Some Thoughts on B2B Marketing Part 3, March 29, 2020 : Getting in Tune

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.

Message Components

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

Some Thoughts on B2B Marketing Part 2, March 22, 2020 : Tone, Channel and Content

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

Some Thoughts on B2B Marketing on March 17, 2020

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

Who Should Your Start-Up’s First Marketer Be?

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

The Four Marketers You Need in Your Start-up

Building your initial go to market team in your start up is hard. You’ve got to balance domain expertise and functional expertise, experience and energy and cultural fit. Add to that, the role of marketing is so complex, you’ve also got to balance within the marketing domain. And it’s kinda a -zero sum game. I recently chatted with Masha Sedova of Co-Founder of Elevate Security on how she’s tackling these challenges, and you can hear her perspective here.

One way to tackle this challenge I have found useful is to think of your needs on two dimensions, Brand v. Demand and Strategic v. Tactical. If you look at this graphically, it leaves these four quadrants, which I’ve labeled at the Promoter, The Storyteller, The Growth Partner and the Demand Generator. Let’s take a look at each of the Archetype marketers.

In the upper right we have the Promoter. The promoter is a master of PR, Events and Social. They get attention and know how to work the very important influence channels that create and shape markets and market perception.

In the bottom right, we have the Storyteller. Often you’ll see them with Product Marketing backgrounds or titles. They know how to shape your message and target it to every audience that matters. Pair them with the promoter, and you’ve got the message and the means to get the word out.

At the bottom left we have the Growth Partner. A skilled negotiator and communicator, they are masters at taking your message and massaging it to get the attention and action of partners, whether suppliers or providers. They understand market dynamics and how to “growth hack” into existing channels and demand flow.

Lastly at the upper left you have the Demand Generator. They are all about leads and about managing the lead flow through the funnel. They speak the language of SEO/SEM, Content Syndication and Programs. When the funnel needs building, look to them.

The challenge of course for nearly all early start-ups is they need all 4 of these people and only have the budget for one or two right now. That’s why sequencing hires and matching hires to business priorities is so critical. But once you understand the 4 types of marketers you need, you have the starting point to getting this right. In my next blog I’ll provide some guidance on sequencing and prioritizing these hires, and how to recognize the elusive 3 or even 4 tool player!

Beyond T-Shaped, Tomorrow’s Marketing Leaders are Arrow-Forged

It seems these days that all the rage is to be a “T-Shaped” marketer.  The idea being that you should be deep in one skill, and wide in your knowledge.  I think that’s solid, but kinda rudimentary advice.  And, at the end of the day, if it isn’t flawed, it is over-simplified.

In a previous post, I introduced the Go To Market Skills Mastery model, shown again here:

Most marketers, especially early in their career fall firmly into one of the 8 segments.  Or manage a team in one or two adjacent ones.  For example, a Director of Corporate Marketing  may have responsibility for Events, PR, Brand and Content and Social, while a Director of Demand Generation maybe handles Growth Marketing and Lead Generation. Adjacent spaces flow well together.

The idea of T-Shaped, means to get VERY deep in one area and be good in a bunch of others.  Sounds good, but what’s wrong with that?  Three things:

  1. While excellence in one area is good, if you aspire to true leadership, you need to be very good in a few things, not just one
  2. Picking your second, third and even fourth area of expertise is critical to your success
  3. The advice to be T-Shaped is generic and now specific

To grow your leadership you must become arrow forged, not T-Shaped.  What’s the difference?

  • First, the arrow-forged leader is not only a single domain expert, but they are cross domain expert with the skill 180 degrees across their tip. For example, the Lead generation expert should develop their expertise in messaging and positioning.  After all, the best Lead Gen strategy in the world fails without the right message.
  • Second, the arrow-forged leader develops skills in the two adjacent slides of the model.  Our Lead Generation expert develops not only the cross-skill of Messaging, but the adjacent skills of Growth and Sales and Marketing Automation. By building their skills across and to the sides they position them-selves in all 3 of the 4 quadrants of the model, in a set of highly related skills.
  • Third, arrow-forged leaders not only acquire skills, the seek out challenges to forge those skills into impact and results. Skills without real-world practice and flimsy and fleeting.  Leaders don’t just shape their skills arrow, they forge it in battle.

Arrow-forged leaders consciously build their skills and expertise for maximum organization impact and career growth. So stop messing around with Ts and start forging your leadership arrow today!