Sustainability – Your customers care – what can marketers do?

The Climate Change movements are not just inspiring but incredibly moving and there seems to be a real chance that people will finally start to take steps to slow down the heating of the planet. The latest headlines about our wildlife are serious. This article isn’t about governments – it’s about what businesses and PR / Marketing people in particular – can do to play a part mitigating climate change and protecting the environment.

It’s a threat to some businesses. I’m thinking of the fast fashion chains and low-cost clothing that is very much part of our lifestyle currently. Interviewing a gentleman in the charity retail sector recently, I learned that the quality of modern clothing isn’t even good enough to recycle it through the charity shop route. This is a worrying trend. Some manufacturers need to rethink their products so that they won’t be left behind in the sustainability revolution. Plastic straws and petrol vehicles come to mind but it goes further than just consumer goods.

Mr Carney’s speech in March expressed his vision that the Financial Sector will be able to direct funds towards more sustainable investments and build  a low carbon economy.

Marketers also have a voice, and should be thinking to the future and trying to influence product innovation towards a sustainable path.  The markets want more products  of all kinds that contribute to solving the climate issues. There will be amazing opportunities for businesses that grasp this – hence the success of electric vehicles and the vegan sausage roll.

I want to make my own work as “sustainable” as possible and am wondering what else I can do? Being office-based, most of what I throw away is paper, packaging, print cartridges and spent plastic pens. I’m already re-cycling paper and cartridges. I can print on both sides of my paper and maybe I’ll switch to a fountain pen to avoid plastic pens. I need more information about how products are made to help me make these decisions. I want to do more, and co-incidentally I found inspiration in the breakfast cereal made by Alara.

Alara is using compostable packaging and won the Sustainability Pioneer Award at the 2019 Sustainable Food Awards. What I like about Alara is their optimism, and their belief that we can make a difference – besides their delicious healthy cereal. Marketers have sometimes been accused of “green-washing” their products, ie overstating their green credentials, but Alara seem to be genuinely trying harder than most businesses.

Packaging falls right in the Marketing area, and we should not waste time in using less plastic and more cardboard and trying new sustainable packaging materials. The Royal Horticultural Society is setting a good example – they have recently changed to compostable packaging for their magazine. All publishers should be moving this way.

Marketing and Public Relations people can influence corporate policies and should do what they can to promote sustainability in their companies and help the climate emergency. For example:

  • Look for packaging that is plastic-free, compostable or reusable
  • Provide details of the carbon footprint for your company or product, if you dare
  • Outlaw disposable coffee cups and single-use plastic bags, including the giveaway bags at trade shows
  • Use less air travel, forget Air Miles and use videoconferencing
  • Use public transport, walk more
  • Promote cycling
  • Vegetables – consume less meat, choose more vegetarian options, choose organic, home-grown or locally grown produce – key for businesses with catering
  • Use energy generated from sun, wind and water – a greener energy provider
  • Buy recycled and greener brands, for example, Ecover cleaning products
  • Plant trees
  • Have beehives on your roof or land
  • Support a charity that acts to promote sustainability

I am sure I have not thought of everything and I want more information!

What else can we do?

PR, Digital Marketing and a bit of history

I call myself a PR consultant working with technology businesses. However the work overlaps with Digital Marketing.

You will probably know that PR stands for Public Relations. That name is quite strange. In the field where I work, most companies who care about PR simply see it as part of their marketing communications.

The old school Public Relations profession was born after the Second World War when people from the Diplomatic Corps and Secret Services went back to Civvie Street and offered their skills to business.  Employers found their skills useful for wining and dining clients, public speaking and meeting and greeting VIPs.

Today most people think of PR in connection with a company’s reputation, and especially in connection with positive stories in the media. Media used to mean newspapers, magazines and  broadcast channels – today it includes online and social media as well. There are business and technical media for every market sector and niche you can think of, especially when you include the growing numbers of bloggers.

PR and Digital Marketing

We have reached a point where online media matter more than print media.  Readers are more aware of the environment and don’t want to throw paper away after a short life. It is often easier to read news online, and companies are thinking digitally for much of their marketing – their chief aim is to be visible online and rank high in search engines, and online articles play an important role here.

The relationship between PR and Digital Marketing is interesting. There was a period a few years ago when Digital Marketing seemed to sideline PR, because it promised quick measurable results which many business people found attractive. It also offered channels that are free of charge – the only cost is the resources used to create content and promote it. However Digital Marketing changes all the time and it is becoming more sophisticated. Now people want high quality well-written content delivered  to an editorial plan just like in the world of PR and publishing.  People want articles and blog posts that are of publishable standard and “a good read”.  In the context of online media, PR skills have become highly relevant again.

This form of PR helps companies to become visible in their market AND contributes to search engine ranking. It can explain  complex marketing messages.  It can reach out beyond a company’s own customer list and database and touch new contacts. Today there are many marketing and digital channels to consider. PR has moved on a long way from wining and dining clients.

B2B Marketing Post GDPR

With the GDPR research and compliance just about complete for my own business, I have been thinking how B2B marketing will progress in the post GDPR world. GDPR forces us to think more like sales people, who focus closely on the best opportunities, and less like the now old-style digital marketer who worked extensively with large databases, click rates and “opens”. People liked the predictability of working that way – knowing that if you email 10,000 contacts, 1% would respond gave a neat way to justify the cost of a campaign. The trouble with those campaigns was that the other 9,900 people receiving your email message may have viewed it as rubbish, or mildly annoying at best. From next week we should see fewer unwanted messages in our inboxes.

But it poses a question for B2B marketers. Until the 25th of May, email marketing was the number one tool in the digital marketing toolbox for customer acquisition, however from next week an email shot to cold list or a third party database won’t be legal unless the contacts have “opted in” to receive communications – and going forwards the marketing lists available are likely to be quite a lot smaller but not proportionately cheaper.

The remaining digital options for customer acquisition are: pay per click advertising, blogging and online PR / advertising, the social networks, and organic search – where most businesses would need to invest in SEO and a tool to watch who visits your website. Each of these options needs a bit of investment. It will still be possible to offer webinars and white papers, but when the GDPR rules come into force website visitors will be able to be more selective about the messages they agree to receive, so the new contacts or “leads” coming from these methods are likely to be fewer.

The social networks can be effective for business development, and will present a good opportunity for some businesses – in particular, I know people who have used the paid promotional options on Linkedin with good results. However the social networks can only work IF the individuals you want to do business with are active users there, so they don’t work for everyone – and as their algorithms are continually changing, it would be a sensible to keep this kind of activity under constant review.

It seems that the era of the cheap digital marketing is now behind us, and marketing budgets may need to be re-focused.

The traditional ways of finding new customers – trade shows, events, telesales and even direct mail – will continue largely unchanged and may even see a little revival.

How to move forwards?  We should watch what is happening with trade media. They provide good channels for B2B promotions but have suffered in the last few years from the shift away from print and loss of advertising revenue.  Now they could see an increase in interest – probably mostly in the digital area. In particular, I believe this will be the case where the publishers with greater foresight have already established useful publications for lots of specialist market sectors. There has been a gentle movement in this direction for some time. The same goes for exhibitions and conferences where there’s a clear trend towards smaller, more focused events.

Marketing – necessary evil?

It came up in conversation that marketing is “a necessary evil” and an overhead! I can understand that some companies have had bad experiences and have come to feel this way – and I know only too well how careful businesses need to be with their budgets! But whoever made this remark was clearly not getting their marketing right. Marketing should be the biggest and best investment you can make to enable your business grow.

It all depends on how you define marketing. Many people think of marketing as making brochures, websites, exhibition stands and fluffy PR – it can be viewed as a little arty by those on the engineering side of things. However to be more precise, those aspects of marketing should really come under the heading of Marketing Communications. The real scope of marketing is wider than this. The classic concept of “Four Ps” defines it much better: product, placing (for this read distribution or route to market), pricing and promotion. In most companies, the marketing department is focused on the fourth “P” – the promotional work – but the four Ps model is spot on because it puts the elements in the right order. There is other work to do before the promotional work can be successful – the product has to be right, the pricing has to be right and the route to market has to be prepared.

I will add a note about markets here. The size of a market will dictate the size of the opportunity for an individual company – and the number and relative strength of competing companies in the same market sector will have a bearing on the share that each single player can reasonably expect to achieve.

I believe that for marketing to be successful – and in this instance I mean promotional marketing – a number of other business questions must be considered first. Top of the list is research to understand the size and scope of the market, competitors, and the potential demand and opportunity for the product or service on offer. Then, the product or service needs to be shaped so that it fits with that demand, at a viable price.

If the background research has been realistic, and if the product or service design and pricing are right for the market, then the promotional work should bring good results.

This article is about marketing budgets, not messaging, so I will not discuss propositions in detail here. However, to conclude, I would say that provided there is a real opportunity in the marketplace, increasing your marketing and sales work should bring a real increase in business – and that those businesses that have done their research and have spent more on their promotions than their competitors will almost certainly do better in the longer term.  This doesn’t favour smaller competitors – which is why the great business gurus like Michael Porter advise smaller companies to specialise in market niches where they can achieve visibility and success without such a large investment.

 

 

 

Content Marketing for leads

Content marketing is a high priority for many businesses, and the proportion of a marketing budget that is typically allocated to content marketing is growing.

It will not surprise you to learn that for technology companies, customer case studies are extremely popular for content marketing. To be effective for content marketing, a story has to be unique and it should not be available anywhere else on the Internet so case studies are ideal.

However, companies can work with other forms of content as well. “How To” articles and guides to best practice are popular too. A new piece of research, presented as a report, can work particularly well, because the information it contains is genuinely valuable to the reader.

While this sounds easy, many businesses are finding it challenging to create enough “content” that is of sufficient quality to be attractive as a content download and many companies are struggling. It requires an editorial approach and a “content strategy”, plus some investment in research and careful writing to create the kind of genuinely worthwhile documents which the website visitor will want to download and view.

It takes more effort than many people realise, but if you compare content marketing with other ways of making new marketing contacts, such as gaining sales leads at a trade show, or staging a marketing campaign with a publisher, you soon realise that if it is to be effective, it is unlikely to be easy or free.

 

Marketing, AI, Big Data and Emotions?

IBM predicts that by 2020 the digital universe will be four times bigger than it is today. I guess much of this will be a direct outcome of the marketing ‘content’ we are creating today.

Hand in hand with this, IBM also predicts that we could see a trend towards “dark social”. This is a phenomenon where people no longer want to share everything about their lives on social media – the greater proportion of conversation on social media now takes place in private within the messaging applications.

I heard this at a great talk by Jeremy Waite, at the Technology for Marketing Show, where he introduced IBM’s latest work with AI and marketing. Another interesting trend, which we are beginning to see – is for the big IT companies, and I am sure Facebook will be one of the first of these, to look for ways to track emotions as well as clicks. While it may seem strange at first, it would really be extremely simple for a company to track emojis and feed the data back into their marketing information.

With these trends evolving, personalised marketing where you approach each contact with the right message at the right time becomes more complex, as there is more data to read. This is a new challenge for marketers, and Big Data and data analytics are likely to become drivers of marketing – working to understand feelings and emotions – especially in the bigger consumer-facing companies.

Rugged tablets shine in the Cloudy show

20160412_161006 (3)Because of the all-pervasive trend towards Cloud Computing, as I looked around the Cloud Expo Europe last week, there was not a great deal of hardware on show, and a number of exhibitors had thought of completely different ways to attract and interact with the show visitors. For example, one company was challenging visitors to a game of crazy golf.

One display which did catch my eye though, was the selection of cool rugged tablets from Tablet Technologies, which had a good position near the entrance to the show.

Tablet Technologies is a UK company manufacturing their own range of rugged Windows and Android tablets. The devices are built to client specs, so can include extra features, such as barcode scanning or GPS, with the showcase product being the NX10 IP65 Ruggedised 8″ Windows Tablet. Looking more closely, these devices have a true quality feel – the ruggedness of a Landrover compared to the lightweight tablets that most of us use. They will be a great asset to people in the toughest and most demanding jobs on the planet- travelling, in warehouses, working out of doors in all weathers.

Case studies – ten ways to use them

Here’s a quick article to suggest some more ways to use those valuable customer stories. Ideally you would make a case study for every market sector you sell to. First, collect the details of the story and have it written up as a case study, to make a marketing document that can be used as a sales tool. Then..

Case studies for marketing

  1. Number one on my list has to be Content Marketing because it has become so important. There are a few different ways of doing this, but the principle is simply to display a brief version of the story on your website, and collect the email addresses of the visitors downloading the story.
  2. Use the customer story in a PR campaign. Interesting stories about well-known organisations and forays into new technology are very often suitable for editorial news and features.
  3. Email marketing – refer to the customer story in an email marketing message, and  use a link to track “opens”. Many companies are now using a marketing automation system such as Hubspot to streamline this process.
  4. Share the case study with existing customers. A new case study is a great topic for a company newsletter or a presentation to a user group.
  5. A ground-breaking case study is a brilliant topic for a conference presentation.
  6. Do something different and present the story in other ways – for example it’s no trouble to use a smartphone to make a video for posting and sharing.
  7. I have seen detailed technical case studies being used very successfully for training sales people and distributors overseas.
  8. Why not enter a customer success story for an industry award?
  9. Add case studies to tender submissions to build credibility and strengthen a bid for a major contract.
  10. Finally, this is one to make your internal team feel connected with customers, even if they are not in customer-facing roles. Use glossy pictures of customers using your products to brighten up your offices. It’s also good to have them in reception and meeting rooms. Of course, this only works for certain kinds of products and services!

With so many ways to use a customer case study, I believe it is well worth taking the trouble to put a story together and have it written in the right style and format for your business. The first customer in a new market sector could be an ideal candidate for a case study, as their story will help to gain a foothold and build credibility in the new market area.  Ideally your case study library will contain examples from every sector of your customer base. Depending upon how you plan to use your case study, you may need anything from 500 to 1,500 words of text, but the average length for a business case study is usually between 800 and 1,000 words. That’s long enough to convey a lot of detail, but still short enough to be an easy read.

 

IT and technology shows fill ExCel

I am beginning to like the ExCel centre – the DLR route through London’s new docklands to Custom House is efficient, and it’s just a short hop from the station platform to the exhibition halls.

Today, ExCel was the busiest I have ever seen.

The spaces within ExCel are vast and cavernous, they house a number of individual halls of all sizes. On previous visits, ExCel had always seemed to be providing too much capacity for the shows and crowds it attracted, and even with a few hundred people around, you could still feel a bit lonely there.

Today, with some of London’s biggest technology trade shows all in full swing, ExCel came to life. The Data Centre World, Cloud Expo Europe, Cloud Security Expo and the new baby exhibition Smart IOT London filled one end of the centre, while at the other end, Railtex, InfraRail, ARLA and CITE (Civil Infrastructure and Technology Exhibition) were all buzzing with people. Thinking about visitor numbers, the first four shows alone probably attracted over 12,000 people.

 

Integrated PR and Marketing

Good PR and marketing should help to generate sales. They help a company to find new sales prospects, and help the sales conversion process in numerous ways. However, this can be easier in smaller technology firms than in larger businesses. In small firms, very often the same individual is responsible for directing sales and marketing, whilst in larger companies, the roles are split between large sales forces and marketing departments with a number of specialists, all working in a more complex corporate hierarchy. In technical businesses, it may also be the case that technical product management will take the lead in PR and marketing.

This means that it can be far easier to align marketing, PR and sales in a small company, and respond tactically to market events, because the strategy is simply decided by one person. In slightly larger organisations,  good integration can depend on the personalities and how well the sales and marketing people are aligned as a team. The largest businesses will use formal structures and leadership to ensure that sales and marketing are working in tandem.

PR and marketing messages

A marketing plan, PR plan and sales campaign should all be geared to helping and supporting the sales effort needed to achieve a company’s financial goals, and all should be promoting the same messages about the company and its products or services.

Besides the obvious product features and USPs, your brand, reputation, credibility, track record, technical expertise, accreditations, support services and future outlook can all be factors in winning a sale in a competitive situation. This means that your PR and marketing messages should focus on those areas where they can make the greatest positive impact on sales. It can be an interesting exercise to conduct an internal workshop to brainstorm marketing messages and listen to suggestions from all parts of the business.