I'm not in the auto business, but I'm willing to bet that when engineers propose a new car model, they don't fail to include an engine in their designs.
Unfortunately, I can't say the same about many B2B marketers and their direct marketing strategies. I've seen too many creative briefs that had a great chassis—terrific messaging hooks, keen insight into audience desire—without the engine to drive it: an honest-to-goodness offer, a do-this-to-get-that promise. Instead, all that hard work invested in developing themes, brand distinctions and unique selling propositions sinks within this flaccid and all too common call to action: "For more information..."
You might just as well say, "For a tedious sales call...." Because "for more information" isn't an offer of value, it's a threat of wasted time. So, consider your direct marketing task—mail, email or even your Web site—stalled at the gate. What's the alternative?
In a B2B environment, where the products and services are expensive and the purchasing process complex, the classic B2C promises of discounts or free shipping are usually not appropriate. And if you're on the marketing end of your business, you may not have the ability to execute, or the authority to request, an offer of a free sample, a demo model, or an in-person demonstration.
In addition to being compelling to your audience, the right offer has to be doable—something marketing people can whip up, either on their own or with minimal internal cooperation.
When you're stuck without a traditional offer, here's how you can make mountains out of molehills and turn the information you have into material that's desired:
1. Tell a story
Few means of communication are as powerful as stories. In families, they're among the first ways we introduce children to the world; within societies, they're the dominant means of transmitting important information, ideas and values from one generation to the next. Even as our world becomes increasingly sophisticated, stories retain their primal power.
For business marketers, the story is your opportunity to bring passion to your pitch. The risk of failure—and the possibility of success—dangle before the reader; stories use drama to lure prospects emotionally, drawing them closer to your business and, hopefully, to the sale.
The classic storytelling vehicle for businesses is the case study, a brief narrative that explores what your business, product or service did for a customer. A good case study cuts through the fog of abstraction by demonstrating your effectiveness in the real world, among circumstances readers can recognize as their own. They're typically offered as papers prospects may request (via phone, fax, Web, etc.) or electronic documents they can either download or read on your Web site. While the format is flexible, all good case studies should include…
- Background information that explains who the customer is and what challenge or problem that customer faced
- A clear description of the stakes—what would be lost through failure and what could be achieved by successfully resolving the problem
- How your business/product/service analyzed/strategized and ultimately resolved the problem
- The happy consequences of success—money saved, profits earned, greater efficiency or what have you
2. Recycle your analyses
When your service is largely analytical (as is often true for accountants or consultants, for example), you may be able to repackage work performed for your clients as white papers that offer insights into general industry trends. (You would, of course, modify the content to remove proprietary information and to add material to give it greater industry-wide relevance.)
White papers tend to be much longer than case studies. While the latter are often no more than one or two pages long, white papers are usually 8-20 pages, sometimes longer. They tend to offer a broader perspective, covering a range of specific issues, and often conclude with opinions regarding future developments. Their very heft works in your favor: they suggest deep industry knowledge, thus strengthening your credibility, and they often attract a more qualified prospect—one with enough interest in your area of business to request and read a longer document.
If you believe your business would benefit from the credibility a white paper might provide, yet you're short on content, consider conducting a brief survey among your customers and colleagues about important industry issues; that could form the substance of a solid report. There are numerous electronic survey options that are easy and inexpensive (I like www.beelinersurveys.com), and even busy executives will participate in exchange for a look at the results.
3. Make a list of tips, hints or secrets
Instead of a complete story or an in-depth analysis, you can create a list of bite-sized tidbits, such as "6 Secrets for Better Bookkeeping," or "The Top 10 Practices for Just-In-Time Inventory Management."
The promise of many insider hints holds an inherent appeal and is an easy way to inspire an impromptu response, such as a click-through from your email blast to your Web site.
The "tips" format may also be easier to fulfill. Stories and analyses require substantial access to at least one or two internal experts who may be very busy. But you can often cull a list of tips from your colleagues with a quick email request or an informal, cubicle-by-cubicle survey.
4. Transform the request for information
OK, so what do you do when you're desperate—when you ain't got nothin'? No time to write a story; no analyses to recycle; no internal cooperation for compiling a list of tips. Frankly, all you have to offer is "further information" and, somehow, you're going to have to run with it.
Here's what you do: transform the general call for action into a request for specific, meaningful knowledge or insight your organization can provide.
Instead of saying "for more information," direct people to special, valuable content (which will vary depending on the nature of your business): for example, "To learn how to trim as much as 25% a year from your health insurance costs, call..."; "Call 1-800-123-4567 to see how leading commercial realtors are squeezing more profits per square foot..."; or "With just one call, we'll show you at least three new opportunities for greater market share in the next fiscal year...."
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Whether you write a story, an analysis, a top-10 list—or simply reconfigure your call to action into a promise of meaningful knowledge—you can always find something stronger to offer than "more information." Your prospects will show their appreciation with a greater response rate, and you'll enjoy a greater return for your marketing efforts.