Building a Corporate Persona is the Key to Differentiating Your Company

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Take out a piece of paper, and write down what you think makes your company different from its competitors.  Now, Google your competitors and see if you can tell the difference between what you wrote, and how they describe themselves.  If it sounds the same, keep reading.

Let’s say you’re the CEO of a fortune 500 company looking for some advice.  Two top tier global consulting firms are recommended, and based on their website descriptions of “Who They Are” which one would you chose?

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Can’t decide?  That’s the challenge I’m talking about.  Although one firm uses “advisors”, they are describing what the firms do, not who they are, and as you can see, the sound the same.  If some of the smartest guys in the business are getting it wrong, and they’re the “advisors to the world’s leading businesses” you shouldn’t feel bad.

Why is it so hard?   There are two key reasons; the first being in B2B, we are conditioned to think that what we do is who we are.   It’s the Achilles heel of effective marketing communications, the bad habit of over communicating and focusing what you sell (what you do) versus who you are (what makes you different).

Making things worse is when B2B marketers talk about the value of what their company does, they use terms associated with business value, the functional benefit or business outcome of the product or service being sold (e.g. increase revenue, reduce cost, retain customers, etc.).  It’s non-differentiating because competitors use the same language, and that’s the second major challenge to overcome.

Over the years, marketing communication has evolved from talking about how great the company was to talking about what it does for customers.  Thankfully the “we’re number 1″ days are over but unfortunately, the “what we do for customers” has been defined by what the company sells.  It is time to evolve again and speak to more about the “DNA” of the organization.  Research from CEB has shown that buyers figure out what companies sell (what you do) relatively quickly.  It takes them much longer to figure out why they should buy from one company or another.

And surprisingly, when they do make the decision, it often has little to do with “business value” of the product or service itself, and more to do with the emotional connection they feel to it, or to your brand.  Buyers are not the rational beings we once thought, they do business with businesses for very personal reason, according to the CEB research.  As a result, they want to get to know the company as well as they know the product or service.

So, how do you “humanize” the company? Here are some tips to get your started:

  • Ask customers – sounds obvious, but rarely happens.  Ask them why they do business with your organization and others.  You might be surprised by what you’ll learn; it may have nothing to do with your products or services. Use this information to communicate back to them “who you are” in the language and context that is meaningful to them.
  • Survey employees – this may help uncover why the organization can’t get on the same page when it comes to defining the company.  Employees have a tendency to define the company and what it does, based on their own experience with the products they know, and customers they serve.  As a result, they have a myopic view of the organization.  You will find multiple views on your value, and the type of company you are, across your organization.
  • Decide on the type of company you are – pick up a copy of Michael Treacy’s Discipline of Market Leaders.  In it, Treacy and Fred Wiersema define three value proposition types based on business models; Operational Excellence, Product Leadership, and Customer Intimacy.  Use this framework as a starting point to define your organization and its’ language.  It also helps get everyone on the same page.

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  • Create a persona – once you have consensus on the type of organization and its value to customers, it is time to figure how to differentiate it.  In this step, use brand archetypes to help define the company persona. Here’s a free list of 40 archetypes.  Create a working session and have the group discuss how the company views the world, how it reacts to bad or good news, how it speaks — what is the tone?  Keep the conversation away from what the company makes or does, and on the organization itself.

Buyers have changed.  They want to know who you are, because they already know what you do.  And they’re looking for a little of themselves in your brand.  Relate to them on a human level.  Tell them who you are in a way that connects with them. If you do, it will differentiated you, because like people, no two organizations are exactly alike.

The Next Generation of Apps Will be All About You

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I had a dream last night that I was hiking along a stream with my family.  The same path we’ve hiked and geocached dozens of times. Except this time, Siri’s voice interrupted our hike and asked if we’d like to play a game.

An app I had downloaded came on, and using GPS, our hiking history, and topographical maps of the area, had created a real time obstacle course, complete with the map, times to achieve, and “land mine” rocks to avoid.  The “App” had proactively invaded our routine hike by creating a totally new experience.

When I awoke I wondered if I had read this, or if it was truly a dream. Concluding that it was a dream, I knew the article that helped to “inspire” it, and perhaps, playing a little too much Candy Crush may have lead to the creation of the “land mines”.

Earlier in the week, I had read about fitness apps that, for the first time, were positively impacting behaviors. I thought it was noteworthy because even with time spent on mobile devices continuing to grow, we have not invited them into our lives as an active participant, although my teenager may disagree with me.  In 2013, Gartner reported consumers spent an average of 2 hours and 28 minutes per day on devices (phone and tablet), and 80% of that time spent inside apps.

Apps have been in “ondemand” mode waiting for us to engage. They haven’t been invited “in” because, for the most part, they haven’t been smart enough to provide us with value.  With the era of the “internet of everything” we are entering a new world of connectedness.  With devices able to communicate with each other, and soon apps, is this the beginning of new phase of app development?

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An era that goes beyond the first generation of “dumb” apps, similar to “dumb terminals” of yesteryear, in that they, with a few exceptions, mostly games, are nothing more than version of existing websites that have been optimized for mobile devices.

Next generation “smart” apps will have the potential to become an active part of our lives by tracking, and understanding our unique behaviors and habits, to creative highly personalized recommendations and experiences.  But by 2017, Gartner predicts that mobile apps will have been downloaded more than 268 billion times, and mobile users will provide personalized data streams to more than 100 apps and service every day

Our mobile devices, which many of us carry 24/7, can remember where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and when we did it.  They can listen in on our conversations, as we’ve learned, and can access data we have stored on the device and in the cloud.

As a result, be on the watch for the following in the near future:

  • The emergence of “small data” – the value and functionality of your mobile device will shift from connectivity to data capture and transfer.  In a sense, your phone will act as your own “black box” recording your daily activity, similar to a flight recorder.  Apple and Google have the ability to track activity across devices so that most of your waken hours will be captured.
  • A “listening” mode on your phoneit already exists the difference is that it will be a setting you control (instead of others).  This will add a layer of richness to the data that is already being collected and enable apps to pick their spots to intervene with information, recommendation, etc.
  • Highly personalized experiences - apps will leverage multiple sources of data and with artificial intelligence begin to create experiences and recommendations in real time, much of it designed around our daily lives and routines.
  • Intelligent Ads – yes, someone has to pay for the free apps and advertisers will be at the ready.  As the apps get smarter, so will marketers! Ads will appear at the right time, with relevant offers based on your interest, past buying behavior, and preferences.   Some will be rewards based on certain behaviors, and other offers will incent them.

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Signs of these types of apps are starting to appear.  Apps like the Sleep Cycle alarm clock, that gently wakes you by analyzing your sleep patterns.  Using your iPhone as an accelerometer, Sleep Cycle monitors your movement to determine which sleep phase you are in (see the image on the right). Once learned, the phone alarm then wakes you with soothing sounds in your lightest sleep phase.

Think of the convenience of having an app on your phone listen in on conversations when you’re traveling abroad and translate, in real time, in the dialect of that region.  Or, as in my dream, the value of taking a routine outing and creating a totally new and highly engaging experience.

Of course progress comes with a cost.  Increasing the availability of personal data also increases the threat of those who would like to get their hands on it.  In fact, it will slow the progress of this smart app generation.  That said, we will see improved security built into devices, and hopefully, there will be “an app for that” as well.

Everything We Thought We Knew about B-to-B is Wrong Video

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In December, I had the opportunity to be the Keynote speaker at the Bowery Capital CMO Summit in NYC.  The event featured a number of high profile CMO’s speaking with an audience of mostly early stage startups (under 20 employees).

My presentation was based on the recent Forbes blog post Everything We Thought We Knew about B-to-B Marketing in Wrong.  The audience also included some local media, a reporter from CMO.com wrote a summary of the speech.

 

The Danger of Educating People Out of Their Creativity

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At this time of year the test scores of high school students from around the world are released.  US student performance on the PISA Math, Reading and Science tests are compared to their peers from 55 countries.  And every year we hear how our kids scored at the “average” level, seemingly falling further behind a half dozen or more countries.

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 11.35.00 AMBut are these results really indicative of our future success, are we really doomed to losing our “competitive edge” as some critics would argue?

Maybe not, according to Peter Sims, in his book Little Bets.   Sims argues that educational systems are built upon teaching facts then testing us in order to measure how much we have retained.   Students who are taught to solve math problems, for example, focus on learning established methods of logical inference or deduction, both highly procedural.  Improving test performance is a matter of becoming more proficient at retaining and applying established practices.

The risk, according to Sims, is that students are graded primarily on getting the answers right, and not encouraged to creatively problem solve using their own methods.  The consequence is that our right-brain capacities to create and discover get suffocated.

This overemphasis on left-brain analytical skill development is a concern for many educator reformers.  As author, Sir Ken Robinson, describes it in his Ted Talks video Do Schools Kill Creativity? “We are educating people out of their creativity.”

Robinson argues that the modern education system was crafted after the industrial revolution to support operational management practices that emphasize efficiencies and productivity objectives.  But the emphasis on sequential processes, regimented systems and detailed planning results in the stifling of innovative capacities.

In doing research for his new book World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students Yong Zhao compared the results of the PISA Math scores and the GEM (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor) annual assessment.  GEM assesses the entrepreneurial activities, aspirations and attitudes of individuals in over 50 countries, 23 of which participate in the PISA test.

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 2.04.49 PMZhao found an interesting and surprising result.  There was an inverse correlation between test scores and perceived entrepreneurship capabilities.  Top PISA performing countries like Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan, scored the lowest on perceived capabilities or confidence in their ability to start a new business.

This also highlights another important, and often overlooked result from the PISA findings about the importance of the mind-set of the students taking the test.  As the article in the Washington Post noted;” Despite their tepid math scores, U.S. teenagers were more confident about their math skills than their international counterparts…”

Research from Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor of social psychology at Stanford University, a leading expert on why people are willing (and able) to learn from setbacks, found that people tend to lean toward one of two general ways of thinking about learning and failure; fixed mind-set and growth mind-set.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 8.05.29 AMFixed mind-set students believe in their abilities and innate set of talents, which creates an urgency to repeatedly prove those abilities, and perceive failure as threatening to their sense of self worth or identity.  They are likely to be overly concerned seeking validation, such as grades, test scores and titles.

Students identified to be growth-minded believe that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort, and tend to view failure as an opportunity for growth.  They have a desire to be constantly challenged.

In her research with elementary school students, Dweck found that mind-set is strongly influenced by what a student thinks is more important: ability or effort.  She found that students praised for their effort, “You worked really hard” versus ability “You must be smart”, where more likely to chose the more difficult task and creatively problem solve.  Most importantly, when they failed they did not think their performance reflected their intelligence.

This insight would help to explain why students who are seen as “failures,” in the tradition sense, like Steve Jobs, are able to succeed and thrive in the face of diversity.  It also helps to explain why in the US, students like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, who drop out of college, which would be shameful or unheard of in other countries, are able to go on to build billion dollar companies and change the world.

As the parent of two high school children, I’m not saying that testing student abilities doesn’t have its merits, but I am suggesting it isn’t the only measure of predicting a student’s, or country’s, future success.

The US has had a long tradition (and a culture) of producing rule breakers, game changers and out of the box thinkers.  All of which is not easily measured by test scores, but better captured in the form of optimism, perseverance, and innovation.  Perhaps being “average” is the right result to ensure that we are not, as Robinson would say, “educating people out of their creativity.”

Why Sales Might Have a Hard Time With The Buyer Journey

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My initiation into the world of sales happened at the height of the “Glen Garry Glen Ross” days.  It was the time of “blue suits” and “fast talkers”, and not a piece of sales automation or tracking technology anywhere to be found.

We’d roam our territories searching for conversations hoping it would lead to something more.  At the end of the day, we’d return to the office and put our “numbers” up on the board; # of conversations, # of leads, and closed deals ($).  The white board was our “sales dashboard” highlighting performance against goals for the month, and year-to-date.  Our view, and control over our success, was determined day-to-day.

Over the last 25 years, sales has been enabled with a broad set of new technologies, from sales force automation to CRM to cloud based mobile sales tools. All aimed at helping the sales organization better track, measure, and achieve quota. And with each advancement in technology, sales has gained the feeling that it has more control over the process, and outcome.

The buyer’s journey is marketing’s “shiny new penny”.  Over the last couple of years, numerous consulting firms have produced research trying to map the journey with varying estimates on how late in the journey customers are now engaging sales.

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Before you go off preaching this newfound perspective on how buyers are now in control to a sales organization, who might just have a counter viewpoint, there are some things you need to know:

  1. This is not necessarily “new” news – educated buyers have been engaging late in the process for years, and in some cases, bypassing the sales reps all together ordering direct.  What’s different now is that we have better tools to track their behavior.
  2. It can be threatening – sales folks “cover” buyers, be it a prospect or an existing customers.  Their job is to start a conversation and to continue the discussions to, hopefully, a successful outcome.  They can’t be everywhere, or everything to everyone, but to suggest that they are not providing buyers with the right information at the right time, or that they may not be “covering” them will cause a defensive or hostel reaction.  Be tactful in the way you present the findings.
  3. Buyers channel surf – don’t assume that buyers are only online in the early stages of the buyers journey, and likewise, that they are only talking with sales in the late stages of the process.  Unlike the past, when we could estimate where customers were in the sales process by watching how they engaged with content and channels, buyers now use all channels, and all information sources, at all stages of the journey.
  4. Good sales people already get it – good sales people are very intuitive by nature.  They already have a feel for how buyers research and purchase products.  They also know how to use the best content and/or tools to help buyers advance their learning and to move the process.  As a result, they will want to know how you can help them.
  5. Have a Plan – especially for the sales people I just mentioned.  The question that you should expect to get after sharing the information is; “So what now?  Given this new insight how should we change our sales and marketing approach.” Make sure you have an answer.

My gut reaction was that the buyer’s journey would pose a significant change for sales, I now realize that it’s a much bigger challenge for marketing.  Given the amount of time spend online in the research phase, buyers already have a good feel for the “business value” of your product or service by the time they engage sales. It’s why they have put your organization in the “consideration set.”

The challenge, according to recent research, is that buyers are unable to differentiate your product or service from the 3-5 other companies they are also considering.  To create separation, you must be able to illustrate and communication “personal value”.

And that has not been a strength of marketing, but it’s a core competency of good sales people.  Use this opportunity to partner with sales to developed content that resonates with buyers on emotion level deeper into their journey.   Sales may be losing control over the buying process, but they know how to connect on a personal level with individual making the purchase decision, use that to your advantage.

Everything We Thought We Knew About B2B Marketing is Wrong

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What company do customers feel most connected to emotionally?

Apple?  Nope.  Amazon?  Sorry.  It must be Nordstrom’s then, right?  Not even close. To find the company that has the strongest emotional connection with customers, you have to leave the consumer world behind.  Blows your mind, doesn’t it.

According to new research from Google and the CEB, customers are more emotionally connected to B2B brands, and it’s not even close.  The company customers say that they are most emotionally connect to is…Cisco.

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Why?  Well, it’s about understanding risk.  The more risk involved with a purchase decision, the higher the likelihood of an emotional connection.  Increase the variables related to risk (e.g. losing a job, wasting corporate investments) and you have the ingredients for an emotionally involved buyer.   Personal risks peak when others are counting on you to make the right decision and the stakes are highest.

How did Cisco become number 1?  It has to do with Cisco’s ability to reduce risk with buyers.  Forrester ‘s Evaluate Your Channel Partner Loyalty Program, surveyed over 250 hi-tech business partners to understand the drivers of loyalty.  Partners were asked to select the reason/s “why their most strategic vendor is their most important vendor” (see the table below).

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 6.57.52 PMPartners, buyers of Cisco gear, selected Cisco for the strength of the relationship, despite that fact that Cisco was also the most profitable vendor (established earlier in the research).  Cisco partners value the relationship more highly than other partners, 26% more.

The reason is related to how Cisco is able to create and communicate what the CEB and Google research describes as “personal value” consisting of four parts; professional, social, emotional and self-image benefits.  Some of which are communicated, others realized through the customer experience.  For example, existing customers understand the “personal value” associated with an existing vendor 2X that of non-customers.

Cisco has built a strong “personal value” equation by investing heavily in their partner’s success.  It supports them professionally through training and certification programs.  Invest in the brand to support the emotional bond and self-image, and in sales and marketing activities to drive demand.

All of which reduces the risk associate with failure, be it personally or professionally.  And in return, they trust Cisco with their livelihood, valuing the “Relationship” above rational drivers, like profits and revenue.

Getting Personal and Emotional

How can we leverage this insight?  To start, focus on better communicating “personal value” to non-customers.  The research found that brand messaging connects with buyers early on, but the excitement wanes over time as we move down the buyer journey into the evaluation phases.

The rational brain takes over to assess risk, and the complications associated with the purchase, at this point as much as 50% of the potential deals stall or fall out of the process.  Risk impacts their initial positive emotions, and unfortunately, we don’t much to help them.

To counter those feelings engage them with personal-value messaging, go beyond just using feature/functionality language (functional benefits) to describe products or services by combining the emotional and self-expressive benefits as well (see below).

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Like Cisco, understand how your products or services impact buyers.  Does it make them feel “smarter” by having the latest technology, or more “secure” in their role.  Although buyers are individuals with unique personalities, and should be treated that way, they most likely share the same fears, uncertainties, and doubts we have in our roles.

Get to know them, like you know yourself.  Stop assume they are always rational and buy on price and/or functionality.  And finally, realize that there are customers who are emotionally connected to your brand, and/or highly value their relationship with your organization, and when they say that they “love your product or company”…they actually might just mean it.

5 “Bigs” to Make Marketing Matter

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Do you think the senior executive team is excited about the big lead generation campaign you just launched?  Nope.  How about the number of “Likes” on your corporate Facebook page?  Think again.  Marketing doesn’t matter in many organizations, because it thinks, operates, and worst of all, reports “small.”

Executives sitting in the “C-suite” got there by thinking big, managing big, and reporting “big”.  Marketers commit hari-kari with this group by reporting tactical level activities – “minutia,” that garners no ones attention.  Do you think the head of sales is reporting the number of sales calls reps make a day?  No.  If you want to get their attention, you have to make marketing more important to them.  Here are five ways to go “Big.”

  • Big Bets – if you want marketing to be valued you have to understand, and link, to what the organization values.  It’s that simple.  If it’s market share, connect marketing objectives and activities to acquisition or/and account penetration.  If it’s profit, understand the drivers and align your teams’ efforts appropriately.
  • Big Strategy – once you understand how to link marketing to the business objectives your job is then to connect those big bets to day-to-day marketing activities.  Your smarts will be needed to take the marketing requirements from the product and sales organizations (which may be very tactical) and link them to the overall marketing strategy that aligns to the “big bets.”  Warning – this will require math, perhaps lots of it.
  • Big Plays – to execute, organize your marketing objectives as defined by your internal stakeholders into 2 or 3 “big plays.”  If market share is a key growth objective, a big play should focus on an area that has the greatest opportunity to do that…a specific market, product and customer.  All marketing activities/campaigns should be nested around that “play.’  Messaging is critical here because it is the “big play” wrapper that creates consistency in the communication across execution –think “Smarter Planet.” IBM discovered years ago that the best performing campaigns stayed in market the longest, and had the highest level of integrated tactics.  It takes focus and discipline to do, but if you can get there it will make your life easier by allowing you to organize everything under a big play umbrella, and if things don’t fit…then maybe you don’t do it.
  • Big Results – the first rule here is to understand that measurement and reporting are different.  Measure everything, but only report “process” or “results” metrics.  Executives care about “outputs,” not “inputs.” Inputs are activities, outputs are results, know the difference.
  • Big Balls – ya gotta have ‘em.  You are going to have to get comfortable with, and embrace risk.  If you do this right, you will be placing bets, that at the time, you will not know how, or if, they are going to pay off.  Years ago, I worked with a CEO that committed to double the size of the business in three years.  The CMO calculating sales cycles realized to support that growth marketing needed to double the number of leads that year.  She had no idea how she was going to do it, but it caught the attention of the senior management team, focused her team, and it happened. But as she learned, you don’t try to go it alone. Reach out to others with your plan, get their buy-in and support.  Level set expectations on timing and performance, it may require a significant investment in time and money for the “big bets” to pay off.  Set big goals, but be realistic in getting there.

The time for going “big” is now.  In Forrester’s recent B2B CMO’s Must Evolve or Move On report, 97% of marketing leaders who were survey agree with the statement that “Marketing must do things that is has never doScreen Shot 2013-09-22 at 5.09.56 PMne before to be successful.”

The other interesting, and important nugget from the research is that marketing is playing a bigger role in influencing corporate strategy, and other functions.  Make sure you’re capturing this opportunity at your organization by thinking, and by being — “Big”.

Four Ways to Slow the ‘Speed of Life’

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On Father’s Day weekend I found myself facing a dilemma. With our kids’ sports over for the season, an “all about Dad” weekend, and a perfectly beautiful day, I was hell-bent on seizing the moment. I had everything to do, and all day to do it. On our deck with my wife that morning, I discussed the endless possibilities of how to capture the day: biking, hiking, sightseeing, road-tripping, etc.

To my surprise, my wife said, “Why don’t you just enjoy the day?” Hence, the dilemma: What was the best way to do that? Was it by doing as much as possible, or by relaxing and enjoying my free time? My first instinct was to do as much as I could, so as to not “waste the day.” Trained to be task oriented, both from a busy work life and home life, I instinctively kicked into activity mode, never once considering relaxing and enjoying the day until my wife mentioned it.

It’s something that has stuck with me ever since. I’ve complained to my wife that our schedule leaves me exhausted on Mondays and that we needed to plan or do “less,” only to now realize that I was the problem all along. My inability to relax, even on vacations, had earned me the nickname of “Eager McBeaver” from my brother-in-law. Hopefully, it is also a term of endearment.

Searching for answers for reasons behind this hyperactive behavior, I went online. To my shock, I discovered that I was exhibiting “Type A” personality traits. I know many Type A people, and I would not describe myself as one, or at least I haven’t been acting like one. So how did I suddenly get this way?

Much has been written about how technology has changed our lives, allowing us to blend our professional and personal lives, and enabling us to do more in less time. And our children’s lives, especially as they grow older, are very busy. Yes, they were contributing factors, but neither could fully explain my change.

I came to the realization that my definition of a “good day” was now defined by how much I got done, and not necessarily by what I had accomplished. The daily routine dictated by a “to do” list, with the “speed of life” moving ever faster, wound me up like a toy soldier. My only consolation was that I was not alone in this feeling.

This perpetual state of motion leaves many of us with the inability to sleep. What the body doesn’t complete during the day, the mind tries to finish at night. And perhaps the tension in our jaw or back, or both, is not from stress, but rather from the cognitive dissonance in knowing that what we have become is not who we truly are.

The question is, how do we slow down the world, or maybe more simply, how do we slow down ourselves? After pondering this “state of being” for a while, it seems that there are four things driving this behavior:

  • The No-Win List – First, we need to recognize that we are fighting a losing battle. Regardless of how many tasks are completed, there are always more. As a result, we feel no real sense of accomplishment, causing us to want to do even more, and/or assign tasks to others. Hence, my Type A tendencies and an inability to “turn off.”
  • Time Is Our Enemy –  I realized that my training habits focused on going further in fewer minutes had spilled over to the rest of my life in trying to do more in less time. Years ago, I worked with a woman who was a single mother and an outstanding manager. I asked her what her secret was for balancing it all and getting so much accomplished. She said, “I’ve come to realize that there is only so much I can do in a day, and then there’s always tomorrow.” Sometimes I/we forget that there is a tomorrow.
  • The Roses Have No Smell – They have no smell, because there is no time to smell them.  As a result, we need to create or find a way to recognize an accomplishment no matter how small, before habitually moving to the next task. An entire day could pass, and I would have no idea of what I did, one day would bleed into another. The only way to distinguish them was by the unique tasks that needed to be addressed that particular day.
  • Autopilot Mode – This default setting can take us completely out of the present. It removes our ability to recognize the “little things” that matter or happen in daily life. It can also be hurtful or harmful to others.

So what did I do on Father’s Day? I slowed down and enjoyed the time. I stayed on the deck and read the paper in its entirety, watched a movie that I had only caught snippets of over the years, and went for a family bike ride with my head up, enjoying the sights—as opposed to staring at the bike computer to see how fast I was going.

I know now that some of us (me) take the “carpe diem” thing a little too seriously. A little less seizing of the day, and more enjoying it is the order of the day. Yes, technology has enabled us to cram more into a day, but we’re the ones who operate it. Our lives aren’t going to slow down, but maybe we can find ways to enjoy it more by recognizing the opportunities for small “accomplishments” in daily life.

Finding moments to hug our children is a small but important “win.” Taking the time to open the door for our wives before jumping in the car to race to a game or school event is a must. Celebrate a professional achievement, before moving on to the next task, after a job well done.

There will be days when I’ll fall back into seize mode, but I also know that when I start feeling like the toy soldier being so tightly wound, I can go back and read this again, and hopefully, take a little pressure off the spring.

To Hell and Back

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Our air condition picked preciously the right moment to die — during a streak of the hottest weather of the summer.  We knew the day was coming for 10 years, ever since the home inspector told us to replace the HVAC system.  We’d light a candle and say a prayer every time the service van pulled up in the driveway.  Our system was the definition of “they don’t make them like the used to” until a 90 plus degree-day, finally made it obsolete.IMG_0378

Calling the heating and air conditioning repair shop that we had developed a relationship with over the years, we dug out the five-year-old quote to finally place the order. But first, we would have to endure ten days of oppressive heat until the unit would be installed.

Fortunately, I had a favorable travel schedule that would take me out of town for five of the ten days.  So, on the day of the installation, I took the bullet, or more accurately, the heat seeking missile, and stayed at the house waiting for the service techs…which also happened to be the hottest of the 10-day stretch.

The techs arrived at 9 am, and I camped out on our deck to get some work done.  With a 20-inch oscillating fan blowing my way, the day started off well.  Walking through the house one of the techs commented that our house was the hottest house he had ever serviced…echoing the same comment the sales person made on his initial visit.

Passing the thermostat, I noticed that the house had reached 93 by 11 am.  Thanks to a new roof and windows, our house held temperature in like an oven, which it was quickly becoming.

By mid-day the house was 95 degrees and showed no sign of stopping. The service guys and I were consuming ice water like it was beer at Oktoberfest.  By this time it was too hot to be outside or inside, with both my phone and computer giving me heat warnings.

Then in a fit of true insanity, most likely heat induced, I decided to cook.  Leaving for vacation the following day, I was determined to eat the vegetables that had finally ripened in our garden. Any man in his right mind, which I obviously wasn’t, would have grilled, but we had ripe zucchini and I was hell bent (pun intended) on making one of our favorite meals.

This would involve doing the top two things you should never do in a hot kitchen — boiling water and frying oil.  At one point in the cooking process, I realized that the house could have been in flames around me and I would have had no idea.  It was the definition of a “hot mess”.

After dinner, and perhaps a result my cooking, the UEI IND151 heat sensor would register a high of 97.5 degrees in the house, shortly before the new AC would kick on.

Through this experience I learned a few things:

  • “Fire” and “heat” are perfect metaphors for Hell.
  • “Crazy from the heat” isn’t just an expression, it’s a reality…I know I lived it.
  • Johnny Cash got it right when he sang “we got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout”.

But more importantly, I was reassured that people can be kind and generous.  Neighbors offered sympathy, fans, shelter and refuge.  A neighbor we had only known for a short period of time offered us their home while they were on vacation.  Others insisted that we come by and use their pools to give us, and our dog, a break from the heat.

The heating and air conditioning company we used wasn’t our first choice but turned out to be the best choice.  The first company told us it would be three weeks before they could schedule us.  My wife tried to reach them unsuccessfully for days, trying to move up the date, concerned about the health and well being our family.

Not getting a return call, she turned to a local family owned business by the name of Snell & Sons, who had sympathetic ear and a reserve of AC units for just this type of emergency.  They were able to install it sooner, for less, and were completely in tune with our situation.

Our lives are busy, often leaving little time to socialize with our neighbors or friends.  We default to email or social media because it’s quick and easy.  But this experience reminded us of how effective, and important, person-to- person communication can be, and like air condition, how often we take it for granted.

People can, and still do, look out for one another.  They can be sympathetic and generous, reminding us that we’re not alone in this world, even though it may seem that way sometimes, and that, a small business can often offer something large nationwide providers can’t, or don’t — empathy.  The best of them know that the lifeblood of their business is referrals and customer loyalty.

They don’t need to offer elaborate rewards or points to gain, or keep, a customer.  Most likely, the customer is won or lost based on how they respond to the person on the other end of the line in their time of need.  And they know, when the time comes, that experience will be shared with others.

It’s often said that we live in a “small world”, and in a situation like this, we’re reminded of why that is a good thing.

Cutting Through the Crap – The Grand Content Experiment

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A week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear clients express concern about their ability to produce a consistent flow of quality content, yet every day my inbox is full of emails offering white papers, research, webcasts and blog posts.

So we set out to solve this “paradox of content marketing.”  How is it that clients are not able to produce quality content for their purposes, but I get an average of 35 emails a day offering me content?

Our Approach

With the help of our summer intern, Sergio Pianko from Georgetown, I archived a weeks worth of content related emails sent to my primary work email.  For this experiment, I did not include any other personal email accounts, social media or offline publications.

The Findings

Content Volume

For the week, I received 217 unique emails containing access to 1,131 pieces of content.  Thursday was the peak day of the week, which surprised me, with 9 am being the peak time of day, which didn’t.   I received an email offering me content, on average, almost every 15 minutes.

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Content Type

A new report by the CMO Council entitled Better Lead Yield in the Content Marketing Field found that 87% of the respondents said that online content plays a major or moderate role in influencing vendor selection.  The content they trust and value most?  Professional association research and whitepapers 67%, industry research reports and whitepapers and customer case studies. The least valuable was vendor content, with 67% saying they don’t trust it.

What’s in my inbox?  Well, I’m partial to content aggregators.  My two favorites providers are MediaPost because of their ability to narrow the scope on relevant topics, and their expansive content producers (including this author).  I also like SmartBrief publications, they provide e-newsletters on behalf of others, like the BMA. I find the layout to be quick and easy to peruse, and they usually feature a research offer.

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It was interesting to see that even though White Papers were mentioned to be the most valuable content piece according to B2B buyers, it represented less than 2% of the content I received.

Key Insights

Stop Calling Me

Downloading content that you offer for free does not make me a prospect.  Save the $25 dollars you’re spending on the outbound telemarketing call and use it to track my behavior until I am qualified.  Still not enough for you, we get that “free” comes with a price so consider this payment.  According to the CMO Council report 87% of B2B buyers share your content with 5 or more people.  Remarkably, 28% mentioned that they share it with more than 100 folks.

Overweight Content related to the Business Case

The first phase of the buyer journey is research. A prospect can cycle in this phase for weeks, even months, never reaching the next step, which is the business case.  If you want to qualify real prospect, focus on providing them content that is related to making a business case for buying your product or service.  For lead nurturing, overweight the scoring for pages or content that relate to this as well.

Content is not King, nor is Relevancy, Actionable is the Opportunity

Sergio sorted the content using four filters; Relevancy, Usefulness, Credibility, and Actionable, based on the definition in the chart (below).  For the most part, I had selected information sources that produce relevant content, and because of my use of aggregators it kept me informed about industry develops or issues relating to my clients.  We then check into the backgrounds of the content authors and found that for the most part, they were credible using our definition (below).  But along the way Sergio did discover a couple of frauds, not surprisingly in the social media space.

Slide3

The most interesting findings was that very little (less than 10%) of the content was “actionable” in that it provided recommendation/s or solutions to the problem or issue discussed.  And most of the actionable content came in the form of Webcasts.  As a content marketer this is the opportunity and, given its value, think strategically about how you deliver it.  Because of the scarcity of this type of information, you can request an exchange of value with the audience, be it contact information, attendance at a webcast, etc.

Opportunity #2 – Video

Numerous studies have pointed to the growing influence and use of video content. Yet it represented only 1% of the content I was offered.  Yes, it is more complex, time consuming and expensive but it will also drive better results.  It’s worth exploring, from past experience early innovators reap the greatest rewards.

Develop Buyer Personas

To understand some of the findings it may be helpful to know my email and content profile.  I am an active content seeker and email deleter.  Unlike some colleagues and friends, I like to keep a neat and tidy inbox.   I delete emails early in the morning, and late afternoons.  During the day I may delete emails as previews flash on the screen.  Also, because of my consulting background, I am drawn to market research and data oriented content.   I download and archive many items that I later review…typically on planes.

That’s my content “persona.”  Agencies have been creating audience personas for years and now, if you’re a client side marketers, it’s your turn.  According to the Demand Gen Blueprint survey only 25% of marketers have developed buyer personas, and of those who have, only 35% have mapped content to buyer stages.

Who Does it Best?

To win, you have to make it in the inbox, get the email open and the content viewed.  The organization that does that best, in this man’s opinion, is IBM.  For their insight into the C-Suite, quality of research, and frequency of contact…which is only when they have something of value.  They are the only “vendor” I let in my inbox.

Runner up is McKinsey, for their “big picture” thinking and ability to take complex problems and explain them in very simple terms (especially in 2 min videos).  Best New “Up and Comer” is the Aberdeen Group, a recent change in their business model allows free access to quality research, which this “freegan” appreciates.

Content marketing will only grow in importance for business marketers over the next few years.  There are opportunities to get your information viewed, and shared, but to accomplish that you have to understand your audience’s content consumption behavior, provide them something of value, and deliver it in the channel and/or through the content provider they prefer.

There is a lot of work to be done, so have at it.  Looking for a starting point, do a similar experiment with your customers.  Ask them to send you a weeks worth of content related emails, you’ll be surprised by what you find.