Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

Taking a New Approach to Reaching the Real Buying Influences

Just when you think you fully understand the buying influences and the right messages, think again.

One thing that I’ve learned during my career is to routinely take a second or third look, after you think you’ve got a market all figured out. BtoB buying influences can easily allude the marketer or PR pro who goes with “obvious” conclusions.

Digital Metrology in a Crowded Field

Early in my career I worked with an Italy-based company (DEA) that made multi-axis, robotic-like digital equipment for probing durable goods components to measure dimensional accuracy.  During the automated routine, the probe would touch points on the part, ensuring that holes and features were within tolerances specified to meet quality objectives.

Back then, the new kids on the block in the manufacturing world were the “quality” people, working in lab coats in Clean Rooms, carefully measuring samples (first parts of a production run, for example).  These were the typical users of the Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMMs) our client was selling. So of course, it would make sense to direct the advertising and PR toward these Quality Control engineers.

What we didn’t first realize and acknowledge was that the Manufacturing and/or Production Engineers (the guys that specked out and ran the “dirty” work out on the shop floor), actually controlled more budget dollars for the Clean Room quality control equipment than the quality guys.  Plus, the Manufacturing Engineers were starting to get the CMMs out onto the production floor to achieve faster checking and higher sampling.

So, while the heavy competition (there were more than 12 CMM builders at the time) were still grinding away with their ads and PR in Quality and Quality Progress magazine, we targeted the publications that the Manufacturing Engineers read – and created messages specifically relating to their world.

DEA’s market share steadily grew, while others floundered or disappeared. DEA was later bought by US-based Brown & Sharpe.

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September 15, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, BtoB Marcomm Creative, Buying Influences, Media Relations | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Application Stories Fueled B2B Manufacturing-Tech Leadership

Early in my career in the years “B.I” (Before Internet), I began experiencing first-hand the marketing power of pumping out useful, insightful content to the marketplace.  My colleagues and I proved that we could magnify the perception of a very small company as a leader, by demonstrating what they know.

Our Detroit-area agency did the marcomm and PR for a Bridgeport, Connecticut manufacturing-tech specialist and system builder,  Bodine Assembly & Test Systems.  Bodine had one basic carousel system format that they applied to the assembly of products in dozens of industries, from consumer padlocks and batteries to fuel injectors, to little telecommunication connectors.  Fascinating to watch.

My on-going program focused on demonstrating the depth of their custom engineering genius, applied successfully for so many different product manufacturers.  We created a direct mail mini-magazine, videos, advertising, PR, trade shows – a comprehensive mix. Lots of testing technology news. And we helped top executives to speak out, on subjects such as quality assurance to lean manufacturing.

The biggest element was the application stories. The trick was beating the proprietary-technology roadblocks that so many of Bodine’s customers would put up, many times for good reasons since the assembly process contributed significantly to their competitive edge.  But we worked with them, or around them.

Door Hardware Application in Bodine's Direct Mail Mini-Publication

Showing the “nuts and bolts” of applications helped prospects visualize themselves as users of the technology.  We also had our version of the Human Interest angle … let’s call it “Engineer Interest.”  For instance, we told the story of how an older Bodine synchronous assembly machine that had been making garter belt clips, of all things, was sold and converted into a machine to make electrical products. Women’s fashions had changed, markets shifted, and the technology got re-applied.

Over five years time,  we proved that our awareness-building programs worked, with metrics from publication-sponsored research, and from Bodine’s successful entry into new markets, fueled on the front-end by marketing communications.

Also see my May post on persuading top management.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | Authenticity, B-to-B Case Studies, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, BtoB Marcomm Creative, Business Storytelling, My Career, Tech Sector Thought Leadership | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Will It Blend” is the Ultimate Demo

More ideas to borrow for BtoB marketing:

No one can deny the success of Blendtec’sWill it Blend?” viral-video marketing strategy.  It’s both a BtoC (home blenders) and BtoB (commercial blenders) equation. It’s proof of the power of the demo, especially when you take it to an extreme…and have some fun with it.  The no-to-low cost nature of this campaign is the biggest news.

CEO Tom Dickson hosts the hugely viral video series

There’s dozens of these goofy demonstrations on YouTube; their smiley CEO Tom Dickson blends iPhones, Transformer toys, even Bic lighters (their “don’t try this at home” disclaimer is serious).  I don’t play golf, so this one (below) certainly doesn’t disturb me one bit.

How do you apply the demo video to less-visually-dramatic BtoB products and services?   Take a close look at what time-lapse could do for you – whether it be actual video footage or graphics.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-to-B Marketing Vocabulary, B-to-B Social Media Technology, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, BtoB Marcomm Creative, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Borrow Best B2C Campaign Themes for B2B Messaging

My workday adrenaline is fueled by the fact that business innovations are exciting, new technology enthralling.  Likewise, B2B marcomm messaging should tap into new and engaging energies, rather than reverting to hyperbole and braggadocio.  And why do we need to always be as serious as a funeral home?

So, here’s my first in a series entitled:  “Best B2C Campaign Themes to Borrow for your BtoB Messaging.”

First up:  KIA Motor’s “You Can Go with This, or You Can Go with That”  TV Spot for the Soul.  Gotta love it.  Amusing nonsense.

I can imagine the ad people pitching the idea to KIA: “Yeah, so we’ll have these really badass rappers from the hood, but they’re hamsters.”  The use of small appliances is brilliant; it takes me back to my irreverent/irrelevant college radio days back in Ann Arbor, with Fraser Smith, John Giese, Daddy Wags (where are they now?) and occasional Firesign Theatre guests.  Lots of non sequitars.

So now, imagine this. Your next B2B campaign.  Bag the “solution” laden copywriting mode, and instead use vivid images captioned with “you can get with this” (your offering) in contrast to the chaotic alternative if you “get with that.”  Obviously, you can’t use KIA’s actual rap tracks; we’re talking about parody or similarity here.

More to come.  If you’ve got a favorite, please let me know.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, BtoB Marcomm Creative, Business Storytelling, Issues That Worked | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Have You Laughed at Chelsea Lately?

Authenticity is growing as a guideline on business websites, but it’s getting rarer on TV these days.

I recently went to a taping of Chelsea Lately, the rude, shallow but amusing gossip/talk show on the E network.  I expected that an under-employed comedian would be warming up the small studio audience prior to the taping – what I didn’t expect was that it would be an obnoxious Laugh-Nazi. First, he began berating us for not laughing at his jokes, explaining that we needed to laugh out loud, not just smile, during the actual show.

He scolded us repeatedly.  It was “because Chelsea needs it” (and we owe her, since she’s the number one rated show on E), then later in the lecture, he said it was because it was our job and important to the show.  Wow.  Okay, we were willing to play along; they were blasting music to get us clapping and revved up.  But the brainwashing didn’t stop there.

During the show, the Laugh-Nazi moved around to different sections of the little bleachers and “orchestrated” the laugh-mandate.  Making faces. Waving his arms.  It was obvious we were a tool…it saves them the cost of adding a laugh track in editing.  Unpaid helpers, but hey, the tickets were free.

The guest didn’t show up that night, or there wasn’t one, so we only saw 20 minutes of the show being taped, after waiting outside for an hour and a half.  We walked away feeling used.

Authenticity takes another hit.  You shouldn’t tell people to laugh.  It’s real phony. In BtoB communications, you shouldn’t tell people that they should care.  Either they do or they don’t.  And avoid informing a business person that they “have to” or “must (embrace your technology)” in order to be competitive.  Very presumptuous.

And most of all, as a business marketer, don’t take yourself too seriously. Pompous is out. Or in Chelsea’s case, don’t demand to be taken so humorously.

But sincerely folks, have a very-amusing 4th of July weekend!!

July 3, 2010 Posted by | B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, Business cliches, Business Storytelling | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Exposing Business Cliche Over-Exposure

I had the pleasure of contributing some informal research to David Meerman Scott’s book The New Rules of PR and Marketing back in 2007. Since then, it has become a business-book bestseller, and now a revised and updated 2nd edition is being sold on-line and by major book retailers such as Borders. Some colleges are using it as a textbook – it is a comprehensive overview of the tactics available to reach buyers directly with useful information as opposed to hype.

David Meerman Scott

David Meerman Scott's business bestseller

My research, summarized in Chapter 12 (see pages 156-157), has to do with over-used words and phrases that have lost any meaning; clichés that are spewed daily in news releases and other content in the BtoB world. I surveyed publication editors to gage their complaints.

I have talked plenty about the ubiquitous word “solutions”  (see “Guess What, We Make Products”).   There’s plenty of new lists and sources, including Seth Godin’s amusing Encylopedia of Business Cliches on Squidoo, where you can vote for your favorites. “Synergy” and “paradigm shift” are both in the top 10.

The indictment of business cliches has moved from deeming the practice of using them as mere laziness of the writer, to slamming it as intentional subterfuge.  I think it’s a mixture.  Another factor is ignorance of the news-release writer due to lack of experience within the industry discussed.

My suggestion for freshening up your business vocabulary:  read Business Week, Wired, Discover, Scientific American or other technology-trends publications.  Borrow an appropriate term, give it a new context, and make it your own.

June 13, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Marketing Vocabulary, B-to-B Social Media Technology, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, Business cliches, Tech Sector Thought Leadership | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

B2B Marketer’s Challenge: Cutting Through the Clutter to Persuade Top Management

I am now in the 4th stage of my career.  This post begins a series on these stages, with some insights I have gained along the way.  Stage  I (below) was my “heavy-duty” period.

The struggle of manufacturers during this deep recession to get support from banks for investments in new technology and capital improvements reminds me of the challenges of the first stage in my career.

One of the toughest industrial marketing communication assignments is the job of trying to get top management to consider investing in new manufacturing capital equipment.  In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was my mission, my daily toil. I did it for a dozen and half different companies who engineered and built robotic cells, lasers, controls and all kinds of bizarre-looking automation.  These companies had to succinctly demonstrate the ROI of their systems to their market, which was the manufacturing industry, or else shrivel up  as just another “clever idea.”

The trick on the front end of the sales cycle was to promote these technologies with messages that would actually get noticed and absorbed. The recipe was a mixture of persuasiveness, tersely-stated bottom-line benefits, and creative clarification of how the improved process / technology worked. The audience was extremely skeptical.  We were asking these potential customers to consider risking millions of dollars, or tens of millions, based on our claims.

The Tools

Case studies were big, and this put me in the thick of things – crawling around violently-noisy machine tools, climbing high into towers of automation, getting intimate with lightening-fast assembly systems – all to get accompanying images, and also to get a real feel for the technology in use.  I talked regularly with production supervisors, engineering management and mahogany-row execs.  Being in the trenches was fascinating and at times, extremely strenuous.  I’ve been yelled at by shop union stewards, and spent evenings scouring dense process charts.

What was being made by the industries served? Airplanes, appliances, sporting goods, cars and trucks, computer products and telecommunications widgets, padlocks, Barbie Dolls, even breakfast cakes.  I worked for some software and integration companies also.

We would rifle-shot our ammunition on more than one battlefield. The channels were simpler then – primarily business and trade publications, supplemented by targeted direct mail. Content was the key.

What I Learned

Most promotional information that is spewed from companies with a complex technical offering is in one of two categories: it either consists of large quantities of engineering detail that can’t be deciphered by top management, or it goes in the opposite direction – it’s AdSpeak fluff that bores and/or patronizes the reader.

We designed outreach programs that avoided both mistakes. I learned how to write and produce brief, meaningful content that clarifies a compelling value proposition, and included enough concisely-stated substantiation to be credible to a CEO.

Messaging was on three levels:

1)      Brief, poignant and ROI-oriented messages for the highest-echelon execs

2)      Case studies and perspective papers to convince manufacturing management

3)      Video programs for production supervisors and process engineers…seeing it at work increased their comfort level with the technology.

It’s some of the hardest work I’ve done.  For the target audience, there’s scarce capital and valuable floor space at stake.  Persistence was essential – most of these programs were multi-year, and several were between 5 and 10 years in duration.  Staying on message was a priority, yet we had to constantly find fresh ways to say it and to disseminate it.

I have applied many of these skills to describing and promoting IT systems in recent years. Most importantly, I learned a lot about a number of industries and what makes them tick.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, Business Storytelling, Perspective Paper Strategies, Tech Sector Thought Leadership, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Let Engineers Tell their Stories

During the late 1980s and 90s, I spent a great deal of time writing case studies on behalf of manufacturing technology specialists, the companies that innovated new controls, automation and processes used to make durable goods.   The work took me to plants throughout North America and parts of Europe.

There were numerous obstacles.  General Motors had a policy against endorsing “suppliers” in articles, and would not allow their engineers to be quoted or GM’s name to be used. This is back before they needed supplier’s good will and cooperation as much as they need it today.

Sometimes, we found ways to bend the rules.  Once or twice, we just plain broke them.

I always remember being in a Maytag manufacturing plant in the early 90s.  The appliance industry is notoriously stingy in terms of investing in new automation technology, due to cost and risk in light of razor-thin margins.  The “let Mikey try it” attitude pervaded,  “Mikey” being the automotive industry, historically with deeper pockets.  And, since manufacturing-efficiency advantages were critical to an advantageous price,  Maytag and Whirlpool and others typically forbid case studies sponsored by their equipment suppliers.

So, here I am, looking at innovative die change automation on Maytag’s production floor, figuring that I will only walk away with some caption-less photos and a little information attributed to an unnamed appliance maker. But the manufacturing engineer, a company veteran about to retire within a few months, said “to hell with it.”  In essence, he said: “I don’t care about the company policy.  I worked hard to champion these changes for many years, and stuck my neck out for them.  I want to tell the story.  And yes, use my name. Turn on your tape recorder, and quote me.”

I guess the “easier to ask forgiveness than for permission” axiom prevailed.  He happily retired, on schedule…i.e. not early.  The profession of manufacturing engineering is virtually invisible to the general public, and under-valued by corporate management, so recognition and appreciation is scarce. Those engineers dedicated to it want to tell their stories, and not just to a few coworkers at the bar.  They want it to be their legacy.  The balance between helping the manufacturing community with case study information and protecting a company’s competitive edge can be achieved.  I made sure that happened.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, Content-Inspired Conversations, Tech Sector Thought Leadership | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Industry Origins are Popular as Business Stories

Although my focus is on the B-to-B world, I summarized three of my favorite B-to-C stories that are well known to many business people, and asked colleagues and cohorts to vote on the one they thought was the most significant to them. My thanks to the thirty pros who responded.  Looks like the oldest story wins.

1st Place: Birthing Big Mac

Ray Kroc is hawking milk shake blenders to diners when he stumbles on the “make it before it’s ordered” assembly-line formula used by a couple of brothers named McDonalds, and the fast-food industry is born.

I got responses from folks in all kinds of industries – 16 votes total

2nd Place: Narrow-Sighted Auto Boss

After spearheading the hugely-successful Ford Mustang, Lee Iacocca is fired by the cantankerous Henry Ford II. Iacocca goes on to turn around Chrysler, inventing the mini-van, a concept that Hank the Deuce rejected at Ford.

10 votes: it appears that my more independent colleagues in the media/communication fields preferred this one.

Lastly: Wal-Mart PR Blunders

The extremely “calculated” management at Wal Mart figure they can manipulate their way to a friendlier, folksier business image using PR efforts that lack authenticity. Among them: paying a couple to blog their way across America in their RV, specifically to write about happy Wal Mart employees. No mention of the Wal Mart sponsorship.

4 votes: Adrian commented that “Walmart is such a smarmy, juicy target” – a newer story related only to communications.

Frequent themes for business stories include business blunders (and the lessons learned), problem/solution scenarios, and opportunities acted upon that others ignored.  Please pass along a favorite (comments, or via email).

March 17, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-toB Advertising, Brand and Reputation, Business Storytelling, Content-Inspired Conversations, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment