Introducing the B2B Marketers’ Club


I’ve recently joined a group of B2B marketers who are passionate about shaping the development and direction of the B2B marketing industry, connecting with other B2B marketers, and supporting professional learning and personal development. This group is called the Business Marketing Collective (BMC) and you can find out more about it at http://www.businessmarketingcollective.com.

One of the activities on the programme that we’ve been looking at is directed very specifically at client-side marketers. But before we progress with it, we want to be sure that it’s something that would be useful for the B2B client-side marketer. And the best way of ensuring this is to ask the readers of this blog who share an interest in the B2B marketing profession.

Please can you take a moment to read through the following summary of the proposition we have in mind and then comment to let us know what you think? Specifically: does the proposition fill a need that you and your colleague client marketers have? If not, how could we change it to better meet your needs? And – all importantly – would you attend the meetings?

Thanks for your time in advance. Looking forward to hearing your views.

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Introducing The B2B Marketers’ Club…

An opportunity for B2B client marketers to network and socialise off-line and informally with no sales pitches and big demands on time.

This is an opportunity to share experience to help and reassure B2B marketers on the direction they’ve set in their organisation or that they have what they need to get on in their careers. This is a club in which B2B client-side marketers can communicate and share experience, information, and – yes – gossip with each other.

Practically it’s a face-to-face meeting in a pub or restaurant or hotel over a drink or a meal (alternately) after work on the first Tuesday of every month.

We will meet centrally to attendees’ work locations for convenience. That means that as attendance grows, the locations might change and the meetings might split so that one covers London City, one London West End, one Reading, one Manchester, etc.

Membership is restricted to B2B client-side marketers. We won’t allow agencies to attend; so there are no sales pitches. There will be a regular chair-person for the meetings.

The meeting will work through a series of questions that the members have agreed in advance that they want to discuss and we will ask some attendees to prepare something on. But after an hour, we will stop the formality and just talk. The questions will encourage people to ask personal and specific things that they want advice and experience on or stories around. The question “how” is the one to focus upon. Example topics might be:- “I’m getting bombarded by CRM calls from agencies. How can I work out what the minimum is I need?”,“How can I get to be a B2B Marketing Director?”, “How do I get my CFO to see value in B2B marketing?”, “How can I stay in touch with important developments in B2B marketing?”. There won’t be formal sessions on marketing automation, content marketing, etc here: people can go elsewhere for that. There will probably be an online bit to allow us to land on the questions in the first place.

There’s no regular membership. People turn up for the meetings they want and don’t attend where it’s inconvenient. But we hope we’ll build up a cadre of regulars over time.

Chatham House Rules: The first rule of The B2B Marketers’ Club is that you do not talk about The B2B Marketers’ Club. (Also the second rule, etc).

So what do you think?

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The story you don’t want to hear…


The edited transcript of a speech I gave to the PRMoment (www.prmoment.com) conference on “Storytelling:  The role of public relations as a content provider” on 20 November 2014 in London…

Story-telling is as old as the oldest civilization.  The Australian aboriginals painted symbols from stories on cave walls as a means of helping the storyteller remember the story. The story was then told using a combination of oral narrative, music, rock art, and dance. People have used the carved trunks of living trees, sand, and leaves record stories in pictures or with writing. With the advent of writing and the use of stable, portable media, stories were recorded, transcribed, and shared over wide regions of the world.

But story-telling in business has taken off more recently. As far as I can tell, it first began to become a business buzzword in the late 1990s. It’s Steve Denning, the management writer, conveniently writing after the story-telling in business trend took off, who makes the claim of first having used the power of storytelling in the late 1990s to convince World Bank colleagues to share information. Denning found that when he used cogent Powerpoint arguments to show the importance of knowledge management, his argument fell on deaf ears. However, when he told the story of a health worker in a small town in Zambia was unable to access knowledge about the treatment of malaria, his arguments began to get real resonance because the story helped managers envision a different kind of future for their organization.

In 2001, Daphne Jameson argued that story-telling was a key tool for managers in internal communications to persuade employees to follow a particular line. She suggested that narrative discourse could help to resolve conflict, influence corporate decisions, and unify a group of employees. By collectively constructing stories, managers made sense of the past, coped with the present, and planned for the future.

But all of this isn’t just cod business school theory. Oh no. It’s scientifically proven! In a piece of research disturbingly funded by the US Department of Defense, researchers at Claremont University have shown how engaging with stories causes the brain to make oxytocin. By taking blood draws before and after a narrative, researchers found that character-driven stories consistently cause the synthesis of oxytocin. Further, the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others; for example, donating money to a charity associated with the narrative.

And so the bandwagon of story-telling in business took off. Today, even big companies such as Microsoft and SAP employ people with the title “chief storyteller”. Microsoft’s in-house storyteller did the first “interview” with new chief executive Satya Nadella.

And like any business band-wagon, the marketing and PR profession has jumped right on board using the story-telling concept as a means of building customer loyalty.

And why has this suddenly become mainstream in marketing? Simple. There’s so much noise out there. Every week, we send 1 billion tweets. Every day we read 10 MB and hear 400MB of material every day. We see 1 MB of information every second.  And so audience cut-through is more important than ever. And story-telling is positioned as key to cut-through because stories, it is said, naturally imprint themselves on our brains in a way that logic and analysis do not. As the amount of data we deal with grows, the stronger the need for storytellers who make sense of it all.

And so story-telling has become a favourite topic of PR, communications, and marketing conferences. In this month alone, Google tells me there are twelve other story-telling in business conferences in London currently being publicised.

Then there’s the many views expressed on story-telling in business that you can find in books.  A quick glance at Amazon shows me that 63 books with on business story-telling in the title have been published in the last 90 days.

Most of this content is around how to tell stories in different case study situations. And while this is surely valuable, I’d like for us to be a bit more balanced in our embrace of story-telling techniques. Because there are five reasons why good marketing and PR should not embrace story-telling so readily and, if you ignore these reasons, there is a risk that story-telling won’t leave your business happily every after.

“USE STORY-TELLING MORE CAUTIOUSLY” IS MY MESSAGE.

REASON ONE:  STORY-TELLING DOES NOT REQUIRE CUSTOMER-FOCUS.

In nineteenth century Germany, society’s view of dwarves were as sinister monsters. If the authors of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, the Brothers Grimm had listened to their customers, then Snow White would probably not have shacked up with seven dwarves. The first reason why good marketing and PR should not embrace story-telling so readily is that the disciplines of marketing and story-telling start in different places. Story-telling risks your losing sight of who really matters when you design marketing content: your customer.

I’ll explain why. There is a risk that the very concept of story-telling causes your firm to start its content development in the wrong place – that is with your firm. In its purest form, story-telling is the process whereby your firm brand deals out a self-absorbed monologue to anyone within hearing distance. After all stories come from the teller not the listener. But if I’m in the audience for your firm’s story, why should I care? Who gives a damn what your business’s story is?   In contrast, good marketing starts not with the firm but with the audience. Marketing is about being crystal clear on who your customers are, what they do, and what they need. It’s about learning about your target audience and supplying valuable content – helpful and relevant quality information – that addresses your audience’s needs. If that content can be supplied in a story-format that aids clarity then great; but the story is categorically not the end itself. Note that, unlike good marketing, the process of story-telling does not focus on building an interaction with a clear, target audience. Story-telling is a one-way broadcast phenomenon. Marketing is not.

I worked for PA Consulting Group for five years. PA as a firm has a fascinating history. It was set up during the Second World War to advise the UK government on how to drive much-needed extra productivity from the munitions factories at a time when it looked like Britain would lose the war. It’s a fascinating history that the story-telling approach could have led me to focus my marketing around.   That was hugely tempting.  But that’s not where I started. The successful re-branding work I led at PA Consulting Group started with our customers. The marketing team went out and spoke to customers across all of the sectors, countries, and services we operated in. We asked them to describe to us who they were, how their days ran, and where they needed help in their own words. These became the stories we used to focus our business internally in the development of relevant, compelling content for our future prospects. In this way PA Consulting Group is relevant to the needs of today’s audience not to the audience of the 1940s.

So that’s the first reason why good marketing and PR should not embrace story-telling: the disciplines of marketing and story-telling start in different places. Story-telling risks your losing sight of who really matters when you design content: your customer.

REASON TWO:  STORY-TELLING DOES NOT NEED BUSINESS OBJECTIVES.

The second reason why good marketing and PR should not embrace story-telling so readily is that the two disciplines can have very different objectives. Unlike good marketing, story-telling does not encourage a focus on what the business is trying to achieve. When the Brothers Grimm began collecting folk tales, they did so with no particular objective in mind. They wrote in a cursory manner when they were unable to devote their energies to their more important scientific research. Indeed many story-tellers claim that their best work is committed when they have no clear objectives in mind. True: some great stories have a clear objective. But they don’t have to have such a goal in place. In contrast, marketing only has a purpose when there is a clear business objective and strategy.

I generated the content for PA’s re-brand for a purpose because the business was seeking to re-position itself as more than just a public sector consulting firm to respond to the decline in public investment in management consulting after the global economic down-turn. There was a clear business objective for our marketing work.

REASON THREE:  STORY-TELLING CAN LOSE YOU CONTROL OF YOUR BUSINESS.

The third reason why good marketing and PR should not embrace story-telling so readily is that story-telling can cause you to lose control of your business. There is a risk that corporate story-tellers start to believe their own stories. Because, to guide and motivate their customers, their staff, their boards, and their investors; chief executives must make their narrative take root in their business. And to get their narratives to take root, leaders have to repeat their stories and reinforce them time and again. But business is inherently unpredictable. And that can mean that expectations for growth may need to be adjusted. Strategic direction may need to change. In other words, you need to change the ending to your story. And that can be disappointing to your audiences. And that can tempt story-tellers away from the truth. The temptation then is that white lies, embellishment, tale-telling are more attractive as a means of telling the story more neatly than the truth.

When I read that the Financial Conduct Authority is investigating the once mighty Tesco under the Financial Services Markets Act to establish whether it was guilty of issuing incorrect, false or misleading information to investors, I can’t help wondering whether executives there were faced with a situation where the facts were getting in the way of the good story that they’d created. I have never worked for Tesco, but I wonder how tempting might it have been for that business to continue to weave a tale of strong growth, rises in market share, and corporate dominance over Aldi, Lidl, and Sainsbury’s? Clearly that behaviour – if it existed at all – has not led to a happy ending.

REASON FOUR:  STORY-TELLING CAN GET LOST IN THE TELLING.

The fourth reason why good marketing and PR should not embrace story-telling is that stories can lose something in the narrative re-telling. The efficacy of a story is frequently bound up in the efficacy of the story-teller. And when the story-teller exits the stage, much of the original alchemy exists too. The Apple story was compelling in the story-telling of Steve Jobs. Somehow Tim Cook is just not the same. Marketing is more about science than alchemy and therefore more able to create a practical tool-kit that can be applied by other people to communicate the marketing content. Marketing puts as much emphasis on the channels by which it can distribute its content in a predictable and reproducible way as it does on what its content is. Whereas it is difficult for story-telling to be about anything other than the story and the teller.

REASON FIVE:  STORY-TELLING DIMINISHES THE MARKETING AND PR PROFESSION.

Finally, story-telling does not help the case for B2B marketing and PR in a business because it moves the concept of marketing in many people’s eyes away from being a profession into something that can be done by anyone. Because anyone can tell a story. You don’t need a qualification.

B2B Marketing and PR is the toughest profession in business.  

Marketing and PR is tough.  You’ve got to put yourself in the position of your customers in the environment in which they will encounter your product or service and respond to it.  It’s fiercely competitive out there yet you’ve got to be ahead of the pack.  You’ve got to stand out in a sea of noise.  You’ve got to plan when people just want you to act.  You’ve got to be creative in a rigorously analytical world.  You’ve got to apply business analytics to the creative.  You’ve got to be down in the detail while staying objective.  You’ve got to stay focused in the face of distractions.  You’ve got to be able to marshal your content, your channels, and your distribution – against all the odds. You have to be really disciplined and work intelligently and strategically.

B2B Marketing and PR is all of that.  And some.  This profession is younger than FMCG.  It’s still got to prove itself.  So you’ve got to prove yourself in a sceptical environment.  Business doesn’t get B2B Marketing.  At EY, my profession was seen as the colouring-in department, housed in a separate building to the rest of the business. And so you’ve got to persuade otherwise, explain, fight for every point, and lead the way.  It can take years to turn around deeply-ingrained perception. Every day is tough. Add to the multiple internal stakeholders with multiple external customer groups.  There’s no longer just one buyer, there’s many – with different needs, opinions, and expectations.  And there’s no one to help you:  all the marketing professional bodies focus on FMCG rather than B2B.  You’re on your own.

And so what you do not need — what you absolutely do not need under any circumstances – is to give business the opportunity to dismiss what you do and devalue it further. Because that can sound the death knell of the marketing and PR profession in B2B.

So there you have them… five reasons why good marketing should not embrace story-telling.  That’s not to say that story-telling can’t be a handy item in a marketer’s tool-kit. It can be. I’ve already shown how stories were an important part of my re-branding approach at PA. But they did not lead the process. One item does not make a tool-kit. We need to be really careful that the trend to tell stories does not ride rough shod over all we have achieved as marketers in our profession over the last few years.

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Why I Love B2B Marketing…


There’s a great initiative that’s been kicked off by the Business Marketing Collective (www.businessmarketingcollective.com) to challenge marketers in the B2B space to say why they love B2B Marketing.  You can follow the story on Twitter at #iloveb2b.  Here’s my contribution…

I love B2B Marketing.

Because it is the toughest profession in business.  And that means when you get it right it’s the most rewarding thing in the world.  In the times when you’ve cracked it, you’ve got that brilliant king of the hill feeling.  You’ve made it.

Marketing is tough.  You’ve got to put yourself in the position of your customers in the environment in which they will encounter your product or service and respond to it.  It’s fiercely competitive out there yet you’ve got to be ahead of the pack.  You’ve got to stand out in a sea of noise.  You’ve got to plan when people just want you to act.  You’ve got to be creative in a rigorously analytical world.  You’ve got to apply business analytics to the creative.  You’ve got to be down in the detail while staying objective.  You’ve got to stay focused in the face of distractions.  You’ve got to be able to marshal your content, your channels, and your distribution – against all the odds.

B2B Marketing is all of that.  And some.  This profession is younger than FMCG.  It’s still got to prove itself.  So you’ve got to prove yourself in a sceptical environment.  Business doesn’t get B2B Marketing.  And so you’ve got to persuade, explain, and lead the way.  Add to the multiple internal stakeholders with multiple external customer groups.  There’s no longer just one buyer, there’s many – with different needs, opinions, and expectations.  And there’s no one to help you:  all the marketing professional bodies focus on FMCG rather than B2B.  You’re on your own.

So it’s bloody hard.  And that’s brilliant.  You only get one life.  So do something that challenges and rewards you in equal measure.  It’s the most exciting job in the world.

That’s why I love B2B Marketing.

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The Five Rules of B2B Social Media Marketing


The edited transcript of a speech I gave to the PRMoment (www.prmoment.com) conference on “Social Media in B2B Communications” on 11 September 2014 in London…

So here we are again.

Another day, another social media conference.

Social media has been the favourite topic of PR, communications, and marketing conferences for at least five years now.  Occasionally as a topic it gets rivalled by other fads like “content marketing” and the up and coming “emotional marketing”, but it never goes away for very long.

In this month alone, Google tells me there are thirteen other social media conferences in London.

Then there’s the many views expressed on social media that you can find in books.  A quick glance at Amazon shows me that 237 books with “social media marketing” in the title have been published in 2014 alone thus far.

Or you could be reading one of the links put up on Twitter on “social media marketing” at a rate of one every five seconds.

Or you could be reading one of the 47 articles on social media marketing that were put online in the last hour and that Google can find for you right now.

There continues to be this feeding frenzy in our profession then for discussion of social media.

And this must reflect a real concern in our industry.  A March 2014 study from IBM noted that social media worries were a CMO’s second biggest concern – just behind mobile marketing.  66% of CMOs feel unprepared for the growth of social media, said that study.

Which is a surprise to me.  As a CMO and Marketing Director of some seven years’ standing.

Don’t get me wrong, the social media landscape is changing dramatically.  In May, KPCB reported that the amount of global digital information being created and shared from pictures to tweets has grown by nine times in five years to 2TN gigabytes.  There has been an explosive growth in photos:  500MM are uploaded and shared each day with growth accelerating by two times in one year.  Videos are ramping up fast with 100 hours of footage per minute being uploaded to YouTube (from nothing just six years ago).  Sound is emerging as a sharing medium:  SoundCloud has 11 hours of sound uploaded to it per minute.  And data sharing is emerging too – Yelp for example now has 100MM users and 39MM user-generated reviews.

Sharing of smart, user-centric technology is especially something that people want to be associated with in Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia – with the West lagging a little behind.

And people are using digital sharing to browse and review before they engage formally with a salesperson.  CEB’s research for Google tells us that the average B2B buyer is now 57% of the way through the purchase decision process before engaging a supplier sales representative.

But while the social media landscape is changing dramatically, the basic tool-kit for deploying social media in B2B has not changed at all.  The methodology for managing stakeholder complexity through social is the same now as I would have prescribed last year and the year before and the year before that.  The most fundamental marketing approaches for managing social media have not altered.

That’s why I’m surprised at the frenzy in our profession around social media.  Because the basic building blocks of what we need to do really haven’t changed.

There are five rules of B2B social media marketing that have stayed true for years now.

RULE ONE: You don’t use a radio to communicate to the deaf.

You tailor the channels you use to suit your audience, but also to suit your message and your brand.  One approach does not fit all.

Some of your stakeholders may not want any communication via social media at all.  This will be particularly true of a C-suite and Board-level audience who in many occasions don’t use social media.  One in six FTSE100 board members is aged 65 or over with an average age of 57,  according to July 2013 findings from Ortus.  In May, Robert Half UK found that the average FTSE 100 CEO is aged 53.  Social media is hardly a keen interest for the pre-millennials who sit on the Board:-  an audit from global PR firm Weber Shandwick last year found just 2 per cent of CEOs from the top 50 companies listed in Fortune Magazine’s 2012 Global 500 rankings have a visible presence on Twitter, and that proportion is actually declining – it was 8% three years ago!  This group will look to others to précis them of social media conversations.  Here, canny marketers will therefore position themselves as information processors to aid clients.  In professional services,  it is not uncommon for consultants to position themselves as the trusted human interface between information and the client, literally printing out interesting pieces of thought leadership and so on for their audience.  And I gathered lots of evidence as UK Marketing Director at EY to suggest clients appreciated this.  My experience as CMO at PA Consulting Group showed me too that many in this group treated social media overall with not just suspicion but hostility.

Some of your stakeholders may want communication via a mix of online and offline channels according to the time of day.  In the social media world Facebook tends to be a first port of call in the morning, followed by LinkedIn. Pinterest and Twitter tend to be a focus more in an afternoon.  This timing is particularly important for social media channels like Twitter that use recency to prioritise content.

Many stakeholders will be on multiple sites and expect your presence on the same.  Pew research has shown that women are four times as likely as men to be Pinterest users,  and LinkedIn is especially popular among college graduates and internet users in higher income households.  Twitter and Instagram have particular appeal to younger adults, urban dwellers, and non-whites.  And there is substantial overlap between Twitter and Instagram user bases.

Your choice of channel should also be defined by the type of content you are looking to share.  Twitter is a perfect channel to share news, infographics and video; but LinkedIn is better for sharing research and reports.

And your brand will help suggest what type of social media interventions you make too.  In Australia in January, domestic-care brand Ajax released an online tool designed to help consumers clean-up their social media feeds.  After connecting to a user’s Twitter account, the Social Wipes tool scans all followers to detect spam bots, while on Facebook it aggregates all page likes so that they can be easily unfollower.  That’s a great bit of brand fit between a cleaning brand and social media.

The key to navigate all of this complexity is a marketing plan with a contact strategy that integrates offline and online channels.  Any social media plan should be developed only in association with this integrated plan and linked into the same objectives.  That’s the key to having really measurable social media activity too by the way – link the goals of your social media to your marketing goals.  Measure the number of people that social media has driven to your website not the number of likes you’ve accumulated and you’re on the right lines.

So that’s rule one: You don’t use a radio to communicate to the deaf.  One approach does not fit all.  Stakeholder needs are multi-layered and therefore your social media strategy and your wider contact strategy should be multi-layered too.

RULE TWO: You get to the Prime Minister through SamCam.

We listen more to the opinions of our families than our friends, more to the opinions of our friends than our work colleagues, more to the opinions of our work colleagues than our suppliers, and more to our suppliers than our prospective suppliers, and overall more to people than machines.

And so to get a message to Mr Cameron that he will listen to, we are better off having an advocate in the form of one of his work colleagues like George Osborn, or better still one of his friends like Rebekah Brooks, or best of all family like Samantha Cameron rather than trying to network with him direct.

As Marketing Director of British Land, how do I get the UK HQ of a well-known TMT business to be based out of one of British Land’s buildings?

I know that the decision maker is the FD.  And I know from social media research that the FD is best buddies with the HRD.  I get the HRD to tweet about how desirable the area is.  And note that all of that is about people relationships.  I work in real estate but my social media focus is more about people networking as people than about buildings or face-less organisations doing so.  Bricks don’t tweet.

Looking to internal comms in mid-sized and corporate businesses, employees listen to other employees before they listen to the corporate centre … so have your local advocates.  At PA Consulting Group, we introduced Yammer for our internal comms and ensured that we had local advocates briefed on and supportive of different comms initiatives before we yammed them more widely.

The introduction of promoted posts on social networks doesn’t appeal to me for this reason.  Social media is more impactful where you can work at building targeted and meaningful relationships.  Instead get scale and reach by broadening the number of people who use social media on your behalf.

In all of the marketing roles I’ve had, I’ve encouraged employees to act as online brand ambassadors.  Research from VentureBeat shows that this practice is increasing:  27 per cent of employees are encouraged to use personal social media accounts for work purposes, while 17 per cent said it is a requirement.

So that’s point two: the best person to network with the Prime Minister is SamCam.  Because she will be able to relate to him better than we can every time.

RULE THREE: You don’t get anything in life for free.

Including social media.  Social media is not a cheap activity to engage in.

Pay for your analytics so that they are meaningful and you can act upon them.  Use tools to analyse what your stakeholders are saying about you and to react.  When I re-branded PA Consulting Group a couple of years ago, I started with a brilliant social media analytics tool called Sysomos which allowed me to explore how PA’s stakeholders talked about PA relative to the competition.  This wasn’t the only input to our re-brand but it played a key role.

Pay to schedule some (but not all) of your posts so that you get your content out there at the times audiences are most likely to see and engage with it – as mentioned earlier.  This is about as scalable as mass automation gets in this space though.  So don’t spend your monies on mass automation of social media.  Social media does not sit as comfortably with automation as many other marketing channels.  It’s all about the personal nature of social media interactions.

So, there’s no such thing as a free lunch – even with social media.  Pay for your measurement and some scheduling.

Which brings us to… RULE FOUR: You need to tweet, not bark.

Never forget that social media is not a broadcast medium.  You’re having a conversation.  So you need people ready to interact with your audiences.  This is about a personal one-to-one relationship with your stakeholders.   And this can be a big challenge for large organisations like EY which operate a centralized social media strategy so as to reduce costs.

RULE FIVE: You don’t learn to bake by watching Bake-Off.

You learn to bake by practising baking.  It’s the same with social media.

There is no such thing as best practice that you can pick up from a conference or a book or online – only practice.  So rather than reading the blog of some bloke – who let’s face it you’ve never heard of – sounding off about his experience,  get your own experience.  Because what is relevant to me may not be relevant to you.  I developed my approach to social media by literally taking time out from my day to try things out.   Quite a lot of time at first.  Now it’s more like an hour or two per week.  Block out time in your calendar if it helps.  But doing this is as important as any other meeting you may have in your diary.  This is the way to find out how your stakeholders use social media and how to respond.

So that’s point five: you don’t learn to bake by watching Bake-Off. You bake for yourself.

In summary then, the social media world is changing.

But the way to manage it rather than let it manage you has not changed.  You need to practice it yourself.  You need to treat this activity at an individual not a mass level.  You need to get close to your target audience.  You need to invest in the right level of automation.  And you need to interact rather than broadcast.

Best get on with it then.  Good luck!

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The History of Content Marketing


Here’s the edited text of my speech to the B2B Marketing Annual Conference held at Cavendish Square in London on 7 November 2013…

To be clear, today I’m representing my views – not those of the firm that I work for. And it’s one of at least eight different views you’ll get on content marketing today.  In fact many more than eight because you get three formal breakout sessions for networking and then there’s drinks tonight.  So tens of different views on content marketing for you to choose from.  And that’s just today’s conference.

And this isn’t the only conference on content marketing you might have been to or be going to to collect views.  In November 2013 alone there are five other content marketing conferences in London currently being publicised.  Let’s say that there are eight speakers at each event – so that’s forty additional viewpoints that you could expose yourself to.

Then there’s the many views expressed on content marketing that you can find in books.  A quick glance at Amazon shows me that seventy-one books with content marketing in the title have been published in 2013 alone.

Or you could be reading one of the 34,560 links put up on Twitter on content marketing in the last twenty-four hours.

Or you could be reading one of the 969,000,000 articles on content marketing that Google can find for you right now.

Given that there are 969,034,679 views on it that you can easily access right now, the history of content marketing is rather astonishingly short.  The marketing textbooks I used when I was a groovy young marketer back in the day make no mention of content marketing at all.  Not a passing reference in Kotler, Armstrong, Saunders, and Wong’s seminal Principles of Marketing You won’t find the term in Malcolm McDonald’s Marketing Plans: How to Prepare Them, How to Use Them.  Not a peep in Wilson and Gilligan’s Strategic Marketing Management. What about something more B2B and a bit more recent?  Kotler’s 2002 tome, Marketing Professional Services maybe?  Nope. Nothing there.  The CIM‘s Marketing Professional Services by Michael Roe from 2001?  Sorry no.

The first mention of “content marketing” that I can find anywhere as a term dates back to 2007 – just six years ago – when Cleveland Ohio writer and self-styled entrepreneur Joe Pulizzi set up the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), a body that pronounces a better way for brands to market.  Joe Pulizzi has set up a CMI website, a society magazine called “Chief Content Officer”, conferences, and bespoke training.  He even awards one individual with content marketer of the year status.

So content marketing is a term that’s been invented to proliferate the views of Joe Pulizzi.  But there’s nothing wrong with inventing a new term if it adds something to the way we do marketing.  And the hype suggests that this new term really does give us something new.  Mikal E. Belicove says that “When it comes to marketing strategies, content marketing has just been crowned king, far surpassing search engine marketing, public relations and even print, television and radio advertising as the preferred marketing tool for today’s business-to-business entrepreneur.”  Wow!  And B2B Marketing magazine has got the numbers to prove it:- 51% of B2B marketers identified content marketing as being the most important tool for generating leads, outscoring brand awareness (38%), thought leadership (34%) and sales (29%).

So what does the term “content marketing” give us?  Because it’s a new term, I have to look to the internet for the definition.  Mikal E. Belicove defines it as “the creation and publication of original content — including blog posts, case studies, white papers, videos and photos — for the purpose of generating leads, enhancing a brand’s visibility, and putting the company’s subject matter expertise on display.”   But I’m not sure what this adds to any marketing debate. Is anyone really suggesting that there are messages that we send out that don’t contain “content” or that are in some way not designed to generate leads, build visibility, or show off a company’s expertise?  Surely you can’t have search engine marketing without content to draw your audience to?  You can’t have public relations or advertising without content?  The first definition of marketing was coined in 1935 and read: “Marketing is the performance of business activities that direct the flow of goods and services from the producer to the consumer.”  Now there are lots of things in that definition that we should quibble with, but it’s pretty clear that one of the critical business activities even in those days would have been to ensure you have content of some sort to deliver to the consumer.

Let’s turn then to Joe Pulizzi to define the term he claims to have coined.  Joe says that “content marketing is story-telling by brands to attract and retain customers.” Story-telling is not new though.   And nor is story-telling by brands.  The best marketers and communicators have always used storytelling to connect and inspire an audience to act. They have used traditional storytelling structures with beginnings, middles and ends: with heroes and plots and settings.  Take Apple MacIntosh’s ad from the third quarter of the 1983 Super Bowl football game directed by film story-teller Ridley Scott (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zfqw8nhUwA).  Here an athlete representing Apple is the inspirational, creative, and free-thinking hero over-throwing IBM’s Big Brother in a well-established plot based on George Orwell’s novel. Another example?  Here’s one from a decade earlier (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgzEBLa3PPk). The chimps are the heroes solving life’s trials with a cup of PG.   And back in the nineteenth century, Thomas J. Barratt told the story of how people got on by using Pears soap.  He added a bar of Pears soap into the foreground of John Everett Millais’s painting of well-groomed middle class children.  He established the Pears Annual in 1891 and the one-volume encyclopedia Pears Cyclopedia in 1897. He launched an annual “Miss Pears” competition in which parents entered their children into a high-profile hunt for a young brand ambassador to be used on packaging.  He recruited scientists and celebrities of the day like British music hall singer with a famous ivory complexion Lille Langtry to endorse the product.  We’re not hawking product features here, we’re telling a story.  We have an integrated marketing campaign that tells a story.  There’s nothing new here. It’s marketing, stupid.  And that’s reflected in the B2B Marketing bench-marking report on content marketing from June 2013 where 76% of marketers said that their organisation’s content marketing strategy was included as part of their overall marketing strategy.  Well, duh.  Of course it is.  Because all we really have in “content marketing” is a new term describing an old term (“marketing”).  How do you tell a story through your marketing?  You find a story that people will want to share.  And you share it.  How people share the story may have changed: on Twitter rather than over the water-cooler.  But the physical fact of sharing has not.

So if this definition of content marketing does not really work as defining something new, where do we go?  Let’s look to the way that august publication B2B Marketing magazine frames all this: “Can you hear the rumble?  That’s the sound of a million pieces of content tumbling towards your business audience, threatening to overwhelm them.  It’s the Content Avalanche.”  Okay.  So here we’re postulating that there’s more content out there than ever before creating more noise for the audience and therefore we marketers need to consider how we hone our content to get cut-through.  This is interesting.  Technology has made our target audience so much more reachable than before.  We have never been more connected with our clients, we have never before had more market information at our finger-tips, we have never before been so instantaneously able to influence our audience.  We may have always had conferences and books on hot topics like content marketing, but never before the Internet and the proliferation of noise created by social media and blogging and the means through search engines to find these quickly.

Okay – but let’s not get carried away.  Perhaps our target audience isn’t quite so overwhelmed as we think.  For now, our buyers are still fundamentally the pre-millennial audience.  One in six FTSE100 board members is aged 65 or over with an average age of 57, according to July 2013 findings from Ortus.  In May, Robert Half UK found that the average FTSE 100 CEO is aged 53.  What that means is that much of our target audience already has an automatic means of screening out most of the content delivered by new technology.  They are not exposed to it!  Social media is hardly a keen interest for the pre-millennials who sit on the Board:- an audit from global PR firm Weber Shandwick earlier this year found just 2 per cent of CEOs from the top 50 companies listed in Fortune Magazine’s 2012 Global 500 rankings have a visible presence on Twitter, and that proportion is actually declining – it was 8% three years ago!  What that means is that it’s likely you have rather more time to adapt to the content avalanche that perhaps you’ve been led to believe.  The snow is building, but it hasn’t yet got momentum.  At EY, I have found that many of our clients here today in 2013 still want to receive content in hard copy and indeed won’t read anything in any other format.  And where new technology is creeping through, it’s in the form of e-mail not social media.

And we humans are quite adaptable to new conditions anyway.  And this content avalanche is not as new a condition as all that.  As a publisher in South Africa at the dawn of the twentieth century, Gandhi would experiment with space, design, and tone in his newspaper articles to give his readers an opportunity to absorb properly the avalanche of content that they faced.  He would give very specific advice to readers, urging them to pause, to memorise, to write out passages and keep their own cuttings.  Content overload is not new and we’ve developed coping mechanisms to deal with it.  We will select content to access on the basis of what we trust and what interests us.  We will ignore most promotional advertising, throw blanket direct mail in the recycling bin, slam the phone down on cold callers.  We will even use technology as an aid to content selection with the likes of Twitter list feeds and iTunes podcast lists.  Canny marketers will therefore position themselves as information processors to aid clients.  In professional services, it is not uncommon for consultants to position themselves as the trusted human interface between information and the client.  And there’s lots of evidence to suggest clients appreciate this.  So the way to market in this world is to build trust in the eyes of your target market by proving your expertise and your usefulness.  Educate and entertain them.  Show them best practice case studies, tell them your thought leadership around what to look out for and how to achieve success, present client testimonials where you’ve helped others in the same position as them.  And be succinct, so respecting the time that your audience has to consume all this.  We need to work towards operating in a world of 140 characters of text or six seconds of film.

And perhaps we’re not being subtle enough in looking at the influence of technology on content.  Perhaps it is not so much the proliferation of content that is the new thing as the change in the nature of the content itself.  Technology enables marketers to interact with their audience like never before.  This means creating and sharing valuable, well-produced, creative content freely because if you give you will get. And it means more personalised content.  Or at least content delivered by new technology rather than old.

Perhaps. But again if there is an avalanche on its way, it’s not yet here.  In the B2B Marketing Content Bench-Marking Report, the most frequently used content type is a press release – with case studies and white papers not far behind.  None of these types are known for their interactive capabilities and none of them are new. The first press release dates back to 1906, the first case study to 1829, and the first white paper to 1922.  And as for personalised content, the B2B Marketing Content Bench-marking Report suggests that 78% of content is tailored merely to a particular industry.  In other words, bog-standard segmentation, targeting and positioning remains the order of the day.

Again when the avalanche comes, there are things to do here: your content will be less self-contained so that people want to engage with you about it and it will be written by a person with a personality that people want to engage with.  Great examples out there now come from the blogs of software company Balsamiq or of Intel’s Inside Scoop web-site.  So be ready.  But the avalanche has not landed.  We’re not yet ready to rumble.

There is mounting indirect evidence that technology is having an impact on us all through heavy stimulation and rapid shifts in attention.  This has an impact on the way we do all of our marketing including the content elements.  In a 2012 study by the Pew Research Centre, 90% of 2,462 US teachers interviewed said that technology was creating an easily distracted generation of people with short attention spans.  In interviews, teachers described what might be called a “Wikipedia problem,” in which students have grown so accustomed to getting quick answers with a few keystrokes that they are more likely to give up when an easy answer eludes them.  The Pew research found that 76 percent of teachers believed students had been conditioned by the Internet to find quick answers.  Teachers also said they were using more dynamic and flexible teaching styles.  One said: “I’m tap dancing all over the place. The more I stand in front of class, the easier it is to lose them.”  What does this mean for marketing?  It means we have to make our marketing easily accessible across the different channels that your audience is likely to use.  Recreate the Pears soap experience for a new generation.  And make your marketing big, bold, and attracting.  We need to be the flashing light-bulbs of our respective businesses.

Technology is also changing when our audiences consume our marketing.  At my previous firm, we found that tablet technology in particular was ensuring that our content was being accessed in the evenings and at weekends.  And the time of viewing was changing the type of content being viewed.  Our audiences were being less siloed in the content they looked at.  More prepared to roam across topic areas and types of content.  That means marketers need to provide broader and deeper content than before.  We are entering a world where the headline content needs to be shorter and the detail deeper.

So where are we?  “Content marketing” is a new term with no history and there’s no standardised definition behind it.  Therefore before you have any conversation with anyone about it, you need to agree a definition as a common reference point.  I have found five possible definitions.  One. If you work for the Content Marketing Institute, the term references brand story-telling, which is not a new thing.  Marketers responding to this need to tell a story that others will want to share.  Two.  For some, the term references a response to a growing proliferation of content that overwhelms the audience because of developments in technology.  There are lots of reasons why you might say that this avalanche has been called too early.  If you buy this definition though, you can use technology and the human as intermediaries to overcome it.  Three.  For some, the term references the change in content brought on by new technology.  Again, there are many reasons why you might say that we are not yet there.  But if you buy this definition, then look to engage your audience with content that your audience wants to respond to shared by personalities your audience trusts.  Four.  For some, the term references the changing way that audiences consume content.  There is a case for this and you need to make your content very accessible and attracting in response.  Five.  The term references the changing times when audiences view marketing.  There is a case for this and it requires deeper and broader content provision than in the past.

The hype around content marketing is undeserved.  There’s no revolution here.  But there are some interesting developments around technology that you need to ensure you cater for in your marketing over the next few years.

Let content be king if you want.  But don’t forget that in this country we stopped living under an absolute monarch during the civil war 350 years ago.

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Another thing to worry about: should social media be on your “to do” list?


This article was produced for the Autumn 2013 launch issue of the magazine .so. For more detail, visit http://www.tcg.so/

Whether your in-tray is physical, virtual, metaphorical, or even a mix of the three, the one thing you can be sure of is that nowadays you have quite a lot in it. That means, you need to take real care before adding something else. Should social media be in that tray?
An April 2013 survey of Fortune 500 companies by Domo found that social media isn’t really on the agenda as yet: only nine Fortune 500 CEOs have active Twitter accounts, and just 38 are on Facebook. LinkedIn has attracted a better showing, with profiles of 129 Fortune 500 CEOs, but even this amounts to just 26 per cent of this high profile group. However the same survey suggests that the younger generation of executives use social media more than the over-50s. So, social may not be on the agenda now, but perhaps it may be very soon.
I believe that, unlike many other C-suite or NED issues, what to do about social media is a personal decision. Anyone who makes a sweeping statement that all businesses should or should not be using social media is wrong. Rather, it depends on your objectives.

(1) If your objective is around personal research and learning, then social media can be helpful as one such source of information. For example, as a CMO, I use social media as one (but not the only) means of keeping up to date with developments in B2B marketing. I am a member of a number of relevant discussion groups on LinkedIn, follow selected experts on Twitter, and contribute my own views. To use social media in this way will require you to do so directly and that’s a time commitment. There are many time-saving tools available to helps such as Hootsuite, but at the end of the day if you do not make a regular commitment in your week to use social media and to interact over it, then this method of learning is probably not for you. I find that the daily commute provides me with the opportunity to use social media and with a convenient bounded timeframe in which I can start and stop
(2) If your objective is around keeping up to date with your network, social media can be helpful as one such connecting tool. This objective is bounded by generation. If your network is over the age of 50, the chances are that it engages by e-mail rather than social networking sites, such as Twitter or Facebook. By contrast, the 40-somethings in your network will be using text and instant messaging. It’s only for those in your network below the age of 40, that social media comes into its own
(3) It may be that you want to build up your personal brand in your industry or specialism and that social media can help if your target audience are millennials. Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Group, active on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, maintaining a thought leadership blog on LinkedIn and a personal blog on the Virgin website, is the most obvious example of someone brand-building in this way. Another is Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct, who uses Twitter and Google+, and writes a blog called “Direct Talk”
(4) It may be that social media can help the internal communications challenges of your business. If knowledge is siloed in your business or if senior management is from a different generation to front-line management, you may want to see if a tool like Yammer can assist. Such tools have had a big impact on collaboration and knowledge-sharing in professional service organisations where it has been introduced. However, first you will need to publicise some guidelines and a policy to define terms of engagement
(5) It may be that your objective is around improving your business’s external communications. If your customers are on social media, then you will want to be too. The question here is not about whether but to what extent. Should you focus on listening or interacting? There is much to be said for the former approach. An overwhelming 93 percent of BRANDfog survey respondents in 2012 believed that CEO engagement in social media helps communicate company values, shape a company’s reputation, and grow and evolve corporate leadership in times of crisis. And you need to keep watching your customer mix to understand how social media usage changes. With the BRIC middle class expected to soar from roughly five per cent of the population to more than 40 per cent in the next two decades, change will be speedy.

So don’t follow the herd: because you will fail. Select your objectives, make your choice, and commit. Good luck!

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Not up where you belong…


marketing is  too hardThe B2B Marketing team have asked me to speak at the next Leaders’ Forum on 19 September on the subject of why marketing has become so disconnected from the boardroom and what we can do about it.

Perhaps recognising that I’m not such a big name draw as my fellow speakers from Fujitsu, O2, Circle Research, and The Next Big Thing or as the legendary Joel Harrison, Samantha Pashley at B2B Marketing has asked me to do a bit more blogging and even to try out a Vine or two before my talk to big myself up a bit.

Well I’m always up for a challenge. So here we go…

At the Forum, the B2B Marketing team will be talking about a fascinating piece of research – the 2013 B2B Leaders Report. The statistics in the report that really drew my attention were that three quarters of marketing leaders (VPs, Heads of, Directors, CMOs) in medium sized businesses or corporates agree that marketing is central to their organisation’s success, and only half feel it is getting the resources it needs to deliver that success. In fact I’ve had to re-read these numbers a couple of times to be sure I’ve not misunderstood.

For what that means is that 24% of CMOs think that their own marketing is not key to the success of their business. How can we explain this? Perhaps those leaders simply felt that they do not do marketing terribly well and were being honest about it. If that’s the case, then all power to them! The first step on the path to improvement is to recognise that things aren’t optimal.

But I fear that the truth behind the 24% figure is somewhat different… My own twenty years of experience suggests that it rather points to the many B2B marketing departments that have lost their way, their confidence in their ability to matter to the businesses they support shot to pieces by years of criticism or misunderstanding from the Board. B2B marketing departments once co-located with Board members have been moved away. The areas of marketing most associated with outcome like sales have been stripped away. The CMO has been pushed out of key discussions on business strategy and targeting. The marketing team has been limited to event execution or brochure design. Broad marketing terms like “brand” have been limited to encompassing the company logo use. B2B marketing has been moved into a place in the organisation where it can’t do any harm. Because no Board can yet consider getting rid of the marketing department completely. Yet.

And that picture seems to be confirmed by the second statistic that I quoted above. Marketing is not getting the assets it needs because it is no longer a credible force in the Boardroom. It no longer has a voice. And far from being improved by the digital age, the malaise is deepening.

That’s my personal experience and that of those in my B2B marketing network – indeed I have spent my career pushing to get marketing back up where it belongs.

This is the malaise that I want to discuss at the Leaders’ Forum (you can book your place at http://www.b2bmarketing.net/b2b-leaders-forum) or for the next few posts on this blog. Do you see the same malaise? What can be done?

Drop me a line here or on Twitter (@DaveStevensNow) or on LinkedIn (http://uk.linkedin.com/in/davestevensnow) and let me know your marketing role, the size of your company and whether or not you sit on the Board, how frequently you discuss marketing with your CEO, and whether marketing plays an advisory role in your business…

I’ll collate your views and report back.

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