13 May 2012

The ‘socially responsible’ business: will it affect B2B marketers?

B2B Marketing, Marketing, Strategies & Insights Comments Off

Michael SemerMilton Friedman famously said the corporate executive’s only responsibility was to make money for shareholders.  That’s the model most corporations have followed ever since.  But companies like Toms Shoes, Patagonia and other socially-conscious “benefit corporations” are changing the game.

I mention this because a former boss of mine started just such a company, GoneReading, which supports literacy efforts in the developing world with the profits it realizes from reading-related products.

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia said:  “The modern corporation was ‘born to be bad.’ Benefit Corporations are ‘born to be good’ because their corporate purpose must include the pursuit of a material positive impact on society, not just shareholders.”

A recent New York Times editorial by Greg Smith, a former Goldman Sachs employee, caused a huge furor – and furious counterattacks – when it depicted a toxic, profit-at-all-costs culture where client service wasn’t even the point anymore.   Clients were there to be milked for every dime they were worth.

So traditional capitalism is taking it on the chin in a lot of places…and more and more consumers, especially younger ones, are passing judgment with their pocketbooks.

Most of these “conscientious capitalism” firms are niche-oriented, and consumer-directed, not B2B.  But if a company is a supplier to one of these firms, it shouldn’t be surprised to find itself pressured by that customer to perform with a greater degree of social responsibility. Especially if there’s a taint of scandal or misdeed that reaches the news media.  Witness what’s happened over the past few years with Apple and Foxconn.

What this means in the long run is that it may become very important to project that image of social responsibility in marketing and P.R.  It may end up being an essential cost of doing business.  The groundswell of public disfavor that rolled over “pink slime” producers is a striking example: their customers distanced themselves from these vendors in a heartbeat, and it’s led to plant closures.

Any B2B marketer with the remotest chance of exposure in this area needs to have a strategy that’ll reinforce their credibility about being aware of this meme, and shows they’re interested in performing good works.  If you’re part of a trade group that emphasizes benefits to the community, emphasize that connection.  If your employees volunteer, if you’re involved in any good cause at all, leverage the fact.  A company doesn’t need to be an entirely “socially conscious corporation” to realize some of the same image and marketing benefits.

11 Apr 2012

How would you “brand” Chicago?

Branding, Design Comments Off

Chicago has done a lot of things to try to elevate its “brand” in terms of physical appearance, environment, signage, and so on, right down to efforts like the Navy Pier revamp that’s going to (hopefully) transform a public space for the better.  But what about branding a municipality — having an integrated, conscious grammar of colors, styles, and more that are intended to create a unified look-and-feel?

This article we stumbled across on a travel site made us think about how various municipalities or communities informally or even rigorously brand themselves.  South Beach certainly has its own look-and-feel, but that’s probably got less to do with ordinances and codes than it does with the whole Caribe vibe; everybody probably knows at least one community that restricts signage, dictates building styles, and tries to enforce a standardized visual grammar.  Disney build an entire housing development, Celebration, on the premise of creating a certain ambiance by taking those kinds of strictures to the Nth degree, much like their theme parts.

It’s easier in a totalitarian or authoritarian state, of course, to get people to comply with the kinds of aims Cuba has in mind.  But we can’t help thinking it’s merely a kind of facade, meant to beguile the tourists, rather than being an organic, natural outcome of native culture.

But if you had Bosslike power (Daley, not Springsteen) to wave your hand and command the design and branding of the great city of Chicago, what would you do?

30 Mar 2012

Great ways to add customers using social media…

Digital Marketing, Social Media Comments Off

Here’s a great post from Mashable about how to leverage social media for acquisition. We like it because it summarizes a lot of what we and others always recommend.  Like using search intelligently, using images, and a few extra wrinkles we wish we’d thought of like varying the look and feel of executions between channels, so a user who encounters you on Facebook sees something fresh, rather than the same thing he might’ve just encountered from you on Pinterest.

The best thing we can add?  Just get social, as soon as you can.  Every tip on Mashable’s list can work for consumer goods and services or for B2B (with modifications).  Jump in and commit to social media marketing, and you’ll soon be amazed at how comfortable, efficient and valuable it feels to your business, if you’re following best practices like these!

30 Mar 2012

Execs who use social media are helping their brands!

B2B Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media Comments Off

Michael SemerThis study shows that top executives who use social media to engage followers are held in appreciably higher regard than others, and drive better brand and company image.  Integrating social media  into your marketing toolkit really pays off, in other words, when you secure participation from the C-suite.

That holds for B2B firms too, we’d argue.  Maybe it’s even more important, because most B2B categories rely on a more personal level of interaction between company principals and prospects and customers. Read more

26 Mar 2012

Building from the brand up: the Warby Parker story.

Branding, Marketing Comments Off

Michael SemerThey’re hip, they’re hot, and they did it all by focusing first and foremost on the most critical building block: their brand. Warby Parker, NYC-based makers of eyewear, started out by slaving over their name, their brand and positioning — spending a year and a half tacking those challenges before coming to market.

As Neil Blumenthal, one of the founders, put it…

“A lot of investors were surprised we had such a coherent brand but it was because we spent so much time on it.”

By “brand,” Blumenthal and his team took the holistic view: name, attitude, product mix, pricing and their uniquely customer-oriented approach are all part of a singular identity that’s immediately cohesive and engaging for their target audience.   The fact they’re also in the business of doing social good with their “buy a pair, give a pair” program also resonates strongly with contemporary consumers. Read more

16 Mar 2012

Why B2B firms need to stop ignoring social media marketing.

B2B Marketing, Social Media Comments Off

Michael SemerA recent column in Ad Age summed it up well: there’s been a longstanding divide between big consumer brands and B2B marketers in terms of adopting social media as a marketing tool.  Their conclusion? SMEs who ignore SMM are missing the boat.  It’s getting farther and farther from the shore, too.

Why aren’t SME marketers on board?  As Marc Brownstein writes…

Many don’t believe that the strategies and tactics used to grow consumer brands (such as research that leads to customer insight, emotional appeals and awareness campaigns) are effective with business decision makers. Some of the reasons why include: a limited budget dictates direct-selling tactics; marketing directors in these kinds of companies are less sophisticated, often coming out of sales without a fundamental understanding of marketing; an over-reliance on relationship-selling methods, such as direct sales calls and trade shows; investors who demand short-term results and don’t want to build long-term brand equity because they intend to sell the company in three to five years; and an institutional impatience at the top for results.

Read more

14 Mar 2012

Six Reasons B2B Marketers Should Ponder Pinterest.

Digital Marketing, Social Media Comments Off

Michael SemerIt’s more than just the “social media channel of the hour,” a visual chatterfest for wedding planners or fashionistas.  The image pinboard site, Pinterest, presents some pretty solid reasons why a B2B marketer may want to develop a social targeting presence there.

1. It’s hot.  Through June-December 2011, Pinterest traffic rose 4000%.    Consumer retailers like Nordstrom and, Whole Foods are leveraging the site, but Mashable and Time Magazine are using the site, too, to post art and articles.  You can trust there’ll be other B2B social marketing acolytes on this bandwagon, seeking ways to leverage the channel, even if only for a means of posting event photos or product sheets. Read more

29 Feb 2012

How to create a killer landing page.

B2B Marketing, Digital Marketing, Strategies & Insights Comments Off

Michael SemerWhat makes for a great landing page to complement your inbound marketing campaign?   First of all…let’s be absolutely clear on the definition of a ‘landing page.’

It’s not a home page.  It’s a page or microsite where visitors from marketing campaigns first encounter your offer or other hook.  The key difference from your brand or company’s home page is that it’s focused on driving conversions, usually data capture.

So it’s out to achieve registration to capture leads, and qualify those registrants through the data you get in hand.  But it still needs to be informational about your advantages, and get across the key brand values you need to communicate.

So what makes for a great landing page? Read more

24 Feb 2012

Does your brand draw people in?

Branding, Design Comments Off

Michael SemerDieter Rams, one of the most skilled and famous designers of the 20th century, was responsible for some of the most seminal designs in history, most notably during his time at Braun.  Here’s a famous quote of his on how designers need to address their time and place:

Good designers must always be avant-gardists, always one step ahead of the times. They should, and must, question everything generally thought to be obvious. They must have an intuition for people’s changing attitudes. For the reality in which they live, for their dreams, their desires, their worries, their needs, their living habits. They must also be able to assess realistically the opportunities and bounds of technology.

This holds true for every mode of Design Thinking.  Whether, as a business owner or marketer, you’ve engaged a designer to revamp your logo, create a website, or design a new product, they need to be aware of the context around them, around your brand.   If they’re good at their job, the rest of us need to respect the fact they may be seeing things we can’t…but that their vision will result in constructive innovation, in concepts and ideas which may frighten us a little.  But that’s a good fright: it shows they’ve stretched the envelope enough to take you a step or two further than the immediate.

That’s important.   Because nowadays, the brand that doesn’t acknowledge change, and the need to stay ahead of change, is asking for trouble.  For eventual obsolescence. Read more

07 Feb 2012

No brand design can work a miracle.

B2B Marketing, Branding, Strategies & Insights Comments Off

Michael SemerIf it’s a dog, it’s a dog.  Not to insult dogs.  No branding effort or redesign or flung mountains of marketing cash can make a silk purse out of sow’s ear.  If that were the case, we’d be guzzling New Coke by the 2-liter.  Having lived through a similar exercise (Crystal Pepsi!  Soon, everything we drink will be clear!) on the creative side I can swear to you on a stack of Addys that there’s a metric ton of good intentions and enthusiasm that goes into the work, almost to the detriment of perception.  No amount of marketing, and no degree of design genius, will ever salvage a product that’s just not right.

Any branding agency that pretends otherwise is lying.  “The product or service is the source of the power,” as I saw it put recently.  You can’t raid customer’s wallets — at least not for very long — with swashbuckling branding and advertising.  Even the big guns behind established brands can get it spectacularly right, and appallingly wrong.  Because brand perception is the aggregate of a lot more than anything a marketer does in terms of design, or advertising, or clever consumer engagements.

The flip side of that?  You do need good branding, because in the continuum of considerations that go into a buyer’s process, how your brand looks and communicates itself is crucial.

For small to mid-sized marketers, especially in B2B, there are a few simple points you can take into consideration as you go about re-branding your company, product or service that can help you put branding or re-branding in proper perspective… Read more