Two B2B marketing rules that cross all forms of communication.

After back-and-forth email discussion with a client today about subject lines on a particular email, I got to thinking about how what I was saying applied to all types of B2B communications.

The fact is, we want to be effective communicators whether the platform is an email, letter, PowerPoint presentation, Website, post card, brochure or who knows what else. If B2B marketers forget all the other rules and best practices of communication, they must remember these two as the basics of getting their messages read. They are simple to remember — but can make a powerful difference.

1. Keep it short.
People are multitasking. They may be reviewing their emails while on a conference call. Schedules are often booked solid all day long. Often they don’t have time to do more than take a quick eye scan of the communication.

B2B marketers are not usually in the same room with the reader when the messaging is being read. They aren’t there to see the person yawning, looking at their watch or not giving the message any more than a glance. The trick to keeping it short is to write the communication. Then let it sit overnight. Then review it the next day and remove every word and sentence that is not critical to its purpose.

Don’t go on and on about product details in a communication inviting attendees to a Webinar demo. Don’t give away all the details of a case study you’re asking prospects to download.

2. Forget your big vocabulary.
B2B marketing communication is always more effective when it uses simple, direct language. The easier it is to read by anyone, the better. Some assert that one should use formal language when talking to, say, academics. However, everyone, regardless of education level, prefers simple, straightforward language. This is especially true when learning about products or services they might want to use. Clearer, more basic language also helps keep the communication short.

This isn’t new advice. In fact it’s been said over and over and over again by me and others. What’s disappointing is how often I still see these rules broken. B2B marketers have a better chance of standing out from their competition in this crowded marketplace by just following these two simple rules.

One B2B social media expert who’s got it wrong.

I’m not a social marketing expert. I don’t pretend to be. My expertise and knowledge are in the outbound arena. I’ve written many times that I still believe in outbound marketing because I see it working cost-effectively for all my B2B clients. They use it to reliably fill their pipeline.

Yes, inbound marketing is cheaper. Yes, it works. But users of it cannot control the volume or the timing of the inbound inquiries it receives. Outbound marketers using proven B2B direct marketing practices can.

Here’s the reason for my rant. Perusing B2B Marketing Zone, I saw the reposting of the blog by Dragan Mestrovic on his inBlurbs site “How to save 62 percent of your budget with inbound marketing.”

He knows inbound marketing. His advice and the statistics he presents are all perfectly valid.

This rant concerns what he says about outbound marketing because, on that subject, he’s way off base.

Outbound marketing communication is one-way.
Initially, it is. A B2B marketer sends a message that reaches out to a targeted group. That message, however, is designed to generate a response. The minute there is a response, the communication instantly becomes two-way.

Outbound marketers’ customers are sought out.
Of course they are. But the customers being reached are not random. By accessing targeted databases of opt-in customers, members of groups, trade show attendees, carefully compiled databases and more, the B2B marketing firm is reaching out to those companies and individuals who match the profile of their customers.

Outbound direct marketing has been around for so many years that the level of database sophistication is staggering. Unlike what Mestrovic proposes — that marketers fill out a persona sheet to build a customer profile — an outbound B2B marketer uses data companies such as Acxiom, Accudata or one of many others to build a statistically sound customer CHAID or regression model. That model is then matched against rental lists to find prospects that match the customer profile. There’s no guesswork involved.

Outbound marketers provide little or no added value.
Do inbound marketers think they invented content? It’s been around as long as direct marketing has been around. It used to be called an “offer.” That’s how outbound marketers get a response — by offering educational information. The very subject of the content is designed to generate qualified leads. B2B marketers test various offers against each other to let the response from the market tell them which is the best.

Outbound marketers rarely seek to educate or entertain.
See above about education. Entertainment can be part of any marketing message — outbound or inbound. But it needs to be used carefully, as a poor use of “cleverness” or “humor” in marketing can backfire and negatively affect the brand.

Mestrovic says that outbound marketing is losing its efficacy. But in the real world, B2B companies calculate what they are willing to pay to get a qualified lead and, once they do, they’ll find that outbound marketing is still a bargain and that, unlike inbound marketing, it can predictably generate those leads.

Matching B2B marketing channels to buyer preferences.

With so much information appearing daily on the Internet, it becomes impossible to know which information to trust and which is just random opinion.

That’s why I was so happy when a colleague sent me a copy of a study from Epsilon Targeting, “The Formula for Success: Preference and Trust.” A division of Epsilon, a provider of consulting, marketing data, and marketing technology, they compiled responses from 2,226 U.S. and 2,574 Canadian age 18+ consumers to an online survey in August of 2011. Their statistical significance of the results is calculated at a 95% confidence level. This is their third study on the topic of marketing channel choices.

Readers may question why I would report on a consumer survey when the focus of this blog is B2B marketing. But I feel that the results of this survey translate very nicely into the B2B world, because business decision-makers are also consumers and naturally bring their personal preferences into the workplace.

Direct mail is the trust and attention-getting winner:

  • 26% of U.S. consumers and 30% of Canadians said direct mail is more trustworthy than email.
  • 50% of U.S. consumers and 48% of Canadians said they pay more attention to postal mail than email.
  • 60% of U.S. consumers and 64% of Canadians said they enjoy checking the mailbox for postal mail, highlighting an emotional connection.
  • 30% of U.S. consumers said they’re receiving more mail that interests them compared to a year ago, and just 50% (down from 63% in 2010) said more information is sent to them in the mail — indicating marketers are improving targeting efforts.
  • The perception that reading email is faster declined among U.S. email account holders to 45% in 2011 (from 47% in 2010), suggesting clogged inboxes are draining time.

Email still has many advantages:

  • 42% of U.S. respondents like that they can choose to receive or not receive email.
  • 41% like the fact that they can decide whether to print out the information or not.
  • 34% of U.S. consumers (up from 21% in 2010) like the ability to be green and save on the use of paper.
  • 23% like the easy ability to forward information (a very valuable tool in B2B marketing).

From the above portion of the study’s results, it’s clear that both direct mail and email still have a place in B2B marketing. It supports my long-held position that direct mail is still the best outbound marketing channel for generating leads, and email is still the best for nurturing those leads through the buy cycle.

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.

Hat’s off to the B2B marketer behind this effort.

I love marketing offers. In B2B marketing (or any kind, for that matter), offers are what you give someone for doing something you want them to do.

Content is an offer. Offering content in outbound B2B marketing is basically saying:

“By accepting this offer you are showing that you have interest in learning about this topic. Tell me who you are and how to reach you and, in exchange, I’ll give you this white paper or this assessment or this guide or these case studies, etc.”

How often should a B2B marketer make an offer in outbound marketing efforts? The answer is ALWAYS.

When we B2B marketers invite prospects and clients to a Webinar, we see the Webinar as the offer. It has value and is educational. That’s why I was surprised and delighted to get this email invite.

Not only do InformationWeek and the event sponsors Syncsort and NetApp invite me to a Webinar, but they offer me the opportunity to win something if I attend.

So I asked myself, “What is their strategy in doing this?

I’m not sure I’m correct, but when I read the “contest rules” I discovered two possible answers. Here is the section of the Contest Rules I found revealing:

“To enter, each potential entrant must become a registered user of the Web Site and truthfully and accurately provide all information required by the registration process and view the “Virtualize without Compromise: Understanding VM Backup and Recovery” Webcast in its entirety prior to 2 p.m. EDT on July 26, 2011. The eligible prize winner(s) will be selected at random from all eligible entrants who view the Webcast in its entirety.”

It’s possible that two of the reasons this offer is being made are:
1. To make sure the registration is complete and accurate, and
2. To ensure that attendees don’t leave the Webcast early.

This offer makes the invitation stand out from dozens passing through a typical inbox. The subject line of “Win [50] $10 Starbucks gift cards: Understanding VM Backup and Recovery” puts the offer up front.

In addition, this offer gives me a very positive perception of the publication and the event sponsors. They are making a $500 investment in the hope that this Webcast will generate X number of leads and X number of new customers and potential revenue that justifies the investment.

It’s a strategically and financially sound B2B marketing strategy.

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.

How often to send B2B lead acquisition efforts? Find your Uncle Harry.

Several months ago, a prospective B2B client called me for messaging help on her company’s sales-generation email program. Because her Web service is available for a low monthly fee, she doesn’t need to nurture leads but seeks, instead, to generate ready buyers.

On the call, she told me that she is sending emails out to the same list of 20,000 small-business prospects via Constant Contact every week. I let out a small gasp when I first heard this. Any B2B company emailing me weekly would have been opted-out a long time ago. Yet, she says her opt-out rate is low. It’s possible that many of her emails are going into spam folders and aren’t being seen at all; however, they do generate some business.

Then a recent blog post, “eMarketing – How Many Touches Produce Results?,” from Manticore Technology, a B2B marketing automation provider, addressed the email frequency issue. In their words, they had “set out to discover how many touches are optimal for multi-touch email marketing campaigns.”

They offered an educational eGuidebook to the same target list, sending one email per month for four months. Here is their result:

Email #1: 1235 downloads
Email #2: 585 downloads
Email #3: 52 downloads
Email #4: 17 downloads

In direct mail marketing, the predictive formula of results when sending the same message to the same audience is a 50% drop in response with each successive mailing. This example in emailing shows a greater decline that may or may not produce similar results if repeated in the future.

But the question remains, how often is too often? What’s the answer? The number is different for every company, every product, every target market. Only through testing can a B2B company determine which frequency is the most productive and cost-effective. Only through testing can each company find their Uncle Harry.

Who’s he? Uncle Harry is the guy that triggers how often a company should mail lead generation offers to the same group of prospects. Here’s the story:

Many years ago, an insurance company that sold primarily through direct mail was trying to determine how often it should mail offers to its base of prospective customers. Their marketing team broke the mailing list into groups and tested various mailing patterns. The one that performed the best for them was to re-mail every 90 days.

They found that mailing more often cost more and did not produce enough additional business to justify the additional mailing costs. On the reverse, they found that waiting longer than 90 days did not boost response significantly enough to justify the wait.

So why was 90 days the magic number for them? Because Uncle Harry died.

That’s right. Every 90 days, there are enough people in the country who have a relative die to trigger the awareness that maybe they need to get life insurance.

How does this consumer example apply to B2B marketing? Because, most of the time, the decision to move ahead with finding a solution to a particular business challenge relates to an event. Uncle Harry may not have died, but perhaps a big customer was lost, a competitor won the bid for a new customer, costs suddenly rose or one of hundreds of events happened that triggered a change in company priorities.

It’s then that a B2B company needs to be in front of its prospect with the right message. For some, like the prospective client who called me, every week may not be too much. For others like Manticore, once a month with the same offer may be too often. B2B marketers should test their lead generation marketing frequency to find their own Uncle Harry.

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?