Top 5 B2B Marketing Fails

On Episode 11, we have Tony Temple back to go through his list of the Top 5 B2B Marketing Fails. From too many propositions to too many words, learn what not to do in marketing.

It’s an interesting guide on what not to do if you have marketing as your bailiwick.

Mark: Tony Temple, welcome back to Confessions of a Marketer and Happy New Year.

Tony: Happy New Year to you, too.

Mark: So, last time we talked we discussed the state of B2B marketing and you put forward a new approach–“You and me not B2B.” Now you’ve come up with the Top Five B2B Marketing Fails. I think it’s amazing you were able to narrow it down to just that list. What’s the first fail?

Tony: Well, it did take a while narrowing down to five, I’ve got to be honest. The first major fail is quite simply Too Many Propositions. And, having worked on both sides of the fence, I can kind of see why this happens. Because within a corporation you have a number of different stakeholders–a very long list of stakeholders, typically. And everybody has a different opinion on what thing that needs to be highlighted. And that’s great and it’s important and you need to have all those people. You’ll have product marketing want to have their say and then legal will want to stop saying anything and then marketing will want to simplify things. But, all the time, sales are in the background screaming, “We need we need leads, we need leads.” So, you know, everybody’s doing things for the right reasons and everybody is really championing their own particular cause. But that’s not the wisest thing to do because, as we all know, in marketing or in advertising, if you throw five tennis balls at somebody they won’t catch any. If you throw one they’ll get it every time. So you really need to nail down a single-minded proposition–and that’s something that everybody should agree on. So all the voices, all the stakeholders, all the people in the room who have a voice and an opinion–they’re all relevant. I’m not saying, for an instant, that they’re idiots and they should go boil their heads. No. They’ve all got a valid point but you have to actually distill all of that knowledge, all intelligence down into a single-minded proposition that is relatable by the audience, by the people you’re trying to talk to. Because, at the end of the day, you’ve got to pass this to the “so what filter.” Do they really care? How do they think about your thing? How important is it to them? Is it crushing for them right now?

If it is, fine. But if it isn’t, you need to pique their interest and you need to communicate that single-minded proposition. And it’s kind of a difficult thing to get to, but when you get there it’s really useful, really helpful. And it’s the only way to actually produce marketing that will cut through the clutter.

Mark: So, the first fail is Too Many Propositions and the fix for that is a single-minded proposition.

Tony: Yeah. And the key and key phrase there is single-minded. It has to be single-minded. It has to be focused.

Mark: So let’s walk onto the next fail. What’s that?

Tony: Well, number two–and this is another classic: Too Tactical. OK, let’s go back. When you’ve got all these people in the room deciding what they want to say, that’s the start of the process, the start of the journey to creating a campaign that you’re going to push out to your marketplace. So that takes time, it takes distillation, and then you’ve got to go back–if you do the right thing you go to a single-minded proposition–then you then go into create ideation and all that sort of stuff, then you’ve got to get back to those people and yada, yada, yada. It’s a fairly long and protracted process, or can be. That means that people become very close to it and they kind of get used to it and then they get excited when it’s launched initially but then the boredom kicks in because, “I’ve seen that. We can’t do that again. We’ve got to do something else.” Which means, all of a sudden you go from 40,000 foot view to a street-level view and it’s tactical. Everything is something different. So week one, we sell the sizzle, week two, we discount the sausage. Week three you compare your sausage with the sausages of your competitors and week four, you talk about the contents of your sausage.

These are all kind of disjointed messages. There’s no commonality. You’re just selling different aspects–a shiny thing each week. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t build awareness.

One of the fundaments of all marketing is the “rule of seven.” You’ve got to show somebody or tell somebody something at least seven times before they even start to recognize what you’re saying and connect with it. So throwing a different thing out each week, each month, or whatever, in the misguided belief that your customer base have seen it and if they see the same thing two months running they’ll say, “Oh my God, they must be desperate. They’re using the same thing.” That’s not how it works. If you start with a single-minded proposition you can actually say all the things that you want to say but you can say it in a clever way. You can say it in a way that sticks because you are you’re rallying behind that single message. You deliver a different aspect of the product under that same banner. If you do that you’ve got a consistent ongoing campaign that’s got legs, that lives that sticks, that grows over time. But if you’re tactical, you might as well roll the money up throw it out the window.

Mark: So fail number two, Too Tactical and the fix is to stick to a consistent message. Can you tell me about fail number three?

Tony: Fail number three is Too Formulaic–and this is, again, almost tied back to fail number two–that people get comfortable in corporations. “Oh, we’ve got a campaign to do. What does that mean? It means we do a white paper. Right. OK.” That means you hire somebody to write a white paper, then you sent an e-mail, then you do a banner ad. And that’s it. Your budget’s spent, the job’s done. Check, check, check. All boxes ticked. Does it really work? Is that what you did last month and the month before and that your last job? Probably–so that’s not the right way to do it. You’ve got to remember that people are humans and they respond to human things doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the first sign of insanity.

So, you know, let’s not do that. We’ve got to learn, as marketers, in the B2B community to actually be disruptive, to be unexpected, to think a little bit more sideways. You know, you’ve got to remember that your “thing” is one of 2,000-plus messages that people are going to receive every day. That’s a lot, so they’re not going to remember your thing. And if it’s the same each time same–format of communication–you’re just going to go into a spam filter. They’re not going to recognize you or your banner ads because they’re a different message each time. You’re just not going to get any traction. So you just got to be clever, be human and be disruptive and engaging with you market.

Mark: So fail number three–Too Formulaic and the fix is to remember what you are and who you’re talking to.

Tony: Absolutely.

Mark: So fail number four, what’s that?

Tony: Lack of brand presence. Again, I’ve worked in corporations where the CMOs have told me that, “Yeah, this doesn’t have to be on brand. This is a campaign.” And there’s a grain of truth in that.

But, you know, if you’re in a B2B corporation trying to sell a service or a product or whatever, you probably don’t have Nike spend or McDonald’s spend or Coca-Cola spend–where you can actually veer off brand a little bit, but because of the volume of cash you’re throwing at it you’re still going to be OK. So brand presence is key–you only have two things when you’re in business: Your thing and your brand. That’s it. So you really need to make sure that your brand is seen and recognized and is recognized for what it actually represents. So lack of brand presence is a major mistake.

It doesn’t mean having a big logo. That’s not brand presence.

You’ve got to get the essence–the spirit of your brand–into everything you do so that people understand what you stand for, not what you’re selling, what you stand for, what you you’re about, what you believe.

Mark: So let’s walk on to fail number five.

Tony: Fail number five–you see it everywhere–and it’s simply too many words.

You know, it’s a lot easier when you don’t know about something to fill five, six, seven pages to try and explain it and use real long words and acronyms and tautology.

But you’re speaking to a time-poor world. People don’t have the time, nor do they have the will, to read your machinations and witterings. Keep it tight, keep it short, keep it lively. Make it plain, understandable and relevant. Really that simple.

Mark: Thanks, Tony. You know, I look through this list–fail number one, Too Many Propositions; fail number two, Too Tactical; fail number three, Too Formulaic; fail number four, Lack of Brand Presence; and fail number five, Too Many Words–and I think that, with these five points, any B2B marketer has kind of a guidebook on how to do things and certainly what to avoid.

Tony: I’m not trying to tell marketers that they’re doing anything wrong. I just think it’s very easy to lose sight of what you ought to be doing when you’re surrounded by all the noise around you–all the stakeholders and the business needs. So it’s just good sometimes to go back to these five principles. And if you go through those that you can really start to sharpen your knife and you’ll get people on side because they’ll understand it better.

Mark: Well, Tony this has been great. I think this is a useful list that marketers will definitely value and thanks for being a guest again here on Confessions of a Marketer.

Tony: Thanks again for asking me.


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