So You Want to Speak at a Conference?

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone had asked me which events their boss or client should speak at. The beginning of the year is peak absurd question season. As every comms agency is dusting off their client’s thought leadership strategy prior to their new year kick-off meeting, some poor minion is dispatched to pull together a list of conferences at which the CEO or her successor should be speaking. And yet so few have bothered to ask the fundamental question of what is he or she tying to achieve.

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone had asked me which events their boss or client should speak at. The beginning of the year is peak absurd question season. As every comms agency is dusting off their client’s thought leadership strategy prior to their new year kick-off meeting, some poor minion is dispatched to pull together a list of conferences at which the CEO or her successor should be speaking.

The answer is classic It Depends.

It depends on your marketing and communications strategy. Are you looking to raise the profile of your leadership? If so, with whom? Are you launching a new corporate narrative? If so, why? Are you trying to make your overall brand better known? If so, for what? Are you looking to develop new business or cement your relationship with existing customers? Depending on the answer, one event will be better than another.

There is no point speaking at the largest Internet of Things event in the world (unless you are being paid a lot of money to do so) if the audience you are trying to impress are bee keepers.

The events sector is a $1 trillion + global industry with more than 10 premier B2B events held daily. There is plenty of choice.

Events change ownership though, lose or gain traction and punch above or below their true weight. Carefully auditing an event’s current status is vital before raising your hand and saying you’d like to be on the stage.

You really want to be sure that their brand values mesh with yours. Who else will be speaking there? Are you happy to share even the green room, let alone the platform, with e.g. Nigel Farage or other controversial keynotes? Who is chairing the event? Is his or her tacit endorsement of your brilliance a good thing? Who will be in the audience? Most critically, when and where will you be speaking? Are you on the main stage or tucked away in a breakout session in the dead zone after lunch while your biggest competitor has their own standing room only unplugged session in the auditorium?

Finding the perfect event is only half the battle of course.  It is sometimes hard to hear, or tell your client, but the organiser might not be as convinced as you are, that giving you a keynote or putting you on a panel, is the way forward. Particularly if you have something to sell.

Event producers are looking for two things: speakers who will attract others (whether it is delegates, sponsors, media coverage or other speakers) or who will dazzle on the day (creating happy delegates who will therefore return next year and recommend the event to other people, and lots of media coverage) – ideally both.

The perfect event faculty is made up of legends (political, financial, business, social), thought leaders, best in class practitioners, inspirers and disrupters (the innovators, commentators and technologists). Positioning where you fit within that mix will ensure that when you raise your hand to speak, the event organiser bites your arm off.

The deck attached takes you through step by step how to choose the right platform, how to be invited to keynote at the world’s leading events and how to make the most of it when you do.

Happy speaking.

What Do We Do Again?

One of my favourite passages in David Gilbertson’s Wine Bar Theory is when he says “Make sure you can describe your business simply. Then you can explain it to someone attractive you just met and are sitting next to at a dinner party or on a park bench. By the time you finish telling them what you do they need to be looking deeply into your eyes. Not lying face down in their soup. Or wandering off to find another bench.” Yet very often when I meet with clients and ask what they do I get a dozen different answers from a dozen different people. Some of the feistiest client board meetings I have been in involve the senior team arguing about what their business proposition is. So many things get in the way of nailing it down: egos, dreams, cash-flow, departmental rivalries. Yet, unless everyone is clear internally about what they do, why that is special and how it will continue, it is quite hard for their customers to appreciate it. Two facilitated exercises for helping everyone get on the same page are the Client Value Matrix and Stakeholder Perceptions. Download them here.

Marketing Power

A friend of mine (ex Telegraph and Cannes Lions to name but a couple powerhouse brands she has led) who is doing her masters in socio-linguistics, told me recently that she’s observed that the word marketing is normally used with a reductive qualifier or negative conjoin. Think “just marketing” or “marketing cost”.

David Gilbertson, co-founder of the FTSE top 50, B2B media empire Informa wrote in his best seller Wine Bar Theory, 28 rules for succeeding in business, that many people are suspicious of marketing, or scared of it, or, because they don’t really know how to do it, or simply see it as a cost.

David imagines a man putting $5 into a slot machine, pulling the handle and getting $10 out. If that is what happens when you invest in marketing, why wouldn’t you do more of it? And done right, it isn’t about gambling of course, or taking a chance, it is about a deliberate, planned ROI which doesn’t just double your money but gives you 4, 5 or 10 times a return.

So why the negativity? Why are too many marketing teams seen as the colouring in department or my personal bête noir, the party planning or premium department? Partly I suspect because when non marketers in a company come into contact with marketing it is at a customer party they planned or because they have committed some brand sin and are being reprimanded for getting the corporate colour wrong; partly it is because executive boards when they have run out of all other ideas think tinkering with the company logo will fix their ills and partly it is I think because too many marketing departments have the wrong conversations with non-marketers. We might think fonts are fascinating – everyone else glazes over. Marketing is the power that drives your business. If you don’t believe that, either your marketing department needs improvement or you are giving them poor direction.

Philip Kotler calls marketing the art and science of exploring, creating and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit. You will notice that nowhere does he mention anything about party planning. Or premiums. Especially edible ones. Or trash can magnetic ones. Why would you ever waste money putting your logo on something that people are going to eat or throw away or indeed some combination of the two?

Marketing is about having something of value – let’s call that our proposition, which delivers something of benefit – let’s call that our brand promise – to a group of people, let’s call that our target market, which they will happily pay more for then it cost you to create and tell them about it.  That is the essence of marketing.

There are 10 core areas every competent marketer should obsess about:

Being crystal clear about what makes you special
How people instantly recognise that, and you stay true to it
Where your market is and where you sit within that market
Who specifically is in it
How you are going to reach them
Which media you are going to use to do so
What will persuade them to say yes, individually and collectively
How you know whether it is working or not
And who should be helping you do it

In corporate speak, marketing is about:

  1. Purpose and proposition
  2. Brand
  3. Market mapping
  4. Target audiences and segmentation
  5. GTM strategy
  6. Media
  7. Content and campaigns
  8. Copy and personalisation
  9. Measurement
  10. The team

It all begins with purpose. What is the very essence of you? Apple’s purpose is to Unlock Creativity. The Economists is to spread Reason and Rationality. The BBC’s is to inform, educate and entertain. These all have the great merit of being both very simple and very measurable. In the latest Steve Jobs movie, his daughter draws a picture on the Mac using the mouse without instruction. Creativity Unlocked, check.

If someone has persuaded you to write a complicated mission statement which includes how you are going to save the world, unless you are a working on a solution to global warming or the middle east peace process, you would probably do well to tear it up and re-think it.

Your proposition is ultimately very straight forward:

What is it that we do?
For whom?
Why is what we do / the way in which we do it special?
How do our clients benefit?

If you can answer those four questions your proposition – what it is that you are delivering of value – is clear, and you can summarise that into a pithy purpose statement.

Of course, before you put out the bunting and tattoo your purpose across your back a la David Beckham, just double check if those customer needs are currently being met, and if so, by whom? And are we better?

Assuming that’s all good, we can move on to the Brand. A lot of people like this part because it is fun to create logos and play around with colour palettes and fonts. Which is all fine (except that it can stop you being taken seriously) but should not be confused with the brand.

A brand is not a logo. A brand is not an identity. A brand is not a product. It is all about how other people view you. Just think about Pret right now. Their logo, colour scheme and products have not changed in the last month. But their brand has been damaged by people’s perception of how they acted.

Which is hard. And salutary. Because if you break your promise about who you are and what you stand for then people will punish you for it. So it is worth thinking carefully up front about what you want your brand identity to be and how you will deliver it.

At the centre is our purpose. Then the attributes or characteristics of our proposition. The things that make us special. Then what it says about the customers, how it makes them feel, what it delivers for them. The personality is how we go about delivering that message. The emotional component of a brand is important. Compare BA and Virgin. They have very similar attributes, the benefits of what they deliver is very similar. But what it says about you if you are loyal to Virgin vs BA, how it makes you feel and the personality is very different. Virgin is all about being cool and quirky. BA is about being classically British.

The Brand ID system follows your identity. You do need a short hand for people to recognise you. All brands have codes; graphical and symbolic devices that are associated with the company or product. A logo is a code. But as Mark Ritson argues, a “well run brand has more than just its logo. It might also have a colour. A pattern. An additional motif …. These are the things that loyal customers associate with the brand and immediately on encountering them they recognise the brand in question, even when the logo is yet to appear. Tiffany’s box. Coke’s curve. The panther of Cartier. The serpent of Bulgari. Cadbury purple. Hermès and its horses. You get the idea.”

Having this, doesn’t just make you recognisable, it will also save you considerable time and money to have templates that you re-use. Going back to the Economist. Think how straightforward the creative for their poster campaigns tend to be. It is white out text on a red background.

You need a colour palette with a primary colour or two and secondary colours, and a colour wheel to show them in proportion. You need fonts and a tone of voice and an image style. The system comes AFTER you have determined the identity. Not v.v.

If you are a Fortune 500 company or a fabulously funded dot.com business you might want to bring in a top agency to do this for you. If you are running your business from your kitchen table, don’t. Adobe has some great colour tools. Some of the most recognisable marks in the world are Word marks. Give a really tight brief to a small, local designer or even a freelancer. Bring in the genius of a branding agency like the phenomenal Pentagram when you know that your customers perceive your brand the way you envisioned and that your business is here for the long haul.

Once you have it though don’t mess with it. Unless you have a truly awful reputation or have done a dramatic U-turn in who you are or what you are selling, don’t change your brand system. Don’t hire a marketing manager who says the first thing they would do is change the logo. As a marketer, joining a new company, be wary of working for someone who says the first thing they’d like you to do is change the brand system. Either there is a problem with the business or your new boss doesn’t know what’s important. Neither of which is good.

So now you have your proposition and your brand you can map where your product and or service sits compared to others in your market. The most obvious two are quality and price. But there are hordes of other variables that will be specific to your market. They could include ease of use, service, luxury, custom, sustainability, exclusivity or % of cocoa or coolness factor. They might be the amount of packaging you use or if you have wifi.

If when you have done this, you can’t see where your clear market opportunity is you may need to go back and think about your proposition again. If it all looks good, now just double check that the attributes you put in your Brand I hold true compared to your market position. If you had FAST for instance as one of your attributes and have now discovered that there are half a dozen companies that are faster you might want to re-think it.

So now you have mapped the market successfully, you want to find your target audience. You need to be really clear of their demographic, orgagraphic and psyhographic characteristics. Otherwise, you will be wasting your marketing spend.

Some things like geography, membership and buyer type cut across both consumer and business audiences; but other characteristics are unique.

B2B audiences are defined by company size (think revenue, employees), type (think private, public, PE owned), sector (nature of business), job function and seniority.

B2C demographics, measurable externals, are things like income, gender, age, education. As with B2B though, the more specific you can be about behaviour the better. If you are opening a book store, it is much more useful to know that someone still buys hard copy books then that they live within a 1 mile radius and have blue eyes, even if you have identified that people with blue eyes who live within walking distance to the book shop are your best buyer group.

When you can tap into people’s tribal identification you have your strongest purchasing identifiers. There is no point in trying to sell Spurs scarves to an Arsenal supporter even though you have correctly identified that they will buy sports paraphernalia.

Nike’s latest campaign demonstrated a brilliant understanding of their target audience tribes. While news outlets had a field day showing Tweets of people setting their Nike’s on fire. Their core target market responded to their message and sales shot up. The idea isn’t to be something for everyone. It is to be everything for someone.

Just make sure that there are enough someone’s – that your market is big enough – to make money.

And to make sure everyone remembers who you are selling to and doesn’t suddenly decide it would be great publicity to sponsor the Royal Opera House when your target audience are sheep farmers in Wales, update your brand I with the target market.

The next thing to obsess about is how we reach that target market and how many steps do we need to go through before we can win clients, dazzle them and persuade them to win more. It could be very simple, if you have a unique offer which is sufficiently sticky, maybe all you have to do is get the brand known, drive people to download the app, use it and become addicted. Uber would be a great example of this.

Or maybe it is a bit more complicated. Think of a highly competitive, premium professional services GoToMarket approach. They need to build the audience of people they want to engage with using research, social media, networking etc. They need those people to know what they stand for and offer. They then have to prove that they actually know what they are talking about so that people raise their hand and want to hear more from them. They then have to see which of those people that have raised their hand meet their target audience criteria, who are likely to have the money and inclination to buy. Then they need to hand them over to a sales person to win the mandate. You might think why bother doing all this upfront, why not just let the sales person try and pitch the client. The answer is because 60% of the sale is made before someone meets the sales person. And you have highly compensated people who shouldn’t be wasting their time with people who won’t buy or spending their time trying to convince the person of the firm’s credentials when all of that can have been done beforehand far more cost effectively.

So once know the steps in the process, you can think about the media mix that you are going to use to make it happen. The key here is that not every medium is correct for every stage in the process.

Twitter for example is great for brand awareness, for building the community and driving traffic. It isn’t good for lead generation or direct marketing.

Facebook is good for creating user-based promotions. One of the favourite ones I ever did was a competition for our WGSN (on-line global trend forecaster) advocates to demonstrate how much they loved us by taking the We Love WGSN badge and creating something fabulous from it. The entries included the team from C&A in Brazil who literally stopped traffic creating a human statue of the logo and a designer in Mexico who tattooed it on his shoulder. A swimwear design team in New Zealand created a beautiful origami piece. That was all about creating viral reach and visibility.

We also did one for Brunswick at Davos where we targeted people actually at Davos and put sponsored content in front of them. In those two days we reached more new CEOs for less money than any other campaign we did. It cost us under $500.

Which brings us to content and campaigns. Content marketing is flavour of the month at the moment. That really doesn’t mean it is suitable in all circumstances. Sometimes – like when you are promoting visitor tickets to an exhibition you can just tell them what they’ll get and why it is worth the train fare or the parking to get it. You don’t have to entice them with other sweeties along the way. That said, if you are tempted to do content marketing, be sure to think carefully where you are simply joining the conversation in order to become part of a community, where you are really adding to it and where you own it because you have genuinely brought something new to it.

I sometimes think marketers have latched on to content marketing because it seems a lot easier to do then to write hard hitting copy. Ask somebody to read something, join in a conversation, look at some lovely pictures of celebrities in gorgeous clothes, you don’t have to slave over copy the way that you do when you want someone to act in a way that involves handing over hard cold cash. David Ogilvy famously said that copywriting is selling with a typewriter. So, whether you are reviewing it or writing it yourself, here are 10 things to remember:

Know your audience
Nail the fear / greed
Use words that sell
Keep to the WSJ rules
Remember the journalists’ friends

  • Who
  • What
  • Why
  • How
  • When
  • #
  • ?

Think FAB (Feature, Advantage, Benefit)
Specificity sells
Make it all about the right me
Remember no one cares that you are proud or delighted
Take time over it
Be a ruthless editor

And if you are going to personalise your emails or your leaflets, do it right. Remember the famous Labour election piece that read Dear First Name? Don’t personalise gratuitously and do always have another set of eyes proof read anything before it goes out.

One of the many things that I love about marketing is that you can measure exactly how well something is working. You can test whether one thing works better than another and you can change as you go along. Most social media marketing services even do it for you. Any marketing automation system or half way decent email provider will let you set up splits and resend the email to the underperforming split with for instance a new header.

In today’s world, you need someone to work for you who is all over this. Don’t worry if they are a digital native. Worry that they are super high energy, deeply curious, because it is all changing so fast. They don’t have to be Picasso and have deep technical expertise and creative genius but they do need to love both bits (or you need to have a team made up of some techies, some analysts, some project managers and some creatives). And they must be passionate because they are the custodian of your dreams. Or more prosaically, your share price.