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10 min read

Marketing in an ever-changing market

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Chi Johnson gave this talk at the B2B Marketing Festival

Introducing Chi Johnson

To start, Chi, can you give us a bit of introduction and a bit about your background?

Yes, absolutely. I usually like to introduce myself by talking about how I do things. So, how I feed my family is I am a Brand and Communications Manager at Intellum. I manage all of our thought leadership and social channels, and I just have a lot of fun telling the Intellum story.

How I feed my passion is I serve as the Director of Programming for the Black Marketers Association of America. That’s also how I feed my community – by making sure that I’m creating opportunities and sharing resources with other people who look like I do and do what I do.

I feed my soul by loving each and every person as wholly and completely as I possibly can. I do it with my entire heart and my entire existence. In a nutshell, that’s who I am.

The latest changes in the marketing landscape

What changes have you seen in marketing and customer relationships in the last year or so?

Everything is always changing, especially in marketing. But when we're talking about the relationship between the marketer and the customer, we're seeing a shift in two different parts of the funnel.

First off, there’s the prospect stage. People don't want to be sold to anymore. I remember a study from 2017 that showed that rarely do people want to talk to a salesperson anymore; they want to make the decision on their own.

67% of their time, I believe, is dedicated to some form of education. That breaks down into collecting consensus amongst the people who are responsible for making a decision, researching independently, researching in groups and collectives, and tapping into their networks. And so at the prospect stage, you're seeing that people are relying heavily on the education that they can find themselves.

And then at the existing customer stage, we're seeing a huge increase in customer marketing; it's becoming its own function. Product marketing as well is increasing. That’s because the customer is no longer looked at as being finished with once they've bought.

Your customer has the ability to increase their purchase of either the product or the service you're selling, so we're seeing a lot more of a focus on marketing to that customer, just as much as you market to a prospect.

Have you spotted any trends in how marketers are adapting to and dealing with these changes?

Absolutely. For us, when it comes to adapting to the prospect stage, we’re changing the way we look at demand gen. Typically that has involved cold calls, emails, and a lot of outgoing touches that are very direct to that person. Now, I’m seeing more people relying on a softer touch for their first point of contact with their prospect.

Marketers are leveraging new resources and technology to adapt to these changes too. Intent data is becoming really important because it lets us see how the buyer is behaving before we ever make contact. We can get a picture of how close they are to wanting to push play on a new product or service.

We’re taking more resources and putting them toward touching the customer before they realize we're touching them. That manifests in communities like Slack channels, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, and group chats. Word-of-mouth marketing has a whole new meaning now, right?

The first time that you realize you have a need, before you ever go looking for vendors, you're gonna go to your community and ask them, “What are you using to solve this problem?” The list that comes from that question in a space that you've already vetted and trust is like a first RFP. Before you ever put out a formal request, you've already got your shortlist.

So the trend now is for brands to create their own communities, because don't you want to control the environment that you're being talked about in? Don't you want to have the ability to plant intentional seeds?

That's one side. There’s also the social side. You're gonna see marketers engaging with a LinkedIn comment area way before they send an email to a prospect. And if you aren't, you should be.

We're humans marketing to humans, so if you're not addressing the human on the other end of the proverbial phone line, you're going to miss out on an opportunity. I think the rise of technology has created a space where it's easy to forget the human side, go on autopilot, and just look at people as numbers and outcomes.

Bringing that human-to-human interaction back is the biggest trend that we're seeing at all levels, but we’re also using technology to personalize that human-to-human connection.

The rise of storytelling

Storytelling has become much bigger now, especially within B2B. Do you think there's an increasing need for that story behind the brand?

Absolutely. I think “brand” has become a term that we use very vaguely as a kind of catch-all. There’s a tendency to treat your brand as something that you build once and it’s done. But the brand is who your company is and how your company operates, so if you're only talking about what you do, then you're not telling a story about who you are and how you operate.

Especially in B2B, brands are really careful about who they align their companies with, so if you're not telling the story of who you are and how you operate, you're going to miss out on opportunities to connect because, again, that human-to-human connection is so important.

To give a more specific example, you'll see internal communications representatives and brand people dedicate entire campaigns to talking about their employees. That’s one of the easiest ways to tell your story as a company – putting the people who are sitting in the seats and doing the jobs on the stage to tell their stories. Letting them show who they are tells people who your company is because what you value is who you hire.

I also think there's something really important about telling the story of your journey. That's a conversation that's missed a lot in B2B marketing. We talk about our companies from a historic perspective, based on what we've done and what we've achieved, but not how we got here or the way we changed throughout history.

I love to tell the story of our company. We're a customer education company. We service the largest, fastest-moving brands in the world, and they use our platform to educate their customers, their partners, and their employees.

That's who we are today, but how we came to be is a really interesting story. We actually started as an LMS, delivering compliance training to workers. Now we service completely different brands. Our customers are Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. All of the ad tech that you're getting certified on as a B2B marketer lives on our platform.

That journey is awesome, and the way we tell it is through music. If you go to our website and look at our “about us” page, you'll see how we started and the Album of the Year that year, and then for every time our company changed, shifted, or did a first, we highlight whatever album correlates to that year.

It's just a great way to tell a story, and I think that's really important when you're talking about who you are as a company.

Before we move on, I want to say it's also important to highlight the things you haven't done well. You have to own who you are as a company. When you're talking about diversity, if that's something you care about in the future, be honest about it in the past. That's a part of your story.

Not all stories are fairy tales from beginning to end. They have a challenge, they have moments that define them, and they move accordingly. Even when it comes to the bad moments, in my opinion, there's no such thing as failure. You tried, you learned, and then you moved on.

It’s really important that you say exactly where you came from so that you can paint a clearer picture of where you're going, and you can tell an accurate story. Anyone can take data. Anyone can cherry-pick moments and write a beautiful story that says what they want it to say, but telling an accurate brand story is the best way to connect with your customers, whoever they are.

Building emotional connections with B2B brand storytelling
B2B brand storytelling is important as it humanizes your organization. Telling a convincing story about the people in your company and how they solve problems, effectively engages your audience and makes your message feel more personal.

Responding to political and global challenges

In the last year or so, we've seen a lot of political and global challenges. Have you acknowledged these within your marketing campaigns? And how have you dealt with them within your organization?

Before I get into this one, I just want to say that I'm very supported in my organization, and I don't feel like I have to mince my words by any means. I'm going to say what I'm going to say, but I will give this caveat that my views may not be the views of my employer, so if you feel like they go a little left, do not hold Intellum accountable – this is all Chi Johnson.

We have chosen to be pretty neutral. The company doesn't make a lot of political statements, not outwardly. Inwardly, we do have a lot of support, but from a marketing perspective, we have not chosen to make a public stance about political issues or use them in campaigns.

Honestly, I don't think it's necessarily appropriate for our type of business to go out and make a particular statement on a particular subject or a particular challenge. However, I do think that there are certain organizations where it absolutely has to happen, otherwise you are alienating your audience.

Let's say there’s a logistics company that’s delivering packages all over the world. If they're not addressing political challenges in certain parts of the world, and how that affects their business, they’re missing an opportunity to acquire more customers. Customers are going to lean into a brand that aligns with their core values and ethics.

There’s also an opportunity for marketing to talk about how they're navigating a challenge and how it can affect their business. That creates a sort of campaign on its own. I want to be very clear that I don’t mean that we should be capitalizing on political challenges and issues. I don’t believe that's the way, but I do think there is a way to talk about these issues.

Intellum has not done that because it's not necessarily in alignment with our business model and the products and services that we deliver, but I do think there is a way that it can be done, and I think sometimes it should be done.

Marketing to Gen Z

In the B2C world, there’s been a rise in brands marketing to Gen Z. Have you seen that trend in B2B, and have you had to market things specifically to that Gen Z audience?

Like you said, I think marketing to Gen Z falls much more heavily on B2C. I'm a millennial, through and through. I'm what the comedian Iliza Shlesinger calls an elder millennial, so personally, it is very challenging for me to figure out how to market to Gen Z for Intellum

We don't focus specifically on generations within our marketing. We focus more on what we call learner personas. We dive into how these personas behave and what content they need in order to achieve the outcomes that they're trying to achieve.

That could be someone who relies more heavily on video content to acquire the knowledge that they're seeking. We might deliver a webinar or a recording of a roundtable for that person. For other types of learners, we deliver great blog articles, for example.

Delivering different content types is a great way to overcome generational gaps while catering to the specificity of a generation. The same applies to platforms. As a social manager, the platforms you deliver on your content should absolutely cater to those different needs.

To get back to the question about marketing to Gen Z, we were not intending on creating a TikTok for our company. However, when it comes to the platforms that Gen Z is using, it is TikTok and Snapchat. If we’re not creating content on those platforms, we're missing an opportunity to reach potential customers, even in B2B. Young people are gonna get jobs, so wherever they go is where you want to go.

In the customer education industry, we're seeing an increase in companies creating TikTok accounts that are delivering value. However, you need to take a different approach. Your TikTok content isn’t going to say, “Buy our platform,” like it might on LinkedIn. Your TikTok content is going to show how you're solving problems that users might be having. Or you might focus more on how using your solution can make them look really good at their job.

Top takeaway on marketing in an ever-changing market

What top takeaway or tip would you like to leave our readers with from this conversation about marketing in an ever-changing market?

Because your market is always changing, it's really important to have something as an anchor. I would be remiss if I didn't say that a strategic education program is the anchor that your company needs. It's a way for you to touch your customer at every stage of the life cycle, from prospect to advocate and back again. You have got to create a strategic education program.

Written by:

Chi Johnson

Chi Johnson

Brand and Communications Manager at Intellum. I manage all of our thought leadership and social channels, and I just have a lot of fun telling the Intellum story.

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Marketing in an ever-changing market