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…]

 

Thirty years experience

Today’s Dilbert strip got me thinking.

Much is made in business of the need for experience. Experience defines us, provides us with credibility and a customer base prepared to engage with, and even recommend, us.

But when is too much experience actually counter productive? When does too much time spent working in the niche negatively affect our ability to diversify and maintain business flexibility and agility? At what point does doing the same thing the same way begin to stifle creativity?

Only you can really know. If you haven’t wrestled with this thought and have failed to land or have lost contracts, maybe its time you did. The world has changed. Have you?

Best b2b social media tools: white papers

White papers aren’t just for politicians and scientists looking to publish policies or complex findings from clinical studies. They are a great tool for helping businesses position as expert in a specific field of influence.

White papers are becoming ever more commonplace, being used as a way of trading some information for free in return for permission to make contact with the recipient. They are increasing used as a data collation tool, placed and promoted through carefully selected industry websites and portals. Adopting the free or ‘freemium’ model – where some content is offered for free, but more is available behind a paywall, subscription or data collection device – is a powerful way of engaging people with what you have to say, but also what you have to offer too.

Why?

White papers are great for b2b brands because they provide information and we know that most business professionals use the Internet as a way to improve their awareness, knowledge and understanding in respect to suppliers, products and services they are interested in procuring.

White papers work best when they are used to discuss the latest trends in a sector, offer solutions to a common problem or position a new idea or way of working.

What?

The best white papers act as a summary of information on a given topic. Think about any service you offer and rather than trying to sell it, think of a problem or myth related to it that might be in your customer’s mind. Maybe there is a barrier to engagement? How can your knowledge of what you do best be presented in a problem solving way?

If you are struggling for inspiration, check out the news, information and community portals in your sector. What are the big issues? What are the headaches? What are the things that keep getting talked about? What legislative challenges exist? If that doesn’t help, hit the blogs and the corporate sites of your competitors. What are they talking about? What opportunities exist to impact the industry discussion?

How to get started?

Designed specifically to inform and educate, white papers are usually 8-12 pages long, and are laid out in an easy-to-read format. This means succinctly presenting the objectives of the white paper and clearly navigating the reader through the content.

Thinking about the issue or problem you want to tackle often results in a white paper that is based around Best Practice, a ‘How-To’ guide, Top Five Best ways to achieve something or the Five Things to Avoid Most about something.

Style them so they look professional. This is important as the first download may go viral through an organization, with your material potentially seen by very senior management in target organisations. They are called white papers for a reason. Use page headers, titles and footers and break up the body copy on each page with high impact sub titles. In addition, they should not be overly promotional, but it is permissible to brand them and offer further contact details on the cover or at the end.

White papers are often provided in Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) as this is a free to use format freely available to all computer platforms and Internet browsers. Documents set up in most word processing and design packages can be easily converted into PDF format. Using the PDF format also ensures that the document is compressed down to as small a size as possible to facilitate speedy download and sharing by email.

Examples

White papers (and webinars, which will be discussed in an upcoming post), are used to good effect by b2b companies in a range of sectors.

In the food trade for example, companies like Danisco, Brentag and Palsgaard host white papers on key food ingredient websites and within e-newsletters like Food Navigator to ensure targeted delivery and a high take up.

Brands like Mettler and Toledo are releasing white papers through sites like Packaging News to drive interest from packaging professionals.

Similarly, in the information technology sector, companies like SAP, Oracle, HP and Genesys use sites like ComputerWorld to build engagement with their brand by positioning their expertise.

And, Slipstream and Eloqua, demand generation specialists use the B2B Marketing Magazine website to promote their knowledge based services.

Summary

If you want to generate quality leads, position yourself as expert and distribute some free material by adding white papers to your marketing arsenal now.