6 min read

B2B communications: A vastly altered landscape.

This renewed focus on customer-obsession will force B2B communication leaders to 'pull forward' their long-term audience goals.

Hey. It's Wil.

I write about the intersection of communications and technology, especially for those looking to build new ways to communicate with their B2B clients. Thanks for being here.

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Over the initial weeks of 2022, I've focused on the following three communications topics:

My hope with these three initial articles was to provide a foundational overview of the Communications Protocol and Trust theory by outlining the ingredients to any successful communications program:

  • Audience
  • Message
  • Outcome

If we can define two of these three ingredients, we're in a great place to begin our messaging project.

There are a million other items that go into planning a successful communications program. However, these three fundamental ingredients apply to any individual messaging project.

When we're planning our messaging, we're typically looking at either brand or product as the focal point (hopefully with lots of overlap).

And during this planning, there's a question that pops up from time to time.

Which of the three ingredients is most important?

Naturally, the answer is: There is no one ingredient that's more important than the other. Without any one of the ingredients, the entire recipe doesn't work.

"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

That response won't satisfy some folks.

So it might be easier to reframe the response as:

They are all important. However if we need to focus on one of the three, it's likely we'll focus on the outcome.

We need short-term gains? We'll send out a message (without thinking about the audience) to show we can move numbers.

Audience is the long-term response.

If we're doing right by our audience (ie, we know their challenges and we're able to message value in response to those challenges), then we're providing long-term gains.

(Messaging is the ingredient that ebbs and flows based on the needs or focus of the short-term and/or the long-term gains.)

The pandemic.

Let's look at a recent and very relatable topic: the pandemic.

Back in 2020, the start of the pandemic caused many marketing plans to be scrapped, especially those that were focused on product- or service-generation messaging.

Many marketing resources were refocused on brand-level messaging. Ensuring our clients and partners where aware what we were doing to respond to the pandemic became increasingly critical.

This shows the impact of a long-term focus on our audiences. We had no idea what was coming next, so we pulled back on lead generation resources and focused on preparing for the end of the pandemic.

The idea was we wanted to be in a good position to switch back to revenue-generating messaging once the time was right.

Except, we had no idea when that time would come!

And, with what we now hope is the end of the pandemic, B2B communications leaders have a few decisions to make:

  • Continue focusing our overlapping messaging on brand and product silos
  • Blend the two silos into one customer-obsessed messaging framework

"We believe B2B CMOs are the leaders of change who will proactively engineer alignment and harness the collective capabilities of the organization to ignite customer-obsessed growth."

If we look back at the three articles from earlier this year, these three ingredients remain critical in this coming renewed era of customer obsession.

This renewed focus on customer-obsession will force B2B communication leaders to 'pull forward' their long-term audience goals. Even while outcomes remain focused in the short term and messaging continues to ebb and flow based on business, market and audience needs.

I read about this pull forward thinking from Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. In his article by the same name, the pull forward is ...

" ... an event or a series of events that draws a large and unsustainable boost of new users. It is often followed by a lull where growth is flat or even down for a while, but then the normal growth pattern resumes."

The transition.

So how do B2B communications leaders pull forward their audience focus and goals?

Start by defining a minimum viable community, which ...

"... typically focuses on a specific problem and has a dedicated member base that discusses this topic."

If you're of a certain age, you might remember San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery. Of the many books he wrote, I most remember The New City-State.

As a resident of San Jose at the time, and an outside friend of the McEnery family, I watched the city of San Jose grow and mature along much of the same timeframe that I did.

Tom McEnery "... brings his experience to bear in offering a prescription to the many ills that currently beset our cities. Using San Jose as his prime example – a city larger than Boston, Atlanta, Washington, Seattle, or Miami, yet having the lowest crime rate of America’s top 50 cities – the author challenges the negativity in the press and elsewhere that condemns our cities to hopeless despair."

This was a prime example of taking a very large city and turning its attention to its minimum viable community: The dedicated residents and businesses of San Jose by focusing on specific city problems.

How do we tie this minimum viable community to your business, your audience, your messaging and your outcomes?

The fundamentals.

As we focus on a minimum viable community, we go back to the basic ingredients that make our communications programs successful. Let's use email marketing as our distribution method.

Audience

Segmentation is the name of the game here. Do we know who we're looking to build a relationship with? Can we segment that audience down to a specific, individual criteria?

With the assumption we're using email automation, this number should be north of 100. (Note: It's not wise to aim for a specific audience count as a criteria.)

Message

While the message to your minimum viable community depends on your specific business, building relationships through messaging starts with personalization.

Similar to building your audience, personalization (through data) becomes critical here. Whether that personalization comes from first names or company names, ensure you are individually directing your message to your target audience.

Outcome

What do we want out of these communications projects? We can certainly track engagement and hopefully link back to sales opportunities created (and eventually ROI). In this case however, we need to think about differentiating what we provide our minimum viable community compared with what we provide everyone else.

  • Do we offer the engagement results, anonymized, to our minimum viable community?
  • Do we build an ebook based on our own product/service insights from our internal teams?
  • Do we give insights into a product/service roadmap?

Our outcome should be focused on added value to our minimum viable community.

Speaking of memberships.

If you've visited the home page recently, you might notice there's a new section, called "Topics".

(You'll also see that it's blank.)

Next week's article will be focused on hobbies, and how we need to take time away to keep our focus, learning and inventiveness sharp. Two of my hobbies are photography and videography, giving me the opportunity to step away from the computing screen and get outdoors.

That topic area? It'll be a member-only access to more personal stories and insights using photography and video. My B2B-focused articles will remain open to everyone.

So why a member-only program? Two reasons:

  1. I really enjoy writing. It helps me form my ideas and continue down the path of defining the Communications Protocol and Trust theory. And I want these articles to reach a broader and growing audience. (And I want to make it really easy for folks to sign up and enjoy these articles.)
  2. You are already investing your time in my work by reading these articles. If there's a subset of this audience (a minimum viable community) who wants to invest further, I'm making the assumption that investment is made into the author. Beyond the B2B articles, getting more insights into how I work and what I do will be valuable.

That's a big assumption.

And one I'm looking forward to testing and validating.

Sources and references

Music

Gear

  • Audio: AudioTechnica ATR 2100 (link)
  • Video: Canon M50 (link) / Meike 25mm (link)

Audio

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Video

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