Kathy Klotz-Guest

Archive for the ‘Marketing FUN’ Category

Keeping b2b Marketing Content “Human”

In Marketing, Marketing FUN, Social Media on May 28, 2011 at 9:29 pm

There would be a lot less bad marketing in the world if executives were forced to read all the ineffective, sometimes downright awful, content their organizations produce.

Marketing is supposed to put human needs first by sounding like it was created for humans by humans. Marketers know this.

So why is there so much bad B2B marketing content out there? It’s not a lack of creative storytelling talent. B2B companies are just as able to develop creative, fun, people-focused content as their consumer-oriented counterparts. Consider Cisco, IBM (yes, that IBM – once known as stiff and stodgy), NetApp, and Hub Spot to name a few examples.

With a little effort and strategy, you can breathe some life into your marketing. Below are five doable ways to humanize content and connect with your audience.


Stories

Humans are wired to think in stories. Twenty thousand years ago, when Grog needed to communicate hunting information, he didn’t issue tribal press releases boasting of “breakthrough arrow technology.” He told a story that was passed down and shaped by others.

All great marketing is storytelling, and it’s important to use stories to connect. We absorb stories, remember them, retell them, and they become part of how we “frame” our new world. Stories allow us to feel and to visualize what could be. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, for example, in which he painted a picture of a better world. If we want customers and prospects to feel something for our products other than boredom and disaffection, we cannot aim our content solely at their “logic” brains. Stories that illustrate how your products and services have made a difference for customers are a huge sales advantage. “Logical facts,” however, are easily forgotten and are far from transformational.

The best storytellers often do not sit in the executive suite. Enable your employees, fans, and partners to share their stories and extend your narrative’s relevance to them. There is no more powerful referral source than peer and user-focused stories, especially if users are telling them!

Conversation
Keeping business content “human” means that it should not only be relevant, it should sound like simple and clear conversation. And “simple,” doesn’t mean “dumb it down.” Complexity is easy; simplicity isn’t. The Roman orator Cicero famously stated, “Forgive me for writing such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Simple just means easy to understand.

Think of all the casual conversations you have. No one recommends a product to a friend because it contains “disruptive, game-changing technology.” If people talked like this to us in personal conversation, as Hugh McLeod of Gaping Void describes, “we’d punch them in the face.” We recommend a product because it solves a very real human problem. People don’t talk like robots in everyday conversation; so why is this buzzword bingo part of our content? Even more surprising, we somehow expect people to read and relate to this stuff.

Color Your Words and Images
Colorful language simplifies concepts and makes them memorable. Paint a memorable visual with your words by using analogies and metaphors. For example, instead of “PR director,” you might describe your work as “story detective.” When I am talking with high-tech engineers, for example, I describe my work as the human-language translator between an internal technology focus and external customer needs. Simplify by using useful, accurate and helpful images that are meaningful to your business and for customers. Avoid overused metaphors (sports and war, for example) that have become clichés in business, however. That’s how buzzwords “happen.” If any wording smells like buzzwords to you, change it.

Outward Focus
One of the reasons companies struggle with making content human is because they are too inward-focused. That is, they are too centered on the question of, “how do we describe what we do?” They are focusing on the “we, me, us, and our.” Instead, companies should be outward-focused. The right question to answer is, “what are the human challenges our customers have?” When you approach content by describing human needs first, it’s much easier to then explain how your organization can help.

Here’s a quick test of your “outward focus” quotient: Does your company use the word “targets” or “prospects” / “customers” more frequently? If a customer comes to your website, can they glean in seconds what your organization does? Here’s another exercise: count how many times your writing mentions your company and its services. Then, count how many times it references customers and their needs. The latter should always be more pervasive, and your customer-to-company “reference ratio” should be high. Clear, relevant, and human-centered writing takes effort. Yet, the benefits are clear.

Jargon is a symptom of an inward-focus projected onto customers, and it is lazy. Readers won’t (and shouldn’t have to) struggle to decipher your narrative. Jargon also shortchanges your organization because it puts an unnecessary barrier between you and your audience. It’s like a bad restaurant experience where no one is served well (note the simile).

Another important element of an outward focus is the “so what?” factor for customers. Great content focuses on helping your audience achieve something better – get better results, save money, make money, make better decisions. It should center on improving customers’ bottom lines, not yours.

Fun and Humor
Fun is a healthy part of “serious” business. It’s a fantastic way to connect and cut through clutter. Even in b2b, relationships happen between people, not faceless entities, and fun and humor are as human as you can get. Funny is great; yet even a little levity works, too, especially for brands in need of a little brand botox! And, fun is less “risky” than you might think. Companies operate as “people,” too, with their own personality attributes.

IBM’s video series, “Art of the Sale,” for example, poked fun at IBM’s reputation in the mainframe business. It was refreshing, unexpected and cut straight to the point: “we know we had a reputation as being out-of-touch; we hear you, and we’ve changed.” Why did this series work so well? Because it was unexpected and it changed how people perceived the company. It was “un-IBM.” It was also an acknowledgment by the company that is was willing to be different moving forward. When expectations are inverted, customers are delighted. The right question for marketers to answer should be, “how do we favorably invert customer expectations?” Humor recognizes our shared humanity, and that is a powerful connector.

Vox Humana
With the exponential explosion in online content, it’s becoming not just a crowded world, but one where fresh voices are increasingly harder to find. Keeping content human increases its relevance and it can help change customer perceptions – and expectations – for the better. That’s a big competitive advantage in an increasingly noisy, sometimes un-human marketplace.

Now, back to the idea of forcing execs to consume their own bad content… I think I am on to something, or at least something fun for me. You say “torture”…I say public service…!

In Employee Communications, You Can’t Fake Fun

In Marketing, Marketing FUN on June 24, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Few leaders would argue that successful employee communications must be open, transparent, strategic, ongoing and allow for two-way dialogue. Yet, how many leaders sincerely understand that fun is also important?  Far fewer in my experience.

Absolutely, fun has a role to play. But before you head off and plan that next internal office video showing the CEO willing to poke fun at himself or herself – stop and consider how important fun is your culture NOW,  today, without employee communications.

I recently had a very interesting conversation with a company dealing with the challenges of change management and communicating that in an open way with employees. The executive conceded that the company had not always been open, consistent and effective at communications. Nor had it always been a fun, nurturing place to work. Now, when times get tough, it’s harder still to keep employee loyalty. This company did little to earn it during good times. And while I always believe a little fun goes a long way,  internal communication is NOT a palliative “placate the masses” strategy you give thought to just before unhappy employees “jump ship.”  Before communications comes culture (literally. look at the alphabet!). Communications is an extension of culture – not a patchwork quilt. Culture drives everything. And communications is not an afterthought. Culture and communications must be in alignment or credibility is gone.

Effective communication is HONEST and open. Fun matters when the company’s culture values fun from day one. When fun is a tightly held corporate value, when employees feel safe having fun at work, when executives actually live the values they extol on corporate coffee mugs and placards, when customers are happy – ONLY then can fun be effectively used as a communications device.

Fun is a corporate value, not a corporate band-aid on a culture that puts the FU in fun. If employees feel undervalued and disrespected every day, no amount of spontaneous fun in internal communications will change that. Using fun to patch big holes in culture and communications is not honest unless you are honestly doing something to address the underlying structural and cultural issues first. Fix first, then have fun.

Fun as a band-aid strategy to a cultural hemorrhage will backfire in a very BIG way (remember, Ron Howard’s movie, “Backdraft?”).  Fun is viral, and pessimism and anger are even more so – traveling 3X faster than good news. When companies treat employees poorly and then try to “patch” it up with cheap tokens of fleeting fun, it rightly pisses people off  – it’s insincere, insulting, and damaging. It’s the kind of stuff “Dilbert” is made of. Funny – only not as much if YOU are the one living the cartoon.

When fun becomes an authentic corporate value, upheld by executive behavior, fun in employee communications can be credible AND powerful.

Hubspot is Spot-On with Humor That Delivers ROI

In Marketing, Marketing FUN on June 22, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Andrew Fowler wrote a great post in April about Hubspot and humor: http://www.newsvetter.com/2010/04/28/hubspot-is-a-hub-for-humor/

I have been watching Hubspot for some time and I agree humor has been a differentiation for this company. It wasn’t an afterthought – Hubspot, who I’ve been watching for some time, made a conscious decision to use humor because it captures who they are and what they are about: helping businesses succeed.

Moreover, the company has made a choice about what kind of work environment it wants to be: FUN. Employees have fun at Hubspot and that means customers are more likely to have fun engaging with the company. If your people are unhappy, ain’t no customers gonna be happy! So the saying goes.

Check out some of the fun Hubspot office hijinks: 

Back to the external ROI question…Success is fun, and to-date, Hubspot has helped over 2500 businesses improve their inbound marketing. According to a recent MBA report from MIT”s Sloan School of Management, most customers see substantial improvements with Hubspot in a matter of months:

In terms of leads, after 5 months of using Hubspot:

  • Customers starting with 1 to 5 leads per month experienced 8.6 times more leads.
  • hose starting with 50+ leads per month observed a 25% increase in leads.
  • Overall, users experienced a 4.2x increase in leads.

One of the things Hubspot is really good at is presenting information in a fun way. It’s all about helping marketers learn, but who said learning can’t be fun? According to the Hubspot blog:

“… no one will hate the idea of having fun while doing serious learning. Four out of the 10 most widely read HubSpot blog articles in 2009 are fun-based: 3 cartoons and 1 music video…”

Four out of ten of the most widely read Hubspot blog articles featured fun. There you have it – validation of what those in the creative marketing community know: humor attracts customers because it stands out. It communicates to your audience that you are a different type of company – one that cares about people. Humor is about customer delight. Having fun is a part of that. That focus on serious business with a fun sensibility drives ROI. It’s that kind of success that will drive others to follow in Hubspot’s footsteps.

Does humor in marketing work? Yes! Hubspot has received over 300,000 views on their YouTube videos (they are fun!), and, according to the company, those videos (and all their cartoons!) are often cited as the reason people do business with the company.

Hubspot, you’re a company after my own heart!