The Core B2B Marketing Skill is Not Design
When I first sought to break into marketing management, as opposed to the copywriting I’d been doing, every job listing looked for design skills rather than writing as a prime skill set. This was understandable when marketing and advertising were interchangeable, a mindset created by ad agencies: Create high concept ad campaigns that were primarily visual.
These jazzy campaigns were designed to woo the agency’s clients just as much or more than the actual consumer. And they soured me on B2C and the entire agency biz. It seemed the writer’s role was to create a catchy phrase and then hand it off to the ‘creative’ team. But the Internet and analytics changed all of that. Information became king.
Fast forward to SEO, then content marketing
By the time this really took hold I was firmly on the management side of B2B marketing, more specifically, enterprise SaaS software. I liked the focus on facts, based on actually understanding what people were looking for and why, via analytics. We had a window into behavior before a buying decision was made. This was exciting for a writer, as we were tasked with getting those answers out.
But little did we foresee how far this would be taken. Last night I watched a documentary called The Social Dilemma (Netflix) that details, from an inside point of view, just how far this has gone. The first fifty minutes or so go into the nature of the problem, with just the last few minutes dedicated to lamely suggesting resolutions.
A juggernaut is an unstoppable force
The core message of this film is that our social world, including Medium, feeds a huge data machine with very specific information about all of us. Literally all our behavior is traceable. And the reality is that we have exactly no control over this. The suggested cure was basically regulate, regulate, regulate. Except this business hates regulation and was basically designed to bypass it.
This is not a rant. The film is fascinating and really good, but for anyone already involved in marketing, only the scale was alarming. We’ve all been trying to learn the tools for years
I’m not a technologist, nor did I set out to be one
These days I am a hired gun, a writer who, given a mission, has enough knowledge to help accomplish it. The research and analytics people know what they need and I try to provide it in human terms and a voice that won’t scare buyers away. Essentially the role of marketing writers is to serve as an information interface between the data defining the target and the human nature of that target.
I am not cynical about this, I’m past that. As communicators we need to communicate in today’s terms and language and those change constantly. If you’re going to make a living in this business, that is a choice to be made. My choice was made easier by my preference for B2B because it seems a little less overtly manipulative than consumer marketing. But that may be me making an excuse.
Companies are groups of humans, not entities, regardless of corporate law
As I’ve written about previously, we do not sell to businesses, we sell to people in those businesses, people who have multiple interests including their own. So the voice we develop must be more than a bunch of information targeting the known interests and preferences of the intended reader.
The AIs managing the mountains of data out there can give marketers very specific behavioral profiles but they cannot (yet) humanize the outreach to them. At least less so, when they represent a company, rather than solely their own interests. I may love sports cars but if I’m buying a fleet of cars for a business, I’m unlikely to be buying sports cars. It’s a bit of serving two masters but that is our challenge to reach a little of that sports car fan and that corporate buyer. Who knows, maybe she got the car buying task because she was known to like cars?
AI understands sets of data but may still not understand human nature
I was tempted to add the word ‘yet’ to the end of that h2 subhead, because it gets closer to being able to match measurable behavior to preferences and then use that knowledge to feed us info it knows we are attracted to. That is the core message of that film which shows a phone addicted teen being manipulated into more and more online interaction.
Marketing has had the reputation of being ethically challenged. It has been a reputation I have struggled with by trying not to hard sell or promote things that are not ready for prime time, something software CEOs are often willing to do with a ‘it’s good enough and we’ll fix it later’ approach. This laissez faire approach is now backfiring for many of the young tycoons in the wannabe Silicon Valleys popping up around the world.
Wading into ethics is easier if you set ground rules
My ground rules include not doing things I’m uncomfortable with or something overtly unethical. I’ve avoided allowing clients to use my name (few want to) because I have no control over what they do with it. When SEO was mainly a bunch of attempts to clumsily hack search algorithms, I would not sacrifice the quality of my writing to cram more key phrases in.
It turns out that was exactly the right way to approach it because Google and others want more authentic content, not content tailored to show up in search. Quality matters.
So if I’m giving out marketing advice, my long term career advice is to do the right thing because it is the best way to do something, both for your client and yourself. Saying I’m not comfortable with something being suggested to me has never backfired. Probably because I’ve learned to not work with people who do that.
Reputation is a cornerstone of marketing and yours is crucial to your success
The permanent record is more permanent than ever before. People review other people in places like LinkedIn. Companies review people. These reviews are findable. For any freelancer, referrals are the absolute most powerful marketing tool, just as testimonials are for a product or service business. These reputational elements can make or break you. So I’d advise creating a few personal ground rules you can live with for a long time. They will serve you well.