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

Don’t do innovative marketing just for the sake of it

Do you worry that you’re not being innovative enough with your B2B marketing? You’re not alone if you do; research by Accenture indicates that many marketers worry that they aren’t being innovative enough to deliver.

We’re worried too, but mainly because the value of ‘innovation’ seems unquestioned. Unless we define ‘innovation’ as ‘whatever works best’, we think it’s odd to simply assume that ‘traditional’ can’t drive growth and only ‘innovation’ will do.

Give ‘em what they want
Going back to first principles, as marketers we exist to help sell stuff to customers. That means we need to be doing things that customers are interested in. We need to be in the places they’re in, saying the things that will resonate with them.

Now, that might mean you need to turn your marketing on its head and start “actively driving the disruptive growth agenda”, to quote Accenture. But it equally might mean that you just need to really hone your value proposition and messaging so that you’re saying things that your audience simply can’t ignore.

Assess the value of innovation
Don’t get us wrong — we love innovative B2B marketing ideas as much as anybody. We get that most audiences respond to creativity, to ideas that are clever and different. And the strategies suggested by Accenture make perfect sense, because they focus on meeting customer needs and delivering outcomes that matter to customers.

That said, we’d caution that innovation needs to be backed up by solid customer insight and business reasoning.

Innovative B2B marketing concepts are often expensive — if not financially, then certainly in terms of your time as you climb a learning curve, win over internal audiences and overcome objections from more conservative colleagues. That kind of effort shouldn’t be entered into unless you’ve got good reason to believe it’ll work.

Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget when your boss is staring you down in a planning meeting and you feel like you need to impress.

Back to basics
So the next time you’re sat at your desk, wondering what you’re going to do to shake up your marketing efforts and deliver the results the business demands, ask yourself: do you need to come up with a bleeding-edge, ahead-of-the-curve marketing agenda? Or do you first need to make sure the basics are covered really well?
• If your assets are uploaded as PDFs, are they optimised for search engines?
• Is your content engaging?
• Are your email campaigns up to scratch?
• And so on.

A foundation for innovation
Of course, looking after the basics isn’t nearly as exciting as blue-skying the next paradigm shift in your content marketing.

But given how stretched marketers are, activities that can deliver relatively large improvements compared to the effort required — such as covering the basics — seem to make sense.
And of course, once those basics are covered, when you do find an opportunity and a need to be innovative, your efforts will likely be that much more effective.

Ones to watch: HN’s 2017 B2B Marketing Predictions

With some pretty major predictions having been rather wide of the mark in 2016, you’d be forgiven for viewing prediction-based articles with a bit of scepticism. But you can’t stay ahead of the curve unless you’re looking forward. So let’s look at some of the trends that we think could shape B2B marketing activities in 2017.

Prediction 1:  360° video takes off

A lot of what’s currently touted as ‘VR’ is — at least outside the video game world — more accurately 360° video.

Nonetheless, it’s been an exciting development in 2016, being used in medicine and even to retell the story of the crucifixion. Facebook and YouTube have already integrated 360° video into their platforms. And 360° video ads and other marketing are surely not far behind. Visit Austria’s collection of videos demonstrate perfectly how 360° video encourages viewers to spend more time with the content you create.

Part of what makes 360° video so exciting is that its design is ‘mobile first’. Viewers can survey the panorama by turning and tilting their mobile phone. 80% of internet users own a smartphone, making the need for mobilised content more pressing than ever, and 360° video could be a powerful way to stand out from the crowd.

It also provides some of the immersive experience of more complex VR technology, without the price. So B2B content marketers can use it to bring content to life, especially dense and hard-to-visualise content.

For example, you could create a 360° video that places the viewer at the heart of a computer network during a cyber-attack. Or to liven up a virtual tour inside a data centre.

Prediction 2: Live video enhances corporate events

There’s something about the immediacy and unpredictability of live content that engages people much more than if it were recorded. With tools such as Facebook Live and Periscope growing in use, this is a trend to watch out for in the 2017 B2B marketing world.

Tools such as these could be used to livestream corporate conferences and events, allowing people all around the globe to tune in from the comfort of their office chairs.

Savvy marketers can also encourage delegates, speakers and employees at their events to generate their own live video content to share with their networks, increasing reach and engagement beyond those who follow your corporate social channels.

Prediction 3: White papers become mobile-friendly

Increasingly, your target business audiences will be accessing your social media channels (Twitter, LinkedIn et al) through their mobile phones. So have you thought about what happens when, for example, they click on a tweet promoting your white paper (a piece you’ve invested a lot of time and effort in), and find themselves having to download and read a PDF — on their mobile?

This is not an effective way of engaging and starting a conversation: the traditional white paper format just isn’t designed for the mobile channel. Which is why we think that condensing white papers into a mobile-friendly format could be a big thing this year.

The idea is to take ‘flat’ long-form content (your white paper) and create a teaser or trailer with mobile-friendly screens, designed for scrolling and swiping and using video or animations to bring it to life. Unlike infographics, which aren’t always easy to view on mobile devices, the ‘mobile white paper’ would be designed specifically to work on a mobile screen, giving the user a slick experience that adds to the overall power of the piece.

Where the full paper (in PDF form) would cause them to disengage, the shorter, mobile-friendly version would keep them interested and give them handy options for accessing the full paper once they’re using a more appropriate device (or have access to a printer).

Look out for a further blog on this topic, which will more fully explore why we think there’s a gap here that needs to be filled.

And with those predictions laid down, may we wish you a prosperous, exciting and fulfilling 2017.

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.

Maximising your impact with numbers: marketing claims

It’s an old joke that 78% of all statistics are made up. In fact, when it comes to marketing claims, statistical analysis can be a powerful tool – as long as you maintain accuracy by understanding and substantiating your figures. Here are five recommendations to help you maximise your impact with numbers and validate your marketing claims.

Ensure just cause

Analysing the right sample group means you can prove pretty much anything you want – children with bigger feet are better spellers; and you are twice as likely to choke on a cherry stone if you read a weekend newspaper. Sometimes, these statements have credible explanations — children with bigger feet could well be older than their classmates – but the relationship between cherry stones and newspapers is a prime example of relationship and causality being abused. It’s more likely that it’s pure chance.

Keep it legal, decent and honest

It’s easy to understand how beguiling statistics can be to an enthusiastic marketing team – ‘8 out of 10 cats prefer Whiskas’ remains one of the nation’s best-remembered marketing slogans. Unfortunately, it wasn’t true and fell foul of tighter advertising regulations. Its replacement ‘8 out of 10 owners who expressed a preference said that their cats preferred Whiskas’ didn’t have the same impact and was soon dropped.

Be precise

Consistently confused in the media, the difference between percentages and percentage points is significant. To use a prime example: in December 2008, UK interest rates fell from 3% to 2%. In much of the media, this was referred to as a drop of 1%, but this is wrong; it’s actually a drop of 1 percentage point.

Don’t underestimate your audience

UK TV screens are often filled with adverts from supermarkets battling for cash-strapped consumers. When Asda (part of Walmart) chose to quote analysis of its prices by a third party, Tesco responded with its own calculations based on 200,000 actual customers. Unsurprisingly, each method favours the particular advertiser. The public is increasingly sceptical of marketing claims with a quasi-statistical basis, but this can work to your advantage. You can boost your credibility by publishing substantiated data, stating the sample size and the method of data collection.

Communicate your results effectively

Using graphs and charts is a great way to get your results across clearly and powerfully, but it’s just as important not to mislead. Show the units of measurement, cite sources and, while a little creativity can emphasis your point, don’t overdo it.

What do you think? Do statistics help inform your buying choices or do you prefer a storytelling approach? Let us know in the comments box or through Twitter or LinkedIn.

B2B video marketing: who do you send on shoots abroad?

As video continues to grow in popularity in B2B land, it’s likely that many businesses will start to get more ambitious with their B2B video marketing. That event in Los Angeles, that case study in Paris, or the new site you’re building in Abu Dhabi could all be great opportunities for video – but who do you send to capture the footage when filming abroad? A company local to you? Or one local to the filming site? To help you decide, here are some pros and cons of each:

Scenario 1: Send a crew local to you to shoot abroad
Pros:
• The chances are it’s a company you’ve worked with before, and that’s worth a lot: in confidence about the preparation they’ll do, the quality of work they’ll produce and in ease of working with a team that knows you.
• Theoretically, it’s as easy to work with an overseas as a local team during pre- and post-production phases. In reality, many B2B marketers find they have better creative input and control when the video company is local to them, often because they can meet face to face or because time differences and cultural barriers aren’t an issue.

Cons:
• It can be costly – especially if flights are involved.
• If you’re asking the crew to film in a country where they don’t speak the language (and the locals don’t speak the crew’s language well), logistics will be harder to manage.

Scenario 2: Use a crew based near your shooting location
Pros:
• This is likely the least costly option, assuming you’re comparing two video agencies from different geographies that are otherwise similar in cost.
• There won’t be any language or cultural barriers on location, making it easier to coax the best performance from participants.
Cons:
• If you’re shooting in a country where your language isn’t spoken well, you may still have communication problems – but this time between you and the video company.
• As mentioned before, many marketers find that a greater distance between them and their video team makes it harder to stay involved in the creative process and ensure the quality of the end result.

Which do you choose?
Only you can judge the relative importance of cost against factors such as known quality, ease of working with a company and language issues — which of course will differ for different projects.

In considering and balancing these factors, never forget that wherever the crew comes from, you’ve got to feel confident that the company you work with can get great footage that tells a killer story. A crew you trust to do that for you will make the whole process so much smoother – which may be more cost-effective for you in the long run than focusing (for example) on minimising travel costs. The last thing you need is to waste budget getting a result that doesn’t do the job you want it to.

So you may end up making decisions that on the face of it seem surprising. One new client chose us for a predominantly American shoot over a video partner they knew well, and over potential American options, because they were looking for a fresh, creative perspective they just didn’t feel the others could provide. In this case, familiarity with a partner and avoidance of large travel expenses weren’t big enough pros to override a greater certainty of achieving the core objective with somebody new.

Customer experience: setting the mood with unforgettable content

Have you had an unforgettable customer experience — one that stands out in your memory for all the right reasons? I still remember a call I made to Virgin Airways for two reasons: the hold music was Stevie Wonder’s Superstitious (what’s not to like?) and it was also great quality, unlike most hold music which sounds like it’s being played through a toilet.
In business, it’s not just what you say that matters — the quality and tone of your content can have a massive impact on the way your customer feels about you. Compare a datasheet that’s presented as a dense list of numbers, against one that’s well laid out and easy to understand. The first can leave you feeling none the wiser, while the other can be an absolute pleasure to read.
So how can you give your content this treatment and ensure it gets customers talking?

1: Critically assess the tone
Even if you have brand guidelines, there are things you can do to make your content engaging, lively and an all-round joy to read. Read it to yourself and see if you get bored; if you do, chances are your customer will too.

2: Make sure it’s clean
It might sound obvious, but weeding out spelling errors and grammar mistakes is essential — nothing looks worse than a rogue apostrophe or a typo in the title. It’s essential to do a spell-check, but you could also use a proofreader or engage an agency to create sparkling, word-perfect content.

3: Think about the user experience
The user experience (UX) is something we tend to talk about in the context of web design but it’s equally relevant for content. What information does your audience want to see up front, and where will their eye be drawn to first? Do the two things match? Does your video include lots of text? If they’re watching it on a smartphone, it’ll be too small to read. Putting yourself in the reader’s shoes can really make good content great.

Over to you
What do you do to give your customers an experience to remember? What’s the best treatment you’ve received? Share your thoughts with us in the comments box below, or via Twitter or LinkedIn.

Looking forward: 2016 Marketing Predictions

Those of you who are well-versed in your ancient history may know that the month of January is commonly thought to be named for Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions with two faces — one looking forward and the other looking back. As we move from the old year and into the new, most of us in marketing land are doing the same – with 2016 marketing predictions, reviews and forecasts aplenty.

Not to be outdone, the HN soothsayers have been hard at work again and here’s what we think will make waves in 2016:

1.        User-generated content will rise. Increasingly, customers are sharing their experiences online. And, as long as those experiences are mostly good, they can be a great way to boost your public image without it looking like you’re just singing your own praises. Though currently the province of B2C, savvy B2B companies will encourage their customers to generate content that they can turn into ‘credentials’ – which can either stand alone or feed into other types of customer-reference content.

2.        Traditional content as important as ever, but optimised for mobile. Just because your customers are generating content on your behalf, you won’t be able to give your creative team the year off. With purchases increasingly being researched and completed on tablets and phones, your content will not only need to be slicker than ever, it will have to be compatible with the proliferation of devices out there — optimisation is no longer optional.

3.        A new take on location-based marketing. 2015 was the year that beacon technology made its presence felt, especially for retailers. 2016, we reckon, is where innovative B2B applications for this technology will come to the fore. From showing customers just how global you are to grabbing their attention at a tradeshow before your customers do, we’re excited to see beacons in B2B.

4.        Video marketing. It’s been a good year for video, but we predict 2016 will be even better. Expect the market to mature this year with companies exploiting different types of video, for different purposes, and a huge improvement in quality, as they become more confident with the medium. This is not the year to be camera shy!

What’s your money on this year? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment, find us on Twitter or drop us a line at LinkedIn.

The secret to making great Slideshare presentations

Here at HN, we’re big on recycling — and we don’t just mean paper and glass. We think that when you’ve spent time (and money) producing great content, it’s important to use it in as many ways as possible to get the best value out of it. We’ve written about this before in the context of presentations, but there’s one medium that we neglected to mention last time: making great SlideShare presentations.

SlideShare is wonderful because it makes it easy to share your presentation and so increase its lifespan, but a quick search reveals that many are tempted to simply upload a set of slides and forget about it. While that may feel like a quick win, it means that a lot of the value your presentation delivered — the value that came from the words you said around the slides — is lost. So what can you do to optimise your SlideShare presentations to make them stand out from the crowd?

1: Tell the story without a speaker Presentation slides are usually there to support what the speaker is saying. There’s no opportunity for that in SlideShare, so you have to be certain that your audience will get the message from the slides alone. If necessary, use more slides – as long as each is engaging, your audience will keep clicking (see point 3).

2: Make it visually appealing Again, presentations created to support a speaker may not place emphasis on visuals since they don’t want to distract the audience from the speaker. But on SlideShare, the slides are the focus. Use high-quality images (so they still look good on full screen) and use them liberally to support the story.

3: Keep them clicking With every slide you create, ask yourself this question: why should they be interested in what the next slide says? If they don’t have a reason to click on, they won’t. With that in mind, try to spread your arguments across multiple slides, creating an engaging story that your readers will want to click through.

There are lots of great SlideShare presentations out there, but we particularly like this one by Seth Godin that achieves all of the above and also gives some helpful, entertaining advice on… achieving all of the above!

Convert or create?
It may seem like it would be easier to simply create a new presentation for SlideShare, rather than repurposing what you have, but at HN we think otherwise. If you bear in mind all the uses to which a presentation might be put when you start to create it, you’ll find that repurposing it for different purposes and media will be simpler.

What do you think? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below, tweeting us or posting on our LinkedIn page. Or, in keeping with our theme, you can follow our adventures on SlideShare.

B2B strategic marketing: 5 activities marketers need to do

Getting strategic with your marketing can be hard: where do you start and how do you demonstrate that what you’re doing is working? At HN, we’ve seen B2B strategic marketing at its best (and its worst), so here are the top five activities that we see strategic marketers doing.

5 marketing strategies