B2B Marketing needs a stronger Why

B2B Marketing needs a stronger WhyLast year I wrote about how the balance of content has shifted. Bottom line is there is more content being produced by Users than by Publishers these days. Which means Publishers (or Marketers) are now the “white noise” in comparison to User Generated Content. Our messages are being drowned out by user generated content.

This struck me recently at a concert I attended in Madison Square Garden where everyone around me was either texting, taking pictures or video taping (using their smartphone) the concert and sending to their friends. Of course, I ended up doing the same! All 20,000 of us must have created and shared a teraflop of data that night in about 4 hours. Which reminds me of what Eric Schmidt recently said – that every 2 days we create as much information as we did from the beginning of time up to 2003.

So I have been thinking a lot this summer about the effectiveness of our demand generation efforts this year. The unvarnished truth is I believe it’s getting harder and harder to make your demand generation efforts stand out. And perhaps these two things have something in common.

Perhaps the “connectedness” of all this great content provides less and less time for people to take in our messages. They just aren’t making more hours in the day which causes all of us to prioritize the content we receive (whether we know it or not) based on family, friends, trusted others, peers, colleagues etc. Notice that marketers don’t make that list (duh) but also think about how much more content you have been getting from those sources now that social media has arrived. And I would argue this is exaggerated even more when it comes to B2B Marketing.

Ok so now that I depressed you – lets talk about what I have been thinking B2B Marketers need to do. Enter Simon Sinek.

I first heard of Simon Sinek from the boys over at Marketing over Coffee John Wall and Christopher S Penn. Simon’s approach to messaging is very unique in the sense that – All organizations function on 3 levels. What you do, How you do it and Why you do it.  The problem is, most B2B companies don’t have a strong why. Apple makes a great example – we all know what they do and how they do it but we also sense why they do what they do which is to “redefine the computing experience”. Which is similar to Google in the sense that we know what and how Google does what it does but we also know their mission is to “index the worlds information”!

You can go on and on about other brands (Southwest Airlines comes to mind) that have a strong mission or a strong why. And further I would argue many B2B firms are missing the boat when it comes to having a compelling why. I find myself listening to people saying “we need to create a message around this new product or service” when in reality they should be focused on creating a stronger why for their company – which would eliminate the need for a grand scheme of messaging at the individual product or service level.

12 comments to B2B Marketing needs a stronger Why

  • Paul, I have to admit that I have had many conversations with people who often struggle with the WHY. We spend so much time focused on getting the message out, making sure we use the proper buzz words, double checking that we are not upsetting legal departments, positively positioning ourselves above the competition, and on and on and on we blur the focus of the WHY. In my opinion, that’s what people are really most interested in. Users are great at giving us the why if we are willing to listen and act on their tweets, videos, likes, etc. Thanks for your insight.

  • I deal with this often with clients.

    Jobs was talking about Wny years ago. It dovetails with the idea of purpose in the purpose-driven life. Perhaps those fellows deserve the credit, and someone still to be identified who came before them,

    My two most successful clients began with strong Whys, each of them over 20 years ago. Their Why’s are deeply entrenched, understood by their market, and a leverage point with most prospects.

    The problem now is that other organizations decide that they need a Why, and summons a meeting to figure theirs out. But most organizations have walked too far down their path to look back and say, Why’d we start anyway? The founders may be gone; their intent may have been purely commercial and selfish anyway. And the Whys around the table today may be as numerous as the people in the room. Plus many Why’s may be selfish, too, and unattractive–even repellent– to prospects, clients, and customers.

    This isn’t to say that Whys aren’t compelling. They are–if they are deeply and widely held. But if you have to search long and hard for a Why, and even then fail to get deep and wide agreement on it, is Wny anything more than another hollow theme? Is it just another effort to find competitive advantage somehow and where in what is a virtually commoditized category?

  • @Jerome – I agree we spend way too much time working on the basic mechanics that we often get overrun and don’t have time to think about the why. We gotta fix that.

  • @Harry – first off let me say how honored I am that you are commenting on my blog – What a great way to start my day!

    Your comment reminds me of a wonderful book I read called “Its not what you sell – its what you stand for” by Roy Spence which talks about the concept of a purpose driven organization.

    I agree (and have lived inside) some organizations that have wanted to do what I call “archeological marketing” to rediscover their purpose which often sounds like a hollow theme mostly because as you say the market has shifted and they find themselves in a commodity like position.

    thanks for commenting

  • I enjoyed the post, Paul.

    The challenge you address is not a new one.

    I have always advocated that the very best marketing is strategically relevant and creatively arresting. In an ever-noisier environment, the latter becomes all the more critical. But if the audience cannot decipher the “why” of the marketing, then it has failed on the first point.

    And the “why”, as Harry has said in a different way, is entirely in the eye of the buyer. Before a company can create value for its owners, it must create value for its customers. It must present a compelling answer to the customer’s question, “Why would I buy this?”

  • @Francis – good point – the why is in the eye of the beholder!

  • You talk about the why which is true if you look at it from a messaging perspective but if you back up to a business view the why is really about what business problem are you solving. If you don’t know that you really don’t know what product to build or messaging to create or anything else. I recently wrote about my experience with that at a startup in which because we were not really clear about the business problem our messaging was a mess.

    I love the stat on the volume of information we are creating but for another reason. I think this is one of the most powerful values of social networks in the future. Because of the volume of noise your filter becomes your trusted network of friends. This does not mean all of your friends you are connected to on facebook or twitter but the people you really trust. When they talk about brands or products you listen. If you ask advice you will listen. This is why B2B marketing for social networks needs to be very strategic in building relationships and not just blasting their message. This would really seam to make word of mouth even more critical. What do you think?

  • @Matt – that is so true – ideally the strong why should radiate from the business strategy. Marketing so often gets called in to “message” at the highest level of the company when in reality it is trying to solve for the lack of a strong business strategy.

  • Paul:
    Thanks for the insight, as always succinct and profound. The need for B2B firms to better articulate a noble purpose is rampant. While the purpose relates to the business problem the firms’ offerings solves for clients, it transcends this to a bigger idea around mission.

    I’d also add that a companion set of core values is critical to bring the mission to life. Clear core values provide the compass to help employees make decisions that contribute to the mission and avoid actions that detract from the mission.

  • Good Point Margaret – I hadn’t considered the Values angle as well and syncing the two would create a rocket ship that few B2B orgs have

  • Great post and discussion here, Paul. I love the focus on “why” and the comments you’ve inspired. I totally agree with Harry that the why needs to be deeply and widely held, and with Margaret that articulating a more noble purpose than simply selling more stuff (even if it’s good stuff) is ideal. Rosabeth Moss Kantor’s book SuperCorp provides some interesting cases for Margaret’s point.

    Apple is a great example, as you say, but it’s really hard to keep this focus even if you get it in the first place. Starbucks had it for a long time, but it kind of faded; Dell had it in its earlier days of clarity around a new way to make, sell, and deliver PCs but the mission is much less clear now that it’s expanded more widely in B2B. I think some of the top Indian IT services companies had it for a while, but they’ve also struggled to evolve it as they’ve grown and tried to move up market.

    On the other hand, Salesforce.com has done a great job articulating and evolving its core mission over the years, and IBM’s whole Smarter Planet push is perhaps in the early stages of becoming a powerful, deeply help mission for them, which is pretty impressive for such a huge, established and diverse company. GE is trying to do the same with initiatives like Ecomagination and Healthymagination, but it’s still early for them.

    Smaller marketing companies like Constant Contact, Communispace, and HubSpot are good current example of companies with a strong “why” that is deeply held, and they’re all able to do strong and coherent marketing as a result.

    Sorry for such a long comment! I guess the real question, as you suggest, is whether or not executive leadership and marketing leadership are willing to put in the serious, sustained effort to create and “make real” a why if they don’t have one, and, even tougher, to keep at it and evolve it over time as the world changes. I think this level of commitment is rare, but I guess that creates some great opportunity for those willing to make it!

  • @Rob – fantastic examples especially the B2B ones like HubSpot, Communispace and even Constant Contact – we need more of these in our minds so they just roll off the tongue!

    Hopefully I can get Avaya there in the not to distant future

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