Reading with Steve: The Complete Guide to B2B Marketing by Kim Ann King

Reading with Steve is a regular feature at Read product marketing and content marketing book reviews.

In the first of an occasional series of book reports, I’d like to start with a modern bible of business marketing, Kim King’s awesome The Complete Guide to B2B Marketing: New Tactics, Tools, and Techniques to Compete in the Digital Economy.

Kim downloads her decades of experience into this excellent volume. It’s perfect for a beginning marketer or for anyone who wants a manual for the many aspects of B2B marketing in 2015, up to and including CMOs.

I found the book particularly helpful as a guide to the bits of the customer journey I’ve never participated in. For example, I’ve never run an outbound email program. As I read Kim’s pages on email marketing, I found myself thinking, “So this is how it’s done.” When I do find myself responsible for email I’ll come right back to this chapter. Kim is great at demystifying the processes of marketing and breaking them down into their component steps (without telling you basic things you don’t need to know – you are a professional, after all).8_30_15 completeguide

The book is organized around contemporary marketing tools and strategies. It gives you all you need to get started with important topics such as automation, personalization, and budgeting. With a judiciously curated set of references and recommended blogs, The Complete Guide also tells you where to go for more on each of these subjects.

My favorite single part was Chapter 7: Planning, in which Kim creates a step-by-step process for developing a marketing plan. I found myself taking notes and comparing her recommendation against what I’ve done in the past. I will definitely use this chapter as a starting point for any marketing plan I develop in the future.

As a “nuts and bolts” guide, this book has little to say on the topic of what makes great content. It dwells mostly on the whys and hows of content marketing. At the brief points where she discusses what effective content will contain, Kim does talk about consistency, call to action, and inspiration (excitement) – several key pillars of the MEDICAL method.

This is a volume heavy on bulleted lists and step-by-step instructions, and some chapters read entirely like a textbook. There aren’t many examples illustrating the subject matter. I would have loved more of Kim’s personality and experience interspersed in here, perhaps at least one example in each chapter that highlights the importance of what we are learning. “Show, don’t tell” is an important rule for making content that is memorable. More personal anecdotes or stories from the history of recent marketing fails and successes would improve the book.

Whether you are a marketing major or a major marketer, I strongly recommend you pick up The Complete Guide to B2B Marketing. It’s an invaluable resource, and my copy is going straight to my desk, no doubt destined to become highlighted, dog-eared, and tea-stained in the years to come.

Buy the book.


Dare to Be Differentiated

Content marketing means you must be different from everyone else

Recently, I was preparing for an interview when I noticed something strange. I had lined up the websites of the company I would be visiting and its chief competitor. Looking at the two together, I could see that the competitor was using almost exactly the same language to describe its services and their value.

When I met the CMO, I asked her about this. Why was her hottest competitor using the same voice, same explanations, even the same pitch with just a few words changed? (To protect the innocent, no names are being used in this story.)

“Well, every time we come out with something, these other guys immediately copy it,” the CMO told me. “It’s frustrating but kind of flattering, actually. And, I should add, we’ve never lost a head-to-head bid with them.”

After our meeting, I crossed the competitor off my list of companies to speak to.

Dare to be yourself

This episode reminded me of the importance of setting yourself apart from your competitors in tone, in language, in value proposition – really in every way that you can. Trying to sound like anyone or everyone else is a sure path to mediocrity.

The unnamed competitor in this story was probably trying to piggyback on the first company’s success, and perhaps it can for a time. But the competitor’s inability to define its unique reason for existing ultimately sets that company up for failure. How will they convince their customers to buy if they didn’t originate the reasons for buying in the first place? Judging by the head-to-head results, they can’t.

You can write in a way that differentiates yourself while complying with any particular phrases or expectations that are special to your industry. Use the available white space to be creative.

Learning to fly

  • Create differentiated taglines, phrases, and spots. What you do in 60 characters should be completely unique.
  • Have a voice, style, or tone that sets you apart. Lyft is facing one of the most aggressive competitors since the Roman Empire conquered the known world (I exaggerate! Just slightly.) To set itself apart, Lyft cars are equipped with a pink mustache, a message that says the service is friendly and lighthearted. The company wants your experience to be “welcoming, affordable, and memorable”. However you feel about Lyft’s giant opponent, Lyft has used its differentiation to create a positive vibe about the alternative it offers.
  • Acknowledge and separate from the pack. Suppose you provide a hosted service in an industry where a four-9s uptime guarantee is standard. Simply stating “4-9s uptime guaranteed” is not going to attract notice. But you can’t fail to mention it either, so instead write something more interesting. “We take pride in offering the best uptime guarantee possible” is better. “Our uptime is crazy!” might get even more attention. If you have to say the same thing as someone else, at least be more exciting.
  • Do something unexpected with formatting or presentation. If your competition does Q&A videos, do your video as a quiz show featuring happy customers. If they have static white papers online, make yours interactive. Everyone else uses a stock photo of a woman to represent its live chat operator, and nobody really thinks that’s the person typing on the other end of the Internet. So how about representing your agent with a more creative image – a boy wizard, say, or a hobbit? Pop open a bottle and brainstorm. Even if you have a buttoned-down corporate image, you can still use technology and your imagination to go a step beyond the competition.

Vive la differénce

Often times, we think of being different as taking a risk. It’s easier to stick with the pack, to follow the crowd. Fight this temptation!

There is no simple way to measure how unique your messaging is – it is a subjective matter. If your customers can recognize your company from the particular features of your messaging, then you are being unique (unless your competitors slavishly copy you).

If you are winning awards for innovation in advertising or marketing, you are certainly being unique. But most companies don’t aim for this, and you can’t count on it even if you are.

What I do is to set down any presentation I’ve produced for 24 hours, then pick it up again and gut check myself: Do I think this is different enough to stand out? If I’ve convinced myself, I’ll ask a knowledgeable colleague to judge my work on the same standard.

Dare to be different – and you are sure to get ahead no matter how crowded the field (link: Bay to Breakers winning centipede team).

What was the most outstanding differentiated marketing you’ve encountered? Tell us about it in the comments.


Lights! Camera! Excitement! Adding Spice to Your Content

excitement is important in product marketing

Do you recall the scene in Mission: Impossible when Tom Cruise is dangling from a line to infiltrate the CIA? Picture it in your head. Try to recall the context of the scene, the motivation of the characters. Recall (or imagine) some tense music playing.

Now think about when you first saw this great movie. Is this the scene you thought about when you told your friends to go see it too? And after they did, is this the scene you talked about?

Assuming you’ve seen Mission: Impossible, you probably did – because the excitement of this iconic moment imprinted on your consciousness, and you couldn’t help but share your experience.

Get worked up

Chances are, you’re not going to be scripting a Hollywood blockbuster. You probably also don’t have a blockbuster budget to work with (if you do – call me!). Yet the lesson of palm-tingling movie moments is still instructive.

Excitement is important because it keeps you engaged, and helps you retain what you’ve experienced. That much is probably obvious. If you’re a studio executive at Paramount, you know that the exciting moments in Mission: Impossible were what your audience would remember when they came back for the sequel.

But excitement is more than an outgrowth of being memorable. Experiences that are simply memorable stay with you, but you won’t feel compelled to share them with others. Excitement is the quality that makes you pick up the phone, open up Facebook, or walk over to the water cooler. When you’ve had an exciting experience, you want to share it.

So even though we’re not making a Hollywood movie, we can still try to make our content so inspiring that our customers just have to share it.

Something to share

Many marketing materials lack excitement. They are designed to relay information and to persuade, but they don’t tug at the emotions. Yet it’s possible to produce content that has the pull of a great popcorn flick. Here are a few ways to do it.

  • A summer movie audience wants action, so filmmakers give it to them in the biggest, most frequent, and most creative doses they can. In the same way, you need to decide what factors are most attention-grabbing to your customers. Is it fast response time? Great customer service? Ease of use? Whatever it is, give it to them big, fast, and frequently in your materials. Make sure that this message comes across in the first few seconds, so your reader will continue to pay attention.
  • Plumb the limits of what your product means for your customers. Just as filmmakers push the boundaries in action scenes, you should drive your text as far as possible in your white paper, email copy, website, etc. Of course you need to stay professional and accurate – your limits are not the same as Tom Cruise’s.
  • As appropriate, use superlatives, exclamation points, dramatic rhetorical questions, and aspirational phrases to build up the excitement. Just be sure not to overuse them, or you’ll sound cheesy. An example I like is the Twitter account of General Electric, which uses motivational language (“Build. Power. Move. Cure.”) and just the right amount of exclamation points to keep its feed exciting. The liberal use of fascinating Vines and video elevates the effect.
  • Give your prospects and customers an implicit reason to share. While it’s possible to bribe your prospects into retweeting, liking, and pinning your content, it’s far better to make them want to. Have you written something that will make your readers look great to their friends if they share it? Will your readers who share seem smart, fashionable, ahead of the curve?

Tallying the results

How can you tell if your content is exciting?

We naturally want to tell others about the exciting experiences we’ve had, whether great movies, roller coaster rides, or interesting reads. The best way to measure the impact of this excitement is through sharing.

Is your content being shared on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest? Are people blogging about it and linking to it? Are they talking about it at trade shows? Are they mentioning what you wrote to your competitors? Success in any of these areas is good evidence of excitement.

Of course, you want the right kind of attention. You don’t want your business to be known for the wrong reasons.

Once you add a dash of excitement to your content, your prospective customers will start talking about it – and the results you want are sure to follow.

Have you ever read a piece of really exciting content? Tell us how it affected you in the comments below.