B2B or B2C: These Days It’s All About Talking Around Your Product

Two examples of what I mean. Both illustrate the realities of what can only be called a new, skeptical age of marketing.
1. An entrepreneurial young man starts an executive dating company and it takes off. So much so that he is invited to speak on “The Today Show,” a stalwart national morning TV program that’s watched by millions of Americans. He’s excited and expects to pick up a lot of business. The result?  A few more visitors to the web site, but that’s it. Are you kidding? National TV and not one new customer? Only months later, after his company is mentioned in various blogs related to online dating, does my young friend realize a significant amount of new business. These blogs did not talk about his company directly… they were speaking about the problems of online dating and, ‘oh, by the way, there is a company that supposedly helps executives find dates’. That simple line delivered by someone other than a company spokesperson is all it took.
2. A now best selling author releases his first ‘how to’ book and does the usual talk show rounds. The response? Same as above… not much. But… the release of the book is blogged about on a very popular lifestyle site – ‘oh, by the way, has anyone read this book’? – and sales go through the roof. Literally 10,000 copies fly out of Amazon.
You see a pattern, don’t you? Cynical consumers do not believe most of what companies and their agencies say about a product. The idea of speaking directly to a possible consumer about your product is seen as ‘sales,’ as hype, as one step up from snake oil.
(One very important caveat: if you have the money to run with enough frequency, forget all of the above. Frequency works and it doesn’t matter if the creative is good or not. Keep showing the ad and people will eventually get on board – like Goebbels’ ‘big lie’ theory of propaganda.)
Today, consumers believe something when they get the message in a more round about way… which is the beauty of social media (because it’s the engine that powers ’round about’ information distribution). When design engineers, for example, are exchanging ideas on LinkedIn about robotics systems, and one of them says, ‘I saw a machine today that used Brand X flexible cables’, that kind of talking around the product is seen as real, unbiased, truthful and leads to sales.
If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months, I know what you’re thinking: “You always say that social media allows you to talk directly with customers, now you’re saying that companies shouldn’t do this?”
No that’s not what I’m saying. You can and should talk directly to potential customers, but about things like new technologies, problems and solutions, general industry developments. This seemingly ‘direct’ communication is actually a form of talking around your product. But as soon as the discussion turns to, “our product is the result of years of research, making the new XB-1000 a world class walnut cruncher,” you’ve lost the sketch and the customer’s attention.
It’s tricky… there’s a fine line… this is not direct response so new business isn’t going to develop overnight, it rarely does in B2B. But talking around your product (and getting so-called unbiased experts to give you the nod) is the way to go these days, unless, as I said, you have very deep advertising pockets!
What a tome I’ve written. I apologize. Let me put it simply.
If I walk into a party and say “Hi, I’m Nick and I’m very cool,” people hate me. If I walk into the same party an hour after two women were talking about how interesting Nick is, well… I’m golden.

A Simple Answer

Sometimes, maybe most of the time, we tend to over think things. It’s human nature… we want to know everything about everything before we make a decision, even small decisions. (I once took six months to purchase a pair of Fry boots from eBay: what colour? what price? what style? how much to ship? can I return them? I finally bought a pair and have worn them no more than four times in the past year.)

So, when someone asks “Why should my company participate is social media?” agencies and marketers and B2B gurus tend to reply with esoteric answers about the changing nature of the relationship between company and consumer, the rise of scepticism, any number of (often valid) reasons.

Here’s the simplest and perhaps most profound answer.

Approximately 50% of your best customers prefer to receive information via one or more social media platforms. This percentage is for the USA, UK and Europe… in some Asian countries, the number is much higher.

Case closed – unless you think this 50% isn’t worth the effort.

“Why should I be on Facebook?” – because almost half of your best customers are there.

“Why should I have a LinkedIn page?” – because almost half of your best customers are there.

Now let’s say it’s 1995 – “Why should I advertise in a trade magazine?” – because almost half of your best customers are there.

The logic is the same. There’s no complex reasoning. Your customers have migrated from trade magazines to social media platforms. As a marketer, you have to follow. That’s all the logic you need, really.

(By the way, does this mean you should abandon traditional platforms? No, the other 50% of your best customers are still there.)

How not to create your company website

One thing that really gets my back up is the lack of intelligent thinking that some B2B technology companies put into planning and creating their new website.  Particularly, given that a company’s website is probably the single most important communications tool required today.

I was reminded of this again recently during a credentials meeting with a director of a B2B technology company and potential new client for Vertical.  Having agreed the importance of the new website to his customers, prospects and international channel partners, he explained that we would only be required to design the site, and that a young lady in his admin department, armed with a GCSE in English, would be writing the copy, and a guy in despatch, who recently received a digital camera from his girlfriend as a birthday present, would be producing the photography.

Does this mean that all you copywriters and photographers, who studied for years to attain professional qualifications, since which time you have gained many more years of real world experience, need to dust off your CVs and retrain as office clerks or for a position in ‘goods despatch’?

I informed the director that no website created by Vertical’s professional designers would feature such copy or images and promptly left.  But not before suggesting that he should buy a copy of Dreamweaver for the lady on reception, whom I ascertained studied art at school, so that she could design the site.

The moral of the story?  Stick to what you do best….we do!

Our Reliance upon the web and electricity

A recent power cut reminded me of a major mistake many large companies make – hosting their websites on their own servers.

This is often a big mistake. Even if you ignore the fact that it would be much cheaper and quicker to find a good hosting company, there are the issues of down-time, back-up, reliability etc. Daily back-ups take time and often mean down-time, during which, the website is not available for public viewing. Often backups are done at night. Human users may not be visiting but an automated web-spider trying to index the site will record a serious error. Good hosting companies have virtually 0% down time and would be very hard to challenge in terms of web-page response time. Equipment used is often the latest technology housed in super clean, air conditioned, secured buildings – often with their own electricity sub stations! Forget battery back-up, these boys play hard!

I’ve worked in many dark basements, with dozens of geeky teams of IT technicians and every time there was a power cut or server down, you could guarantee there was short tempers and panicked faces. Sure, every one of us had set up a few servers in our day, but the point is, once a server is set up, the knowledge required to do it again can be left to get old and gain rust.

Leave it to the professionals.

Don’t go for one of those cheap or free hosting packages, go to a professional company, one that only offers web hosting.

Ignoring the 24 hour telephone support (often golden), there are many other reasons for going pro…

Comprehensive Control Panel

The user control panel should allow the web developer to upload files by whichever manner they wish, without the need for external help or special interface.

Server side analytics

Analytics allow you to monitor which web pages people have been visiting and how they found your site.

It is possible to embed analytics into web pages to monitor traffic; however these tools may delay the loading of web pages. Server side analytics do not delay page loading as they are generated from the server’s raw access logs.

Allows you to choose your own domain name

Many of the cheap or free hosts do not allow you to use your own domain name, simply giving you a sub-folder of their company’s domain.

Comprehensive modules list

It is important to check whether your web code will run on the server. Some CMS programs require specific software to be loaded and enabled on the server. If you are worried perform testing, possibly using a dummy domain name.

Paralysed by PowerPoint

What a great phrase, uttered by Neil Merry, a friend of Vertical. He was discussing the rather quintessential American idea of having meeting after meeting after meeting on the same subject, yet nothing ever seems to actually get done. He has a point, which was echoed in a recent IBM report (Capitalizing on Complexity). In a section called ‘Act despite uncertainty,’ the study authors reported: “… CEOs recognize that they can no longer afford the luxury of protracted study and review before making choices.” Neil’s point exactly… fewer meetings, more activity. Just get on with it!

Found on a marketing blog…

“In a former life I made a living doing research at the library and with a 2400-baud modem, pre-Internet. All these years later and somewhat ironically, I am not a believer in ‘big’ research projects when it comes to marketing and advertising.

OK, so now I’ve made myself a pariah to a lot of agencies that love to do research for the money it brings in and the time it takes. Research allows agencies and their clients to talk and meet and meet some more about potential strategies without ever implementing one.

Why? Because once implemented, there’s a chance of failure: the longer you can wait before you place your bet, the longer you can sit at the poker table and pretend to be a player.

I´m from a direct response background: there´s no pretending. Trust your instincts, take a stand, move forward, adjust to circumstances. Leave most research to the posers!”

He has a point. Research can be useful in launching a new product, for example, or when you’re rebranding a company, but too much can lead to catatonia and, in a lot of cases, just plain fear. You’ll never know everything. And you’ll miss opportunities waiting for that next piece of information.

When It Comes To Writing, Getting Started Is the Hardest Part (Here Are Two Ways To Ease the Pain)

No truer statement has ever been made. Think about it, the headline and/or opening paragraphs of anything take the most time and cause the most pain… because there’s nothing, nothing worse than staring at a blank screen or piece of paper and expecting yourself to fill it. Frightening.

In many ways, the pain and fear can’t be avoided. Think of it this way: if you’ve ever jogged or bicycled any distance, you know the first mile or so isn’t fun… ever. There’s pain and doubt and your body hasn’t found its rhythm. But at some point down the road it all begins to work, your breathing levels out, things are fine.

Writing is the same. It takes time to get your brain in gear and your writing muscles loosened.

But there are a couple of tricks to ease the pain and/or speed the time till you’re hitting stride. Both can help, but generally I’ve found that people prefer one or the other, depending upon their personalities and styles. (I prefer #1.)

1.    Think before you write! Too many of us sit down and try to write without having put any thought into what we might say. Make this common mistake and you’ll stare at that screen for hours and walk away with nothing. Take some time to THINK about where the ad or press release or article is going and don’t start writing until you have a clearer idea… save yourself the agony, doubt and inevitable self-loathing.

Most people think that writing is something like 10% thought, 80% actual writing and 10% editing. Pros know it’s one-third, one-third, one-third. On the positive side, that means less time sitting at the desk but more time thinking and polishing the finishing product. Cheat any of the three sections and your work will suffer.

2.    There’s a German saying, “Nothing makes you hungrier than eating.” Same with writing: the ideas start flowing from the physical act of writing itself. So, start your article and continue on, even if the intro is weak. Get as far as you can. You’ll see, the writing gets easier as you go along, just as jogging gets easier the longer you run.

But then, go back and rewrite your intro and first couple of paragraphs. You’ll be in stride, have a better idea of where the article went, so you’ll see how to actually begin. Almost every writer will tell you that the first couple of paragraphs are generally s—t and need to be reconsidered because they were written before the author got warmed up.

PS: I can’t resist taking a shot at people who have no respect for words and how difficult the job is. You know, “all you did was write 100 words, how long did that take?” Generally this is a graphics guy who thinks his image is what’s selling. If images are the key, how did marketers sell before TV or photography or illustrations? With words, you know, “In the beginning was the Word,” even God uses words and stories (ever hear of a parable Mr. Graphics?).

I did this once… in a room of salespeople, congratulating themselves on how well a product had done and convinced that they made it happen.

“OK,” I said, “here’s a new product (I had a sample box and product name) go out and sell it. If you guys are what made the first product successful, then do the same with this one.”

“We can’t sell it, there’s no information. What are we selling?”

I see said the blind man! Without the words, the story, the reasons behind the product you’ve got nothing to sell. They had an image, a picture and the product name, supposedly that’s all you need. Remember, they’re salespeople with an image in hand — they should be golden.

“So, was it you who sold the first product or me?” I said sarcastically.

“OK,” they said, “so write the new ad and we’ll start tomorrow.”

Like it’s child’s play to write a successful ad. If you can write your name, you can write an ad. I supposed they figured about 125 words would do it and that should take 30 minutes, max. So I gave each of them a blank sheet of paper and said, “Here, you fill the page. I’ll be back in an hour” and left the room.

Never got one word back from any of them. This ain’t so easy, is it buddy?