Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

Describe Customer Challenges Right on your B2B Home Page

Stating two or more customer challenges that can be solved by a product/service, right on your home page, earns your website 3 points in my Core Score rating.

B2B home page rating scale

Telogis (Aliso Viejo, CA) scores with their sequence of specific customer problems on their banner sequence at the top of their home page.  Telogis provides a Software-as-a-Service platform that helps fleet managers manage their global workforce better through GPS location technology. It includes tracking and scheduling applications for both mobile and office-based assets.

One example from their sequence: “Do you need to find the closest crew and dispatch them to an emergency work order?”  The prominent “Solutions” button takes you to the Telogis answer.  These type of specific problems draw in the site visitor, whether it’s a first-time visit to check out the company, or if it’s a return visit from someone who knows Telogis.

More tasks improved by the Telogis platform are previewed in text blocks on the page, with links. Very clean layout, no clutter. They also get one Core Score point for  their text links to specific problem-solving ideas (see point system at right).

I couldn’t give Telogis a full 3 points for the “Home page succinctly states what the company actually does” slot.  I’ll give them one of the three points for the Business Intelligence graphic with the key areas (listed in quadrants), but there is no text that confirms that they are indeed a SaaS platform provider.  You have to navigate two more levels (past the “Company” and “Why Telogis” pages) to find this, although you could argue that it’s assumed.

Telogis just barely scores the final 3-pointer, quantifying benefits (on the home page), with this text: “When the benefits of driving with Telogis – better fuel use, routing, deployment, response times, safety, hours, maintenance and customer goodwill – can pay for your system in a quarter, don’t drive blind.”   Stating payback is powerful … so why do so many marketers bury it deeper in the site?

Telogis doesn’t get a point for news headlines on the home page, nor for a link to a customer testimonial.

Leader Schmeader

Telogis does however get a Bonus Point for not using the word “leader” in the home page text.  Hallelujah.  It amazes me that companies as prominent as software giant SAS bother to proclaim that they are “a leader.”  My first thought when I see this: “Congratulations, touting yourself as a ‘leader’ just put you in the company of thousands of others including every little fly-by-night outfit in your industry.” If you’re SAS, you should be above this clichéd adjective.

Total Score

The Telogis home page scores 9 out of 12 total.  Impressive.

More critiques to come.

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October 25, 2010 Posted by | B2B home page, B2B messaging, Brand and Reputation, Business cliches, Website content | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

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

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

Why is your Company Address Buried Deep in your Website?

I realize that in this digital world, the physical place where a company resides is typically irrelevant to its customers.   But I find it strange that an increasing number of manufacturers choose to bury their company’s address so deep in a website that it’s nearly impossible to find.

Certainly potential B-to-B partners and suppliers or distributors, job seekers, and many customers want to know where you “live” and where they might be able to visit you.

Take the example of Monster Cable, makers of high-end audio and video accessories. I’m an audio enthusiast and I want to know more about the company. The Customer Support page has only phone numbers and email addresses.  Next, I look at listings for their International Distributors, but still no address for the company itself.

The Company Info page tells a nice story, but no city or address is given. Good photo of their building – where the heck is it?   Ah, yes, in the last paragraph there’s a text link on the word “community,” mentioning that they are active in theirs. This goes to a page that identifies the San Francisco area.  We’re getting warmer.

Maybe a press release would reveal their location. Nope, even the boilerplate at the bottom doesn’t say. But the dateline says “Brisbane, CA.” Or is that where The Concord Group is located – the company that is the subject of the release?

I’m about to give up, when – silly me, I find the address in tiny 4-pt light-grey type in a nearly invisible strip at the bottom of the home page along with the copyright.

When it’s this hard to find, you ask yourself whether or not the company is embarrassed of where their HQ is located.  Or if they even have one.

A sense of place is important.  More important, of course, is the fact that great content on-line inspires interaction and it makes little difference, typically, where anyone lives. But if I’m going to consider a deeper business relationship beyond ordering a product, I want to know.

January 30, 2010 Posted by | B-to-B Case Studies, Website content | , , , , , , | 2 Comments