Want to Serve More Clients? Serve Up More Content

“Marketing is the lifelong process of educating your customers about why they should buy from you.”

This quip by marketing star Jay Abraham was penned almost two decades ago, and couldn’t be more true today.

It’s one of my favorites because it makes simple, yet very revealing, points:

1.  Marketing is a lifelong process

2.  Educating your market attracts sales

3.  Customers are just as important as prospects

It’s a concept not many marketers followed 20 years ago (thus, Jay’s urging), and one that B2B companies are beginning to get a grip on today, with the advent of digital marketing and especially, social media.

Educating your customer is important not only as a method of or framework for communicating — but also because competition is everywhere.

Consider the current plight of the Big-Box stores. Years ago, you had mom-and-pop appliance stores, and Sears was about the only department store around.  The smaller stores relied heavily on service and knowledge to secure and maintain loyal customers.

Then came the Big-Box stores, with their vast selection, low prices, and suburban ubiquity.  Customers migrated there in droves, and the smaller shops — lamenting that price trumps the personal touch — ended up closing their doors.

Now, it’s the Big-Box stores lamenting.  They’re fighting “showrooming” (buyers researching their options at the stores, but making their purchases from one of the many resources on the Internet).  And are they ever feeling the pinch.

Because your customers also find you (and your competitors) on the Internet … because they are actively seeking information and ‘comparison shopping’ before they make a purchase …because they rely on referrals from friends and colleagues … because they trust objective information – the degree to which you educate can mean the difference in sales, and, lifetime customers.

Educating your market – if you’re not already doing so – is an opportunity worthy of your marketing investment

So companies must ask: how well are we doing the basics of explaining the value our products or services provide? And, on what topics can we offer educational information?

The old standards for educating your market: Published articles, white papers, speaking engagements, just plain relationships, these still apply.  These were the means for offering knowledge.  What does not apply is the mindset of talking at the customer.

Today, we have the unprecedented opportunity to talk with the customer.  Author Dan Pink describes the fundamental shift in the customer/company relationship as the difference between the “information asymmetry” of the past, when companies had all the information, and the “information symmetry” we now experience, in which the customer has all the information. The customer is (sigh) no longer ignorant.

The digital age has allowed companies to become their own media. To be seen as thought leaders. To have their educational content (not just their websites) found online.  Between your own website, blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn activities, Twitter, industry, online forums, associations, blogs, etc., your educational messages have more places to be seen.

Beyond educating customers about your product or service’s unique advantages, you can offer insights about your field in general.  You can share value from others, industry wide; you can share best practices thinking to help them run their business, address a difficult sales issue, etc. – virtually any topic that you know would be of interest and helpful to them.

Information equals trust. Use it, or be prepared to be out-marketed by competitors that do.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

The Value of Being Merely Present in Social media

How does the old adage go? “Showing up is half the battle?” Something similar can be said for social media. Big things can happen by being merely present.

Bookshelves and hard drives brim with all kinds of information about social media ROI, and for a good reason. Any foray into social media (like any implement in the marketing toolkit), requires having a goal.  Without it, how will you know if you succeeded?

Now, by “merely present”, I don’t mean setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account and randomly posting self-promotional or irrelevant dribble. But neither do I mean an organizational upheaval to align a company as the prototypical “social business”.

What fascinates me are the companies, both large and small, that have done a little in social media and realized huge returns. Not through exhaustively, well-planned strategy and benchmarking, but with simple goals and objectives.

From personal experience, one of our clients wanted to double the amount of visits to his page within a colossus corporate website. Simply by sharing existing subject matter content to two dedicated LinkedIn groups produced an eight-fold increase in visitors… and by the end of the year, $3 million in new revenue.

Now, that’s all great, right?

To be honest, the client was using newsletter advertising and exploiting an email database to alert others to the available content. But here’s the thing. How much of this little social outreach program contributed directly to that result?

We don’t know.

The client doesn’t know.

What the client is sure of is that what we recommended and helped him execute had a hand in delivering dollars. For our part, we thought the issue through, used a little research that told us where to direct the content firepower, and applied what budget was available to hopefully make a difference.

Another example is our new friend, Kyle Thill, of Toyota-Lift of Minnesota. He took to social media simply because Toyota reduced his advertising budget and encouraged use of social media because it was “low cost”.

Kyle decided to pull from what he knew and what he thought his customers would benefit from: simple sharing of information that could help people who are in the market for forklift sales and service.

In keeping with that idea of low cost, Kyle stated that Toyota-Lift “can’t afford too many calories to be spent on analytics… If what we are doing makes sense, we’ll simply ‘do it’.”

It must be working. That simple sharing benefited Toyota-Lift with a 10 percent increase in sales last year and this. Again, there was no grand strategy, but just being present. And in Kyle’s case, a lot.

Looking at examples like these two, there is no direct, attributable line of cause and effect. However, effort and activity leads to some sort of impact, as some of these examples of social marketing successes did.

As our examples demonstrate, it appears the results were an essential mix of understanding where your audience is; an awareness of how they use and consume information on the Internet; and having some kind of benchmark and rudimentary metrics.

Honestly, we prefer strategic planning to flying by the seat of your pants any day.  But when resources are scarce, a smaller, but still smart, presence can potentially be worth far more than none at all.

What’s your take?  What social programs have you seen that produced outsized results?

Social Media Lessons from Chicago’s Top 10 Social Corporations

In the spirit of our new blog feature, the SMB/B2B Social Spotlight, we decided to share some important takeaways from the 10 Chicago-area companies said to be doing the best job of leveraging social media. The companies’ programs were detailed in Crain’s Chicago Business earlier this year. 

I found the comments in bold instructive. We focus on B2B, but these tips from several consumer companies may inspire something new for your own social media programs.

1. Kraft Foods Inc.

“When they want recipes, they go to the website.  When they want to share their passion, they go to Facebook,” says the senior director of consumer relationship marketing at Kraft.

Takeaway: Companies often struggle when it comes to posting to their Facebook pages.  Encouraging and/or finding new ways to help your customers share their passion is useful. For example, Kraft launched a “Share Your Latin Flavor” campaign featuring a celebrity chef’s recipes to get customers involved in the conversation – and increased traffic in the process.

2. McDonald’s Corp.

Our Facebook fans want entertainment.  They want information, but they want to see interesting videos, play games and participate in polls,” says the company’s director of social media.

Takeaway: How can you inject fun or entertainment into your Facebook pages?  Your posts can go beyond just talking about topics directly related to the company.  Find and post interesting or fun articles related to your industry (these are easy to find by just running a Google alert or setting up a listening dashboard on Google Reader on your product or service. You’re bound to find something of the right flavor there.).  Think about customers as people – what might they be interested in?

3. Sears Holding Corp.

“We want to stop problems quickly and act on customer feedback,” says Sears’ president of online marketing and financial services.  The company is using social media – Facebook and Twitter – as well as a customer review site called MySears.com.

Takeaway: Creation of a customer comment website shows the power of sites like Yelp.com that allow people to talk about their experience with a product or service.  (Why have customers broadcast their comments only on external sites, when you’re the best resource to respond to them?)  Sears also lets customers vote for which products they want to see discounted, and then runs the sale shortly thereafter — a nice way of generating interaction with customers.

4. Motorola Mobility Holdings

Succeeding at building awareness and sales, Motorola promoted its new photon 4G phone with a contest using promotional videos on Facebook, running them during random times every day. Customers who watched all the videos had a chance to win a new phone.

Takeaway: Giveaways, contests, polls all are great vehicles to use whenever you want to spice things up.  As always, giving people a good reason to get involved and respond increases interest.

5. Walgreen Company

“Two social networks are better than one,” says Walgreen’s director of social media.  The company used Foursquare and Facebook Places in a “Check-In’s that Make a Difference” campaign to distribute $6 million in flu shot vouchers to selected charities.  Whenever someone ‘checked in’ at a store, Walgreens donated a voucher.  Those who participated then took a Facebook vote on how to distribute the vouchers to the charities.

Takeaway: Good example of using the social toolkit in a creative and socially responsible way.  There are so many ways to connect to a customer on social media.  You just need to give it a little thought.  Start by understanding how they’re using social media – check-in’s being one way.

6. Deere and Company

An unlikely social media player, the farm equipment manufacturer has a large following after just one year of using social tools. “People want to touch the brand in social media,” says Deere’s manager of Internet research and information services.  They’ve succeeded by getting involved in industries in which Deere has an authoritative voice.

Takeaway: Yes, people WANT to touch your brand. To generate content for social platforms, your company can capitalize on this pointer:  In what areas, industries or perspectives does your company have an authoritative voice?  This one should be easy, because most companies consider themselves leaders.  Act like one with your social media content.

7.  Boeing Company

“It doesn’t benefit us to be jumping around to every tool or possibility that’s out there,” says the communication director.  “We want to make sure that the tools were using are the ones we can use effectively to serve our communications purposes.”

Takeaway: Sage words from Boeing. Social media is a tool, and while hip and still new to some companies, it’s not the only right answer to reach your audience, or your objectives.

8.  Allstate Corp.

Describing its “Mayhem” advertising character that personifies what can go wrong behind the wheel, director of consumer engagement says, “In social media, you want to be as relevant as you can to the audience.  The videos have really resonated with consumers.”  The campaign has gone viral with millions of hits on social platforms.

Takeaway: How can you increase your company’s relevance through social media?  Know thy customer!  Think creatively about how you can present your wisdom.  Involve staff outside of marketing.  Get help from professionals that know how to craft a compelling story.

9.  Abbott Labs

Individual products can be more popular on social platforms than the companies themselves. Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition line is marketed to fitness buffs, reaching many thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook, far fewer than its corporate pages.

Takeaway:  This advice probably rings true for many types of companies that offer a flagship product or service.  While promoting an entire company can seem a daunting task, you can really hone in with your content (and concentrate your time) around a single product/service or product line. 

10.  Discover Financial Services

Discover’s goal is immediate response time, measured in seconds, not hours or days, says the company’s vice president of e-business.  “The medium makes it possible for customers to comment, so you better have your best game on.”

Takeaway: As you already know: you must be ready and willing to respond quickly.  This is the age of real-time marketing and pr. Remember that every comment is a potential conversation between you and your valued customers, visitors or readers.  You never know what kind of great ideas might come out of the conversation, negative or positive. Expect to be changed!