Kathy Klotz-Guest

Posts Tagged ‘Cisco’

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.


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!

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…!

Cisco’s Social Media Efforts Lighten Up and Get Results

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 at 12:54 am

Whoever still believes that serious b2b companies can’t be funny hasn’t been paying attention to social media lately. Or maybe they’ve accepted the fallacy (vicious rumor, unimaginative thinking, etc.) that anything fun just can’t be taken seriously.  Oh, how horribly myopic and damaging that view is to building engaging relationships with customers.

Today, thankfully, we have companies blazing new trails in using social media to engage the business customer. And they are doing it with fun and humor. I’m not surprised.

Econsultancy published a great article today discussing strategic communications with Cisco’s Doug Webster.  In that piece,  Webster noted the following about Cisco’s use of humor to grab attention and cut through the noise:

We’re dealing with the same technological issues these customers are, but doing it in this funny, intriguing way that got it to where the way we were marketing was creating a lot of press attention. We incorporated all the aspects where people could send this to friends, and along the way, it encouraged them to register for this virtual event that was on this particular day to find out what it is that’s gonna save Christmas, that’s gonna help keep love in the world. We had 8,000 different members of the service provider community online at the same time for this reveal, and our overall results were about six times more than a launch we did in the traditional way in 2004. And we did it for about 1/8 the cost.

Alleluia! What I love most is that we are finally talking about successful b2b companies that get that fun and humor are about engagement and people. Fun isn’t frivolity – it’s about customer delight and surprise. Ultimately, all business is done between people. People – not faceless entities – engage, make purchase decisions, and build relationships. Fun tells a story and opens the door to a greater, more human conversation about needs – bringing a company closer to customers. And, after all, isn’t social media supposed to be about conversations?

Humor is about humility because it requires a company to let go; to stop trying to control the message. By letting go and having fun with social media, Cisco increased results at a fraction of the cost of previous launches. Hubspot and IBM have also experienced successful results with their fun campaigns.

Cisco has done some great work in going beyond the jargon-laden “super-serious” template too many b2b marketers seem so tied to. There is nothing customer-focused about jargon. Quite the opposite. Jargon is lazy, confusing and, far too often, focused on the company’s technology rather than customer needs. It puts the burden of interpretation on the customer. Remember the last conversation you had with someone who only talked about themselves the entire time? Well, jargon is exactly like that. It’s not conversational, substantive or meaningful. Laughter, on the other hand, is and it is part of how people build relationships over time. It is that kind of  employee – and customer-centric focus that yields success. Fun cuts through the jargon-laden, company-focused techno-babble that is all too common out there. And “risk averse” b2b marketers have too often accepted marketing mediocrity as the industry “standard.” Which is why enterprise companies have been slow in social media adoption to engage the customer.

Humor is serious business and it can be done in a professional way. Sure, it can also go the other way.  But customers are far more approachable than we give them credit for. They are people with needs, concerns, who laugh, build relationships or change relationships when companies stop caring about their needs. Most b2b marketers will err on the side of the right balance between corporate objectives and levity. There is also a big difference between comedy and lightening up a bit. Fun doesn’t have to bet the farm and be high-risk, as organizations such as Cisco, Hubspot, and a few others have demonstrated. As more companies become successful learning how to engage customers with fun and play, marketing to the enterprise customer will change dramatically. This change, unfortunately, won’t happen overnight. It also requires a cultural shift within companies to let go, be willing to experiment, and empower the social employees best equipped internally to tell the corporate stories best. Companies that already value fun because they understand its link to creativity and innovation will be the victors in customer engagement. And the best storytellers are most often not found in the executive suite.

And, yes, you can achieve ROI and have fun as I’ve blogged about before. How fun got such a bad rap in terms of ROI, I’ll never know. With or without fun, companies still measure campaigns and engagement. Fun shouldn’t raise the metrics burden bar; however, successful companies are showing that it does raise the performance level. Fun has a greater payoff.

B2B marketing never has to be boring. There is no excuse. Even the most conservative companies can take small steps towards lightening up, by starting internally, for example. Ultimately, fun is a people-centered value. It must be seen as a creative and strategic imperative that powers experimentation and marketing innovation. If fun isn’t already a deeply held and practiced internal value, fun as a hollow marketing tactic without cultural infrastructure to support customer engagement, simply won’t work. Customers are smarter than that. Remember that pesky issue of trust?

As for Cisco, the company is investing in creative people, building an infrastructure that supports marketing innovation. Just recently, the company brought Tim Washer on board – the creative artist behind IBM’s successful and funny videos, “The Art of the Sale.” Now, the creative bar for all b2b companies has just been raised! Well played, Cisco. It’s great to hear about a large company within a traditionally conservative industry blazing new social media trails, getting results, and having fun while doing it.

If you’re not having fun with your marketing, neither are your customers!

Cisco’s Routers Are So Awesome, Even Dad Would be Impressed

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2010 at 6:06 pm

If you read my blog frequently, you know how I feel about using fun and humor to cut through the “blah, blah, boring” in b2b. One of my new favorites from Cisco is a video around the theme of Father’s Day and featuring Cisco’s ASR 9000 router, labeled as, “The Perfect Gift for Dad.” While not really targeting dads (hey, it could happen – even corporate buyers are dads!), Cisco ties its video to something fun (with “Leave it To Beaver” black and white footage) and nostalgic.  What’s as awesome as great memories of “Dad?” Clearly, according to Cisco, this router is. While I can’t comment on the awesomeness of the product, I can tell you this video is almost as awesome as dad.  If a message cuts through the noise ( and humor does this nicely here), this video will make its way to the ideal audience (are you going to spend six figures on a router for dad?!). Talk about “awesome.” Nice job, Cisco and Tim Washer.

Tim Washer, social media  funny guy, was the  creative force behind IBM’s legendary “Art of the Sale” video series, which were incredibly successful for IBM (not exactly known for lightening up). Tim, who recently left IBM for Cisco (IBM’s loss), has some other great tips on using humor in corporate endeavors (source: http://blogs.mccombs.utexas.edu/mccombs-today/2010/06/happy-fathers-day-from-tim-washer-corporate-funny-guy)

  1. Focus on the problem your product / service solves. Then exaggerate it to the extreme. Hyperbole is always funny.
  2. Point out contradictions in your industry that are “inside jokes” among your target audience, and play on those. Nick Morgan of Public Words shares an example in his blog post.
  3. Be ridiculous. That’s the approach we took for the Father’s Day video. Not many folks would think it’s reasonable to spend six figures on telecom gear for Dad.

And Tim is a man who clearly knows his funny corporate video. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that his picture resembles a pose worthy of Stephen Colbert!