Articles tagged marketing

Video is taking over the Internet, and I don’t just mean those annoying auto-playing ones. According to Cisco, video will account for 84% of all U.S. Internet traffic in four years. Facebook’s VP thinks the social network will be all video in five years.

Ok, mandatory opening stats out of the way, let’s get to the topic.

People on the Internet want to watch videos. So naturally, that’s what businesses are giving them. And it’s not just B2C companies trying to get people’s play fingers. It’s B2B using videos to help establish their brand presence and to explain their complex offerings simply.

In other words, if you aren’t making videos, then, well, I don’t know, I guess you’re just hoping that people will parse all the text on your website.

But I’ll tell you this: No videos are still better than bad videos.

Videos are high-end collateral: High impact, high level of complexity, and high cost. They are investments, commitments, and a powerful part of a marketing strategy.

Except that a quick Google search will show you that you can get videos on the cheap…at least the animated kind most often used for explainer videos.

But there are few things more damaging to a brand than a cheap animation video. Cheap anything is a brand-damager. Unless, I guess, you’re like Wal-Mart, and they don’t even do cheap videos. No B2B brand should be associated with stock characters, cartoony animation, and generic imagery. And it’s not just mere association, video will be your leading collateral. And if your leading collateral is shoddy, so’s your brand.

But you still have a budget and it’s probably not in the Pixar range, so what can you do with limited resources to make videos that enhance your brand instead of detract from it?

  1. The first thing is to understand that videos are not a one-off investment. No collateral should just check a box, and that’s triply true for videos. They should be part of a detailed, overarching strategy. That way, it’s easier to secure the necessary funds for a great video, while on the other, being a part of a broader strategy increases the reach, relevance, and shelf-life of the video. In other words, those videos will provide more value to both you and to your audience.

  2. Make your videos shorter. For brand videos, that’s easy. You can communicate lasting impressions in under 30 seconds. B2B explainer videos are more difficult. Two minutes is a maximum many people use for explainer videos, but even at that length you’re looking at walls of narration and a lot of points to remember and connect. In reality, your audience will already need to be vested to even try to watch that length of video, and then they’ll probably only watch it once, and probably not all the way to the end. It can be tempting, when explaining a complex challenge or solution, to say everything in a video instead of just the absolute most important things. And even then, you should cut those things in half. Maybe by 90%. Break them into multiple videos is another option.

  3. Discuss a concept in advance with your vendor that will be less expensive to produce. In the same way that a $2 million indie flick can be more compelling than a $150 million Hollywood blockbuster, so too can a simple concept do more than a complex one. Google has told entire brand stories with four colored dots and a search field. And, again, those commercials were part of a larger, strategic story and were well polished.

Of course, we’re only dealing with half the battle here. Just because videos are priorities in the budget doesn’t mean they’ll be great B2B videos. Throwing money at something never guarantees quality. But that’s a different topic. Like a great video, I’ll keep this post short.

In the end, certainly make sure you’re making videos…but only if you’re making them smart and making them right.

Posted by Jason Ocker and Michael Colombo

Alien Names

Aristotle called metaphors “alien names.” He meant that they are words reserved for one thing that are used to describe another. You know, like “all we are is dust in the wind.” Literally speaking, we’re not dust, and we certainly don’t act like dust in the wind. People are people, and they act like people. Dust in the wind is dust in the wind, and it acts like dust in the wind. But using that phrase in an alien way tells us something about the human condition. Like, we apparently all recognize Kansas lyrics. When used appropriately, metaphor is a way to approach ideas differently, to make complex ideas clearer, and to make unfamiliar ideas familiar.

Metaphors are also sneaky bastards. Plato, I think, said that one.

We tell stories here. B2B stories. The way a novelist sits down to plot a book is the same way we sit down and plot a corporate message (and although novelists don’t always have to do that first, we do). In fact, we incorporate a traditional story structure in our proprietary framework for corporate messaging.

Metaphor is something we’re constantly tangoing with. After all, B2B is still human-to-human, and humans think and speak in a constant flow of metaphors. On top of that, the types of clients that we serve, the products they sell, and the sales processes themselves are all highly complex and highly technical. So metaphors are extremely attractive to help create succinct, compelling messages.

But there’s a fine line between using and misusing metaphor, and with B2B messaging, a real danger to the brand in that latter. So we’ve put together three basic rules for using metaphor in business messaging:

1. The Metaphor Should Clarify the Story. The point of metaphor is to tell a commonly understood story that is more accessible than the story itself. In other words, to clarify. If the metaphor makes the story less clear than the literal story—say, by being too convoluted or too complex—metaphor should be avoided.

2. The Metaphor Should Be Contained. Even a great metaphor can become a liability. If it’s used throughout an entire story, the metaphor becomes tedious and eventually breaks down to irrelevancy in the details (because nothing is exactly like anything else). A metaphor is a plot device, not a substitute for the plot itself.

3. The Metaphor Should Elevate Your Brand. The metaphors used by a business should be appropriate to the brand and the message. The metaphor leaves an image with the audience and that image should make a brand cooler, better, and more relevant, and never less so.

So that’s it. Treat metaphors like dynamite: powerful and useful but often dangerous. Use them when it makes sense to, use them sparingly to make a specific sharp point in your story, and use them to elevate your brand.

Too bad Aristotle wasn’t a marketer. He would’ve have just laid all this out for us already.

By this point in the technology cycle, the recent Cisco and IMD survey findings that four out of 10 top-ranked companies within their industries won’t last the next five years is not surprising. Even the study authors note that there is an “historical parallel to what occurred after the advent of the Web in the mid 1990s: Just 25 percent of the Fortune 100 top U.S. companies were still in existence 15 years later.”

We get it. Businesses need to reinvent what they do and how they do it, and they need do it at the speed of digital. But that’s hard, and there are a lot of reasons why businesses, and especially B2B ones, can’t just wave a magic app and “do” that. But there is a group within every B2B that doesn’t have any excuses for not innovating: The Marketing Department.

Consumer marketing is defined by its innovation, by its ability to come up with new ways to get to consumers, new ways to be memorable. B2B marketers should be sharing that same imperative to innovate for the same reasons.

But B2B marketing is often stuck in the same old dinosaur tracks, doing the same old things and hoping to Warren Buffet that the status quo will hide them. That’s why B2B marketing is often just a factory for quick collateral, amateur presentations, emails, and conference booth wrappings. In other words, things that are low-risk and expected.

But as a marketer, it’s your job to make your company stand out—and to stand out inside your company while you do so. And today, there are all kinds of ways to do that.

We’re in the experience era, where everything must be contributing to a unique, high-quality, brandable experience, whether that’s a simple microsite or a PowerPoint presentation. We’re in the apps era, where new tools are being invented every day to aid the sales force. We’re in, well, a lot of eras. So there’s no reason to not jump in and start experimenting and innovating. Well, there is a reason, it’s called “hide, squirrel away budget, and hope to survive.” But that’s not a good one.

When B2B companies inevitably tighten belts, it’s often the marketing department that’s sliced. Why? Sure, it’s partly because in the B2B world, it’s easy to mistake marketing for a luxury as it’s not easy to gauge its impact on sales. But mostly, they’re in danger because it’s extremely obvious that the marketing part of the business isn’t innovating, so the loss is a minimal one that can be remedied later in more liquid times.

The marketing department is there to help make the sale, either indirectly through brand awareness or directly through how it equips its sales force. Just like the digital business, to continue to do that effectively, the marketing department must disrupt itself. Before it gets disrupted.

Photo credit: Karen Roe

Storied Statistics

Nate Silver is huge right now. Any periodical that gets within a ten-foot poll of politics (which, in the past few weeks has been all of them) has written about him numerous times over the last month. And in an even more accurate (or at least modern) bellwether of his fame, multiple memes have been dedicated to him.

The statistician and writer behind fivethirtyeight.com concocted a statistical model that accurately predicted how the electoral votes for all 50 state would go, predicting an almost blowout win for Obama during the weeks before election day when the predominate feeling from the experts and the most prominent polls was that it was a tight race with unknowable results. So a lot of people are hailing him as some sort of mathematical Nostradamus.

But for an interesting take on Silver’s success, see Felix Salmon’s Reuters op-ed, When Quants Tell Stories. According to Salmon, what differentiates Nate Silver wasn’t the model itself, but Silver’s ability to tell a compelling narrative around it. Salmon states:

If you think that the value of Nate Silver is in the model, you’re missing the most important part: there are lots of people with models, and most of those models are pretty similar to each other. The thing which sets Silver apart from the rest is that he can write: he can take a model and turn it into a narrative, walking his readers through to his conclusions.

The story. It always gets back to the story. Whether it’s business or politics, the story is the difference. But it’s not just about story. It’s about carefully crafted narrative. After all, anybody can tell a story. Creating a sensible, nuanced, compelling narrative is the hard part. We’ve talked about that here on the Maark blog before because that’s a big part of what we do here (Sorry. Have to do a little bit of pushing the company here on the blog every once in a while).

At Maark we have entire methodolgies on how to create the most compelling narrative that will speak both to the emotions of the prospective buyer and the logic of the company’s bottom line, that walks customers through complex products and market trends and pressures to arrive at a clear course of action that both excites and convinces.

I mean, if a man can become a meme just because he can tell a clear, laymen-sensible story around something as loaded and complicated as statistics, businesses should be able to do the same with their solutions, no matter what they sell.

Photo credit: Randy Stewart, Wikimedia Commons