Friday, May 30, 2014

Business Marketing Association Conference: Marketers Should Make Customers the Hero

I may have to start attending only conferences on the West Coast, since the trip home from closer locations doesn't take enough time for me to write up a summary. I’m drafting this on the way back from the excellent Business Marketing Association conference in Chicago and the pilot has just announced we’re starting our descent to Philadelphia.

[cut to montage of airplane landing, dog greeting owner, light clicking on in home office] 

Still, I’ve had enough time to ponder what I heard. Three speakers who really made an impression on me: Story Wars author Jonah Sachs, who described using the “hero story” to sell your brand; Tim Riesterer of Corporate Visions, who stressed telling visual stories with a whiteboard; and Brent Adamson of CEB, who showed how “challenger marketing” convinces buyers they have problem that only the seller can solve. (I actually missed most of Adamson’s presentation but heard him a few weeks ago at the Content2Conversion show in New York, so I’ll assume he covered pretty much the same ground.)

One thing these three had in common is that each speaker used his own technique within the presentation: Sachs described making the customer a hero with the brand as mentor, suggesting this would make marketers into heros with him as a mentor; Riesterer used a flip chart diagram to convince marketers that they should train their sales people to use flip chart presentations; Adamson argued that current marketing methods don’t work and should be replaced with methods that convince customers their current approaches won’t work. My inner literary critic appreciates the symmetry.

Pondering a bit more deeply, I see that all three presentations also shared the same basic approach: define a problem, show a solution, and offer to help the audience get there. Of course, many presentations offer a problem and a solution, and there were several at the conference by equally successful speakers including Gary Vaynerchuk (Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook) and Jay Baer (Youtility). But those felt like a more expository mode, describing solutions but not really offering to help marketers make the transition. This is true even though I’m perfectly aware those speakers are also selling consulting services.

Maybe it’s just a matter of style, but I think there's a deeper difference.  The speakers who impressed me set out a fairly clear path to achieving the goals they described, rather than just making observations and recommendations. It’s the difference between telling someone there’s gold in the hills and teaching them how to mine for it.

I guess the key lesson in this has more to do with my own presentations, which tend to be more about presenting information than offering a structured solution. I’ve always sensed that was a problem, even though I usually include a list of next steps. There needs to be something more coherent: a vision of how this knowledge solves a larger problem, perhaps. It’s something for me to work on and hopefully improve before my presentation at the MarTech conference in Boston in August (early bird pricing ends June 7).  Be sure to attend if you want to see what I come up with or just contrast my performance with many others who will no doubt do it better.

Anyway, back the BMA conference.  It was very well produced and fast-paced, with a refreshing (for me) focus on broader marketing issues rather than just marketing technology.  Much of the program was case studies and panel discussions, which don't always provide specific take-aways but do offer inspiration and insight into how other people achieve their successes.  Since B2B marketers so often feel under-appreciated, it's a great chance to compare notes and commiserate with their peers.

(If you're wondering about the picture accompanying this post, it's 1920's band leader Ted Lewis, whose catchphrase "Is everybody happy?" makes him the godfather of the customer experience survey.  Sadly, his co-workers were a bunch of clowns.)

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