Picture This: What A B2B Company Can Show (and Tell) About Its Business

Maersk Effingham, by André Hueners

So much social media and marketing content is all about the telling… or writing. From the consumption perspective, it’s all about the reading.

Now, it seems, the social prognosticators are telling us that content is now all about the viewing. Fackbook’s Timeline, Pinterest, video, and infographics are thrusting all things visual to forefront as the next social media “It Girl”.

True, visual elements are getting more attention. Before Instagram’s eye-popping acquisition by Facebook, its user base was 35 million. Alone, Facebook users uploaded more 170 billion photos.  Pictures have been a part of marketing for the last century. Who remembers the Sears Catalog?  It’s not like the Daguerreotype was invented yesterday.

Visuals also mean video. Look at YouTube and you’ll quickly see (minus the teen kitty videos and Star Trek fan remixes) just how much visual content we generate.

Even with this visual Tsunami, images and video are underutilized mediums by B2B companies. Just as there is a lot to write about, there is also just as much to leverage visually to better connect with customers and markets. Visuals can — and should — reach into every aspect of your communications.

Usage. Is there a way to illustrate the breadth and scope of your company? Check out how Maersk Group leveraged photography of its ships, containers and facilities and attracted 237,000 followers on its Facebook page… in five months. User engagement via Instagram was a winning strategy for this huge B2B company. (Tip: check out how Maersk developed its social program via the folks over at Convince and Convert.  But don’t let size  lead to intimidation. Look how this small boat building operation uses photography.

Behind the Scenes. One of the less flashy, yet compelling TV shows in recent memory is called “How it’s Made“. So, how do whistle manufacturers get that little ball of whatever it is in that piece of bent metal? The same can be said for your business. People want to know more about you and your company. Put your processes and machinery on display, as well as your people. General Electric asked Instagram users to capture GE products using the app, offering the winner a free flight to the United Kingdom for an Instagram shoot.

Demonstrations and Installations. B2B products are typically complex and/or sophisticated. Many involve technological solutions and advancements, whether it is machinery or professional services. Visually demonstrate how your products work. “How-Tos” and “What For” video and still content can help you solidify a claim of a new or improved product over a competitor; show ease of use; or used as targeted content help a propel a prospect further down the sales funnel.    

Visual Repository. For companies with histories that span generations (and maybe younger), reaching back into photo files can find a treasure trove of imagery that can communicate a corporate story and heritage. Facebook’s Timeline is geared toward this kind of representative story telling. It’s also an effective way to highlight employees and related events.  For B2B firms, showing people behind the brand can help further humanize the firm.

Whether you use shared images, compelling video, or pictures from your corporate yesteryear, pictures can help you tell thousands of stories.

In what ways have you used imagery in your marketing?

Appealing to Your Next-Generation Customer

Last summer I had a new business meeting with two twenty-something’s wearing shorts and T-shirts.  As an agency owner with more than 20 years in the business, I’ve had to adjust to the fact that now my clients will be younger than I am.

Not that I’ll start wearing shorts to meetings.  But it raises the question: will younger people want to do business with me?

It clearly goes beyond business attire.  So, companies 20 years old and older, take note.

What younger customers respond to is different than your current loyal base.

Why do I raise this issue?  Because we’re finding so many B2B companies still have no social media presence. There are misconceptions — based on a lack of understanding — in the B2B world about the value of social media.

It’s not just social media.  It’s corporate responsibility.  The concept of sharing information.  Giving to receive.  These are new paradigms, especially for older, successful companies.

Yes, you can rely on your traditional communications/marketing methods, up until your current customer base retires.  But if you’re not by now at least looking into some of the more ‘hip’ tools, in three to five years, you will be sorely behind the marketing curve.  And that will be the least of your worries.

More problematic will be having lost the opportunity to forge new relationships with younger customers.

Making a Customer for Life

Many of our clients (and well as Element-R) have long-standing relationships with customers who are uber-loyal.

I learned while doing PR in the medical field (where most standard PR tactics don’t work) the value of forging relationships early on, even at the college, graduate or medical school level.  By simply providing training materials and an expert speaker, we were able to have impact before the medical students became product specifiers.

So start now in reaching out to your customers to establish that loyalty.  Understand them.  How they are different.  How they want to be communicated with.  What they respond to.  Get out of your marketing box.

Case in point:

Last week the Wall Street Journal’s story, “Super Size Me Generation Takes Over at McDonald’s,” tells the story of Travis Heriaud, the 30-year-old son of a McDonald’s franchisee trying some new tactics with his own new restaurant, at a cost of $50,000.

As part of the grand opening, he incorporated a book giveaway for children, and a parade of zoo animals.

The father was skeptical.  But in just one year, the new McDonald’s (which has continued its unusual tactics) has exceeded corporate sales projections by 50 percent.

Needless to say, those ideas and others from next-generation owners are taking hold at other McDonald’s, with things like later evening hours, recycling bins, bringing in junk food critic mommy-bloggers for a tour of the kitchen, visiting schools to talk to kids, reading programs and back-to-school give-aways.

Heriaud wanted to demonstrate from day one that his restaurant “aimed to be part of the community,” noting, “we have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens.”

Customers are noticing.  Make sure yours will, too.


The One Step to One-Up Your Competition

Every business asks itself: how can I better compete?  My products or services are competitive – heck, they’re better than competitors!  They are priced right.  Customers are happy.  What more can we do to attract customers?

Even breakthrough products face this challenge.

A recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal addressed this succinctly, talking about AOL.com as the first to market with a social network – a service which is now, of course, failing in the social network department due to Facebook’s prominence.

If AOL had millions of members back in the late-90s, long before Facebook launched in in 2004, what went wrong?

Ignorance of the value of the communities its members were creating.  “Not using the service the ways its customers did,” according to the author, a former AOL employee.  Instead, AOL put the emphasis on attracting advertisers to its content.  They didn’t “get it.”

This is a lesson that translates to marketing.

    • How deep is your grasp of your customers’ use of, and experience with, your product or service? (Be honest!)
    • Do you understand the business value/implications of their purchases of your product, versus others?
    • Are you ignoring the potential community that could be built for your customers?

As we’ve seen with the wild success of Facebook, people want to belong, for personal and business purposes.  This was proven in business long ago by IT companies who have vital user communities.

The overall takeaway is that engagement with a product or service is not about what the company thinks, but what the customer thinks.

Exploit that in all of your marketing efforts (as previously discussed in this blog) – even if you aren’t ready to develop a community – and give yourself a competitive edge.


Dig Within Your Organization for a Stronger Sales Story

The credit crunch is real, but according to one company recently quoted in The Wall Street Journal, “We don’t need loans, we need sales!”

Typically, marketing budgets are often reduced in a downturn.  But the need for sales – to generate demand – remains.  What to do? Take stock of your marketing messages.

Some companies are so busy trying to sell (with or without marketing support), they’re not taking the time to uncover value that might be buried within the company. The New Year is the perfect time to do some head-down thinking about how you are presenting your company.

Initially, talk to your best customers about why they buy from you. What makes them tick when it comes to your offering?  Do a deep dive to uncover all aspects that are relevant to them. Their answers may surprise you.

Also, engage your front line, the sales team. What are they communicating that resonates best with prospects? Think of several ways to get those messages out to the market.

There’s a simple Q&A exercise we often use with our clients to expand their thinking about how they market themselves.  Some of the questions include:

What value do you provide to customers outside of the product and service itself?  Do you educate and supply resources relevant to their industry?

What else are you really selling?  Are you selling trust?  Teamwork?  Faster delivery?  Excellent services?  Cost-savings? Expertise?  Make a list.  Why should customers keep buying from you?

What results are you helping them deliver to their customers? Is what you’re delivering having an impact? Are there internal results, like greater efficiencies, labor-savings, and the like?

What about their larger business environment — their problems and goals? Ask what business problems are you helping the customer solve.  Again, think about what goes beyond the product or service itself.

If any part of the value you deliver is related to real expertise, your advice and knowledge is worth just as much as your product or service.

What tips that can be shared about choosing or using your product/service?  Use proof points (read hard numbers) about your product and its users.

What staff member knowledge be tapped and shared?  Your employees are your brand extensions.  What they know can extend your firm’s visibility.

In what specific areas could education of the market be helpful?  Give your prospects a walk-through, an introductory session, or a demo on video, and capture the same content in writing for your website, social media and PR programs.

This line of thinking and brainstorming leads easily to a path of new promotional ideas you can use in any medium: online, social, PR, events and trade shows, webinars, ads, blogs, email and direct marketing, etc. And once you have your new idea(s), share them with your customers for feedback. They’re sure to make improvements.

With limited dollars, it’s more important than ever to analyze what you say, and how you say it, in all the ways you face the customer.

Social Media Explodes Intimidation Factor for Pleasure (and Business)

Dance and Poetry Slams let anyone show off their talents via digital and social media

As a writer, I’ve watched with interest the spike in popularity, of all things – poetry – as seen in “Poetry Slams” at venues across the country – and made accessible to all on YouTube.

The strength and power of the authors performing original poetry on stage – to wildly enthusiastic crowds of young adults—is remarkable to see.  The creativity and energy is inspiring to any word lover.

Along this vein, I recently came across a similar forum – this time for dance – individual, short dances again featuring amazing talents, in a format that makes it easy and fun to enjoy.

Contrast both of these examples with poetry books gathering dust … with intimidating theater performances, and you can only conclude: social media is opening up new modes of personal expression.

The relevance to business marketing is obvious: out with the old, company to customer line of marketing communication.  Each of us as professionals, and each of our companies, has a bold new set of tools for self-expression.

The ability for potential customers to find us – and relate to us – through media that may alert, inform, even entertain is proving very successful for those willing to express themselves.

If you’re not doing so already, explore your own personal interests and business niche, and go online to find how they are being played up in social media.  Then find your voice.  Let your business communications reflect your personality – or a personality for the company. Have fun (gasp), and you’ll find you are connecting to audiences as never before.


Hyundai’s Confidence is Showing Through Social Media


I’m in the market for good, late model used car.  While I like the idea of driving a new set of wheels off the lot, I dislike how much of the purchase price I’ll lose when they hit the street.

What make and model is in the lead that will handle two kids and a dog?  Not Honda, the Pilot is too pricey. Toyota would have been a lead off contender, but not today, not next year or maybe the next five.  Ford is coming back, but it doesn’t have a model that adequately suits my needs.

Like a lot more people, I’m looking at a Hyundai, specifically a 2009 Santa Fe — stylish, reliable and crash worthy.  With a family, I like to play it safe.  The company, however, is doing anything but, judging by its models, markets and marketing.

No Silver Bullet wrote about Hyundai’s different marketing approach last year.  So, when we learned about its new “Uncensored” campaign, we had to comment again.  Hyundai’s is exploiting growing confidence as a mature automaker and it is clear these folks are playing for keeps by eschewing the same, tired automobile marketing.

“Uncensored” captures what the car maker says are very organic conversations, unscripted, unedited remarks of drivers as they tested various Hyundai models in major U.S. cities this spring.  Now, a company would have lug nuts for brains if it were to air negative comments.  What’s notable is how the company takes the campaign two steps further.

First, according to the Hyundai press release,”125 non-Hyundai sedan owners will be given a new 2011 Sonata to drive for 30 days. Their comments will be posted – unscripted and unedited – on Hyundai’s Facebook site. The second is a multi-city ride-and-drive, which includes a video booth where consumers can film their drive impression and post video directly to their own Facebook page.”

Yeah, Hyundai has confidence… and some guts.

How odd.  A car company has me anticipating buying one of their cars, watching their commercials and searching out the comments on Facebook.  Better yet, amazing.

Measuring Against “No”

Talking about a new campaign, a client’s sales director recently said to me, “I’m the guy you call when the customer says “no.”

It got me thinking … this guy’s on fire!

We proceeded to have a productive conversation about all of the ways the company’s product solved problems, and provided ROI, for the customer.  Manna from heaven for a marketer!

And, an instant and provocative perspective to apply for evaluating content and promotional ideas – even brainstorming new ideas.

The first question to ask yourself:  How TRULY hard-hitting are the reasons you have for how your product or service fits your market?

If you were to use “no” as the answer to your company’s main pitch, where do you go from there? (A great question for sales training!)

To probe further:

  • How well are you appealing to your customers’ pain?
  • What about the ROI they can expect from buying your product or service?
  • How are you DIRECTLY addressing the real-world issues they’re facing?

Taken one by one and measuring against “no,” do all of your marketing and communications with your target stack up?

My guess … there is always room for improvement.

The Passion, or Human, Element

The purpose of what we marketers do each and every day is to find the most effective ways to educate, inform and persuade.

What I got from this sales director was passion, pure and simple. Passion and enthusiasm are almost as important as the facts we can present to support our sales pitch.  Passion comes from knowing our subject – not just the skinny about our own products or services, but our knowledge about the customer’s reality.

Passion also comes from personality.  We’ve all interacted with some really tremendous sales folks, and some not-so-tremendous.  How our pitch is presented, whether in person or some communications vehicle – can also convey that passion and personality.

So, what’s your company’s marketing personality? Is it coming across?  Can you better leverage it … capture a single rep’s passion … make it more interesting or fun … make it better than it currently is?

Where Are You Listening?

big-ears-front-150x150The gurus of social media are talking a lot about how the rules for communicating with customers are changing, and major marketers are starting to apply them.

The crux of the new perspective shared in a seminar given by Chris Brogan and Peter Shankman was this: Companies must switch from asking themselves, “where am I advertising?” to “where am I listening?”

Companies should listen more than they talk.  Because customers are starting to listen to their “human web” or online network more than they listen to what companies themselves are saying.

This blog has already addressed (at length) the need to take a what’s-in-it-for-me (the customer) approach to putting together their marketing materials; to hear and use what the customer is saying about why they buy; and, to share valuable or useful, versus sales, information.  All of this pertains to relevance — and being heard above the din.

Scanning the web for brand-related conversations is the newest tool in the research arsenal.   Interestingly, in Web Chat can be Inspiring (see article pdf ), listening via online videos has brought IBM to the “discovery” that “potential customers tended to care less about its technologies themselves than what those technologies could do for them.” (I.e., people were talking about meetings and conversations, not VOIP and cloud delivery models.)

This should not exactly be a shock to the system (should it?!?).

The point of the article is that IBM, as well as Harrah’s and Microsoft, are starting to base their ad campaigns in part on web chatter, using what people are saying in their ad themes, content and even photos.   Then, they’re using the same Web tools to measure reaction and further hone their campaigns.

The Human Web

Back to the human web concept … and enter Customer Service.  If customers are starting to believe more in their own networks, then every company’s job is to figure out what it can do to make people like it and talk about it. Improving customer service to the point of creating evangelists is considered key to this.

The second key is interaction. If customers are talking and asking questions, they are engaged and ready to buy.  Being part of that conversation is a better sales opportunity than any ad, according to Mssrs. Brogan and Shankman.

Companies can begin to improve their interaction immediately, in many ways, even without using social media tools like blogging, Tweeting or Facebook fan pages: very simply by asking customers to engage on existing web sites; or by creating user communities or customer forums; or by commenting in online industry forums and other blogs, for example. Every touch point can be a potential means for interaction.

See What They See

There are free (blogsearch.google.com and search.twitter.com) and paid listening tools.  Starting to listen via simple search tools puts you in the customer’s shoes.  You see what they see.  This will inevitably lead to a self-evaluation, and questions like, “how strong is my own brand presence online?”  Or, to the realization that “gosh, my competitors are everywhere!”

Yes, says guru Brogan, your brand presence online is a competitive tool.

He reminds us that Google is a machine that cannot share emotion.  A basic search can never express the human element of an “I just got dumped” tweet.  Think of your own personal searches for say, hotels.  I know the first thing I look at are the reviews.

“More and more people are asking others first,” note the gurus. A new part of our mission as marketers must now be to listen, engage, and build fans that do your PR for you.

Unlikely Inspiration: Hyundai Reinvents Its Products, Marketing (With Great Success)

The Genesis, 2009 Car of the Year

The Genesis, 2009 Car of the Year

In recent Wall Street Journal reports, things are looking up for one auto company.  But you guessed it: not an American one.

Beating last year’s worldwide decline, Hyundai’s sales rose five percent, and last week, reported that Q3 profits tripled.

What Hyundai is doing right is “a sustained corporate effort at reinvention,” notes columnist Paul Ingrassia.  Among the steps and wins he details:

– New QC initiative

– 10 year, 10,000 mile warranty to allay quality concerns

– Second-place tie with Honda in 2004 J.D. Powers Initial Quality Survey

– Genesis, its first luxury vehicle, voted 2009 Car of the Year, Detroit Auto Show

– Marketing Assurance Program allowing buyers to return their car if they lose their job with a year of purchase.  This initiative, part of its Hyundai Momentum campaign, led to Hyundai Motor America’s VP of Marketing being named Brandweek’s 2009 Grand Marketer of the Year.

Ingrassia points to several lessons for GM and Chrysler, recommending that both “make their marketing more relevant,” given global competition. (GM has recently done so with its 60-day money-back guarantee.)

A second Journal piece, Advertiser Banks on Blank Look, again features Hyundai, this time with a few bold advertising decisions:

– Buying all of the ad space in a newly-built subway station, and at three adjacent to it, plus in most of the trains, near their Seoul headquarters.

– Leaving most of that ad space blank, except for a small service icon and company logo; in other areas, “giant white panels have a pink eraser in the lower right corner and a short explanation: ‘The world is flooded with too many ads … For a short while we wanted to leave it empty for you.’”

The ads are the culmination of a 2004 identity campaign for Hyundai Capital, its consumer loan arm. Started by the company’s then-new CEO in 2003, the identity campaign helped the company re-position and grow its share from two to its current 16 percent.

This success “gave Hyundai the confidence to try its largely-blank ads,” according to Hyundai Capital’s CMO.

Inspirational?  Yes, and proof that a sustained internal effort to “reinvent” itself in response to market perceptions, plus the fortitude to produce thoughtful, relevant and remarkable (read very different) marketing, not only gets noticed, but builds the brand and impacts sales – even in tough times.