Zoe Merchant

Zoe Merchant

After 20 years delivering B2B marketing strategies in the IT industry, Zoe founded Bright to help tech and consulting firms get the most from their marketing investment. Using agile marketing to test, learn and build on success. Zoe leads the team in delivering results through continual and focused improvements in order to support client’s business goals. A huge foodie and committed turophile – Zoe counter balances this with gymming, running and walking.

With social media, let’s take over the world

With social media, let’s take over the world

Pinky: Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight? Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!

This could be a typical conversation between two B2C marketers, anywhere in the world, who are primed and ready to use every weapon at their disposal to reach their audience. This is pretty much what the likes of Coca-Cola, Nike and other giant consumer brands have done –– taken over the world.

But what if this could also be true for B2B companies? You’re probably not buying it – so let me explain.

Since the emergence of Social Media channels, some B2B companies have spotted the opportunity to reach their audiences – LinkedIn, SlideShare and Twitter are examples of where B2B brands have begun to take the space. There seems to be an unwritten agreement that only the so-called “professional” Social Media channels are valuable or – fit for purpose – for B2B brands.

Although this statement probably held some weight when B2B content was limited to serious content, we certainly have the right to challenge this status-quo and question its validity.

Bring your audience where you want them to be

Most people will tell you that you need to be where your audience is, but it is equally important to be able to take your audience to places that they haven’t yet been. On the so-called professional Social Media channels, you can find both serious and story-telling content. But why not use non-professional Social Media channels as a chance to connect with customers on a deeper emotional level?

Many of us would be annoyed by a B2B white paper pop-up promotion on Facebook or a 6 second salesy B2B promotional video on Instagram. But that does not mean that we cannot use these channels to offer something different, something fitting, to connect with the audiences accessing these platforms. It is not to say that we should all-together abandon the so-called professional platforms – but we should complement them with other social media channels. The end goal is to create a strategy that encourages the creation of a personalised digital ecosystem, to further fulfil economic and branded goals.

This no doubt comes with great challenges for B2B companies because you will need to have a pretty strong Social Media strategy to do so. But some socalled “un-sexy B2B industries” have already succeeded.

Social Media is like playing Jazz

Maersk is one of the best examples of a successful brand on social media. Jonathan Wichmann, the Social Media leader has managed to make the shipping industry ‘sexy’ and has created a very strong brand. They have created a fine balance juggling between professional and non-professional platforms, to create different experiences for different audiences. And to avoid straying into the territory of dry, boring and safe posts on Social Media, remember his quote:

“As a jazz musician you respond to the moment and the vibe. Great jazz musicians play a new version every time. You get closer to the audience. Continuing the jazz analogy: There is a lot of improvisation in it. You just need a clearly defined structure. You must not try to control it just as you cannot control the rhythm of jazz. It evolves with the situation and the audience’s feedback, like the most advanced kind of rhythmical music.”

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To or through Partner Marketing – What’s the difference?

To or through Partner Marketing – What’s the difference?

Guest Blog:  Jacqui Sasserath is the founder of Channeliser, a matching service for IT companies looking for IT partners. In this blog, Jacqui describes the 3 key actions to create a strong and successful marketing partnership.

We @channeliser are frequently asked what is the most effective use of marketing spend?

1. Should we focus on partner enablement and building understanding of our proposition so that they can, in turn take the message to their customers?
2. Or should we be generating demand with direct prospecting and customer marketing?
3. Or perhaps a hybrid of the two – operating a marketing campaign to customers but doing it “through” my partners?

And the answer is simple – know your partners!

Capture the “to partner” value proposition

You know the value of your product to the customer, so now is the time to re-evaluate what is the value to the partner?

It will be something quite different. Try and list the 5 things that could turn a partner’s head and capture their attention about your offering – it may be as simple as incentives, it may be the lack of complexity and ease of doing business with you and it may delve into the technical functionality.

Remember most good resellers have many other vendors vying for their attention and resources so you need to standout and really have an engaging message as to why a partnership is of benefit to all.

Profile your partners

Now turn your attention to the complex matrix that is your partner community. Individual profiling should help you see if they target a specific vertical, do they operate in a niche sector, or focus on small businesses, or only deploy in the cloud and what other vendor products make up their portfolio and proposition.

This vital exercise is something frequently forgotten but is absolutely essential to ensure you are getting the most from the market opportunity. Having partners that sell into different market segments will not only keep them happy as they will not compete too heavily with other partners but will also ensure you are spreading your marketing messages across the widest possible market opportunity.

If you discover you have gaps in your market coverage try Channeliser to find new partners.

If you are truly partner centric – ask the partners!

You are now ready to target your partners with the right questions to the right people with the right messaging.

Ask marketing if they would like to run a joint campaign with a carefully thought through messages? Ask sales and pre-sales what they need to help sell your solutions. Ask the CEO how satisfied they are with your overall performance as a vendor and what you can do to improve?

Embedded in each of these “asks” are the key messages that relate to that target audience and based on your “understanding” of the partner.

This isn’t a blanket email to your whole partner community, this is a well-thought out strategic plan with tailored individual messages and an open format for discussion with each partner.

Their level of engagement will guide you as to who is going to be “with” you over time

And their answers will guide you as to the decision and make up of your marketing budget; to customers and to partners and the mix of through partner marketing.

– Jacqui Sasserath, Founder of Channeliser

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Let’s talk about inspiring leadership

Let’s talk about inspiring leadership

Guest blog: Julie Provino, from VeryHR talks about how to be an inspiring leader.

How many of these articles have I come across which constantly strive to make you feel full of energy and motivated about who you are as a leader, company owner or simply as a human being. I’ve personally looked into probably hundreds of different leadership principles, from the work hard play hard 90’s ethos, to the heart centered leadership which is increasing in influence at the moment. Have any of these truly understood and conveyed a definitive rule book around leadership and how to be successful within our organisational cultures? I have yet to see one.

Let’s focus on you

Have all of these principles been enough to truly change who you are or how you act around people?  I, like many others and maybe even yourself have downloaded many apps, subscribed to many tweets, blogs, podcasts, ted talks and magazines to get a constant source of ideas and reminders of what I strive to be each and every day. My bookshelf is groaning from the weight of books which I will read one day, following the latest fads and simply gathering dust, lots of ideas and little action. If you ever do find that definitive book with all the right principles and theories, please let me know.

For me, I have come to a different conclusion in my own mind around leadership and what it involves. In order to define what leadership means to me, I will always start with asking myself about what mark I want to leave on the business world, on my world. I want to be innovative, lead authentically, encourage others to be the best that they possibly can be and constantly push my business to break convention whilst maintaining a work life balance that suits my needs. In my world, this is used to be quickly followed by a “dream on” statement.

So the questions that I started asking myself and that I still ask every day are:

  • “Who am I? “,
  • “What resources are in my hands right now?”,
  • “Who do I want to be?” and
  • “How do I want to leave my mark on the world?”

These are questions that allow me to find the authentic me, the natural leader within me. Not someone else’s expectation of what my leadership should be.

Like many others, I run my own business. I have deadlines, I strive to meet my client’s targets and maintain my own personal goals. I run several diaries at the same time, one for work, one for the family, another for my now non-existent social life. From time to time, I will set some time aside to reflect, plan, and re-organise my life using the questions I have asked above, even then every so often its easy to return to old habits.

And I know I am not the only one? Right? Rings a bell? Does that make me a bad leader or should I say inspirer? Do we not all slip from time to time? As long as it makes us stronger or better it’s a good thing, isn’t it? Because there is no failure, there is only feedback to be the better version of me I strive to be

Where I have come from helps me find my direction

I have found that seeing where I have come from has helped me find my direction and see where I am going. So, who are you really? How have you come to where you are at today? Are you capable of telling your story to others?

Take some time to draw a horizontal line, and start plotting along it your professional career, from how it all began to where you are today, to where you want to be tomorrow and beyond.

Ask yourself those questions “Who Am I?”, “What resources do I have right now?”, “Who do I want to be?”, “What Mark do I want to leave on the world?”

Notice, are there any trends, or people you have met along the way who have had a defining impact on who you are today? Who are they? What was their story? What you experienced in their impact on you is their leadership, the way they inspired you is their influence.

  • Did they feel they were a leader?
  • Did they inspire you without knowing it?
  • Have your defining moments being influenced by someone intentionally leading you or were they just doing what they do?
  • Were they being there authentic selves?

Where are your key achievements and learnings

Looking at your timeline what are your key achievements and learnings, is that not enough to start inspiring others from? Is there going to be a time when you are fully ready or can you inspire now? Why put off what you can already do? I guarantee that today you influenced at least one person without knowing it.

In my role as HR advisor, I see many so called leaders taking on a role: the friendly boss, the democratic leader, the empire builder, the David Brent. Well here’s the breaking news. Like I said before there is no definitive rule book for leadership. Some leadership styles will perform complete lobotomies on people and others will get you running for the hills. What works for one will not always work for everyone.

Understanding who you are and what your story is will bring you closer to being fully authentic and aligned with what you are looking to achieve. Behind your story will be your values and beliefs, what you are seeking to achieve, what your company seeks to achieve is all within you.

What more noble cause to follow than the one that you have set for yourself? Others will be inspired by that. Just think about that for a moment, when you are running from one meeting to the next, picking up voicemails, and creating 30 to do lists, how can things be different for you to inspire others? What can you do in your own leadership that will put you on track to be the leader you want to be? The direction is within you.

My own timeline and asking those questions gave me insight into my own values and beliefs. For me, I value creating win-win-win, situations. A win for me, a win for those I do business with and my team, and a win for the direction I want to travel in. If I do not achieve these three wins then why am I in business in this modern era?

My ethos around leadership is based on this. It is to be “Good, kind and present”, be good in my intention to create these win-win-win situations through my leadership. Be kind in the way I deal with those around me as they are my potential for success, and be Present in the now, because giving my 100% presence to what is before me will give me the 100% presence of those I inspire.

Presence brings with it the energy and ability to innovate, to be flexible, to be creative and to find solutions. Presence also brings the guts to make the tough decisions and the drive to get through and complete any challenge that is set before me. It allows me to foster the right cultural environment to create success allowing everyone to be inspired and authentic in who they are and where they are going.

What is presence? How do you give it? How does it Bring Innovation, flexibility, and creativity? How does mindfulness and presence bring rapport? That is a discussion for another time my friend.

Julie Provino, Founder of VeryHR

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Media outreach to support your marketing goals

Media outreach to support your marketing goals

Public Relations (PR) or media outreach has historically been viewed as an important, yet distinct, part of the marketing mix. In the past PR agencies often worked quite independently from marketing, devising their own campaigns, usually with one eye on the overall marketing strategy (although not always!). However, the arrival of the Internet changed both the media landscape and traditional ways of working. PR is now much more integrated and at Bright Innovation we see it as an intrinsic part of what we do.

A shared goal but a different approach

While PR, marketing and advertising all share the same end goals of building brand awareness, increasing demand and attracting the right talent – the way each element approaches this is quite different.

The value of PR is high because it is what is termed ‘earned media’. This means that the exposure has to be ‘earned’ through strong, relevant and compelling content rather than bought (like advertising where you are essentially paying to be able to say what you like). The flip side to this however is it is much harder to make a direct correlation between a positive piece of coverage, an increase in demand or in good people applying for a role in your organisation.

Social Media: a must for PR practitioners

The value of PR is high because it is what is termed ‘earned media’. This means that the exposure has to be ‘earned’ through strong, relevant and compelling content rather than bought (like advertising where you are essentially paying to be able to say what you like). The flip side to this however is it is much harder to make a direct correlation between a positive piece of coverage, an increase in demand or in good people applying for a role in your organisation.

Today, it is increasingly rare for a PR campaign not to involve at least some element of social media. Having said that it is surprising how many businesses still fail to understand its importance.

If the Queen and President Obama are on Twitter, it’s a pretty safe bet that the CEO of the company you really want to get in front of is too. And in the unlikely event that he/she is not on Twitter, they almost definitely will be on LinkedIn. By failing to consider how to build social into a PR and marketing strategy, businesses may be missing out on the opportunity to directly connect with key business people.

In my experience people working in B2B technology tend to view PR in one of three ways:

  1. We are a fascinating company that does something totally unique and everyone will want to hear about us and our new products (especially FT journalists)
  2. We have nothing to say and can’t think of any reason why anyone would want to hear about us (unless maybe we do a major deal with Tesco or appoint Bill Gates as our Chairman)
  3. What’s PR?

The reality is that PR can be an incredibly effective way of getting your message across if you are both ambitious (every company has something interesting to say, we just need to work out what it is), pragmatic (it probably isn’t the launch of Widget 3.2.6) and you don’t compromise on the quality of what you produce. The most interesting content will be useless if badly written and you would be surprised what you can do with something quite mundane with good imagery and some smart statistics.

What results can you expect from PR?

To give an idea of the kind of results a successful PR campaign can achieve, as part of our work with Red Badger, Bright Innovation recently ran a campaign to promote the launch of Fortnum & Mason’s brand new, fully responsive eCommerce site, designed and developed by Red Badger.

Bright Innovation produced a range of content that appealed to different audiences across key industry sectors including tailored press releases and award entries:

  • To ensure that the content was as compelling as possible, data and imagery from the new site and real customer feedback were used to demonstrate tangible results.
  • Content was also drip fed across social channels and made to work harder by turning it into direct mail campaigns and a series of more technical blogs were produced for the Red Badger website.

The results included coverage in 10 key titles, including a blog style critique of the new Fortnum site on Econsultancy that had a direct impact on new business leads who approached Red Badger after reading it. The award entry drafted by Bright Innovation also led to Red Badger and Fortnum & Mason being shortlisted for Retail Week’s Technology and Ecommerce Awards in the Best Customer Experience category.

Creating a range of compelling content which was disseminated through different channels including traditional media, to an email campaign and through social networks helped to maximise the impact the campaign had on Red Badger’s target audience and led to direct new business enquiries.

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Talent marketing – A new approach for modern tech businesses

Talent marketing – A new approach for modern tech businesses

As the economy pick-ups and tech companies all over the country are starting to become busier, their ability to hire top tech talent is having a huge impact on their success. This is because the core strength of a services company lies in the skill set of its team.

The fact is that candidates simply have more choice and hold the upper hand in the “war on talent”. With 58% of UK hiring managers directly experiencing a skills shortage this year, candidates know they are a valuable commodity and are able to be more demanding from potential employers.

Candidates aren’t just looking for a good remuneration package; they are looking for a company that shares their same philosophies and culture, and one that can enrich all aspects of their life.

There are companies who have woken up to this issue and have developed strategies focused on nurturing and harvesting an active talent pool. It’s these innovators that other firms should learn from. Red Badger – a Bright Innovation client – is a company that has set the bar high in this respect. Red Badger is a software development company specialising in open source technology. The skills they need are in high demand so they have adopted a community building approach to help them, not only find good people, but to create brand ambassadors who can promote the brand within the community.

Recruiters have long been talking about active and passive candidates, and developing strategies for attracting the latter, who are ever-elusive and hard to reach.

However, traditional recruitment, by its nature, is reactive and recruitment companies see little benefit in spending the time establishing and nurturing active networks of passive candidates. Instead they use tools like LinkedIn to proactively search for them.

Following the traditional approach means companies must start from scratch every time they need to hire. For modern tech companies this means a lot of needless waste. This is why companies must adopt an alternative, long-term strategy for talent acquisition and retention.

Now for the controversial part… For a long-term and successful talent acquisition and retention plan, companies should forget about measuring short term results. They should instead concentrate on adding value to their community by doing a great job of marketing their brand.

Ironically, not focusing on results can deliver the great results. 

Great marketing, which covers the entire marketing mix, will naturally expand your engaged audience, whilst having the obvious benefit of winning new clients.

Your passive talent audience will see your marketing activities, and, if these activities are compelling and make you stand out from your competitors, candidates will be impressed!

Candidates care about brand. Does your brand resonate with the type of people who you want to work for you? Your brand is crucial, so invest in it.

You only need to look down the list of the Sunday Times Best Companies to work for to see how investing in your brand can translate into a successful talent strategy.

One way to stand out from your competitors, and build a brand that people will get behind, is to give back to your community. In the open source world, for example, there is a rich and exciting culture of giving back and sharing knowledge.

Why not host a regular event where members of the community come into your office to hear the cool stuff you’ve been working on? Are you blogging and using social media effectively to show off your thought leadership and give your valuable insights away for free? This is a chance to showcase your culture and give people a chance to experience your brand – and gain from it.

Develop young talent. Work with local universities, schools and engage with apprenticeship schemes. Not only will you be able to nurture and train young talent in the methodologies and technologies that are important to you, but you will also be helping young people to learn new skills that will benefit you, them and the wider economy.

Bringing young talent into a business can have a great effect on your existing and more experienced staff: they get the chance to pass on skills and knowledge, while the newbies bring in fresh ideas.

There are also great PR and marketing opportunities for companies who have innovative junior hiring programmes.

By creating compelling marketing campaigns, engaging with your community, and nurturing young talent, you are building a brand which will resonate with tech talent.

It’s not easy, but this is a long-term approach which isn’t just going to benefit your business in terms of the talent you can hire.  You will win new customers, help build and shape your community, and help the next generation of talent get their foot in door. There might even be an award up for grabs.

A marketing and community-focused approach to talent attraction can sound daunting, but, with effective planning and delivery, this approach could build a long-term talent pipeline whilst reducing your recruitment costs.

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LinkedIn a key part of every B2B marketing strategy

LinkedIn a key part of every B2B marketing strategy

With more than 300 million members worldwide, LinkedIn has truly established itself as the largest professional network online. In B2B and in particular the IT & tech industry, it’s my experience that more people have a LinkedIn account than a Twitter account. Trends in B2B marketing also show that companies are taking advantage of different technology when researching, and in some cases they are at least 75% of the way through the buying cycle before contacting a vendor. Having said all this, it’s still my experience that LinkedIn is a tool which many companies struggle to fully utilise.

Here’s a short guide to 5 reasons why LinkedIn should be a key part of your B2B marketing strategy:

1. Research

Whether you’re looking for new prospects, delegates for an event or new talent, LinkedIn allows you to easily find and approach the people you’re looking for.

For effective research you need to have built a good number of connections (200 – 500) however, make sure your network is relevant and is acquired using best practice.

2. Driving traffic to your website

Driving traffic to your website from LinkedIn is a great way of showing ROI and in the LinkedIn strategies I run, sending an increasing amount of traffic to websites is the main metric.

In fact, across many of our clients LinkedIn drives more traffic than any other social network.

3. Show your brand personality

Your prospects will research your company and even had made their buying decision before contacting your sales team directly. A company’s brand is becoming as much about the people they employ and culture they create as it is about the services themselves.

Your prospects are gauging your brand personality by looking at your company profile and the profiles of your key staff. Make sure you are reflecting well!

4. Leverage personal networks

Most businesses will have people internally who either have a strong personal LinkedIn network, or a strong personal brand.

Make sure you leverage these individuals on social media and especially LinkedIn. When executed correctly these people will demonstrate significant thought leadership in your market whilst driving interest in your business.

5. Share great content with your brand advocates

Your LinkedIn followers tend to be people that have an interest in your brand. Don’t be fixated with the number of followers you have; you should care more about the quality of your followers. Company updates allow you to interact with your customers, prospects, staff, suppliers and talent pipeline. When they see great content they will share and in turn, your followers and web traffic will grow.

LinkedIn often rolls out updates, and it can be difficult to keep up. LinkedIn strategies need to be kept up to date and will need to evolve as market trends shift. If you are looking for advice and guidance on how to make your LinkedIn strategy work for your business, get in touch with Bright Innovation.

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The three pillars of marketing

The three pillars of marketing

My daughter asks me on a fairly regular basis what it is that ‘mummy does’. I don’t think I have ever come up with a satisfactory answer (evidenced by the fact that she keeps asking!). It got me thinking about whether it was possible to boil what we do at Bright as a B2B marketing consultancy into a few words that she would understand, and eventually I came up with this:

We help organisations find people who want to buy from them, work for them or get to know them.

What is it that we do?

Trying to work how you might explain what your organisation does to an eight year old is actually a very worthwhile exercise.

At Bright, we’re all about agile marketing, pace and simplicity, so finding a fast, simple way of explaining what we do is an important part of our own marketing.

It also served another, equally useful, purpose however in that it got me thinking about what it is that organisations want from marketing today and what it is that we do that makes our services valuable.

The three pillars of marketing

For the modern high growth organisation there are three key pillars of marketing that rely on each other, work together and combine to create an effective B2B marketing strategy – demand generation, talent acquisition/retention and brand building.

Demand

The first element of the modern B2B marketing mix is demand. Generating leads for a company’s products and services is what most people think of if you ask them to define what marketing is.

It sounds simple and in some regards it is – find people that want to buy what we sell and convince them to buy it from us. Of course it isn’t that simple, especially not for intangible, complex and expensive products or services.

As well as finding people who might want to buy now, you also have to find people who might want to buy later. And even people who don’t know that they want to buy anything at all but who may decide that they do after they have seen what you sell and how it fixes a problem they are experiencing.

A short-term approach to creating demand creates significant problems. A pipeline that is either too full or too empty; a focus on the tactical rather than the strategic and the problems associated with having to start from scratch every time the pipeline empties.

Generating demand requires consistency and a longer-term view that ensures that you are finding, developing and nurturing a community of interesting people who will drop into your pipeline over time.

It requires the ability to know not only who these people are but what they like and how best to reach them – and a constant stream of activity focused on identifying new people to add to this community.

Talent

The second element of a successful B2B marketing strategy is talent. In the technology industry where we operate, finding good talent is a big problem for many companies.

Talent and demand have a symbiotic relationship. Success in one area will usually mean that focus switches to the other. Companies are constantly trying to balance work and resourcing the right people to ensure they have just the right amount of both.

The problems are being exacerbated by the fact that the old methods of finding and keeping good people no longer work as effectively. Again this is a particular issue in the tech sector where much of the talent is part of a generation who operate almost entirely digitally.

They don’t engage with the media in the same way that they used to; the traditional recruitment consultancies don’t understand their skillsets so they can’t find or place them effectively (and most businesses want to avoid agency fees anyway if they can help it).

Organisations therefore have to look at new ways to find and connect with prospective employees and to build a community that they can draw from when they need to.

Brand and position

As the third pillar of marketing, the word brand means different things to different people. Broadly speaking brand marketing is the activity that you do to build profile and positioning in the market.

Brand work is often the hardest to quantify and notoriously difficult to set effective metrics around but it is an essential part of the marketing programme. Brand sets expectation. Expectation around service, products and ethos. Companies like AppleVirgin and John Lewis are examples of companies that know brand and market position is king.

The hard thing about brand marketing is working out what is valuable and what isn’t.

Marketing consultancies have made millions out of confusion on this and the belief (erroneous belief) that there is no point trying to measure success.

So what is good brand marketing? It is different things to different people but fundamentally it is the communication of who you are not what you sell. More often than not, the reason for failure is that companies don’t know who they are or are trying to be something they are not.

At Bright we believe that these three pillars should be the foundation of every B2B marketing plan.

You can dial each one up or down but the reality is that you have to ensure that they are harmoniously working together.

If you ignore talent to focus on demand, you may win business but how will you retain it? If you focus on demand and ignore brand then you will find it far harder to drive sales because there will be no existing relationship between your company and your target audience. For any one element to be successful, it cannot happen in isolation.

We have a motto at Bright: Demand, Talent, Brand and Growth. If you get the first three right then the fourth follows.

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