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.

Shades of grey — gleaning customer insight from multiple sources

In our previous two posts we discussed learning-based (quantitative) and validation-based (qualitative) models for acquiring customer insight. But we shouldn’t forget that insight can also be derived from existing sources of customer intelligence within the organisation. However, gaining full value from those sources generally brings its own set of challenges for the marketing team.

Firstly, a different type of research is required to identify the sources and understand what they do and don’t reveal. Sources of customer intelligence aren’t always black or white; or easy to find, understand and retrieve. Some customer intelligence will be documented in the systems used by marketing, sales, finance, logistics and other teams, albeit in many different forms — but much will exist only in people’s heads.

Secondly, most of this information doesn’t come with an ‘insight’ label attached. Gleaning insight typically involves blending information from multiple sources. The insight may take the form of a flash of inspiration, a penetrating discovery, or an ‘aha’ moment that comes when previously unconnected information is put together. It could lead to a tiny process change at one end of the scale — or a product breakthrough at the other. What it should always do, however, is make a tangible difference to the customer and to the business.

This brings us to the third challenge — that the information found and the insight derived from it will be of little value to the business if it doesn’t reach its destination. To realise its full potential, the information must be communicated throughout the organisation and the insight derived from it made actionable.
Free download Customer Insight ebook

Download our ebook:
‘Discover how to identify key information sources, gain valuable insight, and get closer to your customers.

Which is best — learning-based or validation-based customer insight?

This blog explores the differences between learning-driven and validation-driven customer insight — the two fundamental models used in marketing.

Learning based: an open approach to shaping ideas

This requires an open mind and an open approach so that you truly listen to how your customers describe the relative merits of your service, or how a problem affects their business.

Learning-based customer insight is designed to yield fresh ideas or new ways of looking at an old problem. It often works best if you’re developing a new proposition — especially if you want to avoid sounding like the competition. It’s an opportunity to work creatively to shape the proposition and messages that will resonate with your target market.

Validation based: testing customer reaction to stay on track

The research methods for validation-based customer insight favour more structure and formal measurement. It’s about testing concepts, plans or outlines for your brand, value proposition or solution — before you commit budget and resources to further development or launch.

It’s designed to provide external qualification and reassurance that your marketing efforts will achieve the desired results. Customer reactions and stated intentions can indicate likely market traction. And regular benchmarking of key purchase criteria, competitor offerings or solution benefits will help to re-test marketing communications for continued content and channel relevance.

Of course, neither type of insight programme needs to be prescriptive in form or style. Whichever you’re doing, you need a clear business objective to deliver results and steer your marketing activity. And if you’re combining them, you also need to understand how you intend them to work together, to make sure you get full value from the combination.

In the final blog in this series, we’ll explore other sources of customer insight that already exist within organisations.
Free download Customer Insight ebook

Download our ebook:
‘Discover how to identify key information sources, gain valuable insight, and get closer to your customers.

HN’s top 5 blogs of 2013

It’s that time of year when we all take stock and look forward and — put together charts, it seems. Here at HN, planning our editorial calendar for the next little while provokes lively debate and simply too many ideas. Which would you like us to create, we muse? So, to get a clue we took a look at the blogs from 2013 that caught your interest most. We think you’ll agree that there are a few eyebrow raisers in here as well as others that were sure to put in an appearance.

Here’s the HN top-clicking blogs of 2013:

In 5th place we have…
The value of customer references is never in question, so why does there seem to be a shortage?
Customer referencing is a recurring theme on the HN blog and this nifty number neatly summarises why they are always a popular read. One from me sneaks onto the ranking – hurrah!

In 4th place…
New and necessary punctuation marks – say what you really mean.
Clear expression is a highly-prized skill so it’s no surprise this one, from our very own grammar guru, made the grade and raised a smile in the run up to Christmas. Thanks Catherine.

Bronze medal goes to…
Are you the information source your audience turns to first.
This lively little opinion piece considers what we can learn from our favourite writers and storytellers and bring into our own work. Thank you for sharing Denise.

Taking the silver we have…
Why does customer insight matter?
This was the start of a miniseries on insight and it’s great to see our guest blogger Melanie cutting the mustard.

And the winner for 2013…
Video marketing how-to guide
We always thought it would make the list, but it was quite a surprise to see it take the top slot! It goes to show just how many of you are looking to do more with video. Another winner from our top blogger Catherine. Go girl.

Thank you to all our readers in 2013; it wouldn’t be the blog it is without you. Look out for more tasty treats throughout 2014, and several on the topic of video, especially for you.

Comment on this article. Ask us a question or let us know the topics you’d like to see in 2014.

INFOGRAPHIC: If IKEA did content strategy…

Last year, IKEA celebrated its 25 years in the UK. It’s changed the face of furniture buying on a global scale and we think its phenomenal success is down to its customer-centric approach. It even opened in-store restaurants because its shoppers were hungry! While we pondered some awesome IKEA stats we also wondered what it’d be like if IKEA did content strategy…

And so to celebrate this great iconic brand here’s our take on content strategy IKEA-style in that familiar infographic format.

INFOGRAPHIC: If IKEA did content strategy...

Here’s the code if you want to put this infographic on your website:

Two ears; one mouth. Use in that ratio

My TV is on the blink, which prompted a detour via certain electrical store on Saturday. It wasn’t much help, mind you and I came away none the wiser. Have you found that people trying to sell you something often think it’s good to talk. But, as a customer, we don’t think that’s really true, do we. If you want to sell to me it’s better to listen first. Listening puts the other person—me in this case—centre stage and means you are more likely to learn a thing or two so that when it comes to your turn to speak, you say the right thing. Passionate though you might be about the technology, “step away from the soap box” could be wise words indeed.

So, it would seem that in this race to develop more to say (aka content) and be heard above the clamour, it’s important to go quiet every now and then and establish a process of continual listening. Getting closer to your customers, deepening your understanding of them and gaining insight into their view point means you can:

  • Act on feedback to reduce churn and improve loyalty
  • Identify opportunities to upgrade or sell more to a client
  • Root out inefficiency and minimise tasks that don’t enhance customer value
  • Spot advocates who’ll share their positive experiences with others and build your reputation

The rewards are huge.

Gathering customer insight: tools of the trade

There are three approaches we can take to gather insight and lots of tools in the kit bag:


  • The database holds a wealth of purchasing information that you can analyse to uncover patterns of behaviours

Direct engagement

  • Running roundtable events and focus groups can be incredibly revealing
  • Don’t underestimate that often forgotten source of insight: the customer case study interview
  • Relationship surveys with your key accounts will analyse the health of that relationship; transactional surveys will identify process steps that drive loyalty or dissatisfaction at various touchpoints

The opinions of others

  • Sales and other front-line staff, your channel partners all have a view. Capture this in workshops and in feedback forms.

Keep the insight coming: don’t let the trail go cold

No one wants to think they are talking to the void; let your contributors know you’ve heard them. And when you have progress to report, share the success. It’ll make it easier to get them talking next time and help you make sure that all the content you generate doesn’t fall on deaf ears.