Sunday, February 24, 2013

Think "Close and Deep" for Effective Demand Generation

During the Cold War, US Army leaders in Europe faced a disconcerting situation. Their mission was to defend NATO members in the event of an attack by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The problem was, US/NATO ground forces were substantially outnumbered. During this period, Soviet army doctrine was to throw wave after wave of forces at defenders until they were overcome. US military leaders were not confident they could win this kind of war of attrition.

To address this problem, the US Army developed a new warfighting doctrine, one that reintroduced the idea of depth to the battlefield. Under the new doctrine, US/NATO armies would extend the battlefield deep on the enemy's side of the front lines and attack rear-echelon forces (fighting deep), while simultaneously engaging front-line forces (fighting close). The objective was to break up the enemy's momentum and deplete enemy forces before they could get into the main fight. The principle of fighting close and deep at the same time remains a basic tenet of US Army operational doctrine.

Some of you may be wondering what military doctrine has to do with B2B demand generation. Quite a bit, actually. Especially for B2B companies with long and complex demand generation cycles. In these circumstances, maximizing demand generation results requires companies to use activities and programs that cover the full depth of the demand generation "battlefield." In other words, high-performing demand generation systems engage potential buyers both close and deep simultaneously.

The diagram below depicts the demand generation playing field and illustrates what I mean by close and deep demand generation engagement.

In military doctrine, close and deep describe the distance from the front lines of the battle. In demand generation, close and deep refer to where prospects are in the buying process and now near or far they are from making a purchase decision. As the diagram shows, personal selling is the primary close demand generation activity, while deep demand generation activities focus primarily on lead acquisition. Lead management activities such as lead nurturing and lead qualification occupy an intermediate tier. The diagram also shows that close activities are designed to produce short-term results, while deep activities produce results over a more extended period of time.

To maximize demand generation performance over time, it's critical to have the right balance of effective close and deep activities. When the balance is right, your demand generation system will perform at a consistent, high level. If you don't optimize close activities (personal selling), the negative consequences will be felt quickly. If you ignore or fail to optimize deep activities, the negative consequences can be just as bad, but it will talke longer for them to become visible.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why Content Marketing is the Best Way to Build the Brand

Howard Sewell with Spear Marketing recently published a blog post titled, "Has Content Marketing Made Branding Obsolete?" He argues that most B2B companies don't need "branding." Sewell writes, "If generating leads depended even in small part on how consumers felt about your company, branding might still have a role to play. But successful demand generation today has little to do with your company, and much more to do with your content."

I agree that content marketing is now an essential component of B2B marketing, perhaps the single most important component. However, I disagree with the argument that content marketing makes branding obsolete. Here's why.

Branding is one of those marketing terms that is used in a variety of ways. In one sense, branding refers to the process of creating the name and symbols (logos, etc.) that will be used to identify a company, product, or service offering. Branding can also refer to several kinds of advertising and marketing programs that are primarily intended to (a) raise public awareness of a company, product, or service, or (b) create and maintain a positive perception of a company, product, or service in the minds of prospective customers. When marketers engage in these types of advertising and marketing activities, they often say they are building the brand.

Building the brand is a marketing objective that can be pursued using a variety of marketing tactics and methods. Traditionally, the most prevalent brand building tactics were "mass advertising" activities such as TV/radio/print ads and various kinds of public relations activities.

In the B2B world, content marketing is a marketing tactic or method that emphasizes the use of educational and primarily non-promotional content to capture the attention and interest of prospective customers. Content marketing can be used to achieve multiple marketing objectives, including both lead generation and brand building.

The important point here is that a marketing tactic or method will never render a legitimate marketing objective obsolete. To say that content marketing makes brand building obsolete is like saying that charcoal grilling makes dinner obsolete.

Building the brand is still an essential marketing function for B2B companies. No sale will occur until the prospective buyer accepts and "believes in" both the relevance and credibility of your brand promise. What has changed is that traditional brand building methods and tactics are far less effective today than they once were. Business buyers are quick to tune out promotional marketing messages so what companies need is a more effective method for building the brand and communicating the brand promise. For most B2B companies, content marketing is now the best way to build the brand.

It's true, as Mr. Sewell writes, that most good demand generation content is not usually about a company or its products or services. Today, the best content focuses on business issues or challenges that are relevant and important to a company's potential buyers. But, even when a content resource is not about a company or its products or services, prospects will inevitably associate the content with the company that produced it. After all, the resource itself will be branded. If the resource is a white paper or an e-book or a case study, the company name and logo will almost certainly appear somewhere in the document. If the resource is a webinar, the company name and logo will probably be on every slide.

The point here is that your company, your brand, will be closely associated with the content you publish. The relevance and quality of that content (good or bad) will have a major impact on how prospects view and define your brand.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Measurability Doesn't Equal Effectiveness

I suspect that most of you have heard the story about the drunk man and the lamp post. One version goes like this:

An inebriated man loses the keys to his house and is looking for them under a street light. A policeman comes over as asks what he's doing. "I'm looking for my keys," the man says. He points to a spot about twenty feet away and says, "I lost them over there." The policeman looks puzzled and asks, "Then why are you looking for them all the way over here?" "Because the light is so much better over here," the man replies.

Unfortunately, I believe that some marketers may be falling into a mindset that is similar to the one illustrated in this story.

For the past several years, marketers have faced growing pressure to prove the value of their activities and programs. As a result, they are placing greater emphasis on measuring the performance of marketing channels, tactics, and programs. Some marketers are allocating budgets and basing investment decisions on marketing performance measures.

Overall, this is a positive development. It's hard to argue that marketers shouldn't track and measure the performance of their campaigns and programs, and use performance measures to guide marketing investments. Common sense says that this approach should lead to better marketing decisions.

The problem arises when measurability becomes the primary criterion for using a particular marketing channel or tactic. For example, the ability to measure the results produced by many digital marketing tactics, such as e-mail and paid search, is frequently cited as a major reason to use these tactics. In an environment where proving the value of your work can mean the difference between keeping or losing your job, marketing methods that are easily measured can appear to be the safe choice.

The problem is, the measurability of a tactic or program is not directly proportional to its effectiveness or impact. Some marketing activities that are highly effective and valuable are also difficult to measure. In fact, it can be nearly impossible to calculate an accurate ROI for some of these activities. This doesn't mean, however, that such activities should be excluded from your marketing mix. If you take that approach, your marketing efforts may not be as effective as they could be.

The primary responsibility of a marketer is to create and execute marketing programs that maximize profitable revenue growth for his/her company, not merely to execute programs that can be easily measured. One way to keep this idea in  mind is to remember a saying usually attributed to Albert Einstein:  "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why Marketing Content Must Both Convince and Persuade

In a blog post last November, Seth Godin described something that occurred in connection with the publication of his new book. It seems that a copyeditor changed each usage of persuade in the book to convince. Godin says he had to change all of them back.

Godin explained why he thought this was necessary:  "Marketers don't convince. Engineers convince. Marketers persuade. Persuasion appeals to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Convincing requires a spreadsheet or some other rational device. It's much easier to persuade someone if they're already convinced, if they already know the facts. But it's impossible to change someone's mind merely by convincing them of your point."

Seth Godin is one of the most insightful marketing thought leaders around, but I disagree with him slightly on this point. In the B2B world, marketers must be prepared to both convince and persuade. Let's look first at the need to convince.

The Need to Convince

Survey results by IDC have revealed that, on average:
  • Ninety percent of companies require quantifiable proof of economic/financial benefits for most potential investments.
  • Almost two-thirds of business buyers (65%) say that they do not have the knowledge or tools they need to perform business value assessments and calculations.
  • More than four out of five business buyers (81%) expect prospective vendors to quantify the business value of proposed solutions.
These research results clearly show that B2B companies must be able to demonstrate and prove the value that their products or services will create for customers. In essence, you need to be prepared to help your buyer build a compelling business case for investing in your solution. Several kinds of marketing content can be used to perform this function.
  • White papers or eBooks that describe how your solution creates value and explains how to calculate the value delivered
  • Online assessment tools that enable prospects to obtain a preliminary estimate of the financial benefits your solution will provide
  • ROI calculators that your sales reps can use to provide credible proof of the value your solution will deliver
The Need to Persuade

Marketers have traditionally believed that B2B buying decisions follow a rational, step-by-step process and that emotion has little effect on the process. We now know that this view is, at best, incomplete and that B2B buying decisions are far less rational that we like to think.

The reality is that emotions - particularly fear, uncertainty, and doubt - are part of every significant B2B buying decision. In The Buyersphere Project, Gord Hotchkiss wrote, "B2B buying decisions are usually driven by one emotion - fear. Specifically, B2B buying is all about minimizing fear by eliminating risk."

In an earlier post, I discussed why it's important for marketers to have content that directly and intentionally addresses fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The main point I want to make in this post is that B2B marketers must be ready to address both rational and emotional issues.

The bottom line? To succeed at B2B demand generation, you need marketing content and sales enablement tools that will both convince and persuade.