B2B Marketing CAN Be Creative, Compelling, and Share-Worthy: Key Lessons from Carla Johnson via a B2B Newbie

Fisheye.TruckAs a marketer who has recently found herself in B2B after many years of B2C marketing, not only did I take copious notes while watching Carla Johnson‘s talk at  the BMA KC on January 31, 2017, I started researching and digging around because for the life of me, I still cannot come up with the creative brand that I want to be more creative than…

Let me back up a little for those of you who have not watched her talk in its entirety (seriously, though, take the time to do so because it’s well worth the time investment)! Carla has coined an accurate term that many of us experience in real-life, every day: BRAND DETACHMENT DISORDER.  You know, that brand that you are so sick of hearing about that you turn off and tune out when you hear about them–even when it is second or third hand?  I can name three of those brands easily and without too much thought.  But the challenge that Carla Johnson issues is much tougher (for me anyway)–she challenges us to fill in the following sentence:

“I CAN be more creative than (Insert Favorite, Best, and Most Creative Company Here).”

And who doesn’t love a good challenge?  But how the heck do I get there?  Carla has a road map for that and I am going to provide you with my current experiences as a concrete example of how to suss out a highly creative and compelling campaign that will not only engage your current and potential customers but will also endear you to them.

We have to start with the premise that Carla Johnson starts us off with,

“Creativity is something everybody can do at any time.”

Okay, I believe that and while it may take work, it is highly likely that I can be creative in promoting this valuable business to the businesses who need our services.  But it gets even better than that because I have the excellent fortune of working for a B2B business that is incredibly interesting, fast-paced, and compelling.  Additionally, there are so many exciting and gripping stories that I can’t see how one wouldn’t’ find what we do compelling.

“Connect the dots” between our services and the people I need to reach.   

For the most part, the people I need to reach are television producers, many of whom have been in the game for many years and have seen, well, a heckuva a lot.   IMG_7062Again, I was taking copious notes during Carla Johnson’s talk so I know that after considering how to best connect the dots between our services (giant Ku Band and C Band satellite trucks and a guarantee that every live-shot and satellite media tour will come off without a hitch) and the television producers I need to reach, I must now consider what those television producers are worrying about how the services my company provides can solve that problem.

*Lightbulb comes on* Ratings!  Producers care about ratings.  We can help them increase their ratings.  Now I just need to engage them. *Gulp*

FEAR kills creativity. 

Carla Johnson expounds on that statement and provides fantastic examples but the gist is that I not only have to consider my own fear and how it may be crippling or stifling my creativity, I need to remember that a highly creative, “out-of-the-box” campaign may also be frightening to company leadership.  But Carla has an answer for that and one that I can back up with evidence,

“Small steps with creativity = Huge Outcomes.” 

Remember that even if the step you want to take is a giant leap (like a Red-Rover, Red-Rover leap), the organization and the audience might not be ready for that leap so start with a small step.  Execute a small creative leap (for free through your owned media) and track the results.  The data will speak for itself.  If the creative baby -step doesn’t work, re-work it and try again.  I can actually hear Bill Murray from “What About Bob?” talking to the camera during the Good Morning America interview, “I couldn’t be happier about ‘Baby-Steps.”

“Inspiration can come from anywhere.”

As Bob would say, “it’s the horse-sense of it all!”  Yes, creativity can come from anywhere and for many of us, thinking on those creative lines does not stop when you pack it in for the day.  Creativity needs to be nurtured and whether it’s watching the series Abstract on Netflix or reading the Wall Street Journal cover to cover, there are ways to seek out and further develop your creative sensibilities.  I would humbly add that being a good listener can also aid in honing creativity.  I find I learn and observe differently when I keep my mouth shut.

“Creativity is a muscle.” 

The creative muscle, like all muscles, gets stronger with use.  Many of us train our brains as we *ahem* get longer in the tooth with tools like Lumosity and the New York Times crossword puzzle, so why not exercise the creative muscle by visiting a museum, watching the best live shots on YouTube from the past three years, or flipping through an anthology of great American artists and their work?

“The content should pay for itself.” 

Having spent much of my career with a meager budget, that statement gave me so much pause that I rewound to make sure I heard it correctly.  Carla Johnson was talking about one of her clients who feels that content should be so compelling that it is shared by virtue of its intrinsic value.  In fact, he would prefer to not pay to get the content out in the world, he would rather the content stand on its own merits. I couldn’t agree more!  Earned publicity through owned channels is a brilliant goal and an excellent test of the creative mettle if you will.

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While I am still searching for the company that I want to be “more creative than…” I am optimistic, confident, and inspired that creativity within B2B is achievable!  Thanks Carla Johnson!

 

 

 

What Does It Mean to be a Global Marketer? (And other complicated questions)

I had listened to Jeff Julian’s interview with Jason  A. Miller earlier this month and I remember getting extremely twitchy and jumping up and down because it is such a gosh darn, interesting topic.  I just listened to it again and started bouncing in my chair because Mr. Miller has a very sweet gig and I am envious of his adventure.  He is doing incredible work for LinkedIn and Mr. Miller, I can tell you from personal experience that I saw LinkedIn explode in Denmark in the summer and fall of 2015.  From this writer’s perspective, if you are a professional and you are not on LinkedIn, you are truly missing more opportunities than I can spell out in one post.  I also started talking to my desktop PC because I might have a couple of ideas to add having recently lived and worked in Copenhagen for the second time and can still vividly recall my time in the workforce in Bejing, China (but that is a post unto itself)!  If you haven’t listened to the podcast or watched the video as of yet, please do because not only will you get a taste of Mr. Miller’s experiences in London and his expertise in global marketing,  you will also be treated to some primo 80s movie and music references.

Global marketing has always fascinated me because it is so tough to achieve effectively.  I used to teach Principles of Advertising and always included a unit on global advertising because it invariably elicited a chuckle from students to see how often a concept simply, doesn’t translate.  img_2225But what does it mean to be a global marketer?  Does it mean that you develop campaigns that are always global in scope?  Does it mean you have to have a working cultural knowledge of all the countries in which you market (which would be awfully difficult)? Do you tailor each campaign for the specific market that may be a market within a market (as is the case for rural Denmark)? The answer is: all of the above and Mr. Miller nails it when he says, “You can’t have a global marketer who lives in the U.S.”

Mr. Miller reminded me about Pam Didner who is a wealth of knowledge in global marketing.  I remember chatting with my brother in law (a creative for the Danish Lottery) about the marketing of the lottery in our respective countries and telling him about Ms. Didner and the fantastic book she wrote on Global Marketing that I read shortly after it came out.  Ms. Didner is incredibly sharp and addresses everything from the development of global content to how to scale a campaign.  There are, however, some things that one can only learn through experience and Jeff Julian and Jason Miller both aptly address the value of not only living but working in another country.

As they discuss, some of the most apparent differences are the ever-present newspapers and magazines!  Print is still quite popular in much of Europe and in many countries, a great deal of value is placed on rich, artistic, images that harken back to the “golden age” of advertising depicted in Mad Men.  That is not to say that marketers in Europe aren’t embracing other marketing practices including data-gathering to enhance the customer experience–they just do it in a slightly different way.

img_2088Here’s an example: I did all of my cosmetic shopping at Matas in Copenhagen and signed up for their rewards program and like all rewards programs, I began receiving emails from Matas about sale products.  In fact, I am still getting emails from Matas because now that I am back in the U.S., I am not able to unsubscribe because in order to log into my “Matas Profile,” I have to verify my identity using a code that is being sent to my old mobile number in Copenhagen that no longer exists.  Very clever Matas!  This “profile” is protected for very important reasons, though:

  1. Due to different laws and practices than in the U.S., Matas does not utilize my purchase patterns to market to me.
  2. As the Matas consumer, they ask me to go in and set up my profile (in great detail I might add)
  3. When I visit the Matas Website, a pop-up informing me that it is collecting cookies appears as is the case with nearly all Websites in Denmark.  In fact, some of the warnings are so explicit that I actually deny them access!

Contrast my experience with that of CVS–CVS knows everything about me!  I signed away all of my rights to privacy in that regard when I signed up for the CVS rewards program.  CVS sends me coupons for the specific products I use and frankly, I find the program very useful.  The degree of personalization that CVS offers me would horrify most Danes in addition to the fact that the degree of data gathering we do here in the U.S. is actually illegal and/or considered unethical in Denmark.  And that brings us back to Julian and Miller’s point that it is very difficult to truly grasp cultural differences if you have never lived outside these 5o states.

So what can one do to get closer to a global perspective or (as in my case) try to hold on to the lessons I learned living abroad?

  • Watch BBC and Al Jazeera World News (in English) to see what stories from the U.S. are resonating around the world and why and to stay informed about the political climates and conflicts in other countries that affect global markets every single day.
  • Watch television and films from other countries (with subtitles) to get a sense of another culture, how they use visual imagery, what slang they use (and how often they use American slang and profanity), and what type of marketing is depicted on billboards and through commercials that are easily accessed online.
  • Test your assumptions with your global contacts.  I am lucky in that I am married to a European and when I was working in Copenhagen, I would run my jokes and anecdotes by him first to see if they would work with my Danish audience.

As Mr. Miller points out, marketers are creatives but ensuring that our creativity translates globally is not only a skill, it is an art.  An art that requires a larger perspective and intentionality.

My advice is to work to develop a global perspective even if you never plan on living abroad.  As a marketer, you are likely to find yourself in a global arena at some point be it through a global enterprise or marketing conference abroad and you want to be informed.   That’s just my advice but as the slogan for Matas goes, “Good Advice Makes the Difference.”

 

 

Etiquette: Why It’s Vital for Communicating with Customers

I have now listened to the podcast interview that Jeff Julian conducted with Mike Turner, Senior Marketing Manager for Textron Aviaton twice and watched it once (incidentally, I want the t-shirt that Jeff wore for the interview: “I Plan Therefore I Am” because it’s brilliant) and each time I have a new takeaway.  But if I had to summarize the gist of their conversation, it’s about etiquette.

I have often told clients I work with as well as colleagues that all forms of communication, from social media to emails (internal and customer-targeted) should be treated like face-to-face communication.  I have also noted that the people that I trust and like the most electronically, are invariably wonderful people in person as well.  While I have not personally met Mike Turner, I can tell he’s wonderful and here’s why…

Mike recommends considering the whole team when developing communication and working through the sales cycle.  He wisely points out that in the aviation industry, the mechanic also has a “dog in the fight” so to speak because they will be the people working on the plane long term.  Makes sense, right?  I feel the same applies to being considerate of front line staff in retail settings.  One cannot fully understand how (or more importantly if) a product is the right fit for a retailer without communicating with the front line staff who actually do the selling.  Those mechanics or front line staff will likely be able to provide great insight into the challenges they face as well as what kind of feedback they get from customers on a day to day basis.  As Mike says, “content marketing cannot be one-dimensional,” meaning that strong content marketing should reflect that the author has taken the whole of the business into account and truly understands the whole of it, not just the sale.

Purchases are mission related.  Especially major purchases.

-Mike Turner, Senior Marketing Manager. Textron Aviation

And consumers are getting smarter!  That is a very good thing.  One of the primary goals of content marketing is to provide valuable information and knowledge and as a result, consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before.  We ought to be respectful of them and communicate with consumers in a way that engages them and enhances their knowledge.  We have all opened a targeted email or post, read the opening paragraph and quickly determined that it is too low level so we quickly delete the email, close the link and move on to content that is valuable to us.  I love that Mike Turner mentions mission–the emails and links I am most likely to open and read are those that, in their headline, entice me with a mission or value related statement that aligns with my own mission and values.

Most, if not all of us, do not like to receive unsolicited emails simply because the sender was lucky enough to happen upon our contact information but did not take the time to consider whether we wanted to hear from them.  Further, when we do hear from them, it’s awfully nice when the content is not only relevant but offers value in the form of knowledge or connection.  I liken receiving these unsolicited emails to being at a party, having a great conversation with a group of people that is easy, natural and comfortable, only to have the conversation interrupted by someone who butts in with off-topic comments and then asks you to pay him for the drink he’s peddling.  That is usually when I am heard to say, “pardon me, I need to excuse myself” and then I beat feet to the bathroom or the door to leave.  Of course, I also avoid that guy like the plague the next time I see him.  Point being: don’t spam them just because you can.

How well we communicate with customers and what value we offer them affects customer opinion.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.

However, the folks in the C-Suite do not always see things as we content marketers see them.  Often focused on quarterly sales numbers first and foremost, it is a challenge to educate executive leaders on the value of long term, well-handled, relationship development with clients.  How we communicate affects consumer opinion.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.  What cracks me up about this is that there are now so many ways to analyze customer opinion (including analyzing social media data) and doing so can provide incredible insight into what a content marketer can do to improve that opinion.

For example, Dominoes Pizza recently started running a television ad that cops to the fact that they had been misleading customers with a “pizza deal” by only offering it on weekdays.  Clearly, they had heard from many a customer who ordered a pizza on a Friday night and felt duped by a misleading ad.  What was cool was that they copped to it!  And apologized! This is a clear example of the importance of customer experience and how it can translate to customer loyalty or customer loss.

Perhaps the best way to reach C-Suite on the importance of well-constructed, well-timed, relevant content and it’s role in the purchase cycle is to call upon them to examine their own purchase practices–i.e. empathize with the customer.  In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Charlie Brown advocates “assigning metrics that measure relationship activity.”  What he means by this is that for many of us, the purchase cycle is longer than it used to be (especially for major purchases, like a jet, right Mike Turner?). Measuring than relationship activity over time can provide incredibly valuable insight into where and when the customer may “fall away” and then making the necessary adjustments to fix it.

And a good rule of thumb is to remember that spam is the electronic equivalent to interrupting someone in the midst of a conversation with totally off-topic remarks.  It’s just poor etiquette.

Writing for the Audience Rather Than at Them

Every time I drive past this gas station in the Ozarks (yup, weezums in Missoura like people to say what they mean ana mean what they say) I smile–not only because it’s funny as heck but because clearly, the proprietor knows her audience.  She  does an excellent job of speaking their language and relating to them which is what is at the core of good copywriting.

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Listening to Jeff Julian and Jonathan Kranz discuss copywriting at CM World 2016 in Cleveland was a huge treat and a pretty much made my day because they confirmed what my instincts have been telling me: it’s good to be empathetic.  Jonathan Kranz (author of Writing Copy for Dummies) does a fantastic job of walking us through his learning curve and poses a series of hard questions that prompted me to re-frame how I think of copywriting.  Many of us start a project with the end goal in mind (if we’re going about it strategically, anyway) and oftentimes in copywriting, that goal is to sell.  But what if we conceive of the end goal not by asking the question, “did you sell?” but rather, as Jonathan asks, “are you real?” and “will you tell the truth?”  Of course, selling matters but the whole point of any communication with our customers ought to be relationship development.  Long term relationship development.  Would you want to be in a long term relationship with someone who was always and only trying to “sell” you or would you prefer to spend your time and energy on someone who offers intrinsic value by being authentic, compassionate, and in the end, helpful in solving problems?  Kind of a “no brainer,” right?

The approach Jonathan Kranz advises for copywriting, applies to consulting as well (incidentally, you should Google Jonathan Kranz and click on the second link that you see).  As Jonathan and Jeff note, we are far more likely to place trust in someone who admits they are not perfect, have made mistakes along the way, and most importantly, learned from those mistakes than we are likely to trust someone who is blustery and claims to be infallible.  The takeaway from this for me is that copywriting as well as client meetings need to be real conversations, meaning we are actively listen and empathize to understand as well as converse openly about mistakes and learning experiences.

When I was teaching, I often utilized a neat feature of McGraw Hill Textbooks: case studies.  I found carefully examining the case study to understand what happened behind the scenes of some of the biggest PR events in my lifetime was incredibly illuminating.  We got to examine how and why Johnson and Johnson took immediate action during the Tylenol scare of 1982 and what the creative process was for the “Got Milk?” campaign.  These case studies (because they were written for textbooks) always included a lesson–what the professionals learned along the way and better still, how they learned from their mistakes.  I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan Kranz and Jeff Julian on the statement that being honest and forthright about one’s fallibility and the lessons learned from being fallible is far more endearing than the pretense of perfection.

I got further confirmation on the power of listening and being empathetic from  Marketing Prof Ann Handley, who points out in her article, Why “targeting” customers is the wrong approach, that use of the word “targeting” is an indicator that we may be going about it all wrong.  img_0934Ann asks, “What if we didn’t target customers, but instead sought to serve them?” Oh yeah!  The customer is always right, even when it comes to what words we use to communicate with them.  That means we need to be pathologically empathetic with the customer.  Along with that empathy, there also ought to be, as Jonathan Kranz puts it, “something of intrinsic value for the customer,” meaning we need to literally put the customer first and by doing so we find the copy becomes more real, more authentic, and hopefully, a lot like talking to a friend.  As someone who possesses what could arguably be too much empathy at times, I was delighted to read that empathy is a great asset to the copywriter and concurrently to the marketer as she talks to clients.  Turns out wearing my heart on my sleeve isn’t necessarily a bad thing.