The Internet is one great big channel that’s always on. As it continues to evolve with ever-increasing social and commercial channels, it begins to tell us things. By telling us things and shaping our perceptions about what is around us, it basically starts showing us things about ourselves. In fact, some argue that it challenges reality itself (but that’s another story). One thing that is true of the Internet is that has become everyone’s preferred channel of communication. Books become e-books, retail stores move to online commerce, YouTube replaces TV (oops…not just yet I guess).
We would like to share 8 of the highlights from some of our communications during the past month. We share them with you based on a single criteria: people shared our communication with others. Our rationale is that since people thought enough about the idea to share it, others who may have missed it will want to know about it. Please keep your comments coming into us on our websites and papers. We’re here to help you do one thing: sell stuff. And all selling begins and ends with communications. Enjoy.
1. Proposals. When firms like ours communicate, we use proposals to demonstrate our capabilities in order to get the work. Many companies use proposals, and feedback on them is always good. We recently prepared a proposal for a prospect recommending an advertising multi-media awareness campaign. Part of the campaign was publishing white papers or “fact sheets” because they are one of the experts in the field of measurement of communications. We suggested reports that look like the old CARR Reports (Cahners Advertising Research Reports). These reports (and we referred them to one we found on the web) offered ongoing validated information from a publisher. Why couldn’t our prospect do the same? The link we put in the proposal was shared over 100 times by our prospect! This suggested to us it had value.
Because of this intense interest in a single link buried in a proposal, we dug up all the CARR reports, which are no longer available on the Internet and the company no longer exists, and posted them on our sister company’s website. We think you will find these extraordinary references, conveniently organized. Even today, with burgeoning social media channels, much of the CARR Report wisdom applies. And by the way, we have a complete set of these reports in print in our offices, along with McGraw-Hill’s now out-of-print LAP reports, Penton’s now-out-of-print PRO reports, and more. In fact, we are currently preparing summary fact sheets for a large international association that presents “bites” of key information about their member’s products that help raise the perceptions, specification and use of their products. Not all content is on the Internet, it seems, or if it was, sometimes it is prematurely taken away. Please explore these time-tested reports for your next research. Keep in mind the Internet was just being born when some of these were created…and you will find them extraordinarily meaningful.
2. Twitter. Twitter as a channel holds, in our opinion, a lot of promise for communications. And, it isn’t limited to “personal” information. Accenture says technology (like Twitter) is really a retailer’s opportunity to bring the customer closer. Our tweet on this topic generated a lot of interest, as evidenced by the number of downloads from http://goo.gl/mxgg7k. This referred our followers to the Accenture Retail Technology Vision 2013 paper, which examines technologies that in Accenture’s world will have the greatest impact on the retail industry over the next three to five years. They boil it down to three categories, and then spend 14 pages explaining them. These categories are:
- The Customer Experience
- Data and Analytics
- Infrastructure and core IT
Accenture believes every retailer must be a digital retailer. In our world of B2B, the same applies to distributors. However, our world isn’t moving as fast as B2C, though as you read the research, B2C isn’t moving fast enough!
For example, at a recent meeting of a major buying group’s marketing committee, we were asked by our client to come up with a compelling question to promote a stronger bond between them and the distributor members of the buying group. We asked ourselves a simple question: How many of the buying group members were doing e-commerce? Our thought was that any distributor worth anything should be doing it.
Surprise, surprise. Of the group we researched, only 29% were doing e-commerce, 59% had no e-commerce, 3% had a website under construction and 11% we couldn’t find on the web. At the meeting, when we exposed this information, the committee chair asked us, “How do you define e-commerce?” Stunned, we said transactions, business, “You know, selling stuff. Unless your members are doing this online, they will be out of business in a few years.” There was a pause, and the chair said, “You don’t understand. Our members think just having a website is doing e-commerce.” “Well, then those companies will be out of business next year,” I replied.
Digital Disruption isn’t a theory; it’s a fact. It’s causing so much commotion, that even Nielsen is having trouble measuring it. On average, customers progress nearly 60% of the way through a purchase decision‐making process BEFORE engaging a sales rep. The point is, whether you are doing retail, wholesaler, whatever, the path to purchase is increasingly about how you shape the customer experience! And usually, that means making it easy for customers to do what they want to do: buy stuff, or consume stuff.
3. Editorial. There’s a lot of argument about editorial and advertising these days, and navigating the debate is important for marketers. Forbes is a publisher that gets it. They continually publish stimulating content, and allow everyone to share their thoughts freely. Kimberly Whitler wrote a story called “IBM’s New ‘Presence Zones’ Help Retailers Transform In-Store Experience” on Forbes online that we shared and subsequently promoted offline discussions. The piece was about IBM’s technology that was going to be introduced at the National Retail Federation event that would help “retailers give shoppers a 360 degree experience that connects every touch point to deliver smarter, more personalized promotions.” Our question was: Do you really need this?
In a recent blog we argued about the amount of data that a person could digest, and in another one called The Age of Content, we pointed out that “Computer users world-wide generate enough digital data every 15 minutes to fill the U.S. Library of Congress.” The fact is, Alexander Szalay, a Johns Hopkins astrophysicist, pointed out that more technical data have been collected in the past year alone than in all previous years since science began. According to Szalay, “The data is doubling every year.” The quantity of data is growing faster than the ability of the network to carry it all. And while Ms. Whitler did a great job interviewing Craig Hayman from IBM on this technology, our question is still: How much do you really need to know? Perhaps more important, do you really want retailers following you around 24/7? Do retailers really want to do that? We suggest you read the piece and form your own conclusions, and then share them with us!
4. B2C. In our world of B2B, the paths to purchase aren’t as simple as the B2C world. But, the kind of complexity that we as B2B marketers have been experiencing (i.e., two and three step distribution, retailers, etc.) is actually migrating into the B2C world as well. In fact, they are colliding. And because of that, advertisers are now really afraid of consumers because consumers are in control. They can harm a brand quickly. They can ignite a brand into record sales equally as fast.
So when we tweeted “Burberry allows consumers to purchase pieces from fall menswear collection immediately after the runway show. http://goo.gl/ymmhcq,” it provoked discussion because we were bringing in B2C into the B2B context. As one rep put it after she started following us, “I couldn’t believe you were talking about Burberry!”
The content we used was from Luxury Daily, one of the excellent resources in the web for information about paths to purchase. What Burberry was doing was experimenting with online e-commerce – and pushing the envelope. This is something that B2B MUST start doing – or along comes an innovator and displacement will occur. For example, in Burberry’s case, whoever heard of allowing people to buy immediately after the fashion show? Typically, the fashion show present the clothes, and then the clothing follows the path to purchase to stores, etc. Suddenly, if you are online watching the show, you can click through and purchase what you are seeing IMMEDIATELY. Burberry is applauded for pushing the envelope. But, how does this apply to B2B? I mean, what could be further from faucets than fashion?
Every catalog is a fashion show if you think about it. The presentation of B2B products, like fashion, involves more than a photo and some copy. “Fashion is more than the design of clothing and related products,” says Frances Corner in an article from another great resource, the Business of Fashion called “Are We Producing too many Fashion Designers?” You could write the same headline for faucets, or flooring, or windows. That is, “Faucets are more than turning water on and off” or “Flooring is more than installation and wearability.” The arguments for products (like fashion) go like this (just substitute the name of a product instead of Fashion and you’ll see what we mean): “Fashion drives so many industries and economies: It provides the value-added, design-focused element that makes consumers happy to splash out on something because it is fashionable — that may be a piece of clothing, an accessory, furniture, food or the latest mobile device. Fashion is everywhere.” Say “LED Lighting” is your product. The statement would read: “LED Lighting drives so many industries and economies: It provides the value-added, design-focused element that makes consumers happy to splash out on something because it is about light – that may be a room, a piece of furniture and the way the light hits it, a wall in a room, or how it looks on the latest mobile device. Lighting is everywhere.” Get it?
No one will argue there is more money spent on fashion than on any single B2B product – or would they? For example, an architect used a commercial faucet for his personal home because of the “retro” look he was seeking. That was a residential application for a commercial product. Should the manufacturer begin marketing commercial as residential? What would the pro forma look like? Saying yes or no depends on many factors; however, not considering the possibility defeats the purpose of innovation or supplying what a customer wants and fails to recognize the colliding of B2C with B2B. This is exactly what Burberry is doing by pushing the envelope about WHEN people can buy things. Shortening the length of time between presentation and commerce should be on everyone’s mind, whether you play in B2C or B2B.
5. Content. It is difficult to read anything today without reading that we are in the age of content. But then, we always have been. Except today, the content is everywhere and ANYONE can create it, consume it, distribute it. eMarketer is one of the great resources, and when we shared their report on “Content Marketing a Struggle from Start to Finish,” it provoked some interesting discussions. What we said was, “Content curation may be proving more attractive than content creation. http://goo.gl/4j4eBk.” That hit right into the heart of many publishers. How can that be, asked some who prided themselves on editorial awards? Impossible, others firmly concluded. Others rejoiced because their editorial was mainly complied anyway from manufacturer-authored articles.
In fact, one publisher actually did this: They approached our client to author an article on a specific topic that our client specialized in. When it was finished, the publisher posted the article on his website and also ran it in his digital and print magazine. After it ran, the publisher approached our client and asked if the client would like to buy it to post back on the client’s website. Our client vowed never to produce original content for the publisher again. Whether or not that holds true, you can see the situation: Who owns the content?
The eMarketer report said this: “Research by content curation software firm Curata found 59% of US marketing professionals would be spending more on content marketing in 2014 than they had in the past.” But, the important thing said was, “Curation is not as easy as simply finding and sharing content. Organizations need a strategy, and a calendar, and most marketers report that every stage of content curation is still a struggle for them. Even a majority have trouble just sharing the items they do find.” Their chart is interesting, because it shows that brand-created content makes up over half of the overall content marketing mix. Brands are trying to “balance” that.
A company called ion is a fast-growing, privately-held software company that produced a wonderful paper that relates to this called “Landing Pages for content Marketing: an Idea Book for Turning Content into Conversations.” While all “papers” are designed to help you understand something the author is selling (ours included), it is important to be aware of them and to understand not only their value proposition – but also your own.
In this paper, ion states the case impressively and bluntly:
“All of the concepts in this guide are predicated on content having perceived value. Value is established and communicated with relevance, design and substance. Value to your organization doesn’t always translate to value from your audience’s perspective. The fair exchange of content means that the perceived value of the content is proportional to the effort required to acquire it. Blogs have a very low bar in this regard—reading them usually requires nothing in exchange. White papers may have a higher bar—where getting the white paper may depend on a person’s willingness to exchange their name, email address and more.”
There’s only so much time for so much content. The key is to focus on what you audience wants – not what you want. That’s always been the case. When you get it, the struggle gets easier despite the overwhelming amount we have to deal with today.
6. Youth. We always think that the next generation doesn’t have it as bad as we had it. It’s always a good idea to see what young people are doing because of that, because people don’t change. What changes is how people communicate. Young people are the audiences of the future, and Victor Piñeiro, the Strategy Director at digital agency called Big Spaceship, wrote a piece in AD AGE that stimulating conversations called “What 8th Graders Taught Me About Where Social Strategy Needs to Go (Like ‘Dark Social’).” If you market anything, you should read this, because it gives you a glimpse into the future.
So when we tweeted, “Total Kids: 120. Instagram: 115; Twitter: 85; Vine: 85; Snapchat: 80; Facebook: 2 http://goo.gl/JSllqs” as the results of answering Piñeiro’s question where they hung out on the Internet, it provoked some intense feedback. Now remember, these were 8th graders. However, marketers who do not keep their eyes and ears open as to where these audiences will gravitate in the future will be missing the opportunity. And don’t forget, Facebook was probably at the top of this list just a few years ago!
Our own experience with youth came in the form of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA!, an educational program that takes students in grades six through twelve through the process of starting and running real businesses over the course of a full academic year. I recently served as part of a panel of CEOs to share experiences and insights of the business world with 15 high school students from the Palatine Area Chamber of Commerce Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!). I was surprised. They were all extremely talented individuals, but they had no real-world experience. As I had no virtual-world experience with one of their channels (i.e., Shapchat), you could say that about me. So the question is really between reality and virtual – isn’t it? If your audience as Piñeiro said isn’t watching TV and you run your ad, they will not see it or hear it. Likewise, if everyone is on Snapchat and you are not, no one will see or hear you. Where should you be? What’s a marketer to do?
The answer is know where you audience is, and unfortunately that can be everywhere nowadays. But it is not everywhere; no budget can support “everywhere.” Also, there is still only so much time. So smart marketers make themselves aware of all the possibilities, but then select on a strategic level where to put their media dollars. It is highly unlikely today, at this moment, that facility managers will be snap chatting. But then, until we research that possibility, I’m only guessing!
By the way, at the event where I served as a panelist, one of the questions was any formulas of success that we might be able to share with the students. “Rise Early, Stay Late, Strike Oil,” I said. “But I didn’t say that J. Paul Getty said that. And of course, you know who J. Paul Getty is, don’t you?” Not one of the 15 students knew who J. Paul Getty was. One of the instructors chimed in, “”I suggest you Google him tonight.” I felt pretty old at that moment. But, I instantly knew the difference between real and virtual.
7. Big Data. Like content, it is hard to pick up anything today and not hear the words, “Big Data.” Prakash Nanduri is a co-founder and CEO of Paxata, a company that was started in 2012, and offers what they call “the first Adaptive Data Preparation platform focused on automating the manual steps and reducing the time in getting the right answer sets for ad-hoc analytics.” Prakash wrote an article in Forbes called “Five Business Intelligence Predictions for 2014,” and our tweets on the topic sparked some further shares. For example, Prakash says that “the bloom will come off the rose, and big data will need to prove its business value.” We agree, and it’s not just us. Nate Silver in his book The Signal and the Noise talks a lot about Big Data too – and its inability to deliver significant results. Prakash argued that Big Data is about finding the needle in the haystack. Silver says it’s more like trying to find the right needle in a pile of needles.
Prakash offers other interesting predictions. The point of them all is to be aware of what is going around us today. All the big consulting companies are in the game. Deloitte has information on big data worth your time. And McKinsey’s article on “Big data: What’s Your Plan” can certainly make you think. In our blog “How Much Data Can You Eat,” we compare the Greek myth about Erysichthon to what happens when you start consuming data: You just can’t get enough. Maybe we should create the “Data Diet,” which limits the intake we have each day. Maybe the government should step in and provide guidelines for data consumption.
Nate Silver says collect as much information as possible, but then be as rigorous and disciplined as possible when analyzing it. It’s the “as possible” that’s the question. With so much being added these days, our job is really cutting through the noise to get to the signal – isn’t it?
8. The Future. Deloitte produced a 64-page document that got some traction when we tweeted in January, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, what’s the media got in store (for 2014 that is, and at least according to Deloitte). http://goo.gl/GBiHsB.” In “Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions 2014,” Deloitte spells it out what we have to face, regardless of what we are selling. For example, they predicted:
- Global sales of smartphones, tablets, PCs and TVs will be over $750B in 2014
- Smart glasses and other “wearables” should be about a $3B business in 2014
- Online courses will continue to struggle
Now, you don’t have to believe these predictions. You don’t have to swallow their prediction measurement of TV programs will be better in 2014 or some of the others. But the fact is, these are smart people, and so we all better pay attention to what they see and then adjust accordingly.
In our blog on strategy – “Who’s on first when it’s About Strategy” – we talked about Paul Schoemaker, a heavyweight in strategy. But like all heavyweights, time passes, new people enter the ring, and before you know it, you get knocked down. The true measure of a strategist, however, is not getting knocked down. It’s what you do when you enter the marketing ring. Because you will get hit. It’s inevitable. That’s why we offered the best strategic advice we know in that blog: anticipate, react, adapt. There is no single solution. There is no magic bullet or potion that always works. If there were, don’t you think we’d all be using it by now?
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