Five Takeaways From the B2B Marketing Forum 2014

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Marketing is one of those disciplines most folks think they can crack quickly, with just a smidgen of art and a dash of creativity.

Increasingly, though, marketing is more science than anything, particularly for B2B organizations facing technologically fueled upstarts, a growing culture of entrepreneurial gumption, and the ever-expanding amount of channels and platforms.

I recently had the chance to learn from some of the country’s finest marketing practitioners in Boston last week at the MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum 2014, located at the intersection of creativity and technology. You might expect the pressure to market at a marketing conference to be fierce, but instead I found the attendees to be a collegial group more than willing to take the time to help, answer, engage, consider, and explain.

At Siegel+Gale, we aim to simplify—to distill, from the complexities of the world and the abundance of information, a crystalline simplicity. In that vein, here are my top five takeaways from the forum.

1. If you don’t look good, we don’t look

You only get one chance to make a first impression (or so the saying went in the days before “impressions” meant clicks, views, and visits). The amount and type of touchpoints where brands meet customers is exploding. Consider the evolution from three network TV channels to thousands of cable stations. Moreover, an average person visits more than 2,600 webpages per month. And that’s just in the digital space!

Integration across platforms, devices, and geographies, and the need for thoughtful, engaging, consistent design is crucial for brand recognition. LinkedIn’s Jason Miller and social maven John Hayden were just two of the engaging presenters who explored the various ways we can be found online. You now get dozens of chances to make a first impression, so be sure you’re clearly recognizable, no matter where you’re seen.

2. Refine your funnel vision

It’s the data, stupid. Bill Clinton’s infamous presidential campaign had the economy as its through line, and these days, anyone reading tea leaves knows data (small, medium, or big) is the difference-maker. Jon Miller‘s session was one of a handful to drive home that point.

If your organization is using any sort of CRM to track leads, clients, or customers, you know there are more tools available than you can possibly research. And the cost to get in the game continues to plummet. Automating and customizing your outreach (for enterprises of scale) and refining your funnel by business unit, sector, or region are table stakes these days. Smart leaders will create a process and build a flexible system to support it rather than start over with every technological iteration.

3. Say something interesting quickly

Content is king… or is the medium the message? Whatever your focus, you still must be engaging—and be engaging quickly.

Storytelling is more than a trendy theme… Storytelling is essential, as Jennifer Kane, Tim Washer, and other presenters discussed. Tried having a conversation with a Millennial (or your aunt, for that matter) recently? If you want to hold someone’s attention, you better say something interesting, and get to it quickly.

4. Process is the product

My favorite anecdote came from keynote speaker Austin Kleon.

In 2009, Aaron Franklin took a little BBQ pit and started experimenting with coffee-infused sauces and selling meat from a trailer on the side of the road on the outskirts of Austin, Texas. In a few short years, Bon Appetit named Franklin’s the best BBQ in the country, and today the lines outside his restaurant snake for hours. You’d think Franklin would guard his secrets zealously, but just the opposite is true. He has shared all his secrets and put them online in a series of videos. But as he says, “BBQ is very simple: smoking meat. What isn’t simple is the 22 hours a day you have to spend getting good at it.”

In an ever-more transparent world, a good long look behind the scenes just may serve you well.

5. Genius is collaborative

The sharing economy, “co-opetition,” crowdsourcing innovation—you can’t wave a dongle in a working space without hitting at least three people throwing open the doors to their fiefdom in hopes of finding inspiration and answer from the outside world.

The Colonel from KFC could never imagine sharing his secret mix of herbs and spices for fear of being duplicated, but when Tesla Motors opened its IP to the world, it inspired a whole generation of engineers and dreamers to start thinking about a modern electricity grid and what the future of transportation might look like (as well as having an immediate hockey-stick effect on stock price). Austin Kleon’s keynote, Lee Odden‘s session, and the lifetime award presentation to Seth Godin served as reminders that giving is the new taking.

There is strength in numbers—which is about a good as place as any to end a little story on the state of B2B marketing.

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