While preparing the annual report of a global manufacturer of industrial products recently, it struck me what an ideal channel the annual reports are for establishing thought leadership. But it seems that many companies lock themselves into a standard formula that is all about reporting from the perspective of the company – like a true propaganda Voice of Company channel. It’s easy to miss the opportunity to truly engage stakeholders with content that is relevant and interesting to them. Continue reading
In this new world of straight-up, transparent, credible interactions with the company’s audiences, the “truth” is playing an increasingly important role. The trend is driven partly by the fact that attitudes are hardening toward corporate lies or other malpractices—just witness the number of whistle-blower programs that are being put in place across industries to enable employees to keep their employers and colleagues on the straight and narrow. In marketing contexts, easier access to essential truths about products and services from a customer experience perspective has started to make propaganda and/or outright fibs stand out like a sore thumb. Continue reading
One difficulty we’ve noticed companies running into as they make the transition to meet the needs and preferences of today’s B2B buyer concerns the ability to hit the right tone and style of a Voice of Industry. If your marketing and communications departments have become used to churning out company-oriented, product-based texts, videos and events, it can be tough to break the habit. What’s required is a more neutral, “journalistic” style, varied depending on the type of message being communicated. We all meet this style almost every day—when we read Voice of Industry publications for our own industries or when catching up with national and international news commentary. So really, you would think it wasn’t that hard to copy this more neutral style – if you are using professional writers, that is. Breaking long-established practices within the corporation, however, may require a complete change of content supplier and editor. You may also find it necessary to educate upper management on the new Voice to change editing and review practices from the top down.
One example of an owned-media Voice of Industry activity is Adobe, Inc.’s CMO.com (www.cmo.com). Branded discretely with a small Adobe logo in the top right corner, the site offers “digital marketing insight for chief marketing officers”, including news items, trend articles, announcements, information about marketing analytics, resources and marketing-specific web sites, blog marketing, and other information about key players in the digital marketing space. The site carries articles, reports, surveys, statistics and commentary from industry experts and other digital marketing resources with a relatively long “shelf life”. Continue reading
As the authors of The Death of Propaganda, which expounds the Three Voices™ framework, in our opinion, while its principles provide useful insights for companies of all kinds, a Three Voices™ approach is best suited to knowledge-intensive companies—in particular, those whose key audiences are strongly involved with the company’s product or service area. Take the example of Adobe Inc.’s Voice of Industry site CMO.com, Adobe’s audience is highly interested (or should be!) in ways of optimizing their marketing activities via information systems. So done right, it’s not a especially difficult to get decision-makers, at least those in larger companies who can afford Adobe’s marketing automation system, regularly involved with the subject matter.
On the other hand, we’ve tried to imagine whether, for example, a manufacturer of stainless steel screws could benefit from implementing a Three Voices™ strategy. The answer, we concluded, was “unlikely”. We may be wrong, but we find it hard to envision regular, meaningful discussions or user communities thriving in company-owned or sponsored Voice of Industry contexts around the topic of screws. Few things please us more, however, than to have our views challenged and our eyes opened to new applications of this framework.
More and more, knowledge-intensive companies are beginning to talk about a comparatively new competitive parameter—at least in a marketing rather than a product delivery context. “Thought leadership” is business jargon for an entity that is recognized for having innovative ideas. The term is said to have been coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Booz Allen Hamilton magazine, Strategy & Business, but hasn’t been widely used in B2B contexts beyond the publications of professional consulting firms. And it seems there’s money in it, too. IBM believes so strongly in the benefits of thought leadership that it established the Institute for Business Value (IBV), comprised of more than 50 consultants who conduct research and analysis across multiple industries and functional disciplines. In our own industry, we’ve noticed IBV publications such as the 2011 Global CMO Study turning up on the desks of our clients and being widely referenced in online Voice of Customer and Voice of Industry contexts, proving perhaps, that high-quality, credible content reaches far indeed.
We believe that thought leadership lies at the heart of a Three Voices™ strategy for knowledge-intensive companies, and that Voice of Industry activities are the prime vehicle for promoting your company as a thought leader.
If you’ve read my earlier post on Voice of Industry – what is it and why is it important? you now understand what the concept is basically about: figuring out how your company’s marketing and communications messages can be delivered in a more engaging way via industry channels that carry more credibility than your corporate website or marketing materials.
Imagine the following scenario. An HR manager for a company you would really like to have on your client list is cruising her favorite industry news and resource sites. She’s looking for a solution just like the one you provide. And no, she didn’t go to your company’s website as a starting point for her search. Instead, her initial aim is to gather broad knowledge about the latest solutions, their advantages and disadvantages – before visiting the websites or calling the salespeople of a few select vendors whose solutions look the most promising. In particular, she is exploring those industry news and resource sites to get hints, tips and recommendations from experts or users. Not to hear propaganda-like messages from someone or something focused on making a sale (i.e. your company).
This is where your Voice of the Industry strategy comes into play. For many B2B vendors, the best strategy is also the most challenging (and rewarding). And that involves going one step further than merely trying to place your company’s content on existing industry news and resource sites. Own and operate the site yourself!
So what might a company-owned and operated Voice of the Industry site look like? To start with, it has its own name. For example, a manufacturer of commercial life rafts could call its Voice of the Industry site something like “Which Life Raft?” (okay, not a great name, but no one’s paying me for this). The highly successful trading bank Saxo Bank, for example, owns and operates a site called Tradingfloor.com, which bears the fine print signature “powered by Saxo Bank”. Monthly visits to the site number in the tens of thousands.
Back to our life raft example. Which Life Raft? could be a shipping industry-specific site containing articles, videos, guest columns and similar designed to help shipowners navigate the world of life rafts. From a wide variety of sources both internal and external to the manufacturer itself. Topics could include trends, technical developments, products, maintenance and service. In contrast to the relaxed dialog you expect in a Voice of the Customer (social network) context, content is polished and well presented. Articles have been professionally edited. Opinions presented are those of industry experts, some of whom may be, for example, R&D employees from within the company. Other of whom come from outside the company – adding extra credibility given their arms-length status. There are interviews, some of which could be in the form of audio and/or video podcasts.
Which Life Raft? is entirely managed by the manufacturer itself. Which means, quite simply, that despite there being a great deal of input from sources external to the company, the manufacturer gets to choose which content gets pride of place. Such as articles that might support the need for the manufacturer’s own products, for example. Or videos where the manufacturer’s products appear, although the video itself is about a relatively unrelated event.
The aim is, of course, to build a massive audience of people who visit your site on a regular basis either as members, via search engines or as the result of a shared link. That’s why you should also plan to fuel the site with membership drives in many of your other marketing and communication activities – and why your Voice of the Industry site really does need to have a regular newsletter that strengthens the relationship between the site and its visitors.
The degree to which your company’s brand and products appear on such a site and whether this level of visible presence is appropriate will depend on the type of product or service you offer. As long as you don’t try to hide completely! Saxo Bank has chosen to appear with an almost equal amount of branding present on both its Voice of the Industry content site (www.tradingfloor.com) and its company website (www.saxobank.com). The essential difference is what content goes where is to be found in the way Saxo Bank makes its messages more useful, usable and enjoyable on tradingfloor.com than on its corporate website.
A Voice of the Industry site of this nature is a highly useful tool for persuading the new breed of B2B buyer. Perhaps the key reason is its greater credibility than propaganda-like company materials. But there’s another upside for B2B companies, one which has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. And that’s the effect on the culture of the company itself. Owning and operating such a site seems to open the minds of both management and employees to new possibilities. It creates new partnerships between the company and, for example, external industry experts. And it involves the company in a mission that helps to promote the industry as a whole – which is good for everybody. So what are you waiting for? Oh, for your IT department to approve the project? Good luck with that.
“Voice of Industry” is originally a term Michael Best, David Hoskin, Thomas Webster and I invented as an umbrella description for a company’s communication activities whenever the company deploys industry-level messaging rather than pushing its products and services in more traditional, direct ways. While we may have come up with the term itself as a descriptor, the phenomenon of Voice of Industry is already a well established part of the new breed of B2B buyer’s information-gathering practices.
A great example is to be found in the myriad of industry-specific or technology-specific sites out there today. In my own work, I like to tap into sites like Food Navigator, Science Daily or TechCrunch, reading the information they present on their websites and/or checking their regular newsletters or bulletins as they arrive in my email.
Here I get access to information that, while it may have been initiated by a company, a somewhat biased trade journalist or an analyst keen on getting his or her name in lights, has a greater degree of credibility than a company website where I know that every piece of information has been produced in an effort to sell to me or someone like me. The publisher is generally not a manufacturer, but an information-oriented party such as a magazine publisher, a research company, an academic institution or similar. Or perhaps an industry professional such as Vancouver-based Twitch Image’s Mitch Joel or myself, for that matter, who actually do have a product or service to sell in appropriate contexts, but are genuinely interested in sharing their domain knowledge with others.
The extra credibility offered by releasing the company’s messages in a Voice of Industry context is important in today’s B2B buying process. And it needs to be an integral part of your B2B marketing and communication efforts. As you start using the term “Voice of Industry” internally, you’ll find others rapidly adopt the idea, helping to smooth the way to a new approach to your customers and prospects.
I’m going to talk about three concepts that form the pillars of the Three Voices™ strategic framework described in “The Death of Propaganda – B2B Buyer Behavior Has Changed. Now it’s Your Turn.” and which I believe are important for B2B marketers to grasp: Voice of Company; Voice of Industry; and Voice of Customer. All three of these concepts are mandatory if you want to fully address the needs of the new breed of B2B buyer.
I’ll briefly explain what each of these ‘Voices’ is and what role it should play in your work.
Three Voices Strategy™, in essence, is a stakeholder engagement model created by Eye for Image that stretches across all of a company’s audiences. It rests on three original concepts that are vital for B2B marketers and communicators to grasp: Voice of Company; Voice of Industry; and Voice of Customer.
The basic idea of Three Voices Strategy™ is probably best described on a paper napkin in less than ten minutes. That’s because the principles underlying it are relatively simple and can be communicated by drawing three circles, each representing one of the Voices as below.
The circle on the left represents the Voice of Company. We use this as an umbrella term for messages and materials created by a manufacturer or service provider to describe its offerings to prospective customers. In today’s world of B2B marketing and communications, Voice of Company is also the home of corporate propaganda. The key strategic direction in this arena, as far as Three Voices Strategy is concerned, should be to reduce or eliminate propaganda-like messages and become a more credible entity that is seen to help prospects and customers to determine the solution that best fits their needs.
Now let’s turn our attention to the circle on the right called Voice of Customer. We use Voice of Customer as a term to describe the peer-to-peer conversations going on between B2B buyers, discussing and recommending, or recommending against, specific solutions and products, well before the manufacturer is consulted. Here’s where all the action is, where the big changes in B2B buyer behavior have taken place, and where companies need to actively listen and respond if they are to match their marketing efforts to the new realities of B2B buying processes.
Of course, historically “Voice of the Customer” (VOC) has been a term used to describe special programs for involving customers in core corporate activities such as product development and the design of customer-facing functions. Today however, we hear from our clients that this concept is fast becoming outdated, its practices have become too costly and its outcomes insufficient. In fact, these programs were a stop-gap measure that was only ever useful as a far-too-small plaster on a gaping wound in the way businesses were interacting with their customers. Enlightened B2B marketers now look past traditional Voice of the Customer programs to get customer input on the customer’s terms rather than those of the company.
If Voice of Company is where most B2B companies are focused on today, and Voice of Customer is where they, in fact, should be focusing their attention, then the middle circle, Voice of Industry, should be seen as the bridge companies need to use to close the gap.
By Voice of Industry, we mean the activities where the company seeks to influence its market and enhance its brand by discussing industry-level matters instead of directly pushing its own offerings. Typically, Voice of Industry activities encompass paid media (paying to place industry-level content on other companies’ media), earned media (being seen as a valuable content partner on, for example, an independent industry news site), and the all-important owned media (you own a content platform prospects and customers use to help them make decisions). A recent example of an owned-media Voice of Industry activity is A.P. Moller-Maersk’s “Let’s change the way we think about shipping” site, which encourages the container shipping industry to effect beneficial changes for a more viable future.
Simply put, the ultimate goal of a properly implemented Three Voices Strategy is to move from the company telling prospects and customers “We’re great!” to having these audiences telling each other “They’re great!”. To get there, you need to build Voice of Industry activities, move from propaganda to credibility, and shift from being a salesperson to the role of customer advocate.
Freight-forwarding leader FREJA demands more of its corporate newsletter – and gets it. Continue reading