November 2014 marked the twenty-fifth (25th) anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The tearing down of the barrier separating West Germany from East Germany remains as one of the world’s most momentous events. The fall of the Berlin Wall continues to send out tremors touching many parts of the globe.
What many in the world assumed would be a smoothed unification of West and East Germany has not occurred. For example, the former East Germany continues to suffer from rampant high unemployment, less educational opportunities, and poorer healthcare systems.
In the same twenty-five years, we have seen the advent of the Internet and the potential for more openness and transparency in business relations. The Internet has paved the way for a slow unveiling of the wall, which has traditionally separated sellers from buyers. Social media in the last five years has also contributed to organizations becoming more open and transparent. This may be the case more so in the world of B2C than in the world of B2B. However, as in the case of the Berlin Wall, we are still a long way from true openness and transparency in the world of business.
Is Your Brand And Media An Outbound Wall?
A sales manager in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s would hear the continual refrain of the need to produce literature to give to prospects to increase sales revenues. In today’s environment, as I help companies with buyer research and buyer persona development, I continually hear the refrain of the need to produce content for potential buyers in order to increase sales revenues.
I would like you to consider these two typical B2B statements side by side:
1989: “We need to produce more literature to give to prospects to increase our sales revenues.”
2014: “We need to produce more content for buyers in order to increase our sales revenues.”
I confess this may be a subjective generalized view on progress. But I have to wonder if much progress has been made in B2B when it comes to thinking about the role of literature then and content today. The irony I see is many branding as well as content marketing efforts today are still defined by an outbound nature. Even if casts within an inbound framework.
Correlates To Overall Content Marketing Ineffectiveness And Brand Trust
In the past two to three years, there have been several surveys regarding the effectiveness of content as well as regarding buyer satisfaction. Without rehashing these surveys from the likes of Content Marketing Institute, Forrester, CMO Council, and others, suffice to say these surveys show consistently 65% or better of marketers view their content marketing as ineffective. While buyer surveys also show nearly 70% of buyers find content and other media to be dissatisfactory.
In my qualitative research directly with buyers, I hear two major themes from buyers regarding dissatisfaction. One is well known; the other is a trend emerging:
- Brands and content do not resonate with the goals and situations relevant to customers and buyers
- Customers and buyers believe or perceive brands and content do not truly care about an open and transparent dialogue
This second point is profound. My take on this is – the more brands feed the cycle of outbound content thinking only, the less trust customers and buyers will have in brands and content.
This perspective is backed by a recent McKinsey survey I wrote about a little over a year ago in an article on what is perceived as most important by B2B customers. In a survey of 700 global executives, McKinsey found corporate messaging had little impact on evaluation and purchase decisions. One of the themes proving to be most important to global executives however was the perception of a brand caring about an open and honest dialogue with its customers and society.
Building Openness And Transparency
One of the foremost modern business thinkers of our times is Donald Tapscott, who first wrote about the digital economy in 1997 in his book simply entitled The Digital Economy. He has had a long-standing association with the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto and currently serves as Chancellor for Trent University. As one of the world’s top thinkers, authors, and consultants he has advised many global organizations on the economic and social impact of today’s innovations in digital technologies.
Here is a good pause to listen to Tapscott’s momentous TED Global talk in 2012 on the concept of Radical Openness:
Tapscott offers a compelling perspective on why the world and businesses must embrace as oppose to resist radical openness and transparency. There are several elements B2B leaders can begin to implement to foster openness and transparency with their customers and potential buyers:
- Drop the old push versus pull mindset. The conventional mindset regarding push versus pull in marketing is prevalent. However, most of this mindset takes place outside of the wall representing openness and transparency.
- Develop a porous collaboration mindset. Develop organizational thinking around how to engage customers and buyers in open collaboration. Open collaboration means the wall comes down and there is a sharing of challenges as well as multiple networks to arrive at solutions. Collaboration is not a fanciful idea. A recent IBM Global C-Suite Study shows 72% of CEO’s in outperforming organizations have built organizations, which collaborate closely with customers.
- Practice true transparency. As Tapscott points out, there is a difference between collaboration and transparency. Which involves the open sharing and communications of relevant information to customers and buyers.
- Conduct immersive research with buyers. To truly help as well as empower customers and buyers, via collaboration and transparency, B2B organizations should be involved in in-depth immersive understanding of their customers and buyers.
- Rethink how to communicate with customers. Shifting from a push versus pull mindset means shaking loose from conventional means of communicating with customers and buyers. Embracing the creation of open as well as immersive experiences – allowing customers and buyers true paths of honest and open dialogue.
As we look ahead towards more radical changes in the digital economy, B2B organizations can look ahead to more openness and transparency demands by their customers. One thing we can be sure of, as the mentioned McKinsey survey points out, is buyers will be placing more emphasis on trust and openness in their evaluations and purchase decisions.
Now is a good time to start the process of openness and transparency. Otherwise B2B businesses may inadvertently create an immovable wall between themselves and buyers.