Hello again from my home office. A few days ago we had a hailstorm here in Menlo Park. I figure we have now added hail to pestilence in the list of 2020 plagues. Hopefully we wont be seeing any frogs, boils or bloody rivers anytime soon, but I guess at this point I would not be surprised.
What doesn’t surprise me is the unrelenting amount of advertising I am still subject to. Some of it is good, it strikes the right tone, it is 1) Authentic 2) Relevant and 3) Sensitive. When it is, it gets my attention, I am open to receiving the message and it says something that is meaningful to me.
Tone, as I blogged in Part 2 of this series, is probably the most critical thing to get right in today’s environment. Without the right tone, not only will your message not get through, but you can do un-repairable damage to your brand, your reputation and your future business. Without the right tone, as shown below, we lose message appropriateness and more importantly, impact.
Let’s now deconstruct tone and see if we can find some insight and guidance into building messages that are in tune! Tone can be broken into 3 components, Authenticity, Relevance and Sensitivity. Let’s take a look at each of these.
Authenticity – When researching what makes communication authentic, three words keep coming up, CLEAR, DIRECT and HONEST. Authentic communication has no hidden agenda, does not hide behind ulterior motives or obtuse language, and does not hide it’s intended outcomes or goals
Relevance – While pretty obvious, relevance is always a key factor in any communication. This is a bit of marketing 101, but targeting and understanding of your audience so that what you are talking about matters. Also, remembering that priorities are askance right now, you may decide to hold on some aspects of your message until the world is not quite so uncertain.
Sensitivity – Remember, your audience is human. We are all being impacted by the crises. So from simple word choice to topic selection, words and context matter. It might be obvious how bad of a headline – “A Novel Approach to Making Viral Videos” would be right now, always double check your self for the sensitivity of the recipient in crafting your messages.
Hotels.com updated ad with spokes-character “Captain Obvious” is getting kudos from many, and rightfully so. Check it out if you have not seen it:
A Hotels.com spokesperson summed it up better than I can when they told AgAge:
“We didn’t feel the tone of our usual advertising was right for the current environment. For the airtime we had remaining, we opted for a message that reinforces the guidance to stay home.”
This ad hits the mark, it is authentic, relevant to all of us, and sensitive at the same time. And on top of all that it does make you smile, which today is sure a bonus!
Again, I hope this series of posts helps you even in a little way. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas and stay connected to you. I’m here, like we all are, for the foreseeable future in my new home office digs, and ready to virtually meet anytime! Ken
Hello from my home office. We’ve all had a once in a lifetime few weeks, and the future remains uncertain, kinda scary, and unprecedented. I managed to get a social distanced walk in with my friend Neil yesterday, and it was nice to have the interaction and the fresh air. When Neil and I parted, I had a bit of a think on the rest of my walk home about about how to do what we do as B2B Marketers in these times, and specifically, no surprise, my thoughts turned to messaging.
Again, as we fight for our collective well being, it may seem trivial, but keeping what we can going in our businesses is part of our well being. So with the understanding that this is NOT the same as vacieene research or testing distribution, I will share a few thoughts.
Communicating your message is a combination of 3 elements, Tone, Content and Channel. As I am obsessed with, I had to draw them as a Venn Diagram
So first let’s take a very quick look at each of these 3 components.
Content – What are your key value points, call to action and other ideas you want to communicate
Channel – Where, where and how are you communicating your message
Tone – What is the level of authenticity, relevance and sensitivity of your message
And of course, as I am always doing, I immeadiately went to labeling the intersections to find the real meaning in the Venn and here is what I come up with…
Let’s now look at the three intersections:
Reach – How well does the content connect to buyers. Does the message match the time, place and overall context of the delivery? If channel and content are mismatched, your message will not get through
Impact – Is the value communicated meaningful and relevant to the target, and if so, is it in the correct tone for the context that I am connecting in. If value or tone are off, you content will not have the impact you desire.
Appropriateness – Simply put, what is the right tone for one channel, may not be for another. Phase of buying cycle, business and societal realities, why the buyer is seeing or consuming your content, push vs. pull, all contribute to the appropriateness of the communication.
Much of this is hard enough in normal times, for the foreseeable future, choosing the right content, right channel and striking the right tone will be extremely challenging for marketers. In my next three posts, I am planning on expanding on the impact of today’s emerging societal and economic challenges on Content, Tone and Channel for B2B marketing. And first, I am going to tackle what I think is the most difficult of the three, tone.
Again, I hope this series of posts helps you even in a little way. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas and stay connected to you! I’m here for the foreseeable future in my new home office digs and ready to virtually meet anytime! Ken
I want to start this ENTIRE post with two caveats. First my motivation is to share ideas not to sell anyone anything. In this upside down time, I want to share for two reasons; first to see if I can help folks with ideas and thoughts and second because writing is how I need to think things out. Second, while I am far from an expert in epidemiology, medicine, social psychology or other relevant fields that are needed to understand what is really going on, I do have an area of knowledge and I feel it is relevant to share ideas with others who practice B2B marketing. With that said…
Thought #1 – Take Care! – of yourself, your loved ones, your team and your community. Maybe this goes without saying, but this is all of our job #1 right now.
Thought #2 – It’s not the time to be overtly promotional, but it’s also not the time to stop marketing. I believe we will get past this. We are a resilient species and society. Our customers still have needs and our products can still fulfill these. As budgets shrink and priorities change, it will quickly become a buyer’s market. So those who are engaged will get opportunities. Disengaging is not the right answer. Educational content, well thought out and relevant is still important but…
Thought #3 – Tone is EVERYTHING. Don’t ambulance chase. Don’t even come close. Resist with all your might from having messaging like…”10 Reasons why CRM Matters More in A Covid-19 World” or “Covid-19 Changes Everything about Cyber Risk Management”. These are BAD for you, bad for your brand, and really actually repulsive. How about something more like, “Adjusting and Managing Pipeline Metrics During a Sudden Downturn” or “Ideas on Increasing Cyber Awareness for Home Network Wifi Users”. The former are pandering and in bad taste and raise anxiety, the latter address impacts and if written well should deliver value that helps people have purpose and find meaning.
Thought #4 – It’s a great time to learn. Read that book you been meaning to. Take an online class. Find a great podcast or two that are relevant. Skilling up and bringing creativity and new ideas to your job will be more important that ever to both your and the companies results.
Thought 5 – Rethink Your Strategies, Programs and Spend – Obviously budgets are going to be under tremendous pressure and you will likely face cuts to both people and program dollars. This hurts, both personally and professionally. It’s hard to put a good face on this. But it’s not just this. How will you reach your audience? What’s going to change in how you message to them? How will buying behavior change? How will priorities shift? Where will spend go to? Should you change pricing and packaging to drive lower risk adoption? As sales works to get revenue in today, marketing needs to lead change. Think strategically and have a plan, proactively before it’s dictated to you.
Thought #6 – Stay connected and engaged – Tell you your sales team you are there for them. Reach out to your vendors and check in with them. Be HUMAN not electronic. Make it a point to connect with your colleagues. If you thought you could solve a problem by email or Slack, but you have the time for a facetime or skype, choose the latter. Sacrifice a bit of efficiency for connection. We are all in this together, whether next door, down the street or a continent away. As we distance socially, let’s get closer virtually!
I hope this post helps you even in a little way. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas and stay connected to you! I’m here in my new home office digs and ready to virtually meet anytime! Ken
I’m actually feeling quite optimistic for the year 2020 for B2B Marketers…but I guess I’ve gotten overwhelmed with Top 10 lists and feel like I have to get a few things off of my proverbial chest before settling into my lounge chair for a mid-week break of more football, champagne and chili! So, in no particular order…
Grievance #1 – “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, ” said Mark Twain the CMO
Now in 2019, the siren call of the Death of the CMO is summarized in this 2018 post by Edwin Abl, entitled Chief Revenue Officers: Why They Are Replacing CMO’s.
I will save a point by point rebuttal on this latter claim for another blog. Suffice it to say, organizations that eliminate CMOs run the risk of not only short term thinking and loss of vision, but also greatly underrate the value of the right CMO as the balancing point between sales, product and strategy.
Grievance #2 – King Me? – Category is Not Always the Winning Marketing Strategy
After the CRO, the next hottest trend is being a Category King, popularized by the book Play Bigger, and now the siren call sung by investors to all B2B CMOs.
I don’t argue with the data presented that “Category Kings” get far better returns and you should strive to be one. But my grievance is in the timing (always now) and the process (pick the category then build around it). Category building is NOT for everyone all the time. Sometimes we are sadly not the first mover, and sometimes the market isn’t ready for a new category.
But my biggest gripe here, is the idea that category is some amazing short cut to success. We have to start with our story, what makes us unique, and the transformational value we have to our customers. Until you understand those, you can’t create message market fit, let alone become a “category king”. As my one client so succinctly said to me, “I thought the strategy should drive the story, but now after our work together I understand the story should drive the strategy.” So just like the CRO is not a silver bullet, neither is the “self-declaration” of Category.
Grievance #3 – “Not All Wine Turns to Vinegar” – Endemic Age Discrimination in The Valley?
Last month, a well know executive recruited made a post on LinkedIn that really got under my skin (It appears it’s now been deleted, so all of this is from memory.) Essentially, the post said, ‘don’t hire an experienced CMO, hire an up and comer’. It went on to imply that experience will stifle innovation and those experienced folks can’t be up to date on the latest in marketing, harkening back to Grievance 1 :). The not so subtle message I saw implied (whether intended or not) was don’t hire anyone over 35 to be your CMO. In my response, I pointed out that some of the most innovative marketers I know are “experienced”, and that there is a LOT to the job beyond knowing the latest and greatest tech.
But beyond this post, I see age discrimination as a significant problem in the valley. With people’s careers stretching well into their sixties, and with older parents the new norm around here, more and more “older” workers are going to be around. And they can add so much to even small start ups. We should hire to the job, NOT to some pre-supposed profile, be it age, sex, race, religion or sexual orientation. In my mentoring and advising of later career folks, I see them struggling with this issue consistently. The valley might be seen as funding young 20-somethings to find the next Zuck hiding in his or her dorm room, but folks in their 40s, 50s and even 60s can be key contributors to every firm at every stage. Find the right person at the right time for the right job, and if it’s a 28 year old from another start up and you are ready to take a chance on them, great, but be open to all!
Well, I had fun airing some of my grievances, join me below in my Festivus celebration by adding a few of yours!
If the Edward Tufte course Presenting Data and Information were a rock concert, I’d imagine the review would read something like this, “Greatest Hits Shine While New Material Mostly Misses”. And in many ways, Tufte’s 1 day event is more concert than course. Or maybe something between a lecture and a storytelling event, but in the end, while I enjoyed the day, I walked away both satisfied and disappointed, glad that I attended but deep down thinking that I could have just “read the books”.
Speaking of Tufte’s books, and each of the 400+ “students” received a box set of them yesterday, they are GORGEOUS, BEAUTIFUL pieces of work with amazing content, stunning visuals and represent a career of work that truly demonstrates why Tufte is the world’s expert on the topic Presenting Data and Information.
Tufte was magnificent and at his best when he was critiquing visuals. From the:
His brutal take down of a data chart in a news article to
His very pointed (pun intended) critique of how Powerpoint’s “cognitive style” contributed to the total mis-understanding and mis-communication of the risk that the ill-fated Columbia Space shuttle was flying under (Beautiful Evidence, pages, 164-165)
To his discussion of the visual map he had created to help visitors navigate his 234 acre “artfarm” in Connecticut
Tufte’s critiques were entertaining, compelling, informative and instructional.
Tufte also has a great skill for memorable quotes and advice and here are a few of my favorites from the day, at least as best I scribbled them down:
“Visualizations are needed when there is so much data the only way to see it is to see it…. “
“Let the information be the interface”
“Use visualizations that are conventional. Make you contribution your content, not design of it, rich, luscious, compelling content”
“R (the statistical computing program) can count but can’t see. Illustrator can see but can’t count. Use statistical programs to analyze your data but use graphics programs to make it beautiful and concise”
On Analytical design you want “complete integration of words, numbers,images and diagrams”
“Everything you put in your presentation should include reasons (for your audience) to believe it” (think documentation, links, sourcing…)
“serious problems are multi-variant and multi-modal and do not belong in a single domain”
“You never learn more than when you actually observe data collection”
Edward Tufte, San Jose Ca 12/15/19
and my all time favorite:
“For smart people, good ideas are a dime a dozen. The difference between good ideas and great ones is implementation!
That’s the shine and it was really good stuff.
But I do have a few rather large critiques of my own. Tufte referred often to his “new book” but it was not clear until after the lunch break that he was reference a TO BE PUBLISHED new book. And much of this new material was quite rough.
Just prior to the lunch break, Tufte went on a 20 minute riff about how to best be a patient (bring in a printed list of issues to every appointment) which seemed disconnected from the day, not very well organized and lacked any real relevant take aways to the day. There were several other times in the day where Tufte put up a word slide book excerpt from the new book, and then struggled to present it and make any real connected points. While this was kinda frustrating, I could both understand it and excuse it as I am also a speaker and trainer, and know that the only real way to make content work is to try, fail and adjust. I’m sure next year much of this new content will either disappear or get really good like the rest of it.
But my BIGGEST critique is that the day failed me as a learner. And that failure was due to something that Tufte should never have failed at. Tufte failed to present a clear map of the day, what I could expect to learn, and the context of the entire presentation. For a thought leader who is rightly known as a genius in presentation, I found this flaw as confounding as it was inexcusable. Tufte never discussed learning objectives, Tufte never connected the individual critiques into a whole, and Tufte failed to communicate any big point or points.
In some ways, this is understandable. Tufte’s entire approach is “Thick information” and as he says, “to let the viewer do the editing.” The day with Tufte was thick with information and advise. BUT it lacked coherence and structure and as a learner I found that highly frustrating and annoying. I expected more from the author of “Beautiful Evidence” and “Visual Explanations” .
Tufte has a bias against summary and editing, but he is a champion of data driven navigation and loves maps. Unfortunately for most of the day, I felt a bit disoriented, lost and confused as to where I was, where I had been, and where I was going and when I got to the end of the journey, I honestly did not know what I has really learned. There was NO MAP TO THE DAY.
I enjoyed the hits, and will value the books, but the day was much less than it frankly could have and should have been.
One of the first questions that always comes up in EVERY messaging project I am part of is, “well who should be on the team”. This may seem obvious, but the make-up of the team may be the number one determinate of the success of the project. So before we blurt out an answer, let’s look at three of the factors that determine a messaging projects success and their implications on the selection and make up of your messaging team.
Success Factor 1 – The quality of the output. Messaging projects have MANY possible outcomes, and there is no single answer to any project. The quality of the output is dependent first and foremost on the quality of the input. Other factors such as framework and process can also have an impact on output quality, but without the right inputs, the best models and processes still lead to poor outcomes.
Team Implications: It is critical that messaging teams include those with the most customer and market insight.
Success Factor 2 – Implementation. At the end of your messaging project, you’ll be left with artifacts such as stories and key messaging frameworks. BUT the success of the project depends on taking those artifacts creating deliverables that are both internal and external facing. From website content to sales enablement to corp comms to trade show booths, all the way to customer experience, messaging works when it is used consistently and ferociously across all.
Team Implications : Include key implementers across the organization. If the implementation team is not bought in to the message, the delivery will be inconsistent and lackluster.
Success Factor 3 – Alignment andAdoption. It’s not just implementation in materials and programs that matter, it is widespread alignment behind and adoption of the message and it’s delivery in the thousands of small ways that happen in every customer interaction from sales to support to customer success. One of the biggest failures of messaging project is lack of adoption by a major function, be it sales, product or customer success.
Team Implication : When alignment and adoption fail, messaging flounders and is not impactful. To ensure success of your messaging project, Everyone from senior management to first line managers to key influencers must get behind the message to drive organizational alignment and adoption.
In summary, three team related factors drive messaging project success or failure, Output Quality, Implementation and Alignment and Adoption. Without the right team, any of these can take to best project and turn it to failure. Given that, it may seem that the entire company should be on the project team, everyone is part of success. But there still must be a core project team. In part 2, we will look at how to structure this team to maximize quality of the output, the strength of the implementation and the assurance of successful alignment and adoption.
It’s become cliche’ to talk these days about Customer Success. As
companies scale beyond the first 50-100 customers, they often shift from
a simple support mindset to a customer success one. They implement
technology, appoint a VP or Director of Customer Success, and often with
a broad remit stretching from pre-sales to support to renewals. And
rightfully so. SaaS delivery and it’s accompanying subscription
business model puts a high bar to vendors to satisfy and retain customers.
wait a minute. Is satisfaction the bar we should be setting? Or is
there a higher one or two to be aiming at? And if so, what are they?
Should the whole concept of Customer Success be re-framed?
answer to the last question is a resounding YES. Especially in
competitive, highly technical and innovative markets like Security.
Like Maslov’s Hierarchy, we can think of a value hierarchy too. In their 2018 article in the HBR, The B2B Elements of Value
Bain Consultants Almquist, Cleghorn and Sherer takes this to the nth
degree, idenitfying FORTY different types of value that they say “B2B
Buyers Really Care About”. For me, this level of complexity is way
too hard to operationalize, so I simplified this from 40 to 4 and wrote
about it here in my short blog entitled:
or why WE (the customer and us) MATTER TOGETHER. The mark we will
leave on the world and the way we experience it together.
Prototypical “embodiment” – Brand Vision And FULL Lifecycle Customer Experience
only is this a great way to build your breakthrough messaging, but it
ends up, this is also a great lighthouse to use to go beyond customer
success, to what I call Customer Nirvana. Customer Nirvana is composed of three layers.
Layer 1 – Customer Satisfaction – Delivering what is promised capability and value. Dependent on Method and Money messaging.
Layer 2 – Customer Happiness
– Making your buying team’s heros because they are not just delivering
the promised value, but they are delivering strategic transformational
change to the business outcomes of their organization. Dependent on
Layer 3 – Customer Belonging – The
customer understands and shares a mission and big destination with the
your brand. It becomes part of how they identify their value not just
to the organization but to the broader society. Dependent on Brand
Layering your method, money, magic and mythos messaging into your customer success management approach and mindset can dramatically accelerate value delivery, retention and loyalty.
Customer satisfaction without happiness and belonging is fleeting. We may enjoy the dance together, but our customers are always searching for the next better partner. But when customers achieve happiness and belonging, we reach new levels of engagement and alignment.
has a great responsibility to articulate, communicate and embed the
value, the magic and the mythos that the brand promises. Without this,
customer satisfaction will end there, and we will miss the amazing
opportunity to reach the pinnacle of customer nirvana.
I recently read Yossi Klein Halevi’s “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor“ a book I highly recommend for those interested in learning more about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. It offers hope and a path to a possible peace. BUT don’t worry, this post is NOT about politics, it’s about an idea in the book, that of competing narratives, which comes from political science, but has great applicability to marketing.
Halevi’s book proposes that there are two competing but valid narratives on the two sides of the conflict, and that we can only get to peace if each sides at a minimum listens and recognizes the validity of the others narratives.
OK, so what does this have to do with Marketing? Jyoti Bansal, founder of AppDynamics, said in a recent article on Entrepreneur.com
Turning your idea into a story — one that identifies the need, why it’s imminently important to solve it, why you have the winning solution and why you’re the person to bet on, is key to setting your company up for success.
In other words, the best narrative wins. Markets are competitions of ideas. Ideas must be put into communications, as Jyoti notes, story is one of the most effective forms of communications, because stories change how we think and act.
Winning market narratives have 2 key characteristics. First, they align with the customer’s strategic needs, wants and view of the world. Second, they are executed with excellence and skill. This is NOT a low bar, but when our narrative is aligned and executed well, it can win the battle of narratives in the marketplace. My narrative framework, the Viewpoint Story, helps you tell your winning “Golden Story” , because it does 2 things well. It aligns your story with your audience’s world view AND it uses the powerful and proven storytelling framework of the Hero’s Journey to build it.
Unlike in political science, where we must reconcile narrative to achieve our objective, peace; in competitive markets the leaders gets the spoils, it’s not a game of reconciliation, it’s a game to win. And a winning narrative which is aligned and well executed is key to winning the game.
In my previous post here I outline the Four Marketer’s that every start-up needs, the The Promoter, The Storyteller, The Growth Partner and the Demand Generator.
My old friend Karen, the COO at a new foodtech startup emailed me and asked, “how would you view hiring a marketing generalist, who can so parts of all functions competently, albeit not be an expert in any, while also helping with overall strategy, operations, and org building of an early-stage company? “
My first reaction was, “sure, but be careful you may get OK at everything and miss out on the excellence you really need, what area do you need to excel at over the next 6 months? “.
Then I decided to give it more of a think, and decided that answer was the easy way out. Though there are always exceptions, I strongly believe your first marketing hire should be first and foremost a Storyteller. Why? If the story is built, told, tested and scaled well, then the Promoter has the right content to use at events, in PR and in content. The Demand Generator knows where to target, what hooks to use, and leverages the content to drive well target buyer leads. And lastly the Growth Partner knows where to look for the right distribution, viral and complementary tech opportunities to fill in the missing chapters of the story.
What unites the world? Stories. There’s nothing more powerful in the world than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.
Tyrian Lannister, Game of Thrones Season 8, Final Episode
But, get the story wrong, and the Promoter has a flop on their hands, the Demand Generator turns out low quality leads and sees their money wasted and the Growth Partner is fertilizing un-tillable ground.
So, who is this Storyteller, what skills does she need and how do you find her? Ah, that’s a story for our next blog!
Want to work with me on building, telling and scaling your start-up’s story? – come to my Storytelling Bootcamp June 20-21 – Space is limited, reserve your team’s spot today
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