SXSW: R “Ray” Wang on Customer Engagement

I had an opportunity to sit down with R “Ray” Wang, CEO of Constellation Research, in San Jose a month ago, and discussed his 9 Cs of Customer Engagement. As I have a SXSW Interactive video sharing those 9 Cs courtesy of Software Advice and CRMSoftware.tv, this now gets to be a SXSW post!

Video: 9 Cs of Customer Engagement

Wang brings strong B2B credentials, having been a top enterprise apps industry analyst before becoming a founding analyst at Altimeter and now CEO of his current firm. Constellation has concentrated particularly on disruptive technologies like gamification, social CRM, enterprise social media and digital content marketing.

sxswThe 9 Cs break down this way:

  • People-Centric Values: Culture, Community and Credibility
  • Delivery and Communications Styles: Channel, Content and Cadence
  • Right Time Drivers: Context, Catalyst and Currencies

You an watch the video for a discussion of these in more detail or read more on Wang’s HBR blog post from last year.  I’ll highlight a couple of particular note.

First, Content.  He rightly observes we are in danger of drowning in it and tuning out. I saw a survey of B2B marketing pros indicating their No. 1 concern was generating enough content for their content marketing efforts. The bigger concern to me, given we’re buried in content, is whether it’s any good. Which means what? It has to add value, it has to not be about your product – nobody cares – and it has to be creative and compelling. Too often that last factor is taken for granted. After all, this is business right, so it doesn’t need to be entertaining.  Well, as the classic Corning Day Made of Glass video shows, you can make a dry video and get 500 views or you get get 21 million that entertains as it educates.

Second, Catalyst. For B2B marketers, we are engaging ultimately to sell or reinforce loyalty (to sell). How we give our audiences a catalyst to take the next step needs to be handled deftly and in appropriate proportion. I come back to Bodnar and Cohen’s 10-4-1 rule (my interpretation is basically 10 curated, 4 original content, 1 marketing call to action as a general guide). The 1 only works if you do the 10 and the 4. But the 1 – the call to action tweet or button to landing page or post – needs to be both compelling and super simple for the audience to follow through on.

Watch the video or read the post for more on the other seven. I welcome your thoughts!

SXSW: When Creative Content Projects Go Awry

Sometimes all you need is 15 minutes.

In a mini session at SXSW Interactive yesterday, Craig Peters, CEO of Awasu Design, provided some great tips to keep creative content projects (digital or not) on track. As this has become an increasingly important part of what we do in this era of branded content, I paid close attention.

The premise is this: We act like our clients (and even if you’re in-house, you most definitely have clients) know all about the steps involved in launching a website, developing a video, whatever. Why should they? And so then we’re surprised when we go through the wireframes in a roomful of people, and things start going badly. We may get the “product” produced in the end, but can be left with a sense that the overall engagement wasn’t what it should have been.

Complexity of the engagement story can vary. This example is fairly simple. Courtesy Awasu Design.

Complexity of the engagement story can vary. This example is fairly simple. Courtesy Awasu Design.

Peters, in “How Design Leads Set Up Projects for Success,” simply contends that we partake in a little storytelling for our own projects. Ever deal with “swoop and poop,” in which a well-meaning exec drops in on a project to provide that’s either off-base or inappropriate for the project stage? That doesn’t have to happen if you lay out the story of the project for all the stakeholders at the beginning, letting them know what’s going to happen and how we’re going to get there.

Of course, he has a couple tricks to help, which is nice. These include neat little one-pagers describing said wireframes and other parts of the project (why we do them, what’s going to happen, etc.) as well as a variety of timeline formats that visually and creatively tell the story of the engagement. I’ve provided samples here for your enjoyment.

One-sheet overview of a wireframe explaining what happens and why. Others can be created for stages like mock-ups or usability testing. Courtesy Awasu Design.

One-sheet overview of a wireframe explaining what happens and why. Others can be created for stages like mock-ups or usability testing. Courtesy Awasu Design.

One more day for me! Love to hear your own SXSW experiences, either here or via twitter.

Aaron

SXSW: Consumerization of IT Trend Shows No Sign of Slowing

I was able to hit two sessions yesterday afternoon in the Four Seasons here at SXSW, apparently ground zero for us more sober “enterprise” types, one on enterprise mobile apps and one on gamification + Big Data (“datagamify”). What connected them, in my mind, is the consumerization of IT. This is the concept that employees are increasingly expecting their experience with technology in the workplace to be as simple, fun and engaging as their experience with technology in their personal lives.

Long crowds await the SXSW Interactive opening keynote.

Long crowds await the SXSW Interactive opening keynote.

Eric Lai from SAP observed that 80 percent of the Fortune 500 has adopted iPhones and 65 percent of them iPads. Predictably now, the fastest growing category of apps in the Apple App Store is enterprise apps, and by 2016, that market will be worth more than $7 billion a year (IDC data). And yet Alex Williams from TechCrunch noted that most of these enterprise apps are ugly and that hurts usage. Employees don’t want manuals to learn how to do things anymore.

Meanwhile, the gamification advocates are motivated by a sense that life is a game. Plotting your career, for instance, is viewed in some ways as a game. We can now use apps and Web experiences to enhance these gaming aspects of our lives, to encourage our audiences to learn and engage.

One of the areas where these trends both come into play for B2B is around online customer communities. I suspect that tolerance for complicated, dry, blandly designed internal and customer communities by the users of those communities will wane. It won’t be enough to have one that functions.  Making it work – in other words, generating great engagement – will require more attention paid to elegant design and fun experience.

Use the Force of Your Influence, Luke!

Much has been made about often-provocative attempts to measure social influence, driven particularly by companies like Klout, Kred, Traackr, Appinions, and now apparently LinkedIn. I’m a tough critic of the effort myself, though I certainly praise the effort and find the tools useful at times.

Anyway, according to the new Klout, my most “influential” moment of the past 90 days is when I posted this on Facebook:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s great that I had some engagement, but I really really hope I’ve had a more influential moment than that! And anyway, so how did I influence people? I had some engagement, which might indicate I have the potential for influence, but friends, there ain’t a whole lot of influence actually happening here.

What’s especially puzzling is Klout can tell I’m influential in some way around B2B marketing topics. Yet none of the big “influence moments” reflects that. We may be making progress, but we’ve got a ways to go.

 

Tuning Into Talk About Your Industry Can Pay Off for Your Brand

Research is showing senior communications executives are worrying more about perceptions of their respective industries, not just their own companies or products.  In fact 51 percent of senior corporate communications professionals believe consumer attitudes towards their industry impacts their own jobs, according to a recent survey conducted by Spencer Stuart and my agency, Weber Shandwick. That’s higher than other forces such as the economy or product quality issues.  And the companies that seem most sensitive to industry perceptions are those that have divisions or product lines that are both B2B and B2C. Apparently, the firms with the widest variety of stakeholders have the most to lose from negative public opinion.

Chief Communications Officers increasingly worried about perceptions of the industries they work in.

Meanwhile, of 15 business or market forces expected to influence corporate communications budgets over the next year, this same study finds social media trends comes out on top, followed by the state of the global economy, and the globalization of the business.

Taken together, it looks to me like we should ensure we are doing a good job of monitoring conversations and trends on social media (and traditional) channels, not just about our own companies and brands, but about our industry as a whole. We need to recognize the actions of our peers can significantly impact our own companies’ reputations.

Fred Reichard, bestselling author of The Loyalty Effect, says in his follow-on book this year, The Ultimate Question 2.0, that the pursuit of what he calls “bad profits” by industries too focused on short term earnings than on the loyalty of their customers and other stakeholders can soon lead to new regulations or restrictions for everyone in that industry. Thing about how resentment toward financial institutions after the 2008 recession led to legislation to protect consumers from predatory practices. Or consider how the Affordable Care Act is a result, in part, of a lack of pricing transparency between insurers and healthcare providers, and of how difficult it has become for so many people who need coverage to get it. “Customers must conclude that businesspeople lie awake nights thinking up new ways to hustle them.”

But let’s turn this on its head. Being in tune with what is frustrating your customers in your industry is one of the best ways for marketers to spot great business opportunities. It worked for Salesforce, whose motto, No Software, spoke to their commitment to freeing enterprise software customers from license and maintenance contracts in favor of what was then a pioneering cloud computing model. The message was that customers stayed with Salesforce out of loyalty, not just contractual obligation.  Their business was driven by customers’ negative perceptions of their enterprise software industry peers, which opened up an opportunity for a new way of doing thing, just as it has for B2C brands like Zappos and Apple Retail Stores.

Here’s to more social media listening and responding to what really matters to customers and prospects, and less talking just to talk.

 

 

A Brave B2B Social Media Book

A couple weeks ago I published here a Q&A with Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen on their new book, The B2B Social Media Book: Becoming a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads With Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Email and More. Here’s my review of the book itself:

Kipp and Jeffrey have chosen to bravely go right to the heart of the matter: how to apply social media for B2B lead generation. While there’s more to social business than lead generation, it’s refreshing to read a book that says it’s okay for social media to bring you more leads. It will help us earn the budgets from senior executives to further develop social channels. As they said in the book, “Social media marketing isn’t about hugs, kisses, rainbows, or any other fluffy happy words.” Engagement, in a marketing sense, needs to lead either to new sales or repeat sales.

Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen

Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen, Authors of The B2B Social Media Book

The authors correctly note that compelling content is essentially the fuel that makes social media marketing work. They explain how to leverage blogs as central hubs of content to move prospective customers to the all-important Call to Action that leads to positive ROI for social media investments (“Tweeting a landing page doesn’t kill a puppy.”) They also correctly note that reach is underappreciated in B2B. In most B2B segments, we do need online advertising, media relations and other reach-generating tools to introduce new audiences to our content and value propositions.

That said, there are certainly creative alternatives to corporate blogs. Facebook can be used in similar fashion.  Sophisticated social hubs like Cisco’s The Network also work, though they are much more expensive to maintain. A blog is a great way to start. And of course, ideally, you’d use all these things.

I would also argue that the chapter on calculating ROI is overly simplistic, especially if your business model is built on long-term customer relationships.

Finally, it’s also important for readers to understand there are realms of social media program management that are just as important and that are beyond the scope of this book, including customer service and customer relations, employee communications, and corporate reputation management to name a few (think topics like social media crisis management or online customer communities for ideation). In practice, a marketer must collaborate effectively with these parties to thrive in this interconnected world.

But that’s not what this book is trying to cover (and in fact, Kipp hinted that perhaps B2B customer communities could be their next book). From tradeshows to Twitter to the mobile Web, Kipp and Jeffrey have given you a crisp tome on bringing real accountability to B2B marketing to generate tangible results in social media. Remember that engagement is a means to an end for a marketer, not an end in itself. This book is a very good guide.

B2B Companies Need to Be Prepared for Crises Too

I attended a Minnesota Business Marketing Association breakfast yesterday that served as a reminder that crises can happen to B2B companies too, not just cruise ships. Unpleasant things happen – planes with executives crash, workers strike, products fail, plants close, tornadoes strike.

The speakers were Jon Austin, former spokesperson for Northwest Airlines and now with his own firm, and Paul Omodt, VP at Padilla Speer Beardsley and a former PR person for the Northwest chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association. When I was in college in the Twin Cities, I saw Austin in the local media more than I saw the White House press secretary. You can imagine the issues they had to deal with.

Jon Austin at Minnesota BMA on Crisis Preparedness for B2B

Here’s the quick takeaways:

First, yes you probably need some kind of crisis plan, even as a B2B company. Think of Arthur Anderson.  Respected, in business for like a hundred years, and then thanks to the Enron collapse, out of business in the blink of an eye. Austin noted that what killed Arthur Anderson was not the lawsuits filed, because those took 10 years to get through the courts. Instead, in the first month or two after the Enron collapse, they had clients calling them up say, “We love you guys and know you didn’t have anything to do with what came down in Houston, but we just can’t have you signing off on our financial statements.” Reputation damage killed them.

As Austin put it: “Dinosaurs were pretty dominant at one time, and now they’re pretty damn dead.” Don’t be a dinosaur.

Second, drill on crisis plans. It’s time-consuming to put these things together and it can be a relief just to finish but without practicing their implementation, they are still likely to fail you. For one thing, people panic. Is this a crisis?  Do I really pull the trigger on this plan now?  Practice makes them comfortable. Second, it’s a great way to learn if it really works, if the roles are all covered. You don’t want to find out you haven’t adequately prepared for the likely contingency that your CEO will be oversees, your phone system will be swamped, and your email wil be down. It’s a chance to be comfortable with the plan and identify any weak spots in it.

Remember 9/11? Austin was with Fleishman-Hillard by then, working on the United Airlines account. The crisis plan called for flying all the key crisis team members to Chicago as a central coordination point. The team hadn’t considered the possibility that U.S. airspace could be completely closed down. Fortunately, Austin was able to drive to Chicago from Minneapolis, but you can bet all those airlines learned from that experience.

The more realistic the rehearsal the better. We have a great product offering that I’ve written about before called Firebell  for drilling on a crisis. The strength of Firebell is it’s been designed to simulate a crisis on a social world, letting you see not only what happens on the local TV news but also what happens on your Twitter account, Facebook and other social channels. (blog post on it or email me)

Finally, keep the plan refreshed. A reorg can eliminate a team of people important to executing the plan. New products are developed and old ones are sunsetted. New markets are entered. Crises are not viewed the same all over the world.

Interesting comment from Omodt – some insurance companies will lower your company’s premiums if they know you have an effective and up-to-date crisis plan in place – something to look into.

In closing, says Austin: “Be a mammal. Don’t be a dinosaur.”

Digital on the Rise in B2B, But Audience Engagement Lags

Recent research from Forrester has good news and bad news, from my perspective. On the one hand, Tracy Stokes, in “Marketing Budgets for 2012 Expose a Fear of Commitment,” notes that B2B marketers are moving to digital even faster than their B2C counterparts. Unfortunately, how they are doing so seems to be putting immediate gratification (i.e. leads) over the kind of richer relationship-building enabled by social media and creative digital programming.

First, the good news. According to Forrester’s research, which I would treat as directional rather than quantitative because of its small sample size, more than half of B2B marketing leaders see an economic recovery in their industry next year, compared to less than a third of B2C marketing leaders. Also, digital media now comprises 28% of B2B marketers’ budgets, ahead of their B2C counterparts (22%).

Are you investing in the long-term relationship?

Wow, right? Except what are they spending it on? Not innovation, which is expected to be cut in half from an already small base. Not brand building. Not relationship building. Transactions. Or at least that’s where the emphasis is.

I understand, I’m empathetic, really.  If you don’t win today, there is no tomorrow. But that’s a little like the federal government cutting taxes to spur economic growth without a plan to address long-term deficits. Ultimately, there’s a nasty price to pay.  What are some of those costs? Here’s four:

  • Commoditization
  • Reduced customer loyalty
  • Declining pricing power
  • Reduced market focus

Ouch. As with everything in life, success is about finding a healthy balance of investment through the marketing funnel – and beyond it to nurture customer advocates too. I’ve been part of award-winning communications plans that piled heaps of interest into the top of the funnel only to be plugged up at the bottom, and that’s no good either. But we have great opportunities now to do build stronger B2B brands and increase customer and prospect engagement all while effectively driving sales.

Building an positive and engaged bond between your brand and your customer is a powerful defense against commoditization. Leveraging social media to improve product development and customer service grows advocates and reinforces loyalty. A real commitment to listening to customers through social channels is effective (and cost-effective) at reminding you what your brand really is all about, and what it’s not about, so the organization stays focused on where it can be most successful. Here’s to a digitally engaged 2012!

Mission Impossible: B2B Blogger Goes Rogue

Update: Folks, my previous version implied mom bloggers are in it for opps with Wal-Mart, et. al. Obviously, that’s not true and wasn’t intended and moreover there’s some great opportunities for partnerships with those companies if handled properly. My apologies – my wife blogs too and there’s a lot of great stuff out there, which is really my point.  Look forward to meeting you all Saturday.

Saturday is the 2nd Annual Minnesota Blogger Conference in Minneapolis. I happened to be looking on Twitter when a batch of tickets was release and decided to take the plunge and nab one.

Folks, I’m going to be the ugly duckling at this gig. You’re all B2B marketing people, so you know what I’m talking about, right? What we do is often not pretty, almost never glorious.  Mainstream appeal, not so much. We’re hawking servers, or accounting services, or industrial filters for heavens’ sake. We think this stuff is big-time important, but our kids don’t particularly care.

But so what? I believe there are principles of good blogging that transcend these differences and I intend to find out what they are. In fact, I’ve set a goal for myself:  Be Like Allan Schoenberg.

Plus, I'm on a mission!

Our little operation here at B2BVoices Nation is not big but we do okay – 4,700 views in June has been the recent high water mark.  And Allan’s posts seem to be consistently tops in readership. What if I could be like Allan? What would that do for us, if I pulled my weight for once?

My mission, if I choose to accept it (well, okay) is to try to generate Allan Schoenberg blog post readership. It’s to your benefit folks because it means this stuff will be more interesting for you! Plus, in my last post, I noted blogs trump LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter on influence over business technology purchase decisions, so hey, this could benefit some of you too!  Stay tuned.

Business Tech Buyers Are Using Social Media, But Twitter? Not So Much

I’m at least a month late in reviewing Forrester’s annual 2011 Social Technographics for Business Technology Buyers report, by Kim Celestre (@kcelestre). As I was last year. :-)  It’s still worth doing. Forrester has conducted this survey for three years running and for those of us looking for the impact of social and digital media on B2B tech, this is about as good a study as we have available to us.

Here’s Forrester’s blog post.

This year’s report appears to show a real maturity in the behavior of technology buyers in social media. Basically, there was no substantive change in what percentage of their audience were social media spectators, critics, conversationalists, creators, etc. I’d venture to say that the average buyer here has pretty much found their comfort zone with social media engagement and is settling in on a specific style of engagement.

Twitter and Facebook are at the bottom of about a dozen online and offline sources.

The good news is that the average level of engagement is higher than for a typical consumer. For example, nearly a third are content creators online (for business purposes), while only 23% of the general population describes itself as such.

Where are they, though?  Forrester also looked at the sources of information these business technology buyers use, and guess what?  Twitter and Facebook are at the bottom of about a dozen online and offline information sources. (Only 5% claim they use Twitter for business purchase decisions.) It turns out more traditional channels like your website or conferences remain hugely important, if someone less so each year.  However, there are real opportunities to find larger segments of your target audiences if you can find niche communities online (LinkedIn does a bit better for instance) or if you can create a private community of your own customers.  For what it’s worth, e-newsletters remain important too.

I would also note that blogs appear to be fairly important sources of information. (Of course, I would say that!) This longer-format, “old-school” social media channel may be particularly well suited for discussing the complexity of B2B technologies. I would also argue Twitter is often a great channel for reaching influencers and opinion-leaders.

Bottom line:  Technology marketers should assume their target audiences are using social media, and probably more than just for consumption. However, they should consider nurturing more targeted online communities and ensure social media engagement efforts are seamlessly integrated with other marketing channels, including media relations, events, advertising and the website.