Kathy Klotz-Guest

Posts Tagged ‘IBM’

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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A More Social, “Human” Model for Brainstorming Means Better Business Outcomes

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2010 at 9:11 pm

A recent New York Times article, “In Pursuit of the Perfect Brainstorm,”discussed the power of lateral thinking techniques in brainstorming. Think about all the products and services created with these methods! This piece illustrates precisely what improvisers already know – that improvisation leads to more creative problem-solving and better results.

By improvisation, we don’t mean theatrical performance. Improvisation means being adaptable and reacting to ideas and realities as they change. It means being able to invert assumptions about the way things should or can be done.  By thinking differently, we shift the lens through which we see both challenges and solutions. The ability to improvise is about making new things up as things change – there is no such thing as stability when it comes to strategy.

Brainstorming techniques that leverage improvisation create a powerful collaborative dynamic for getting the best ideas “out there” for further development. These types of exercises are built on the premise of “Yes, and” – a concept that is the cornerstone of improvisational theater. In business, this fundamental idea means accepting another’s idea and building on top of that idea by taking it further in a collaborative, “social” way where everyone co-creates – just as scenes are created in theater.

Think about it this way: most brainstorming approaches aren’t as productive or result in as many great ideas as they could because they follow a linear approach. By contrast, improvisational techniques rely on non-linear, random associations that tap into lateral thinking – engaging the best of the right brain, the creative brain, as well. The resulting ideas are often concepts that the left brain – the “logic” brain alone – would never have considered. The right brain likes to invert assumptions and examine “what if” scenarios.   Of course, improvisation is fun. That’s important. While it’s not the end goal, fun is a conduit for creative engagement. You know it as flow-time. Do you know anyone that hates being creative or doesn’t have fun doing it? Exactly.

No brainstorming session ends with every idea being commercially viable; yet, non-linear “improvisational” perspectives generate ideas that don’t surface through traditional facilitated means. That’s the beauty of using “improvised” options – to generate better outcomes. Creative techniques such as SCAMPER, for example, start by suspending assumptions about products and what people need in order to see new things. And, by rearranging and modifying existing products, we can often create new breakthrough ideas.

Rather than competing for individual ideas, a “yes, and” approach turns all individual creativity into materialized collaborative capital so that team-based problem solving yields more creative, innovative results. As well as teaching people how to adapt and be more creative as needs change, improvisation also teaches communication, teamwork and leadership.  These skills are critical in innovation. A recent 2010 study by IBM, for example, revealed that the ability to think creatively was the single most important leadership skill needed for next decade technological leadership.

Improvisational approaches also represent a better ‘human” model of idea generation for both employees and customers. First, ideas that are built collaboratively tap into the human need for being creative and doing work that matters.  Employees who feel creative and innovative are more engaged because the work engages both sides of the brain – the creative as well as the logical. Companies are always grappling with how to improve employee engagement. By giving employees more autonomy, mastery, purpose and creativity in their work – a very human aspiration – organizations will see engagement rise.  Moreover, collaborative development also reduces push-back and discord within a group when the group has co-engineered and developed the best ideas together.

There is another reason non-linear problem-solving approaches represent a more human-centered model for idea generation. Better ideas mean better products to meet customers’ needs. When employees and users work together to co-create products and services, for example, the human needs of users take focus. And today, a social approach means that more products are being co-developed with users. That’s a great thing because it helps vet ideas with customers before they enter the commercialization funnel. This is the ultimate in “social” product and services development.

Applied improvisation drives better human outcomes because of its focus on “group.” We focus so much on innovation and the individual in our “hero” culture, and innovation is a team sport. No product, service or cultural innovation is ever brought to fruition without the collaboration of the team. Group collaboration has a multiplier effect on corporate innovation that is required for commercialization success. Certainly applied improvisation strengthens individual performance in any setting (business, education), yet the key in innovation-based efforts is improving “team” results.

Great models for problem-solving must improve human outcomes for all stakeholders –employees, organizations, and customers. That’s the beauty of leveraging improvisation in business.