Archive for March, 2011


3 Steps to A Breakthrough Corporate Blog

 

By Stanford Smith, Contributing {grow} Columnist

There’s a peculiar paradox in the social media world.

Take a look around and you will see creative individuals kicking butt and taking names.  They are writing amazing content, organizing humanitarian aide, even toppling autocratic regimes.

These pioneers are accomplishing extraordinary objectives with very little resources.  They don’t have a multi-million dollar war-chests or legions of eager staff at the ready.

All they have is passion and a mission.

So, here is the peculiar question.

Why aren’t Corporate Blogs leading the way?

After all the corporate titans do have a multi-million dollar war chests.  Corporate CEOs can enlist the best and brightest to tackle any problem.  Gargantuan PR departments can spread their message to every corner of the globe.

For the most part, the social mouthpieces of these giants, their blogs, represent the worst blogging best practices.

I suspect that  “traditional advertising” is to blame for a corporate blog’s dismal performance.

Traditional advertising prioritizes speed, packaging, and efficiency over passion, culture, and voice.  As a result, most blog becomes a hollow placeholder for the marketing department, saddled with big logos, promotional advertising, and the ubiquitous zero comments counter.

Corporate Blogs Must Do Better

The road to readable and usable blogs is actually shorter than corporate chieftains may think. In fact, almost any corporate blog can benefit by taking these 3 Key Steps:

Step #1: Tell Product Experience Stories

Storytelling will always be the best way to communicate. Customers and prospects are hungry for simple stories that show why a product or service matters to them.

Mom wants to hear about other mothers who are trying to get their kids to brush their teeth.   The IT manager wants to know how a backup storage product protected important data after a catastrophic flood.  The overworked and time starved husband will take notice of a short story about how other husbands used technology to never miss an anniversary or school play.

Smart companies will search through their testimonials and customer service feedback to create and post these stories.

Step #2: Practice Bar Stool Writing

Most corporate blogs sound like a college term paper.  The passive, four paragraph, diatribe that dominates corporate Word documents has no place on a blog.

Instead, try what I call, “Barstool writing”.

Think back to the last time you shared a drink with your best friend.  During that conversation, you probably recommended a movie, a book, or new dance club. I’m sure your recommendation was straight-forward, benefit-focused, and conversational.

Write your blog posts with the same approach.

Speak directly to the reader by imagining that you had to read your post to them at the bar around drinks.  Delete anything that sounds unnatural, forced, or “corporate”.

Do this and your blog will instantly exude a deeper level of authenticity and relevance.

Step #3: Feature Real People

People make blogs work.  Stock art, logos, campy illustrations, and fancy typography corrode the blog’s voice and saps its passion.

Whenever possible, use real faces to complement your posts.  Customers want to see the people behind the corporate curtain. This may be difficult in traditional marketing cultures, but it’s essential for an effective blog.

Think about:

  1. Take a photo of your customer-service department and using it to write a post about your top 10 customer-service win’s.  Remember – use real stories that emphasize your product’s benefits. You can expand this technique to other departments too.
  2. View company events as opportunities to share your culture with your customers.  Include pictures and video to show off your people.
  3. Get your vendor’s and strategic partners into the act.  Consider letting them guest post on your company blog and insist that they include a photo or video of their team.
  4. Don’t isolate your CEO.  Your CEO is the standard-bearer for your culture and represents your voice in the community.  Model your effort after Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO, and encourage your CEO to write about your company’s values and vision.  Note: Seriously question having a blog, if your CEO isn’t willing to champion it.

What’s Standing In Your Way?

I’ve helped dozens of companies with their blogging efforts. Every one of them has expressed concern and outright fear about taking the mask off their corporate blog.  They are afraid that their customers would doubt their professionalism or quality.

In every situation, they were wrong.

Their sincerity, openness, and real-world authenticity separated them from their competitors.  Customers appreciated their no-spin approach.  Vendors and suppliers understood their brand on a deeper level.

In the end, their blog became a strategic asset for their business rather than a marketing eyesore.  This new way of approaching their customers seemed peculiar at first but delivered results.

It will do the same for you.

Do you agree?  What are the challenges you face with injecting life into your corporate blog?

Stanford Smith is a hopelessly addicted angler, father of 3 hellions, and the wild-eyed muse behind PushingSocial.com. Follow him on Twitter to get his latest unorthodox tips for getting your blog noticed and promoted.

Five questions to help you choose your target market

Ken Rosen is an important part of our {grow} community and a wonderful strategic thinker. Today he graciously offers this guest post on choosing the right target markets:

A Sales and Marketing Credo: “If you want to sell to me, solve my pain. And if you want to talk about my pain, do it in my language.” To market effectively, you need to talk to someone. But if you try to talk to everyone, you usually connect with no one.

To solve pain for customers you must choose some audiences…and not choose others. And stakes are too great to leave this to chance. This is one of the most important marekting decisions your company will make.

So what is the best way to pick target markets? We use five criteria. We call them “Market Success Factors” or MSFs … because every consulting firm needs a few juicy acronyms, right?

You obviously need to start with candidate customers groups. How wide you cast your net depends on schedule, budget, and selling experience. For one enterprise storage vendor, we literally started with every NAICS code (the new name for SIC codes). For young companies, we might build a set of 12 with the management team.

Next, evaluate each market against the Market Success Factors. At Performance Works, we use a five-point rating scale. Use what you like, but to keep things simple, a high rating always means “attractive.”

  1. How intense is prospect pain in the area you serve?
    If the pain from the problem you solve isn’t setting prospects’ hair on fire, if they don’t think about it almost every day, your sales cycle will be longer. Personally, I greatly prefer customers who use words like “pain” over “need,” but both trump “desire.” Sell aspirin, not vitamins.
  2. How well do you solve that pain?
    This is where most companies are most comfortable, because it is the most inward-looking question: Do we solve the problem? For too many companies, a “yes” to this question implies “Ok, let’s hire the sales force and start advertising!” We humbly disagree. It’s one of five criteria and you’re not likely the only firm solving the problem.
  3. How strong is competition?
    This criteria is pretty obvious, so I’ll only refer you back to the statement ” ’5′ always means ‘attractive.’” To make comparisons make sense when you add up totals, a hypercompetitive environment gets a rating of “1.”
  4. Can you actually close deals?
    Many companies think about the problem they solve without worrying about whether they can actually reach a decision maker. Maybe she only buys integrated products. Maybe she only buys from F500 companies. Maybe she hasn’t changed vendors in 10 years because the cost to change is too high. Maybe the ideal market is fragmented and requires a sales channel too expensive for this stage your development. You have to convert someone who needs your product into someone who buys your product.
  5. Long-term value of the market
    Market selection doesn’t mean you cut your growth aspirations. Far from it. It means you believe the fastest path to growth is by saying something compelling to someone specific. So our final criteria: What is market growth? Will success lead you to adjacent markets (Geoffrey Moore’s “bowling pin strategy“)? Does one market offer better-known references? Does your team have special background that makes success easier?

If you’re tempted to weight criteria or sub-topics under each criterion, I won’t discourage you, but after doing this for too many markets to count, I’ll tell you a secret: It probably won’t matter. If you apply this approach to 8-15 candidate markets, here’s what’s likely to happen: 3-5 markets will rise to the top with almost equal scores. And you can only focus on 2 or 3 (maybe 4 if you have significant resources and a segmented sales channel). So use management judgment as the final cut.

Finally, what data do you use to rate markets? Here’s one more secret: talk to decision makers. Yes, just talk to them. One-on-one at first, then maybe focus groups and later, for validation only, you can use surveys. (FYI, here’s our view of when to use surveys.) If you don’t try to sell them anything (so no, your reps cannot do this step), people will tell you what they need and even how to sell to them.

When we do market-selection for clients, we start decision-maker conversation with, “I don’t want to sell you anything or change your mind. I just want to know what matters to you.” Executives routinely spend an hour on the phone with us, tell us we can call them back, and say they are surprised how much the enjoyed the conversation. Why? Because they got to talk about their world and what matters to them.

Takeaways

  • Commit to focus: solve the pain of a specific market and speak to decision makers in their language.
  • Pick markets based on the Market Success Factors above. Get data by talking to potential customers in non-selling situations.
  • Align all your functions (Marketing, Sales, financing terms, product or service design, etc.) with your target markets. Remember, this is not a strategy to stay small within a niche; it is usually the fastest path to scale.

Ken Rosen (@ken_rosen) is co-founder of Performance Works, bringing the voice of stakeholders (and a little magic) to executive decisions. He blogs at Performance Talks.