Analysis of Top 7 Social Media Channels for B2B

I was invited to speak at the Social Media Intelligence 2012 conference put on by the Altamont group. This is my third time speaking at this event and it’s always a rewarding experience.

Here’s a copy of my preso.

One area I often think about in Social Media Marketing is how to use each social media channel to its fullest potential. All of our resources are constrained and social media channels have a relentless hunger for content updates and time. In your social media strategy plan, it’s critical to pick the channels that are most appropriate for your audience and your communication objectives.

In the B2B space especially, not all social media channels are suitable for the type of content we publish. For example, I’ve seen B2B technology marketers post their IT whitepapers on Pinterest – a channel which features beautiful photography and reaches mostly a female consumer audience. Can you do it for extra syndication? Sure, it’s free, why not? But, it’s actually not free. It took 5 minutes of someone’s time to post it. Multiply that by the number of content pieces and the number of channels and it adds up fast. So, it’s critical to understand which channels your audiences use and how they use them.

The most useful discussion on this topic was from Dorothea Bozicolona-Volpe, Social Espionage. Below, I’ve captured some of Dorothea’s presentation and added my own colored commentary based on my own experience in social media marketing.

Top 7 Social Media Channels

 Google +

Strength: Great opportunity for follower growth, segmentation starting, creating nuanced messaging, highly search engine optimized.

Weakness (IMHO): Make sure your audience is there. There’s been a lot of hype about G+, but make sure you don’t spread yourself too thin, especially if you only have a few SoMe folks on your team. Test and compare it to your Facebook presence.

LinkedIn

Strengths: Huge audience, 161M people, 2 new members every second, Members did nearly 4.2 billion searches on the platform. There’s a lot of targeted advertising opportunities which can be highly successful. Ideal for Job openings, big announcements (at the company level). Extremely useful for appending information to your contact database.

Weakness (IMHO): Advertising opportunities are available on LinkedIn, but social media opportunities (earned) are elusive for marketers. I.e., it’s a private network; people have complete control over your ability to reach out them. Try creating a “Group” as a way to get started.

Twitter

Strengths: Also huge audience, 500 million active users, 340 M tweets daily, 55% of all Twitter users user the service to share links to new stories, 53% retweet, 182% Increase in number of mobile users, 34% of marketers have generated leads using Twitter, 20% have closed deals.

From personal experience, Twitter is a fantastic way to promote, amplify and syndicate other content such as blogs as well as build an audience. Great way to reach an audience fast.

  • Scott Monty, example of an executive who loves social media and understands the brand
    • @scottmonty

Weaknesses (IMHO): Lots of spam, sales folks and other marketers following your account which doesn’t really count as audience reach. Difficult to segment, you don’t have a lot of information about who is actually following you.

Pinterest

Strengths: Enormous growth, 1.36M daily users – grew 4733% since May 2011, 3rd most popular, April 2012 Board “Covers” were launched. If your audience is female, Pinterest is the place to be. Great opportunity if your products have a visual appeal.

Weaknesses (IMHO): Not ideal if your audience is male and /or you have non-visual products. I’ve seen marketers post whitepapers on Pinterest, but it seems a bit out of place. Consider Slideshare (the anti-Pinterest) for this.

YouTube

Strengths: 106.7M UVM – over 3B hours uploaded, 60+ hours of new videos are uploaded to the site every minute, 70% of YT traffic outside US, more than 1 trillion views in 2011. THE place to be if you have video content. Good data on metrics (thanks Google).

Weaknesses (IMHO): If you’ve got video content, it’s ideal. But don’t try to pin your hopes on creating a “viral” video. I’ve tried viral videos in the past when it was trendy. It’s really hit or miss and has the potential of going WAY off if your brand doesn’t naturally lend itself to the stuff that people like on YouTube (funny, raunchy, or entertaining). Just do what you do and make it useful.

Facebook

Strengths: Huge reach 955 M monthly active users in June. Over ½ of these users are active on a daily basis. (based on TechCrunch, 2012 stats), Facebook is ideal for engaging directly with your audience, allowing them to share their experiences, content. There is a wide range of applications including contests, customer service, and promotions. Facebook also offers strong advertising opportunities and targeting (as you may have heard in the news).

Intuit does a nice job on their Facebook page for quick books. It’s a combination of product updates, helpful tips and Q&A. They’re very responsive to customer questions as well.

http://www.facebook.com/IntuitQuickBooks

Weaknesses: In the B2B space, you may have audiences that are not inclined to share their activities (eg Governments, financial services). Therefore, isn’t ideal for every B2B use case.

Slideshare

Although this was not covered in Dorothea’s talk, I thought I’d throw it in because it’s highly effective for B2B.

Strengths: In B2B, many companies think in PowerPoint presentations. SlideShare has proven itself not only as a home for your slideware, but an effective way to drive leads.

  • You can “gate” your content so that people need to register to download your slides, thus driving leads.
  • Great way to syndicate your customer presentations.
  • In SlideShare, you can also do a voice over and slideshow mode.

Here are some more stats from Slideshare courtesy of TechCrunch.

  • Women use fewer slides on average (22 per slideshow) than men (26).
  • Popular presentations contain more images (37, on average) than other presentations (which contain 21).
  • The most popular tech companies mentioned in presentations are Facebook (39.9%), Twitter (28.6%), Google (19.1%), Microsoft (5.7%), and Apple (3.8%)
  • Only 1.7% of all presentations are done in Apple’s Keynote software, but Keynote makes up 8.2% of the most popular presentations.
  • The Japanese and Chinese use more slides on average than slideshows in any other language.

Source: “TechCrunch Readers Love Slides (And Other Stats From SlideShare)”, January 17, 2012

Weaknesses: I can’t think of any. Send me comments if you have ideas of Weaknesses.

Social media can be such a huge time investment, it’s critical that you carefully evaluate and measure effectiveness of each of these channels for your business before spreading yourself too thin.

What’s worked for you? Tell me what you think.

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Value Proposition Examples: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Continuing from my last post, writing a strong value proposition is critical to communicating how your product or service is relevant to your customer segment. Now, there’s the easy way and the right way to write a value prop. The easy way is to craft one in half a day that is written well and sounds good, but that doesn’t include any specifics. The right way is to first gather quantified data which proves your value to your customer. From my experience, this is by far harder than the actual writing because you need to be able to make a claim against the competition that you can legally stand behind.

One grand example is Larry Ellison’s announcement in 2001, that Oracle saved $1 billion by implementing its own solution across the company. The easy way would have been to say “Oracle’s solution saves customers time and money.” Not very exciting. But in typical Ellison fashion, he went big. Think about how much resource and focus needed to be dedicated to be able to say four words “Oracle Saved $1 Billion”. He put the entire company behind making that claim. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Was it painful? Most probably.

Let’s take a look at an example of a weak and a strong value proposition.

From McKinsey’s Corporate Finance Site

Our value proposition rests on an unrivalled package of strategic, transactional and financial advisory services, uniquely linked with independent judgement and deep industrial/commercial insight.

Our reward is not “transaction-based”, so we can maintain genuine objectivity in our client’s long-term interest. In negotiating and carrying out an engagement for a client, we participate fully in the client’s corporate thinking, and take into account not just the immediate value and impact of the project, but its context and implications over a longer period of time.

 We work closely with management and other advisors, such as major investment banks, to leverage and complement their knowledge and ensure maximum impact. We try to foster senior management’s commitment to our recommendations and actively support implementation and skill building.

Analysis

  • Above is the type of statement I often see passed off as a value prop, but it really falls somewhere between a mission statement and a description of capabilities. It’s very difficult to write a general value proposition that is not targeted to a specific audience and does not contain examples.
  • It’s missing a quantified value. This could have been added in the form of an example or a claim such as “Our services have demonstrated an average of 20% ROI improvement.”
  • It’s also missing a competitive differentiator. How is this approach better than any other consulting company?

Result: not a value proposition. It does succeed at describing what sounds like it might be relevant to their clients, but it’s missing any quantified results or competitive advantage.

How would we make it better?

Gather the data

  • Brainstorm with the right people in the organization and list as many quantified factoids and data points as possible. (eg. saved xyz customer 20% in operations. Cut time-to-market in half from two to one year.)
  • Run all of these data points through the sieve. Are these defensible, sourced? Are they actually better than something the competitor could do?

List competitive differentiators

  • Create a list of the First, Best, Most, and Only claims your service or product could make.
  • What capabilities do you have that your competitor doesn’t?

Make sure it’s relevant

  • Talk about what you have done for customers, how you understand their industry.
  • Are the values you are citing helping them improve their business by:
    • Increasing revenue
    • Decreasing cost
    • Speeding time to market
    • Improving agility (ie time to react to market changes)
    • Making better use of resources (ie requires fewer people to accomplish something, or resources can be reapplied to more strategic areas)
    • Providing better customer service for their customers
    • Improving organizational intelligence and insight
    • Improving accuracy of forecasts, predictions, market conditions
    • Reducing the burden of compliance

Good value proposition example from VMWare

For IT organizations wrestling with the high cost and inflexibility of the old “one server, one application” model, VMWare can improve the efficiency and availability of IT resources and applications through virtualization.  About 70% of a typical IT budget in a non-virtualized datacenter goes towards just maintaining the existing infrastructure, with little left for innovation. VMWare can free your IT admins from spending so much time managing servers rather than innovating. An automated datacenter built on the production-proven VMware virtualization platform lets you respond to market dynamics faster and more efficiently than ever before. VMware customers typically save 50-70% on overall IT costs by consolidating their resource pools and delivering highly available machines with VMware vSphere.

Analysis

  • This value proposition starts by describing the target customer’s problem their product solves
  • It quantifies the problem: 70% of an IT budget spent towards maintenance
  • It describes the benefits of implementing a virtualized data center
  • It offers a range of IT cost savings from their typical customers
  • The only thing it doesn’t do is offer an advantage over the competition. However, it is using the non virtualized datacenter as the alternative in this case.

Result: This is a good value proposition. Even though it didn’t go into the competition, it called out the customer problem the product addressed, described how it addressed it and offered tangible and relevant results.

If you would like my analysis on your value prop and don’t mind public scrutiny, send it to me and I’ll take a look.

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The Three Ingredients of a Value Proposition

Value Proposition = Benefits - Cost

Frequently in marketing, I hear a product or service’s ”value proposition” confused with a product description or list of benefits… “Saves time and money,” “Do more with less,” “2x faster” are actually not value propositions.   

A value proposition needs to have three key elements in order to be a true value proposition:   

  1. Quantified Value

    I’m sure you’ve heard those packaged goods ads that claim “4 out of 5 dentists recommend Colgate” or “Twice the cleaning power of the leading brand (asterisk).” The most important ingredient of a value proposition is the quantified value of your claim compared with some other quantity. The power of the value you are claiming depends on:

    1) How relevant the metric is to your audience
    2) What you are comparing against

    For example, if you are claiming your product runs “twice as fast.” A relatively weak comparison - yet, frequently used – would be against your previous model. The strongest comparison would be against an appropriate competitor’s performance or the industry benchmark. Of course, the metric has to be relevant. If you’re talking to a CEO, s/he may care less about how fast your product goes. Instead, the CEO might be more interested in how it helps his/her company reduce operational cost, or improve return on assets.

  2. Relevance

    A value proposition is only as valuable as it is relevant to the audience you are targeting. If you have decided that your primary product or service benefit is that it lowers the cost of operation, that may be music to the ears of a airline CEO concerned with razor thin margins, but the CEO of a Telco may be more interested in deploying new mobile services to increase revenue per subscriber. Therefore, your lower cost pitch may not be as relevant or valuable to a Telco customer. Your value proposition needs to be tuned appropriately for each marketing segment.

  3. Unique Differentiation

    The final ingredient is whether your competitors can make the same claim as you. If you claim your product can reduce their operating costs by 40%, and your competitor can claim 50%, you have a weak value proposition. This is why claiming a lower price is often a weak quantified value – your competitor can easily match your price, then you’re sunk.

 

If you’ve got all three of these key ingredients, and each is strong, you’ve got yourself a solid value prop. Of course, what makes a value prop even stronger is to weave it into a customer story or elevator pitch with real live examples. 

In the next post, I’ll provide some examples of good value props and a template to help you make sure you’ve capture the key ingredients…

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What Can The World Cup Teach Us About B2B Storytelling?

Monday, I ran down to HP’s Cupertino cafeteria to grab a quick salad before my next meeting. I was surprised to see the room – normally empty -  packed with the lights dimmed. Normally, this meant an EVP was holding a quarterly update. Instead, the large projector screen was down with the Italy v Paraguay game playing. Without any sound, the room was quiet with the occasional synchronized sound of the “oh’s” and “whoa’s” of an intent audience. As I was getting my grilled chicken, there was the unmistakeable roar of the crowd reacting to a goal.

Alcaraz Header against Italy courtesy of Fifa.org

It was Antolin Alcaraz scoring his studly header against the stunned Italians. The Paraguayan players said they were playing for Salvador Cabanas who had been shot in the head in Mexico City earlier in the year.

Human stories like these stop us in our tracks. They are powerful enough to fill a normally empty cafeteria with people from all cultures. Good B2B marketing – or good marketing for that matter – will have the same stopping power. It’s all about putting it into a context that people will care about. The most tried and true formula is to tell a story.

The 5 Basic Storytelling Elements Applied to B2B Marketing

The Main Character – When you begin laying out a pitch to your customer, you may be tempted to start with an exaggerated problem, then introduce your solution to the problem. Instead, consider developing a character like you would if you were writing a screenplay for a movie. Ideally, this person should have similar qualities to your target audience. If you’re shooting a video, look for someone who looks like your target audience. Good character development will draw your potential customer in and make them care about what you’re about to say.

The Setting – Like the main character, the setting should help establish a connection with your audience. In B2B marketing this can mean choosing an industry and geography most relevant to your customers in which your story unfolds . When I present to customers, I always try to find and memorize a case study from their industry and region to earn their attention. (As I’m writing this, I’m studying about Smart Meters for a utility company presentation tomorrow).

The Plot – Your B2B plot should have a set up, a build up, and a pay off. What crisis does your character have? Was there a breaking point which gave your company an opportunity provide the solution? What were the results of the solution? And how did you help your customer “win” in the end?

The Backstory – In marketing, you need to make your point fast, fast, fast. So, the backstory in B2B marketing can be as simple as the context of your “main character’s” business, such as a big number – NYSE trades 13.3 million contracts traded per day – or a brand of which everyone will know the backstory. This helps set us the importance and drama of your story.

The Detail – This is your opportunity to embellish the story with color – make it more realistic and human. Depending on your marketing deliverable, you may or may not have an opportunity to embellish – but, this is the lowest priority element in B2B marketing.

When you put all these elements together with your B2B value proposition, you’ll have something much more powerful and impactful than 95% of what is produced today.

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Web 2.0, It’s About Cloud Computing, Now Buy Our Stuff

Last week, I went to Web 2.0, a conference in San Francisco at the Moscone Center looking for B2B stories. The last time I went in 2007, I was hoping to find some B2B case studies of which I found none. It was filled with companies all promising to be the next YouTube. All their names had x’s and z’s in them. This year, the exhibitors seemed much more grounded and the mood much more muted.

Outside Web 2.0 at Moscone Center, San Francisco

I found three general categories of exhibitors:

  1. The blue chips: HP, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe.
  2. The Web 2.0 platform suit vendors: Blue Kiwi Software, Tableau,  Opera Software
  3. The cloud plays: DAAS.com (datacenter as a service) specializes in ready to go Cloud Computing products. Clustrix - a brand new highly scalable database appliance.

In 2007, there were many more see-what-sticks consumer ideas, video on demand, parking space finders, widget download companies. This year, Cloud Computing was the magic word. I was impressed at how far the Web 2.0 space has developed. It seemed as though the recession cleaned out some of the never-gonna-make-it businesses (or at least limited their event sponsorship budget).

So what B2B stories did I find?

I got the pitch from the person in the Cisco booth, let’s call him Jim. This is how Jim’s story went:

  • Have you you ever heard of the human network? We’re enabling people to connect with each other in faster ways.
  • We believe that Cloud Computing will enable more possibilities for these connections.
  • Our routers, switches, and now this new blade server here (points to server) provide the backbone for businesses to create a Cloud infrastructure.

Being a marketing person myself, I felt that if I closed my eyes I could visualize the different departments’ and organizations’ messaging paragraphs as Jim told me the Cisco story… The first about about the human network comes from corporate, the Cloud comes from the worldwide marketing team and the last section comes from the product manager. The transition between the Cloud Computing story and the point about the blade server was so jarring, Jim seemd to have trouble connecting the two.

Just to show that I’m an equal opportunity critic, the HP story at Web 2.0 also went from Cloud Computing very quickly to the gear that we had on display at the conference. With hardware products, it’s often difficult for marketers to get from the customer problem and solution, to why they should by our gear. Since I’ve been working in HP Enterprise Services (formerly EDS), I find that they are very good at understanding the customer point of view, as mentioned in previous blog posts. Maybe a mashup or the two approaches could yield an effective story which combines the relevant points for the customer with the value proposition of the gear.

What is your experience?

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Put Yourself on Kool-Aid DeTox

 

Working in a large organization, it’s easy to get lazy with your marketing. Marketers like to market to themselves, their peers, their friends, create buzzwords, cool sounding phrases, repackage stale concepts. Just look at the evolution of SaaS (Software-as-a-Service). Before SaaS, we were talking about SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), before that it was Web Services. At some point, someone in marketing coined these terms which eventually became standards. But, most of the time, clever phrases get cycled and recycled by marketers to the point where customers have no idea what we’re talking about. Check out Prose and Cons: Marketing Jargon Gone Wild. This entertaining blog tracks marketing jargon trends. When I posted this “Crowdsourcing” and “Trust Agent” were on the rise.

The best way to detox yourself from your own Kool-Aid is to talk to customers. Unlike with internal constituents, customers will let you know immediately whether what you are on target or full of c*&p. You’ll also get a real-world look at the problems they’re dealing with which you’ll be able to use later to improve your value proposition.

Last week, I presented our introduction to HP deck to an enterprise customer in the HR outsourcing business. Just preparing for the presentation forced me to lift my head up from my every day work and brush up on our news and acquisitions. I had to learn about areas of our business of which I was unfamiliar. I got rid of our “fluffy” slides attempting to dramatize, such as ”When a mother dials 911, you know you can count on us.” That may work for an ad, but I could never imagine saying that to a VP of IT. The presentation also forced me to speak in plain English and strip out all the “Complete Integrated Solution” and “Best-In-Class” language which we so often find so liberally sprinkled throughout tech brochures.

A lot of marketers I know rarely talk to customers because it can be intimidating. What if they ask me a tough question? What do I talk to them about? But, as a marketer, you gotta do it. It’s like going to the gym; it takes discipline, but if you don’t do it your mind gets flabby.

Here are some easy, low key ways to meet with customers:

  1. Go to an industry conference. Talk to customers in booths, at sessions, in networking events.
  2. Seek out industry bloggers and forums. Enter the discussion by posting comments.
  3. Connect with a sales person. See if they wouldn’t mind you sitting in on a presentation.
  4. Do a case study on a customer.
  5. Present your expertise to customers. (OK, this requires more involvement, but is the best way in my opinion).

Not only will this sharpen your marketing, but it will give you better “street cred” with your peers and the sales force you support.

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Herding Cats (Part II)

I thought the herding cats title would be apropos for the subject of this post as well.

“Let’s do a viral video!” I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a marketing director say this. From my experience, this exclamation is usually code for 1) we need to get as much exposure as possible for no money. 2) we’re bored with our run-of-the-mill product marketing and want to do something that will stand out among our peers. However, according to Brett Wilson, CEO of TubeMogul, only .33% of the videos on YouTube have more than 1 million views. 50% of YouTube’s videos get less than 500 views! You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than making a video that goes viral.

START with clear messaging and value proposition

Like all marketing communications, a video needs to have a clear purpose, a simple, simple message and strong value proposition which ties back to your business. If it doesn’t, you’re basically creating an entertainment piece on your marketing dime.

Here’s an example of an IBM Viral Video which lampoons the idea of viral videos:

Another “The Office” parody. Somewhat entertaining and funny. I’m sure the marketing team had a blast making it and it was highly viral inside of IBM. The only problem: 98% entertainment, 2% product bullet points. The only thing I remember is that IBM did a funny video. Was that the intent?

Strong call to action

Videos online need to have a strong call to action even if it’s a branding campaign. What do you want your audience to do or think after they watch the video? Unlike with TV ads where the viewer may be sitting on their coach watching 24, online videos are perfect to move your customer down the buying cycle because they are online already. These days you can even embed clickable links within the video.

A look and feel that adheres to the company’s brand

I’ve seen a lot of marketing videos that create their own unique look and feel. While it may adhere to the look of the campaign, it looks completely different than other videos from the same company. When this happens, the video misses out on leveraging the companies brand equity, or helping the company to build its brand. Check out this joint effort between HP and AMD.

Again, very entertaining and gets traffic, but at what cost? The brand was sacrificed here in order to get people’s attention. I’m not even sure that the knockoff of the MTV show resonates with an older, more conservative IT audience.

On the other hand, let’s take a look at an example Michael Parker presented from Symantec. They invented a fictitous character “Hal” who would be their spokesperson throughout a series of videos. Here’s an example:

Now, this video wasn’t nearly as racy or fun as “Pimp my Infrastructure,” but it’s effective, because it’s right on message, clearly identifies itself with an IT audience, and communicates the value proposition of the product. It also has 50K+ views on YouTube. Not too bad.

Quiet on the set

Once you’ve identified…

  • The video’s purpose
  • The value proposition
  • The message
  • The call to action
  • The airing venue (an online tutorial vs a keynote introduction)
  • The appropriate budget for the type of video

…you’re in much better shape to produce a video that will tie back to your business’ objectives and stay on track when your agency presents their ”Superheroes of the Data Center!” concept.

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Herding Cats (Part I)

I love video. It makes you laugh and cry. It educates and informs. For marketing communications purposes, it’s ideal for drawing the customer into the world the marketer wishes to create – telling the brand story. It is the most powerful medium for making your audience “feel” a certain way about your brand or product.

Here’s a famous Superbowl ad you may remember for a very difficult-to-communicate B2B service offering, IT outsourcing.

It’s simple, clever, and memorable. It’s successful because the folks at EDS had the discipline not to squeeze all their offerings into 30 seconds. They stuck with a simple analogy – “we herd cats”- and wrapped it with a humorous spaghetti Western theme.

What’s the catch with video?

Besides being one of the most expensive forms of communication to produce, it can be hugely wasteful if not done right. With video projects, many marketers get drunk with creative juices or seduced by the creative agency’s superhero concept and forget that their main purpose should be aligned with the business objective – whether it’s selling product or extending customer loyalty.

I attended the “Value of Video” breakfast in San Francisco hosted by video distribution vendor BrightCove. VP of Interactive at Symantec, Michael Parker first asked his audience, “Does anyone in this room want to be a Hollywood director?” Some folks raised their hands. “You should all move to Hollywood,” Michael says, “Because you have no business making marketing videos.” It was refreshing to hear a video evangelist advocate common sense rather than razzle dazzle.

Video ROI

The cost of the video needs to be in line with its objectives. Because of the sliding scale nature of video production, it’s easy for costs to escalate well beyond what makes sense for its purpose. If a video is intended as a product tutorial for the Web, you can produce this very inexpensively with voice over and flash or even still photos. Such a video should cost less than $10K. No need to go into a studio and film products. But, if you’re introducing Steve Jobs for a product launch at Comdex, you would be justified to spend more than $100K to set the tone and blow people out of their seats even if the video is only used once.

Like any marketing communication vehicle, a video communication needs to be tied to the business and communication objectives. The marketer should develop these core elements before the project moves forward and stick to them.

I’ll talk more about these fundamentals in the next post…

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Get Ready for the Upswing

Last week, I attended the IDC Directions conference in Santa Clara and came away with some interesting statistics. John Gantz, Chief Research Officer from IDC had some sobering data about how the recession hit the IT market:
  • The IT industry lost $1.7 Billion between 2007 and their forecast to 2013
  • BUT, there is a recovery it’s way
  • Nearly half of the new spending in 2013 is expected to come from emerging markets, where as in 2009, it was around ¼ of IT spend.
  • There will be an incredible proliferation of new devices and sensors which will connect objects to objects, devices to devices. You will be able to put a sensor in your FedEx package that tracks not only its exact location throughout the journey, but the surrounding temperature, and even vibrations.  Check out this video to get a glimpse of the future. HP Labs: Central Nervous System for the Earth
  • We’re about to hit an IT boom period. Companies have been holding off IT expenditures for as long as possible. When demand begins to pick up, these companies will need to upgrade ASAP to capitalize on growth.
  • John peppered us with all sorts of overwhelming statistics about how many petabytes, trillions of instant messages, and cell phone subscribers there will be.

If you have 5 minutes, you can get the full IDC prediction here.

 

Are Organizations Ready?

If John’s right, we need to begin turning on our jets in sales and marketing to get ready for the upswing. As many of you know and have likely personally experienced, marketing is one of the first areas to get hit when it’s time to tighten the belt.

What happened to the sales pipeline when they turned off marketing? Anything? Senior execs may not notice an immediate change in the bottom line which is why many conclude that marketing is a cost center, a waste of money. Over a long b2b sales cycle here’s what will eventually happen without the proper marketing investment.

  1. Fewer leads
  2. Deterioration of awareness and branding
  3. Lack of an overarching story that shapes your offering in the customer’s mind
  4. Fewer tools the sales force can leverage to convince customers of your value proposition

Marketing is an investment, not a cost center. Yes, sales will always close the deal and therefore get 98% of the credit for each sale. However, like a missile on its way to hit its target, there are thousands of touchpoints and variables both online and off that a customer hits before he or she ends up speaking with a sales person. And, once the sales person is out of the room, there are dozens more Google searches, conversations with colleagues, blog reviews, and industry forums the customer will use as he or she gathers information to make the final buying decision – many of these are “unmanaged,” out of the vendor’s control.

Customer Touchpoints

Touchpoints a customer may encounter throughout the phases of the b2b buying cycle.

Marketing’s job is to get into and influence as many of these touchpoints as possible to guide the customer down the right trajectory.

So, if you’re an executive wondering when the downturn is going to end, don’t wait until you report positive earnings to crank marketing back up. Like investors who sell all their stock and stuff cash under their mattress, those who keep marketing on ice too long will miss the boat when the turn around happens. Competitors will have already stolen your customers’ mindshare with their slick new “renaissance” campaign. Now is the time to recapture customer mindshare BEFORE they buy.

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What do Avatar and HP Enterprise Services have in common?

They say there are only seven original stories on which all literature, fables, myths, and movies are based. From Hamlet to Avatar, all the plots can be summarized in this short list:

  1. Man vs. nature
  2. Man vs. man
  3. Man vs. the environment
  4. Man vs. machines/technology
  5. Man vs. the supernatural
  6. Man vs. self
  7. Man vs. god/religion

Source: Internet Public Library (IPL) and the Librarians’ Internet Index (LII).

People remember stories, especially ones in which they can recognize truths about the world or their own experiences. But, so often in B2B marketing, we forget that we are communicating with human beings. I’ve seen tech brochures and Web sites frequently loaded down with endless bullet points of speeds and feeds, for fear that if it misses one detail our customer will bail.

Our customers are not robots. Just because they are evaluating more complex, technical products and have a longer sales cycle, doesn’t mean they will respond to or even recall all the facts and figures we throw at them. Our customers also go see Avatar and are equally driven by basic instincts when it comes to purchase decisions – risk avoidance, fear of making the wrong decision, peer pressure, group think.

At HP, I recently started working on the Enterprise Services business (formerly EDS). When I made my first trip down to Plano, I got a tour of their “Experience Center” – an operational control station in which they also demonstrate their capabilities to customers. I was amazed at how well they articulate their customer stories through a video series. For example, check case study out about the Royal Air Force.

Now, they could have just interviewed their clients in suits about how great HP is. They could have gone into the data center and pulled out a few boards. Instead, they show the end user’s experience. “The office moves around at about 500 miles per hour.” The Enterprise Services team understands how to add the “man vs.man” story giving it a much more theatrical and entertaining experience.

Here’s another story about how John Weir went the extra mile for a customer. This didn’t have the same “Top Gun” entertainment flair, but the producer showed the personal side of Mr. Weir – his family, his kids opening presents on Christmas time.

Watch the Video

I find that often in our marketing efforts we are hesitant to show our personality behind the scenes. But, this is what makes this video so much more compelling. A well told story in the context of B2B marketing can be a powerful tool to help marketers communicate a complex or intangible value proposition like Enterprise Services.

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