Archive for March, 2010

If your organization hasn’t conducted a customer focus group lately, you should. There’s nothing like listening to customers for a couple of concerted hours to get your blood boiling and brain buzzing.

I was fortunate to attend four, two-hour focus groups recently. The company commissioning these groups provides a ubiquitous B-to-B service. Its customers range from Main Street to multinational.

To this company’s credit, the focus for these groups was content. Specifically, sales-support content. What some organizations would call their sales and marketing “collateral.”

This company’s marketers recognize that while the service is what customers buy, the communications and experiences they have via the sales force are a major factor in whether customers ultimately resonate to their brand.

Thus, if a company hopes to retain and build customer relationships, it had better understand customers’ needs, expectations and turn-offs when it comes to sales-support collateral.

Four Causes of “Collateral Damage”
After eight hours listening to business decision-makers talk about the way companies communicate with them via the sales force, I came away with this:

There are four things your customers probably dislike — maybe even detest — about your sales-support collateral. Eliminate these and you’ve taken important strides to having more, and more engaged and delighted, customers.

1. One size fits all
Does your organization claim to listen, to be a solution provider, but then send the same off-the-shelf capabilities brochure or collection of e-mail attachments as a follow-up to every new sales conversation?

If so, you’re failing to deliver on a brand promise. And believe it or not, customers recognize it.

They appreciate it when a sales rep actually does listen to their needs, then follows up with information responsive to those needs. By contrast, if your reps only pretend to listen — or listen but have only generic, one-size-fits-all content by which to follow up — your customers and prospects are in for a let-down.

If you’re not empowering front-line sellers with collateral system that enables some degree of on-the-fly customization — at least to a modular, if not granular, level — your customers would appreciate it if you did.

2. Selling past the close
A consistent theme from the focus groups: Why does this content look and sound so “salesy?” After all, I’m already a customer!

More than one customer pointed out that, having been a customer for years (decades in a few cases), they felt disconnected and underappreciated when every piece of sales collateral seemed to be written and designed for a newbie prospect vs. a long-standing, supposedly valued customer.

Darn them anyway. Customers have fairly sensitive antennae for detecting when they are being sold vs. informed.

Does your collateral system let you “modulate” tone and message depending on whether you’re communicating with a customer or a prospect? If not, maybe it should.

3. The impersonal touch
Customers are quick to notice when communications feel generic vs. personal.

They might have just spoken with a sales rep hours or even minutes prior. But if the follow-up communication reads or appears stiff, over-designed and templated — as though coming from a corporate marketing monolith vs. a flesh-and-blood person — any warm and fuzzy connection they might have been feeling can quickly diminish or disappear.

In our rush to consistently “brand” all sales-driven communications, care must be taken not to bleed them of a simple, personal touch.

4. Limited shelf life
Customers know the world of business is moving and changing continually. That means they are only so trusting that the information you provide — especially in printed and PDF formats — is current and accurate.

If you have a relatively long sales cycle, and you’re hoping customers will file your collateral away for future reference, don’t bank on it. There’s a good chance they’ll toss it or delete it, assuming things (e.g., product specs, service features, terms of use, etc.) will change soon.


A Fifth Element
As the company’s marketers listened to the focus groups, they found their own reason to hate the current collateral system: Inefficiency.

Here they were, spending low seven figures annually to create, print and distribute collateral, and customers were essentially saying: We’re just not that into your sales-support content.

It’s broad-brush, even generic. It doesn’t make me feel listened to and valued. Come to think of it, it’s probably out of date. And you always sound like you’re trying to sell me. What’s up with that?

Given all that negative feedback, it’s hard to imagine customers hanging on to your sales-support content, or investing decision-making confidence in it.

Sound like any sales collateral system you know?

Epilogue: Repairing the Collateral Damage
Did the company’s marketers despair over the harsh reviews?

Fortunately, no. They’re already well down the road toward implementing a Web-based content asset management and delivery application that will drive dramatic advances in how sales provides content to customers.

In a nutshell, this company is reinventing its traditional collateral system by bringing Web 2.0 thinking and technology to it. Making it possible for:

  • Content to be centralized, maintained and quickly, cost-effectively updated online vs. as printed documents or PDFs
  • Collateral assets to be custom-assembled, in collections unique to each customer’s needs and interests
  • Customers to have greater opportunity to self-serve for content relevant to them
  • Having visibility over whether, and how, customers consume engage with the content provided them by sales

If you’re pumping precious marketing dollars into an outmoded collateral system that customers probably hate, time to consider a change for the better.

After all, in this era when we’re all focused on engaging customers in dialogue, and providing them relevant content, a smart place to focus is where you already have dialogue underway: Between your sales force and your target audience.


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Remember when a primary objective (obsession?) for corporate marketers was to be forever buffing and polishing the brand identity, like a precious jewel or a classic car?   

Being absolutely consistent in logo use. Setting and following tight guidelines around photography, color palette, typography, white space. Effecting an air that was oh so business-like and buttoned-up. Ensuring that the brand identity — and with it, often, the brand’s personality — remained effectively etched in stone.  

Google Pi day logo
Google celebrates “Pi Day”

For marketers schooled in that mindset, it might be difficult to fully appreciate just how much Google is turning the premise of brand management on its head.  

A very recent example: Google morphing its home-page logo into a collection of geometric shapes and formulas, in honor of Monday’s date, 3.14 — annual “Pi” day to math nerds everywhere.  

And Google again, today, playing off St. Patrick’s Day, with a green, pseudo-Celtic motif.  

A tradition-bound brand marketer might have a coronary to think that a logo she has primped and perfected over years could be treated so malleably. Yet Google’s marketing team apparently delights in keeping us guessing about what new costume their identity will assume next.  

Should we all start playing “dress up” with our logos, to look and seem edgy like Google? Not necessarily. In fact, almost certainly not. First of all, it’s been done. Plus, chances are our logos don’t get nearly as many opportunities to be seen in their unadulterated state as Google’s does. So best the rest of us keep the logo legerdemain to a minimum.  

What it does suggest, at the risk of reading too much into Google’s brand hijinks, might be this: In today’s marketing environment, where the emphasis is on being engaging, approachable and conversational…  

  • Authenticity — whatever that can and should mean for your brand — trumps rigid identity.
  • Brands should take customers and their needs seriously, but take themselves a little less so.
  • To engage audiences in committed relationships and ongoing conversations, it’s beneficial to look, act and sound more like a human being and less like a polished marble statue.

Take that away from Google’s quirky displays of logo gymnastics. Apply it to the primary touch points where you connect with your key audiences. And chances are it will make a huge, positive difference in the brand personality — if not the identity — your organization projects. 


What do you think? Like Google’s playful logo treatments? Think it detracts from brand equity? Or are you simply bored with them? Welcome your thoughts on how thinking about brand identity is, or should be, evolving.

Post Update (9.16.11). Want to see a bunch of other daring and delightful Google doodles? Check out this link, courtesy of @AskAaronLee, @Allyssa_Milano and @Pepamint83  http://t.co/NInvBAu8,

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