Other Voices: Ellis Booker, Editor, BtoB magazine and BtoB’s Media Business

I had the pleasure of meeting Ellis Booker at the Chicago Social Media Club event in March 2009. As the editor for BtoB magazine, Ellis oversees content for the only publication devoted exclusively to the intersection of business marketing and business strategy. He also is editor of BtoB Media Business, the Magazine for Business Publishing Executives.ublished monthly by Crain Communications Inc., the publication reaches an audience of more than 45,000 readers. In addition to the print edition, BtoB offers online content and a weekly e-mail newsletter. Prior to joining BtoB Ellis was Editor at Large for CMP’s Internet Week, Senior Editor for Mecklermedia’s Web Week, and Senior Editor for Computerworld. He graduated from Oberlin College with a B.A. in English and Philosophy. You can find Ellis on Twitter at @ellisbooker.

Q: What changes in B2B marketing and communications have you seen since you’ve been at the magazine?

A: Two things. First has been the embrace of marketing metrics. It’s significant, I think, that during this latest downturn, marketing continues, albeit at reduced budgets. In other words, marketers have succeeded in demonstrating their value to the business bottom line. There will be no going back to “let’s throw it out there” campaigns. Even newfangled viral executions are being monitored closely, and modified if they are not meeting some pre-determined success metric. The second thing, I’d say, is how much more playful and creative the executions have become in the nine years I’ve been editor of BtoB. I would credit Ogilvy’s brilliant work for long-time client IBM as helping to create this new, creative landscape.

Q: The economy has obviously been under a tremendous amount of stress lately. How do you see B2B communicators coping?

A: It’s sector by sector, as you’d expect. What will be interesting is how the hardest hit areas, such as construction and financial services, find their voice in the recovery. And how the survivors, many in merged situations, handle their merged brands.

Q: How do you see B2B companies embracing social media?

A: Cautiously. But they need to engage these new channels, at the very least as listening posts for how their products and brands are being discussed by customers and prospects. Another healthy outcome of social media is that it is forcing companies to look at how their customers consume media. The old assumptions about target audiences–the trade magazines they read, shows they watch, conferences they attend, etc.–are being considered with fresh eyes. Also, the smart companies are giving their young employees more and

more responsibility for setting the strategy for these channels, which are consumed by young professionals like themselves.

Q: With all the press about print diminishing, how do B2B companies feel about print advertising? And how is BtoB dealing with this?

A: We’ve had a multi-page NetMarketing section in BtoB since relaunching the title in 2000. So Internet topics are not new to us. We also have a standing section on business media, which provides very insightful coverage of media companies. Regarding the future, what I think you’ll see is the media print brands in each category surviving and growing integrated print-Web-event-data businesses. The second- and third-place media properties are on the bubble, unfortunately.

Q: What marketing programs are they doing for brand retention and awareness?

A: Answering this slightly differently… one of the things that has concerned me is marketers being too myopic about, if you will, transaction-based campaigns and having less patience for long-haul, multi-year efforts that build brands. This problem is magnified in the current economy, of course.

Q: Where are B2B companies investing most of their marketing dollars?

A: No surprise here. Online is still growing at double digits, although far less than a couple years ago. Within that online spending, paid search and search engine optimization take the lions share.

Q: If you could give advice to B2B communicators, what three things would you tell them they need for being successful?

A: First, I’d say communicators must learn to listen before they can talk. And by “listen” I mean listen across all channels, using analytic technology to make informed decisions. Second, they need to coordinate their efforts. It’s simply not acceptable these days to have online and offline efforts out of sync. Third, they should be ready to adapt, and adapt quickly. Companies that adopt the right technologies to listen, monitor and manage their messaging should be able to modify these efforts quickly when the data indicates X or Y
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isn’t working.

Q: Finally, what’s really the best way to pitch a story to you these days and what are you looking for?

A: The best way is e-mail. I live on e-mail. But before sending me a pitch, please read BtoB (and our many, subject-focused e-mail products) to see how we organize our coverage. That’ll give you the best idea of what we’re interested in. And on last thing. Despite my many comments about enabling technology, our focus here is about how marketers, practioners, are using these tools. We don’t do product reviews. We want to talk to users.

So you want to be a B2B communicator? Know your customers.

As an adjunct professor it never comes as a surprise that the majority of students I teach do not know what B2B communication requires, let alone even define it (Hint: it is not Back to Beer).

So let’s discuss what I feel is one of the key distinctions of doing successful B2B versus B2C communications – understanding your customers.

As communicators one of our basic mantras is to know who the end users of our products and services are in the marketplace. All of our strategies and tactical outputs should remain focused on communicating our messages and delivering on our brand promise to end users. No matter if you sell consumer goods or technology services, you need to recognize your customers’ wants and needs. That is a value-add from our efforts to our companies and clients.

So what makes B2B customers different? Here are five distinctions I see of B2B v. B2C customers

1. Customers in the B2B space typically have longer purchasing cycles. So instead of purchasing your products or services in a day or week it may take weeks or even months. This presents great opportunities to drive home our messages and value proposition, but at the same time it allows your competitors to do the same. The focus during this time now becomes building trust and differentiating our brand against our competition.
2. Customers in the B2B space often buy from our competition and can even compete with our other customers. We need to emphasize in our communications that we have to treat our products and services individually to each customer in order to build trust, loyalty and deliver on their needs. Remember, it is a long purchasing cycle and over time you can build strong loyalty or lose it all.
3. Both B2C and B2B customers are interested in customer service. The difference is that B2B customer service begins well before any sale is ever made or even considered. From a communicator’s standpoint we need to build our winning argument with case studies/references as well as third party endorsements during this time. These “outside influencers”, such as industry analysts, become a key component of our efforts to build trust with potential buyers. Find the people outside of your company that matter to our customers is always an ongoing initiative.
4. A B2B customer is typically more sophisticated than a B2C customer and has a deep understanding of our products or services (which means they also can be very skeptical). Since there already exists a great degree of knowledge or a high interest in learning about our offering, we must communicate in a way that talks specifically to them. This means you need to have a very complete understanding not only of what your company does but what your customer needs.
5. B2B customers buy your products because they will use them to help their company grow, become profitable, and stay competitive. This means you need to stay focused on communicating the value of your offering to them. They will not be entertained by funny animal mascots or snappy slogans. They want (need) a product or service to keep them competitive.

Even though this is a brief list, it feels like asking someone to name the top baseball or hockey players of all time. The list will change or evolve or could even be missing something. So tell us what you think.

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Allan Schoenberg
Director, Corporate Communications
CME Group — A CME/Chicago Board of Trade/NYMEX Company

Welcome to the B2B Voices blog

What makes the business of business-to-business (B2B) communication so special that we have banded together to create an entire blog on the topic? Is there really a difference between B2B and B2C communication? What can we learn from B2B communications and communicators?
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Communicating to a business versus a consumer does create different and unique challenges; however, at the end of the day many of the same principles, theories and tactics remain at the foundation. In fact, the great myth surrounding B2B communication is that it’s about communicating to the business. On the contrary, in the B2B world relationships are critical, and communicating to individuals becomes critical.

So here is a sample of what you will find as we begin our venture into the blogosphere with you.

Case Studies: We learn from others. We learn from benchmarking. We learn from having great conversations. Part of what we hope to accomplish is to talk with professionals on both the consulting side of the B2B space as well as the communicators inside great B2B companies. We hope these conversations give you new ideas and help you build new relationships.

Connecting: This blog will be used as a platform to help connect professionals doing B2B communication. While we may be doing the heavy lifting on topics for this blog, we hope to be able to connect others in the B2B community in order to network.

Strategies and Tactics: Weighing in on the old and new will be a part of what we discuss.”nike air max pas cher” We will of course look for your feedback, but challenging old assumptions and exploring new ideas is something we all will explore.

We hope you enjoy reading this blog and more so we hope you add your thoughts.
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And we’re off…