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.

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?

Exit, pursued by a bear: another content marketing lesson from Shakespeare

April may have come and gone, but this year still marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. In this post, we take a look at one of his greatest enigmas – and the content marketing lesson we can draw from it.

‘Exit, pursued by a bear’, appearing in Act III scene iii of The Winter’s Tale and heralding the death of Antigonus, is perhaps one of the most famous stage directions ever written — not least because there are none other like it in all of Shakespeare’s collected works.

A lesson from the Bard

But famous and unprecedented as this stage direction is, I can tell you (based on the rigorous test of asking all of my friends) that though many people have heard of it, they often know nothing else about the play it comes from (possibly not even its name).

I don’t pretend to know the mind of someone who’s been dead for 400 years, but I’d hazard a guess that Shakespeare probably wouldn’t be thrilled that one of his plays is best remembered for a stage direction. Which suggests, to me, a lesson about content creation: if you’re going to do something different, make it count.

Redesigning your white paper to be visually stunning (for example) is a great idea – unless it becomes remembered as ‘that paper that looked great’ rather than ‘that paper that was really engaging and made some great points’.

Where there’s a Will (Shakespeare), there’s a way

Innovation in content creation is awesome and absolutely to be encouraged, but how can you be sure it isn’t going to do more harm than good? Here are a couple of options to test any new concept.

1. Prototype it. Get a sample made up and think through the effect of the finished piece. Will it (still) have the result you’re looking for?

2. Ask someone not connected with the project. It’s possible that you’re too close to the content to see the impact your ideas might have – so find someone who isn’t involved and get their opinion.

Perhaps we’re being a little unfair to Shakespeare. Given that he purportedly invented around 1,700 of the words we use today, it’s fair to say that most of his innovations supported his content, rather than distracted from it. With a little thought, yours could do the same.

The ARC of customer engagement

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

This was one of the headlines from B2B’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.


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.


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.


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

Selling through storytelling: a parable by HN Marketing

At HN, we’re passionate about telling stories when we write. We know from experience that stories resonate with an audience, and using them wisely can greatly boost the success of your marketing campaign or sales pitch. What better way to illustrate that than to tell you a story? So – are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin…

Geoff sat down in the conference hall, still hungry after the pitiful sandwiches that were a staple at these sorts of events. Prospects for the afternoon weren’t good; two hours on some new software that the CEO thought would really help him improve the running of the IT department. Between that and the sandwiches with their unidentifiable filling, he was certain he would be asleep in ten minutes.

The lights dimmed, a projector whirred to life, but instead of the usual presentation, with lists of USPs and dreary bar charts, Geoff found himself watching a short film about one of the company’s customers. They’d faced problems similar to the ones he faced back in the office, from connectivity issues right down to always having to stay late to run maintenance on the company’s machines. He found that he related to the customer in the story, and when the company’s software was brought in to solve the problems, Geoff saw exactly how it could help him out too.

After the video, there was a Q-and-A session, during which the presenter continued referencing the story; and even got a laugh or two for his joke about the tie and the staple gun. Geoff found himself thinking of how much easier the software would make his job – he might leave the office on time some evenings! – and he resolved to call the company the next morning to discuss his situation.

On his way out of the conference, Geoff was given a leaflet which continued to talk about the software through the characters from the film, and though Geoff was privately dubious that anybody smiled that much, or with teeth that white, he found on the drive back to the office that he was already thinking about what he’d have to do to get the software installed on his company’s network. He was, he had to admit, totally sold on the product.

Of course, case studies are not the only form of storytelling with value in marketing. Keep your eyes peeled for more blogs on storytelling in the coming weeks, as we explore how you can use this technique to boost the effectiveness of your marketing materials.

Additionally, we are re-telling this story as an cartoon, to see the difference between a story told in words and one told in pictures.

Using customers’ language to grow your brand

Should organisations use their customers’ language? Get it right and you will reap the rewards — increased coverage, followers and retweets — get it wrong though, and your legal team could be calling.

One of the UK’s largest retailers, Argos, is a company that understands the importance of solidifying customer relationships through online engagements. Recently, its customer service team replied to a tweet from a potential customer who was complaining about the availability of the PS4 in his local store:


To which @ArgosHelpers replied (presumably after consulting their teenage children):


The result? issue dealt with, an extra 1,500 followers (in one day) and a happy customer:


Apart from the baffling language that sent even us running for the Urban Dictionary, Argos showed how the combination of humour, content and medium can be combined to solve customers’ problems, communicate clearly and promote their business to new audiences. By matching the tone of the original tweet, the company generated a positive response from a complaint, without being offensive — a perfect example of peer language adoption.

Even if Argos’s use of slang is too ‘left field’ for your organisation right now, there are still lessons to be learnt here. The importance of knowing and applying your customers’ preferred language, whether they spend their day thinking about cloud architecture or PS4 availability, is something every organisation needs to acknowledge — y’get me?

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