Why Visuals Matter in B2B

I’ve talked before about the importance of finding content superheroes but I didn’t list the types of content they should produce. My point was that organizations should be looking at the right sources for content ideas — sales, research, IT, marketing, HR, legal and beyond.

How are you visually telling our stories?
How are you visually telling our stories?

This weekend I read through the latest book to make its way onto my shelf — The Power of Visual Storytelling — written by two true content superheroines: Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio.

After reading it, there are a few lessons from this book for B2B marketers to consider.

  • Visuals tell stories. It’s a cliche you’ve read many times now, but images help to clarify complex issues and processes. This can be done via a series of images or by a single infographic, but B2B companies, which deal with complexity and long sales leads, can better educate their stakeholders through simple images. Take a look at these 20 examples of B2B brands on Instagram and these five on Pinterest.
  • Images are an investment. Investing in good imagery is just that, an investment. Your overall strategy for images should be long term — with some real-time exceptions — so you can develop a plan to use them online, in presentations, with social media and beyond.
  • Make your images everyone’s images. Social tools continue to build off of the fact that we want to share images. Think of the transformation made by social media’s early platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn and the focus of new platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. As you build your content strategy online you need to be thinking also about how and where your audience will share them online.
  • Mange your images. Do you have an image librarian? Do you have a process for creating infographics? Is there a flow to keeping your images consistent looking and clean? I can think about several other questions to ask you, but you get the point.
  • Think carefully about your images. MarketingProfs said it best in this post, “Be a content brand, not a brand with content.” When you think about the story you are telling take the time to choose the right images as well as the right places you want to share them. What you need is to have an image plan for infographics, charts, graphics and photos.

There are three things that make this specific book from Ekaterina and Jessica valuable. First, the ongoing list of examples of companies and how they use visuals to tell stories and respond in real-time. The book is a treasure chest full of brands to follow and research. Second, the list of resources to consider for creating graphics is wonderful and does not overwhelm the reader. Third, the chapter on developing a road map is crucial as it focuses on ways to build your program and measure your success.

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

Need a Strategy? Start by Playing Games

Are you ready for a real-time B2B world?

Curious George Goes to the Office

Use Storytelling to Draw in Customers

How Fatherhood Has Made Me a Better B2B Communicator

Another year and another father’s day. I now understand why this was my father’s favorite holiday (mine too) and why he kept all of the cards and gifts we made for him (I do the same). And there’s a lot about fatherhood that has made me think about how it translates into doing my job better. Here are four things I’ve learned about being a father that have

Happy B2B Communicator Day too?
Happy B2B Communicator Day too?

helped me professionally (hopefully moms feel the same way).

Storytelling is Important. For the past several years reading stories has become a daily ritual. What I like about children’s stories are the themes and lessons learned. They have a purpose. This clearly resonates with what we do as communicators as we work to have stakeholders better understand our purpose. Good storytelling in business help make the complex simple and give better meaning to what we are doing. What’s your favorite childhood story (I like Curious George)? Can you make it relate to your brand?

Test Your Creativity. What do you do on a rainy day at home? How can you pass time on an airplane? When you go to the park are you engaged and play and how? Being a parent pushes the boundaries of your creativity and allows you to both experiment and test your thinking. It also helps your children better understand and appreciate fantasy and fun. I’m convinced the concept of brainstorming meetings is the result of parenting (think about all the times you sat down with your kids and ask, “What do we want to do today?”). There are many benefits to thinking differently and I like that as a parent — and work colleague — I can help be creative. Even playing games can help you become a better strategist.

Be Patient. Parenting and patience are hard to separate (impossible even). As communicators, it often takes time to see the full effect of our work. As social and digital projects continue to consume our daily workload it’s easy to get caught up in the immediate impact. Don’t. Even though news and information is traveling in real time 24/7, it’s important to understand the value of taking your time to have the best campaign at the right time and to measure it over a set period. Getting caught up in the

Have fun. Social and digital are changing the role of we do as communicators. Just like digital is changing the way we communicate and teach our kids, we need to cope with the complexities at work. What I’ve learned from all the demands of being a parent, and as a manager/colleague/partner, is to have fun. This is something I make sure my kids understand — it’s important to take work and deadlines very seriously, but every day make sure you enjoy what you’re doing, laugh and do the best you can.

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


Getting Your Degree in Business Acumen

You are What You Read

Is Motivation the Key to Success?

Need a Strategy? Start by Playing Games

Blogging isn’t supposed to be easy

How Well Do You Know Your Social Network? Probably Poorly

Five lessons learned after five years of B2B social media

Are you ready for a real-time B2B world?

Why Aren’t You Using More Stories? Here’s Why They Matter

The “human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor,” says Jonathan Haidt in a story last week in Scientific America. If you haven’t read it yet take some time to and think about the implications for your B2B business. Stories are a powerful tool not just because of the way we think, but because of they help make connections to people — your stakeholders.

Aaron wrote in a previous post about Corning and its storytelling around making glass and I wrote before about three ways stories can help your brand. But does this mean you have to change all that you’ve done with key messages? Do you need to update your website? No, of course not.

Take some time now to think about the last project your worked on. Maybe it was a media interview or an internal meeting with colleagues or even just a coffee with a vendor to talk about planning. Did you use a story to get your point across? If not, why?

Historical stories give meaning. Our brands have histories and these are great ways to tell stories and remind your stakeholders about how your company/culture was formed, how a product developed or why strategic decisions where made. You not only can use stories to show how something developed, but stories bring your thoughts, ideas and decisions to life. For example, when I was with Accenture I remember hearing the story many times at how the name was created. That story became part of its culture around employees working together.

My son loves comic books (okay, so do I), which are great examples of storytelling.
My son loves comic books (okay, so do I), which are great examples of storytelling.

Stories make a point. Have you ever struggled during a meeting to get people to understand what you need? I know I have. Or worse, have you had to sit through a presentation that was lifeless? What I like about stories is that they can take a dry subject, or a subject that is only of interest to you, and give it shape, form and color. Essentially, it helps others understand what you want.

Stories help make the complex simple. I’ve worked in several industries that have involved very complex technologies or products. Reminding spokespeople to use stories can give a very technical product an interesting angle. The best spokespeople I have ever used all have one common trait — they tell good stories. You should encourage this as much as you can.

Stories make you…human. At the end of the day people like working with people. Using stories in your presentations or interviews makes you more believable and trustworthy to your audience. And while we are helping our companies sell products or services, we are really trying to build relationships.

We’ve written a few times about storytelling, so you may want to check these previous posts out as well:

Curious George Goes to the Office

You Can’t Make a Cake Without Great Ingredients

Use Storytelling to Draw in Customers


Content Fusion: How Stories Are Shared in a Social World

It’s become apparent for some time in the world of professional communicators that traditional ways of thinking about how we package and share content – or, stories, if you will – are inadequate for the Web. One of the very best videos to articulate the problem, Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us, is now several years old. It also pointed to the solution.

Issues: Online, people simply do not consume much of their information in linear form in a singular format in a singular vehicle the way that you might have consumed a traditional printed newspaper or sat down and watched the network evening news on television. Hypertext destroyed linearity, encouraging us to jump from story to story and to share stories more easily with each other. XML separated the form of a page from the content of a page, which meant that suddenly content could be syndicated in many places and be presented differently in each place. Witness Flipboard. Social media growth means most often the content I consume comes from friends or organizations I trust rather than traditional news sources, even if it was nevertheless created by those traditional sources.

Weber Shandwick, my agency, has introduced a new model for online storytellers, which every organization should consider themselves to be. It’s called Content Fusion, and it harnesses and works with this new freedom to separate content from format and channel.

Here’s the way to think about it: Every company has stories. Think about the stories you have to tell first.

Then, think about format. Some stories are better suited to text, some to video, photos, audio, or some combination.

Then choose content vehicles. Only now do we start to say, “Should this be a news release?” Or a white paper, a blog post, a podcast, a presentation… Probably a combination, because different people respond differently to different content vehicles.

Okay, now consider communications channels. They may be branded channels, like your website. They may be “earned” channels like the opportunity to place your story with traditional media, online or off. They may “shared” channels like Facebook, where you have some control, but you share it with your audiences.

Finally, prepare for and encourage conversation. Not only do your stories travel farther when shared by others (witness the power of “friends of friends” on Facebook), but they carry more credibility. Plus, the content can be reshaped in new and unexpected, mashed-up ways.

Watch the YouTube video and tell me what you think.

“Our Products Don’t Lend Themselves to Storytelling”

Yeah, I don’t buy it.

I’ve always been a big advocate for the stopping power of good stories and the importance of humanizing products and institutions. (So does Allan Schoenberg – see “Curious George Goes to the Office.”) It’s only gotten more important as audiences have become increasingly barraged by content from all sides and their attention spans get shorter and shorter. But the tools and channels for telling great stories have also just gotten better for B2B marketers. Thanks to the Web, social media networks, and the power of content syndication, anyone can be a great publisher of content. But that means using the tools of the craft that journalists have used over the years and setting aside the hard sale.

One of our agency’s “Seven Elements of Storytelling” is to humanize the story. Okay, so let’s consider what would be pretty much an impossible product offering to humanize.

How about glass?  Fancy glass yes, but cold, hard wholesale glass sold B2B nevertheless. Like the products our friends at Corning sell.

In their words, “Corning is the world leader in specialty glass and ceramics. Drawing on more than 160 years of material science and process engineering knowledge, Corning creates and makes keystone components that enable high-technology systems for consumer electronics, mobile emissions control, telecommunications and life sciences.”

Yeah, yeah. But Corning also created one of the greatest corporate overview videos of all-time.

Called “A Day Made of Glass,” the video shows all the different futuristic applications of Corning glass. Photovoltaic window glass gradually lighting the room in the morning, frameless LCD television glass, touch-sensitive architectural display glass and so on.

The video does an exceptional job of humanizing a product that is the otherwise the epitome of cold and lifeless. It also happens to show that sometimes high product values do matter, even on YouTube. Since it came out three months ago, it has received more than 12 million views, making it one of the most-viewed corporate videos of all time. Amazing.

We’re All Publishers Now

Well the advertising and PR worlds are abuzz with the news of Forbes’ new AdVoice offering, which enables corporations and other organizations to blog under the Forbes banner under some sort of paid arrangement.  The two primary takes by industry watchers so far are that the sky is falling and this is the end of journalism and a great journalism brand or that this is nothing more than an incremental variation on advertorials.

Pontificating on whether this spells the doom of journalism and forever tarnishes the Forbes brand is probably a little outside the scope of this blog but I will say that it is hard to see much of a fundamental difference in principle from advertorials. Moreover, in many ways, Forbes is not the first publisher to take this step. We have noticed our clients getting increasing requests to blog on trade media sites already, and those publications aren’t even asking for compensation!  (Though there is a presumption that we’ll avoid overt production promotion in the blogs.)

Photo Courtesy Matt Miller, Flickr

Similarly, let’s take what’s probably the top and most respected consortium of enterprise tech bloggers, the Enterprise Irregulars. Sure, many of them are industry analysts and other traditional pundits. But Anshu Sharma, VP of Force.com platform product management at salesforce.com is also an Irregular, as is Craig Cmehil, senior product specialist at SAP AG.

In other words, the bigger observation for B2B marketers is that AdVoice reinforces what’s been a growing trend towards companies becoming media publishers. The fact is that in the social media world, good content is good content as long as there is transparency around conflicts of interest and who the real authors of that content are. It doesn’t have to come only from members of the professional journalism community.

Former Financial Times reporter Tom Foremski writes about Silicon Valley business trends and the intersection of technology and media. An excerpt from his post at www.EveryCompanyIsaMediaCompany.com:

Our media has also become much more complicated — more fragmented. We used to have “mass media” where a small set of media companies and channels, in TV, radio, newspapers, trade press — hosted much of our media communications.

Those days are gone. The reality is we now live in a multi-platform, multi-channel, micro- media world, and the trend is moving towards ever greater media fragmentation — vidcasts, podcasts, blogs, micro-blogging, Twitter, etc.

It is no longer possible to operate a business the old way — such as sending out a news release on Businesswire and briefing a handful of journalists, and sitting back.

Today you need to do that … and more, much more. Every company needs to master these media technologies, and the best media practices, of a rapidly fragmenting media world.

Traditional media relations opportunities are ever-fewer, especially for smaller or niche brands.  Yet conversely, the Web creates compelling long-tail opportunities to connect specialized audiences with specialized content in exciting ways, with video, slideshows, podcasts, tweetchats, e-books and blogs.  If you’re Apple or Google, you might not have to do this – though you should. If you’re almost anyone else and you want to connect effectively and consistently with your target audiences, you must consider yourself a media publisher.

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Curious George Goes to the Office

Who doesn’t love a good story? I’m particularly at my best reading these Curious George books to my kids at night. There’s always something about George getting into trouble and learning a lesson that I enjoy — but I think my kids just like how I goof around and tend to get creative with the plots each time I read them.

While the enjoyment is spending time with my kids, the challenge is always trying to make the same story interesting again and again. Does that challenge sound familiar at your job?

I was lucky enough to speak to a group of Northwestern Univerity IMC graduate students a few weeks ago on this topic of storytelling. I started my discussion by asking a simple question — what are the two things that every business does? The first answer was easy — sell. Obviously to exist companies need to make revenue and they do this by selling. The second took a little longer to get, but as you can tell by the theme of this post the answer is — tell stories.

That’s it? Sell and storytelling? In my opinion, yes. We just don’t call it storytelling. Words like differentiation and branding come to mind as do tactics like case studies and third party influencers.

But those words and tactics are parts of the story. So what is storytelling and how do we use it? Here’s a great post by Kevin Dugan on the topic. You should take a look at what he has to say.

I like stories for a few reasons and try to use them as much as possible. Here’s my line of thinking:

1. Stories make your organization come alive. Telling stories gives depth and perspective to the products and people of your company. While you only make “widget123” there is a reason you make it, people who make it and customers who buy it. Providing background on how it “widget123” was invented, examples of how customers use them, and why they are important to your industry (and perhaps the economy) gives your product and company life.

2. Stories give you credibility. While fact sheets and statistics are nice and get to the point they rarely get you anywhere on their own. Stories can demonstrate why there is a need for your company and the things you do. And face it, facts and figures do support your stories — not the other way around. I don’t think I’ve ever had a reporter write a story about my company or clients based on a fact sheet, but giving them a story — buttressed with facts — makes my pitch that much stronger.

3. Stories differentiate what we do. While competition can drive us all bananas (Curious George pun intended) it only forces us to tell better stories. The next time you’re stuck in a competitive situation start asking your product teams about the stories they can tell. You may be surprised at how many ideas you can generate to really stand out from your competitors (and hopefully they’re not reading this post).

Now it’s your turn. How do you develop stories for your company? What stories work for you? And of course if you have any children’s book recomendations I’m open for ideas (so are my kids).