A B2B Marketing Wishlist for 2014

I’m never one to make predictions on this blog and I tend to shy away from them in general, especially as so many other leaders in this space make them. As I’ve stated before, I’m more focused on what to accomplish and what to do. If you’re still looking for a good list of B2B predictions for this year here’s a list of five things to watch.

What ideas do you have for 2014?
What ideas do you have for 2014?

Looking into this year there are several positive signs in the economy. One of them is the fact that B2B companies are planning to increase their spending on marketing. With a surge in spending occurring this year where should B2B marketers invest? Here are four areas where I think communications can have the biggest impact to your organization.

  • Blogging. I’m a believer that blogging should be a central component to any B2B digital strategy. In fact, if I could only choose one social media tool to use it would probably be blogging. This not only includes writing your own blog but also contributing to other blogs. And with LinkedIn opening up its Influencer platform you now have another platform to develop written content.
  • Be Interactive and Listen. This opening sentence from the Harvard Business Review sums it up: Smart companies recognize that both their marketing and their broader business strategy need to be informed by carefully gathering customer insight. How are you listening to your customers? Online forum groups that are private can offer great opportunities to hear from your customers. In fact, we’ve talked about this time and time again here at the importance of LinkedIn groups. If you don’t have a system for gathering and sharing stories, trends and comments internally you may be missing out on valuable insights.
  • Focus Your Images. Telling stories with visuals has to be something you are looking at doing more of this year. If you are struggling with this go by the book The Power of Visual Storytelling to help you out. Visually telling your stories through charts, graphics, images and video not only raise awareness but also appeal to people’s senses and emotions.
  • Think Sales Leads, Not Just Sales. B2B sales has changed and cultivating a constant flow of sales leads is vital to the growth of every B2B company. From a social channel, LinkedIn wins in this category from its company pages to just using the platform to network. But there are many ways to build lead, including email as well as white papers, case studies and webinars. The options are overwhelming, so you need to really do our research on your customer segments and find out how to best reach them. Still need help? Here’s a helpful guide (or click on the image below) at the ways B2B marketers can choose what resource to drive awareness or sales.

Where do you plan to focus your communications strategy this year? Let us know what you think in the comments. If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read the following:

Can B2B brands inspire?

Craft work — what’s your B2B expertise?

Who are your content superheroes?

Is Motivation the Key to Success?

Do most online communities fail?

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Where is Your B2B Blog?

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A blog can help you focus and narrow your content for your brand.

In case you missed the news, the blog turned 20 years old this year. That’s pretty significant since many of us are still working on our Twitter and Instagram strategies and both of those platforms are less than ten years old. And the blog is far from dead as Neville Hobson points out, in fact, it’s future looks pretty good.

The challenge is that blogging can be a daunting effort and as I wrote before it is not supposed to be easy. It takes time. It takes resources. It takes creativity. It takes perseverance. But the long-term benefits of blogging far outweigh the short-term pains.

I don’t want to complicate this topic or oversimplify it either. There are a number of posts on this topic if you search Google. So, whether you are about to start a B2B blog (or digital magazine) or you want to sit down and review your existing one (always a good idea to step back), here are three reasons why blogging matters and should be central to your B2B communication efforts.

Show you are a leader. No matter what industry you work in, there will always be issues and hurdles for you and your customers. A blog can help take the mystery out of some of these issues — regulatory, complexity, cultural — and let you build a community around topics that matter to you. In a competitive world thought leadership does matter and make a difference in the sales cycle, and both your external and internal customers want to know your position and where you stand. Your blog platform allows you to showcase your opinions and views.

 

Show you are interesting. Blogs help you tell stories. Plain and simple. And that is a huge benefit as B2B companies need to demystify their operations and focus on being understood. Ultimately, a blog will help you build awareness and engage prospects. In addition, you can be more creative with your efforts by integrating graphics, photos and video. We often use newswire services to build a multi-media package for news, and now that can be done regulatory with your own resources. Your blog now allows you to become a brand newswire.

 

Show you are respected. There are two ways to do this both on the front end and in the back office. On the front end, you can leverage your blog for guest posts and views from outside of your organization. Using third-party endorsements has always been a key value point for communicators and organizations. Blogs allow you to tap into your global network and help not only draw readers into your content but also influence your audience. In addition, on the back office you can measure  the effectiveness of third-party content through your data. And data is an ever-increasing initiative to measure what’s working and what’s not working. In addition, other social data allows you to search and find influencers to connect with and contribute content.

What B2B companies fail to understand is that a blog can be extremely flexible. Whether you want it to be video or image intensive to explain how things operate or Q&A focused to make it conversational, a blog allows you the freedom to build on your culture and image. And because of this flexibility you and make it what you want and have it help you tell your story. Some B2B blog examples to follow for inspiration: AccentureCiscoCME GroupGEIntel and Manpower.

Call it brand journalismcontent marketing or blogging. It doesn’t matter in my opinion. What B2B companies need to grasp is that context matters. You can hardly get context from a tweet or an image.

Looking for more help? Here are 10 lessons learned from Hans Kullin from 10 years of blogging. And from Velocity Partners here are a number of ideas for blog content.

Additional content to read (added March 5, 2014):

Embrace the Executive Blog — CIO.com

What I’ve Learned as a Writer — Zen Habits

How to Write Faster — Hootsuite

If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read the following:

Can B2B brands inspire?

Craft work — what’s your B2B expertise?

Who are your content superheroes?

Social media management

Do most online communities fail?

Can B2B Brands Inspire?

When you think of five brands that inspire you which names come to mind? Think of a few right now. I’ll wait.

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My kids provide lots of visual inspiration to me for these posts.

Now, how many of you thought of a least two companies that are B2B brands? When we think of brands that inspire us we may opt to only think of personal or B2C brands because they are the most popular or because we see/use them every day. That’s not to say that B2B brands can’t and don’t inspire people.

Let’s rephrase the question. When you think of B2B brands that inspire you — the ones we look to for ideas or want to partner with for business — which names come to mind?

One of the action items we should be doing as communicators is to make our brands more inspirational. At the end of the day, we want our stakeholders to really want to do business with us; to recommend our products or services; to help us tell our story. If we are just selling or focusing on our story we can’t expect others to be inspired?

When we think of brands and business that inspire us as customers, partners or vendors we should instill qualities such as trustworthiness, authenticity and reliability. Even if B2B brands won’t consistently make the annual lists of “brand rankings”, the stakeholders in our companies actually do want to be passionate about us, and we should try to make this happen.

There are dozens of ideas where B2B brands can focus their resources to inspire audiences, but here are my thoughts on three areas where you can focus your efforts around brand inspiration:

Visual Inspiration: With the growth of digital and online campaigns marketers are now challenged more than ever to focus on visual elements. Having good, consistent images can be a powerful component for a brand. As HubSpot points out in this post, “B2B products don’t tend to be inherently visual“, but this shouldn’t be the case. What I like about the focus on visual content is that photos, graphics and even charts can provide a key way to differentiate your company, but images can be a powerful way to connect you with an audience. What I think becomes daunting for B2B companies is knowing where to start. I like to think when it comes to visuals your website can be a hub, generating lots of visuals that can be shared across numerous platforms, such as Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. With so many options don’t get trapped into thinking you need to develop an enormous datamine of visuals. If you have an established set of guidelines and rules for your brand you will help bring your visuals into focus. If you’re looking for B2B visual ideas read the HubSpot post. You can also check out these 20 B2B Instagram feeds.

Thought Leadership: When it comes to thought leadership I like using the cliche, “Birds of a feather flock together” — people that want to build awareness around an idea should be sharing and talking with and about people who are already considered leaders on the topic. For instance, if you want to be known for your smart thinking about urban planning you should associate your company — management, ideas, blog posts, social media and research — with thought leaders and concepts already in that space. If you already are a thought leader in your own space you should be thinking of ways to expand into other segments or become a beacon for new ideas from new thought leaders (e.g., partnership with think tanks or university programs). But thought leadership requires more than just being associated with others. You need to be different and consistently telling your story. If your B2B brand isn’t taking advantage of platforms such as LinkedIn for your thought leaders, a blog or Twitter you should take some time this week to think about what you need to do to change that. That’s a good segue to my last topic. I’m also a fan of research. Research can provide not only interesting insights for the business and sales teams, but also gives marketers and opportunity to further differentiate  our companies from the competition. Given the number of channels to now promote original research, the opportunities to build interest and create sales demand from research should be a regular part of your program to raise awareness. And don’t forget to incorporate images into your thought leadership campaign; there’s a reason infographics have become popular — they tell a story, they’re shareable and they convey thought leadership around an idea (check out ideas over at Visual.ly). If you can own an idea, a concept or have something truly special to say about an initiative you will inspire stakeholders to follow you.

Social Media: B2B brands looking for ways to inspire should look no further than the abundance of opportunities social media brings to the table. Yes, it can be daunting, but staying focused (and making time) on who you are trying to inspire (e.g. potential employees, targeted customers, thought leaders) can help you narrow your choices. Here’s some B2B Twitter and B2B Facebook inspiration. One place to start would be with a blog. While there are many challenges to a blog the benefits for B2B blogging are numerous. What I like most about a blog is that it can help integrate your visual strategy with your thought leadership strategy, and then allow you to push the content out through various channels — from email to social media. My only warning is don’t try to do too much. It’s very easy to start chasing social media tactics and lose your way. If you have a small team stay focused on a handful of social platforms and do them very well. The key, as many global B2B firms now do well, is to integrate all that you do — from social to traditional media.

One, Two, Three

What I like about focusing on visuals, thought leadership and social media is that you can use these tools around not just a corporate brand, but also for highly targeted campaigns. If you have 100 CFOs you are targeting focus your efforts on what would inspire them. If you have a concept or string of concepts that you want to amplify you can can use the ideas above to build inspiration. All three ideas I’ve mentioned also are very real things to see and measure when it comes to trying to inspire others.

If you’re looking for more B2B inspiration I suggest you check out the examples of B2B companies from Forrester’s B2B Groundswell Awards. And if you want a B2B trend to learn more about then read about gamification from Interbrand. We hope this posts inspires you to at least think a little differently about your B2B brand and what you can do to build passion around what you are doing. If you have any B2B brands that inspire you please tell us who they are and why in the comments.

If you enjoyed this you may also want to read the following:

Craft work — what’s your B2B expertise?

Do B2B companies need social media?

What is social media success in B2B… and some examples

Who are your content superheroes?

Social media management

Do most online communities fail?

Blogging isn’t Supposed to be Easy

Just over three years ago Arik Hanson had this crazy idea to start a B2B communications blog and asked me to contribute (this is now my 82nd post). I agreed, but didn’t realize at the time how much hard work it takes to blog, but that’s the point; it’s supposed to be challenging. My first post wasn’t exactly rocket science about the profession (So you want to be a B2B communicator?), but I’ve gotten better at it over the years. Since Arik’s proposal to me I have also started a personal blog and now contribute content and ideas to our company blog.

What motivates you to blog?
What motivates you to blog?

If you are still thinking about blogging professionally one of the best posts I’ve ever read about the topic is from Josh Brown, who answered the questioned, “How do you have so much time to blog?” The answer is easy — we don’t. Like Josh, it’s become an important habit that I enjoy. In addition, this post from Boing Boing this week on how to blog is a must read for both the novice and expert. In addition, many thanks to Francine McKenna who was a great mentor at getting me started on this blog and offered many valuable tips. From my experience with B2B Voices, I’ve become a better writer and more importantly a better thinker.

From all of us who contribute to this blog, thank you for reading, thank you for commenting and if you have been thinking about blogging for your B2B company, your clients or yourself, I hope this post was helpful.

Our most popular posts since we launched in April 2009 include:

Don’t Overlook the Power of LinkedIn Groups

What’s your “I” in Social Media?

Case study: Can accounting firms really be social?

Has Social Media in Financial Services Arrived?

Getting Your Degree in “Business Acumen”

What is social media success in B2B… and some examples

Why LinkedIn’s Company Pages Now Matter More

B2B Case Study: ShipServ

Integrating Social Media With Corporate Website: How Far Can We Take This?

Using video as a B2B marketing tool

Live from Minnesota Blogger Conference

Well we are through the morning keynote by Lee Odden and the first breakout session at the Minnesota Blogger Conference at Allina Commons in Minneapolis. Not surprisingly, Arik Hanson and his colleagues have put on a really nice event here.

My mission has been to find out what we can do here to make our b2b blogs better.

So far, I have in fact picked up some great ideas along with some things to maybe experiment with.

So 3 things to start:
1. Content is King but Creativity is Queen: From Lee Odden of Top Rank Blog fame. What this means for me is that yes we must take our substance seriously, but it can be so much more impactful if cleverly conveyed. Which leads to …
2. Lots More Visuals: I attended a session on Tumblr, which has really been breakthrough in making posting lots of different formats easier. The expert, Patrick Rhone (his most popular site is Minimal Mac) describes it more as a clever content curation platform than blogging platform but I think those lines can get blurry. I have some concerns about the reliability of the platform, especially on Internet Explorer, after watching, oh, about ten crashes, but it has a lot of promise and you can bet WordPress is learning from Tumblr’s growing popularity too.
3. To Stand Out, Stand for Something: From Lee Odden again. This may be obvious but I do think it’s hard to keep a good focus on one domain so you really stand out in that domain. There’s just too much competition out there to be everything. You can always add another blog.

I’ll try to post again here.

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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.