Forget about content. Focus on value.

When done well, content can facilitate conversions. In fact, according to DemandMetric, content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and produces three times as many leads. Equally important is its ability to move business buyers down the purchase path, culminating in purchase and brand advocacy.

So what could possibly go wrong? One word: Value.

In the zeal to create mounds of content, marketers often fail to consider whether their audience actually wants it. They overlook the need to add value, and make it useful or actionable. Here are three ways to make your content more valuable in the business marketplace:

  1. Define value for your audience

Business buyers love content because they perceive they’ll get something out of it. Make sure they do. Any content you produce should educate, inspire or entertain. It should encourage sharing and make the recipient look smarter or more plugged into their job. If not, it’s just more advertising.

  1. Create content that aligns to your audience’s interests

Never publish content simply to get your name out there. That’s a monologue. Instead, formulate a content strategy that a) takes into account what’s on the minds of your audience b) adds your brand’s unique POV to this discussion in way that creates value and c) clearly links your efforts to your overarching business goals. By connecting relevant content to your business goals, you can better engage audiences with topics that matter to both of you.

  1. Match content to the purchase path

Just as you integrate brand communications (ads, PR, digital, tradeshows) to reach buyers at key stages along the b2b purchase path, it’s critical to develop different content for key points of the buyer journey.

For example, early-stage content should simply get you into the consideration set (“What type of packaging is right for my product?”). Middle-stage content should focus on your audience’s specific area of interest that directly relates to your brand (“Why standup pouch packaging is ideal for soups and sauces”). And late-stage content confirms the buyer’s choice to do business with you (“How one standup pouch design has grown by 30% in the last three years”).

Keep in mind these three ideas and you’ll soon discover that a little quality content goes much further than volumes of unfocused whitepapers, blogs or infographics any day.

Five Ways to Maximize Your Media Budget at Any Level

Maximize Media Budget

The marketing world seems to be getting more challenging and competitive by the day. Marketers know they must make every dollar count – whether the budget is in the thousands or the millions. The goal is to deliver disproportionate return on your investment. Here are some key approaches and tips to do just that.

  1. Don’t just target. Pinpoint.

Every marketer wants to reach –  and persuade – the largest percentage of their target audience they can. But casting a wide net can be the wrong approach. First, it generates a superficial and homogenized view of your buyers (“Purchasing Agents,” anyone?). Second, it’s hard to do an effective job of reaching such broad swaths of decision makers. Instead, we recommend identifying more richly defined target groups inside that comprehensive segment.

Hone in on your most likely and most profitable buyers by segmenting and targeting with specific filters. Consider SIC code or zip code targeting. These tactics work in both digital and traditional media channels. You can concentrate your media dollars against your most promising buyers, based on type or location of business. Online you have the chance to augment your marketing efforts with true hyper-targeting – serving up messages to prospects who visit competitors’ websites, search for trending industry topics, show an interest in specific type of product, etc. This will elevate your media plan and enable you to reach outcomes like generating more and better leads, raising brand awareness and driving content engagement.

  1. Set the right goal posts.

When measuring media performance, do not just use basic or customary measures. Understand how success looks for you and use the most relevant and specific metrics to track it. Key performance indicators (KPIs) should not be a laundry list, but instead clearly linked to brand or business objectives. At Mobium, we use a buyer purchase process model to set KPIs at each phase that correlate to that phase’s main objectives. This ensures that all media performance is measured against its ability to ultimately convert the target into loyal, profitable customers.

  1. Maximize your owned channels.

Far too often, media plans only consider the brand’s paid media options. But most should consider their owned channels first. What are some ways to do this? Leverage your website by making sure it’s easy to navigate, clearly defines your brand, offers quality content and is optimized for search. Consider and plan how to use your social platforms to maximize your efforts. Look for ways to leverage your loyal customers to share the message with their colleagues and peer networks. Consider an email marketing program against your customer relationship management (CRM) system or customer/prospect database. In conjunction with paid media, owned channels can turbocharge your efforts.

  1. Invest in paid search.

Paid search is a great way to ensure current campaigns are fully optimized. Paid search reaches buyers at the precise time of interest and need when they are actively searching for your brand, product, service or category. This means you can be there with the right message at the right time. And if you aren’t, your competitors are sure to be instead.

  1. Don’t get too thin. Or too thick.

In today’s fragmented and complex b2b media ecosystem, it can be tantalizing to try many different tactics and media types. When planning your media strategy, make sure you are expanding out into new vehicles and platforms judiciously. Concentrate on channels that allow you to be targeted while reaching prospects at an impactful frequency. Don’t rely on just one channel to achieve your objectives — the media landscape is not consumed like this. When adding new media and tactics, try testing and experimenting to see what’s working before rolling out and committing bigger dollars. Finally, make sure your message is consistent across all your channels and that all channels align with how your target engages with various media on a daily basis.

Take the time to understand how your brand objectives, buyer interests and media options intersect and you’re on your way to getting the best bang for your marketing buck.

Convincing the Committee

Unless you’re talking to one-person companies based in their parents’ basements, chances are pretty good that your b2b branding efforts will need to reach multiple decision makers within every prospective target.

Whether it’s a formal “purchase committee” or an ad-hoc group of key stakeholders, addressing various titles and points-of-view is a challenging fact of life for b2b marketers—one that our consumer branding counterparts don’t often share.

So how do you successfully run the decision gauntlet and get your product or service on the prospect’s short list?

Know the roles

Within every b2b category—from software to manufacturing—you’ll find four basic roles involved in green-lighting major purchases. These include:

The gatekeeper—resistant to change; looks for reasons not to make a decision or embark on the RFP process

The recommender—usually the company’s change agent; sees an opportunity to solve a challenge by bringing in new technologies or service providers

The influencer—the well-respected, seasoned professional whose opinion matters and who can bolster the case of either the gatekeeper or the recommender

The approver—typically the c-level executive or senior manager who will write the check…and hope for the best

Which titles correlate to each role? It depends on the organization, the product or service, and the category, but procurement, IT, operations, engineering, HR, sales/marketing and the c-suite are all fair game somewhere along the purchase cycle.

Know the motivations

With this cast of characters to appease, it’s critical that any b2b marketing communications program offers something for everyone. A single website or all-encompassing sales presentation simply won’t cut it.

Do your homework.
Conduct research across every decision-making function. Know how each role approaches their job. What perceptions do they have of your product or category? How much information do they need to make decisions? Where do they look for this information?

Slice and dice your messaging
Don’t talk to procurement the same way you talk to marketing. Create the right media mix to answer all their questions—from emotive, impactful high-level videos to detailed technical specifications in a catalog or brochure. Each prospective purchaser needs to walk away with information in the format they seek or they won’t believe your brand fits their needs.

Stay on brand
Of course, just because the purchase process means you’re talking easy installation with IT, service agreements with procurement and ROI with the COO doesn’t mean you walk away from your core brand messaging. All of the perception-building done with each role still needs to connect back to your brand. And, as we all know, a strong brand is never all things to all people.

Know the messages

Once you understand that virtually every b2b purchase decision is made by some sort of committee, you can map your messaging to the individuals. Around here, we call it a purchase process matrix: a simple chart that lists title, role, and key message.

In a typical business, key messages will break out like this:

The gatekeeper
wants to know about pricing, service agreements, length of contracts and all the functional details that go into the purchase price.

The recommender wants to be assured that his or her decision to promote the product or service within the organization will do two things. First, it will positively impact the business and make life easier/better/more efficient for all concerned. Secondly, it will reflect well on themselves. In other words, they get credit for making the right choice.

The influencer seeks to solidify their status in the organization by backing the right product or service. They will take credit for successes and suffer blame when a brand fails to deliver.

The approver is usually focused on three letters: ROI. As the representative of the c-suite, any major purchase must positively impact the bottom line. So it goes without saying that somewhere in the communications plan are messages about ROI and the ability to impact corporate growth.

While everyone talks about how b2b and b2c worlds are continually converging, one thing will likely stay the same: Business decisions are made by committees. Consumer decisions are made by individuals.

And at my house, that individual is named “the wife.”

How many brand experiences can fit into your budget?

April 27 MediaAs b2b marketers increasingly use more of the many communications channels to reach their customers and prospects, it gets even harder for a brand to break through all this clutter and noise to get noticed.

Experience cramming

In their new book “Trend Driven Innovation,” several members of the TrendWatching team have coined an interesting phrase that marketers should think about: “Experience Cramming.” This refers to the idea of a brand “collecting and mixing and matching as many and as wide a variety of new experiences as possible to form a collage that reflects the individual” consumer or customer. In other words, creating unique and memorable experiences that help build awareness, familiarity and preference for the brand with customers and prospects.

While on the surface this seems like a more business-to-consumer kind of approach to marketing, there’s certainly plenty of application for the idea of Experience Cramming in the b2b brand world as well. For instance, many b2b brands have a show room where their products and solutions are on display and ready for demo to prospects. Why not use these places to create even more and better brand experiences that aren’t necessarily attached to a product demo? Host an industry event, conduct a seminar or a fundraiser for a charity, to name a few.

Technology brands tend to host an annual user group meeting that hundreds, even thousands of customers attend. But most b2b brands cannot afford such extravagance. The days of inviting a thousand distributors to an invitation-only REO Speedwagon concert at the House of Blues in Las Vegas are pretty much long gone and unattainable for the average-size b2b brand and totally out of reach for the smaller brands.

But the idea of creating numerous smaller, more affordable experiences is something the small to medium size b2b brands could probably work into their annual budget. The challenge is making these experiences memorable and meaningful to the customer and prospect. So here’s the challenge: sit back and think of some ways that you can create worthy experiences that “crammed” together help create a stronger bonds with your customers and prospects. Or perhaps call us and let us help you figure it out.

Marketing with a Clean Slate

flickr: bigbrand

photo cred: flickr: bigbrand

Over the past year, there’s been a number of articles preaching that b2b marketers should pay closer attention to how b2c companies conduct their marketing. It’s as if the author thinks they just discovered the Holy Grail:

  • Did you know that emotion plays a big role in b2b purchase decisions? So knowing these emotional drivers will help you be more successful in reaching the b2b buyer. Duh.
  • Technology has put control of the purchase process in the hands of the b2b purchase decision maker. (Marketers are no longer in control.) Double duh.

Luckily, Mobium has been talking about these things for over 20 years, along with a few of our smarter contemporaries. Guess we all just discovered the Grail earlier.

Consumer trends apply to b2b, too

Several members of the TrendWatching team have teamed up to write an intriguing new book entitled “Trend Driven Innovation.” In the book, they talk about today’s Expectation Economy which is “built on the convergence of three strands of customer expectations:”

  • Rising quality
  • Positive impact
  • Personal expression

These expectations give the buyer “significant power and control,” while business never seems to catch up to this “curve of accelerating expectations.”

Business-to-business marketers should read this book and think about how the identified trends might apply to their business strategies.

Clean Slate Branding

For instance, take their idea of a “Clean Slate Brand.” According to the authors, “traditional brand theory suggests that history and heritage are valuable assets that lie at the heart of a brand’s ability to attract and retain customer attention.” In today’s Expectation Economy, the trend says consumers “are now as attracted (if not more so) to unproven brands and organizations as they were to established ones in the past.”

The consumer expects these new, Clean Slate Brands to be “more trustworthy, ethical and simply better than the established brands.” In fact, the established brands (banks, fast food chains, big pharma) are now just another word for unsustainable, unresponsive, untrusted, un-this, un-that, etc.

A Clean Slate Brand is more than just a “new category” for the existing brand. It’s a brand that meets the expectations of the buyer through attributes that “are deeply embedded in their business models and practices from the start.”

As the b2b decision maker’s expectations continue to grow, b2b marketers should look at ways to develop Clean Slate Brands that are unencumbered by the legacies of their existing brands. That way, if existing brands can’t offer rising quality, positive impact or personal expression—or at least the perception of each—a Clean Slate Brand can.

In a commoditized industry? Unclog your brand.

Photo Credit: uncensored-frustrations.tumblr.com

Photo Credit: uncensored-frustrations.tumblr.com

Plateauing volumes, eroding margins, sales lost to that competitor with an inferior product. What you feel in your gut is probably true—the market views you as just another supplier. You’re becoming a commodity.

But there’s hope. We’ve helped marketers across multiple industries unclog their brands by following the principles outlined below.

Uncover customer value and differentiation

We’re all experts on our own business and can quickly rattle off specifications and product features and quality measures galore. But customers make purchase decisions to help them solve problems and challenges they are facing. Understanding those challenges – and positioning your organization to help solve them – is the key to unclogging your brand from your competitors.

The best way to identify those customer challenges is to simply listen. Whether it’s via a focus group, in-depth interviews or a quantitative survey, invest in the opportunity to gain the insights that will ultimately help you better serve your customers – and set you apart from your competition. Take care to listen without letting your current perceptions color what you hear. Insights are gained from assuming you haven’t heard it all before.

Assess the competitive environment

It might be difficult to think objectively about how your marketing materials stack up against your competitors, but it’s a worthy exercise. Chances are your customers are seeing the same jargon, the same clichés, the same stock images and the same product shots. If you covered up the logos with your thumb, would you be able to identify who is who? Probably not. And neither can your customers. Take the time to read through anything you can get your hands on and take note of the words or claims that are used over and over again. Then stop using them.

Create a unique and compelling voice

Armed with a new understanding of your customers and competitive environment, you’re ready to stand out:

  • Avoid the clichés and jargon your competitors’ use and speak simply and directly to your customers instead
  • Talk to them about the challenges they face and demonstrate how you can help solve them
  • Use case studies and/or customer testimonials as appropriate
  • Instead of leading with product images, be human. Show situations your customers can relate to or see themselves in. Your marketing materials should read like a conversation, not Advertising CopyTM

Help employees deliver the brand

So now you know what your customers are looking for, you’re avoiding all the jargon and you’re speaking directly to your customers about their challenges. That’s awesome! But there’s one more audience that should not be overlooked – your employees. They are the ones who come into contact on a day-to-day basis with your customers and it’s important they understand what your brand is, why it matters and how it shapes their role within the company. Consider having a fun event that explains the unclogging process you just went through. Follow up with a handy reference guide to reinforce they key ideas. Empower them to make certain decisions during customer interactions that will reinforce your company’s position.

Let the unclogging begin

This unclogging process forces you to look at youself and your competitors from your customers’ and non-customers’ points of view.

That’s important because in a world where customers and prospects control information, communication and the buying process, it’s in your best interest to think about things the way they do.

And ultimately, the process can provide direction to help you change the relationship that you have with customers and prospects.  You can more easily focus on helping them solve their problems and draw them closer to your brand on a deeper level.  This understanding of customer and prospect value is the key ingredient to developing a powerful business brand that sets you apart from the competition.

And that’s key to winning sales and getting paid as a trusted brand rather than another commodity.

Sounds complicated? Don’t worry, we can help. It’s what we do. Call me at 312.422.5942 and I’ll talk you through it.

The top five analytics mistakes

When it comes to measuring the performance of your ad campaigns and marketing efforts, it’s probably safe to say you’re swimming in a sea of data. But are you tracking the right metrics and using the correct data sets to tell the story you want and need to tell?

Continue reading: The top five analytics mistakes

Big Data! What is it good for?

Unplugged

Attended a marketing industry conference last week. Good program, typical of such affairs – some engaging, informative and illustrative speakers, but a few stultifying and worthless presentations.

A few of the latter, though, revealed a truth I hadn’t yet considered: “Big Data” is a crock of s**t. I waited three years for someone to offer up just one example of what “Big Data” is and how it might practically be used. Just one tiny, concrete example?

Didn’t happen.

At least three presentations on this topic at this conference alone. Every time, “Big Data” was defined as “data.” Not a single real-life example. Just “Big Data” is “data.” Your organization has lots of “data,” or can get lots of “data.” Because there’s lots and lots of “data” to be had. But you’re going to have a hard time making sense of this “data” because that’s the nature of “data,” and the difficulty apparently is proportionate to the bigness of this “data.” But this “data” – if you’re able to get it, make sense of it and use it – will help you do whatever it is you’re doing.

If I wasn’t such a gentleman, heckling was a real possibility.

Today, I strolled through an exhibit in a nearby building. The exhibit’s title hints that “Big Data” is being used for urban planning to shape the future of Chicago and other cities. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“What Is ‘Big Data’?” the sign asks, before answering, “Big data is a catchphrase used to describe the volume, velocity and variety of modern data generation.”

So “Big Data” is a catchphrase and not a real thing at all. Kinda what I thought.

If any doubts remained, one of the exhibit’s videos blows them away. This nonsensical tour-de-force is stuffed with hilariously inane sounds bites that lead absolutely nowhere. The video does, however, perfectly capture the detail- and specifics-free nature of the “Big Data” presentations I saw last week.

The quotes from residents and business owners of one of Chicago’s neighborhoods show that the community long has thrived and even enjoyed growth for the past decade. Now the “Big Data” people want to capture data sets on “celebrating,” “fellowship” and “activity” in order to attract more businesses, apparently.

All the blabberings make no sense on their own or taken collectively. The best is this from one of the many unidentified speakers:

The city is lucky to have one of the best data portals in the country and perhaps the world at this point, really granular data about where crimes are committed or where business licenses are filed or you can even get geometries for building footprints. That’s useful in a lot of ways. And so is comparing the city’s data with census data. The gap there is that the census data is out of date at this point. In addition to being out-of-date, it relies on statistical sampling, which at the end of the day might be accurate but you’re going to have gaps and you’re going to miss important information.

It’s funny, but sad. No real answers about “Big Data” here either.

If I didn’t practice decorum in every facet of my life, making rude hand gestures to the security camera above the video screen was a real possibility.

Look, I know what data is. We use data all the time. Certainly not data’s biggest fan, but it can be very useful.

What data might I be talking about?

Data that comes from research into your customer and prospect base’s perceptions. Data that sheds hard light on what they value when considering your product or service, and why they might buy from your competitors instead of you. Much more what they think than what you think. That’s the kind of data on which you can build a valuable, preferred b2b brand that can help generate leads, allow you to earn a premium and grow profitably.

So forget “Big Data,” a meaningless catchphrase. But, please, find out more about useful data and how it can help you here: Brandwidth, A Semi-Subversive Perspective on Improving Your Business Brand.