Five Tips to Help You Win that Marketing Award

During this weekend’s snow storm and with the help of a few carafes of coffee, I completed my fourth annual BMA B2 Awards volunteer judging stint. This got me to thinking that it would be helpful to share the collected insights with my fellow B2B marketers.

gavelAs a global awards program, the B2s recognize excellence and innovation in business-to-business (B2B) marketing efforts such as global brand strategy, customer marketing strategy, integrated marketing communications, new media strategy (like social), and successful new product and service launches. The whole effort takes me about 6-10 hours, depending on which of the 80+ categories I’m assigned and the number of total entries within those sections. This year, I judged in social and blogging categories, which were new to me.

Why do I love spending my off-work time judging these awards? Perhaps it’s genetic: I’m descended from a deep bench of judges and lawyers (the gavel above was my grandfather’s). More likely is the fact that I totally geek out on the insider exposure I get to the exceptional marketing efforts of a diverse group of businesses and organizations. I learn something positive from each entry, and you know who gets to review 20+ FREE case studies? I do.

My Five Recommendations For Presenting Your Nomination

Looking back over the past four years of B2s, I can recognize patterns in the entries – both helpful and harmful – that are worth noting. Since it’s fresh on my mind, I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on these trends and lay out five general tips for those who are considering nominating a marketing campaign, strategy or asset to any local (e.g., Colorado BMA’s Gold Key Awards) or global awards program.

#1 – Tell a Story to Remember

We marketers excel at telling stories, and judges prefer these over the dry recitation of facts. So why don’t more entries take this approach? While your judges are probably know-it-all marketers (like me), they are also human beings. They can be swayed by your charisma and by the riveting plot line of your B2B marketing drama. Er, I mean marketing project. We never have drama in our line of work.

Start writing your nomination early and take the time to be just as creative as you were on the marketing campaign or asset or person you’re nominating. You must stand apart from your competition: make the story memorable, project enthusiasm and character and don’t shy away from descriptive language. Does your entry answer some or all of these:

  • Why did this matter to the company?
  • What were your company / department struggles?
  • How many people were involved?
  • What obstacles did you encounter? (no campaign is seamless)
  • To what did you attribute your victory?
  • What do the results mean beyond just the metrics themselves?
  • Did this have wider, longer, or unexpected impact on the organization?

I also suggest gathering an outsider’s point of view. Sit down with your spouse or a non-marketing friend or three over coffee or a craft beer and tell them your story. Avoiding business jargon, describe what you did, why you did it and how you succeeded.

Note the questions your audience asks and what grabs their attention. Then practice saying what you want to write, so it’s more accessible. Give yourself time to reflect on your story as you read, exercise, or brush the dog. Make sure to incorporate all of these ideas into your draft entry. Then, when you’re ready, approach a tougher, marketing-savvy audience to make sure your story covers the salient, professional facts.

#2 – Frame It Out First to Keep on Point

Please, please, please: do not write your nomination while in the actual online (or paper) form on the day it’s due. You’ve just wasted your entry fee, and it leaves the false impression that you don’t really care. Of course, you care! Even if yours is an amazing entry, when it feels rushed or presents a weak narrative, it can’t defend itself against a well crafted and perhaps less deserving competitor. Rest assured that the lion’s share of all entries will be well written and yours must be, too.

So as soon as you decide to apply, take time to read the qualifications and questions. They usually follow a logical flow from objectives to results. Copy and paste them into a document and over the next week or two build out the outline / framework in Word, PowerPoint, stickies or whatever tool you find works best. Start writing as many notes into each section as you can. If you’re feeling disconnected from the details, host a brown bag with a few of your team members or the customer (if you’re an agency) to recapture the whole story.

Time dedicated to framing matters because your final nomination has to be brief, focused and complete. Some tips:

  • Start big and then edit fiercely.
  • Pay attention to the balance between the right kind of details and too much detail. If you’re not sure, enlist your biggest critic to review your draft.
  • Your overall summary should never be more than two paragraphs and should highlight the best aspects of the whole nomination.
  • Just like you do with your best marketing content, focus on readability (bullets are good, as are short paragraphs). Some judges may skim if they have 10-20 entries in the category.
  • And don’t repeat facts. I’ve seen entries that use the exact same words in multiple sections, despite that one calls for objectives and the other calls for execution details. It’s sloppy, boring and detracts from your story.
  • Don’t repeat facts. Really. Unless you do it for emphasis like I just did.
  • And make sure you have strong results / metrics that you tie back to your original objectives. For some awards, like branding, that can be a challenge, but you should still take extra time to focus on this section. Rest assured that hte judges will.

#3 – Use Visuals to Transport the Judge

Most of us are visual learners, and abstract campaigns do not inspire. They aren’t dull when you actually do them, so why reduce them for the awards? When the nomination form asks for uploads of examples, videos, URLs, or overviews, make the most of it. Show the judge the banner ads of which you are justifiably proud. Let them see the video that garnered a 35% email open and clickthrough rate. Give them examples of your humorous nurturing emails. Share openly, but only if you want to win.

Some of the best work I’ve seen so far was done by the agencies that are seasoned pros of the award circuit. Several have a standard format PPT-based PDF that repeats the entire story in stylish images and text. Granted, when the same agency submits four awards in your category, and all of them start to look the same, that tactic can work against itself. But still, if you move the judge with your words and then compliment those with a set of informative visuals, it’s the best possible differentiator. I am still saddened by otherwise interesting entries that ignore this critical asset.

#4 – Double-check Before You Hit Submit

This may seem like a minor point, but it’s always the smallest things that trip you up, especially if you’re running up against the deadline. For example, if you’re cutting and pasting from a document into an online form, make sure you’re pasting as plain text. Rich text like apostrophes will more often come across as unreadable symbols, and you may never even see this because it won’t have been translated to the final format until after you’ve submitted.

Readability and polish can count just as much as the content, and you don’t want to make the judge struggle to get your point. One entry that I saw just this year was dominated by all sorts of styles and fonts that made it into an unnecessary eye test. It also included about ten ghostly rectangles that I can only assume were images that could not be stored but were still defined in the underlying HTML coding.

You never know what you’ll get, so stay conservative. Remember that most of these online tools, while handy, lack adequate spell checking. If you type as well as I do, that’s going to be a problem. It pays to check your grammar prior to inputting your responses. If you have the time, get a colleague to review the final version.

#5 – Make Sure to Have Fun with It

Probably an obvious recommendation, but you’d be surprised how serious some of the entries can feel. You – the nominator – have probably been tasked with this job above and beyond your usual responsibilities. No time, few resources and the mandate to make this entry outshine all the others. So, no pressure.

I say relax. It’s just an award. Sure, that shiny piece of glass can justify marketing’s continued fanfare within the company, but let’s face it, you’re going to get more mileage out of the successful asset, campaign or person that you’re writing about in the first place. This is more like the final bound thesis than the oral exam you just aced. You’ve already done the hard work of actual marketing, so approach the award nomination process with some pleasure. Do your best and see what happens. The world smiles back when you smile first.

And bonus tip #6: Once you have written and submitted the nomination, create a second visual, company-friendly version. Post it on your intranet, share it with a list of inside influencers and managers or feature it in the internal newsletter. Let the rest of your business know the good work you’ve been doing!

 

Marketing I Admire – Ibex

logo-ibexIbex is another company that clearly understands its customers, or “tribe,” as Seth Godin would say. I discovered this Vermont-based outdoor wool clothing company a few years ago when I was looking for a better quality vest than the ones on display at REI.

My older brother put me onto Ibex. I not only enjoy wearing their products (I refuse to share my ultrasoft, wooly hat with anyone), but I see them as a great example of a company that’s taken pains to know its customers and integrate its brand – “durable, evolving, active and modern” – into everything it does.

Their Web site (http://shop.ibex.com/) exemplifies what I mean:

  • They openly involve and display their tribe. Ibex has a client base of dedicated outdoor enthusiasts. Each product features “verified customers” who have posted their ideas, opinions, and product reviews, even the rare negative ones. Ibex knows that their best advocate is the existing customer, not their own company copy. They have the confidence to let real customers speak for them. Not something you see often. AND they have Google+ and Facebook Like buttons for all their products so rock climbers, runners, and back country skiers can share their passions for fine wool wearables.
  • They gently educate their prospective customers. With only four main navigation elements, the site is clean and modern. The pleasant surprise comes when you mouse over one of these (Men’s, for example). Try it. Not only do you see the product breakdown, but you get a primer on their clothing lines (they call it Ibex 101). Their site navigation doubles as a dictionary! Phenomenal experience for a first-time visitor.
  • They reinforce their identity and engage their visitors with compelling content. Ibex does content marketing as well as anyone. They include high-quality video (including “The Art of Wool” on their home page), informative articles, and Instagram shots of their own employees wearing their products. Not overwhelming and enough to help bolster their brand. By far my favorite section is “Dogs Matter,” a jaw-dropping assemblage of the best dog photography I have ever seen. I’ve bookmarked this page and visit when I need an easy smile.

Sure, my own career (and the careers of many friends) is bound to business-to-business (B2B) marketing rather than business-to-customer (B2C) retail. Yet examples like Ibex are inspiring all the same. I only wish that the head of marketing had responded to my interview request for this post. It seems an odd miscue for a company that so clearly uses its customers as a tool in their sales process to ignore a customer request that would bring them positive PR. A broken process? Lack of staffing? Disinterested in small-time online media? High on maple syrup? I’ll never know.

Perhaps they are too busy trail running with their canine companions through the picturesque woods of Vermont…

Picklefest 2013

The timer just went off, signifying the wind down of my fourth annual Picklefest, the summer tradition wherein I convert tens of pounds of gherkins to sweet and dill pickles. This year I canned 22 quarts, just shy of my 2012 record of 26 quarts. Whew!

You ask: why labor away in a sweltering kitchen in the hot summer?

picklesFirst, because I can. My contacts at Miller Farms, our CSA (that’s Community Supported Agriculture, or farm share), are kind enough to give me a crate of gherkins each year. I sweeten the deal by slipping them a couple of quarts as payoff at the end of the season. Keep that between us.

Second, the task satisfies four urges: creative (honey, I made something!), technical (canning requires tools and a process), conservatory (thou shalt not waste foodstuffs), and philanthropic (pickles make great gifts). I relish the feel-good satisfaction it brings, a emotional uptick that far outlasts the nicks and burns of production.

But today, as I draw the last quarts from the steaming water bath, it dawns on me that canning is a great metaphor for marketing as well. Here are four connections:

1. Start by finding a mentor.

Botulism is never appreciated in a house gift. Proper, non-lethal canning requires that you truly understand food prep and sterilization. So seek out a pro like great aunt Betty Sue or your retro-hippie friend Paisley Windstorm. Then spend a day assisting her latest project, sponging up the “knuckles & know-how” learned through years of mistakes and success. You’ll probably even score a share of the final product. Sweeeeeet.

I’d say the same for any new marketing campaign, automation tool, or content format. The surefire path to avoiding rookie mistakes is to find that expert at or outside of work who can guide you. Suck up your pride, become the student again, and then stand on the  shoulders of giants.

2. Act as the opportunity presents itself.

Fresh produce makes the best preserves but is short lived. When it lands in your hands, you have to act quickly. At the first Picklefest, I waited too long to start canning and woke one morning to a partly moldering crate of pale green veggies. Imagine how much fun it was sorting the remaining decent gherkins from the semi-liquid white ones. Ugh.

Same goes for marketing leads. Research shows that the longer a lead sits without action, the staler it gets. Forrester Research suggests that companies that nurture leads generate 50% more sales ready leads at 33% lower cost (from the Marketo Web site). So…entice them with your newsletter, ask them to subscribe to your Tip of the Week, or send them the piece of content that advances their work. Interact and connect. Just don’t leave them sitting alone, getting old, fuzzy and unusable.

3. Document the entire process.

Unlike baking, canning requires only rudimentary equipment: a large pot, small strainers, a lifter, and lots of jars, lids and screw caps. But just as crucial is a notebook to write down your ideas, mistakes, and insights as they occur. Canning is seasonal, and without notes, you’re likely to forget the best lessons by the time the next crate appears in your kitchen a year hence.

In my experience, marketers rarely make time to document a campaign process or even perform a decent post-mortem beyond a simple ROI analysis. It may seem like overkill, but if you create and complete a standard work template, no one forgets the details and everyone benefits. Add as much color commentary as you can while you remember. Do it for yourself, your team, and those who will one day inherit your role.

4. Know your customer, even if it isn’t you.

Truth be told, I’m ambivalent about pickled foods. I prefer half sours, but I seem to be alone in this; when I survey my family and friends, they tell me they’re most passionate about other varieties. So I am not my customer, and since I can mostly for others (re: the philanthropic urge), I take time to suss out who likes the dills and who likes the sweets, who likes them whole and who likes them sliced. Then I deliver what I know they want.

Before getting too deep into marketing, always remember you must first understand the customers’ needs. My agency friends are experts at this when working with new clients. Don’t (1) fool yourself into thinking that you are the customer, or (2) make assumptions you can’t back up with data. If at any time you begin to be too confident in your assertions, stop yourself, ring a few of your best customers and reconnect with their stories and their language. Then use that knowledge – not your own preferences or predilections – to pitch your prospects.

Otherwise, you may end up with a cellar full of unwanted pickles. Which hasn’t happened to me yet.

The Perfect Process

In my recent monthly Webcast, I was honored to have Bill Demidovich of Lean Ohio as the guest presenter. A consummate process improvement professional and polished speaker, Bill spent the hour walking through the guiding philosophy of LeanOhio and revealing the details of several excellent case studies of broken – and then fixed – state government processes.

The audience loved the examples and the exchanges between speaker and moderator (myself). The post-event “fan mail” as I call it was entirely positive and appreciative. Overall, an excellent example of content marketing: we entertained and informed the audience while simultaneously gathering and qualifying training leads for the sales team.

Although we’d walked through a dry run with Bill a few days earlier, I was surprised and inspired with a single statement in the live Webcast. In reference to the many labyrinthine government processes his team was asked to fix, he explained: “Your processes are perfectly designed for the results you get.”

I surmise that this is something we all innately understand – yet consistently deny. When our business processes fail our expectations and the expectations of our customers, we often look to a single point of breakdown: “The paperwork was late because of Barb in HR” or “No one noticed how low the inventory was.” In reality, as processes evolve and organizations grow, plenty of these missteps and unnecessary decision points actually become baked into the process. It’s the “new normal” process.

One of my favorite of Bill Demidovich’s slides (the presentation and slides are available to the public on the MoreSteam.com Web site) was the one that showed the “actual process” as a dashed line and the “idealized process” we expect as the straight solid line:

processRather scary, eh? Seem familiar?  Alas, it’s not until someone has the courage to recognize and address the “invisible” problem that you can begin to show that the process is operating exactly as it was designed (and redesigned and amended and branched and modified and whatever else). You’re very lucky if the someone who faults you is an internal stakeholder who means well, not a valuable customer.

As for marketing and sales, I recommend you:

  • Take a look at your own internal processes (e.g., how timely are qualified leads are delivered to the sales team?),
  • Use any available data to determine if it’s operating within your specifications (e.g., days to completion),
  • Keep an ear out for anything that your team may just smooth over with a despondent “that’s the way it’s always been,”
  • “Walk” the process, and map and describe it,
  • Reveal it to everyone who needs to understand it isn’t working,
  • Begin to resolve the issues you find and redesign your process.

That’s when the improvement can begin. Until then, well, congratulations. Your process is imperfectly perfect.