Kathy Klotz-Guest

Archive for the ‘Social Media’ 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…!

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The Hyper-Social Organization: People, Not “Process,” Matter Most in the New Media Marketing Landscape

In Marketing, Social Media on February 21, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Too often businesses lament the lack of immediate return on investment (ROI) in new media. ‘If we can’t monetize it, we shouldn’t do it’ is a common complaint. Yet, the reason companies must understand social processes and new media (as a part of the “social” landscape) isn’t because they will get a quick payoff. They won’t. “Social” processes such as new media are important to organizations because they involve engaging people based on their own tribal interests and needs, rather than treating people as a collection of “objects” that companies can sell to. Tribes are bound by common interests and “human” needs, and that doesn’t include your company’s revenue goals and corporate agenda.

As a result of human-centered engagement with the right tribes, companies can develop loyal fans that will help them create better products and services that those tribes are willing to pay for down the road. Why? Simply put, because those tribes are included in the social process of product innovation. This is one of the important tenets at the heart of The Hyper-Social Organization, a spot-on book by Francois Gossieaux and Ed Moran. New media is about increasing the participation of people in the organization’s activities, not about a quick ROI.

The reality is brands revolve around customers only to the extent that brands are relevant and meet human needs. The old-world marketing view of the brand as the center of the universe around which customers revolve is not only obsolete it never existed to begin with.

Social media shouldn’t be an add-on to marketing strategy that ignores the social element. Too often, new media is used as a “communication” vehicle after “product” and “company-centered” strategies are insularly crafted. That’s not what being a “social” entity is all about, say the authors.  They are right. A social organization weaves the human element throughout everything they do – research, product innovation and co-creation, and communication. This approach starts with a belief that companies exist to serve human needs first, and it requires building a human presence through communities of shared interest.

The idea isn’t wholly new; however, it is disruptive because it requires a different way of thinking from ‘business as usual.’ It requires values that focus on people as independent from the brands they use, with identities that do not revolve around products.

According to the book, there are five key elements to implementing a “hyper-social” organization:

  • It’s not about technology; think ‘communities’
  • Scrap viewing consumers as “targets”; rather, think tribes of humans bound by common interests
  • Forget company-centricity; embrace human-centricity and human needs
  • Think information “network,” where information is shared freely for the good of the community rather than individual channels for corporate “communication”
  • Embrace social messiness over hierarchy and process

Organizations need to change their models to fit with how humans actually interact, learn, and process information based on their own identities, rather than trying to force their “products” on contrived “target markets.”  How military is our marketing jargon today? That’s no accident; military analogies pervade our language because business is seen as war, rather than as a way of helping humans meet needs. As the authors exhort, by embracing hyper-sociality, and all the messiness that comes with a focus on “people,” organizations can find greater success in the “social” landscape.

Making Sales More Human

In Marketing, Social Media on December 20, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Are your sales efforts focused on meeting human needs, or does your sales team treat prospects as objects? If you don’t know, you should. After all, it’s your business at stake.

Human-centered organizations focus on meeting customers’ specific needs and goals. They discuss with people, rather than talking at people from a script.

Recently, I was a prospect on a frustrating call with a vendor that helps businesses write books.  It was positioned as a free consult. It was not. Not only did it not provide value; it destroyed value.

For 45 minutes, this vendor stuck to a tight script, talking “at” me, rather than conversing with me about my needs.  I’m not a robot, so why was he acting like one? There was nothing human about this experience, and I would never treat a prospect this way. Several times, I tried to segue from the script back to my specific issues, and each time he put me on “hold” to get back to his formula. He had a product to sell; I had a set of human needs to meet. I didn’t give a crap about his “product.” As cartoonist Hugh McLeod described in a scene where marketers were speaking jargon, “if people really talked like this to us in real life, we’d punch them in the face.” AMEN.

Emotional Awareness

When you stick to a script, you strip the consultative, human element out of the conversation. He didn’t want a relationship; he wanted to make a sale. That means he made the call about him.

This vendor was lacking something critical to sales and marketing success: emotional awareness. He did not get that my attempts to deviate from the script was me letting him know he was way off.  In fact, it made him stammer. That’s right; he stammered because he didn’t actually know how to talk with people and really listen. Sales and marketing require emotional intelligence. While I actually enjoyed knocking him off his script that treated me like a sales object with dollars signs over my head, it was disappointing to see exactly how unprepared he was to have a conversation.

When I asked if I could speak to several references, he stated that it’s “not our policy.” Not your policy to let prospects talk to actual customers? Wow. He clearly didn’t want me talking – something humans do – to his customers. Instead, after the call, he sent more of his sales collateral with his company’s filtered ‘success stories’ of clients making hundreds of thousands of dollars before their books were even published. It sounds hard to believe.  And it is. Which is clearly why he was unnerved. The reality is your prospects already talk about you, which is exactly why in this new world of peer connections and referrals, you need to be engaged in actual conversation with prospects, not in  hard selling. Selling does not create trusted relationships.

Sales success depends on how you make people feel about doing business with you. It’s about a human, feeling-based connection. And following a script regardless of my needs makes me feel distrustful and insulted. His agenda is transparent, and so was his lack of sales prowess. Now back to my point about value. Great sales people create goodwill. When we treat people as sales objects, we destroy value for both the prospect and the organization.  I can’t get my time back, and it’s not easy to undo the damage caused by such an interaction.