Today's guest blogger, Ann Handley, is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs and the co-author of the brand-new book, Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business. (Wiley, 2011)
Follwer her on Twitter @marketingprofs
As an editor and marketer, I spend a lot of time thinking about the “how to”—in other words, how to translate the best and more interesting marketing ideas into truly actionable steps for organizations looking to grow their business.
But every once in a while it’s good to take a step back to take stock of the bigger picture, to put ideas into perspective. Like at the start of a new year.
So at the start of 2011, here are a few bigger trends I see shaping the way B2B marketers will do business in the coming year.
1. Social media = Lots of room for improvement
It’s true that B2B marketers are embracing social tools as a way to both connect with customers and grow their businesses. Most businesses have some kind of social presence or plan to have one: Most have attempted a blog or Facebook page, or have at least peeked at Twitter.
For instance, when Guy Kawasaki asked a room full of B2B marketers at a recent MarketingProfs event, “How many people think Twitter is stupid?” only two brave souls raised their hands high.
Still, most B2B marketers have yet to truly embrace the full social toolset for their business. A mere 12% of business executives say their companies are using social media effectively, according to a recent study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services.
Why is that? Sometimes, it’s because they are unsure of the real value, and sometimes it’s because they aren’t sure how to approach social channels. (How do you foster engagement on Facebook? What’s the value of social-streaming platforms like Twitter, where your content quickly vaporizes? Why doesn’t our blog have any comments?)
In other words: B2B marketers + social = lots of room for improvement.
2. Content isn’t enough
Most B2B marketers have embraced the notion that they are also “publishers.” In other words, they understand that in addition to being in the business of selling whatever they sell—be it shovels or software—they also need to be producing content as a cornerstone of their marketing, both to engage and educate their would-be customers.
But producing any old content isn’t enough. B2B companies have to produce the right kind of content: Web content should be honestly empathetic and seeded with utility for your customers; it should be inspired by your unique perspective and reflect your business's core values and authentic “voice.”
How do you produce the right kind of content? That bit about being “honestly empathetic” above is the key: Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and consider what you can do to best suit their needs. Be that expert who can help them with their problems by offering solutions. Be a voice of trusted reason in your industry, about whatever problem it is that your service or product solves.
3. Serving is the new selling
As I’ve written in the past, serving is the new selling, and support is the new marketing. Smart companies will increasingly be "brand butlers," focusing on how they can help their customers or prospects to make the most of their daily lives (versus the old model of selling them a lifestyle).
Content is one way that you can meet the needs of your customers—by delivering information that's timely, needed, on-brand, and helpful to your customers (as we talked about in #2, above).
But there are other ways: launching iPhone apps that help customers accomplish certain tasks, offering real-world support, or simply rethinking whether your website navigation really helps your customers do what they need to do (instead of just offering them marketing “Frankenspeak.”)
4. Focusing on Wins and Losses
Social media is like baseball, says Brian Watkins, Social Media Manager of Adobe. True baseball nuts love to pore over the stats of their favorite franchises and players. They love to compare stats like stolen bases, strikeouts, ERAs, RBIs, sacrifice hits, and so on; meanwhile, all the League really counts is two things: wins and losses.
Similarly, social media fans love to pore over their own endlessly fascinating (but ultimately meaningless) stats: number of fans or friends or followers, number of retweets, number of views on YouTube, comparative social clout, and on and on; meanwhile, all the C-suite really counts is sales.
The important thing is to recognize that while it might be interesting and satisfying for aficionados to indulge in stats, what really matters is the biggest picture. For B2B and social media, that means this: Are you connecting socially with your customers in a meaningful way that actually makes them do business with you?
Are you keeping your eye on the ball so you get those hits that lead to wins?
So those are a few things on my radar this new year. What about you? What trends do you see affecting your business as we move into this new year?