For the past few weeks, I’ve watched a stream of worried comments in Slack channels, LinkedIn posts, and Tweets.

“Is anyone signing up for our webinar?”

“Should we shut down lead generation?”

“Is marketing even effective now?”

And at the root of all the worries is a concern that Marketing – the practice of Marketing – is off-message in a changing world.

Good marketers are agonizing over messages — whether or not to acknowledge coronavirus, unemployment, economic challenges. They’re trying to decide if it’s right to re-position what they do to attract more interest. For some, it feels as basic Marketing tasks — lead generation, directing people to resources, trying to move them through a funnel toward purchasing products and solutions—are at best ineffective, and at worst, directly offensive.

And there’s evidence that the old approaches ARE ineffective. One of my customers has had an ongoing contract with a lead generation company which delivered 50 MQLs a month. In March, the company delivered 5 MQLs. The same team, same tactics, and same budget – and a 90% cut in results.

After all, in a new world of coronavirus, Depression level unemployment, and business spend contraction we haven’t seen in…possibly forever…maybe the old assumptions are off?

Maybe they are. And maybe all this angst, these failed campaigns, these indicators of change, are pointing us to a new way of being – a new mindset – a new definition of success — and a new direction that puts our customers where they ought to have been all along in our sense of priorities.
Here’s my take.

I think that if we consider Marketing using the old measures of success, pushing prospects toward our goals – more sales, more market share, more revenue – then we might as well stop Marketing now.

Why? I’ve talked with a lot of prospects, customers, and other businesspeople, and they are, no surprise, under unprecedented pressure. If they have kids, they’re busy balancing running daycares and schools at home while they’re trying to work. They’re dealing with blown-up plans and emergency pivots. They’re wondering whether they’ll have jobs next month. They’re concerned, worried, scared.

And they’re not interested in self-serving marketing from billion-dollar companies. They’re tired of being bombarded with emails and tweets and ads, all touting the latest and greatest way to fix problems that once seemed critical, and now, in a world where grocery shelves are bare, streets are deserted, and masks are everywhere, seem a little unimportant. I’ve seen complaint after complaint about how many brands are bombarding them with messages, and they’re getting frustrated with the noise.

So how do we cut through the bombardment? By knowing what our customers are TRULY interested in.

What ARE they interested in?

Human connection. Support. Options. Finding new possibilities in a trying time. Locating products and solutions that help them stay afloat in unfamiliar seas.

I guess I instinctively understood this. When all this began, I said that I was no longer in the “Marketing” business and was now in the “Customer Connection” business. I wanted to make sure that the work I did helped companies connect with customers to solve essential challenges, so they both would work together to stay alive in a disrupted world where all the old expectations were off.

What we need to do isn’t about lead generation, or pushing contacts through a funnel, it’s about connecting with people, learning what they need, and helping them decide if what you do will help them stay afloat. If we’re able to do that, then we might find ourselves in a place where Marketing matters in a new exciting way.

Of course there are dozens of tactics that go to making Marketing about human connection. But as the leader of a content marketing agency, I see three tiny ideas that ought to be more or less doable right away…and could give your prospects, and your marketers, for that matter, new reason to feel positive about your Marketing.

1. Start writing well.


Listen, I’m a communicator. I’ve been writing for audiences since 1993, when I published my first poem in a literary magazine.

And today I’m being forced to face a terrible fact.

Often, B2B Marketing writing sucks.

I mean this as nicely as I can, especially since I’m part of the problem. How many times have I written something that was okay but not engaging? Probably more than I’m willing to admit.

After all, we all know just how often B2B marketing sounds like it’s written for a machine, not a person.

It’s time to stop writing for a vague persona. “It’s written for the C-suite!” Really? The entire C-suite? You wrote for the CEO, CMO, CRO, CGO, CIO, and CLO at the same time? Are you sure?

It’s time to stop writing vague, predictable, pretentious content. Let’s be precise so our readers can immediately figure out what we’re doing.

For example, here’s a real line from a random white paper I found.

“Extending revenue optimization requires a platform that’s flexible, optimized for efficiency, and resilient.

Urgh. What the hell does “optimized for efficiency” mean? Do you mean “it cuts spend by 70%? It cuts the time an admin spends on essential tasks?” And what precisely is revenue optimization? I don’t know, it sounds vaguely good, but if I have to read six pages of content to find out what it means — am I going to do that?

Probably not.

What are the consequences of not changing how you write? Your prospects won’t read what you do, and your hard work doesn’t help. Get your F-K score down and run your content through Grammarly please. Read it out loud. Be precise, eye-catching, intriguing! Have a coworker review your work and punch it up. Take the Pixar storytelling class.

Why? In a world where organizations are putting out more and more content (to compensate for lost events, in part), mediocre content will simply bore people toward disengagement and dislike.

Disengagement and Dislike. Let’s steer away from disengagement and dislike, shall we?

2. Protect from your prospects from the noise.

I recently finished content audit for a customer. They had 47 pieces of content for a single product.

That’s right. 47. And 32 of those resources were outdated.

Noisy marketing. Too much unnecessary noise, too much confusion — leads to disconnection.

Can you imagine being a prospect today – no time, big problems in the office, two-year-old screaming for yogurt – and you’re tasked with wading through more than two dozen pieces of irrelevant content? I can’t speak for you, but I’d tap out and find another vendor with easily digestible content.

I think your prospects and customers need you to retune what you’re creating. It’s not time to cut back exactly. It’s time to focus on essentials, ensure that what you’re creating is easy to consume, and define clear-cut, customer-centric paths through content. It’s time to do more–but in different ways.

One part of this is to shift your content mix toward quickly digestable content. Make resources short, punchy. Use one big idea per piece. Include one pain, one opportunity, one benefit, one outcome. Long form content is on the back burner for now. Why? Because your prospects are pressed for time and attention, especially if what you’re selling is critical to helping their business survive.

Try repurposing what you have. Can you turn a long form technical blog into a short video? Can you pull some facts from a white paper and create an infographic?

I can see dozens of ways to guide prospects with intriguing technology. I’m playing around with a tool that lets Marketers create “choose your own path” videos. Imagine choosing Pain A, or Pain B, or Pain C, and having an entirely different curated experience. Interactive articles and case studies like those powered by Foleon (full disclosure: no business relationship at all!) could be another approach to try. Can you imagine a single interactive white paper with a C-suite path and an IT architect path through the writing, and what could be done with it?

It’s a noisy world. Give your prospects some protection, please.

3. Connect, listen, relate.

In a world where Events are gone, we can’t afford to be out of touch with the people we rely on, and want to help, and need to see thrive in this complicated time.

I don’t care if you’re sending LinkedIn messages asking for short chats, or sponsoring research, you’ve decided to run an online forum, or you’re engaging through Facebook. I think especially now, communication MUST flow in both directions, and my instinct is that the brands which double-down on engagement and connection and conversation are the brands that will stick around.

As a simple example, the other day, I spent two hours talking to various CMOs, just having an open-ended conversation about their thoughts. I gained dozens of important insights that have already changed my positioning and products. I suspect you’d get actionable insights from your prospects and customers too by just scheduling a chat a week.

But I’ve watched organizations cut their social media teams, cancel events, and not prioritize the focus groups they used to do in a short-sighted effort to reduce costs. I think, in this world of added pressure and mutual dependence, if you’re not listening, connecting, and relating…you’re going to miss out on opportunities to help your customers succeed.

And their success is your success.

In conclusion…

I’m sure some of these shifts are challenging, especially because what I’m proposing is a MINDSHIFT followed by a shift in tactics.

And I know your Marketing organizations are under pressure. Every one of my customers has cut back on personnel and programs. I’ve let contractors go and reduced my Marketing for the next few months.

But I know there are amazing organizations, including my clients, who know that we’re in a new world where there’s a new opportunity for vendors and customers to connect in new ways, and that connection will be a foundation for our mutual success.

And Marketing has an essential opportunity to help drive this togetherness. We’re in the business of connection, and it’s time to get going. Let’s work on mutual success through human marketing.

And good luck!