This past week, I was fortunate enough to attend the MarketingProfs Business-to-Business Forum in Boston and grab a seat the keynote session "Six Pixels of Separation: How B2B Connects in a Connected World," with Mitch Joel, author of Six Pixels of Separation and owner of Twist Image.
Joel was an engaging and dynamic presenter offering ample YouTube clips and tales of conquistadores from long ago, all the while driving home a simple yet profound point: B2B Marketing needs to be more about communicating and less about marketing.
There were three particular takeaways I felt challenged the audience's current marketing plans and even left many marketers like myself walking out of the room with all preexisting ideas unraveling and trailing behind like a loose ball of yarn...
#1 - Burn the ships (sacrificing the past to be free to focus on what's in front of us) - Joel shares a story about Hernan Cortes, a Conquistador who, upon landing in Mexico, burned all his ships as a forced yet symbolic effort to show his men there was no turning back, only moving forward.
As marketers, how often do we leave the ship of safety and move forward in exploration? How often do the words, 'because that's what we've always done,' or 'because that's what we've included in the marketing plan' flow from our mouths? And, how often do we cling to what what's mapped out on paper because to deviate would seemingly unravel our entire marketing strategy?
Joel challenged us to metaphorically 'burn the ships.' What tactics and strategies would we want to save? Which programs and current focuses would we sacrifice? These questions have the ability to shift an entire marketing strategy and free up resources for new endeavors determined not by a spreadsheet or set-in-stone marketing strategy, but by what current and potential clients are telling us is effective. Which brings me to the next takeaway...
#2 --Marketers need to learn to communicate, which means not just speaking, but listening - Webster.com defines Marketing as, "the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service." If we take the definition at face value, it's a very one-directional approach to reaching a target audience.
Joel quickly demonstrates the advent of social media and online communities is the demise of this definition. Marketers no longer drive the brand message; we're now one of many voices in the overall brand conversation. It's time to refocus efforts on joining the multi-directional conversation through communication, not marketing.
It's a common and somewhat expected reaction to say at this point, "While this all sounds well and good for B2C, I'm just not sold on the fact that my customers are that engaged in social media."
But they are.
In Business.com's recent study of nearly 2,500 business users, we found that more than 60% of business professionals are turning to social media such as company or product profiles pages on social media sites, user ratings and product reviews, and podcasts or webinars as business information resources.
In other words, 3 in 5 business professionals are currently making decisions about your brand through resources and peer communities where your brand's voice isn't the only voice heard and valued. Truth be told, I find the implications to be rather exciting.
The upside and potential for fostering these conversations and engaging with a community where your brand is participating is exponential-- that is if you are willing to become part of the community as a participator, not just a spectator.
#3 -- Joining the conversation means more than showing up: it means providing value - Pretend, just for a second, that you have three candidates to interview. The first candidate is nice but lacks depth - she keeps reiterating the same points. The second candidate is talkative but off topic and clearly didn't take the time to research and understand your company before in the interview. The third candidate is engaging, on topic and really understands your company and the position she'd be filling.
Which would you hire?
I'd like to think of a brand's community participation as a daily and ongoing interview by potential clients. We'd choose the candidate that offers the most value and understands our company, and so would a client.
Podcasts, webinars, user review communities, question-and-answer sites like Business.com Answers -- clients are more empowered and educated than ever to make B2B buying decisions, and they're demanding more from their solutions providers.
It's a challenging call to action that pushes us as marketers to reevaluate our messaging. It requires us to learn how to meet these demands and differentiate ourselves from the competition through unique and engaging content.
If one thing is clear, it's that it's time for marketers to start listening and join the conversation. Marketing tactics, as we know them, are unraveling and transforming into conversation where our brand's voice isn't the only voice that counts.
Are you ready to join and - more importantly - contribute to the conversation?