New Epoch Manifesto
The epoch in the room
There's a moment in the movie The Big Short, when broker Mark Baum meets his smug nemesis, fund manager Mr Chau, over sushi. Chau is oozing synthetic CDOs, helicopters, playing both sides. Baum finally sees the instrument of the zealot traders, the blind investment goliaths, the sub-prime cavity.
The whole system is bombed. It's clear now. But no-one else can see it. It's Baum's holy sh*t moment.
Cut to you.
Eating M&S sushi at your desk, agonising over strategy. Is your whole system bombed too? Feels like a goddamn movie. Covid-whumph. Brexit-whumph. Bear-market-whumph.
Bewildered governments, fractured commerce. Brexit an unguessable feature of the market landscape. The global economy's tanked, retail's down. Oh and the looong bear ahead.
Thing is, everyone's staring so hard at Recovery that they can't see the huge new epoch in the room.
But you can. You're here with us. Evidence all around, like debris. Your holy sh*t moment.
"Epoch, what epoch?"
Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, 2020
Come on, grab your phone, let's get shots of this new B2B marketing epoch. Understand its form and consequence. Then pivot the hell out of it.
Nine Leviathan bombs
We weren't ready for the pre-epoch salvo. The market leaders, disruptors, challengers, laggards, nobody noticed. But what actually is it?
It's a huge concussion of fissile forces.
1. Infinite monkeys
Pre-epoch, buyers had become immune to content marketing and its inconsequential noise. Low-quality, formulaic, unhelpful vom. A consequence of infinite monkeying with infinite typewriters.
All industries, all companies, just authoring blah. Almost a perfect real-world enactment of Emile Borel's Infinite Monkey theorem.
What's happened? It's overwhelmed buyers, diminished meaning and depleted trust.
Now that's a world-sized problem.
2. Goliath betrayals
As their channels clogged, audiences were saturated.
Your posts reached fewer and fewer people, unless you could afford the smarts.
The ROI from organic search and social monopolies has been sliding for years. They're no longer serving you - you're serving them.
Demanding every company become a media company. Which stoked it for them, choked it for you. It's the attrition from frequent algorithm changes and the goliaths' obsession with enriching their medium.
Look at your ROI thoroughly, you'll be as shocked as Mark Baum.
3. Workflow royale with cheese
The fourth industrial revolution is in motion now. VR, blockchain, AI as a service, SaaS and much more blossoming everywhere. Blurring the boundaries between the physical, digital and biological.
And largely focused on customer experience.
Maybe you're hanging back, or just dabbling. But finance, marketing and operations in B2B have never been more ready for root and branch reinvention.
The ocean of new tech held back by old-school management will flood industry and commerce, sinking the laggards.
4. Flywheel and keel
Pre-epoch, sales playbooks were already dramatically abandoning the funnel model. The flywheel embraces non-linear marketing and sales, the more chaotic and deferred buying process.
A new complexity, challenging ways we think? Not really, but the flywheel needs new behaviours and more considered planning.
And a constant keel to keep the messaging upright.
Flywheel and keel will usher in more customer understanding in the new era.
A new drive for the winners. A slow death for the losers.
5. Narrative waning
Scripted narrative has been a mainstay of advertising and marketing content in social and web platforms. But its one-way and authoritative tone is showing signs of shabbiness.
Not because there's something wrong with narrative.
Yet the scripting, the voice-over, the slickness are perhaps acquiring an obsolescence now that interactive video is here, with viewer-defined options.
Further, businesses everywhere have a duty to build trust far beyond the authoritative voices of the third industrial revolution. The commanding, confident one-way message is plainly trusted less today.
The customer wants to be heard, understood. Part of a dialogue. Narrative ducking will allow customer-experience focused companies to talk and listen at the same time.
6. Sentiment chauffeurs
Confidence, optimism, expectation, empathy, faith, trust. These are the kings and queens of B2B emotion.
And video, text, and imagery (in order of efficacy) are their drivers. Dispatching your audiences to your desired destination.
So much is known about these emotions in universities and media labs.
So rarely do they reach our boardrooms.
Question is, who's driving? White van drivers, carting your customer on a crate in the rear, or chauffeurs, sweeping them in velvet and leather luxury to your proposition?
7. Split-test or bust
Many global companies use multivariate split-testing in their communication. Have done for years. In emails, ads, websites, on social.
When your numbers are big enough, there's no case for passing it by.
Recently, SaaS services have democratised this technology, especially in email and web, making it affordable and easy to deploy. Today, it's possibly one of the most under-used practices going.
Shame it's not available for video.
8. R/evolution now
Right now, strong SMEs and the smarter large corporations are undergoing Darwinian selection - only the nimble will thrive.
Many will fall.
Of course, selection is based on suitability to compete. The strongest business traits at the onset of this new epoch are vision and sensing, adaptability and speed. Together, raw competitive power.
Which starts with competitor insight. It's more important today than ever. Yet nobody can score or analyse competitor videos or define success models.
9. Visual intimacy
Post-Covid, a willing togetherness has emerged. Even though we're remote.
Zoom, Webex, WhatsApp and others have helped us prevail. And they've never been more vital for trading.
Or for seeing colleagues in pyjamas, and clients in kitchens.
Couture aside, something's slipped in unnoticed here. The preference for seeing. And the need to be seen better. Stronger visuals. Better schematics. Cleaner decks. And better video.
So the question arises - how visual are you as a company?
"It's alive! It's alive!"
Dr Frankenstein, Frankenstein, 1931
The new epoch has clear traits, new risks and opportunities. We see this. We have the photos.
Entrepreneurs and investors have for centuries made the most of adversity. Specifically, of the opportunities arising from adversity.
In our new epoch, it's already happening. Zoom is killing carbon. Green is the new economic engine. Bicycles, cooking, books, gardening, headphones are all up. Brits are picking strawberries.
Recognise any adversity-harvesting here?
As with all new epochs, old norms are discarded. Rules torn up. Every strategy you know is obsolete. Unless you want to simply survive.
"I don't want to survive. I want to LIVE!"
Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave, 2013
So what's the next big, smart, feasible pivot? You ask. Confidently.
As it turns out, 1 huge omelette. Made from 9 good eggs.
The Grand Pivot
How to clear up after Leviathan ordnance
1. Put the spraygun down
Quick experiment: Scroll your socials. Terry's new job. Sarah on authenticity. Marcel's Whiteboard Wednesday. Strewth, the formulaic blah of it. Beautiful containers, lifeless content.
Keep scrolling. You're starting to detach. Was it ever okay to repeatedly post this stuff? Does any playbook say keep spewing noise at all costs? Home-made noise. Who can read the output from infinite monkeys?
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
Rhett Butler, Gone With the Wind, 1939
Oh, wait though.
There's something really good here. You realise - discomforted - that the sponsored content has stand-out. You've stopped scanning, now you're watching. Not detached any more, engaged. The noise switched off for a moment.
This company spent time on their content. Thought about customer needs. The pain-remedy idea. Conjured the idea into a proposition. Spruced it with colour and tension. Made it stand out. Made it actionable, or entertaining. Or both.
Forget that they paid to post it into your stream. The point is they bothered.
And you should too.
With or without paying, you have to nourish your audience with ideas, expressed as actionable propositions. This is the only way to rise above mediocrity. It's also your duty as a company to express yourself as a solver of problems. Because you are.
Your audience deserves it, and you do too. Because you forget the good you do. We all do. But you're here. Changing the way you communicate.
Noise off, proposition on.
2. You're not a media company
Remember Tom Foremski's 2005 mantra every company is a media company? The concept was this: Because your audiences inhabit social media, you can no longer merely sell and produce, you must become a media producer to reach them there.
This is, and always was, pure ordure.
The delusion was picked up by Cisco in 2007, and the search and social goliaths soon after. We tracked it. Can't blame them for encouraging every company in the world to consume their services.
Almost two decades later, you're a supremely rare beast if you have either first-page ranks or bustling lead flows from social or organic search. The ROI is palpably hollow.
You're obsolete, they demand, unless you keep up, retune, often re-engineer. Which you do. But the conversion ramp is flat or declining. Look at your results. They don't lie. Your trust, your constant effort, your cash, they're all thinning.
Can you hear the pied piper here? After years of social and search investment, what do you actually have? A 'presence'. Really? And what's the value of that? Grrr. What's that rising at the top of your chest? Could it be anger?
"I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."
Maximus Decimus Meridius, Gladiator, 2000
Do List: Calculate the ROI deficit if it makes you feel better. Rage at the number if it helps. But in your gut, you know this sinking feeling.
You've been played. The whole ecosystem has failed you. The giant platforms are selling you synthetic marketing.
Time to respond. The doors are open. Your prospects are inside. Re-skill, re-tool and return. You're not a media company, remember? So get help with audience behaviour, targeting, scheduling, frequency and more. Fewer, shorter, more impactful, differentiated films that solve real client problems will always help you cut through the fog of bore.
Create with preparation, with imagination, with professionalism. And recycle with precision.
Vengeance is distinction.
3. Workflow Royale with Cheese
Cut to your office. Wired magazine on your tablet. You're reading up on the fourth industrial revolution. Digitalisation, SaaS platforms, enterprise apps, Internet of things. They're everywhere.
Blending the physical, digital, and biological worlds.
The transformation will be almost total, irreversible, inevitable. Familiar comfort is about to go south, to a risky unknown. Just the lucky and the lifeboats.
Early and late adopters are already committed - in services, manufacturing, public sector. You've just got to get past the difficult moment of decision and join them.
"What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?"
Anton Chighur, No Country for Old Men, 2007
Consider which parts of your finance, marketing and operations give you most pain. And start there. They are ready for modernising.
Connect and convert at all levels of the pr, marketing, sales and operations process.
Or stay behind, and face the consequences.
4. Flywheel and keel
For decades, we've seen narrative push its story towards customers. The primacy of narrative. And customers with declining trust in the autocratic voice. The confident corporate, blindly peddling message as the audience dwindles.
But there's no reward in that.
The funnel is dead.
Customers don't move conveniently down a tidy, layered, gated pathway towards your gleaming contract. They bounce around, testing, comparing, exploring.
"I could do this all day."
Captain America, Captain America: Civil War, 2016
So no funnel. In its place, the flywheel. A constantly turning and weighty flow of content which the buyer touches as they see fit. Unpredictably.
Those touches might include, in no particular order, a search engine, blogs, trade body articles, TED talks, a few YouTubes, pricing pages, comparison sites, LinkedIn groups, white papers, Twitter chats, support desk emails.
Your content has to discern the moments of their buying cycle, the occasion of their search or touch. It's their timeline, their pace. You just have to be ready to attract, assure, inspire, persuade, nurture, explain and convince - all at the right moment.
Short, clear, emotive videos will truly make the buyer experience more enjoyable here.
And a constancy of message, simplicity and actionability, to act as a keel. To keep the messaging upright.
Flywheel and keel.
5. Honey, I shrunk the narrative
When you measure the steady global growth of interest in customer experience, you can feel the new epoch's beating heart. What we see is a union of utility, emotion and competitive advantage. That's far from new. What is new is their impact on messaging.
Viewers want to go behind the scenes. Meet the technicians, understand the process. Feel the challenges, smell the reality. They want levers to pull, choices, conversation, interaction.
This is not the environment for a polished presentation.
Today, in the vast majority of company websites and socials, narrative is still pushing story down the throats of customers. Strong and clear but unlistening. Autocratic. A whiff of 'we know best'.
"You talkin' to me?"
Travis, Taxi Driver, 1976
But we're in the new epoch now. Narrative doesn't have to be preachy. Or linear. Or deaf.
The end of narrative? Certainly not. But dialogue - the listening voice, the interactive conversation - is in its ascendancy.
Experience and choice will replace the straight funnel sell. We're already capturing sentiment interactively, with new video players. Letting viewers define the storyflow. It's about listening, being generous in tone, bigger on ideas, bigger on actionability. The narrative, though present, has been ducked.
The new epoch is ushering in a welcome shift from the primacy of narrative to the primacy of idea-action. An idea that can be acted on.
6. B2B big emotions
B2B is more emotional than B2C. Hard to believe, but true.
Major Gartner research shows that B2B buyers are MORE emotionally connected to their suppliers than B2C buyers. Actually twice as much more. Yes, I know.
Sure, boards, investors and business audiences have their rational purchasing criteria, but they have hearts too. They want to feel confidence, faith, optimism, expectation, empathy and trust.
Decision-making is driven by emotion. Rationale is used to justify it. We know this. There's some heavy research on it.
But the B2B buying process is becoming more sophisticated. We have CX design, the new flywheel and narrative ducking. Critically, sentiment is playing a bigger role in these areas, and in communication generally.
Is your firm outwardly B2B emotional? Strong on creating empathy, understanding and vision for all those rich persuaders?
So what can you do about that?
"I'm going to have to science the s*** out of this."
Mark Watney, The Martian, 2015
Short answer, humanity plus numbers.
Longer answer, create a classy vehicle for emotional messaging, chauffeur your viewer towards your proposition, and analyse. Video is the dominant medium for this.
Your character, your authenticity, your energy can be a reason for viewers to invest or buy.
And where better to express that than in dramatic narratives. The challenge overcome, the client in need, the difficulty of what you do, or the joy of a successful outcome.
So embrace the value of emotion in your films, even for the driest of audiences.
7. Onto the test track
Most of the messages you receive from big firms have been split-tested using multivariate analysis.
Images, paragraphs, sentences, titles and colours are routinely swapped in and out under mathematically supervised circumstances. You may be the guinea pig or the treasured target, you won't know. But your response will be recorded and analysed.
SaaS services have made this kind of campaigning easy to deploy and affordable.
Yet strangely, this science is seldom used by small and medium-sized firms. There's still a lingering preference for the original copy, image or video.
It's one of the most under-used practices going. And it's never been available for video.
"Release the Kraken!"
Hades, Clash of the Titans, 2010
Get your hands around the shoulders of testing. Give it a big warm squeeze.
Open an account at any split-testing SaaS tool and let it run a few months. Build your knowledge.
And when you have some clear insights, hug harder, and try multivariate testing. Get a little more sophisticated - see how themes and emotions, propositions and captions work best. Read up on the brilliant but hard work of proposition wording. Doug Hall's wonderful Jump Start Your Business Brain is a good place to start.
Have a look at the new breed of video analytics tools too and test the old way with multiple video versions. Many will help you understand your audience, though the cost is high.
Shameless plug - our video testing allows multiple narrative elements to test simultaneously in affordable multivariate ways.
8. R/evolution now
Darwinian selection tracks nature over millennia. Business selection is more like a decade. But Covid turned that into a year.
So it feels more like a revolution than an evolution.
And competition for markets in this half revolution, half evolution will be fierce.
Competition based on three abilities.
First, the ability to see all around you and develop a short and longer-term vision.
Second, the ability to change operations, marketing and finance to match that vision.
And third, the ability to do it all quickly.
"Yippie-ki-yay, motherf*cker !"
John McClane, Die Hard, 1988
First steps are inciting steps. They lead you towards the new way. Often with shock, seeing with a new clarity. Competitor insight is just such clarity. The volts of change. And more important now than ever before.
Did you know that you can't analyse competitor websites for their use of video? Or Google the number of in-house videos on a website? Or find out the industry benchmark for video usage? Or adopt an international scorecard for video content? Or define video success models?
Until now, that is.
Now you can score yourselves against competitors, niches, sector and market. We built AI software in 2020 to do this. We're sure others have too.
So you can see what's good, what's bad, what's next.
9. Going visual
You're munching a cheesy snack before a client Zoom call. Working from home, as is your client.
And as you savour your Quavers, a warm fuzzy thought occurs. We're all willing to be together, remotely, regardless of location. It's a new kind of intimacy. We're relaxed about kitchen tables and colleagues' cardigans.
It's kinda lovely, this new homely informality. You can almost smell the hygge.
"Here's looking at you, kid."
Rick Blaine, Casablanca, 1942
There's something else here. A new taste for visuals.
And oh, to be seen in a better light, to look cooler, clearer, more definitively you.
And sure, some of that is stronger infographics, better slide decks. But video needs to be right too. Stronger, more compelling.
Your CEO describing the service's vision. Your techs, reassuring. Your sales team, explaining. Now is the time to invest, to feed the new demand for a visual you.
Bonus clue: The nano-niche
The theory of a lucrative nano-niche is known to many in marketing and sales. But it's seldom acted on.
After all, on LinkedIn you can select non-London advisors to corporate treasurers of UK energy firms who were active on the platform in the last fortnight and who have charitable interests.
This kind of niche power demands a tubful of intelligent thinking. You'll have to put some effort in. Understanding niche needs, curating appropriate messaging, tailoring your product.
Lucky for you that's where the lazy bail out. Leaving you to fly the plane.
So go grab those nano-niches. But how?
"Truth is like poetry. And most people f***ing hate poetry."
Overheard, The Big Short, 2013
Phew. What just happened?
You stared at the abyss. You hailed the new epoch. Took photos. Even shared them with colleagues.
Now you're really mulling, stewing, bubbling. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. And exhale.
Closing moments coming towards us.
"Hazard yet forward""
Sir Christopher Seton, Clan Seton motto, 1306
There has never been a better time to pivot. Your firm doesn't need to spend years and fortunes on social marketing inanities, on resultless social connections, on leadless SEO. Content and search marketing has become blah marketing. But that's not just pre-epoch dereliction. That's what your zombie competitors will continue to do long into this epoch. Good! You're not them.
Time to pivot.
What's stopping you?
What's at risk here?
The risk of doing nothing? Slow or even swift death. The risk of doing something dramatic to modernise the business? Slow or even swift growth.
And what's involved in this transformation?
Which takes a little courage if you've never done it before. And a lot of courage if you're a conservative firm. We were. Still are a bit, working on that.
Of course, some competitors will do it before you, may already have done. You just have to do it better.
Just think, what if you turned the tide, produced commercially rewarding content? Not just spectacular videos or jaw-dropping ideas. But the will to change, to mean it and to reveal it.
Now go a step further - what if you had already turned this way - in a small way - back at the start of Covid, stumbling around in the dark, asking existential questions about your firm?
You asked questions, alright. You wondered about the size of the pandemic, the impact of lockdown, the suspension of meetings, the deferment of leads. And you wondered how you would adapt. Or fail even.
In that wondering, the seeds were sown for your reprisal. Those adaptations you made. You've started.
The Brexit-Covid-Bear fires are still burning. But the bigger challenge by far, the behemoth in the room - is the new marketing epoch. And you're already involved, thinking, flexing, facing it down.
Of course no-one knows industry's future timeline. Only agile, daring, learning ways will make the playbook. And you're here now. Maybe more muscular, maybe wounded and healing too. But you're in the room. The players' room.
Your firm does so much good, and is capable of so much more. It's aching to be found, understood, purchased and loved. In the new ways of this manifesto.
Nothing's stopping you because you've already started. So have we.
Pivot grandly, fellow traveller.
TLDR - New epoch B2B marketing
Only got 60 seconds to save your business? Here's the too-long-didn't-read:
1. Why you must change: because clogged social and organic search channels impede you, return practically nothing, and rob you of time and resources. And because customers have become immune to content marketing.
2. How those changes affect you: existentially, badly.
3. What's the risk of doing versus not doing: low, and very high, in that order.
4. What your firm wants: to be seen, understood, purchased and loved.
5. Your new bag of tools: amplifying your visible customer experience, offering distinctively more when you communicate, workflowing everything, exchanging funnels for flywheels, swapping pitch for suggest-and-listen, emoting wisely to instill confidence and optimism, testing like hell, continually-competitor-learning, becoming more visual, ESGing seriously, revealing, and nano-niching.
The new enterprise epoch. It's here now. Wake up!
This isn't just our manifesto.
It's yours too.
Hang on to your fear, your anger, your outrage. You're going to need them.
Liberate your marketing
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