Virtual reality vs 360-degree video: what’s the deal for B2B marketers?

It’s sobering to think it’s more than 20 years since a much younger version of me stepped, exhilarated and shiny-eyed, off that 3D ride in Disneyland, Paris. If you’d asked me then what the future looked like, I probably wouldn’t have used the terms “virtual reality” or “360-degree video”, but I’d have described immersive computer games, telepresence, and the chance to explore places I’ve never been (the entire known universe still being my favourite candidate).

Today the technology exists to deliver on those dreams, but the possibilities stretch way beyond entertainment. For marketers who have demand generation in mind, the latest technology offers the opportunity to create mind-blowing, shareable content.

So what’s out there that you might want to try?

Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated experience that feels real: just as our decisions and interactions can influence the outcome of a computer game and the path taken through it, they can also influence a VR experience. Imagine, for example, being able to ‘place’ your customers inside a data centre that’s under attack from cyber criminals, and giving them the chance to respond in real time. A way to bring whitepaper content to life through gamification?

Often delivered via hi-tech headgear, VR can be expensive but, as is generally the case with new technology, it’s likely that prices will come down over time. Here are some great examples of brands using VR as a marketing tool.

And while we’re here, we should also mention augmented reality (AR), which superimposes VR over your view of the real world. If you want to know what that looks like, just ask any child to show you Pokémon Go!

360-degree video, on the other hand, takes you wherever the camera operator goes. So far, so like a traditional video, but the key difference with the 360 version is that you can look all around you and take in your surroundings — think of a guided virtual tour that goes at your own pace. The fact that 360-degree video can be viewed using most browsers and devices means your audience doesn’t need any special equipment, making it a more cost-effective and accessible alternative to VR. You still get a very real sense of being present though — check out these awe-inspiring examples.*

So, what can these new video formats really help you achieve?

Well, both VR and 360-degree video open up huge possibilities for storytellers. A 360-degree video takes people on a rich narrative journey; while VR immerses them in the experience you create and lets them influence the narrative. Both formats allow you to dive deeper into a topic and adopt the ‘show don’t tell’ approach that all video makers strive for.
Both formats can help with demand generation by allowing you to create content that is vivid, exciting and compelling — which can go a long way to boosting your overall awareness in the market.

Is either one better than the other?
At the moment, I don’t think so. Although the immersive nature of VR means it has the potential to deliver a more powerful experience than 360-degree video, it requires more specialised and costlier equipment — both to create it and experience it. Using 360-degree video still allows you to create supremely engaging content that can help you drive demand generation.

For now, our conclusion is that both formats make the future of B2B video marketing a very exciting place.

In fact, we’re so excited about the possibilities; we recently went to the Virtual Reality Show and it reaffirmed our thoughts that the potential for its use is staggering. Were you there? What was your top takeaway? Tell us by leaving a comment below.

In the meantime, whatever your video marketing needs, give us a call us on 01628 622187.

*Note: If you don’t see the little control panel to the top left of the screen, and what you do see looks like you’ve entered a disturbing new dimension, your browser or device may not support 360-degree video. Try another.

Photo by martin louis (https://www.flickr.com/photos/152210849@N08/33823352671) via: freeforcommercialuse.org

Robot writers: the potential and perils of AI copywriting

Last year, campaign.co.uk published this article about how Goldman Sachs is investing in an automated copywriting startup. Naturally, this got all the human copywriters here at HN to wondering whether our jobs were about to be lost to robots.

Although the boss assured us that there were no immediate replacement plans, the question remains – does AI copywriting have a future in B2B marketing?

Come on… really?

Even in an age of VR, where the digital world is inching closer and closer to the physical, the ability of robots to take over creative jobs sounds a little far-fetched.
But it’s definitely being worked on; Google’s AI has written some eerie, haunting short poems, and has beaten a grand master at Go, widely believed to be the most complex game ever devised. And there are the incredible feats that IBM’s Watson is pulling off, from cooking up a storm to saving lives.

So why shouldn’t AI be able to match human writers when it comes to B2B copy?

After all, we can do quite a lot to define the sales funnel or buyer’s journey that we hope to move targets through. Our job is to match solutions and messaging to stated (or assumed) customer needs at various points on their journey, and both halves of this equation (solutions/messaging and needs) seem amenable to being specified for the AI.

We can also point to loads of examples of good B2B copywriting for AI to learn from.

And as I sit here with a cold while my computer perches contentedly on the desk, one of us seems rather obviously to be a far more resilient worker…

The rise of the machines?

But I’m not panicking — yet. Because what is possible in principle is perhaps not so much in practice — yet.

Rarely do we receive a brief that is completely unambiguous in intent and complete in every respect. Because, frankly, composing such a brief is time-consuming and our clients are busy people. So they’re looking for us to connect lots of dots by ourselves, and to clarify where necessary through the faster and more efficient process of having a conversation.

Asking even the cleverest computer to reliably identify gaps and then pick up the phone to ask questions feels like a very tall order right now. Maybe in a few years I’ll have to reassess, but right now I’m feeling pretty secure.

What would be cool is access to an AI copywriter to use as an additional tool in my copywriting toolkit.

I’m thinking of how Watson’s recipes work best when filtered through the judgement of a human cook. And of how machine translation can make the lives of translators easier, but rarely works well enough without human post-editing. I can see how a robot copywriter might help me think of options I’d not have found on my own, and that could help me become a better writer.

So bring on the robot copywriters; I’m not scared… yet.

Five tips for optimising PDFs for search engines

The Internet is arguably the best — and certainly the most accessible — source of personal and business information. But unless we know exactly what we’re looking for, we rely on search engines to help us find that needle in a haystack. That’s why many companies (especially those in the IT sector) have web infrastructure in place designed to ready their content for the web.

The popular PDF format is ideal for sharing your valuable content — almost anyone, on any computer system, can open a PDF file. And it’s a great way to ensure your content always looks good and prints properly. But, while most leading search engines can now read and index the content of a PDF, there are still steps you can take to optimise your PDFs for the search engines.

  1. Make sure your PDFs are text based. Some PDF programs simply convert text into a large image, which the search engines cannot read. Instead, create the PDF file using a text-based editor like Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat — it will look better too.
  2. Optimise your PDF copy using the same search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques you’d use for your web copy. Use specific keywords wherever you can — in headings and subheads, throughout the body text, in the table of contents and in alt text for images. And use the title as a header or footer throughout the document.
  3. Complete the document properties to prevent search engines from yielding untitled PDF files — making it difficult for visitors to tell if this file is useful to them. If you didn’t add them before saving as a PDF, you can use Adobe Acrobat instead. Add metadata properties at the same time to avoid indexers mislabelling your valuable content.
  4. Optimise the links to the PDF. For a PDF file to be indexed, the search engine must be able to find it. The links to the PDF files should be on a web page that is frequently ‘spidered’ by search engines, not hidden deep in your website.
  5. Build links into your PDF — search engines do recognise these links. So make sure these important hyperlinked words give them, and your visitors, useful information about the content of the page you’re linking to. You’ll also give readers an easy way to click back to your website where you can influence them further.

Have you tried optimising your PDFs for the web? Did it drive more traffic to your website? Get in touch on Twitter, LinkedIn or in the comments section and let us know what you think.

The ARC of customer engagement

“81% of marketers say customer engagement is a top priority.”

This was one of the headlines from B2B marketing.net’s new report on the ‘age of engagement’, so it’s a fair bet that some of you out there are on a mission to increase your customers’ engagement with your brand. At HN, we’re firm believers that engaging content = engaged customers. So, to help you in your quest, we’ve created a three-step checklist, and a handy mnemonic – the ARC of customer engagement.

Accessible


Make sure your content is easily found and in a format that’s easy to digest. Optimise your content for search; embed social sharing buttons in your content, and optimise your content for viewing on mobile. And don’t hit your audience with a hefty white paper straight away – use a more digestible format, such as a video or an ebook, to coax them in and get the conversation started.

Relevant


Connect your message to situations your customers are facing today. Don’t be afraid to newsjack if the right story comes up. And bear in mind your audience’s place in the decision-making journey: if they’re at the consideration stage, provide evidence that the challenge you solve is important and worthy of attention. At the decision stage, prove the benefits of your solution in the real world.

Compelling


Nobody waits to be worn down by dull content. They just click and move on. Avoid that scenario by injecting some entertainment into your content, using persuasive and well-crafted storytelling to keep their attention – and keep them clicking.

What do you think?

Is customer engagement a key issue for your business? How do you go about keeping your customers engaged? Let us know in the comments, or get in touch on Twitter and LinkedIn.

You can download the full infographic here

Campaign hashtags: use your own or someone else’s?

It’s a simple enough question, and one that most of us have probably pondered as we’ve sat, pen poised, over a blank piece of paper entitled ‘Social media campaign’.

Should the hashtags you use already exist on the internet – say, #UX if you’re creating a campaign around user experience – or be totally new – for instance, #HNMarketingrocks? (Let’s get it trending!)

Something new, something borrowed…

The honest answer is that you want a mix of both, because each hashtag serves a slightly different purpose. Hashtags are what people use to search through content on social media. By using other people’s hashtags, your tweets stand a better chance of being seen by the masses.

At the same time, creating your own catchy campaign hashtags that your community are keen to share can help make your content stickier by generating interest as it spreads through your social communities.

Both of those functions are important for a campaign, so both need doing. In essence, the way it works is that hashtags borrowed from other sources will draw traffic to your social media profiles, where you can then share your custom hashtag with the world.

Once your community starts sharing your campaign hashtags, you can use them to monitor interest in your content. If your campaign hashtags are good enough, they should also start to generate interest in the content itself.

Less is more

Don’t go hashtag-crazy, though. Creating a variety of tweets, pins, or Facebook posts using different hashtags will ensure that your audience will see them all in due course. So, it’s best not to cram them all into every post (and don’t try to use hashtags on LinkedIn – they don’t work there).

It might take some practice, but, once you’ve got the hang of it, you will find that the right combination of original and borrowed hashtags gives your content’s reach a considerable boost.

One last thing

If you’re looking at the likes of Amnesty International’s #GayTurtle or Doritos’ #CrashTheSuperBowl campaigns and thinking, ‘my custom hashtag will never be successful’, then remember: your hashtag dosen’t need 80,000 shares.

Even the largest of B2B audiences is relatively small when compared with the kinds of audiences the aforementioned B2C companies are targeting. Your campaign hashtag doesn’t need to trend worldwide to be a success – it just needs to be trending amongst your audience.

So don’t be scared – get out there and start hashtagging!

Which kind of hashtags do you tend to use most? Leave us a comment and let us know.

4 tips for creating killer email marketing campaigns

Email marketing is still a hugely important (not to mention effective) tool in the marketer’s arsenal. Whether you’ve got one email to send, or are managing a whole campaign, making sure that your content does the right job is essential to delivering results, and that all-important ROI. To that end, we’ve got four tips to help you ensure your email marketing campaign is ship-shape.

1: Start with the reader
We can’t stress this one enough. Why should the reader open your email? Why should they be interested in what you’re saying? Why should they do what you want them to? Asking yourself these questions at all stages will help keep your content focused on the customer, not your company, and increase its effectiveness.

2: Design your subject line for maximum impact
The subject line will be the first bit of your email the reader sees – so it has to hook them in and convince them to open your email. Again, ask yourself ‘why’ – why would they want to open your email? Bear in mind you’ve got roughly 50 characters to pull your reader in – less if your reader is on a mobile device – so your message needs to be concise and compelling.

3: Make your instructions clear
What do you want the reader to do after reading your email? Download a white paper, or give your sales team a call? Ask a colleague to read your email; if they don’t know what they should do after reading the email, then your reader certainly won’t. Bear in mind that you can use visual cues like buttons, callout boxes and colour to guide the reader to your call to action (CTA).

4: Match the CTA to the buyer’s journey
If your reader is only at the ‘awareness’ stage of their journey, chances are they won’t respond to an invitation to call you – but they may well watch a video that helps them see how they can solve whatever business issue they’re facing. Matching your CTA to where your reader is in their buyer’s journey will help increase open rates and click-through rates, and help you more accurately guide them towards your offering as they progress through the journey.

Do you have any other tips for creating an email campaign? Let us know in the comments section, or talk to us on Twitter and LinkedIn using the buttons below.

Pulling out the crystal ball: HN’s 2015 marketing predictions

Back at the start of 2014, we ran a series of predictions on how the world of B2B marketing would evolve over the coming year. For the most part, we’re pleased to say, our instincts were right on the money — particularly when it came to adapting your content for multiple devices, as 2014 was the first year that more people viewed the internet on a mobile device than a desktop PC. So this year, we thought we’d dust off the old crystal ball and give you our 2015 marketing predictions for the B2B world.

Prediction 1: Wearable technology is set to take off

Of all the technological innovations due this year, wearable technology is one of the most hotly-anticipated by tech geeks and marketers alike. With Google releasing a new model of their Google Glass design and both Apple Watch and Facebook Oculus Rift on the horizon, 2015 looks like it could be the year wearables enter the mainstream.

What does this mean for marketers?
Wearables could represent a whole new channel for marketers to use. They could provide opportunities for audio marketing, or be a valuable source of data into consumer habits. Marketers would be well-advised to keep a close eye on the potential of wearable tech; we know we will be.

Prediction 2: Social media advertising is becoming more intelligent

Although social media will always be about connecting with customers, recently we’ve seen leading social media platforms make an effort to overhaul their advertising platforms. In the last year Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have all developed more intricate advertising tools, and similar features are coming to both Instagram and Pinterest in future.

What does this mean for marketers?
Smart marketers will be creating content that can be easily repurposed for all the major social media platforms. You may also want to revisit your social media strategy to see if new advertising tools can be turned to your advantage.

Prediction 3: Writing matters more than ever

Videos are now used by 70% of marketers and with Instagram, webinars and infographics all on the rise this prediction could seem a little strange. But at HN, we reckon that written copy is going to pay a more important role this coming year than ever before. After all, in the B2B world the need for in-depth information hasn’t gone away. But your copy now has to compete with a barrage of visual content for your audience’s attention.

What does this mean for marketers?
Your written copy will have to work harder to grab the reader’s interest. Using tweets, blogs or LinkedIn posts to grab the reader and interest them in your longer content could be a good tactic.

Prediction 4: It’s worth investing in online ads

Last year in the UK, companies spent a staggering £5.5bn on digital ads and mobile ad spend in particular is experiencing a massive spike . The reason? People are spending more time online than ever before — almost four hours for your average Briton nowadays.

What does it mean for marketers?
Any ads you do put out are going to be seen by a huge audience — which means that they need to be top-notch. Insightful, thoughtful ads that intrigue the reader are the order of the day; avoid in-your-face advertising that people will reject as spam at all costs. Visual content could play a big role in creating adverts that really wow your audience.

Prediction 5: 1-to-1 interaction will become key

Getting to know your prospects on a 1-to-1 basis is the ideal goal for any sales team, but achieving it is becoming harder and harder — 40% of people in this recent survey don’t want to share any of their personal data with businesses.

What it means for marketers
Make no mistake – it’s a real challenge to get enough data to run a truly personalised marketing campaign. If your customers don’t want to share their data, then you might have to get a bit more creative with the data you do have available to you. Web browsing patterns, user statistics, dwell time – all of these can be used to glean insight into your customers. And given that personalised email subject lines are 22% more likely to be opened by recipients, this sort of activity could be just the ticket to unlock those face-to-face meetings that your sales team need.

Whatever 2015 brings, it’s sure to be an exciting time for marketers – especially in the B2B sphere. Do any of our predictions resonate with your plans for the year? Do you have any predictions of your own to share? If so we’d love to hear from you — leave a comment, find us on Twitter or drop us a line at LinkedIn.

Does snackable content leave your audience hungry?

Do we all suffer from an attention deficit?
The human race reportedly now has “the attention span of less than a goldfish”, and long content is about as useful to marketers as a bicycle is to a fish. In today’s permanently connected world, snackable content is regarded as the only type of content that will make it through the barrage of information we experience every day.

But is it really, though?

If our attention spans are so poor, how can I have sat and spent at least 10 minutes on this article already, without wandering away from my desk? How do I regularly drive up to Leeds without getting distracted and missing my junction? How do our customers get through RFP documents, which are often long and complex, without giving up?

The answer is simple: there’s nothing wrong with our attention span. It’s our motivation as consumers of content that’s being affected.

Motivation is the key
Think of it this way: you’ll watch a documentary, or read a book for an evening, because you’re interested in the content you’re consuming, and (especially in the case of fiction) because you’re emotionally invested in it. That interest motivates us to pay attention long after we theoretically should have become distracted and disappeared, and it’s this same motivation (or lack of it) that’s responsible for the rise in snackable content.

By keeping content short, marketers can convey their message to the audience before that audience has lost interest and moved on. There’s no denying that this is a powerful weapon in the marketer’s arsenal, but to say that it’s the only tool that works any more makes the assumption that there’s nothing you can do about your audience’s motivation to pay attention to your organisation. That simply isn’t true. After all, in the B2B world the customer is at some point going to have to sit down and pay attention to someone – they’re spending, in some cases, tens of thousands of pounds on a purchase – so the job of the marketer is to motivate the customer to pay attention to their brand over the competition’s. That’s where snackable content comes in.

Hook, line and sinker
In the same way that the advert for that documentary we were talking about earlier motivated you to sit down and watch the whole thing, snackable content needs to motivate the customer to sit down and take a proper look at your proposition. It’s not about giving them a condensed version of your entire proposition or message, but giving them just enough to pique their interest and pointing them towards your longer content that conveys your message and your proposition in full. A tweet that leads to a webinar; a blog post that links to a white paper; these are examples of how snackable and long-form content can form a powerful one-two punch that entices an unmotivated audience to engage with you.

The trick, as you’ve no doubt guessed, is making that snackable content as juicy and inviting as you can. Though the analogy of a goldfish might not be quite accurate (they have memories of up to three months, according to Wikipedia ), it’s true that your audience are busy people who have information coming at them from all angles. Short content that shines like a diamond is required to get them to notice you – but once they do, don’t feel pressured into saying everything you have to say in a rush. Treat snackable content as a gateway to the wonders of your longer content, and you’ll find that your audience do, too.

The truth about viral content

Have you noticed how many people there are at the minute offering to make your content viral? You might have thought it seemed too good to be true. We at HN did too.

The buzzword

Unless you’re a healthcare professional, the term ‘viral’ probably brings to mind images of dancing babies, well-timed tweets from Oreo , or children biting each other. You’re picturing millions of views on YouTube, and your brand name becoming synonymous with your market. With the rise of social media channels, smartphones, and a growing global community of internet users, it sometimes feels like we’re only one step away from that great campaign that goes viral.

The catch

Here’s the thing, though: going viral on the same scale as those headline-grabbing campaigns takes luck. As this excellent presentation from Upworthy will tell you, you can follow the best ‘how to go viral’ advice and create the most shareable piece of content ever, with a great story, pitched at the right audience and at the most optimal time that your research has indicated, and it may never get past 1,000 views. This isn’t a shortcoming of your content; it just didn’t get lucky. Upworthy goes through the gruelling process of writing 25 headlines for each and every piece of content it posts, to ensure maximum shareability, and still only 12 of their posts have garnered more than 1 million views – just 0.41% of their content. Though many marketers would hate to admit it, you just cannot engineer virality on this scale – and to try will only end in disappointment.

Don’t try to go viral. Aim for shareable

The people telling you ‘how to go viral’ know this, though they don’t always make it clear. What they’re really offering you – and what you should be aiming for – is highly shareable content. Create a piece with a great story that forges an emotional connection, give it an attention-grabbing headline, strategically place buttons to enable easy sharing. Take care when and where you share the content for maximum impact. All of these things will boost the chances of your audience seeing your content and passing it on. Analyse your results and continually refine your process, and you should see positive results.

It’s also important to bear your audience in mind. Human though they may be, B2B buyers are not in the same mindset as consumers, and to get those valuable shares your content will have to work harder. Case in point: B2C campaigns can sometimes be racy or provocative (Dove’s recent beauty patch campaign, for instance, attracted the ire of social commentators around the world ). Employing similar tactics could put your audience off sharing your content for fear of associating their company with controversial opinions (‘I don’t want people who disagree to think that this is what our company believes, so I won’t share it’).

The size of your audience also plays a part; if you’re speaking to a niche market, for example, then it shouldn’t surprise you that your well-crafted video campaign doesn’t get 10,000 hits – and, more importantly, it shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. The bottom line? Don’t aim to go viral; aim to reach your audience, be they 1,000 or 10,000 people.

Don’t believe the hype

We should stress here: following all the moves outlined in a ‘how to go viral’ article isn’t a bad thing; it’ll help your content stand out and get shared. And viral content can successfully be created in the B2B space: we love this Verisign campaign from 2008. But don’t be drawn into thinking that there’s a formula for breaking the million views barrier, because there isn’t. No doubt there will be a lucky few who get into the right place at the right time to be noticed by the world and go viral. But for the rest of us, let’s just focus on what we set out to do: make great content that our audiences love and share with one another.