

M….Marketing

…for the discipline to be effective. Otherwise, the traditional short-term, hair-on-fire approach to business development will keep your company from ever reaching its full potential, regardless of its quality or reputation.

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Why Your Fund Marketing Strategy Isn’t Working

helpIn manager selection, most investors will look beyond your fund’s track record and give weight to organizational factors that provide them with confidence that the business is well-managed and likely to succeed long-term.

If your strategy and marketing efforts have qualified your fund for an investor’s short list of candidates, then business management factors can either close the deal or disqualify you from further consideration. And with so many funds competing for attention, investors are always looking for any reason to bump funds off their “watch” list.

Like all types of business, your fund’s organizational strength is based on tangible and intangible factors related to the quality of its leadership, the consistency of its operational disciplines and the depth of its customer focus.  On a more granular basis, here’s what those 3 factors entail:

Quality of Leadership: Investors Bet on the Jockey

  • Articulating the Vision…This task is far more complex than sticking a mission statement in a pitch deck or website; it’s a belief system that drives the business. According to Fast Company magazine co-founder, William C. Taylor, leaders at high performing companies are “able to explain, in language that is unique to their field, and compelling to their colleagues and customers, why what they do matters and how they expect to win.” Taylor claims leaders who think differently about their business invariably talkabout it differently as well. Your fund must “talk the walk” to inspire and convince internal and external audiences.
  • Building the Culture…A company’s culture is shaped by how its leadership “walks the talk,” and has a great impact on organizational health and longevity. Some businesses succeed financially in spite of a poisonous or opaque internal culture, but never reach their full potential because the people who work there are not truly engaged. Beyond depicting the traditional org chart, your fund needs to explain to investors how it manages human capital, and must demonstrate how it fosters transparency, communication and teamwork.
  • Thought Leadership…This overused marketing term is typically associated with blog posts and publicity. But bona fide thought leadership is less about self-promotion, and more about acting as a serious student of one’s own professional discipline; whether that be asset management or auto mechanics. Your fund must demonstrate that it’s much more than a one-trick pony with a smart investment formula. Investors want to engage with people who are constantly exploring new ideas and better approaches in their pursuit of excellence.

Operational Discipline: Investors are Business Detail Junkies

  • Working ON the Business…Most business owners are so focused on working AT the businesses (i.e., managing the fund), that they fail to create or properly manage all the internal disciplines necessary for the enterprise to succeed. More importantly, according to Michael Gerber – author of “The E-Myth: Why Small Businesses Don’t Work and What To Do About It” – your fund’s intrinsic value and ability to survive is based on how well it has defined, documented and perfected all of its internal systems and methods. There’s a reason why McDonald’s french fries taste the same in all of its worldwide locations: they constantly work ON the business of sourcing, preparing, cooking and serving french fries.
  • The Outsourcing Challenge…For many businesses, the outsourcing of middle and back office operational functions can make great economic sense. But investors need to know that your fund isn’t simply a “virtual” business composed of a contractual network of various 3rd party providers. If your fund outsources any critical business functions, it needs to assure investors that you (not the outside providers) are 100% accountable for those functions. More importantly, your fund must demonstrate rigorous internal disciplines for oversight that ensure the accuracy, timeliness and quality of all outsourced functions.

Depth of Customer Focus: Investors Need to Like You

  • Accessibility/Affability/Ability…These “Three As” of consultation, taught for decades in medical schools, have application across all service businesses, including fund management. Every type of customer – whether they’re shopping for legal representation, tax advice or portfolio alpha – is influenced as much by your likeability as they are by your college degree, your fancy office or your IQ. Irrespective of its track record, if your fund (as individuals and as an organization) doesn’t come across as friendly, easy to work with and professional, investors are unlikely to explore a relationship. Ego and attitude can be brand liabilities for any business, and fund managers who display those personality traits risk losing out to competitors who may be less talented, but far more likeable and marketable in the eyes of investors.
  • Managing Customer Experience…Many funds don’t even think of investors as customers, but rather as potential beneficiaries of their market insight, trading genius or financial returns. This stilted point of view is often reflected in how those funds communicate and behave, both with prospective and current investors. But the most successful funds understand that investors are people, regardless of the size of the institutions they represent, and that nurturing personal relationships matters. Your fund would be well-served by following the advice of Bruce Temkin, founder of The Temkin Group, and a recognized authority in customer experience, who suggests that all companies:
  • Focus on your customers’ needs, even when internal priorities push them to be ignored.
  • Orient your thinking on customers’ journeys, even when the organization cares about individual interactions.
  • Design for customers’ emotions, even when success and effort are often the better understood parts of an experience.
  • Develop innovative ways to treat customers, even when the status quo seems to be good enough.

Selling performance alone is a dead end for funds, and is the #1 reason why fund marketing strategies fail.

Increasingly, investors are more interested in how funds create and sustain a successful business enterprise. To build a company that provides investors with the confidence to put capital at risk, fund managers must be held to the same high standards of leadership, operational discipline and customer focus that private and public companies face in seeking to attract equity investors.

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B2B Conferences: Essential Marketing Tactic…or Waste of Time and Money?

Regardless of industry, B2B conferences and seminars can be a significant waste of time, money and opportunity. But the conference sponsor is typically not at fault for the lack of return on this marketing investment. It’s often the result of poor planning, lack of creativity, laziness or unrealistic expectations by the companies that participate in them.

Here are three issues you should address, in advance of investing in a conference of any kind:

Do I understand the inherent marketing value of conferences? Before it became a “pay to play” world, there was some brand stature and inherent 3rd party endorsement associated with participation as a keynote speaker or panelist on a conference agenda. Nowadays, however, even if you’re invited to speak, attendees will likely assume that you’ve paid for the privilege, so the brand cachet is diminished.

The real marketing value of participation in any conference agenda is not based on what you say to the 100 attendees during your 15 minutes on the podium. Instead, it’s based on what you do, both before and after the conference, to reach, influence and engage the 1,000+ or 2,000+ decision-makers who were either too busy or too important to attend the event. In many respects, a conference simply provides a legitimate reason to communicate with those individuals who are most important you.

Do I have the internal discipline to make conferences a worthwhile investment? Because conferences are expensive, inefficient, haphazard and difficult to evaluate, you must establish an internal discipline and specific strategies to harness their marketing value. For starters, you need access to a robust, accurate database of your clients, prospects and referral sources. Possessing a list of conference attendees, either before or after the conference, is of lesser importance.

You also need to create a detailed communications strategy – tailored for each event – that addresses how you intend to:

  • Share intellectual capital associated with the event (either generated by you or someone else), and how to
  • Leverage that intellectual capital to drive engagement with your target audiences either before and / or after the conference.

For example, if you’ve given a conference presentation, you can send highlights of your remarks to your database shortly after the event, and offer to send them your complete remarks or PowerPoint slides. Or you can convert your presentation into a bylined article for publication in an appropriate business or trade journal, and then send target audiences the published piece along with a personalized cover note.

If you’re not on the podium, you’ll need to be more creative. For example, you might send your target audiences a “Sorry I missed you…” communication that provides your insights on the conference’s highlights, or expresses a contrarian viewpoint related to its underlying theme. Or you might even consider hi-jacking the conference agenda, by inviting high-value targets to a roundtable discussion / reception at a very exclusive venue near the event. (Conference sponsors do their best to prevent this type of guerilla marketing.)

In all cases, the strategic goal is to amortize the time and money you’ve invested in the conference, in order to reach a wider and sometimes more appropriate audience. By using the conference credibility (or its related topic / theme) to showcase your intellectual capital, drive top-of-mind awareness and foster direct engagement, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of yielding a connection between the event and tangible business metrics, including new client engagements and revenue growth.

Are my expectations for this conference realistic? Sometimes lightning actually does strike: you’ll make a connection at a conference that eventually leads to new business. But most of the time, putting your company’s logo on a lanyard, participating in a panel discussion, or sponsoring a mid-morning coffee break will lead to absolutely nothing. If there were a consistent direct connection between conference participation and business growth, there would be a very long waiting list for sponsorships.

If you understand that conferences will always be a low percentage marketing strategy, then you have a clear choice. You can either:

  1. Avoid conferences altogether, by hosting your own private events or programs.
  2. Leverage your participation to showcase intellectual capital with a wider audience.
  3. Simply enjoy the camaraderie, the golf / tennis / beach, and the nightlife…and hope for the best. In short, conference participation is similar to all other marketing-related tactics. Smart, focused and strategic will always produce better outcomes than “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

In short, conference participation is similar to all other marketing-related tactics. Smart, focused and strategic will always produce better outcomes than “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

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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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Peter Drucker on “The Four Roles of the CFO”

Dr. Peter F. Drucker, Management Thought Leader

In the early 1990s, Highlander Consulting was engaged by Phibro Energy to help introduce energy derivatives to Chief Financial Officers at corporations with substantial exposure to fluctuations in oil, gasoline and jet fuel prices.

As part of an integrated marketing strategy, management legend Dr. Peter F. Drucker, then serving as a professor at Claremont Graduate School, was engaged to serve as keynote speaker at the Phibro Energy Risk Management Forum, held at The Metropolitan Club in New York City.

Dr. Drucker, who passed away at age 95 in 2005, chose to speak on what he called, “The Four Roles of the CFO.” His remarks before more than 200 CFOs appear to be as relevant now as when he spoke to them nearly 25 years ago.

Here are some highlights from Peter Drucker’s presentation, which can not be found in any one of his 39 books:

The CFO as Information Officer:

“The original role of the CFO was to be the information officer of the business…Accounting, which is information, is changing today more than it has changed in the last hundred years…CFOs will have to make an important decision for their companies not very far down the line, on how to get rid of the pernicious rift between information that is concept-focused, which is accounting, and information that is transaction-focused, which is computerized information…

“The notion that you should split these two universes of information between the Chief Financial Officer, who is responsible for financial information, and the Chief Information Officer, who is responsible for non-financial information is not a good idea…

“The only reliable information we have available to us basically is “inside” information, mostly in our accounting systems. And yet, the events that really determine the success of business do not happen on the inside…So CFOs have a big job ahead: bringing together information channels, and learning an accounting system that’s going to be very different. It will require an ability to get “inside” information by manipulating figures quickly, and combining it with “outside” information, which is largely anecdotal today.”

The CFO as Financial Advisor:

“The Chief Financial Officer must think about the financial consequences of projected policies and actions, not only in terms of costs but in terms of the allocation of scarce resources…So the chief financial adviser’s job is to think about opportunity costs, and most CFOs don’t do this…As a CFO, you must think about what a policy or project is likely to return. Also think about the consequences if it doesn’t work…So the chief financial adviser basically is a conscience, a financial conscience.”

The CFO as Productivity Manager:

“There is a third CFO function, which is managing money for the business. I’m not talking of the treasury function; that is only a small part of it. The biggest part of this involves managing the productivity of capital…It’s my view that you can increase the productivity of capital in any organization three percent a year compounded, by just plain hard work, provided it’s allocated properly. And this is a function which is not, bluntly, on your professional agenda today…

“Top management doesn’t think financially. They think in terms of next quarter’s dividend, and that’s not thinking financially. They don’t think in terms of the financial impact of business decisions and the business impact of financial decisions. And that, I think, is your biggest educational job ahead.”

The CFO as Asset Protector:

“The fourth dimension of the CFO’s role is the preservation and protection of assets. This is a duty of a company that benefits not only the shareholders, but also society…The stupidest thing you can do is attempt to predict the future. Brilliant people have seen that those who predict eventually come to grief. Truly brilliant people understand that they must make external fluctuations irrelevant to their business…

“The protection of assets involves making sure that the risks over which you have no control are managed, and do not interfere with the conduct of the business. Losses based on fluctuations of commodities are no longer permissible, any more than it is permitted to have a factory burn down without insurance coverage. These are manageable risks.”

If you’d like to receive a copy of Peter Drucker’s complete remarks at the Phibro Energy Risk Management Forum in 1991, just shoot me a note.

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Thought Leadership Merchandising: Rising Above the Noise

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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