B2B 2016 Recap: The Broken Promise of Digital — Making the Customer the Center of What We Do

In the hustle and bustle of a marketing conference, sitting down to a recitation of Robert Ginna HallFrost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was like taking a cool drink of water: bracing and thoroughly refreshing, an appreciated palate-cleanser after so much data-heavy chatter. So when bow-tied Scott Monty, CEO of Brain+Trust Partners, began his riff on the smart marketer’s ability to find inspiration from many sources, he had the audience in rapt attention. After all, most marketers got into the business to be creative, and here was a speaker who promised to tell stories with words rather than numbers.

This is not to say that Scott’s “The Broken Promise of Digital: Making the Customer the Center of What We Do” talk was devoid of data. It was not. But if you came to B2B 2016 looking for a meta-reminder about your raison d’être as a marketer in the digital age, this was the man to see.

The Overarching Trust Problem

Though Scott is by no means a Luddite, he cautioned that, when it comes to storytelling and human nature, “there’s nothing new under the sun with humans, despite available new technology.” That’s why he ultimately described himself as “bullish on looking to the past” to predict the future — including your customers’ behavior.

CEO of Brain+Trust Partners

CEO of Brain+Trust Partners, Scott Monty

One major predictor of that behavior is the level of trust your customers have in your business. Though technology holds the promise of revolutionizing the future, it can also be used in damaging ways. For example, technology allowed Wells Fargo employees to open fraudulent accounts for unsuspecting customers and Volkswagen to manipulate fuel efficiency ratings on their vehicles. The fallout from these breaches in trust will follow these companies for years, and customers will reject brands with such glaring authenticity problems.

In fact, Scott’s research shows that there’s an across-the-board public “trust deficiency” in all sorts of official groups: NGOs, government agencies, businesses, the media, etc. The bright side? People who actively seek information have higher levels of trust in these groups. That means that when your customers take it upon themselves to hit the internet for background information, news and customer reviews, you have a major opportunity to build trust with your content.

The Broken Promise of Digital Marketing

The promise of the internet — and the marketing efforts that follow shortly after the invention of every new social media platform — was that customers would get to interact with brands. They would be made the center of the conversation.

This promise is inverted when ads become the center of digital marketing strategies. Scott explained that for much of the history of advertising, billboards were the standard: “They’re talking at you. It’s a one-sided conversation.”

Unfortunately, most digital campaigns stick to a similar model: Pop-ups and banner ads are simply today’s version of billboards, while online video still consists largely of 30-second spots — despite the fact that, unlike television, the internet imposes no time restrictions. “We also drop this model on top of social media,” Scott asked, “but is a .12 percent click-through rate on banner ads and 41 percent year-over-year growth of adblocking use an acceptable failure rate?”

Embracing What Works

It’s time to “get out of your comfort zone and embrace what works,” said Scott. To do this, consider the top three sources people trust for information on upcoming purchases:

  1. People Like Them: This can be friends, family, acquaintances or people they simply feel like they have a relationship with — a reviewer or spokesperson, for example.
  2. Branded Websites: Despite notable breaches in public trust, brands still carry enormous weight as an authority figure. Protect your good name and leverage it!
  3. Editorial Content: “Earned media” coverage from reporters and bloggers does more than just heighten awareness of your brand — it builds your buyers’ trust to see your message corroborated by an external source.

When you focus your marketing efforts on these trusted sources of information, your goal should be to bring a bit of advice from an ancient Roman senator to bear:

If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words. – Cicero

In B2B marketing terms, Scott recommended making sure your content follows an ARC to be:

  • Authentic: Speak to your customers in a real, relatable voice across all of your content. Skip the jargon and legalese whenever humanly possible.
  • Responsive: Make sure your content speaks to the needs of the market at the time, and be agile in responding to real-time developments.
  • Compelling: Remember that buying is about feelings in the moment, not about the brand. Creating loyalty is about what you do to make the customer feel like “king for a day,” not how good you can make yourself look.

Crafting Your Plan

To close, Scott recommended a global approach to B2B marketing strategy. First, create strong products and engaging content that showcases it. Next, adopt a voice that sounds like the way your ideal customers talk so they’ll hear you. Finally, find ways to let your customers speak — and make sure you listen. “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason,” Scott said. There’s no substitute for building an authentic relationship with your customers when you want to harness the promise of digital marketing for your company. [Tweet This]

Ginna Hall is the Director of Marketing at WriterAccess. An experienced marketing writer and editor, Ginna has helped corporate, academic and non-profit organizations develop strategic messages and roll-out content that connects with audiences of all types.

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