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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

Content vs. communications, or the importance of the B2B audience

Given we’re a B2B content marketing agency, it probably won’t be a huge surprise to learn that we always put the audience at the heart of the content we write. After all, that content needs to persuade someone to take an action — be it to download a white paper, or call a salesperson. And if that person can’t see themselves in the content we write, they’re unlikely to take the action we want them to take. There is a useful trick you can deploy to keep B2B audiences at the centre of your content marketing efforts though, and that is to draw a distinction between content and communications.

What’s the difference?
We’ve heard it said that content and communications are one and the same. But while there might be a considerable overlap, we believe the subtle semantic differences are important — again, we’re a B2B content marketing agency; an obsession with words comes with the territory!

The difference between content and communications is that the word ‘communications’ carries with it the idea of an audience, while ‘content’ doesn’t. ‘Content’ is something you produce; ‘communications’ are something you have with someone else. Once you start thinking of what you’re producing as ‘communications’, then other questions come up:

  • Who are you communicating with?
  • What do you want to say to them?
  • What will they think of what you have to say?

The importance of the B2B audience
That last question is crucial; as marketers (and sales people), we should always be conscious of what our audience thinks of our message and, by extension, us. Even in 2017, it’s easy to find examples of marketing that start not with the audience, but with the company doing the selling. Will an audience respond positively to that? Not likely — you can produce the most beautiful content in the world, but it will just sit in a (virtual) dusty box, unloved and unwanted.

So how do we make sure not just smothering our clients with well-intended yet irrelevant content? Well, one very good way to keep your audience at the heart of your content marketing, is to keep asking yourself, “So what?” When you can no longer ask the question because you’ve answered it fully, you’ve found the holy grail of content marketing — a message your audience actually wants to receive.

Let us know what you think in the comments below and if you’d like some more advice on content that communicates, come and have a chat with us.

B2B storytelling: How to make your content stand out

Everyone in marketing knows the value of a good story…don’t they?

Historically, the answer for B2B marketing has been ‘no’. But that’s changing, as these great examples of B2B storytelling show.

“How do they do that?” I hear you ask. The article points to some of the relevant factors: LinkedIn has a clearly defined niche and promotes its value relentlessly; Salesforce uses case studies really well; Cisco uses humour. All good weapons in your storytelling arsenal.

All very specific, though. What if humour isn’t appropriate — or you’re just not very good at it? What if you’ve got multiple propositions that all need equal airtime?

What struck us about the examples given wasn’t so much the specifics of what they’ve done well, but the more general principles that we think they exemplify.

When we try to bring storytelling to B2B marketing, these are some of the key things we’re usually aiming to do.

1. Make your audience invest with emotion
Connecting with emotion in B2B marketing is perhaps not as easy as in B2C, but it’s always something to aim for.

The Cisco example shows that humour is one way to do it, if you’ve got the chops. Fear can have its place, too, though too much negativity can have the wrong result (you want to use the carrot as well as the stick.)

Whatever emotion you use, use it with caution; you don’t want people remembering only the emotion, but rather the message you’re using the emotion to convey. This is why one of the most powerful ways to connect with people’s emotions is to tap into the stories of your customers.

As the article points out, for Kickstarter this is very much part of their business (their users tell their own stories), but Salesforce proves that you don’t have to be selling stories to master the art of bringing customer stories to life.

2. Gain trust through authenticity
As we’ve pointed out before, businesses today need to show that they’re open and honest; human rather than a faceless corporation.

But you can’t simply sound authentic, you actually have to be authentic Which means that, like LinkedIn, you really need to take the time to think about developing your value proposition from the customer’s point of view (and if you have many products, services or audiences, you may need to do this for all of them).

Another effective approach is what Salesforce does with its customer community. They’ve developed a space for customers to discuss their experience (positive or negative) without any influence from the company itself.

No selling. No corporate spin. You can trust that everything on there is 100% genuine. People respond to that.

3. Be memorable
The Zendesk Alternative. Need I say more?

Unfortunately there’s no formula for the kind of creative, outside the box thinking that will make you really stand out from the rest. Nor will time and budget always make room for it.

But there are other ways to be memorable. If, for example, you can avoid an over-zealous corporate legal team diluting every bit of your content with ‘maybe’s and ‘might’s, you can be memorable for having and expressing opinions.

B2B marketing is historically very cautious, and we’re not suggesting that you make wild claims that can’t be backed up. But there’s really very little danger in being a little unexpected, a little controversial now and then. If you have something interesting to say, say it!

Let’s move B2B marketing forward
This blog was inspired by an article pointing to a few great examples of B2B marketing. But that kind of article is much harder to come by than we’d like.

Read any article outlining great examples of content marketing (here’s one from the Content Marketing Institute) and you’ll be lucky to find B2B examples referenced.

It’s up to all of us to change that by daring to be more emotive, authentic and memorable with our marketing. Let’s go!

B2B copywriting: cut corners, not quality

Recent reports show that marketers are working harder than ever. For content marketers, a significant contributing factor is, no doubt, the sheer quantity of content they’re expected to produce.

Now we know you all love your jobs — marketing is the best job in the world after all — but that doesn’t mean you want to spend your whole life in the office.

So is there a way to cut corners with your B2B content, without taking a corresponding hit on quality? We think there is and here’s how.

1. Use time-saving tools Because, after all, the quicker you do things, the more likely you are to reacquaint yourself with the outside world. We use most of these tools here at HN and our loved-ones are grateful.

  • Hootsuite and Sprinklr are great tools for managing your social campaigns, helping you to store and schedule social content and measure its effectiveness.
  • Trello is a very flexible, online, collaborative project-management tool that works well for small teams and short projects (the kind that don’t call for Gantt charts, reporting, or active time-tracking). It also has a free, entry-level option.
  • Have you ever jotted down inspiration on a coffee-shop napkin, but struggled to take it to the next stage? Well, now there’s even technology to convert handwritten notes into digital content.

2. Repurpose content Once you’ve produced a great piece of content, don’t settle for using it just once. A good way to squeeze everything you can out of it – and get it seen by a wider audience – is to convert it into a new format. Another way to cut corners is to recirculate content without changing it. Or both. Here, for example, is another chance to read a post we repurposed earlier … about repurposing content.

3. Bring in extra help We would say this, of course, but agencies can be a great way to offload some of your work without decreasing your output. As well as sharing the load, an agency can become like an extension of your marketing team, helping you solve challenges quicker and save you even more time.

What are your favourite time-saving tips? Why not share them in the comments below?

B2B conferences: generating content to maximise ROI

B2B conferences are a fantastic way to connect with colleagues and customers, old and new. But they don’t come cheap. A lot of time, money and stress (!) go into them, so it’s only natural that you’ll want to maximise your return on investment from the conferences you organise. Fortunately, with a little thought and preparation, you can turn your conference into a content marketing machine. Here are some of our favourite ways to generate great conference-inspired content.

1. Video vox pops
Vox pops (vox populi, voice of the people) are informal interviews and a great source of soundbites that you can use on your website. Talk to your customers in coffee breaks or at networking receptions and get their take on the day. They’re really easy to do, too – all you need is a cameraman and an interviewer mingling with the crowd. Don’t forget to ask for permission from the interviewee, though.

2. Promo video
If you’re capturing the talks, atmosphere and highlights from the event, you’ve also got other video options. You could create a short teaser video, inspiring people to attend next year, or a longer summary video so those who couldn’t make it don’t miss out.

3. Blog posts
Every one of your speakers will be talking about a topic relevant to your business – and each session should be viewed as a potential blog post. Sometimes, we’re asked to provide a writer to attend sessions and write them up afterwards. Equally, you could invite each speaker to pen their own post at a later date. It’s a great way to quickly generate a bevy of relevant, topical blog posts that simultaneously position your event as a valuable gathering place for your target market.

4. Live tweeting
Though social posts from a conference have a limited shelf life, they can pay dividends on the day. Create an event hashtag for attendees to use when tweeting about the event before, during and after. Those who can’t make it can also use it to get involved.

5. Surveys
We don’t just mean a satisfaction survey. Asking just a few questions of attendees can give you valuable data about the issues facing your customers, their opinions on current trends or whatever you want to ask them. You can use the data as the basis of an infographic or blog. If you ask enough questions, you could even write a short paper.

Have a plan for your conference-inspired content
However you choose to generate content from your next B2B conference, the most important thing you can do is to plan it well. How will you use each piece? What part will it play in your sales cycle? If you can fit conference-content into your wider content strategy, then you stand to generate some truly impressive ROI from your next event.

Have you held a conference recently? Or are you thinking about holding one? We’d love to hear about your content plans for it. Why not leave a comment, find us on Twitter or drop us a line at 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.

Two cautions about the positive shift in B2B tone of voice

There’s a growing trend in B2B marketing that is often expressed in brand guidelines as ‘write the way you speak’ or ‘use a conversational style’. This signals a big shift in B2B tone of voice that I think is great news (for reasons given below). But I also think it’s worth keeping two things in mind as we embrace this change:

1. Context is everything.

2. A friendly tone of voice is no substitute for having nothing to say.

Why ‘write the way you speak’?
The traditional B2B voice — serious, formal, often long-winded — was all about building trust through institutional authority and heritage. But as marketing has moved online and become entangled with blogging, tweeting and other social trends, the old voice no longer does its job.

In a more social context, trust doesn’t derive from stiff, cold authority. It comes from openness, honesty and warmth. And this is why businesses increasingly want to be associated with a more plain-spoken, friendly tone of voice – even when speaking to other businesses. Most of our clients have been moving in this direction for some years, and the trend is picking up pace.

This is great news for B2B marketers and writers because, at long last, we have permission to treat our audience as human beings who respond to human qualities in writing. We can leave dull, convoluted language behind and tell stories that use a more varied range of tools to engage, educate and sell.

Be careful of context
My first caveat about ‘write the way you speak’ is perhaps too obvious to state, but for the sake of completeness, here it is. Clearly, people speak in different ways in different contexts. So which ‘way that I speak’ should I be using when I write a piece of B2B content?

What I should be doing, surely, is writing the way my audience speaks; or, more specifically, the way they want me to speak in the context in which I’m addressing them. A CIO may be quite sweary when he’s down the pub and be perfectly happy for his friends to swear at him. That doesn’t mean he’s happy for his bank manager to swear during a business conversation, or for an IT service provider to do so in a blog.

As shorthand for ‘be human, be genuine’, the advice to write the way we speak is just fine. But obviously brands need to provide more complete, specific guidance to avoid forms of communication that are inappropriate to the context and the audience.

Don’t forget the message
The second, more serious, point that I want to make about the shift in B2B tone of voice is this. We need to be careful not to become so caught up in an exciting new style that the marketing focus becomes all about tone rather than the message or content being conveyed.

However well we ‘write the way we speak’, if there’s not a worthwhile, interesting and valid message beneath the words, our audience will see right through us. After all, the whole shift in voice is driven by a more canny audience, looking for an honest and open connection. Content that dresses up marketing hype in language carefully crafted to sound friendly and transparent is the opposite of what they’re looking for.

But as long as we have something of substance and value to say, ‘write as you speak’ should help us to sound like human beings rather than faceless organisations when we say it. Which is a very good thing indeed.

How straight-talking can make your B2B messages more powerful

They’re an unlikely pairing we know, but Barack Obama and Simon Cowell have at least one thing in common — their straight talking. Barack Obama’s perception as honest, trustworthy and intelligent may have been crucial in his presidential campaigns, while Simon Cowell is both revered and reviled for his no-nonsense feedback to musical wannabes.

Their direct, confident approach plays a big part in building public confidence, as does their avoidance of rhetoric. An ancient art that was considered a noble accomplishment for many centuries, rhetoric is used to persuade and inspire. Unfortunately, nowadays it is frequently prefaced by ‘empty’ and is associated more with politicians and spin doctors than with compelling argument.

Although rhetorical flourishes can be useful in persuading someone to see things in a particular way, when they’re used on weak messages, they can appear disingenuous or even nonsensical — especially in B2B marketing. This example is from a software company advertising a seminar:

“…gathering leading minds in business intelligence and the analyst community for expert consensus on the answer. Industry experts will highlight how you can leverage business intelligence to provide visibility into business critical information.”

If you consider the message, all it actually promises is information about how to use information to get… information.

A better strategy in B2B copywriting is to get straight to the point in understandable plain English — talk about your product or service simply and clearly and you’ll be on the right track. Best of all, plain speaking for B2B messages is easy to achieve. Just follow these simple rules:

  • Use short sentences containing only one main idea
  • Never use a long word when a short one will get your message across more powerfully
  • Avoid jargon, clichés, acronyms and management buzzwords whenever possible
  • Favour Germanic words over Latin — say ‘each year’ instead of ‘per annum’
  • Be active — say ‘we will do it’ rather than ‘it will be done’: active verbs bring a document to life and are a lot easier to understand
  • Be definite — if at all possible, use ‘will’ not ‘can’
  • Be brief — your readers will appreciate it, and there will be more of them

We’d love to know what you think. Share your ideas or jargon horror stories in the comments below, on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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.

Shakespeare was a content marketer: 3 pieces of evidence

At this time of year, we know we aren’t the only ones bending the bard to our own devices— especially as this year marks the 400th anniversary of the great playwright’s death. But bear with us, because we genuinely believe that Shakespeare was… a content marketer. Content marketing may not have been ‘a thing’ back in the 1600s, but Shakespeare employed techniques that wouldn’t be out of place in today’s B2B marketing world. For your consideration, here are three pieces of evidence:

1: He made the complex comprehensible

There’s no disputing that Shakespeare was a master of illuminating the depths of human emotion and interpreting complex social situations for the audience. While B2B marketers rarely have to include cross-dressing princesses or matters of kinghood in their content, the heart of our work is no less about taking complex propositions and rendering them intelligible for our audience.

2: He was an entertainer

He may be a literary figure today, but Shakespeare wrote primarily to make money through entertainment. His prolific creativity was driven by a need to keep a steady income — so he was after the summer blockbuster, not the arthouse film. Our business audience might be more niche than mass-market, but the challenge of attracting and holding their attention is as pressing for us today as it was for Shakespeare back in the day. Nobody wants to plough through content that “will last out a night in Russia, when nights are longest there” (Measure for Measure, Act II scene i).

3: He spoke to multiple stakeholders

Shakespeare’s audience comprised newcomers and loyal followers, just as we have prospects and customers. And just as we have multiple targets with different needs (in tech marketing, for example, the CIO, the IT manager, and the end user), so Shakespeare wrote for both the general public and the nobility (even the royal family). He succeeded brilliantly in catering to their differing tastes – and also in flattering the rich so that they’d continue to patronise him (which was a good thing back in those days). Learning how to please multiple audiences is surely a task worthy of William himself.

Shakespeare for marketers

We’re continuing the fun with Shakespeare on our Twitter feed, where we’re asking you to identify the play that we’ve taken a popular quote from – with the quote altered to reflect the world of B2B content. So if you’ve got some time on your hands, why not head over to @hnmarketing and take a look?