Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

Thanksgiving is Story-Telling Time

Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude, reflection … and family stories recanted over mincemeat pie.

Want a lesson in extremely compact story telling?  You may have seen AT&T’s Rethink Possible TV spot.

If these guys can visually tell the life story of a fictitious future U.S. president right up through inauguration, along with the meeting and courtship of his parents, in 30 seconds, and still have time to include a leisurely look at the parent’s curious, flirtatious first glances …  while demonstrating the cell phone technology that made the meeting possible …. then certainly we B2B PR content developers can deliver a case study in a one or two short paragraphs.  Some of us do.

Happy turkey day to all my colleagues and friends.  I’m going to try my hand and making a mincemeat pie from scratch – complete with rich, brandy-fortified hard sauce.

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November 23, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-to-B Social Media Technology, B2B messaging, BtoB Marcomm Creative, Business Storytelling, Content-Inspired Conversations | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Give your B2B Home Page the Core Score

There’s a lot of attention given these days to the SEO and navigation aspects of B2B websites…and most marketers are aware that sites should have gobs of helpful content, news and links.  But what about the initial messaging and information presented on the home page?  It either quickly makes a connection with people who don’t know your company or what you do, or it doesn’t.

So here it is… my rating system for B2B marketing-oriented website home pages. Completely subjective and yet somehow slightly scientific.   I call it Core Score.  It’s not about the look or the navigation…it’s about value propositions and specifics.  There are 12 potential points in the basic tally.  I’m also, however, going to add bonus points and some subtractions (more on this later).

Links to home pages that demonstrate each of the six home page attributes are included below.

Three points each for:

==Home page succinctly states what the company actually does (3 points)

Examples: see TruecarFirst Solar

==Quantifies benefits in terms of cost reduction, time, ease, efficiency, and/or productivity   (3 points)

See Freight CenterRiverbed, or  Johnson Controls

==States two or more customer challenges that can be solved by product/service  (3 points)

See Telogis, CybersourceSourcefireB2B Home Page Core Score

One point each for:

==Text links to specific problem-solving ideas  (1 point)

See IxdaABB

==Links to testimonials/examples  (in addition to access from main nav bar)  (1 point)

Many examples: one is Johnson Controls

==News headline and link (1 point)

Many examples; see Autodesk

In upcoming posts, I’ll calculate total Core Scores for individual home pages for companies in the tech sector and other industries.  Your input on selections and scoring-weight are welcome.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | B2B home page, B2B messaging, Brand and Reputation, Business Storytelling, Tech Sector Thought Leadership, Uncategorized, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sharing PR Expertise with Nonprofits on a Speed Date

One thing I have realized over the years is that seasoned PR pros are prolific idea people.  Lots of creativity, with a persistent “can do” attitude.   They know what interests and motivates a given audience, and what channels to use to get to them.

This was evident at an exhilarating one-day event to help out local nonprofits in the L.A. area last Saturday, called Quality Time with PR Minds, sponsored by PRSA-LA, Kaiser Permanente, RAND Corporation, Allison & Partners, PainePR and others. Teams of PR volunteers provided free brainstorming for nonprofits that have limited funds and resources for retaining professional PR counsel.  Speed-date consultation, if you will.

The mix at this event included folks that could add a good dose of marketing communication savvy, making each group of 3 or 4 volunteer consultants a potent little brainstorming forum.  The non-profit beneficiaries kept their pens scribbling, their heads nodding, their responses juiced. They were smiling.

My team sessions were for Volunteers of the Burbank Animal Shelter, and L.A. Cada (Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse) and they were revved up, with ideas ranging from maximizing the awareness-building effects of a 40th anniversary event to viral video strategies featuring personal benefit-success stories. Lots of practical thoughts about efficiency and reach, also.

Someone working with or for a nonprofit who is very close to a given equation for too long needs fresh perspectives.  The nonprofit representatives not only got ideas they hadn’t thought of, they got obstacle-dodging strategies for many of the avenues they had previously explored and dismissed.

It feels good, no, feels great, doing this.  My hats off to the insightful colleagues that I met, or reconnected with, during this event.

October 4, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-to-B Social Media Technology, Brand and Reputation, Business Storytelling, Buying Influences, Nonprofit PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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

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

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

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

The Value of Business Storytelling

The value of storytelling goes back a long ways.  Thousands of years.  An unfolding story holds more interest than a mere stating of facts derived from it.  In B-to-B marketing we are fond of saying that it allows a prospect to visualize himself or herself as a user of a given technology, imaging how the benefits would apply to their operations.

The irony of the current state is that, while users are more willing than ever to allow their stories to be told in order to foster cooperative ties with their technology suppliers, there are fewer trade publication/website pages available for reporting the stories. The Problem/Solution format has traditionally been in great demand by editors, but they have less band-width to publish them.

How-to books have a finite shelf life.  But great business stories are useful, and popular, for much longer. Consider Lee Iacocca’s Autobiography. It out-sold every other non-fiction hardcover for two years straight in the 1980s. Why are we fascinated with all the blow-by-blow details of a business success when we already know what the person or company ultimately accomplished and the impact of its success?  Perhaps because some useful “do’s and don’ts” and “forks in the road” will be revealed, but it’s also because we like a good story.

So what’s with the humongous, bodacious burger?  Is is lunchtime? (Well, yes, but…) To kick off my little series on business storytelling, I asked a big bunch of colleagues last week to vote for one of three famous business stories.  Lee Iacocca is one of them, and the polling is almost complete; it looks like a burger business story wins over the car story; I’ll deliver up the results in the next blog post, tomorrow.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, B-to-B Marketing Vocabulary, Brand and Reputation, Business Storytelling, Content-Inspired Conversations, Tech Sector Thought Leadership, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment