It’s a paradox of modern marketing that even with today’s ubiquitous high-speed wifi and cell connectivity, wide range of devices, and abundance of communication channels, business buyers seem harder to reach than ever.
Many corporations have tight email filtering in place which renders many externally originating messages invisible. And even with those filters in place, inboxes are often overflowing, leaving buyers with little time or bandwidth to deal with any but the most urgent messages.
Social media is the top digital marketing channel for vendors, but organic social media reach continues to decline, LinkedIn’s strategy for groups remains muddled, and many business buyers aren’t even on Twitter.
Banner ads? Sure, those work great—if you’re happy with a click-through rate of 0.05% (yes, that is five clicks for every 10,000 people who see your ad). Business Insider humorously reported a few years ago that you are statistically more likely to be dealt a full house in a poker game, win the Mega Millions lottery, have twins, be accepted into Harvard, complete Navy SEAL training, or survive a plane crash—among other things—than you are to click on a display ad.
And no one answers their phone anymore. When calling a typical company today, phone trees make it nearly impossible to reach any actual human, much less the one you hope to speak to. If you’ve got someone’s direct number, you may be in better shape; but the voicemail message you leave (assuming the person’s voice mailbox isn’t already full—an all too common occurrence) had better be pretty compelling to get them to return your call.
All of that said, business people do still have problems to solve. And your product or service may be exactly what they need to solve it. To increase the likelihood your prospect will actually learn about your offering at the right time, here are six ways to cut through the noise and get their attention.
Send (Lumpy) Direct Mail
Email was supposed to kill direct mail. But the reality is quite different. The very ease of sending (and deleting) email messages has made physical mail more appealing to recipients and less likely to be ignored. Forbes reports that “direct mail’s response rates are actually anywhere from 10 to 30 times higher than that of digital.”
Not just any direct mail, though. A couple sheets of paper folded neatly inside a standard business envelope isn’t going to inspire much excitement. Even a glossy multi-page flyer may not get much more than a few seconds of attention.
But “lumpy” mail—a three-dimensional object, inside a box or envelope—will almost always get opened and looked at. It suggests something of value (as package shipping isn’t cheap) and evokes curiosity.
You can go high ($50 to $100 per package) with a service like Video Plus Print, or keep it simpler with something closer to trade show swag. The key is to make it creative. Don’t send pointless lumpy mail purely for the purpose of getting your package opened (the direct mail equivalent of click bait). But tie the object you are sending to a relevant and compelling message, and you’ve got good odds of generating a response.
Embrace Marketing Partners
Marketing partners can get you in front of new audiences in a manner that reduces resistance and enhances trust. Partners are defined, in this context, as any non-competing organization that appeals to the same target market you do. This encompasses media, analysts, trade associations, conference producers, and complementary product vendors among others.
Partner marketing activities can include, but aren’t limited to:
- cross-promoting each other’s content;
- co-creating content or campaigns;
- co-hosting webinars; and
- co-exhibiting at trade shows and conferences.
An example might be a vendor of video surveillance systems partnering with a manufacturer of access control solutions. The product sets don’t compete but do both appeal to the same business security system buyer. This creates a “1+1=3” situation; each vendor benefits from exposure to the other’s CRM contacts, but together they may also reach new prospects neither has interacted with before.
The benefit is easy to understand: it’s the difference between introducing yourself to a stranger or being introduced by someone they trust.
Work With Industry Influencers
Influencer marketing can be viewed as a special case of partner marketing. But in this approach, a key component of the influencer’s business model is, often, the ability to forge connections between vendors and buyers.
The term “influencers” can cover a broad range of people, from journalists and bloggers to analysts, consultants, speakers, and even other business executives. The range of ways they can help, and their structures for providing that assistance, are similarly diverse.
An influencer may, for example, be willing to do certain simple tasks—such as publishing a guest post or contributing a quote for an expert roundup—without charge but just for the mutual benefit of the relationship. They may offer other avenues on a fee basis, such as providing content, co-hosting a webinar, speaking at a company event, conducting research, or promoting the company in their newsletter.
Influencer marketing is often done poorly, which reflects badly on the brand and individual doing the outreach. “Hi, we’ve never met before, but I want you to give me stuff,” is not a great way to start a conversation.
Ideally, influencer marketing should be approached as building a relationship. Both your company and the influencer have something of value to offer to your audience, and probably will for quite some time to come. So start with research and friendly outreach rather than jumping straight to the big ask. Here are six more keys to making influencer marketing work.
We all have egos. And, dammit, each one of us wants to be treated as a unique individual! (Just like everyone else.)
Okay, seriously, as Brian Solis has noted, “Business buyers don’t go to work and forget what they do as humans.” They are increasingly coming to expect the same personalized experience they get as consumers from sites like Amazon.com to carry over into the B2B world.
Which link are you more likely to click on: “Hey, visit our website at randomvendor.com!” or “Bob, visit the page we created just for you at randomvendor.com/bobsmith” (pretending for a moment that your name is Bob Smith)?
Emotionally, people want to feel special. And practically, for business buyers, they want relevant content. Combining message personalization with targeted content saves buyers time and helps marketers cut through the clutter. Personalization at scale is still challenging, but evolving marketing automation tools are making it (somewhat) easier. And because buyers expect it, vendors who continue to blast out generic messages will lose ground to those who can align content with the needs of the right buyers at the right time.
Host and Exhibit at Live Events
A decade ago, people were talking about the death of trade shows and conferences. First, the dot-com bust of 2000 and then the terrorist attacks on 9/11 badly damaged the travel and events world. Then technologies like Skype, lower-cost video conferencing, and web conferencing tools seemed to make live meetings needless. The financial market meltdown in 2008 seemed like the final straw.
But the story didn’t turn out that way. Paradoxically, the increase in digital communications and isolating effects of “screen time” have magnified the value of and our craving for live, face to face interactions. Trade shows, conferences, networking events, and vendor-sponsored gatherings like roundtable dinners and road shows provide opportunities to have rich conversations and build trust in ways electronic communications can’t match.
According to Michael Brenner, event marketing works because “58% of marketers consider conferences, trade shows, and other events to be important for improving the customer experience (and, among B2B marketers) 67% believe events are their most effective content tool.” Nearly a third of marketers report that they devote 21% or more of their overall marketing budgets to event marketing.
Contrary to the worries of its impending demise a decade ago, event marketing has rebounded strongly and continues to grow, with 63% of marketers planning to increase both budgets for and the number of events they host or attend in 2019. Prospective buyers who may generally ignore your emails and avoid your webinars will likely talk to you at live events—and you’ll both get more value out of those conversations.
Amplify Your Content Through Vertical Websites
Across a growing number of industry segments, vertical websites are being launched that function much like trade magazines: they publish industry-related content, offer advertising and other promotional campaign opportunities to vendors, and may even host conferences.
The difference is that, instead of relying on a small stable of professional industry journalists, the content on these sites is supplied by a wide range of corporate bloggers, consultants, and other influencers. Vertical websites are essentially crowdsourced online trade publications. Algorithmically, based on reader response, the best content gets pushed to the top.
For example, in the human resources (HR) technology space, Human Resource Executive is a traditional trade journal. But sites like HR Gazette, Human Resources Today, and HR Tech Weekly are vertical sites that serve a similar audience with content produced by a variety of industry experts. Both types of sites serve similar purposes and the same audience, but vertical sites offer a new path for vendors to reach potential buyers seeking industry insights.
Today’s business buyers can be difficult to reach. Email inboxes are overflowing. The explosion in online content makes SEO increasingly challenging. Social media coverage is spotty.
But using the techniques above can help vendors cut through the noise, reach buyers when they are looking for solutions, and start mutually beneficial conversations.