Context, Urgency and The Lizard Brain

I wanted to share this post from Harvard Business Review, written by Tim Riesterer.  What initially “engaged” me was a great headline: Stimulate Your Customer’s Lizard Brain to Make a Sale.  Points for Tim; the title stopped me immediately.  It made me act.  Just like Tim intended.

“The lizard brain” is a phrase first introduced to me by Seth Godin who defines it as “hungry, scared, angry, and horny.” It is primal.  It cares what everyone else thinks and is the source of resistance to change.  It is our autopilot, its sole purpose is to survive and it embraces status quo.  The lizard brain is afraid of change; change is not safe.

The core premise of Riesterer’s message is that to be successful, marketing and sales must overcome a prospect’s primal resistance to change, but that most focus on the wrong message.

Any message designed to change behavior must create a compelling sense of urgency.  It must change the perception of the survival instinct, to convince it that change is now safer than the status quo.

Riesterer cites several research findings in his analysis:

  • The Sales Benchmark Index – “nearly 60% of qualified leads fall victim to the status quo.” While most marketers and salespeople believe they are selling against the competition, they fail to see the most important competitor – the status quo.
  • Forrester Research found that 65% of high-level decision makers give their business to vendors that create the “buying vision”
  • Executives want vendors to tell them something they don’t already know about a problem or opportunity.  Instead, most only talk about themselves.

In complex B2B marketing and sales, decision makers need companies to be consultative. Vendors who provide experience, vision, and insight into increasingly complex business challenges are the ones that offer true value to the role of any decision maker.

The tendency of companies to talk mostly about themselves is a messaging problem pervasive in B2B marketing.  For internal marketing groups in particular, it is safe lizard brain behavior.  After all, every organization embraces the message about how well their solutions perform.  Drink the Kool-Aid, share the Kool-Aid.

The digital world is in hyper-drive competing for our attention.  Messaging must instantly capture attention and hold it.  Which means the message must have meaning and context for your target audience.  Know them; speak to their business needs in their terms. Create urgency and communicate a vision for change and proof points that trump the evil status quo.

Don’t get me wrong; status quo can be a great thing.  My wife, my kids and my friends – those are the parts of status quo that I wish I could preserve in perpetuity.  In business, marketing and sales, status quo is dangerous. As a marketer and content strategist, I hate “status quo.” It is lethal.

Please share your own thoughts and experiences.

Old Habits are Hard to Break

Change is hard.  “An A+ for stating the obvious” you are thinking to yourself?

B2B marketing is stuck in “old ways”.   Like any generalization, there are exceptions, but they remain the minority.   I’ll explain.

Business thrives on process.  From process comes efficiency, which is a critical element of success.  Consider FedEx and the UPS.  Process is their competitive advantage and they have embraced new techniques, structures and core processes to capitalize on fundamental shifts in technology, audience needs and service models. They are winning big because of it.

Process is key to efficiency but a process based on an old set of rules is disaster.  In many ways this is the status of B2B marketing.

Marketing is about message, content and audience reach.  B2B is adapting to the audience reach part of the model.  But it needs deeper analysis.  Marketing has not adapted to the message and content processes required to truly capitalize on new distribution models and audience consumption preferences.

The Internet and “digital” has forever changed how buyers evaluate and make purchase decisions.  In response, Marketing no longer prints collateral but publishes PDF’s on their websites. Many have adopted “marketing automation” tools to leverage their database.  Some discovered video, audio podcasts, eBooks.   The list goes on.

Communications teams are blogging and tweeting all day long to capitalize on the power of social media.  Many new tools, formats and media are being used, all powerful and with tremendous reach.

But here’s the thing.  Few marketing and communications teams are working together to consider the synergy of each effort, or the content required to support each channel.  The  activities are related and inter-dependent upon each other, though they are often not executed as such.

Engagement is the new buzzword in marketing. Engage with customers, prospects, and partners.  “We need to engage online.  Establish a conversation.”  But for many organizations the teams responsible for customer engagement are not truly engaged with each other.  They talk, have meetings and conference calls, but they are not engaged.  Why?

Old habits. The approach to content creation, communication, and the structure of organizations has not evolved. B2B has historically undervalued creative, message and content, and they have not yet recognized the need to adapt the process of creating content.  One team creates collateral, another press and media communications, and a third owns marketing automation. Other teams own the web, video, and training.  Each is focused set of deliverables but not the coordination or relationships of the messages they are delivering.

Unless co-developed, creating a PDF whitepaper to publish on the web and writing a blog post for LinkedIn, without a strategy to leverage their inter-dependencies is not a new approach, just a new distribution method.

Would love to hear your own opinions on this.

Video is a Disruptive Force

Video has been an important advertising content format for business since the dawn of television.  While remarkably powerful, the reach of video as a business communication tool was limited however to broadcast advertising, infomercials and internal training until the mid 1990’s.

Like the impact to the music industry, news and other business models, the Internet is a disruptive force that will forever change how we use and consume video, including  “traditional” broadcast television.

YouTube, while the most visible example of the shift in video creation and distribution, is also an important illustration of the shift in the content itself.  Like most other content forms delivered via the Internet, it reflects the extreme ADD (attention deficit disorder) of the audience.  Do you glance to the timeline once you click to see how long the video is, thus making a decision to watch or close?  It is also an important barometer of the growing micro-segmentation of content.

Why this observation is important is because most B2B video content creators don’t really understand how to adapt to this shift.  They have the tools and the desire to leverage it, and every marketing VP wishes they could produce a “viral hit”, but they see video creation with an “old school” perspective.  Create a script, read and record the script, edit and publish.  But like your website, just because you build it does not mean your audience will find it or even consume it.

This is the foundation of what I will write about in the video section of The-Content-Strategist. Video is a business tool that is far more powerful than anyone realizes and not just in the role of advertising, training or marketing.  Video will change how we perceive, create, define and manage “content”. It will become a positive yet disruptive force within the business world.

The shift that we are about to witness in video creation and consumption models, including traditional broadcast television will be as dramatic as iTunes and the mp3 format was to the music industry.

Content Engineering

I’d like to be able to claim that I coined the phrase “Content Engineering.”   I can’t.  I do find myself using it a lot lately though.  I don’t know where I first saw it or I would give credit where it is due.

Curious by nature, I googled it the other day and was surprised by the number of results.  Wikipedia defines content engineering as “a term applied to an engineering specialty dealing with the issues around the use of content in computer-facilitated environments.”  Not exactly consistent with how I’m using the term.  Another listing (Brockmann & Company) defines it as the discipline of developing content that greatly improves the rankings of the target site and thereby returns a higher result.  Still a fairly technical, application based definition.  The best one I found was from Content Marketing Institute which defined the term in an article titled “A New Breed? 7 Roles of the Content Marketing “Engineer”  which defines the content engineer as “a marketer who creates and optimizes the many forms of content required to engage social customers, based on the data presented by available analysis tools.” Since the query returned a result of about 1,020,000,000, I stopped there.  I’m not that curious, but none of what I did review matched my current interpretation.

So how do I define it? Content Engineering is a strategic collaborative approach to marketing content creation that considers the goals of the message, the channels and media options available for publishing and distribution.  Content is designed to fulfill a varied set of communication requirements and objectives, audience targets, media choices, scope, calls to action, scalability and potential delivery mechanisms.  It is an orchestrated process that occurs over time.  Minimal waste, no duplication of effort, not one and done but a content opera which is measured for effectiveness and refinement.

Content marketing is relatively new and evolving.  I’ll probably be curious enough to return to my definition soon to see if it still fits.  I’m sure it will likewise evolve.

What Does the New B2B Marketing Organization Look Like?

I recently wrote a blog post that suggests addressing the question that has been debated over the past couple years: Who Who should own Social Media – Communications or Marketing? I conclude that it is in fact, the wrong question. 

The correct question is this – How should enterprise marketing structures, strategies and processes adapt to the content demands of social media and new rules for audience engagement, enabled by ubiquitous information and all things digital – the web, social media, search engines, etc?

So what does this new approach look like?  It is an ecosystem, organized around a common mission, message set and strategic deliverables. It is holistic in approach based on top-down marketing and communications strategy, digitally focused with scale, consistency and repetition as a cornerstone objective.  It recognizes that content is marketing currency which must be invested, managed, nurtured and measured for performance (just as the business manages other assets – pipeline, ERP, operations, finance).  It also demands a renewed focus on creativity, not only in how we craft compelling messages, but creative in how and where we deliver those messages.

To support B2B social media, marketing departments must work together and across sub-groups as a team, not in silos. The traditional marketing structure fostered discrete approaches and deliverables.  It is perhaps this very approach that bred the original question of ownership.

While every effective program requires a manager and owner, marketing as a whole must own responsibility for supporting, enabling and planning the execution of targeted social media activities. Social media teams, be they cross-functional or dedicated, will be enabled by content derivatives of existing marketing message programs and projects.

Consider for a moment a writer staring at a starkly empty page, tasked with delivering a story or message but not knowing where to start. Intimidating. And, time consuming.  Yet this is the reality for many social media contributors. What if however, there was a social media toolkit, a central repository of content that marketing assembles in support of current messages and programs? What if that lonely writer could reach into the toolkit and grab a topic that has been prepared, give it a voice, perspective and then publish to one (or more) of the predefined strategic media targets?   Tweets, blogs, opinions, all can be prepared and nurtured thru the repurposing of existing content and delivered as a component of every new project.

Each content project can be viewed as an opportunity to support social media and digital channels with new source material. Every document and video can be parsed into small consumable bits and bytes that can be ‘socialized’. This unified approach will not only provide social media contributors with a rich source of topics and content that will make execution much easier, but will also provide a foundation for consistency of voice and message.

Managed properly, every enterprise contributor can have access to source content, with predefined target objectives, back-links, calls to action and strategy supporting an overall editorial program.  It can be syndicated to the business partner communities.  Regional marketing teams can translate and publish in local languages.  All of this expands the digital presence, thought leadership, the base of long-tail keywords and increases the volume of qualified, inbound traffic to your website. It is also much more efficient to execute.

So how is this dilemma resolved? By thinking differently about how business marketing operates as a team.

B2B marketing can no longer be “one and done”.  The press release, another email offer, a new whitepaper or brochure, conceived, created, managed separately and thrown at the web team to “post” without continuity to all other activities will at best, fall short of its potential.  In the real mission of marketing and communications, it will fail. It will fail to breed repetition, expand your digital footprint, nor will it scale to facilitate social media.

To impact the market today, digital content must be fluid, evolutionary, mutually reinforcing, measured for response, and refined for improvement.  And then, repeated.  It must be architected and orchestrated, search optimized, published and curated methodically, blogged, tweeted, and repurposed until the cows come home.  As a program, it must communicate with directly with your target audience personas needs through a series of compelling messages, targeted to address each phase of the buying cycle.  At all times it must communicate to your customer the strength of the company’s vision and position the business as an leader. Just like a good salesperson engages with a prospect, digital marketing must now accomplish this before a prospect will engage with sales.

Who should own Social Media – Communications or Marketing?

What is the impact of digital and social media?

How has digital communications and social media changed your approach to content and marketing?

Remember this early debate when social media first emerged as a B2B marketing channel?  Since appearing on marketing’s radar, the question of who should ‘own’ social media within the business has echoed across small and large enterprises everywhere.  Here is my take – It is the wrong question.

The correct question is this.  How should enterprise marketing structures, strategies and processes adapt to the content demands of social media and new rules for audience engagement, enabled by ubiquitous information and all things digital – the web, social media, search engines, etc?

Traditional marketing structures of most enterprises today are outdated. They evolved to meet traditional marketing media.  Now they must evolve again to address the new rules of inbound and outbound marketing, press and analyst behaviors, customer expectations and most of all, shifting buy cycle trends.  Here’s why.

Let’s explore the traditional B2B model, formed around collateral and interruption-based media of the 20th century.  The typical structure was defined as:

  • Marketing (brand, collateral, advertising, direct mail, promotions) and
  • Communications (PR, Analyst relations, media relations).

The term mar-com took root and the web didn’t exist. 

Customer awareness was delivered in the form of advertising; information was the role of collateral, trade press and particularly sales, touching customers early in the buying cycle. 

Communications handled press and analyst activities by phone, snail mail, PR newswires, and in person. Personal relationships were as important to press and media people as they were to sales. Content was important, dominated by collateral and press releases, perhaps an occasional advertorial.  Deeper content produced separately by product management came in the form of manuals and user guides, training educated sales and supported customer product knowledge, all often developed outside of marketing’s view.

Compare that to the digital world we live in today. The web provides people with access to ubiquitous information in almost any form.  Customers expect it. It’s no longer about finding customers but making sure customers find you. Customers are now controlling the conversation via the web and social media, and sales touches the customer much later in the buying cycle. Why? Because buyers don’t need to rely on a salesperson for information as they once did. In fact most buyers don’t even want to talk to sales until they’ve already researched and made numerous decisions about what solution provider is likely to meet their needs.

So what does this mean for today’s marketing teams?

It is now the customer’s expectation (and marketing’s responsibility) to produce much greater volumes of content.  Content to address a wider audience, in many additional forms and optimized for search to compete with hundreds of thousands of competing information resources. This is the evolution of what is known today as “Content Marketing”.  And, we haven’t even begun yet the discussion of social media and how that can be executed by the business, except by inference as it is directly connected.

Call it the perfect storm. On one hand we have much greater demand for content and information enabled by the web and expected by customers. On the other hand, few marketing organizations have seen a corresponding increase in resources to satisfy the insatiable demand. In fact, the recession has reduced most marketing budgets and resources.

Why is the debate about who should own Social Media the wrong question?  Because without re-evaluating what we consider to be content, how we produce it, manage it, and scale it, enterprise marketing and communications cannot meet the demands social media and other digital channels present to create a successful marketing engagement, and still fulfill the current definitions of their day jobs.

The answer to the original question?  We all must own it. So how does business organize to support it strategically and tactically?

Engaging and educating technology buyers

B2B solution providers are constantly looking for new ways to increase their market awareness,  engage prospects and to be perceived as not only credible, but valued suppliers to customers.

To achieve this, vendors should look to ‘educate’ buyers and establish a rapport with the target audience to develop thought leader credibility.  Focus on content  targeting multiple channels which align with both the buying cycle and audience personas.   Achieving this will communicate to the audience that you understand their needs.  Align this with the core messages analysts are sending as they have the ability to influence what customers are looking for, and trade media within your market – their unique positions provide a barometer for what your customers  perceive to be important.

A track record and sustainable vision of the future is important to buyers.  Repetition across multiple digital channels helps buyers discover the voice of the vendor in forums they may be leveraging. Properly managed it will lead a buyer to find and engage with a vendor.

What do you feel is important to achieve this goal?