Archives For demand generation

One of the things I really love to do (apart from this sort of stuff) is say “I told you so”. I know, its petty and vindictive but by god it is satisfying. I don’t get to do that very often, so I’ve lowered the bar to: “See, some smart people have done quite a bit of hard work and they’ve produced some research that confirms a hunch that I’ve kinda had for a year or two.”


B2B, buying, purchase, decision

Playing for the same team, but not necessarily on the same side.


I got to say that earlier in the week when this article appeared in Forbes, shining a light on group dynamics in the B2B buying process. We all know that these kind of purchases are collegiate decisions (this is one of the key differences with B2C marketing), and the research was able to put the typical size of what we call the ‘buying cell’ at 5.4 people (based on North American companies). Patrick Spenner, who wrote the article, made the implication pretty clear:

“The punchline is, if your commercial approach

isn’t attuned to group dynamics, you’re in trouble.”

So far, so expected. But the new news here is not that there are several people who need to agree on a single B2B purchase, but that the lack of agreement starts very early in the ‘buyers journey’. By the time the buying is even a third of the way through the process (typically before your marketing has even shown up), they’re arguing. And they’re generally not even arguing about the price, or even which vendor, or even the solution. In a lot of cases, they can’t even agree on the problem.


B2B, buying group, purchase

Show where the gaps are, and you can help the group structure a more productive argument.



But also: “Yay!” – that’s pretty fertile territory for creative marketers to be working: defining problems, rallying groups, offering possible approaches to problem-solving. Notice how the product (arguably the least interesting bit of B2B marketing), doesn’t get much of a look-in?

What’s interesting here is how ill-equipped ‘funnel-oriented’ marketing automation tools and technologies are to respond to ‘buying cells’ in general, let alone one that might be in open conflict. The creative opportunities lie instead in the application of a little psychology and also through partnership with publishers.

Group dynamics, illuminated.

We’ve been exploring the idea of approaches that target the ‘buying cell’ in a particular company, where the offer (of distance education or networking or custom site visits) is made on the proviso that the entire cell takes part, as a cohesive unit. We’ve also had great success with publishers who track their users, not at the individual level, but at the company or even department level. When enough people from related roles in a single company start consuming a specific type of content (say, data centre migration), you can safely assume that a major data centre migration project is being kicked around.

The question then is, what can your brand offer that is genuinely useful (no, not another whitepaper) to this group, knowing that they are probably arguing mightily about whether they even need a data centre?


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+

About the images: all photographs used with the permission of Martin Ollman Photography. Contact Martin directly for rights and commissions.


Even then, they are still kind of dopey. Ok, dopey is a bit harsh. At best, they are an imprecise measure of a spectacularly subjective quality, which is, ironically, ‘quality’. At worst, they can totally warp an agency’s culture and turn relatively normal people into career dickheads. Irregardless, it was welcome news to learn that both our China team and our Sydney team were handed silver trophies from the DMA Echo Awards last week.

When we’re talking about demand generation in particular, the Echos are the creative awards you want to win, because of the fairly significant and reasonably rigorous effectiveness component of the judging criteria. The work has to be good, it has to be real and it has to have worked.

What was really interesting was that the two pieces of work were for the same client, reaching the same (basic) audience, entered in the same awards category to produce the same awards result: silver. But the 2 pieces are radically different from each other – in form, strategy and tone.

The Ogilvy China team produced a branded content film called Parallel Paths for the Notes productivity suite, which told the story of two young and hungry salesmen climbing the corporate ladder, and let the Lotus information flow naturally throughout the story. This piece picked up a similar coloured trophy from Spikes just a few weeks earlier.

The Sydney team were tasked with convincing CIOs to outsource parts of the workload and resources they would normally consider to be the domain of ‘their department’. The approach here was to appeal to the audience as people, not roles, and draw a parallel (see what I did there?) with their own workloads – in this case, mowing the lawn.

DMA echo, award, Ogilvy Sydney

It’s hard to ignore the fact that someone just sent you a load of grass.


The “Grass Pack’ as it became known is particularly interesting, as it’s almost retro in execution: a completely analogue, dimensional mailer. It was particularly effective, I believe, because of the contrarian approach the team took to delivery. The average IT manager’s inbox is overflowing with messages, while their in-office pigeon holes would be lucky to see more than the occasional leaflet. If you want to stand out, move away from the crowd, which is part of the reason why a piece of artificial turf outperformed a dozen email campaigns, combined.

I don’t like to say “I told you so”.

I love to say it. Which is why I’m going to point out that I called Direct Mail “The comeback kid” a couple of years ago, and I think the assertion is still valid. There are a lot of fundamental disciplines that classic DM can offer to digital campaign planning (the importance of the list, the creative opportunities of segmentation and personalisation, the advantage of perceived value versus actual cost and so on).

But if you treat the desk space (rather than the desktop) as media space, the reach and frequency of creative mail can be spectacular, especially if you are selling into a ‘buying cell’ of multiple stakeholders and decision-makers.

I don’t think these pieces are good because they won (I think they are good and they won). We’ve had other great pieces struggle in award shows this year, I believe, partly because the complexity of the solution slowed them down. We’ve even had pieces rejected by awards show entry co-ordinators for being in the wrong category, only to be rejected again in the categories suggested to us by those same co-ordinators, again for being in the wrong category. At that point, you know it’s time to walk away from that particular casino.

Again, congrats to our China team for creating entertainment from email software and to our Sydney team for cleverly moving against the herd.


About the Author: Barrie Seppings blogs about making things better – for clients, brands, agencies and humans. He is currently Regional Creative Director at Ogilvy Singapore and he likes boards surf, skate and snow. Follow him on the Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or add him on Google+


If people don’t understand what brand journalism can be, I think it could go sideways and end up being derided as another ‘failed journalism experiment. I’m bound and determined to see that that doesn’t happen.

Brock Meeks, editor of Ideas Lab: curated and operated by Atlantic Media Strategies but owned and paid for by GE.

Re-designing Demand Gen is hard.

So, if Demand Generation is all wrong, what’s the right way to build leads for b2b? There’s no easy answer (yeah, sorry about that), but we’re starting to see plenty of experiments and some successes using the new ‘favourite sons’ of the comms world: branded content, social media and, to a lesser degree, mobile.

I’m fairly certain none of these are the answer.

At least not on their own. And that’s where the next great trick of B2B marketing will have to be performed: making this stuff work as scale and at velocity. How do you get it humming, quarter after quarter, across markets both mature and emerging, in service of a portfolio of complex, inter-related products?

This is where systems thinking starts to shine. Instead of channels, we’re thinking infrastructure. Instead of messages, we’re thinking stories.  Instead of campaigns, we’re thinking education (in both directions). Perhaps, most importantly, instead of sales & marketing functions, we’re thinking systems of engagement.

Boiling the ocean: also hard.


The more you start to think about all this stuff, about tearing it down and re-building it, about making common sense more common across all your markets, about establishing frameworks and operating procedures, the more you want to just go and find a shady tree to lie under. Sometimes I think it’s partly the reason we wind up churning out the same tactics in the same channels to ever diminishing applause: compared to this grand, uncharted territory of systems, at least we actually know how to buy a list and pump out the emails.

But that’s kind of boring.

Actually, it’s deadly boring. So we keep sketching and tinkering and experimenting (like we’ve always done), except now we’re also keeping an eye on the grand design, thinking about how that cool idea or interesting tactic or growing social platform might function if it were designed, from the ground up, to be a replicable, scalable and tune-able component of a system.

It’s actually quite liberating to recognise that the world (both ours and the audience’s) is not going to stand still long enough that we can ‘play god’ and re-design everything, perfectly, theoretically, as a completely fresh re-boot.

Instead, it makes more sense to apply the theory of responsive design to Demand Generation as a practice: create something, observe how people react to it, make the changes their behaviours seem to demand.

I wonder what that would look like?

The prevailing theory of Demand Generation starts from the premise that you (or your client) has got a fairly decent supply of something that you want to sell – all you need to do is provoke/cajole/plead/badger people into wanting it so badly they will exchange hard currency for it.

That’s the “Generation” in Demand Gen – actually creating or conjuring something that didn’t really exist before. Which is true enough for a lot of B2C, particularly premium goods, luxury items and even a whole bunch of FMCG product. Stuff you didn’t even know you needed until someone convinced you that you just had to have it. That’s pretty much all of everything that’s stocked on Orchard Rd, really.

I never even thought of that! Oh, wait.

But I’m not sure it holds true for most of big-end-of-town-stye B2B. Does a company wake up one morning not even thinking about, say, storing their data or giving their employees the tools to do their individual tasks, and then somehow gets convinced to that storage or cloud access would be a great new idea?

Sure, there are the occasional new tech breakthroughs that might require true ‘Demand Gen’, all the way from education through to purchase. But even then, if you look at it in the context of need (the quarter inch hole), rather than product (the quarter inch drill bit), it’s unlikely the primary task is to make more people want holes.

You don’t even know the meaning of thirsty!

The trouble with Demand Gen is that there is often a physical limit to the size of the market, even in B2C. Kids in many countries in Asia, for example, are already chugging Milo or Coke at pretty much maximum daily capacity of liquified intake. The challenge is to design and normalise entirely new moments (and modes) of consumption (coke ice blocks, Milo energy bars) just to eke out new demand where none previously existed.

But a company doesn’t behave like a thirsty kid (unless your kid is a psychopath). It doesn’t pursue leisure or pleasure – it only purchases what it functionally needs, and often it purchases less than that, at least over the short term. Can you convince someone that driven to want something they fundamentally don’t believe they need?  Seems too much like hard work to me.

Why do Demand Generation when you can do Demand Capture?

Seems more elegant, right? Rather than toiling to build something out of nothing, it should be more efficient to observe and respond to demand that is already there. But if that sounds like lazy (hu)man’s marketing, your’re right. The trick is to do it more obsessively, more effectively, more quickly, more cunningly than anyone else you’re competing against. To set traps, lay bait, remain silent, lie in wait and capture the little wisps of something that are floating by on the air: the nascent, latent demand that is yet to be truly demanded.

Nice trick, but how? *

* Not a theoretical question.

How social is forcing Demand Gen to evolve.

Evolution is a remarkable thing. It sharpens yesterday’s skills to help us survive in tomorrow’s world. If you look at Demand Generation as a skill, you can trace it back to Direct Marketing, which in turn came from Direct Mail, which itself was an attempt to scale and automate Direct Selling.

Just as human evolution bred out things we no longer need (gills, for example) and enhanced things we found useful (opposable thumbs, anyone?), you can still see the core DNA of Direct Selling in a lot of what we call Demand Generation. In particular, the reliance on The List, which became so fundamental, it spun off it’s own evolutionary branch in the mid 1980’s (Database Marketing) in response to the new environment of personal computing.

So what happens to Demand Gen, and The List in particular, as it responds to the seismic shifts of, say, social media? Nobody’s entirely certain, but plenty of scientists are experimenting.

Your social behavior puts you on a list.

(image courtesy Martin Ollman / BugLogic)

(image courtesy Martin Ollman / BugLogic)

The likes of Kred and Klout are analysing social data to try and attribute a numeric ‘influencer score’ to individuals, ranking them in order of their ability to influence other people within certain communities or areas of interest. The obvious next step is to use these scores to create a ‘hit list’ of individuals you might want to include in a social outreach campaign, for example, and this has been marketing’s primary use of influencer scores to date, but the leap to a prospect list is still tenuous.

The list becomes a timeline.

 What if we took the same principles and tried to use them to create other predictors? Such as a ‘Propensity to purchase’ model? Or a ‘time to purchase decision’ estimate? Instead of using social as a way to decide who to contact, there is potential to use social to tell us when to contact, by listening for data points that signal where on the ‘road to purchase’ someone might be. Can their ‘social signals’ tell us whether a prospect is browsing, researching, comparing or looking for a deal? The next step from here is to look for patterns over multiple engagements, to build a model that starts to predict actual timelines: real-time ‘GPS for the buyers journey’ that locates a buyers’ proximity to a decision.

The list becomes a network.


(image courtesy Martin Ollman / BugLogic)

All this is ‘social scoring’ is fine in theory, but is based on the traditional B2C belief that purchases are made by an individual. The B2B world is more complex, particularly at the ‘big end of town’ were buying decisions are made by a group, operating within a hierarchy and often including people who aren’t the actual buyers. This is where the ‘network’ aspect of social networks comes into play: discovering and defining the membership of and connections within groups is the untapped data goldmine of platforms like LinkedIn. Several publishers in the B2B world are starting to mine their readership data to create ‘small world network’ models, which could be used to define these ‘buying cells’ and indicate which topics are on their collective agenda.

 So, social is the new list, then?

Social is getting a lot of airplay play right now. That’s partly because it’s a shiny new toy in the marketing playpen (I wrote about this in a recent post) but mostly because it’s where your audience is spending a lot of their time and energy, in a very visible, reachable and trackable way. That fact alone should stir something in the limbic system of most marketers: you fish where the fish are.

But it doesn’t mean The List is dead. Quite the opposite: The List is evolving. There are an increasing number of increasingly sophisticated ways to build, manage, mine and generate demand from The List. And a lot of those ways are yet to be discovered, let alone perfected, which I can’t help but find exciting.

Why are some brands and agencies struggling with social, despite (or perhaps because of) a visible enthusiasm for it as a marketing approach? Even once they master the jargon and the etiquette and the technical wizardry required to ‘go social’, and then resource it properly and secure executive sponsorship – social seems to, well, just…

It could be the curse of the newly-converted, or perhaps it’s FOMO*, but whatever the motivation, it manifests itself similarly each time: the team becomes overly-focused on social. Not as a tool, or as a channel or as a technique, but as a ‘thing’ in and of itself, with it’s own raison d’être. It’s dangerous, but not uncommon.

When social becomes the objective.

It tends to happen with most shiny new technologies, usually once the technology gets enough media coverage and certainly once the Vice-President’s kids start using it on a regular basis. Happened with digital. It’s been kind of happening with mobile, in fits and starts, for a while now. It’s about to happen full-throttle with ‘content’. And it’s in full swing with social. We’re all doing it, but we’re not always entirely sure why.

Here’s a simple test: replace the shiny new technology (social) with a trusted, reliable, commonplace technology (say, telephone). Would some of the briefs or programs or even job titles we’re pursuing make as much sense? Would you consider hiring a Vice-President of Telephone? Would we build up a Telephone Team, with dedicated Telephone Experts? Would we unleash a 65-page deck detailing our Telephone strategy? Prolly not.

Make social behave like a channel.

(image courtesy Martin Ollman / BugLogic)

(image courtesy Martin Ollman / BugLogic)

I’m not suggesting we don’t need expertise in new technologies. In fact, we need expertise in all of our technologies – that’s how we get good at profiting from them. But what we need, most of all, is purpose: a reason to put these technologies and expertise and resources to use.

Here’s how you find one for social in your business, or brand or agency:

  1. Find a business objective.  Or even a business unit or a department, because they will usually (not always) have an objective, or at least a role to play within a business.
  2. Describe how that objective is being tackled right now. Who is working on it? What resources do they have? What are the results like? Are they getting better at it over time, or less-better**?
  3. Ask ‘social’ how they would do that tackling. Does it sound like they could support it? Augment it? Improve it? Replace it altogether? Make social ‘play its way’ on to your marketing team and earn its position through performance. (BTW, does anyone know why I, of all people, am using a sports analogy? Really, I’d like to know what’s gotten into me.)
  4. Give social a run. But not on its own. Invite it to meetings, let it join existing teams and projects and departments, either as resource or skills or training. Make sure it has a defined role, a position to play and results to deliver.
  5. Rinse (the data) and repeat. It’s the fastest way to get better at discovering what social can do for you.

In a nutshell: social can’t be an objective, it has to have one.

Placing bets vs making investments.

The reason I used ‘Telephone’ to replace ‘Social’ is because it’s also a good way to think about the investment we make in social – and not about the size of the investment, but rather its consistency. If we set up a phone number for our audience to reach us on, we wouldn’t follow that decision with a series of quarterly meetings to decide whether we’re going to pay to keep that number connected, or to have someone pick it up when it rings. As the use of social normalises (just like it did with phones) we’ll have to normalise our investment in it, too.

* Fear Of Missing Out.  It’s a real thing, apparently.

** A polite way of saying “Starting to suck”

Part 3 of: B2B Marketing – four creative opportunities for 2012

Here’s a turn up for the books: during 2011, we got some very good results* from good old-fashioned, big-box, dimensional, high value direct mail. We followed a lot of the old-school discipline, including ruthless segmentation to keep the mailing list as short as possible, clear call to action and high perceived value of the DM piece itself. But we also discovered why Direct Mail is now the digital marketer’s secret weapon.

But first, here are some simple truths about DM, and they are as as truthy now as they ever were:

1. Nothing is as important as the list: do your research; do your due diligence; check all the names; check the spelling; do some propensity modelling; do some pre-campaign opt-in work; don’t just buy a list; and the list (see what I did there) goes on and on.

2. Watch the budget: Although this sort of material can be very expensive to produce per piece – particularly if you are building something bespoke, printing your own boxes or having an item properly branded or personalised – the total campaign costs can be brought under control by limiting the list to truly high-value, high-propensity prospects. Don’t skimp on delivery – courier or hand is usually worth the extra investment. Also, get yourself on the seed list so you can experience the delivery process first-hand.

3. Three Dimensional value, not 3D puns: for a creative, the real joy in this kind of marketing is working out how you’re going to spend a hundred bucks per pack on your idea. Just make sure that the audience can see where the money went as well. Don’t send them a hand-carved hour-glass to tell them “time is running out”. A headline and a stock shot could do that job, on a 90-cent postcard. Good DM follows the same reach & frequency model as media, except the target’s desk is the media space, the number of office colleagues who notice it is the reach and the number of days before it gets binned is the frequency.

4. Offer up: If you are going to the trouble of putting together a high value pack, make sure the offer or the follow up is also of value. Don’t use it just to drive to the same, publicly-available, easily-googled web page that anyone else could get to. Try to ensure that the human element (a follow-up call, a sales visit) is introduced to the contact strategy very quickly after the pack lands, or the impact (and connection to your brand) may be lost.

5. Watch the time: these packs generally take a long time to produce and, towards the end of the process, everyone is keen to simply ship the bloody thing and be done with it, particularly if it has taken longer and cost more than initially scoped. Wait.  The B2B calendar moves to it’s own rhythm, and there are definite no-send zones, some unique to certain industries: the lead-up to major holidays; end of quarter; end of financial year; stocktake periods; reporting season; the introduction of new legislation, regulation or compliance; major sporting events (eg: rugby world cup and investment banking).

Keep these factors in mind and you can dramatically improve your DM response rates. If you’ve got the list right, you should see ROI that will make the average email campaign weep. Speaking of email, here’s the secret behind DM’s new-found old-school B2B success:

Everybody’s office inbox is rammed full of crap, but their letterboxes are wide open for business.


Next up: social media is used to the spotlight, is it ready for the spreadsheet?

Missed the earlier parts of the series?

Part 1: See why Content is the kingmaker, not the king>

Part 2: Platform thinking sees creativity and automation software on the same page>

* In the spirit of full disclosure, it’s fair to say we got some pretty poor results as well. But at least we know why. Test, learn optimise, right?

Part 2 of the series B2B Marketing – four creative opportunities for 2012″

Last year we spent a fair bit of time coming to grips with marketing automation. Actually, to be fair, we spent most of the year cowering under the bed, absolutely terrified by the mind-bending scope, complexity and operational tedium of platforms like Unica. These technologies promise to automate, analyse and optimise pretty much every single thing a marketer could hope to do, but for someone operating from the creative end of the advertising agency spectrum, they can feel like the end of days.

Dig a little deeper and you realise that these technologies want the same things we do:

  • a consistent tone of voice
  • a building narrative for a brand story
  • logical pathways for multiple customer journeys
  • measureable interaction with the audience
  • and, most importantly, longevity of campaigns

Platform technologies, it turns out, demand platform thinking. They have the ‘Test, Learn & Optimise’ cycle built into their DNA. They simply refuse to co-operate with one-off, isolated tactics. They tell you when your ideas are working and they tell when they aren’t, which encourages creative & strategic experimentation by limiting risk: these platforms can be pre-programmed to kill failures early & cheaply.

The really big shift that these platforms demand, in terms of thinking, is in terms of timeframe and ROI. These are long-term tools for long-term marketing plays. They reward persistence, patience and consistency. And agencies are starting to respond, changing their mantra of 360 degree marketing (using all the available channels to ‘surround the audience’) to one of 365-day marketing: being always present, always on, always responsive.

This platform thinking has a downside: it’s a hungry beast. If you’re going to show up, every single day, you’d best be prepared to have something to say, every single day. Which is why platform thinking plays nicely with content marketing, and why marketers could probably benefit from thinking like publishers.

Next up: Why Direct Mail is the comeback kid>

Missed Part 1? See why Content is the kingmaker, not the king>

The turning of the calendar tends to provoke a little reflection: year-in-reviews are a staple of long-term agency-client relationships. But it’s also a great opportunity to turn this reflection into projection.

Rather than sitting back, waiting for the briefs to roll in and hoping to uncover the creative opportunity, we’re starting by identifying the sort of work that the collective team should really be pursuing in the year ahead, looking at what we’ve learned from the previous year’s activities and talking about what we’d like to improve on and experiment with to generate better results. It’s the classic Direct Marketing approach of Test, Learn & Optimise, but scaled up to fit the brand ambition for a calendar year.

There are four areas that I believe offer scope for creativity, innovation and results in B2B marketing this year:

1. Content (as kingmaker)

I witnessed first-hand the incredible rush to content as a cure-all for the B2B marketing blues at last year’s SXSW and spent much of 2011 pursuing different types of branded-content projects, with varying degrees of success. We looked at a range of formats, from live webcasts and serialised feature articles, to infographics and even the good old-fashioned printed newsletter. We also experimented with a variety of production and distribution models, including content syndication,  media partnerships, outsourced white-label production and inhouse agency-brand collaborations.

And what we learned was:

  • people (and their expertise) make for the most compelling content
  • media partnerships struck without editorial buy-in are asking for trouble
  • snackable and shareable versions will improve reach, particularly through social channels
  • authenticity is difficult. It is also absolutely critical.

While the common wisdom suggests that content is king, I would argue that content should ultimately be in the service of the brand, pledging its allegiance to the noble task of generating leads. Content’s real role in the marketing mix, is as kingmaker.

And that’s where the real opportunity/challenge lies – not in creating and distributing compelling content, but in setting up clear pathways that lead the audience from that compelling content, through to engagement with what the brand has to offer. In B2B, the standard by which branded content must be held, is demand generation. Not easy, but it’s got to be the only game in town.

Next up, opportunity #2: platform thinking. Getting away from the tactic-by-tactic mindset can be difficult when the business is driven by quarter-to-quarter numbers. But, just maybe, there is a way. Stay tuned.