The only B2B marketing advice you need (don’t take our word for it)

I’m a bit of a fantasy nerd in my spare time, and there’s a quote from one of my favourite series that got me thinking about marketing advice.

“We base our assessment of the intelligence of others almost entirely on how closely their thinking matches our own. I’m sure that there are people out there who violently disagree with me on most things, and I’m broad-minded enough to concede that they might possibly not be complete idiots, but I much prefer the company of people who agree with me.”
David Eddings, Belgarath the Sorcerer.

Do you ever find yourself reading an article about how to improve your marketing, simply to confirm your own opinions on the subject? I know I’ve done it plenty of times. Comforting though it may be, it doesn’t actually help me know that I’ve found some advice, or a marketing strategy, that’s actually going to improve my skills as a marketer – it just lets me know that I’ve found a writer who shares my world view. So, if you’re in that boat too, how can you find out what really works in marketing and what doesn’t?

Our best marketing advice in three simple steps

Step 1: Test
Test everything you do on your audience: different content styles, different messages, different fonts – and gather data on how those different options worked.

Step 2: Listen to your data
After all, the data you’ve collected is the only data in existence that’s about your audience specifically. That makes it far more valuable than any surveys, reports or other marketing advice out there.

Step 3: Act on it – then repeat
Once you’ve tested your strategies and have the data to prove that they’re working, trust them. It’s as simple as that. But remember to keep testing what you’re doing. As your market and audience grow, or the environment they’re operating in changes, you may need to refine your strategies or create new ones.

Of course, we aren’t suggesting that you should never read another marketing article again. What we’re saying is that, helpful and inspiring as these articles may be, they’re no substitute for getting out there and gathering your own insight into what works and what doesn’t in marketing.

What’s the best marketing advice you’ve ever received? Let us know in the comments below, or join in the dialogue on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Say it. Say it again. Then repeat.

Cast your mind back to your school days: do you remember, as you slaved away over essays, being told to avoid repetition — as if you were a contestant on BBC Radio 4’s Just a Minute? I certainly do. But repetition in B2B marketing is looked at in a whole different light. There’s almost a mantra to follow: tell people what you’re going to tell them; tell it to them; then tell them what you’ve just told them. So why do we repeat ourselves so much?

Busy readers can be distracted readers
Although your teacher was paid to read what you’d written, your busy business audience isn’t. Juggling a whole raft of things in their day, they might not be able to give your text their full attention. Using summary boxouts is a great way of repeating your message in a succinct way if your reader gets distracted, scans the document, or jumps around the text like Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout.

Reinforcing your message
You don’t want your reader to forget the key takeaways from your copy: repeating them in a number of places will help get the message to stick. Do you want them to give you a call? Invite them several times to do so. Do you want them to remember the name of the new product or concept you’re introducing? Include it in multiple places in the document.

Watch out for the risks
Knowing how to repeat is as important as knowing what to repeat: don’t just go copying and pasting entire chunks of your document. Repeating things word for word will quickly cause your audience to lose interest. Too much repetition will make your piece longer, reducing the likelihood that it will be read in its entirety. And repeating statistics can give the impression that your argument isn’t based on thorough research.

To avoid the risks, try using different arguments to lead back to the same conclusion, or phrase your key message in slightly different ways to make it sound fresh each time you mention it. There’s an art to getting it right but, once you master it, you’ll find that your messages penetrate further and stick in the minds of your audience for longer.

Presentation skills: actions speak louder than words

I think we can all agree that when you’re giving a presentation, there are two parts to consider: the slides, and the script. You don’t want to just read what’s on the slides, otherwise your audience may as well have read the presentation at home over a cup of coffee. Instead, you need a script that sparkles, that delivers your message succinctly and keeps your audience’s attention on you – the part of the presentation that they couldn’t have downloaded and read elsewhere.

Ensuring your presentation and message are memorable isn’t just about what you say, but how you say it. If you’ve ever sat in a presentation being given in monotone by someone with all the liveliness of a funeral parlour, you’ll know what we mean. At HN, we’ve written a fair few presentations for our clients, so we’ve put together a few pointers to help you get that crucial animation into your presenting style.

Animate your body
Move around while you’re presenting; get out from behind the lectern. Point at the presentation, if you’re underlining a point. Point at your audience (if it’s appropriate – don’t forget pointing can be rude!). It’ll help keep your audience from tuning you out and just looking at the slides, and that means that the message you’re conveying will be better understood. There’s nothing at all wrong with warming up for a presentation like it’s a jog. Shake your arms about a bit, jump up and down on the spot, and shake your head – anything to get the blood flowing. It’ll make you more comfortable with moving around, and can help you stay more focused for the actual presentation, too.

Animate your voice
The human voice box is a wonderful thing. It can make your voice loud or quiet, high or low, and you should the full range of those capabilities when presenting to an audience. Deliver your script with emotion (write those emotions down when you’re creating the script if you think you might forget!) and, most of all, talk to the people you’re presenting to. It’s tempting to talk over everyone’s heads (especially if you’re on a platform) but imagine if you did that when talking to your friends. They’d find it rude, and so will your audience. Make sure you know the script thoroughly too. Unless you’re a seasoned orator, or possessed of an eidetic memory, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to remember the whole script after looking at it once or twice, especially if someone else wrote it for you. Rehearsing beforehand will help you avoid having your eyes glued to the script, and help you speak more naturally during the presentation as you know what you’re going to say.

Alternatives for the shy?
If those things sound easier said than done, and the thought of moving out from behind the protective comfort of the lectern and looking at your audience fills you with dread, then you may be able to opt for a webinar, where you can deliver your presentation without the audience being right in front of you. In fact, if it’s going to be complicated to get everyone you want to talk to in the same room – perhaps due to geographical constraints – then a webinar might be preferable as you can reach your audience without inconveniencing them. But those opportunities aren’t always there; if you’re talking at an event, for example, it will look very strange if you set up a screen and present to your audience from the next room! If there’s really nothing else for it, then you may just have to grit your teeth, take a deep breath, get out on the stage, and talk. If so, then don’t panic – with proper preparation, and a little courage, you may find your presentation skills surprise you.

Have you got any presentation tips to share with us? Leave a comment or tweet us @hnmarketing and let us know.

The best advice I was ever given – don’t wee all over the document!

The best advice I was ever given was by my boss when I worked in telecoms. The office was like a library that morning — everyone was beavering away and the hush was palpable…until, that is, my boss came flying out of his office, shattering the silence with, “What have you done? You’ve weed all over this document!”

Now, I should pause for effect at this point so, like me, you could let the potential meaning of this statement percolate. No, he couldn’t smell wacky backy. No, the pages weren’t damp. His shock was at my overuse of the word ‘we’, which meant I hadn’t put the customer at the heart of my writing.

I’ve never forgotten that advice (how could I?) and now always check for two things when writing:

1. That the piece identifies with the readers and their needs
2. Whether writing in 1st, 2nd or 3rd person, that I don’t overuse words like ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’

Sometimes it helps to read the piece out loud — you’ll soon find out if you’ve weed all over it!

If you have some great advice to pass on, use the hashtag #bestadvice on twitter and we’ll retweet, drop a comment in the comment box or send us a mail:

The best advice I was ever given — writing is about the reader, not the writer

It was one of the more nerve-wracking moments of my life. I’d been a journalist for maybe a month or two and was waiting for my editor’s feedback on the first feature article I’d ever written.

“It’s lovely Su,” she said, to my relief. I should have realised there was a big ‘but’ coming. She pointed at my final paragraph, the culmination of some 1,000 words of copy, and added: “But you see this paragraph here? This is the start of the article; it’s what it’s all about, it should be right up front.”

The issue wasn’t that I’d failed to follow some preordained method of writing such as ‘inverted pyramid’. We weren’t reporting news; we could open an article with an anecdote, scene-setting, a question to be answered, a summary of what was to follow… whatever worked.

My editor’s point — and it’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten — was that I’d failed to stand back and assess my work to see if I’d told the strongest possible story for the reader. I’d failed to place the most interesting and relevant part of the story at the centre of the narrative. I’d written a well-organised piece, but it was a structure that worked for me, the writer, to organise my thoughts clearly. To draw in my readers, I needed to reassess my logical workings and, well, start again.

I’ve lost count of the times that applying this advice has helped me improve a piece of writing. I don’t think I’ve ever again made the mistake quite as badly as burying the lead all the way in the conclusion; but often I do find I need to work and rework the first half of a piece to try and get that ‘essence’ across as quickly and immediately as possible.

If you have some great advice to pass on, use the hashtag #bestadvice on Twitter and we’ll retweet, drop a comment in the comment box or send us a mail:

The best advice I was ever given — adapt or die

In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.
– Dwight Eisenhower

My slightly geeky other half — he runs a Warhammer 40K after-school club for his students — reeled off this quote to me when he caught a glimpse of my day-by -day, colour-coded itinerary for our epic trip round Australia.

[For those of you not in-the-know, Warhammer 40K is a table-top miniature war game set in a dystopian science-fantasy universe.]

Don’t tell him I said this (I’ll never hear the end of it), but he was right. My carefully crafted itinerary more or less went to pot within a week. Don’t get me wrong, it was still an invaluable source of ideas and information: I had the right visa, knew which company to trust for skydiving, and never ran out of places to go or things to see. But there are so many things people only tell you about once you get there that I’d have missed out on a lot of fantastic experiences if I hadn’t been flexible enough to change my plans!

I’ve kept this piece of advice with me in business and in particular when it comes to drawing up project plans. Project planning is never just a single event at the beginning of a project. A project plan needs to be regularly revisited and actively modified throughout the project. It’s all about flexibility and change management: how you deal with, say, a new deliverable that’s been identified, a reviewer who’s become unavailable, or an external event that changes something about the target market.

What’s more, a skilled project manager will ensure that all the stakeholders involved in the project, with their different points of view, openly collaborate about the trade-offs that can be made during the course of any project in order to maximise its success.

So, never forget…

Don’t allow your prior planning — outflanking Chosen with Meltaguns coming in on the flanks — to override your common sense, or you’ll end up getting far less value from the Chosen than if you would have simply loaded them into their Rhino and moved straight into the battle lines 😉

If you have some great advice to pass on, use the hashtag #bestadvice on Twitter and we’ll retweet, drop a comment in the comment box or send us a mail:

The best advice I was ever given — don’t judge a book by its cover.

Well, it only has to happen to you once – thankfully – because it’s really not very nice. I’m talking about that time when you didn’t follow the advice and you did judge a book by its cover. To quote Vivian Ward (Pretty Woman): “Big mistake. Huge!”.

For me, not following this motto prompted a not-best-start to a holiday, although in the end we had a fantastic time. Only a fortnight before on a rainy high street we’d booked two weeks in the sun. Glad to be escaping the British climate I’d been grateful as the travel agent handed me the travel documents and said, confidently, “You’ll find everything you need in the folder; have a great trip.”

I took the “everything” at face value and my thoughts turned to the sparkly flipflops in a shop further down the road and what to pack. The big day came and in an excited fluster I headed for the airport grabbing the travel agent’s folder as I headed for the door. The first time I opened it and peeked under the cover was in the check-in queue: no tickets! These were the days when everything was paper-based, you understand, and smartphones and emails couldn’t be waved as a substitute for the print out. Yes, there was an itinerary, and details about the hotel, and amenities in the area. But having no tickets was a fundamental issue.

After the deliberations at the airport and protracted phone calls to the travel agent, we were finally cleared to depart – but by then we’d missed the flight. We caught a plane the next morning but had lost a day of our holiday and the heated exchanges at the airport had not left anyone in the best humour.

These days I make a habit of double checking what someone tells me and not taking the information at face value. As a result, holidays are a stress-free zone. And the best news is that this adage works as well in project management as it does in holiday preparations, let me tell you.

The best advice I was ever given — don’t be afraid to ask questions

Young children are never afraid to ask questions. Why is grass green? How do birds fly? What makes glue sticky? But as we get older, we often become less keen to reveal our ignorance. Instead, we may pretend to know or understand what someone is talking about, rather than ask a question and learn something.

The best advice I was ever given when I joined the world of marketing communications was to relearn that child-like curiosity, and never be afraid to ask questions. After all, if I don’t understand what a subject-matter expert is telling me about a product or solution — how it works, how it solves a business or technology challenge, the benefits it delivers — then how on earth can I communicate all of that convincingly to my audience?

I might be lucky and make a decent stab at it — but it’s more likely I’d end up resorting to jargon or obfuscation to mask my own lack of comprehension, leaving my audience none the wiser. I wouldn’t be doing the right thing by my client, either.

So I’m never afraid to ask a question, or even to ask a question more than once, to make sure I get the full picture. After all, it’s not just for my own benefit: I’m asking on behalf of all the people I’m writing for, too.

The best advice I was ever given — CYA

Lots of people offer up advice and not all of it is always as helpful as it might be. We all have friends like that, right? Sometimes you have to look inside the advice to find the essence that has real value for you. Here’s one such tale.

“You’ve got to think CYA,” said the Kingston Business School lecturer.

It was a dull Wednesday morning and I was sitting in a marketing tutorial, wishing the morning away and looking forward to getting out in the sunshine forecast for that afternoon. The unfamiliar acronym woke me up. CYA? What was that all about?

The lecturer continued: “When you leave university and start out in the big wide world of business, remember to cover your arse. Don’t give them an excuse to hang you out to dry; if you CYA you won’t have anything to worry about.”

Well, that sounded more than a little paranoid, but of course the valuable take away advice here is about the importance of preparation and diligence. I always put myself in the shoes of the person who’ll be receiving my presentation, my report, my budget, my plan. What are they trying to do? What questions will they ask? I always check and double check my sources. I know what’s fact and what’s assumption. I make sure I think about the risks that are posed by gaps in that information. I wouldn’t say I never get caught out, but I’ve mostly got the bases — and my arse — covered.

If you have some great advice to pass on, use the hashtag #bestadvice on Twitter and we’ll retweet, drop a comment in the comment box or send us a mail: