Great B2B content deserves greater B2B marketing.

As a B2B marketer trying to pay attention to what other marketers are doing, I see so much stuff that it’s hard to really grab my attention, but someone did today and I’m excited to share it with you.

It’s not a new idea, but I rarely see it used — and in this case it was done so very well. The offer is educational content. There’s nothing new or exciting about that. What was so well done, though, was how they got me to download it.

The sender was Symantec, which now owns VeriSign. The B2B content offer was a white paper on “Best Practices and Applications of TLS/SSL.”

The email grabbed me at the subject line by saying, “Take the trivia challenge. Get an 8GB USB.”

Sorry, but that’s a temptation I can’t resist — the challenge even more so than the flash drive. The headline in the email tempted me further with, “Think you’re smart about online security? Prove it.” How could I say no? How could anyone in IT not take this opportunity to prove to themselves, once again, how much they know?

After completing the challenge (I missed only two answers, which is probably pretty good for a non-techie), I receive a second email inviting me to download the white paper. The gift incentive made it more agreeable to fill out the short “who am I” form required.

The design was upbeat, the message short and clear, plus the campaign included an opportunity to generate an immediate inquiry by stating, “If you have any questions about online security, feel free to contact us at 1-XXX-XXX-XXXX or 1-XXX-XXX-XXXX, option 3.”

I don’t know how this campaign performed, but from my perspective, it followed most best practices. It effectively used the strong B2B marketing tactic — interaction. B2B marketers who can get their prospects “involved” in an activity with them and their brand are one step closer to building a connection and a relationship. It’s good marketing.

Assorted B2B marketing tips, I know they’ll help.

The December 14 blog post from Seth Godin, marketing guru supreme, was full of good advice in “Assorted tips, hope they help.” Unfortunately, none of the tips are about marketing. My first thought was, only Seth Godin could get away with this and still attract millions of readers.

I have lots of good advice to give out, too. But I don’t have the luxury of millions of readers. Those who land here to get B2B marketing advice might not like being told how to eat better. Here, it’s just marketing advice.

You may not be eating better, or making better medical decisions, or remembering to backup your hard drive, but following my advice should help you get a pat on the back (and maybe a raise) for generating more qualified leads (and sales) for your company.

Here goes:

  1. In your designs (online or off) never reverse body copy out of a dark or busy background. Doing that is like saying, “We have cool designers who don’t care if you read a word of our message.”
  2. “Keep it simple, stupid” especially applies to marketing communications. Even highly educated C-level executives want to get their information in plain language without having to work at it.
  3. Just because someone is the president of a big company doesn’t mean they don’t like t-shirts with funny sayings on them. People are people.
  4. Always build your marketing budget based on what you’re willing to pay on a cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale basis.
  5. Put your free educational content offer and how to get it right up front in ALL your outbound lead generation communications.
  6. Forget the word “we” forever. Never use it again in B2B lead generation marketing. Prospects don’t care about you at that stage of the buy cycle. They care only about what you can do for them now.
  7. Stop being boring. Make your marketing messages upbeat to reflect the genuine excitement you feel about the services and solutions your company offers.
  8. Studies have proven that the more you promise about what your service or solution can deliver, the higher the level of satisfaction felt by your buyers. Don’t lie — but don’t hold back either.
  9. Schedule conversations with different sales people often. Sales people talk to prospects and customers and can help you make sure your marketing messages resonate in the real world.
  10. In B2B lead generation and nurturing, never waste the cost of any marketing by not including a strong, clear and compelling call to action. You can brand and generate leads at the same time.

These are not new, but they’re all worth remembering. And I have more where those came from.

5 B2B marketing ideas you can implement (almost) instantly.

I’ve been delinquent in keeping up with my favorite blogs and staying up to date on today’s latest B2B marketing practices. Today I tried to catch up. All of the advice was very good — excellent, in fact — but it was also painful advice. That’s because, without exception, every post concerned big-picture B2B marketing strategies, the kind that require revising existing processes or implementing new ones. They are changes that need to be made, but could take months to implement.
Most of the B2B marketing teams I know are happy to just get a product launched or complete programs to drive booth traffic at their next industry event. Making any necessary but complex changes to marketing processes has the word “later” stamped all over it.

With this in mind, I’ve been on the lookout for ideas on small, but quick improvements that B2B marketers can make to at least feel like they’re moving the success of their programs up a notch. Here are the first five I’ve found.

  1. Boost content downloads: I read advice from Jonathan Kantor of The White Paper Company. He recommends that marketers provide site visitors with a free sample of part of a white paper before asking them to register to get the rest. Once engaged, they are more likely to register.
  2. Increase landing page performance: From the Pardot Marketing Automation‘s white paper on “Best Practices to Successful Landing Pages” I pulled out this little gem. They say that the most effective landing pages are those that reflect the look and feel of your Website, but do not allow for navigation to your actual homepage. Prospects can easily get distracted and click away from your landing page, losing the chance for you to get them to do what you were inviting them to do in the first place. They say, and I agree, that it is more appropriate to place links to the company site on the “thank you page” they see after registering.
  3. Lighten the burden of creating nurturing content: Reading the terrific Hubspot eBook “100 Inbound Marketing Content Ideas” spurred an idea. I remember that, when a colleague finds an interesting piece of content, they send me a link to it. There’s no reason why one of the elements in a nurturing campaign couldn’t do the same thing. B2B marketers can find valuable information that others have created (not competitors, of course) and forward a brief description and a link to the content in a nurturing email. It looks less like “self promotion” than sending one’s own materials and the content has already been created.
  4. Get a longer life out of email and direct mail content offers: Personalized URLs (or PURLS) have been around for a long time. It’s true they’ve lost the attention they once generated. Yet, a paper from Easypurl, Inc. does promote one benefit that I believe still has much value — that PURLs have a longer life than promotional URLs. Consciously, we know that using our name in a URL is not really personal, yet something with our name on it still makes a connection that other URLs do not. The Easypurl paper says that PURLs “have a long response tail.” For this reason, I think they still have value.
  5. Get better results by using the word FREE in subject lines and emails: A collection of articles on email marketing from Email Labs (now part of Lyris) that I saved supports a point that past testing by some of my clients has proven to be true. It says, “Perhaps the most common misconception in email marketing is that you should ‘never use the word free.’ By itself, the word free will not cause any of the major spam or content filters to reject your email. (Though it is possible that some corporations or user-driven spam filters might be set to delete emails containing the word “free”) So why then would you risk using free when there is a chance, albeit small, your email might be filtered? Quite simply, better results. In our experience across various clients, when used correctly, the word free can provide a powerful boost to your results.”

 

Help your B2B marketing prospects get the message.

My colleague and white paper writer extraordinaire Jonathan Kantor, the White Paper Pundit, is now sending out a newsletter called “Short Attention Span Marketing Tips.” His September issue makes it very clear why he picked the name. I suggest that all B2B marketers take note. He explains,

“In today’s ‘sound-bite’ world, it’s getting harder to pay attention:

  • We don’t read articles — we scan headlines and sub-heads.We prefer short SMS text messages to email.
  • Social media platform Twitter is based on messages of 140 characters or less.
  • The ‘3-second rule’ — the amount of time a web surfer will spend on a page — is a key factor in website design.
  • Television news — the industry that invented the sound-bite — has succeeded in reducing a complex news story to a few seconds.”

He’s right and this reiterates why it’s so important to follow these B2B marketing copywriting and design rules:

  1. Make your message scannable. Put the heart of the message in the headline, the subheads, bullet points and the call to action. If the reader is grabbed, then and only then will he or she read the body copy.
  2. Make your headlines strong benefit statements or promises of a benefit. That is, don’t make them information such as “Sarbanes-Oxley Compliant” but deliver a benefit such as “Stay compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley — effortlessly.”
  3. Make your headlines and subheads action statements. Write using words like Save, Get, Win, Start, Learn, Discover and dozens of other words that get your readers involved with your message.
  4. Keep emails under 250 words and keep lead generation letters to one page. I’ve worked with a client who had many lawyers involved in the marketing process and insisted that every possible caveat be included in every message. This approach diminishes the effectiveness of every marketing communication.

Think bullets. Think short paragraphs. Think reader benefits. B2B marketing must be inviting and informative even when it isn’t read word for word.

Jonathan Kantor is the principal and founder of The Appum Group, “The White Paper Company.”

How intuitive is B2B direct marketing?

Merriam-Webster defines intuitive as “directly apprehended.” I think most would agree that, if direct marketing is intuitive, then most people can naturally know how to do it and do it right based on their own experiences.

If direct marketing is intuitive, it would mean that an executive could make a marketing decision based on his or her own experiences and attitudes. “Because I don’t read marketing materials that come to my desk at the office, direct mail marketing is not worth doing.”

If direct marketing is intuitive, a product manager would make sure that the marketing messages sent out to generate leads would talk about the many features of the product being sold. That’s because anyone wanting those features will surely read the message and want to learn more about the product right away.

If direct marketing is intuitive, a B2B marketer who monitors Twitter, Facebook, industry blogs and his company’s SEO ranking would conclude that it’s the only way today’s buyers want to get their information.

The fact is, B2B direct marketing is almost totally counter-intuitive. This has been proven thousands of times by marketers conducting true A/B split testing of marketing channels, offers and messaging.

For example, which of the following offers would work best?

  • Buy one get one free
  • Two for the price of one
  • 50% off

Every one of these offers is exactly the same, so intuition would tell marketers that neither one would work better than the other. In real life, “Buy one get one free” typically outperforms the other two by a significant margin every time it’s tested.

Recently the wonderful Which Test Won service reported on this subject line test that was sent out with an email to a double, opt-in house file.

A. [First Name] Test, track, increase your profit – start today!
B. [First Name] Start tracking and optimizing your business today!

These subject lines say practically the same thing, so is this even worth testing? It turns out that 67% who took a guess on the winning line picked line A. Yet line B was not only the best performing subject line, but it generated an 88% lift in open rate.

It’s very clear that using one’s intuition to make any B2B marketing decision is not a reliable way to achieve marketing success. Smart marketers test, they don’t guess. It’s the only way to go.

B2B marketing “Advice from the Top.

This year’s Business Marketing Association’s (BMA) early June conference in Chicago was a big coup for the Colorado BMA Chapter. It was at this event that they proudly released their new collaborative book on B2B marketing Advice from the Top: The Expert Guide to B2B Marketing.

The Colorado organization’s Executive Director, Marilee Yorchak, describes this book as “a compilation of real-life case studies from 24 B2B marketing experts. It’s like having your own consultant right there with you.”

It was my pleasure to join with my colleague Dave Ariss of Ariss Marketing Group to co-author Chapter 23, which reports on the success (and insight) gained from a combination direct mail and email test campaign we created and managed for a technology publisher.

These success stories cover all the critical B2B marketing topics:

  • Strategy
  • Content Development
  • Implementation
  • Success Measurement

So what do the folks at the top have to say? This book is jam-packed with useful advice. It includes such valuable info as: how to make sure your research is accurate and actionable; a step-by-step guide to creating effective marketing plans; how to tell a compelling company story; how to get sales and marketing to support each other’s efforts — and a lot more.

If you’re serious about marketing success, having a copy of Advice from the Top within arm’s reach is a must.

It’s available directly from the Colorado BMA at BMA Top Advice or from Amazon.

When B2B Marketing should apply the rule of IDM.

In today’s B2B marketing world a large number of blogs, LinkedIn commentary, Webinars and the like focus on all the changes in marketing. In fact, the header on G. David Dodd’s Marketing Directions blog is positioned on following the changes. His header reads, “The rules of B2B marketing are constantly changing. What worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today. . .or tomorrow. This blog presents information, opinion, and speculation about where B2B marketing is headed.”

Unfortunately, there is one constant in the B2B marketing world in which I travel — and that’s “delay.” Web sites that could be redone in eight weeks suffer a six-month process of redesign. Marketing messages get reviewed and re-reviewed and reviewed again. One client got so backed up that they were months behind in sending out nurturing emails to prospects.

Many delays are impossible to avoid due to workloads and priorities. B2B marketing, however, should be a top priority. Generating leads, nurturing leads, upselling and cross-selling customers, maintaining customer loyalty — all those efforts are critical to company sales, growth, and success.

What can marketers do to minimize delays? Learn when to apply the rule of “IDM.”

“IDM,” of course, is “it don’t matter.” Many B2B marketing projects are held up by players messing with elements that, frankly, make little or no difference in response or results.

Ken Flowers, in his Practical Leadership blog, says it best when he updates Voltaire’s quote: “perfect is the enemy of good.” In Flower’s version, “Perfect is the Enemy of Done.” He goes on to point out that this quote comes in handy too often as people are reminded that there’s no value in perfect work until it is delivered.

A B2B marketer’s biggest job is knowing which marketing elements are critical to increasing response and which are IDMs. For example:

  • Copy and buttons on landing pages and emails matter. (Ann Holland points this out on her “Which Test Won” site where she reports results of real-world testing of emails and landing pages.)
  • Clear, prominent calls to action matter.
  • Subject lines matter. (Testing subject lines is critical.)
  • Home pages matter.
  • Language clarity matters.
  • Message targeting and personalization matter.
  • Titles of content offers matter.

There’s much more. This entire blog is focused on covering the marketing stuff that matters.

When delays happen, B2B marketers should look at the element delaying the project and determine if it’s critical or if it’s an IDM. Then they should know whether to make the change or to move on.

In B2B marketing “Nobody Does it Better” than the customer.

When Carly Simon sang “Nobody Does It Better,” she was referring to James Bond in the movie The Spy Who Loved Me. Yet this is the phrase that comes to mind when I think about the traditional “must have” in B2B direct marketing — testimonials.

Traditionally, testimonials take the form of a few sentences of praise surrounded by quotes followed by the name, title and company of the customer. Today, as writer Karen Bannan tells it, testimonials are going video and that’s a good thing. In that form, testimonials can become far more useful than just a statement of credibility.

In her post “Customer testimonial dos and don’ts” for BtoB Online, Ms. Bannan reports on the current practices at Apriso Corp., a company that develops and sells global manufacturing software. In addition to putting testimonials on their Website and in their marketing materials, they create video testimonials with clients that can be used as customer referrals and a lot more.

Apriso’s EMEA marketing director Veerle De Decker explains, “Video has become a way to replace the customer reference call or visit. In most cases, [new customers] are looking at huge projects with global roll-outs, and they want to hear from our largest customers.”

Of course, it’s not practical to have prospect after prospect calling these customers individually; hence, the video of the customer telling his or her story.

Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing the customer as he or she praises a vendor or supplier is much more powerful than written words could ever be. But that’s just the start of the value of a video testimonial. In addition to customer reference collateral, De Decker and Apriso suggest other ways these simple videos can be used:

  • Trade show displays
  • During Webinars
  • As part of sales calls
  • In other marketing materials

In addition, I would add these ideas for ways they could be used effectively:

  • As add-ons in nurturing emails
  • On the B2B company’s Website
  • On landing pages
  • Collected on a flash drive for hand-out
  • Collected on a flash drive to be sent in a dimensional package to high-up execs

The uses seem endless. Using them is easy. Getting them done is the tough part — and that’s at the core of Bannan’s post. She shares the steps to getting this done and getting it done right. I encourage B2B marketers to read and follow what she has to say.

Two of my clients, however, found the best venue for getting customers before a camera and that’s at a customer summit or user conference. They didn’t take their customers by surprise but got their agreement to participate in the video prior to the event. With it all set up and planned (as Bannan suggests) this approach can streamline the path to one of a B2B marketer’s most effective tools — customer videos.

B2B marketers shouldn’t forget the human touch.

In the borrowed cubicle I was using recently I found a copy of Online Executive Education, a magazine-like listing of courses offered to executives by UniversityAlliance through a number of universities across the country.

Seeing the types of courses offered gave me insight into what today’s executives are looking for in the way of skill improvement. They ranged from getting a “Black Belt in Six Sigma” to a masters in “Human Resource Development.”

Reading it, however, got me thinking about the lives of the people to which we market. It reminded me of what we B2B marketers sometimes forget — that is, we are selling products to human beings with egos and personal motivations, not just databases or a mass of social media followers.

Although B2B buyers must justify their buying decisions by the promise of benefits that will help the company — reducing costs, boosting productivity, increasing ROI, or others — they are still humans whose decisions are influenced by their emotions, experiences and personal goals.

The question is, “How can we make sure our product messaging touches our prospects as humans?” Here are a few suggestions on how it can be done:

1. Put all marketing messaging in the 2nd person.
“You” is the word that can go the furthest to make a human connection with the prospect. Companies that keep the marketing and product messaging in the 3rd person because they think it sounds more professional are actually separating themselves from their markets.

2. Discuss what the product can do in real user situations.
Help your prospect envision the product “in action” within his or her organization. Tell a story with someone in that person’s title or position gaining value from using the product. Draw them in so they can see how the product can perform in real life.

3. Spell out one or more of the “personal” rewards the buyer would experience from buying the product.
My favorite is “Become the company hero.” Others can include statements such as, “Take your next vacation free of worry,” or, “Become your company’s trusted authority on . . .”

If the B2B company is marketing to multiple titles, versioning the message for each title gives it greater impact with each target. It’s important that B2B marketers don’t get too caught up in the tools and forget the individuals who will use them.

Non-stop tips and insights for the muddled B2B marketing mind.

Congrats and thanks to Denny Hatch, marketing guru, commentator and author, on the recent release of his wonderful book “Career Changing Takeaways!” As the book’s subtitle elaborates, it’s a collection of “Quotations, Rules, Aphorisms, Pithy Tips, Quips, Sage Advice, Secrets, Dictums and Truisms in 99 Categories of Marketing, Business and Life.”

These mighty statements from recognized leaders and experts can instantly clear a confused mind on topics such as Brands and Branding, Communications, Creativity, Data Management, Decision Making, eMarketing, Job Searches, Website design and so much more.

Because Denny’s background is in direct marketing, there’s tons of good guidance for those of us in B2B marketing.

It ranges from the fun . . .

“I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes.” Philip Dusenberry

To the insightful . . .

“What’s your brand? If you can’t answer that question about your own brand in two or three words, your brand’s in trouble.” Al Reis

To the live-or-die guidance . . .

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” Jack Welch

It’s a great read, a great guide and a nice break to take when one’s marketing or decision-making mind is muddled. What better refresher than to read a few guiding thoughts from the pros?