What works when it comes to digital? And how do we make the best use of the world's biggest (and almost) free resource – the internet?
- Understand your brand
- Tell stories
- Create engaging content, relentlessly
- Separate sales-marketing from brand-marketing
- Refine and perfect your funnel
- Just do
If you’ve ever been involved in any kind of business-to-business (B2B) you’ll be aware that a lot of the flashy, ad-centric, ‘marketing-mix’ that marketers obsess over aren’t really as effective as we all might hope. The first business I ever started was a B2B online business. We spent hours and thousands of dollars on a digital marketing strategy and branding exercise that ultimately left us with nothing more than empty pockets. A few years later my work with large B2B companies on their marketing campaigns has had many likenesses to this promotion I had done years earlier. However, this time the result was an immediate uplift in success and closure rates. So what was different? Simple. A better representation of the brand, tied closely with the sales process. When it comes to B2B marketing, especially in digital, your sales strategy and ability to build a reputable and recognizable brand is critical. If I were a business owner looking for help, this concept is one of the key points I would discuss throughout the process of hiring a marketing consultant. Here are 7 critical things that your B2B company can do to rapidly improve your brand, reputation and, most importantly, your bottom line.
1. Understand your brand
Understanding your brand takes more than a good logo and colour scheme. It is an understanding of the way the world around you perceives and experiences your business and the way you influence and control that perception. A popular article in the Harvard Business Review in 2010 stated that “the internet [has] upended how consumers engage with brands.” That was then. Now, the task is more than modernization, it’s about connecting with customers on things like ideals, values, and benefits. In business to business marketing, the role of ‘brand’ can take on an even more nuanced meaning: your reputation, perceived security, and prestige of any engagement all have a valuable role to play. In the world of B2B digital marketing (especially if you sell a service) self-awareness and a concise understanding of your brand’s customer perception is paramount.
Connect with customers emotionally, not just rationally, engaging in their ideas and values, and do it through the entire customer experience. When it comes to a head-to-head proposal, in B2B digital marketing, this could make all the difference.
2. Tell stories
What’s your story? And how do you continually tell stories that leave bread crumbs for customers back to your brand… Take a look at a few B2B digital marketing case studies that prove telling brilliant stories works:
- NAB. More than money (https://morethanmoney.nab.com.au/) NAB’s ‘More Than Money’ campaign strategically delves into the psyche of small business owners by showcasing their true motivations for pursuing a small business. Through an understanding of their core small business customers, NAB are able to tell a compelling story that appeals to their target demographic.
- GE. Tumblr (http://generalelectric.tumblr.com/ ) GE uses Tumblr highly effectively to tell a personal story of what their company doing and, most importantly, how it is changing the world in a big way.
There are so many clever and unique ways to tell stories in business, which is paramount to B2B marketing. This is why the self-awareness of your own brand and narrative is so important to get right. Positioning your brand with stories cuts through the noise and creates trust within your customer’s buying lifecycle by giving them insight into why you do what you do or the kind of things for which your organisation stands. It’s also a nifty way to gently position what you sell and the benefit it provides. Do the work to define, refine and narrow down that narrative so it leaves you with the key themes that you can use to tell stories and start boosting your social media game.
3. Create engaging content, relentlessly
Telling stories creates awareness, preference and, consideration for your brand by positioning it alongside engaging and relevant stories, anecdotes or creative content that is built for your audience. Content can also be utilised as a tool to drive your customer’s motivation (or aspiration) to buy. But content has to fit with you, it can’t be for the sake of it or you end up with low engagement and empty, frivolous content. If you build an audience authentically and begin to own your own media distribution, then preference and consideration can become social proof very quickly. Don’t believe me? CNN just gave us 25 million reasons to believe that engaging content is an important part of the digital economy moving forward. Niestat’s app was flailing. But he quit his daily vlog to focus on ‘other projects'; repurposing the channel with over a billion views and 5.5 million subscribers, “most of whom, don't tune into CNN" to join CNN and "build something new" says global Head of CNN Digital.
In the B2B world, this is applied similarly, but at a smaller scale with far greater focus. It might only take one user, one reader, one watcher; the right one, and you’re welcoming in a brand new account. Business coach Kerwin Rae is doing exactly that with honest content and a relentless “social experiment”. Using Snapchat to secure over $67,000 in 8 weeks. If this is a new concept to you or you don’t have the capacity to hire someone full time, get in touch with a digital marketing expert. These consultants know their way around content and can come up with a unique digital marketing plan, rather than a tactical strategy to fit your business and its sales process.
If there’s one criticism I have of almost every marketing team I meet it’s that they don’t understand or fully utilise the opportunities that new b2b digital marketing trends produce for leverage. Specifically when it comes to content. Let me expand and explain:
1. Leverage for scale
When you’re working with content, your main driver is to produce value. To find something that your customer is looking for on their buying journey and offer it to them in spades. What content production in today’s market can provide is the opportunity to scale simple content into multiple items and across multiple b2b digital marketing channels – tweaked to suit each audience. This is achieved simply by cutting up videos and reproducing take-outs, messages, blogs, quotes, podcasts and images into formats that are made for a variety of social channels, but also contextual to each channel's own unique audience and behaviour. Interrupt with Facebook, inspire with Instagram, advise with Snapchat and analyse with Linkedin. Giving you a rich brief to reverse engineer the content you’ve already made for entirely new purposes – without being mind-numbingly repetitive.
2. Leverage for attention
This other part of leverage has more to do with the traditional media mix than any kind of branded content. And yet, even in listed companies with mature marketing teams, I see the lack of leverage over-and-over again. If you have a large campaign spend, then make sure you’re also talking to corporate affairs or the PR team about opportunities to discuss the subject in the media. Perhaps even produce content to capture some ‘earned media' that complement the campaign. If you’re in B2B marketing, get your thought-leadership into 3rd party publications. In addition, cook-up something of your own, build your media outlet and give people somewhere to go, digitally, to consume more, read more and understand more. Next time you’re making a splash for more clients, think about how some of your spends can be put into PR, or better leveraged in your owned digital channels. Then review your operations and give your content the scale and frequency it deserves.
5. Separate sales-marketing from brand-marketing
Brand marketing is about awareness. Encouraging people to consider or prefer your brand over another. If you’re in the services game particularly, this is wildly important. But it has nothing to do with ‘closing the deal’. Sales-marketing is about conversion. Motivating people to act, enticing them to buy, call or attend whatever it is you’re trying to sell.
By separating the two, you're able to be consistent in the messaging and consistently convince people to be aware of and prefer your brand, while also being contextual to the customer journey as well as the season. Ensuring your offers to motivate customers are led by insight, in the right places, at the right times, toward the right people – who already have a preference for your business. And the best way to do this? Make sure your old-fashioned sales funnel is up to scratch.
6. Refine and perfect your funnel
The same 2010 HBR article mentioned above makes the observation that marketers should target stages in the decision journey. Instead of focusing on allocating media spend, businesses should make sure they’re aware of the journey their customers embark on. This is step 1 in a customer-centric approach to your digital marketing. When it comes to B2B marketing and digital, this is where the rubber hits the road. Long lead-times, constant contact, building consideration, demonstrating expertise, value, and benefit. You could do this with a shotgun and give everything to everyone… but if you’re genuinely trying to provide value and capture leads, then it’s important to give only what’s relevant and necessary at this stage of their journey. Do the work to find out the customer’s decision journey and ensure you’re developing your marketing and content around a funnel that has the correct stages.
7. Just do.
It’s easy to get stuck in analysis paralysis when it comes to content and social at scale, particularly for B2B digital marketers. Not to mention the leap it takes to move away from a traditional marketing mix to a philosophy that markets where the attention is (online). Once you’re commanding your sales funnel across customer segments and getting started on the production it’s easy to belittle such small pieces. In B2B particularly, it’s the regularity, and granularity of providing regular, meaningful content that is aware of brand vs sales at a scale that provides individual decision-makers with the opportunity to experience what you have to offer. So just do. And don’t let anything go to waste. The most exciting part of B2B digital marketing in 2017 will be the relentless and continuous execution. We're already seeing it develop across a number of early-adopter services businesses and personal brands. Get to know your brand, tell a consistent story, create content at scale, leverage your exposure and refine your sales process to include digital. Just do it.
By positioning a reputable and recognisable brand in a way to lean on strengths and is authentic, allows any business to create opportunities for sales to close. This is what was missing when I started that first B2B online business. I wasn’t prepared to see the whole sales thing through and the story was confusing and not all that compelling. Linking a reputable and recognisable brand closely with its own sales process itself allows B2B marketing to develop quickly and gives customers confidence in the product or service and the tools to on-sell these internally. So, in 2017, what’s your story going to be? What do you think of this article? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.