Archive for category Marketing & Branding

Playing to customer emotions in B2B

emotions picThis post is in reaction to an interesting blog from @econsultancy. If you read through it, though I don’t advocate the notion of attacking a competitor, you’ll likely find it common sense. But the thing about common sense is that its often rare in practice. How often do we really consider how our customers feel emotionally about their problems or our products in the B2B environment?

It seems to me we, as marketers, spend way too much time articulating features / benefits and not necessarily about what drives customers emotionally. Some key emotions that come to mind relevant to B2B –

1) Security and peace of mind
2) Fear of complexity (and a need for simplicity)
3) Fear of obsolescence
4) Disdain for the big, evil OEM or corporation (that could even be you)
5) Need to be top dog or seen as a thought leader (not necessarily as an organization but as an individual)
6) Fear of unpredictability, inconsistency or failure (not at the product level but as a team or organization)
7) Desire to be perceived as charitable or benevolent

Obviously not every customer in your world is going to share all (or even one) of these emotional needs (that’s where the segmentation comes in).  But when it’s all said and done, hard as we try, people are irrational decision makers.

How often have you tried to rationalize a purchase that in your head you knew was irrational? We see it all the time in the consumer world – products and services become emotional extensions of ourselves and we rationalize in our heads why we need something that we really don’t. I refuse to believe the same can’t be said in B2B. Buyers are still people, and people are still irrational.  There are just different emotions at play.

In my current role we are commercializing a new solution playing to some extent on #s 4, 5 and 6 from above. That said, we’re still in the early phases so I won’t try and convince you of my genius…yet. In the meantime I would love to hear about what others have seen or done to tackle emotional needs in B2B.  I’m all ears, so what have you got?

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To be a kid again (Making Make-sense Marketing)

A few weeks ago I was in Chicago wandering through the water tower shopping plaza with my family. Foot traffic was light to moderate with the exception of two stores.

The Lego Store – Looking beyond the life-sized Darth Vader, the store was standing room only. At the pinnacle of co-branding from Starwars to Cars to Toy Story, there is no end in sight to Lego’s product evolution. All the while you could argue the fundamental product hasn’t changed or evolved since inception. More importantly people love it. My kid loves Starwars and he loves Legos (I know, apple…tree).  Together, they’re a co-branding force (no pun intended).

The American Girl – I’ll admit I’d never heard of this brand until a few weeks ago. But just about every little girl below the age of 10 was carrying around an American Girl doll. I didn’t think much of it until my wife pointed out The American Girl’s store front. In it was a packed floor of girls and their moms. Of course the dads were all huddled to the side staring into their smartphones, no doubt reading ESPN to compensate for a general lack of testosterone… but you get the picture.

Now I’m not sure how much market research these organizations invested in (I’m sure they did enough) but clearly these two companies have their target audience hanging on every word. More importantly, whether or not they did any market research is completely irrelevant. My point is that these concepts just make sense. And sometimes that’s all it takes; finding whatever it is that excites us as a user. Case in point the movie clip below, from one of my favorite movies growing up…

Walking through through both of the stores mentioned above, I was reminded of this scene from the movie “Big”. It serves as an important reminder not to get caught up in nailing down all the facts and figures. Forget for a moment the conjoint. Forget the exact market size.

Does the idea make sense?

Clearly, the idea of a Transformers skyscraper made little sense what-so-ever.  But, two of the coolest innovations of all time, Legos and Starwars make perfect sense. Dare I say like chocolate and peanut butter. And while I’m not exactly the most female savvy consumer, a customize-able doll that little girls can carry around and build as a reflection of themselves, something they can actually create – that too, makes sense.

I’ll end with this thought. We all (myself included) need to do a better job of embracing our inner child. Embrace that impulse to just run out and do something if it makes sense; to let ourselves get excited about an idea, not about a market size; to get passionate about creating something, not selling something. You just may find yourself on the verge of something big.

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Marketing vs customer value

Many times I’ve heard marketers say something like “You have to give something to get something.” And many times, the person means “[The customer] needs to give [their personal information] to get [my content].” As a marketer I can see the logic, especially when it comes to targeting, measuring, and tracking. But as a consumer, it’s not always clear to me that what I’m getting is as valuable as what they’re giving.

There’s a great article from HBR [N.B. requires purchase and/or login] that talks about the gap between sellers’ and buyers’ perceptions. According to the article, sellers overvalue their wares by up to a factor of 3x, while buyers undervalue those same wares by up to 3x, resulting in a nearly 10x gap between what the seller thinks their thing is worth and what the buyer is willing to “pay” for it.

Put it another way: how many of us have clicked a link or gone to a website only to be immediately challenged to “log in or register to see that content”? Before you are even able to evaluate whether the information is good and valuable and credible you have to give up your personal information, sometimes including your street address and employer’s name. It might not seem like that big of a deal, but given the recent rash of security breaches around the internet (viz: Citibank, Gawker Media, Sony, et al), it should make you wonder exactly how secure your information is, what is the risk of that information being leaked to the rest of the internet, and what happens to you if it does get leaked. Only then will you start putting your information in the right context to decide whether giving it up is the right thing to do.

As a vendor, you have to ask yourself whether that White Paper is telling the customer something they can find in any first year MBA textbook, whether that blog post titled “37 Ways to Supercharge Your Marketing Plan” is really all that insightful, or whether the news you’re hiding behind a paywall is something the customer can freely find somewhere else (see also: the Disney Corporation).

Good marketing is not about targeting, or measuring, or tracking; good marketing is about getting inside the customer’s head and offering something that they really find valuable. Not something that’s inside the 10x margin, not something that’s slighly less crummy than the competition, not something that was easy for you to get done and approved, but something that helps the customer solve a problem that’s big enough to matter and let them do it without a bunch of “exciting (upsell) opportunities” standing in their way. Only then can you really become the “trusted advisor” that is the holy grail of customer-marketing relationships.

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Kathy Sierra: Pixie Dust & The Mountain of Mediocrity

Kathy Sierra: Pixie Dust & The Mountain of Mediocrity

I never understood how any of this made sense, given that very little of what I see “brands” (or their human spokestweeters) do on social media is changing the fundamental nature of how users interact with their products. “But that is not the point! It is about being human!”. Nope, I still don’t get it. Why would anyone want to compete on *that*? It felt fragile to be in essentially a marketing arms-race of who-is-the-most-engaging-social-media rock star. What does that really have to do with what users do with the product?

A nice companion read to Kris’ Going beyond the sizzle (of technology marketing).

[via: Tom Fishburn: Marketing Fairy Dust]

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Going beyond the sizzle (of technology marketing)

Apple GeniusIn case you haven’t picked it up on it, I’m in the business of marketing people. Yes, I market B2B solutions with a complex array of services and technologies, but at the end of the day those solutions are designed by, implemented by, managed by and bought by people. And one of the worst things an organization can do is sell a technology without keeping in mind the people that it takes to really maximize the value of that solution. So why then do marketers overlook the people that make their solutions attainable and tangible to clients?

As I like to say to my consultants and engineers, the technology on its own is the sizzle. Yes, the sound and the smell is what draws people in; it’s the “sexy” part of what we sell – but when the sizzle eventually dissipates, it’s the experts in front of the customer, strategically evaluating the situation, who will ultimately be held accountable for the technology’s performance.

And rest assured – the sizzle will dissipate. And unless you’re really not in to retaining customers, this should be a pretty big deal for you. No one, I repeat no one, is safe from the “so what have you done for me lately” conundrum.

So go ahead and keep marketing the crap of the technology. It is after all what brings customers in the door. But getting them in the door is only half the battle. Once they’re in the door – the technology needs to tell a story, and that story ultimately needs to be about marketable people. For without people, technology comes down to bits and bytes and eventually we all start to look the same (see PC industry).

One of the senior executives I work with and whom I have a tremendous amount of respect for has a mantra I oft hear him recite.

“People do business with people they like, trust and respect.”

We’ve reached a point where technology is a great differentiator but also our greatest challenge. In this age of rapid obsolescence, something better will eventually come along. But good people, trustworthy people, who have a vested interested in their customers can quell that fear.

If you stop and think about it, we are surrounded by companies who win because of the people they market, who are bringing products and solutions that are not only at their respective forefronts, but also backed by great people. From Apple to Xerox, these organizations win because there are people behind them that we like, trust and respect.

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Seth: Are you a scientist?

Are you a scientist?

Ask a physicist what will happen if you fire a projectile like this in that direction, and she’ll know. Ask a chemist what happens if you mix x and y, and you’ll get the right answer. Even quantum mechanics mechanics can give you probabilities that work out in the long run.

I’m not always the biggest fan of Seth Godin’s brand of “crackerjack marketing” – for my taste it generally lacks the subtlety and nuance that paints life in anything other than primary colors 1– but I do have to admit that most of his observations are sound, at least in the broad strokes.

As someone who spent the better part of his life as a scientist, I can tell you that while Seth’s observation might be technically right, it does lack the subtlety of insight.  Scientists spend vast tracts of time testing and observing the world, and only after gathering, collating, and interpreting the data do they build hypotheses of how the world works.

Scientists make predictions, and predicting the future is far more valuable than explaining the past.

In reality, scientists predict the future by explaining the past.  And to be fair, they don’t so much “predict the future” as tell you what would be consistent with past observations.

But buried somewhere here is a lesson, whether you’re in science, marketing, or any other knowledge worker driven field: future insights are only as good as the summation of your past observances.  It is, at times, attractively expedient2 to rely on “key thought leaders in the field”3 to generate your “insights” rather than a full-fledged primary marketing research study.  We can’t do large-scale marketing research studies, the argument goes, because we don’t have the budget.

But ask yourself this question: what’s more expensive – fielding and executing a good primary marketing research study, or better on a product that only a small handful of people will like?

Or as I’ve heard said before, The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘evidence’.”4


  1. I know there are a great many “Seth-heads” out there. Please understand that I’m in no way saying that being a “Seth-head” is wrong, only that he doesn’t suite my taste. It would be a shame if the only thing you took from this article was this comment about Seth, as I’m trying to address a larger point, which you’ll hopefully see below.
  2. READ: Cheap and fast.
  3. READ: A few good customers.
  4. I can’t seem to find the original source of this quote, so I’ll link to where I first remember hearing it. It now graces a crude printed sign hanging on my own cubicle wall.

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