Tag Archives: B2B

What We Can Learn About Tech and B2B Marketing from Comic Books

3 Sep

My  deep, dark secret is that I like comic books.  I was hooked on super heroes the day my 5th grade teacher gave away his comic collection to his class, and though I stopped collecting years ago, I never stopped being a fan. I still follow the industry, and even pick up a title or two (or three) for escape or inspiration.

So with the planned acquisition of Marvel Comics by Disney making the news, I can’t resist the opportunity to combine my vocation with avocation.  And I’ve thought for a long time that corporate communications and marketing — especially B2B and technology marketing — has something to learn from an entertainment business like Marvel Comics.

The comics industry is fun to watch, and they do a number of things that translate into B2B and technology marketing.  To wit:

1. They remember that it’s about people. In comics, Marvel’s breakthrough was superheroes like Peter Parker and the Fantastic Four, who acted like real people with real problems.  It’s all about real people doing extraordinary things.

Beyond the product, your people vital are characters in the company story — from the visionary technologist to the insightful marketer (hopefully) to the customer service rep who goes above and beyond, businesses can grow awareness and loyalty by pulling back the veil and making the corporate more personal…and real.

2. They know that the customer owns the product. At a company like Marvel that has shared the soap opera of its character’s lives for nearly 50 years, the editors and creators clearly recognize that the characters and stories live in the hearts of the fans.  They are stewards of the story, responsible both to respect what came before, and to innovate in ways that keep the stories vital and break new ground.

There’s a parallel in B2B and technology — every purchase impacts the livelihood of the purchaser. It may be a part of their day to day business, or fuels productivity.  The customer, in other words, is invested in your success. So it’s only natural that they want to be respected and heard.  It’s why users groups and conferences are so important for many tech businesses, and why companies that are socially engaged in their markets tend to be more successful.

3. They know that being social gets results. Comic books are largely sold in specialty stores and online rather than through mass market retail.  Comic publishers like Marvel deal constantly with the push and pull of B2B channel marketing — their audience is store owners as much as the comics fan — often simultaneously.  Their channel to the audience is an often bewildering array of online and traditional magazines, national and regional cons, fan blogs, gossip columns, discussion forums, social networks and even a couple national newspapers.

The result is an industry where the channel, fans and media are incredibly close to the creators, editors and publishers. You get weekly interviews with the Marvel editor-in-chief, a teriffic ‘inside baseball’ blog by their executive editor, Q&A’s with writers on major storylines via podcasts and text, individual creator websites and forums, writers’ Twitter feeds…et cetera.  They produce news themselves, and participate in the hurly burly of the media market.

Of course, not every business generates the kind of passion that comics do.  The point is, they’re out there participating. And they are out there producing.  As a media business, they recognize that they have something to say every day, their customers have something to say every day, and they use all the tools available to say it.

Any other secret or not-so-secret comics fan/marketers out there?  What say you?

Social Media for B2B–3 Ways to Take The First Steps

10 Apr

I picked up on a conversation a couple months ago about the role of social media in B2B companies. I noted that most B2B companies don’t feel like they have the resources to do justice to “the basics”, let alone start experiments in social media.  These companies, I suggested, should be reevaluating what they do today, and rethink the what they are getting for their communications investment…or, as Amber Naslund asked on her Altitude Branding blog, “Should the Basics Evolve?”

This topic seems to be popping up again in my conversations.  The answer clearly is yes, the basic “blocking and tackling” of PR and marketing communications — news releases, sales sheets, brochures, newsletters and the website — are evolving rapidly.  But perhaps not as fast as some would think.

For example, based on one inquiry, I did set up Twitter, blog and general web searches to see where conversations were happening around their issues.  The return was minimal.  The online, social media-type conversations just weren’t happening.  In other words, some industries just aren’t there yet. 

Now this is certainly an opportunity — fertile ground to be a leader that gets people talking — because the B2B audience is certainly online (they’re just not always talking about work).  But in a world of limited resources, it doesn’t have to be.  And as any responsible consultant will tell you, social media is different — you don’t dive in headfirst without testing the waters. This isn’t one-to-many mass communications — this is community and conversation.  Communities take on a life of their own and conversations can take surprising turns … truths that can take some time to absorb.  

But, the basics are evolving … as they have to accommodate the web and as they will again to accommodate the way people consume social media.  If I were inside a B2B company today re-assessing the basics today, I wouldn’t dive in headfirst. I’d start by looking at the following; tarting here will get your organization headed in the right direction, and gets your building blocks in place so that you can make smart choices — will I lead my market into social media or follow them? Or, will I be there when they get there?

1. Is my website a brochure, or a destination? Our web presence should be more than our products artfully presented. It should include a place where customers find insight on the kind of work they do with you.  For example, you can feature articles about the the company or industry trends on the home page.  You can create a regular space for featured news that goes beyond news releases toward and toward opinions, tech or how-t0 insights and audio or video features. 

This approach offers multiple benefits.  First, new and relevant content will improve search engine rankings, so more of the right people find you.  Additonally, it positions your company as a part of conversations going on across the web — engaging potential customers and keeping you top of mind with current ones. 

2. Am I meeting my market where they are?  For example, are our customers reading the email newsletter?  Are we tracking this?  Many business buyers and influencers are finding — and appreciating — new ways to follow companies and brands — from RSS feeds to mobile phones to Facebook.  When you start regularly adding new feature content to the site, get it to the customers in ways they want, and in ways they they can react by contacting you or sharing what they like.

At minimum, give visitors the chance to a) subscribe to updates via RSS or email; and b) share what they like with others.  This allows you to interact with a larger audience in ways you haven’t before. And it gives potential customers the control they want over their relationship with the company–there’s no cost to you, and they can enter the sale cycle when they’re ready.  These features are extremely simple to implement.  

4.  How are people using the website? Where does the traffic go on the website?  What’s most popular? What should be popular but isn’t? Are visitors being tracked and channeled appropriately and effectively to sales lead capture? If this information isn’t easy to obtain today, it should be.  

3.  Do I know what people are saying ‘out there’?  Every B2B marketer needs to find out what conversations are going on about their company and industry issues online.  This can be involve setting up Google News alerts, or aggregating news sources and searches in an RSS reader like Google Reader or My Yahoo, or investing in free/pay tools from a simple  Filtrbox to a comprehensive Radian6 dashboard.  You can track Twitter on search.twitter.com or enter searches on the free TweetDeck.  

You don’t have to participate right away, and if there’s not much happening, it won’t take much of your time. But you’ll know. And as GI Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”

B2B and Social Media: It’s a Matter of Time

23 Jan

Social Media marketer (and Twitter rockstar) Chris Brogan posted a query on Twitter and an opinion on his own website on the differences between how social media is used in B2B and B2C marketing.  It’s a question I’ve thought about a great deal, after many client conversations with smart B2B marketers who are very interested in social media, but simply don’t see it as a priority. And they’re not totally wrong — in the short term, for many of them, their cusotmers just aren’t there yet.  But in the long term, they will be.  

Brogan writes:

“Think of this principle: “Be there before the sale.” Sales cycles for B2B products are often very long. When I spoke at IBM Research’s headquarters in NY, I heard about a supercomputer of theirs that has a 3 year sales lead cycle. How much marketing can one do in 3 years to move that box? Instead, how HUMAN can you be for 3 years, while going through the process. I think that’s where B2B gets a big boost from exploring these social tools.” 

And I agree.  As I noted in a comment on Brogan’s post, the B2B company’s role is not to control the conversation ‘out there’ but listen, participate in human ways, as you put it, and, at the right times, engage in ways that invite participation in efforts to help the industry that happens to be your market.

But I note that it’s important to respect the B2B marketer’s point of view.  And from their point of view, this can be a soft argument.   Again, as posted on Chris’ blog:  

When the typical channel-focused B2B marketer looks at his marketing investment, he looks first to direct-to-channel communications via literature and other sales tools, and next to PR — which, at least, gets you on the web — and advertising — of far more limited value, and their own website. Being seen online as human would be something to get to when there is time… and there isn’t time.

The challenge for organizations is that the marketing communications teams feel like they have no time to get what they see as “the basics” done, let alone do “technology stuff” in social media. What they need to do is step back and reassess how their organizations view the basics of communications. That reassessment has to happen across marketing, sales, product management and at the executive level.

The question they need to ask themselves is whether they want to be there as social media begins to grow in importance as part of the B2B sales process, or spend massive amounts of human capital catching up once it gets there.

Influencer Marketing and PR’s future — Courtesy of Media Blather

7 May

I used to start new client conversations — particularly with technology companies — with a discussion of what we then called “the cascade of influence” — that set of influencers from tech gurus, industry analysts, conferences, trade shows, and journalists who influence corporate reputation and buying decisions for customers and prospects.  Influence, we thought, would flow down a neat little staircase to the customer. 

Today, it’s no longer a neat cascade (if it ever was), but more of a web of influence, one that connects to our sphere of professional life among friends, colleagues, professional media, bloggers, websites, experts and others. 

Paul Gillin and David Strom of Media Blather — a weekly-ish podcast that’s worth a listen — spoke to Nick Hayes last week, the co-author of a book called Influencer Marketing, that offers a compelling and, perhaps, controversial take on how to move people toward buying decisions.

Hayes’s thesis is that the influence of the broad range of non-profits, management consultants, integrators, associations, regulators, user groups, etc.  makes up 50% of the buying influence on any given purchase — or more.  These new influencers aren’t necessarily publishing anything, they aren’t journalists or analysts, and often “prefer to be under the radar.”

Hayes advocates that PR people be deployed to go out to broader organizations beyond the journalists and analysts — moving PR from “press relations” back to “public” relations.  It’s a practice that takes a whole new set of skills, but builds on the ones we have today — building one-to-one, personal relationships, personal relationships; the ability to identify the needs of an audience, and communicate a compelling story with them.  

The answer to ‘influencing the influencer’ in this world, in other words, isn’t just a focus on media relations, analyst relations, or blogger relations.  It’s understanding the environment in which customers make their decisions. It’s giving marketers and PR professionals the mandate and responsibility to build relationships with a wide range of people and organizations who are important to the company’s sales success.

Hayes’ advice: PR should go back to its roots — find out how customers make their decisions.  From there, it’s relatively easy to discern the web of influence that will impact customer decisions.

Listen here and tell me what you think.

 

Social Media and B2B

11 Apr

If you’re a B2B marketer, the case studies for success with social media techniques are hard to find.  Sure, there are plenty of corporate blogs out there, and plenty of tech marketers are using RSS to share news… but if you really want to get real and cut through the hype, it doesn’t seem like there has been much appetite for social networking among true B2B companies.  In my view, there is a simple reason:  

Most people aren’t using new media or social media to do their jobs.

I don’t have stats on this. I do have a straw poll of clients and media that I’ve been taking over the past couple years. What I find is that:

  • most organizations don’t have time to read blogs, let alone write them
  • it is the rare client who knows what RSS is
  • most people are using LinkedIn for professional networking
  • most people don’t have MySpace pages or Facebook sites.

That’s not to say none of this is important. But B2B companies are being run by grown ups and grown ups aren’t using social tools to manage the buying and selling of products for their businesses.

Here’s what they are doing:

> Optimizing their websites for search engines and to make them friendlier to information seekers. Web search is the first cut for finding vendors; websites are expected to provide enough information to build a list of potential vendors.

>Using the webinars to reach out and educate prospect. The webinar has replaced the conference call and made it easier to reach prospects and customers worldwide.

> Turning their websites into news sites.  On B2B websites, you’ll find more front-page news, more opportunities to interact with the company, more fresh content.

What could or should they do?

> Turn webinars into podcasts.  Podcasts are a nice opportunity – they’re easy to listen to “later”.  They also can be used to lend some excitement and richness to a product announcement — how about a podcast with that boring partnership news release?

> Create community among user groups.  Social media tools are ideal for the traditional user group, which seem to be interacting mostly via rarely used online forums and annual meetings.  A B2B company could benefit by putting customers in touch with each other … and potentially with prospects, and social media tools could make this easier.

> Engage the media — and the market.  Give them choices on how to receive news — RSS, mobile, good ‘ol email? Provide them an industry newsfeed? How about creating a blog that lets you respond to market trends and news?

> How about being a blogger? A neat little online book called “The Zen of Blogging” makes the point that it’s not the blog, it’s the blogger. I’d say, it’s not the blogger — it’s just “you”.  Your company has news, a point of view, and a built in audience of interested folks out there.  The blog gives you an easy platform to respond to industry issues, respond to industry news, and highlight what you’re doing.  Whether you do it on the website or via a separate blogging platform, communications departments need to take on the idea of being part of a proactive, day-to-day conversation with the public. 

Sounds fun, actually. What do you think B2B can do…that will work?

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