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Customer Reference Marketing in Just Two Words

Imagine your customer reference marketing could make use of just two words? Sounds lame, doesn’t it.

But if those words happened to be ‘Olympic’ and ‘Games’…

Whatever your views on the corporate commercialization of the modern Games, especially those of the 21st Century, it’s difficult not to be impressed by their global broadband telecommunications reach. Whether it’s via TV or the Internet, billions are able to follow the action on many kinds of devices.

For example, the winter Olympics just finished in Sochi, Russia and I became interested in their behind-the-scenes IT efforts.
Googling turned up Atos, a ‘Worldwide IT Partner’ – and how about that microsite page as a customer reference! Not only are the Olympic rings displayed in the header alongside the Atos name logo, but Atos’s tag line’s also there too – “Your business technologists. Powering progress.”

This CNET media article provided some breathtaking background about the IT infrastructure challenges faced by Atos and led me to seek out their corporate site, and the Games-related microsite page mentioned above. Of course, no single case study, or even a series of them, is going to do justice to the mammoth scale of what Atos are tasked with by the Olympic movement. And anyway, there are probably numerous security and confidentiality issues in the type of information that could be released into the public domain.

That being said, the Atos microsite does a fine job of connecting their challenges and achievements at the Olympics with what they can do for the corporate prospects checking them out. In the words of Jacques Rogge, former President of the IOC,  “The unsung hero of the Olympic Games is Atos, because without Atos none of this would be possible.” (Although he was referring specifically to London 2012, that message has been reinforced by each subsequent Games they have been involved in.)

The Content Relevancy Checksum

Mark Schaefer’s {Grow} marketing blog is one I keep tabs on.

He published two posts in January about the limits of online content marketing. They’re worth reading if you’re at all concerned about how prospects managed to find yours, and how some then make time to consume it. (We’ll leave digestion for another day…)

Mark’s first ‘Content Shock’ post is here and a followup addressing points raised by readers is this one.

In the B2B IT networking world I think that one major difference between mediocre content and the stuff people actually make time to read, and sometimes share, is ‘relevancy’. That got me thinking about a possible checksum, a content relevancy checksum (CRC, if you like), that might help b2b technology marketers get a better bang for the buck.

This CRC goes roughly as follows:

DA: The content message must show an end state or goal that the customer can see and understand. “Here’s your problem, here’s our solution, here’s what happens when implemented.”

SA: The content message and the people who deliver it must know the target customer, their industry, their challenges and fears, better than that very same customer. This requires research, planning, creativity… and time.

TYPE: It should be clear to all (marketers, sales, and customers/prospects) what the content piece is aiming to achieve, along with how much time and specialist knowledge will be required to understand and make use of it e.g. if it’s a white paper aimed at tech support managers then it should clearly say so from the start and not lead others into believing they must also wade through it in order to ‘get’ your solution offering.

PAYLOAD: The content’s length, delivery media, complexity and relevancy should be categorized so that anyone seeking it can do so effectively and with minimal assistance. The goal is to have the ‘back office’ aspects of how this content came to be, invisible to the reader.

Ping! Your message succeeds when targets are unimpeded by the marketing CRC that guarantees receipt.

 

Mark My Words

They shoot case studies, don’t they?

“On the client’s web site”, every corporation’s very own sunset boulevard in hyperspace, would be my guess, based on recent wanderings through digital real estate in the IT WAN networking space.

tokyo-sunset-case-studyIt’s ironic when what are supposed to be customer success stories end up tagged and bagged in the online equivalent of a pauper’s grave – the corporate marketing archive.

Here lies “content marketing item 95EH8-1.”

RIP.

How sad.

A busy b2b marcoms reader will be forgiven for wondering why any of this matters.

With product to sell and stories that tell (or is that now “show, don’t tell?”), maybe customer case studies are just another round in the magic chamber of customer acquisition targeting.

Then again – perhaps the thought of marketing passing out the ammo, and then leaving sales to pull the trigger, fills some of you with horror? Especially given all the blood, sweat and tears that go into creating a success story from scratch.

Fortunately, there’s so much more a case study can do when the story’s clear and present with MEANING.

For one thing, harried sales staff are more likely to remember them.

This is great because when talking with prospects, who very likely have downloaded and read relevant stories, the chances increase of the relationship deepening beyond the formalities of business protocol to include visceral and emotional connections. In my experience, people often choose to do business with those who best understand them (and, of course, have a proven solution for their problem(s)…)

A second thing concerns the structure of customer stories in the b2b world.

Prospects and customers understand that these are disguised sales pitches, and that the ‘characters’, the ‘story arc’, and the ‘happy ending’ are a case of all concerned putting their best foot forward. However, the most effective (and remembered) stories succeed because they capture a sense of the frustration, anger and concern etc felt by the customer prior to the white knight’s arrival (hello vendor!)

Note that it’s not the vendor who should be the obvious hero of your stories –  your customer always is. And not just customer in a legal, corporate sense. Few people care much for the discarnate identity of a business but many will relate to people in the eye of the storm.

For example:

  • the IT security manager faced with the nightmare of upgrading firewalls across multiple sites in different continents.
  • The WAN operations manager dealing with irate executives from HQ expecting same level video-conferencing service in a remote field office.

The list is long but amounts to people, roles and goals (and the latter is where the vendor should be positioned, through helping customers succeed and thrive.)

The takeaway here?

Each account rep should have a story bank available whenever and wherever they happen to be doing business. I think there’s a case (pun intended) for professional storytellers, with a business nuance, to train sales teams in the acting out and recall of key customer stories.

Check out this fascinating post by Shawn Callahan on annecdote.com about “how to remember a story so you can retell it.
An interesting use of the Evernote platform and smartphone app.

Marketing Science

I’m back on a social media diet. There’s just too much to do and not enough productive hours. Of course, in digital glutton mode I could use weekends to gorge on all those tasty-looking ‘spray and pray’ b2b marketing messages.

Well, no. Consuming an occasional tweet stream snack or Linkedin group morsel are both OK but gotta keep an eye on my expanding ‘waste’ line.

And I’m doing it with the help of this free and open source Mac app, SelfControl.

self-control

FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter and any other edutainment sites my index finger itches to click on to avoid doing any work – they all get added to the blacklist.

Of course the Smartphone is still around but I usually use that when commuting and want to mentally escape rush-hour crowds by skimming RSS blog feeds and tweets from persons of interest.

On one of these ‘work breaks’ I visited a LinkedIn IT Marketing group and became intrigued by this page from VansonBourne, a UK-based ‘intelligent market research’ company. In my line of work it’s always useful to learn more about both the buyers and sellers of B2B IT products and services.

VansonBourne’s 2010 and 2013 market research into the opinions of Purchasers on the buying cycle in a social media world are intriguing. I can understand how this group would want to learn more about multiple vendors’ offerings without contacting the account reps until they’re ready to. (Then again, many large customers are assigned account reps whose job it is to gather news of pending projects and upgrades etc.)

However, what continues to surprise me is why any corporate purchaser of IT stuff would willingly share their ‘secrets’ (and by implication, air an occasional and unfortunate piece of dirty laundry) via social media channels unless they were assured of anonymity. Think of the ‘career limiting’ implications should a competitor learn of your problems with a particular router vendor’s kit, or how much list price discount you managed to wangle.  But if your identify is hidden then where’s the value to anyone listening in on the conversation?

Now, I could be wrong <grin>. But if anyone knows the twitter/LI/FB handles of purchasers “spilling their guts” about all those b2b computer networking purchases, then do get in touch…

And if  social media’s a potential legal and competitive disadvantage minefield  to purchasers, imagine how the poor vendors must be feeling. So little signal hidden within so much noise. Add in yearly reductions to many marketing communications’ budgets and there’s a problem crying out to be measured and defined.

multimeter-marketing

Enter the wonderful world of social media marketing analytics.

This is a marketing speciality that VansonBourne noted will be of great interest to vendors aiming to have top-class marketing teams working with real world data.

I can see how people skilled in analytics, especially in how social media data signals/waves are measured and interpreted, will be of great value to the “do more with less” corporate marketing mantras.

However, the ‘problem’ of what information to create, and in what forms, and via what distribution platforms, has become like the Greek myth of Hydra. For every head loped off the ancient serpent, two more grew back. What if the rapid growth (and decline) of social media tools and their marketing memes continues to twist and turn for many years to come?

For example, will YouTube, FaceBook, LinkedIn and Twitter be around in ten (or even in five) years from now? Will online privacy go the way of the dodo? Perhaps artificial intelligence (AI) will advance so rapidly that vendors will assign one per prospect. Your (wearable?) smartphone becomes a marketing maven when you need it, serving up content snippets mined from your interests and those of similar customers.

A brave new world of marketing science awaits.

B2B Creative Nonfiction?

Have you ever read a b2b white paper that read like a novel – yet was 100% accurate? A veritable page-turner.

No, neither have I…

It seems to me that many marketing communciations professionals are hemmed in by the realities of doing business. There are oodles and oodles of legal, compliance and competitive forces that mandate how things must get done.

But I think these ‘business vectors’ result in a certain blandness to many of the white papers, case studies, blog posts, video logs and other ‘content’ that technology businesses hope their audiences will read (or is that consume?)

You can almost ‘sense’ the invisible mesh protecting the ‘real story’.

And that’s why I wonder how might fictional narrative styles be employed in the b2b marcoms world?

A case study series that uses narrative techniques, scenes and even a plot?

A white paper and its impact, written as if it was a three act play?

To be honest, I’m not certain how or even if these might work. But that doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

Technology business marketing is (ever) changing under the influence of the Internet and modern communications.

For example, b2b social selling is close to being potty-trained and about to enter preschool. (In my opinion.)

How will prospect and marketers get together in this brave new world? Not by drowning the potential customer in a flood of content they can never hope or, more importantly, want to read.

That’s why I’m interested in how ‘creative nonfiction‘ might play a constructive role in the business world. That Wikipedia link is a start. Now followup with this primer from the guy who wrote the book, Lee Gutkind. I mean, who can resist a book titled, “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.”