It’s an old question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?
But in this era, the more appropriate question might be: If you were there to witness the tree falling, would you hear it if every other tree in the forest fell at the same time?
The second question is emblematic of the challenge business-to-business communicators face — a beautiful piece of content or original research can go unnoticed with so much other content available. Without a distribution strategy, truly good work can get absorbed in the noise.
This was one of the primary topics of the 2017 Critical Issues Forum held on September 15 in New York. The event is convened annually by the PR Council, and this year’s forum drew industry leaders to discuss brand transformation, the effects of new platforms and how the iGeneration is challenging marketers. Participants also were offered the chance to ask former White House spokespeople what they think of the current administration’s communications team.
Greentarget attends the forum each year with clients and friends. This year, we attended with senior business-to-business marketing communications executives from several organizations, including a leading provider of financial solutions, a top insurer, a valuation advisory firm, a litigation financier and several global law firms.
Here are the takeaways they were thinking about after the event.
Do as I Do, Not as I Say
On a panel about marketing transformation, Heineken CMO Nuno Teles said, “Trust what customers do, not what they say they are going to do” — meaning, don’t waste your time (and money) asking clients what they think about your brand. Study how they behave around your brand.
Greentarget’s technology clients pay close attention to where different customer segments look for and digest information about products and services. These clients develop “personas” that represent each customer segment based on predominant behaviors and then craft a content strategy to precision-target each persona. This approach has been around in political and consumer marketing for a while — remember Soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads? For business-to-business communicators, understanding what information can tip people from consideration to adoption, and how they prefer to receive it, should be no less commonplace.
Snaps CEO Christian Brucculeri and Txt Me author Bonin Bough impressed participants with the potential of messaging apps to micro-target prospective customers. Digital platforms are proliferating rapidly. Messaging is the common element across these platforms — both established and emerging — and it is overrunning how we communicate.
Facebook Messenger has 1.3 billion monthly active users; it is among the top five apps in every demographic of U.S. consumers, according to ComScore. iMessage easily exceeds this. As anyone familiar with the iGeneration has observed, there is an entire generation of consumers that doesn’t know that e-mail exists.
And yet according to Brucculeri and Bough, almost no one is working to organize and manage communities on messaging platforms, as is common on popular social networks. So anyone who needs to tell stories to drive engagement with a brand should be packaging everything they do on social platforms for messaging apps or risk missing the next massive opportunity in consumer engagement.
How this will play out in the business-to-business space remains uncertain. But Signet, the preferred messaging platform of Edward Snowden (it’s an encrypted service), surely presages a wave of messaging apps that can enable secure business communication.
The Best Communicators Serve the Audience
Greentarget believes that one of the principles of journalism — that the message must serve the audience — is essential to effective business-to-business marketing. This was echoed by Karen Hughes, a former counselor to President George W. Bush. On a panel of communications directors from the Bush and Clinton administrations, Karen asserted that the White House press secretary, in fact, serves the people, not the president.
To what heights of sincerity and authenticity might our storytelling ascend if we took a lesson from this as business-to-business communicators? We possess a nuanced understanding of our audience and a narrow focus on its needs, and it’s exciting to think about crafting exactly the right story, at the right time, on the right medium — and inspiring clients to act.
You can view videos of all the panels mentioned here and others at the Critical Issues Forum’s website. Please watch a few. We’d love to hear what sticks with you.
Steve is a seasoned, strategic communications counselor with significant agency management and account management experience.
When not putting his passion to work for Greentarget and its clients, he spends time leading the Trek Leader Section of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Camping School in the Adirondacks.