Archive for the ‘Marketing Strategy’ Category

The Biggest Roadblock to Social Business Success

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Stories about how top executives just don’t “get” social media and the concept of social business were common four or five years ago. But it’s jarring to still come across such reports today.

Despite the fact that 82% of buyers say they trust a company more when its CEO and senior leadership team are active in social media, and 77% are more likely to buy from a company if its CEO uses social media (those stats themselves nearly two years old), “64% of CEOs do not use social media at all, with only 5% of all Fortune 500 company CEOs on Twitter,” according to The Guardian.

Don't fear social businessWorse, C-level executives who don’t use social media themselves are also much less likely to understand how to capitalize on the social media savvy and reach of their employees to benefit their companies. And those benefits can be considerable. Per recent research from GaggleAMP:

“Connecting your business with your employees in social media can boost your social media presence. Employee advocacy not only has the ability to acquire new leads, but also can help create original content and bump your search rankings on Google, Yahoo, and MSN…Prospective clients are more likely to recognize your brand when you’ve got a network of employee advocates helping to sell your product through social media. This can cut down on the time it takes to gain the trust of clients as well as help solidify the relationship more quickly.”

Expanding a company’s social presence through its employees’ networks requires some give and take. Employee participation must be voluntary. Employers will need to do some level of monitoring, in order to measure results, share best practices, and incentive employees for social amplification.

That monitoring activity needn’t be excessive or intrusive; it should be limited to work-related social media activities, and social networks on which employees are active on the company’s behalf (an individual employee may, for example, choose to use his or her Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to promote company content and interact with customers and prospects, but use Facebook strictly for personal relationships).

Yet too many companies, regardless of their progress as social businesses, already take or plan to take this monitoring to excessive, even downright creepy, levels. Per per research from PricewaterhouseCoopers:

“More employers plan to begin or increase their monitoring of employees’ social media use and other personal data over the next decade…the idea is frankly kind of Orwellian in that terrifying corporate kind of way: The data profiling that drives customer management will increasingly be replicated among employees as screening and monitoring move to a new level. Sensors check their location, performance and health. The monitoring may even stretch into their private lives in an extension of today’s drug tests. Periodic health screening gives way to real-time monitoring of health.”

Of course, employees need to actually be engaging in social media activities on a company’s behalf in order for their to be any social activity to monitor. Nearly as disturbing as excessive monitoring, more than a third (36%) of businesses block social networks completely within the office, and more than half (57%) permit workplace social media access only for select employees (e.g., marketing and HR).

The fundamental barrier to embracing a social business strategy seems to come down to one word: fear.

  • • Fear of bad, or even unmeasurable, results. While precise social media ROI may or may not be measurable, many indicators of success certainly are. Social media amplification is like any other business process: test, measure, improve, repeat.
  • • Fear that employees will waste time on social sites. Employees have been finding ways to distract themselves, and others, and generally waste time at work, for pretty much as long as groups of human beings have worked together. Employees intentionally wasting work time are a sign of poor hiring, poor motivation, and/or poor management. Those determined to waste work time will do so regardless of social media policy.
  • • Fear that employees will be unproductive. This is different than the point above; it’s not fear that employees will purposely waste time, but rather that employees, with the best of intentions, will use social networks inefficiently. Monitoring, measurement, and training are the answer.
  • • Fear that employees will say the wrong things. They’ll get brand messages wrong, or argue with customers, or reveal trade secrets, or disclose sensitive financial information, or bash competitors, or bash management, or tweet while drunk, or say something racist or sexist, or…whatever. Actually, in a healthy work environment, employees are far more likely to appreciate trust than to abuse it. And, backed up with training and clear policies, they deserve it.

Most fundamentally of all, however, is the fear that a surprising majority of companies still seem to have in acknowledging that they are staffed by actual people. Try this experiment: pick 10 business websites, from companies of any size, pretty much any industry. See if you can find a way to directly contact a specific individual (e.g., the head of marketing, the top HR exec, anyone in customer service, the webmaster, the VP of sales, even the CEO) at any of those companies, through information presented on the company’s website.

Many sites won’t list any individual employee or management names at all. Some will have “management team” pages that list a handful of top executives (though not with any direct contact information). Most will not provide any email addresses beyond the generic “info@” or “sales@” variety. Many will link to the company’s social media accounts—but not to the accounts of any individual employee, even if used strictly for business purposes. In some cases, you’ll be able to find contact information for the individual in charge of public relations—but often as not, this will be someone from an outside agency rather than a company employee.

That may be the most fundamental fear of all: being social means being human. That is what needs to change, first and foremost. As social media guru Ted Rubin notes, “A smart brand supports its employees in building their personal brands because it expands their reach right along with that of their employees.”

How do executives who want to overcome these fears and embrace social media start? Search for guidance and resources online, watch videos like this one, read books like The Social Employee by Cheryl and Mark Burgess (a veritable field guide to social business best practices, based on case studies of brand-name social enterprises), and begin by getting employees involved with the business socially internally, using tools like Yammer or Chatter.

But whatever you do, start. With regard to social business, the only rational fear top executives should have is fear of being left behind.

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The Future of Digital Marketing According to the Giants

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Guest post by Clayton Wood.

Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft have been making acquisitions that could change the way digital marketing is done in the near future. What seemed to be objects of science-fiction books and shows are now being developed in the real world, and may be used for marketing. These companies have also made purchases that many people didn’t quite think were obvious, but perfectly made sense in hindsight.

But what do these purchases tell us about the direction digital marketing is going? Let’s have a look.

Digital Marketing will be about Heightened User Experiences

The giants are taking a page out of science fiction books to develop technology that will heighten and improve user experience. Virtual reality seems to be one of the hottest trends: Google has Google Glass, Facebook bought Oculus VR (which makes the virtual reality gaming headset Oculus Rift), and Yahoo! bought, absorbed, and shut down Cloud Party. These purchases forced Sony to announce Project Morpheus, their own take on virtual reality.

How Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Sony are changing the future of digital marketingThough these acquisitions don’t tell us much in terms of what exactly these giants have cooking, the firms have made generic statements about what they want to achieve, and these statements focus on heightened user experience.

We also know that whatever it is they are developing won’t materialize within the year—we need to give it a couple of years. We know one thing for sure: although they purchased VR gaming companies, the technological developments we can expect won’t be limited to gaming. These purchases tell us that real-time information delivery, social interaction, immersive content and improved ecommerce experiences are in store for us in the near future.

Take Mark Zuckerberg’s statement when Facebook purchased Oculus VR earlier this year:

Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

These are just some of the potential uses. By working with developers and partners across the industry, together we can build many more. One day, we believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people.

Data Tracking becomes a Strong Online Marketing Asset

We know how important data is to any marketing campaign, online or otherwise: without it, you cannot optimize the processes you have in place and improve the overall performance of your business. Google certainly knows this – their Webmaster Tools, Analytics and AdWords platforms belong to the most informative, readily available data tracking technology there is online.

It seems this year, they want to improve their platforms even further. They bought Adometry, a marketing analytics and optimization platform. Google explains that the acquisition “will build on the momentum of our existing measurement and analytics offerings, which include Google Analytics Premium as well as other products,” adding:

Attribution solutions, like Adometry’s, help businesses better understand the influence that different marketing tools — digital, offline, email, and more — have along their customers’ paths to purchase (http://goo.gl/tXTliw). This heightened understanding, in turn, enables businesses to measure marketing impact, allocate their resources more wisely, and provide people with ads and messages that they’re likely to care about.

This shows that digital marketing is likely moving to become more performance-based and accurately measurable. Data is becoming a strong online marketing asset, and marketers will likely devote a lot of effort and resources into analyzing and making the most of consumer data. Companies using performance models for growing channels, such as mobile and video, will soon be a common sight.

Human insights, combined with machine learning and real-time predictive analytics, will pave the way for easier, more data-driven marketing strategies.

Fun and Experience will be the Cornerstones of Most Marketing Strategies

In today’s ever-changing marketing world, it’s not enough to just get the attention of your consumers, you also have to give them something new—an experience. Consumers will be looking for something more than visually entertaining, they’ll want fun and experience.

Groundbreaking marketing creativity and innovation anchored on wearable technology and augmented reality can be expected. This will likely lead to digital marketing without boundaries; one that’s fueled by strategies focusing on fun, immersive experiences.

“Personal” Will Have a Whole New Meaning

Soon, it might not be enough for companies to just know what you want; they will likely also want to know when you’re most likely to want something. At the start of the year, Apple applied for a patent for a technology that would make inferences about the moods of people in real time.

“If an individual is preoccupied or unhappy, the individual may not be as receptive to certain types of content,” Apple explained.

Their solution? Figure out how a person is feeling at any given moment, and use that data to target content—or more accurately, ads—to be delivered at the right place and the right time.

Combining the technology on data tracking and analysis with the innovations in wearable technology, we can expect marketers to combine behavioral indicators—such as the rate of ‘likes’, comments, shares, the applications users open first, and the date, time, location and other specifics of their online interaction—with physical indicators tracked by a smartwatch or some other wearable gadget.

The word “personal” will have a whole new meaning, especially when it concerns digital marketing and online interactions.

Whatever updates and innovations may come, one thing is for sure: the digital marketing of today won’t certainly look the same as tomorrow’s. Companies clearly will be gearing for the future—are you?

How about you? What do you think is the future of digital marketing?

 

About the author: Clayton Wood is passionate about communicating the impact that technology has in online marketing. He is the Marketing Director of SEOReseller.com and managing partner of numerous successful online brands that offer white label SEO and other online marketing services. Clayton can be found on LinkedIn and Google+.

 

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14 Brilliant B2B Marketing Strategy Guides

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Much has been written about how the internet in general, and the explosion of content marketing in particular, has changed the nature of b2b marketing. In less than a generation, information has gone from being scarce to overabundant. Today’s b2b buyers are typically 70% of the way through their purchase process before they contact a vendor’s sales team.

B2B brand emotional connectionInformation proliferation means buyers are better-informed than ever about potential approaches to solving  problems, and the related product and service alternatives. But the increased availability of data means vendors are also more knowledgeable about what matters to buyers, how they conduct research, which content resonates with prospective customers (and what types of content fall flat), how to refine and act on key measures and metrics, and most importantly, how decisions are ultimately made. The old “sales funnel” model is giving way to more sophisticated analytical frameworks.

How should b2b marketers adjust their strategies to keep up with this evolution? What types of messages matter most to today’s buyers? Which long-held beliefs of b2b marketers need to be discarded? What do elite marketers do well that their more average counterparts don’t?

Find the answers to those questions and others here in more than a dozen insightful guides to b2b marketing strategy from the past year.

How To Market For the Top Four B2B Business Growth Strategies by g2m Solutions

Sarah PernSarah Pern examines “four major business growth strategies identified by the Ansoff Product-Market Matrix and shows you how to develop marketing strategies that are aligned with achieving the business goals you want.” For example, recommended marketing strategies for the business growth approach of market development include market research to help develop rich buyer personas, and awareness building using “online advertising…PR, SEO, Social Media, attending exhibitions, sponsoring events” (basically all of the elements of the web presence optimization framework) plus outbound tactics.

How To Do It Right: Demand Generation by Forbes

Patrick SpennerPatrick Spenner brilliantly makes that case that b2b marketers should focus on “improving the connections among stakeholders at customer organizations” rather than those between the supplier and individual stakeholders. He astutely notes that personas are often created as isolated individuals, with the connections between the different stakeholders who make up the B2B customer buying team left unexplored and unaddressed.

New Study Shows That Most B2B Marketing is Talking Past Customers by Ideas@Work

Glenn TaylorGlenn Taylor reports on the disconnect between what B2B companies tend to say about themselves and what potential customers want to hear (that is, what types of messages contribute most to perceived brand strength. He advises vendors to take the “opportunity to dig into your positioning and try to tell your story and the ‘why’ of what you do. Statements like ‘driver of innovation’ or ‘leader in our field’ are over done and past their prime. Most marketers cannot deliver on these and almost no customer believes them.”

4 Ways Elite Social Brands Separate Themselves From The Pack In B2B by MediaPost

John_LeeJohn Lee details four practices used by the most successful social brands in B2B, such as using measurement to drive integration (“Lack of measurement is the number one reason that social fails…Nearly 90 percent of brands measure volume and engagement (likes, followers, etc.), but only 31% measure it against revenue”), and developing individual strategies for each social media platform.

B2B Marketing Trends That Will Shape Your Strategy by Anders Pink

Steve RaysonNoting that B2B marketers have been gradually shifting effort and budget from outbound to inbound marketing channels “as buyers increasingly manage the early stages of the buying process without contacting vendors by reviewing websites, talking to peers in the industry and reviewing resources. This allows them to often filter and shortlist without ever talking to a sales rep,” Steve Rayson details eight strategy-shaping trends, including changes in buyer behavior, SEO, and corporate websites, along with the growth in content marketing and social media.

B2B Marketers Need To Step Up Emotional Connections by MediaPost

Laurie SullivanB2C marketing is often perceived as emotion-based, while B2B buyers decide based on facts and logic. The reality turns out to be quite different though; Laurie Sullivan reports on recent research which found “Emotional connections are much more ‘intense’ for business-to-business clients compared with B2C…Between 40% and 70% of customers feel emotionally connected to brands like Oracle, Accenture, FedEx, SAP, and Salesforce, compared with between 10% and 40% for CVS, L’Oreal, and Wal-Mart.” B2B marketers need to become more adept at presenting the professional, social, emotional, and personal value of their products and services.

Everything We Thought We Knew About B-to-B Marketing Is Wrong by Forbes

Scott GillumExpanding on the findings reported in the post above, Scott Gillum reveals that “The company customers say that they are most emotionally connected to is…Cisco.” B2B purchases involve professional risk, particularly for the internal champion, and Cisco is very good at reducing risk for buyers. Furthermore, “Cisco is able to create…’personal value’ consisting of four parts: professional, social, emotional and self-image benefits.”

6 Persuasion Techniques: Science in B2B Marketing by Ideas@Work Blog

Vann MorrisFollowing up on the post above, Vann Morris describes half-a-dozen techniques for tapping into B2B buyer emotion, such as liking: “Research shows that we are more likely to say yes to people we like, and we tend to like people who are similar to us, people who complement us, and people who cooperate with us toward a common goal.” Creating the vision of that “common goal” (and the buyer’s emotional attachment to it) is a powerful marketing technique.

7 Tactics that Are Working for B2B Lead Generation Today by CustomerThink

Louis FoongLouis Foong shares seven tactics that work in b2b marketing today, among them lead scoring using behavioral data (“For example, when a prospect signs up for a free trial, you should attach a higher score to that behaviour than when a new subscriber gets added to your email newsletter list”); progressive lead profiling (asking for new, additional information each time a specific prospect converts); and social retargeting (“If a prospect is just about floating at the top of the funnel, gated content won’t work—you need to give away something valuable, easily, with no strings attached. Gated content will work for prospects that are already quite convinced that your company has the knowledge to educate them on specific problems they are challenged with”).

The Myth of the Infinite Selling Universe by DemandBase

Ardath AlbeeThe always-insightful Ardath Albee exposes the myth (often used when raising venture capital) that the pool of prospective buyers for a company’s product or service is infinite; why this myth is dangerous (“it costs more to generate more leads. It costs more for salespeople to spend more time following up with more leads. This increases the cost per opportunity.”); and suggests how marketers should focus their time on the small set of ideal prospects.

Five Ideas on the Business-to-Individual Concept for B2B Marketers by MarketingSherpa

David KirkpatrickReflecting discussions with industry experts including Brian Carroll and Brian Solis, David Kirkpatrick offers “five lessons on why you should be marketing to the individual, even as a B2B marketer,” among them: “Creating relationships should be a philosophy, not just a marketing strategy”; relevance matters; and the customer is now completely in charge of the buying process, so b2b vendors must “make it easy for those prospects to conduct self-discovery and self-service…provide content and tools that enable those potential prospects to make the decision to buy from you.”

5 Buyer Behaviors Reshaping B2B Marketing by iMedia Connection

Tony ZambitoFrequent best-of honoree Tony Zambito delves into five buyer behaviors that marketers need to be aware of and respond to, including that buyers embrace collaboration; they want to be involved in the co-creation of products and services; and “buyers want less content – yet desire smart content.”

B2B Marketing’s Measurement Problem by B2B Digital Marketing

Eric WittlakeWriting “It is called a complex sale for a reason, but B2B marketers keep trying to fit it into a simplistic measurement framework: where did we get that lead?,” Eric Wittlake explains why simple B2B marketing metrics are not just ineffective but also misleading, and offers recommendations on how to “more effectively measure the impact of marketing on your business.” (We would agree that a new breed of marketing metrics is needed to understand cross-channel impacts.)

The Forgotten Stars of B2B Lead Conversion by Business2Community

Christabelle TaniWarning about the dangers of forgetting the “less glamorous but vitally important tactical elements that do a lot of the the hard, relentless work of attracting and converting visitors to real leads,” Christabelle Tani outlines three simple yet vital components of lead generation, including social proof (“evidence that other human beings are advocating your company and what you sell”) and their role in each stage of the sales funnel.

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19 Remarkable Guides on Business Strategy, Leadership and Motivation

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

It’s a (sometimes forgotten) truism of business that no company can cut its way to growth. As the economy continues to slowly recover from the great recession, smart leaders, having pared back spending during the lean times, are looking at how to invest for growth. Entrepreneurs are forming new businesses at an increasing pace, hoping to take advantage of new opportunities in the recovering economy. Workers across the spectrum are a bit less fearful and a bit more optimistic.

Business Strategy, Motivation and Leadership GuidesBut the business environment has changed significantly in just the past six years since the start of the downturn. For example, no one was talking about the social employee as recently as late 2006, but according to Google Trends, search interest in the term has quadrupled in the past five years.

So investment in growth will return, but it will be different. How can companies tap the social exposure potential of their workforces? What beliefs do managers, leaders, and entrepreneurs need to discard–and what new beliefs do they need to embrace? How has the purchase cycle changed, and what are the expectations of today’s buyers? How can small companies use new ideas to compete more effectively against larger competitors?

Find the answers to these questions and many others here in 19 of the most noteworthy guides to leadership, motivation, business strategy, and branding of the past year.

Leadership Guides

7 Ways Management Can Boost Employee Productivity by westXdesign

Renee GaylorRenee Gaylor explains seven steps leaders can take to increase employee engagement and productivity, such as ensuring “senior leadership models behavior that makes the rank-and-file proud to be part of the team. Nothing demoralizes employees more quickly than seeing senior leaders act in a way they don’t respect, and few things energize employees more than a senior team they admire. Leaders are always being watched and judged; employees have keen eyes.”

Paid to Post? What the Social Workforce Means for All of Us by iMedia Connection

Greg ShoveWriting that “Savvy brands like Dell, Oracle, Intel and Accenture think the future of marketing is on social media and their best advocates are their own employees,” Greg Shove demonstrates why this strategy can be incredibly powerful, but also discusses the challenges involved. In the end, he concludes that to be successful in developing social employees, companies will need to “focus on producing cultures that employees want to advocate for. In terms of long-term sales growth, marketing success and talent retention, that will matter far more than the fine details of each advocacy program.”

What Does it Take to Lead a Social Business? by NewRayCom

Ray HiltzRay Hiltz identifies five characteristics required of R.A.R.E. (responsible, accountable, relevant, ethical) leadership, and notes “these are also the traits of a successful social business.” Leadership and social business are both grounded in developing relationships, and doing so effectively requires a long-term vision at odds with ever-shortening attention spans.

Motivation and Inspiration Guides

9 Mind Myths to Ditch for 2014 Success by Rebel Brown

Rebel BrownThe wise and delightful Rebel Brown steps “into the truth and beyond our limiting beliefs” here, debunking nine myths about our minds which she says limit our potential. Among the myths skewered are “we’re all limited by this crazy economy,” “failure is to be avoided at all costs,” and “change is hard” (“Humans are instinctively wired to avoid anything that is new and different. Our unconscious mind views it as a threat…[however] We can act to consciously remove that threat of change [by focusing] on the opportunity in the change, not the problem that caused it”).

How to Give Remarkable Presentations: Lessons from the World Domination Summit by Dr. Michelle Mazur

Michelle MazurMichelle Mazur shares lessons learned from speakers at the World Domination Summit (yes, apparently, that is a thing), including “Train to speak like an athlete trains to win the race” from Danielle LaPorte, on the importance of speaking frequently, and contrasting the gap between what is and what could be, from Nancy Duarte: “The best speakers – Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Jobs and Eva Peron – construct a gap between what is currently and what could be in the future. Think of Steve Jobs comparing the world without an iPhone versus a world with the iPhone (can you remember the world before Smart Phones?).”

9 Beliefs of Remarkably Successful People by Inc.

Jeff HadenJeff Haden reveals nine characteristics that help define and create success, from approaches to time management and hiring to how to deal with failure and “go the extra mile.” A great reminder for consultants: “Only do what you want to do and you might build an okay business. Be willing to do what customers want you to do and you can build a successful business. Be willing to do even more and you can build a remarkable business.”

8 Things Remarkably Successful People Do by Inc.

Following up on the post above, Jeff Haden here turns the topic from the beliefs of successful people to their actions; things that most if not all successful people do, such as setting audacious goals, selling, and avoiding the crowds: “Remarkably successful people habitually do what other people won’t do. They go where others won’t go because there’s a lot less competition and a much greater chance for success.”

Business Strategy Guides

Small Talk, Big Results by strategy+business

Keith FerrazziKeith Ferrazzi introduces ideas from The Necessity of Strangers by Alan Gregerman, demonstrating how vital “small talk” is: “anthropologically, we are hardwired to be ready to fight or flee from someone not of our tribe—a state of mind that obviously has a very negative effect on our ability to innovate together. Small talk quiets that reptilian response of our brain.” The book excerpt details a simple exercise that can be used within organizations to increase success by creating a “culture of conversation.”

How Women Decide by Harvard Business Review

Cathy BenkoPointing out that “Today women occupy about half of all managerial and professional positions in the United States, including 37% of management jobs and 60% of accounting and auditing roles…They also make up 41% of employees with authority to make purchasing decisions,” Cathy Benko and Bill Pelster present research on how the differing physical structures of the male and female brains lead to different decision-making styles, and how these distinctions need to be accounted for when selling or presenting ideas.

5 reasons I hate big data by iMedia Connection

Chris MarriottChris Marriott brilliantly skewers the hype behind big data (and advises executives what to focus on instead), writing that it’s an old idea with a new name; that it makes something easy sound complex; and that it’s “like teenagers and sex:

a. Everybody’s talking about it.
b. Everybody thinks everyone else is doing it.
c. Most of those who claim to be doing it aren’t doing it.
d. Those who are doing it aren’t doing it very well.”

8 Real-World Stories Of Why Startups Fail by ReadWrite

Scott GerberScott Gerber shares the stories of eight “(now) successful founders from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to share why a prior start-up didn’t make it – and what they’re doing differently knowing what they know now.” Among the lessons: manage cash flow (“Numbers are not only the oxygen of a business, they are the vital signs as well”), match your timing to the state of the market, and be careful about choosing employees (“hire people who are sincere and trustworthy”).

Marketing and Brand Strategy Guides

Fire the funnel — 5 stages of the real buyer’s journey by Chief Marketing Technologist Blog

Scott BrinkerContending that “The funnel model of marketing and sales doesn’t reflect reality very well” (and we know this), Scott Brinker suggests an alternative five-stage model that is less exclusionary and more positive, recognizes that today’s “lost” prospects may become tomorrow’s new opportunities, and acknowledges the importance of continuing to market and sell to existing customers and convert them into brand advocates.

Thought Leadership Requires A Little Thought by CMO

Jeff PundykJeff Pundyk rants (intelligently) about how, far too often, “thought leadership” is anything but; rather, it’s ego-building, internally focused, disorganized, and doesn’t address reader or market needs. Instead, he advises marketers to “find creative ways to tap into publishers’ audiences…venture beyond the walls of your own Web site. It will force you to up your content game: to think hard about your audience…(and) to start listening and collaborating.”

Integrated marketing: optimizing the connected customer experience by i-SCOOP

J-P De ClerckJ-P DeClerck makes the case that marketers should shift their focus from channels, tactics, and campaigns, to addressing what customers really want: “we shouldn’t optimize for media, channels or tactics in the first place. We optimize for the customer experience.” Customers don’t care how a company organizes its campaigns or silos; they care about consistency and the company meeting its brand promise.

How Underdogs Can Market Effectively by MarketingProfs (free registration required)

Abhay PadgaonkarAbhay Padgaonkar outlines three strategies small companies can use to win against larger competitors, starting with aiming “for your competitor’s Achille’s heel.” That can come in the form of scope (starting out by serving a neglected segment, which is how Southwest Airlines got its initial foothold in the market); service; or scale (targeting segments that don’t fit with investments larger competitors have made).

Big marketing opportunities for under $10K by iMedia Connection

Greg KihlstromGreg Kihlström details four “ways to connect your audience with your brand” that won’t break the bank, such as creating new content, experimenting with new channels, or giving something back: “Help an organization in need. There’s no downside to this one…(for example) let your customers choose which organization they’d like you to donate the money to by allowing them to vote for their favorite nonprofit every time they submit a photo that includes your product.”

6 Expert-Endorsed Ways to Improve Your Marketing TODAY by HubSpot

Katie BurkeKatie Burke outlines half-a-dozen expert “tactics and strategies you can employ within a workday to help attract, convert, engage, and delight more prospects, leads, and customers.” For example, on video marketing, from Kevin Daum: ““You don’t need cats and babies to make business videos that work…By aligning on a goal, a target audience, and a core story, your business can benefit significantly from using video to foster growth.”

The end of digital and social media by iMedia Connection

Rebecca LiebTerms like “digital media” and “social media” will soon be redundant, according to the brilliant Rebecca Lieb, as all media are increasingly both digital and social. So, Rebecca asks, “How do you cut through the clutter of media, messaging, and a ridiculously busy social life spanning all channels, digital and otherwise? There are six traits that matter. Employing as many as possible — in concert — will greatly enhance a brand’s ability to be noticed in a relevant and meaningful way.”

The Seven Pitfalls of a Modern-Day Brand by MarketingProfs

Matthew TurnerDespite the unprecedented reach that social media provides, “Brand Awareness is hard to come by,” writes Matthew Turner. He identifies seven pitfalls of brand-building (such as lack of voice, too much “sell,” and being easy to forget) and how to avoid them: build a “brand story that delves deep into your brand and discovers what it’s all about…A brand story allows you to create something of worth, and most important, something that matters to you: It’s built on your terms.”

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The Most Important Force for Increasing Leads and Sales

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

A version of this post previously appeared on MarketingProfs.

There’s been a raft of articles recently proclaiming the “consumerization” of all things business: the consumerization of sales, of IT, and of business-to-business (b2b) marketing most prominently. McKinsey’s David Edelman has referred to the consumerization of b2b marketing and sales as a “massive disruption” on the horizon.

The consumerization of B2B marketing - reduce friction

Photo Credit: LGEPR via Compfight cc

While there’s no questioning these trends, it may be more powerful from an analytical standpoint to step back and ask exactly what “consumerization” means in a business context: what is it precisely about consumer marketing and sales that b2b professionals are seeking to emulate?

Clearly it’s not that enterprise software vendors should start running print ads in Vogue magazine, or that machine tool manufacturers should invest in splashy TV commercials on The Golf Channel. Upon closer examination, the move toward consumerization seems to come down to embracing one key concept long pursued by b2c brands: minimizing friction across the promotion and buying process.

In the physical world, minimizing friction is how Elon Musk’s proposed hyperloop could transport commuters at speeds approaching 600 miles per hour. Using pods inside a low-pressure tube eliminates not only the friction of rolling wheels but also that of air pressure against the vehicles.

In the consumer products world, minimizing friction explains why soup is sold in microwavable single-serving containers, and why a convenience store can thrive within blocks of a nearby supermarket, despite charging much higher prices.

Arguably the ultimate in friction-free consumer commerce, though, is Amazon.com’s 1-Click ordering. Once a site visitor has searched for and filled their online shopping cart with desired items, competing the purchase requires literally one click: Amazon knows the customer’s preferred method of payment, credit card details, shipping address, even preferred shipping mode. Compared to the typical b2b purchase—there is no comparison.

The Amazon experience is clearly starting to impact the world of b2b purchasing. Within the past year, nearly half of b2b buyers have purchased common business items from Amazon Supply, the web giant’s online store for business and industry, because their regular suppliers don’t offer an online purchase channel.

Business suppliers who want to survive the coming “massive disruption” need to find ways to compete with Amazon, likely beyond price: through flexible payment options, volume discounts, deep product expertise, or value-added services perhaps. But for low-value commodity items, as other online retailers have learned, Amazon will make the landscape increasingly challenging for b2b suppliers.

Beyond online purchasing, however, friction comes in many forms. While many high-value, complex b2b products aren’t suitable for ecommerce, there are nevertheless other sources of friction that vendors need to minimize in order to improve their competitiveness. These other sources of friction include:

Marketing/Sales Friction

  • Low online visibility. With more than 90% of b2b purchases beginning with research on the Web, maximizing online presence is crucial for b2b vendors. Business buyers won’t buy from vendors who lack visibility in search and social media.
  • Insufficient or difficult to find information. B2b websites need to provide different types of information based on buyer personas, specific concerns or topics of interest, and different formats (text, images, video). Each member of the buying team has his or her own questions and unique information needs. Friction is created when such information is missing or hard to find on the vendor website.
  • Mixed messages. Friction arises when, as your grandmother may have put it, “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.” Prospects are unlikely to buy if they get different answers and inconsistent messages from different employees or departments within your organization. This was less of a danger in the old days when public interaction was limited to official “company spokespeople,” but social media now makes virtually every employee “client-facing.” Avoiding such confusion therefore requires strong leadership from the top, effective training, and use of internal social communication tools like Chatter or Yammer.
  • High initial price point.It’s often easier to sell a customer a basic system at a low price point upfront and add options later than to sell a high-priced, full-featured offering right out of the gate. Not only does this make price less of an objection, it also reduces risk for the buyer. Many types of subscription-based software offerings are now sold this way. Taking this idea to the ultimate “no brainer” price point—free—many vendors in categories like email services and social media monitoring employ a “freemium” pricing model in which customers can sign up to use a stripped-down, low-volume service for free, then upgrade to various levels of higher usage volume, added-function, fee-based services down the road.

Customer Service Friction

  • Limited contact information. A “contact us” button should be one of the most prominent items on every page of a b2b website, and the contact page should include physical/mailing address, fax and phone numbers, email address (or addresses—preferably multiple, by department), and social media accounts. Consider an online chat option as well (but make it visitor-initiated, not an annoying pop-up box). Reduce friction by making it as easy as possible for prospective buyers to get in touch with you, using their preferred communication method.
  • Poor responsiveness (or non-responsiveness) to questions. More than 80% of Twitter users say they expect a same-day response to tweets aimed at brands, yet many b2b vendors fail to meet this standard. That is clearly an opportunity being missed, as 71% of buyers also say that receiving a quick brand response on social media would make them more likely to recommend that brand to others. Response time matters regardless of the communication channel (social, email, phone, etc.); responding quickly builds confidence in your company. A slow response creates friction.
  • Automated phone answering systems. While efficient and convenient for vendors, these are universally annoying to callers. Provide both a main contact number and department-specific phone numbers instead. A human voice on the other end of the line can be both a powerful differentiator and friction-reducer.

Product/Service Friction

  • Partial solutions. The ability to purchase a “whole product” (e.g., software, equipment, installation, and training services) from a single supplier, a.k.a. one-stop shopping, reduces friction. This is why all-in-one travel sites like Kayak, Orbitz, Expedia, TravelZoo, and Travelocity are popular. When the buyer is forced to piece together a solution from multiple vendors, friction is increased. B2b suppliers can address this through building, buying, or bundling strategies to create and support a whole product.
  • Complex implementation. While there is no way around expert on-site installation for certain types of products (e.g., machine tools or conveyor systems), “products” should be delivered online whenever possible. Cloud computing, projected to grow at a 26% annual rate through 2016, is essentially delivering a server online. Software is increasingly being delivered as a service, along with integrated consulting; this model is nearly universal in the marketing automation software market, for example.
  • Business disruption. The less disruption or interruption of business activities that a purchase entails, the less assistance or support needed from other departments like IT, and the less integration with other systems required, the easier a buying decision is to make. This is why software vendors are increasingly delivering their applications online, and including pre-built connectors, where required, to other popular software suites.
  • Complexity in use. While many b2b products in areas like technology,  communications, industrial automation, and transportation are necessarily complex, that doesn’t mean they have to be difficult to use. Good example: a modern automobile is unquestionably a complex piece of equipment, yet one that can be operated by any teenager with a modicum of training. Better example: while the vast majority of us have only a rudimentary understanding (at best) of the inner workings of a smart phone, any moderately bright grade-schooler can use one. B2b products should be as complex as they need to be, but as simple to use as possible.

Organizational (Business Level) Friction

  • High perceived risk. Vendor websites must not only provide the information various buyers need in order to make a decision, they must also build trust. Unless your company is a “household name,” your website needs to reduce perceived risk and position your company as a safe choice by including complete contact information, certifications (such as Better Business Bureau membership), awards, customer testimonials, big-name client lists, and/or money-back guarantees.
  • Employees aren’t empowered to resolve issues. When a customer or prospect has an problem, they want it fixed. They don’t care about an employee’s job description or your company’s organizational chart. When those things get in the way of solving problems, they become friction. Companies like Nordstrom, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines are known for empowering their employees to resolve customer complaints, no matter what they are, precisely to eliminate this type of friction.
  • Lack of organizational transparency. In sales situations where vendors are unfamiliar and product differentiation is unclear or insignificant, buyers will seek broader information about the companies in order to arrive at a decision. In these situations, purchase decisions can be strongly influenced by the vendors’ level of executive participation in social media. According to recent research, 82% of buyers say they trust a company more—and 77% of buyers are more likely to buy from that company—if its CEO and senior leadership team are active in social media.

Recognizing the importance of minimizing friction, some vendors are now creating a “Chief Experience Officer” position to help those companies “not only develop services and products that are pleasing and useful but also curate…experiences with their people and their products to create (what they hope is) a unique brand.”

As b2b competition becomes more global and intense, products become commoditized, quality is assumed, margins are squeezed, and “unique value propositions” become less unique, the overall customer experience will increasingly be what separates successful companies from column fodder. And identifying and minimizing friction, at all its potential points, optimizes the customer experience.

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