Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

IT Change Management Requires Good Communications

Information Technology swells and recedes as a separate business entity with changing corporate structures.  A number of Fortune 500 companies are eliminating their overarching CIO positions and moving IT to the Business Unit level.  In some cases,  an “IT Leadership Group” is ordained to create standards, allocate resources, etc. The fear when doing this is that Business Unit level IT silos will be controlled by people who lack overall corporate perspective and have limited accountability.

Sounds like a corporate communications opportunity for folks like me who have been involved in IT process change.  I was recently part of the opposite situation: the large corporation I was working with had centralized IT after years of Business Unit IT autonomy.  The upside was that IT was being treated as a strategic bottom-line-enhancer.  The new penalty, however, was that the Business Units felt that they weren’t being listened to – that IT crammed canned solutions down their throat without regard to their individual B.U. needs and requirements.

And so it goes.  Clarifying IT missions and getting employees on board to make it all work is a fascinating endeavor, and I’ve had the pleasure of working on this equation both internally and externally.

It’s true during process change (effecting staff) as well as organizational change that impacts management: it can be difficult for IT managers to fully embrace the communication part of the equation. As Management Leadership guru Jim Clemmer puts it: “A direct and positive correlation exists between the results obtained and the amount of time spent upfront helping everyone understand the need for the change and training to help them deal with the changes.”

Terse content (i.e. messaging), convincing and to the point, is a key element.

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January 12, 2011 Posted by | B2B messaging, Change Management, Content-Inspired Conversations, Corporate Communications, IT Process Change | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Print Media is Alive and Thriving

In an environment where oceans of websites claw for audiences and compete with traditional media, the Association of Magazine Media has rolled out a major campaign to remind everyone how vital print is. I love this headline on a recent 2-page spread ad:

“Will the Internet kill magazines?  Did instant coffee kill coffee?”

They certainly picked a poignant example; one that relates to the “instant gratification” aspect of the internet in terms of convenience.  The difference is that the internet is vast and sensory-rich, whereas instant coffee is bland, predictable and boring.  But history does indeed verify that very few communication technologies have died at the hands of a new one. And their logo is cool: you quickly recognize the “g” from Rolling Stone and the “Es” from Esquire mastheads.

The association offers a Magazine Handbook – Engagement to Action that cites reams of research from various sources showing that magazine readership is going up, not down.  One of the findings: 87% of those interested in reading magazines on a digital device also want a printed copy.  Interesting. The campaign does not make it clear whether its other statistics are referring to just the print versions of magazines, or reflect the print, digital and on-line versions.

Personally, I don’t think print will die; most professionals are spending most of the day staring at a computer screen, then staring at the glare for hours more in the evening for social media, hobbies, etc.  So relaxing with print is a relief.  I enjoy magazines during air travel, especially when cramped in.

I predicted years ago that the business and industrial product-review potpourri publications (fueled by product news releases) would drop their print editions since searching on the web for compressors, for instance, is so much more efficient than thumbing through a random round-up of various types of products.  Some have gone, some haven’t.  Witness IEN (Industrial Equipment News).

My belief is that the higher level, thought-provoking journals will indefinitely remain in print – they are meant to be absorbed and pondered in a comfortable chair, not scrolled through on a laptop.  if inspired, the reader can quickly jump back onto the stream-of-consciousness info superhighway and join (or start) the conversation on the subject.  It’s all good. Content that drives conversations should come from diverse media, including video, audio, holograms, whatever works.

December 20, 2010 Posted by | B2B Media, Brand and Reputation, Content-Inspired Conversations | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Wouldn’t You Put Your B2B Video on YouTube?

The use of YouTube by B2B marketers is growing fast, and since an entertainment element is preferred by viewers, this is where serious companies with complex offerings should lighten up a bit and relate to the “people” side of things.

Novell’s “Gimme” video for its WorkloadIQ (a suite of products for intelligent workload management) is amusing, clever, and right on in terms of the message. In it, conversations directed at the IT guy consist only of two syllables: gim-me (with various inflictions).  The “gimme” theme is something everyone in IT can identify with; in fact, anyone who is employed within the service and support sector of the business world would probably give this a knowing nod.

Even though the little commercial can be shared from the Novell site, YouTube is the fastest way to get extra mileage and awareness from the effort, and if the producer is lucky, videos like these get a big viral boost. Plus, if it had been on YouTube, I  could have easily imported it as a playable video right into this blog post.

Maybe it’s not up on YouTube because Novell is in the process of being bought by Attachmate and a consortium led by Microsoft, and they want to appear serious.  Microsoft doesn’t really have a great sense of humor as far as I can see – typically when they try, it looks like they’re trying too hard.

Other tech sector big-leaguers are cool enough to jest. My favorite Intel TV spot pokes fun at what’s funny to a techno worker. It’s far more interesting than the overplayed “robot who gets his feelings hurt” spot that had a Super Bowl premiere this year.

So is B2B awareness-building success on YouTube just for the big guys?  Not really. The Earnest Agency, a London-based B2B marketing services agency decided to take their research report that summarizes B2B use of the social web, and turn it into a lively animated video (think Monty Python animated cut-outs).   In the first six weeks (last autumn) it got 6500 views, 90 mentions on Twitter, and they saw a 30% increase in traffic to their website and a 77% increase in weekly visitors to their blog.

But there was one hitch. When you click the play button below, you’ll see that you have to then click a link to YouTube to see it.  See my explanation below.

Looks like you can only view it on YouTube.  It seems Sony Music Entertainment forced them to stop offering it on the agency website, since the soundtrack is a Dave Brubeck recording.   But apparently showing it on  YouTube is allowed (because it’s an educational venue?)  My take on Earnest’s mistake: 1) they used the whole jazz recording, not just part of it.   2) Earnest Agency is indirectly selling something…themselves.  It’s a commercial purpose.

Back to the bottom line on video: lighten up and use YouTube.

December 9, 2010 Posted by | B2B messaging, Brand and Reputation, BtoB Marcomm Creative, Content-Inspired Conversations | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Research Shows B2B Content is King

Some relevant research completed over the last 12 months reinforces the importance of branded content in B2B marketing.

I recently attended a NorCal BMA conference up in Silicon Valley where Barry Trailer of CSO Insights summarized some of their research findings in their report, 2010 Key Trends in BtoB Lead Generation Optimization.

Of all the marketing tools, website design/content topped the list in terms of percentage of B2B marketers who say they will increase budget dollars in the next 12 months (65% of responses). The next three biggest areas for increases were for email marketing, new media (ex: blogs) and web search optimization.  The loser was direct mail.

A Custom Content Council survey reveals that 32% of overall marketing communications budget dollars go to branded content, although the mailed survey went to both B2C and B2B industries. I’m not alone in believing that Conversational Marketing doesn’t get very far without Content Marketing.

Also of interest: within a custom-content budget, 51% of the dollars go to custom print publications, 27% for internet media and 22% for other categories including video and audio.  No surprise that half is still needed for print, given the cost of printing.

Content as an SEO Utility

One by-product of the battle for first-page search engine rankings is the advent of what I call “shallow content.”  These are quickly-crafted articles with borrowed facts and ideas that have something to do with the marketer’s industry and thus the article can be filled with the relevant and useful keywords.  The keywords legitimize the article so when Google finds the link to the marketer’s website in the text,  a credible in-bound link is noted on the “score card”.  All for SEO purposes.  The idea of potential prospects actually reading the content is secondary.

September 25, 2010 Posted by | Authenticity, B-to-B Social Media Technology, Brand and Reputation, Content-Inspired Conversations, Perspective Paper Strategies, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

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

No, Advertising Can’t Save a Brand Under Siege

I believe that Toyota’s TV commercial offering reassurance is an example of “too little, too soon.”  This post is an addendum to the previous blog post and discussion on adding value to a brand through information-rich advertising.  Due to expanding recalls and government-voiced allegations, Toyota is a brand under siege.  The TV spot that has been running heavily this month begins with something most of us already know: Toyota has had a reputation for reliable vehicles for 50 years.  So what?

As Gerson Lehrman Group put it:  “Before Toyota can raise its image from the ashes, the world’s largest automaker must make sure the fire is out.”

In my mind, the public is not ready for the feel-good stuff in a commercial.  This is ineffective advertising; it offers no new valuable information, and right now the marketplace craves insight and answers.

While Toyota is showing happy families in their TV spot, we’ve got Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., saying “Not totally” when asked in a congressional hearing this week if he could say with certainty that the fixes now being undertaken will completely eliminate unintended acceleration problems.  Is there a “smoking circuit” yet to be found? And now allegations that Toyota deliberately withheld key vehicle design and testing evidence in lawsuits filed by Toyota drivers injured in crashes.

So, bottom line, this ad content may remind Toyota owners of their past good experiences, or it may be greeted with indifference, but it may also inspire lots of social media conversations like this double Tweet from today: “I’m sorry, but this set of Toyota commercials where they are trying to convince us they are ‘so concerned’ about this recall – -I’m not buying it. They pretty much were forced to do it by congress, and now they want us to believe they are doing this cause they care.”

February 27, 2010 Posted by | Brand and Reputation, Content-Inspired Conversations, Issues That Worked | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments