Category Archives: Strategy

Your best brand storyteller? Ask the expert!

Your business might be telling an exciting, captivating and helpful story… but is the right person telling it?

 

Successful companies already know that people buy people.  In my experience, professional buyers seeking product and service solutions will look at the people providing it and make subjective decisions based on how assured they are by the specialism and specialist knowledge they exhibit.

Specialist knowledge comes from an in-depth understanding only built up from previous experience of facing up to and conquering similar challenges.

So, thinking about how businesses marketers brand their companies in a bid to commercialise their offering, isn’t it a good idea to actually put that brand offer in the hands of the people who have created it? The people who are best placed to build strong credibility because of their inherent capability?

There is a commercial benefit to going down this route too; experts with highly prized knowledge can demonstrate value and attract a potential premium.

USE YOUR expert

But who is the real expert in your business? Who’s expertise brings in the money?

Many company owners know where the revenue sits, and who creates the products and services that are successfully monetised. Yet many companies keep these people at arm’s length from customers and clients.

I wonder why.

  • Is it because they are somehow not competent or not credible with customers?
  • Is it that we don’t trust them to stick to the script? 
  • Is it that we would rather they focus on the solutions despite the fact those solutions are best informed by direct customer feedback?

The reality is that the model most companies use to manage customer relationships is broken and the experience we are delivering is actually risking the relationship long term.

Fine margins

Long term success in the modern consultative sell means understanding that many B2B buying decisions often come down to fine margins. Whilst, the primary driver may well be for products that deliver improvement, save time, reduce waste, use sustainable materials and more, the value add and interpersonal chemistry matter.

There has been a strong track record of companies using key people in their marketing (as heroes) and this, depending on the type of company you are, can be a real winner. Prominent examples in the UK include Boeing, Halifax and B&Q.  

A little bit more contact with the ‘brains’ of your operation is increasingly being seen as a more viable option to to the usual Chinese walls created by armies of call centre workers, field sales representatives, account handlers and other people designed to help traffic process.

Replace selling with serving

My advice: Be daring and place the experts in your business in a position to engage in customer dialogue. Adopt a model where you tap into their expertise and begin to demonstrate the value you profess to bring by replacing selling with serving.

And, for your next marketing campaign, regardless of whether you are setting acquisition, retention or engagement KPIs, think about what is going to resonate most with the audience you’re targeting.

Think about telling stories. Think about having your people who do amazing things day in day out, bring that story to life – and in doing so, begin to place them right at the heart of the narrative.

**Also, check out this post on watering holes and establishing where your customers hang out.**

Image: Ollie Heath

 

 

Watering holes

Do you know where your customers hang out and what keeps them awake at night?

One of the phrases I use the most when I’m consulting, training or speaking is “watering hole”.

For me, watering holes are one of the most important, yet frequently overlooked elements of any marketing or content marketing program.

Watering holes are the places online and off-line where our customers, prospects and influencers go to satisfy a number of needs.

It might be where they reside, hangout, go for advice, information, ask questions, seek conversation, engage in dialogue, and look for anything from reassurance, help, support or guidance.

Not just for PR

For the most part, it has been savvy PR consultants and agents looking to carefully place PR in front of the right people that have been the most successful at identifying watering holes. Watering holes have tended to be sector press, business press, industry and member associations, websites, conferences and exhibitions, online groups and forums to name a few.

Good publicity and public relations will, however, only get you so far.

Increasingly, working your way into the watering hole, being accepted by the community there and putting credit in the bank is less about disrupting the conversations already taking place.

Nobody likes the loud, self absorbed person at a party. With conversations and discussions already taking place between people who have given permission and earned the right to do so, arriving and seeking to divert attention is just plain rude.

People, especially Brits, are generally suspicious of companies and their motives in communities. Just think about ‘the rules’ prescribed by Linkedin group owners to prevent spamming. Brand owners need to take the time to study and listen to what is going on before ploughing in.

Lead with your experts

Participating in community discussion and becoming one of the trusted counsellors can be a challenge for companies where sales and marketing professionals represent the company publicly. For this reason I think it is better to use your experts.

Think about it. Every company has them. Positioning on expertise and being able to discuss and solve customer problems is the ethos that underpins the modern explosion in ‘content marketing’. Only experts have the credibility to achieve this, as people (not brands) solve problems.

The best way, I think, to join any watering hole community is to first listen, ask questions, offer advice, offer recommendations across the community and build a facilitator profile.

Don’t ever try to sell straight away. Trust always comes before transaction.

[More on marketing with expertise to follow...]

 

How to ensure your B2B website is “fit for function”

It is without question that websites are the most important part of your B2B digital marketing toolkit. But with much attention given over to the creative look and feel, how do you ensure the website does what is supposed to do – deliver visitors to the right content and right actions?

It is critical to consider function from the outset as this helps to prioritise elements and ensure they have the relevant profile and position within the design but not too much profile that it confuses the design. Functionality ultimately comes down to user experience – and in simple terms covers all the individual elements that need to come together to deliver that great customer experience.

There are two ways to build in function from the start of a website project.

Use wireframes to define the visual priority of main page elements

Wireframes are the best and most common way of quickly establishing which elements are required, where they should be placed and the emphasis they take on the home page. Wireframes help to build the skeleton of a website and provide a blueprint for the content and calls to action which come later. Tools like Cacoo can help to create quick wireframes for home page or landing page layouts and also support the development of full website sitemaps too.

A simple example wireframe for a business site is shown below. More expansive wireframes might include more significant calls to action such as ‘search’, email subscription, content downloads, video and social media links. And as you move deeper into the site, it is important to consider how pages may change, but retain some of the key content in top, side and bottom navigation bars.

Some marketers and designers go straight to design. Don’t. Wireframes will help provide structure to what needs to go where within a page layout for the main page types on a site.

For more on free wireframe tools, try this Mashable post.

Define primary site customer journeys

Building out your site to ensure it helps the visitors you prize the most means better understanding the primary customer journeys to your site and how they might move around it. Most likely, as a B2B website, visitors are looking for one or more of the following:

1. Find more information about a product or service.

2. Buy a product or service.

3. Find out the credibility of the supplier.

4. Check out the latest non-product information – news or offers.

5. Find contact information to make an enquiry or find a location.

6. Get customer service.

7. Register with site for alerts.

8. Connect with the brand or share information through a social network.

Developing landing pages for key campaigns and audiences is going to be critical, as is having single, compelling call to actions on each page. This is especially important when you are investing significant amounts in driving visitors to your site, for example, through pay per click or banner advertising. You’ll want to track your lead generation and ROI .

Next up: Delivering a brilliant user experience through your B2B website. Subscribe by email to make sure you don’t miss it!

Setting B2B digital marketing objectives

Objectives means ‘where do we want to be?’

Most marketing professionals know that objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed (SMART) provide a pathway to marketing success. How often, though, do you take the time to set a specific plan for the use of the array of digital channels?

SMART digital marketing objectives help select which tools and techniques are best suited to deliver against the strategy you have elected to follow.

Digital marketing offers superb analytical capability but this doesn’t mean much if you don’t have some firm objectives from the outset. This means taking a realistic benchmark of what you have and what you can achieve, and creating some goals on which to base a future evaluation. In this post, I’ll take you through five areas of objective setting we’ve set out in Brilliant B2B Digital Marketing – available now in ebook format from Amazon.

Setting the Five Ss goals

The Five Ss of digital marketing (credit to Smith & Chaffey) is a useful way to start sense-checking your digital marketing planning. The Five Ss are used here as a simple mnemonic for a range of objectives that might be considered.

1. Sell – Have we set goals to grow sales?

Start with goals for your most important transactions which will lead to revenue and profit! That’s sales, or if you don’t sell online, the leads that your online marketing will deliver, which will convert through to sales or donations if you’re a not-for-profit.

For most B2B companies, the sale will come much further down the line but it remains important to set some sales-related goals within your digital marketing planning. Are you able to qualify for example the average order quantity or value based on minimum order, pack size or price? Using Google Analytics you can begin to track clickthroughs to requests for information, telephone calls, face-to-face appointments, demonstrations and free trials.

What about considering ways to increase sales and looking at scenario planning to increase sales by category, by region, by key client or sub-sector? Looking at your pipeline of business prospects, there are also opportunities to increase sales through increasing the efficiency of customer journeys on your website.

2. Speak – Have we set goals to get closer to customers?

Digital channels are not only sales channels, they excel as communications channels to engage your audience. We say engage because it isn’t about one-way broadcasting; good marketing requires you to get the balance right between communicating your offer and interacting with your audience.

Encouraging email subscribers to sign up is a staple ingredient of a successful digital B2B plan as the resulting email newsletter and eshots can provide excellent feedback on how your communication is being received and interacted with. Most email services will help you gauge who opens when and how many times, who clicks through and if they forward to colleagues. It is also good for data cleansing as bad, gone away and unsubscribes can be routinely managed.

For social media, tools are available for buzz monitoring and sentiment analysis. These will show you where you are being talked about and whether the conversations are positive, negative or neutral – also relevant to these goals.

And, since digital channels work best when joined with other channels, the goals here should also include online visits prompted by traditional offline media.

Make sure every page of a website or blog and every email and placed article includes a call to action that is a click to another page, further reading, more information, a sign-up or download.

3. Serve – Have we set goals to online customer service goals?

Most customers visit websites for information relating to orders, help with products or services, or to make comments or complaints. Visitors need to be quickly directed to contact us and frequently asked questions (FAQs) pages as standard, so why not set goals for customer care, service and satisfaction too?

Often this is an area most companies are notoriously poor at, but it might just be the focus of your unique online proposition to pay greater attention to enquiries of this type and offer a supremely speedy service which marks this out as a true value add. Live Talk and other on-page help functions are making a comeback to websites as companies look to differentiate and keep customers for the long term.

Providing excellent end-to-end service online also has a positive knock-on effect to your capability to effectively Sell, Speak, Save and Sizzle.

4. Save – Have we set cost-saving goals?

Saving money, time and effort is a less glamorous goal than some of the others, but you can also show the value you gain through using online cost savings to reduce service costs and save on traditional media like print and post.

This is most relevant for B2B service companies, especially those with multiple site operations where efficiency in operations can be achieved. Marketers can set goals for the number of catalogues downloaded or number of service transactions compared with other channels. In extreme cases, it may help unearth underperforming branches and identify logistical supply issues that are costing money and losing sales.

If you are fighting for budget for online channels, the savings you can demonstrate to your finance director or budget holder through digital means will support your argument.

5. Sizzle – Are we adding value to our brand online?

Putting the sizzle into your digital marketing will really help achieve your sales and speak goals, but it’s not very easy to set goals for elements like brand advocacy and engagement and then try to track them.

Sizzle is about building your brand online. Think about what makes for a positive online brand experience for your target audience and you. Remember that most business buyers are looking for information that is going to inform a short listing or purchase process – and reassurance they are making the right decision.

We have already said it’s important to set goals and track the quality of the experience online, but you should also check the temperature of your sizzle through how shareable and likeable your brand is.

If the experience is effective, the benefits of engaging with your digital presence will be clear; the interactions within the site and with other channels will be smooth and the visitor will want to use your online services again, and tell their friends and colleagues about it.

So, key measures on sizzle need to be set around elements such as sentiment and more specifically levels of satisfaction, service, recommendations and advocacy.

Think about how the Five Ss help to determine what those SMART objectives need to concentrate on. Your goals for marketing your B2B products and services digitally marketing should support, and be supported by, your wider marketing strategies.

Image credit: Laurie Gough

Elevator pitches and the point of your marketing

There is a lot of talk about elevator pitches in marketing.

But the rules have changed. On one hand everyone is talking and nobody is listening. Everyone is hustling. Everyone is taking but not giving.

On the other hand, the pitch opportunity has been stunted. You no longer get the time it takes to travel twenty floors, you have the time it takes to travel two floors. The battle for attention is fierce. Competition is a click, swipe, text or call away.

So before you invest another penny in your website, send another email newsletter, attend your next networking event or connect with another ‘prospect’ online come up with some responses to these questions and then get them trimmed down to 10-15 seconds. Fifteen seconds is all you have.

Q1: What needs are you trying to meet or what pain are you trying to eradicate? (Establishes your reason for being and your core strengths)

Q2: Who do you do this for? (Establishes your audience)

Q3: Why should they listen to you? (Provides the evidence of your strengths)

Businesses and business owners that have a clear, unequivocal response to these questions market better, more efficiently and more effectively.

Image: Your Content Notes

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Tips on marketing, innovation and being remarkable

Two great takeaways in this slide set I spotted during this week’s review of the latest uploads to Slideshare, in addition to the great embedded YouTube video functionality half way through.



1. Work on your elevator pitch. Conventional wisdom says you have 30-60 seconds to get across what you do. Maybe if you work in Canary Wharf. The rest of us probably have 10 seconds max.

2. Slides 21+ – first doesn’t win and remarkable beats first every time.

Kudos to Charlie Wollborg

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What do you want from a marketing blog – poll feedback

Thanks to everyone who took the poll on Linkedin and took the time to add a comment as well. All feedback gratefully received.

It’s fairly unanimous that marketers look for information that is going to enrich them in their roles and stimulate fresh thinking and new ideas when reading blogs and websites online.

Some really interesting comments threw up how how to and best practice focused articles could actually draw on case study experience, even drawn from an interview!

So not entirely cut and dry but one thing is clear – people don’t want theory, they want real world experience they can learn and benchmark against.

Looking forward to implementing this insight into my future blogging. Thanks again for contributing.

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Brand strategy: Mass market, the niche and Coke

Teachers, speakers, gurus and consultants drill into the minds of business owners the importance of targeting, segmentation and positioning. There is an abundance of advice available on why and how you shouldn’t try and target a broad group.

But playing devil’s advocate, isn’t it sometimes better, even more appropriate to cast the net wide? It works for Apple (especially at launch), Argos (the high street retailer with a  catalogue in 70% of UK homes) and of course Coca Cola.

 

Especially when you consider Andy Warhol’s famous quote:

   “A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than               the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same. Liz                 Taylor knows it, the President knows it and the bum knows it.”

Coke distributes 1.7 bn drinks a day and as a business is more interested in converting the 585m Facebook accounts that DONT currently subscribe to their page rather than the 25m that do.

Most companies claim to serve the customer. But don’t be fooled. These companies are in it for themselves. Coke’s global business strategy is to ensure that anyone, anywhere, can get their hands on a Coke if they want one.

Which begs the question are you concentrating on making a fantastic product and service that is delivered exactly the same to whoever buys it, or are you killing yourself trying to bespoke to niche customers over and over? Might just be worth thinking about.

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But, do you really need another million?

Marketers often bemoan the fact that they don’t have enough money to implement the marketing campaigns they would like. None more than in b2b sectors.

It’s true that we always want more money for our marketing budget, but if it was given to you right now, what would you do with it?

No, really, what would you do with it? Invest in more telesales people, more disruption advertising, more PR, more direct mail to convince that niche audience to transact with you? Larger exhibition stands, a rebrand, ‘social media’? Some focus groups? How about a promotion with lots of giveaways? There’s an abundance of choice.

But, rather than bemoan the fact you never have enough, why not prove it?

As  a way of expressing value and return to a sceptical management team, you might think creatively the next time you submit a budget. For one, don’t wait till the day they ask you. Do it early. Shows initiative and preparedness.

And don’t work within the budget assigned, triple it. Show the outputs and outcomes that will be achieved. Then half it (and the outputs and outcomes), and then half it again. At each stage, illustrate the opportunities lost, the products in the range left unsupported, the sectors left unengaged.

Review where the leads come from. Critically assess the things you do year in, year out and ask why you’re doing them? It’s no surprise that advertising and trade shows are commonly the first things cut from marketing plans. Expensive and arguably self absorbed.

Asking for more money is just cheap.

Ten ways to get the most from your clients

My recent post citing ten ways to get the most from your agency stirred up some mixed emotions when discussed on the blog, in Linkedin groups, on Twitter and further afield.

The emphasis was placed on clients knowing what they wanted to achieve from their marketing efforts, providing communicative briefs outlining their requirements, working with and viewing the agency as a collaborative and long term partner. Otherwise, the relationship was doomed to failure.

Whilst I think this is reasonable, I wanted to provide some balance as agencies don’t always do their fair share of relationship nurturing.

The key learning from this tandem blog seems to be in an upfront clarification of roles and responsibilities, the communication and understanding of expectations and the establishment of robust, and reasonable reporting processes.

I’d be interested in your feedback once you’ve had time to review. Here goes:

1. Effort. From the outset, agree the degree of effort to be expended on a pitch, try and build a rapport and then if you win it, don’t try and include the charge in your billings. Unfortunately, agencies need to accept that pitching is still part and parcel of the gig.

2. The team. In pitches, introduce the team that will work on the account, not the agency big hitters who will win it and pass it on. You want to build a long term relationship, rooted in chemistry.

3. Show some management love. But don’t keep all the big hitters away from it either. Show some love when clients come to town. Be interested in meetings, their news and developments, and encourage a review of deliverables and the working relationship at regular intervals.

4. Work strategically if given the remit to. Clients should know what they want and where they want to get to. Agencies can work strategically in terms of integrating tactics and aligning them to commercial goals but too many agencies see their role as defining the business strategy, which in my view shouldn’t be the case.

5. Know when to push. There is often a prioritisation taking place and as long as you are seen to have been doing your job, it can’t be held against you if you are seeking a decision but for whatever reason it isn’t forthcoming.

6. Know when to sell. This means understanding your client’s budgeting cycle and pitching new ideas accordingly. There is simply no point doing it mid year if the budget is set.

7. Accept price negotiation. Budgets for most client marketers have declined if not stayed the same. Accept that your pricing will be scrutinized and be prepared to defend it. Value is one argument but costs should be as transparent and in line with the going rate for the work. If you can’t explain why you are worth £20 or £200 an hour, you probably aren’t.

8. Add value. To build your profile as a trusted adviser, occasionally share interesting or potentially relevant news stories, polls etc you may come across in your work for other clients. Don’t badge it as selling, just as taking a broader business view and taking in stimuli from other sectors.

9. Add more value. Simplify status reports, annual plans and minimise the flow of communication to daily emails or calls if it can help get quick decisions made. Run immersion sessions to help clients get up to speed in particular areas, and support new members of the client team with familiarisation days in the agency.

10. Above all, be aware of other pressures. Agencies, particularly account handlers, need to understand that they only see the thin end of the wedge when it comes to the pressure on a client. We represent a fraction of their responsibilities and sometimes clients aren’t able to respond as quickly as we might like.

Think about how you deal with your suppliers, screen their calls when not convenient and so on. Sometimes it is just part and parcel of effective time management.

Thoughts?

Image: Tecaffect

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