12 Months of Learning From 12 Top B2B Marketers

January 6, 2015

One of the things I love about looking at the clean slate of a new year is 365 days of possibilities. Part of what gets me excited is taking one idea, focusing on it, and then putting it into practice little by little. Huge change all at once can be hugely overwhelming. But what I find is that huge change really comes from the accumulation of taking many small steps, whether it’s becoming more open minded to the ideas of others or how you change the way you think about the work that you do as a marketer.

In 2014, I was lucky to spend a lot of time talking to top B2B marketers who I always feel live at the head of the comet and blaze the path for others. While there’s many facets to their success, I realized that focus is a big part of it. So here’s a list of 12 things I learned from 12 top B2B marketers – just one to focus on each month for 2015:

  1. Kathy Button Bell, CMO, Emerson –  Simplification. From empowering customers to empowering employees, Button Bell talks about how great marketing is really about great simplification. Much of her focus for 2014 was on simplifying the brand across the enterprise, from the website experience to industrial design. That takes a lot of determination to breakdown silos, lead and facilitate collaboration, drive cohesiveness and collaboration and all the while elevating the impact of marketing along the way.
  1. Linda Boff, Executive Director, Global Brand Marketing, GEMarketers need to be good translators. It’s not enough to be excellent at marketing. You have to be excellent at driving growth for your enterprise. And the only way to do that is to communicate and then demonstrate the impact that marketing can have on the entire organization – starting with the executive team. In order for a brand to create a consistent experience, marketing has to step up and be the ones who create a core platform to telling the story and then ensure that it’s consistently told from every corner and in every way. Marketers have to be the ones who can talk about what growth looks like, translate it into how that applies to every facet of the business, and then make that come alive through experiences for employees and customers.
  1. Michael Brenner, Head of Strategy, NewsCredCreate a culture of content. How we connect with people are the pipes, but it’s the stories we deliver over them that tell people what to engage with and who to believe. Products can be interchangeable, but what we stand for differentiates us. It’s the stories we tell that convey the purpose we have in the lives of our customers. The brand is our platform, but we put our customers at the center of our stories…and that responsibility is too important to be left just to marketing. It has to be instilled into the culture of the company.
  1. Phil Clement, Global CMO, AonUse content to create value. Aon serves as an intermediary between insurance companies and buyers so that buyers can make smarter decisions. For example, if a company is building a major facility overseas, they need someone to help them buy that insurance – enter Aon. But there’s so much to know about building materials, soil conditions and rates in different countries. That’s where Aon saw an incredible opportunity and has shifted their focus from transactions to consulting in order to add value. Clearly, it’s worked. They’ve gone from an unknown number two brand to taking over the top spot and also doubled their revenue to $11 billion.
  1. Beth Comstock, CMO, GEThink of marketing as being in perpetual motion. Marketers deal with a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty and the path can be blurry at times. It’s our role to guide our companies to where the world is going, to provide a voice. There’s always a new relationship or solution to figure out. In order to do that, it means that marketing’s job is never done; we have to think of ourselves as being in perpetual motion.
  1. Eduardo Conrado, Senior Vice President, Marketing and IT, Motorola SolutionsFocus on systems of engagement. Too often, marketers miss the point of technology – it’s not just about automating processes, it’s about making it easier to engage with audiences. Marketing needs a technology ecosystem that empowers both sales teams and customers to have deeply personalized interactions.
  1. Antonio Lucio, Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, VisaCreate a deeper integration between marketing and corporate communications. To be successful in the business world, marketers need to approach multiple audiences with an integrated brand message. What you say to customers, employees, government officials, opinion leaders and other stakeholders has to be seamless, and ladder up to a broader, consistent and deeply integrated message. It has to be a single brand with a single message, but still vibrant and relevant to meet the needs of specific audiences. And it’s critical to approach B2E messaging (business to employees) with the same rigor as B2B and B2C.
  1. Linda McGovern, Vice President of Marketing, USGActivate your story. Century-old building materials supply company USG was hit hard by the recession. McGovern knew the company’s history of brochures and tradeshows was a woefully weak approach to turning things around. In the midst of disastrous economic times, she convinced her CEO to let marketing have the impact that she knew it could. Her team revitalized the brand through a relaunch around “It’s Your World. Build It.” and tied it to an Olympic sponsorship. The result? Second quarter 2014 net income of $57 million was more than double that of the same period the previous year and the strongest for the company in the last seven years.
  1. Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer, Corporate VisionsUnderstand the value gap. Customers believe that sales is 88% knowledgeable on product, but only 24% on business expertise. But executives value sales who talk from the perspective of business expertise four times more than product knowledge. In research from SiriusDecisions, the reason most often cited as to why sales people don’t hit quota is that they’re unable to articulate value. That’s why best-in-class companies have twice as much training and business discussions than the others. They understand the importance of closing the business value gap in conversations with customers and prospects.
  1. Karen Walker, Senior Vice President, Marketing, CiscoCreate emotional content. Emotions play a bigger part in the buying process than either buyers or marketers want to admit. But devotion to brands begins and ends with an emotional connection. Buyers are people, people are humans and humans are emotional beings. To convey emotion, you have to communicate in the natural language of your audience, looking at specific words and phrases that are personally appealing.
  1. Tim Washer, Senior Marketing Manager, Social Media, CiscoFollow the fear.  As a comedy writer and stand-up comedian (yes, we want to be in those budget-planning meetings…), Washer talks about how the words of actor, writer and teacher Del Close made a difference to him in the world of corporate communications and content marketing. “It’s fear that keeps us from our best. Fear to be different, fear of not getting promoted, fear of failure,” he says. But when you can muster the courage to follow that fear, what may be the most terrifying moments in your life (and career) may also turn into the most rewarding.
  1. Mark Wilson, Senior Vice President Global Marketing, BlackberryMarketers should say “no” more often. If people don’t hear a focus about purpose, then they focus on activity. Understanding purpose starts with marketers understanding their purpose, and then emanating out from there. When marketers understand the end goal, then it’s easier for them to exercise discipline and say “no” to distractions. Without distractions, they can produce higher quality ideas and outcomes, rather than slowly degrading toward high volumes of low-quality content that no one ends up using. When they say “no” to distractions, they ultimately say “yes” to greater impacts within and for the company.

What can YOU do in 2015?

Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist who’s credited with changing the way we study human cultures. She was a frequent speaker and featured author in mainstream media during the 1960s and 1970s. One of her most notable quotes highlights what marketers should keep in mind when they face the frustration of learning, and then implementing, new ideas within their own organizations:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Pick one thing and start little. Think about how you can simplify how you work with other groups within your company. Start changing your vocabulary to focus more on the value you deliver instead of the products you deliver as a marketer. Or, the next time you’re writing that email, use the same words and phrases that you would if you were talking to them in real life.

What can you, as a “committed citizen” to the company for which you work, change about your world? I’d like to hear your ideas.

Picture –  learn by Mark Brennan. Reproduced here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence.http://www.flickr.com/photos/heycoach/1197947341/

About Carla Johnson

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Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.

Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands has served as the foundation for many of her books.

In her latest project, Fast Forward Files, she contributes to a larger collection of thoughts by some of the world’s greatest minds -  Shazam co-founder Dhiraj Mukherjee, activist and entrepreneur Heather Mills and behavioral designer, technologist and mental-health champion Peter Trainor. Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. 

Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.