B2B Marketing Awards 2016

Pleased to have been a judge for this year’s B2B Marketing Awards. Once again I’m astounded by the quality of all the entries. The creativity and the results continue to demonstrate, to me at least, the B2B marketing is in rude health.

Best of luck to all the companies and individuals nominated.



Want to really know your customers? Just listen.

It’s not often someone who isn’t family, a friend or a postman knocks on our door. On this occasion it was the local representative of the Green Party. In the run up to this years General Election he wanted to know how I felt about local issues, the council and so forth. Now, this doesn’t happen very often, I can count on three fingers the number of times a member of a political party has knocked on our door in the 7 years I’ve lived in Brighton. To be honest, he put me on the spot. I haven’t really given a great deal of thought to the political climate of late, let alone local government issues. Nevertheless, here was someone from a major political party on my doorstep interested in what I have got say. Some quick thinking provided him with some feedback on refuse, recycling, free schools and rail fares for commuters. I then wished him luck and he moved on to the next house. 

Two weeks later I received a letter from Caroline Lucas MP addressing each of the issues I’d raised. I was, and am impressed. Someone actually listened. A couple of friends quipped how its probably a template, and it could be. It might be that a lot of people and potential voters in my area raised the same issues. But that doesn’t concern me. It was written to me addressing issues I’d raised. And from what I can tell it’s a genuine, hand-written signature. Template or not, effort went into compiling the letter, signing it off and posting it. And that’s what matters. That’s what makes a difference. 
The best bit was that this party member wasn’t there to sell me The Green Party, he was there to listen. Only by listening can he understand the issues. Only by listening can he begin to learn what makes his voting audience click. I don’t expect him to have the answers there and then. And to be honest I wasnt even expecting a response. But I do expect him to listen. 
As marketers, what can we learn from this?
1. Listen more, sell less. 
By listening you are in part selling. You’re selling a human quality that too often gets overlooked. As Stephen Covey pointed out “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” So as marketers, we can learn a lot by simply shutting up and hearing what our customer has to say. And I do mean that in the literal sense. 
2. Make listening part of your marketing programme
As modern marketers we are spoilt for choice.  Hashtags and keywords can tell us lot about what’s being said online and the sentiment thereof towards a brand or service. Survey tools like Survey Monkey mean that we can execute surveys in minutes and get responses in hours.
However, I don’t think there is a genuine substitute to replace face to face time with customers. There are many ways to do this from the relatively easy phone call and meet up at a mutually beneficial conference to the more-challenging customer days and advisory boards. In my experience the activities that have included a face to face discussion have been the most rewarding.  You can even add it into your annual KPI’s to meet a customer every three months by joining a sales meeting or simply picking up the phone for a check in.
3. Take Action
You’ve listened. Now you need to digest and action, where applicable. For example, to support a Customer Advisory Board programme, you can create an internal support team comprising of key functional heads who are responsible for the investigation, resolution and delivery of the various outputs that would be generated from the CAB. You can then communicate progress on a quarterly basis with the members of the CAB via a conference call and a follow up newsletter.  
A clue in understanding the power of listening is that you have two ears and one mouth. Heed that ratio. As B2B marketers we’ve never had it better but we still have many things to learn and improve on. If a political party can get it right, then so can we.
Things I love

Things I loved in April 2013

1. HHhH by Laurent Binet The story of Operation Anthropoid, the mission to kill Reinhard Heydrich. A quite incredible story told in a very uncoventional manner. Part historical and part autobiographical.

2. How to build a community for your business by @seomoz

3. Dieter Rams: Ten principles for good design by Vitsoe

4. How we do our email marketing at MailChimp by MailChimp

5. How do you find time for social media by @michaelbrenner

6. Why messing up might make you a better manager by @SEOChicks

7. Rainy Mood. Write to it, read to it, code to it. The most perfect ambient soundtrack.

8. A blast from my childhood. I spent most weekends at Farnborough skate ramp in varying degrees of success and painful failure progress. Finding this video brought it all back.

Things I love

Things I loved in March 2013

1. How we accomplished (big) goals with content and social media marketing (in just 10 months) by @mackwebteam

2. This use of Vine by Beerbods. It’s  a bit heavy on the eyes, yet I think it sums up the Beerbods proposition very well.

3. The HubSpot culture code. by @HubSpot.  It’s a bit Netflix but that is the source code.

4. New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual  In no way am I graphic designer, though I am a sucker for graphic design and a brand manual.

5. I’m Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, and This Is How I Work Even he can’t work out a decent way to have proper to do lists in Evernote.

6. Adventures in the ransom trade A fantastic longform on the side of kidnapping you don’t see.

7. Make your marketing more bobular by @jwatton Be more personal.

9.  Quiet: The power of Introverts by Susan Cain (no affiliate) Having read this I’m not sure I’m as introverted as I perhaps thought I was, ambivert I think. Nevertheless, it’s a very good read. It is worth watching her google talk on the subject


The Content Strategy Hangout: My 4 Take Aways

I’m yet to attend a live Hangout and circumstances prevailed so that I missed another, the Content Strategy Hangout by Velocity partners. Anyhow, I caught up with it last week.  The goal of the hangout was to discuss how to make content standout. The panel was made up of those with the smarts and the chops:

  • Bryony Thomas, Principal, Clear Thought Consulting
  • John Watton, Senior Director, Marketing, Silverpop
  • Kieran Flanagan, Marketing Director (EMEA), Hubspot,
  • Michele Linn, Executive Editor, Content Marketing Institute
  • Kieran Flanagan, Marketing Director (EMEA), Hubspot,
  • Stan Woods, Managing Director, Velocity Partners

The running time was just shy of 60 minutes and I have to applaud the team at Velocity, the panel, and in particular the host Ryan Skinner for delivering a professional yet relaxed forum on a hangout. (and hey, great content generates great content).

It opened up with a viewpoint piece, asking each of the panelists questions ranging from the current state of content marketing to what the great examples are and what are the things that they have learnt through their own experiences. It then moved on to an open discussion covering best practice, the role (or otherwise) of dull content and a temperature check on the appetite for creating standout content.  Here is the hangout in full:

There was a lot to take from the Content Strategy Hangout, however, here are my 4 takeaways :

1. Consistency and confidence

The growth of inbound marketing reminds me of that saying of yore ‘build it and they will come’, though the discipline of inbound marketing (SEO, PPC, whitepapers, blogs etc) is not as simple nor as arrogant as that expression suggests. With content marketing forming the backbone of good inbound marketing, and with the modern self-educating audience we have today, good content has to be consistent and confident. 

It’s worth pointing out that whilst they maybe the driving force behind its adoption, content marketing is not the sole preserve of the marketing department. Therefore for content to standout and prove successful it is important that organisations have confidence in who they are, what they stand for and how they can educate, entertain and inform consumers. John Watton alluded to this when he said that the best content campaigns he’s seen are those that are based on ‘Consistency and repeating a message over time’. Any target audience can spot a ‘ooohh Cloud technology” moment.

All the panelists touched on the importance consistency and confidence. However, three quotes stand out for me. Kieran Flanaghan said that ‘as marketers we are here to provide better experiences for customers”. Sometimes it’s easy for marketers to forget this. We see content marketing as the next big thing and jump on the bandwagon. However, what I took from this is that your content will stand out if it is true to you as a business and reflects the experience your audience will have when they interact with you.

Stan Woods identified 6 principles for good content, the fifth of which is ‘Confidence is seductive.” How true that is. If I look at the likes of Salesforce, Marketo, and SAP amongst others, I think ‘one day I want to work with this lot’. I know when it comes to selecting a marketing automation platform, I know immediately who’s on my shortlist. The seductive power of confidence.

Finally, Bryony Thomas hit the nail on the head “Commercial karma; Do it right and it will come back to you.”

2. Iteration, Iteration, Iteration. 

A consistent theme of the hangout was the sheer volume of ‘crap’ content that is currently floating around. It’s a natural output of jumping on the next big thing. As marketers we have to be disciplined.  Testing was another one of Stan’s aforementioned 6 principles when he said that we have to ‘pick the right issue’. So, as marketers we should be listening more. This will help us create the standout content that not only fills an information gap but also educates, entertains and gets shared.

So, stop creating crap content, there’s enough of that already. Before you jump in, stop, think, listen and test. Test some more, absorb data, learn, amend, grow. Ad nauseum.

3. There is no such thing as best practice.

For me, this was one of the most interesting parts of the discussion. So what is the best practice advice?

Put simply, there isn’t. The sentiment from the panel was that content marketing as a discipline is still in an experimental phase and as such established best practice doesn’t exist.  Nevertheless, the advice of the panel is learn from others but don’t copy, for the simple reason that you aren’t ‘them’ and you never will be. However, as Bryony pointed out there will always a requirement for the basics such as FAQs, it’s whatever meets your audience needs be it a blog, ebook or video. In essence, get the basics right before getting clever. Kieran added that you must produce content that is best for customers and he recommended that you create a swipe file for inspiration purposes. This is a great idea.

So, take best practice advice with a pinch of salt. Instead focus on  understanding your audience. Ryan Skinner summised this by explaining that great content is really about telling a good story that the audience finds useful.

4. Great content creates great content.

By talking about content they have created great content. Best practice was a moot point on the call, however, I think this Hangout, and the subsequent recording, is itself a good benchmark for making content standout. It can then of course be sliced and diced as meets the needs of a given audience segment. I’ll be interested how this will be repurposed.

Finally, as a hangout there was a really nice openness. There was a good mix of advice and humility through acknowledging past failures. Hey, it’s early days. Often lots of these sessions are too evangelical, too perfect in a ‘failure is not an option’ way. But as marketers (not marketeers) what are we if we are not learners? We are constantly evolving to customer needs and technological changes. We, as marketers, have to evolve, test, evolve, test.

What did you take from it?



Photo by Graeme Fraser via Flickr

Spotted this agenda for Interesting over at  Russell Davies. I’d go. I guess I just admire the brazen openness and fun of it all. I have endured, and that is the right word, too many ‘company events’ where the content is, whilst not without purpose, formulaic.

Imagine what could be achieved by giving staff the opportunity to talk about what inspires and drives them, what makes them tick. At the very least you have an internal community discussing, referring and acknowledging. Five minutes would be enough….