Story-Driven B2B Marketing - DIgital Transformation in action
Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) have a choice, embrace the future or cling to the past. To succeed today, they have to abandon mass-media thinking, and resist the urge to squander their budgets on trivial advertising or paid media. To compete, they must build teams of practitioners that are able to create content, not merely outsource work to agencies and contractors.
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How to Reignite Your Marketing Communications for the Digital Era
Does your brand message stand out in the marketplace? Does your narrative convey bold ideas, new experiences and customer stories that engage and excite people to learn more about your company? Has your marketing team fully embraced the tools and techniques of content marketing? Or, are your efforts still being surpassed by more progressive competitors?
Back in October of 2013, I published an editorial entitled “Why Social Media is Not Valued by CEOs” and promised that I would write a follow-on piece about how CMOs can recover both the control and the execution of their essential corporate marketing communications. While I didn’t anticipate a long pause before I would be ready to share my thoughts, I’m glad that I waited.
I’ve had time to reflect upon the root causes of the symptoms that I shared previously. I’ve also considered the key trends in my area of marketing practice — the Technology, Media and Telecom (TMT) space — and the most viable solutions to the biggest challenges. Truly, I see an abundance of opportunity, to rectify the mistakes of the past and reimagine our roles and responsibilities as marketers.
In the following, I’ve distilled some insights and wisdom from my recent experiences. Granted, these scenarios (and my associated recommendations) may not reflect your environment, but it’s likely that you’ll be able to find common threads where you can apply your own worldview.
Déjà vu: Been There, Done That
Can you relate to some of these situational circumstances? You work at a multinational company where the marketing communication practice hasn’t evolved significantly in the last decade. Your company’s marketing budget is still applied to ‘buying mindshare’ — only instead of purchasing advertising in trade media publications, now you buy ads on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Much of the content on your main corporate blog reads like an old-school press release. Numerous product marketing people within the acquired business unit (BU) silos at your company have launched their own product-centric blogs in isolation from each other. The publication of this dry, internally-focused narrative talks to the least-influential decision-makers. Nobody seems to care that little, if any, of this activity has improved customer sentiment towards your brand message. You know you can do better. One question remains unanswered. How?
Given that illustrative backdrop of marketing communications at many technology vendors today, now consider these examples of the upside potential for change — a marketing breakthrough.
First, move past denial, and accept the reality:
- Applying old, tired inside-out legacy mass-marketing thinking to the online medium isn’t likely to result in progress. Move on: it’s time for fresh thinking and learning new skills.
- Traditional trade media will continue to disappear. People won’t miraculously start to pay attention to your inert online ads. Step up: self-publishing substance is the new normal.
Marcom Strategy Development
Distinctive Point of View — Effective marketing communications starts with compelling ideas. If your narrative appears to be virtually identical to all the other companies in your space, then you will struggle to convey any real value-added benefit. Invest the time and effort to get to the heart of why customers choose your company, given the alternatives. Moreover, if the components of your product and service portfolio are unknown to current customers, then revisit your core competency messaging. Multinational companies that have acquired numerous start-ups tend to experience a prolonged period of messaging chaos. Those same organizations strive to adapt their narrative as they attempt to move up the value chain, but they fail to address the information needs of different stakeholders during the buyer’s journey. Your marketing communications must build upon a solid and substantive messaging foundation. Be courageous — dare to be different.
Managing Editor Guidance — You’re likely missing opportunities to present a compelling and cohesive strategic storyline that includes all related aspects of your product and service portfolio. The whole company could benefit from the guidance and mentoring that would result from the adoption of a Managing Editor(s) role, for ongoing editorial content development across BUs; for better search engine optimization; and for consistent social media amplification. Current symptoms might include single-dimension blog posts that lack the inclusion of related product/service components; lack of backlinks to product/service landing pages; lack of cross-links to other related prior blog posts; lack of primary topic keywords in the post title; story structural problems (clear beginning, middle and end of the narrative). Tell better stories — hire a proven commercial storyteller.
Story World for Content — An effective way to influence the production of more outside-in oriented content is to produce a market-centric ‘story world’ map. Armed with a plan, you’re now able to position individual storyline elements within the context of an episodic story arc. You can describe your vision across the three phases of event chronology for the timeline — where we’ve been (hindsight), where we are today (insight) and where we’re going (foresight). Therefore, you could start by listing the main topics for an editorial series. Then you can create content that adheres to a more compelling content strategy — one that covers the full spectrum of topics that’s likely to drive more traffic to your website. Moreover, you must translate your core competency to better apply to the needs and wants of Executive Business decision makers — i.e. the Line-of-Business (LoB) leader.
Marcom Tactical Execution
Content vs. Ad Campaigns — You are likely spending a considerable amount of your product marketing budget on Paid Search advertising; this approach may not be sustainable, given the rising cost. You can foresee that numerous me-too vendors with larger marketing budgets will out-bid you for your primary choices. Bid prices for these keywords on Google Ads will escalate. However, you can reduce your current dependence from ‘buying mindshare’ with Paid Search, to ‘earning mindshare’ — with more meaningful and substantive content that will help improve your Organic Search results. Therefore, you should focus more on creative market development ideas, compelling content strategy and thereby focus less on how you’re going to spend your limited available budget on Ads. Just because it’s easier to buy Ads shouldn’t make it a priority.
Commentary vs. Press Releases — You may still view communication within the marketplace through the lens of a legacy media relations perspective, and it’s limiting your company’s ability to effectively compete with more progressive competitors. Press releases typically contain carefully worded phrases to describe current events, such as product launches, using passive language. In contrast, corporate blogging is about opinion (thought-leadership) that more effectively conveys your forward-thinking perspective. Blogging, when applied in the correct manner, contains active language that articulates a clear and compelling point-of-view. To stand out, you will need a bold and decisive voice in your editorial narrative, to rise above the constant drone of other vendors. Therefore, your blog narrative needs to evolve. Be bold, be remarkable, and become influential.
Buyer vs. Sales Enablement — Much of the current content that’s being developed at your organization likely focuses more on ‘sales enablement’ (helping a salesperson sell) rather than ‘buyer enablement’ (helping a buyer procure). When the market becomes saturated with many “me-too” vendors and not enough informed buyers, you have a situation where actionable information is highly valued. Uninformed buyers need guidance on the right questions to ask during the initial stages of the procurement process. Buyers search proactively for content online long before they contact a salesperson. Besides, vendors can quickly become a trusted adviser (differentiated) when they help customers/prospects find the best-fit solution for their particular requirements. Therefore, you will need to produce more content that’s specifically intended to accelerate the self-directed buyer’s journey online.
Influencing Sentiment vs. Counting Page Views — Overall market perception shapes individual sentiment towards your company. Unique organizations that champion a cause lead a ‘movement’ in the marketplace. The best narrative effectively targets the key buyer community within that movement, and is very likely to influence positive sentiment about your company. In contrast, typical vendor blog post editorial lacks a clear and compelling focus. In this regard, merely counting page views on a website is a pointless metric. Besides, rather than potentially squandering funds on trivial advertising, you can apply your budget to pay skilled freelance authors to write meaningful and substantive editorials (purposeful thought leadership that includes a call-to-action).
Just-in-Time Editorial Publication — Your CEO likely has a corporate goal to create a unified story for your brand. If you truly want to reach the larger addressable market for your offering, then you must produce more meaningful and substantive thought-leadership content on a routine basis. This includes publishing more frequently on your corporate blog. However, the current editorial draft approval process at your company may inhibit rapid ‘trust-based’ online publication. Therefore, your current review process may need to be streamlined, with the intent to remove any unnecessary steps and accelerate the remainder. By all means, scrutinize your content for substance, but not legal risk. If you hire smart writers, you can bypass the litigation filter.
Repurpose Content Archive — While you prepare to produce the buyer-oriented content mentioned above, you have a near-term need for content that’s proven to be useful and actionable. According to your web analytics report, a relatively small percentage of your published content is likely being consumed by its intended audience. In the absence of primary market research that defines customer/prospect content needs in the marketplace, you can use the current content asset usage data to identify the good stuff. You can then repurpose that superior content into other online assets (white papers converted into presentations, etc). Therefore, you probably need to conduct a content audit. Again, you’re looking for substance.
Mobile Media Publication — Today, more people discover new content via Mobile Search. You may have already invested in mobile applications, to directly share content with your loyal customers. However, it’s unlikely that Executive Business decision makers would download and use a vendor-specific app. In contrast, some mobile savvy executives already use the popular Flipboard app to consume a variety of content on their mobile devices. Flipboard has more than 100 million users, and many subscribe to multiple publications via the app. To attract and retain a broader business-oriented following, you should use content curation to create a stream of informative market research and related news clips, and then insert your own useful editorial into the mix.
Editorial Syndication of Blogs — Once you have achieved the production of more thought-provoking content on your blog, you can utilize other platforms to increase your market reach. LinkedIn Pulse has proven to be an effective syndication site, due to the business-centric focus of its membership. Plus, there’s no cost associated with re-posting your best editorials on LinkedIn. Posts can also be shared with relevant LinkedIn Groups that welcome non-promotional content. These public posts are also indexed by the GoogleBot. Therefore, armed with your informative and compelling outside-in narrative you can now start to identify content to syndicate in this manner. Also, once you’ve learned to master basic manual syndication, then you can advance to auto (via RSS) syndication on trade media sites, such as Sys-Con Media.
Digital Marketing Practitioner Community — Who are the most active digital marketers at your company? Do they engage with each other and share the results from their online market development? The answer to these questions is often unclear. If you’re like most people that work within legacy-oriented marketing organizations, you know there’s an apparent need to gain more skilled practitioners that are able to plan, design, produce and promote meaningful and substantive content online. Therefore, it’s imperative that your company begin to train and mentor more of the traditional marketing communication employees to attain the knowledge and skills required for the digital marketing era. If your marketing culture isn’t proactive and collaborative, then you’ll need to fix this flaw ASAP — the total impact of your efforts could become much greater than the sum of the siloed parts, when you collaborate.
Next Steps: Progressive Marcom Practice Development
Growth Hacking isn’t just for start-up companies. Savvy growth hackers are using techniques such as search engine optimization, website analytics, content marketing and A/B testing to gain a competitive edge, thereby rapidly increasing the depth and breadth of their influence in the marketplace. Join the GrowthHackers online community to learn more about these techniques.
Become a lifelong learner; do it now. The longer you wait to elevate your digital marketing skills, the harder it will be to catch up to the market leaders in your industry. Investing now in digital marketing training for you and your team will pay huge dividends well into the future. Launching a mentoring program will also ensure that your marcom team members apply what they learn.
Take a fresh look at your corporate website. Remember, offering a superior customer experience must include addressing the unique information needs of different stakeholders (i.e. target personas). You already know that solving the global multilingual challenge requires a strategy — one site, segmented by language, or many sites. Likewise, multi-stakeholder engagement also requires a strategy — one site, or the addition of a microsite dedicated to C-level executive decision makers. Either way, the narrative targeted at a low-level technical decision maker is unsuitable for C-level stakeholders. Parse your narrative; don’t be lazy.
Raise the bar of expectations; say something that’s truly remarkable, and don’t let your best commercial narrative get lost in translation. Seek the guidance of someone who is skilled in the language of senior management — a digital marketing practitioner that has proven experience creating a powerful message that’s in the vernacular of bold strategic business outcomes. Why settle for anything less? Take action now, and reignite your marketing communications methodology for the 21st Century.
David H. Deans | Principal Consultant and Founder of GeoActive Group
Why CMOs Choose GeoActive Group: we offer proven mastery of technology, media and telecom marketing strategy, market development plans, multi-channel programs, commercial storytelling, digital product marketing team training and personalized skills mentoring -- all based upon market analysis and sales enablement.