Creating raving brand advocates in the B2B tech space isn’t impossible—if you’re willing to get creative with your marketing. Rob Meinhardt, founder of Dell KACE and partner at Toba Capital, has proven that differentiating your brand can pay off big time in the B2B world. Watch Rob’s Advocamp presentation to learn his top four tips for turning customers into rabid fans—no matter how straight-laced your industry is.
On the way up this morning, I was trying to do two things well: First, I was trying to get here in one piece, because last week I came up to do a different presentation for a different company and I got in a car accident. So this time, it was all about getting here safe in one piece. That was accomplished pretty well.
The second thing I was trying to do was get fired up for this presentation, and that seemed like it was going well. And then I got here and the guy who was mic-ing me up said ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m Rob Meinhardt. Don’t you see me on the agenda?’ And he says, ‘I don’t see you anywhere on the agenda.’ He looks at the agenda, and I see there are three names scratched out. It turns out I was the third or fourth draft pick for this spot. Then I was thinking: why is that? How could that possibly be the case? I mean, I’ve founded a couple of companies. One went public. One was acquired by Dell. I stood on this very stage with Michael Dell during our user conference after we were acquired. I’ve run marketing departments. I think I was one of Influitive’s first customers. We did a pretty good job with Influitive. And it finally hit me why I was a third or fourth draft pick: It’s because I became a venture capitalist, and venture capitalists don’t know anything.
So, when Mark Organ asked me to do this presentation, I was trying to think of how I was going to do this with two dozen people giving presentations on customer advocacy. How am I going to say anything different? I haven’t been in marketing for a while. I haven’t run a company for a while, but I started thinking more about people that I know that have used Influitive—the company that I founded, other companies that I’m an investor in, use Influitive.
And I started to think about some companies that have unbelievable results with Influitive. Some companies have nearly great results with Influitive and other companies have okay results with Influitive. That’s just a natural situation with any product. But why do companies sometimes have truly amazing experiences with Influitive? And so, I came up with this idea of advocacy potential. It’s based on the notion of potential energy. If you guys took physics, think about this big rock sitting up on top of this pillar represents a whole lot of potential energy. If that rock falls over, it’s going to create a lot of energy, a lot of boom.
So, what can we do as marketers to create a lot of boom that we can unlock with Influitive? Another quick analogy: in baseball, home runs are pretty good thing to have. But grand slam home runs are a much better thing to have. It’s the same strike of a bat. It’s the same ball going over the wall, but it has a much bigger impact. So how can we as marketers load the bases so that tools like Influitive can unlock that full advocacy potential?
Here’s the serenity prayer. Anybody go to Catholic school? The serenity prayer is kind of interesting. The basic notion is that you have to accept the things you cannot change, and have the courage to change the things you can. Most of us in this room do not own the product, right? How many people own the product in this room? Not very many. We’re marketers. Product is an amazing place to start your customer advocacy. But, the fact is, most people in this room don’t actually control the product. We might make suggestions, we might be able to influence a little bit, but it’s not in our domain. So what are the things as marketers we can start doing to load the gun and create that potential energy that we can unlock with Influitive?
I’m going to start here with ethos. As marketers, if there’s anything that we actually do control, it’s the ethos. It’s the cult of personality of our companies. At Gartner, when they used to come and visit us at KACE, I kind of learned this from the Gartner analyst who said, ‘You guys have great Kethos.’ And he put the K in front of it. That was the first time I heard that word in that context before.
When we’ve created something special around our customers, we’ve created a club. We’ve created a little bit of religion. If you think about Duke basketball fans, they believe Duke is the best basketball team in America. Some people believe Jesus Christ is the son of God. Some people believe that Slack is the ultimate next generation communications platform. These are all things that relate to ethos and relate to a club and a cult of personality. And these are things that we can create as marketers.
I’m going to talk about some ways that you can create ethos. There are hundreds. I can come up with thousands of different things that you could do to create better ethos within your customer base that gets your customers to do fanatical things—like paint themselves blue for you. There’s literally an unlimited number. I’m going to give you four practical, usable, tangible things you can do to try to create more ethos among your customer population.
1. Keep it cryptic, keep it cool
As marketers, how many of you in the last year have created a T-shirt or a hat or some kind of giveaway? How many of you have received something like that? How many of you have received something like that and put it in your drawer and never took it out again? It seems simple. It seems trivial—maybe not that important, but we can actually be cool and create ethos just by what we give away. And how we create an affinity between what we give away and an attractant for our customers to feel really excited about being part of our club.
This is an example of the skateboard that we’ve created at KACE with a totally stylized logo. Michael Dell actually has one sitting in his office. And a bunch of my employees and top customers and partners have them as well, versus the typical dorkarama t-shirt.
When we created our first hat for KACE, I asked my designer, ‘Can you create a hat that is so cool that kids would buy it at Abercrombie & Fitch?’ We’re a systems management products. We help people manage endpoint computers. And most of our competitors probably would have just had a dorky hat that says KACE.com at the front or something like that. We created a super cool hat. And just to finish that story out, we got to a point where one guy came and interviewed with me one day and he said, ‘Oh my god, I just saw your logo. I didn’t know what that was. My son has been wearing your hat to high school.’ The pinnacle of this actually occurred just as I was leaving Dell. I got a call from a bandleader of a marching band in Texas, and he said, ‘I’ve got some students here. They love your shirts, and they want to use your logo as the marching band logo for our school.” That was just awesome. They want to create 400 marching band uniforms with our logo on it. We’re a systems management company, but kids in a marching band in some Texas football stadium wanted to use our logo.
My point is, don’t be afraid to be a little bit edgy and fun and do something cool. As far as the gear goes itself, I really like the idea of keeping it cryptic. We never put our name on our gear, and it causes people to ask the question, ‘What the hell is that?’ That’s what you’re really trying to achieve—giving someone that opportunity to explain what the hell that is. So, keep it cryptic; keep it fun; keep it cool. It may seem like maybe rookie, but I think it’s really good stuff.
2. Find and promote the opportunities
I read this article recently that said the imagination—seeing yourself doing something— is actually more powerful in the human psychology than actually doing it. To attract and associate with believing that you will be something is more attractive than doing it. Think about the Corona beer. If you look at those ads—I don’t know if you look at their ads—you never see a person. You just see the beer sitting on a chair on the beach somewhere. Think about Apple ads. You see what you think is probably a beautiful woman dancing with a phone, or an iPod in this case. You could imagine yourself kind of feeling that maybe you want to be that, maybe you could be that.
Now, your question is, naturally speaking, ‘Rob, I work for a systems management company. You can’t dance with our product. You can’t drink it. You’re not going to get drunk with it. You’re not going to do a lot of things, but how can you put someone in a mindset of feeling excited of being associated with it?’
You can seize these opportunities. You’ll find these opportunities if you look for them. We had a tweet one time. It was a genuine, unsolicited tweet. One of our customers said on that tweet, ‘I’m sitting at home, drinking a beer, watching a football game, while 3,000 teacher workstations are being updated.’ I’m going to get to go home and not work, drink beer, and watch football and get paid for it? That’s something that as a customer, I can visualize myself wanting to do, right? Find those opportunities, promote those opportunities. Put them in front of other customers. And believe it or not, when you put an example like that out in front of other customers, they’re going to see similar examples in their own life to tell your prospects. So find those exciting examples around your probably semi-boring products, like ours was.
3. Find creative ways to showcase your actual customers
The next example is about people. People like to see people that look and feel like themselves. They want to be part of a club. We went to great pains to photograph our actual customers and put them all over our website. I don’t care how many diagrams, graphic images, supermodels—whatever you want to put on your website, nothing will beat putting your actual customers’ faces on your website.
Here’s an interesting way to do this that actually relates to case studies, and maybe it’s a good way to load up on Influitive. Whenever I used to go and ask people to create a case study, especially early on when we were a small company, I would get the answer from our marketing team that we can’t get any of our customers to get approval to use their story. So, one of the things that we did pretty early on is we ran a simple campaign called the ‘Stake Your Claim’ campaign. And we asked our customers to take a picture of themselves in front of their company logo anywhere on their campus and send it to us. In exchange, they got a hundred dollar gift card or something like that. All of a sudden I had 75 different pictures of my customers standing in front of their customer logos. Customer case studies suck anyways. I now have a loaded gun with 75 pictures of customers standing right next to their EMC logo, or their IBM logo, or their Tesla logo. They didn’t need to go through legal and no one had to write some extensive case study. You have that material, and people will get fired up about doing it.
4. Pick an enemy, spark a debate
Number four is an interesting one that we stumbled upon at KACE. And it relates back to the ethos and religion to a certain extent, and sports fandom.But in order to have really strong advocate fans, I think it’s super helpful, especially if you’re a challenger brand, to have an enemy. This doesn’t always play well internationally. At KACE, we sold in something like 27 countries. This didn’t play in every single geography in the world, but if you’re selling mostly domestically, Americans love the fight. They love the underdog. They love to pick an enemy. Pick an enemy; find the biggest one you possibly can; make fun of them all over the place, and you’ll get drawn into debate with all the prospects that are out there. Pretty soon, your competitors will be bringing you up in those customer calls because they know that you’ve already been there.
It’s an extremely powerful concept. When we ran our first competitive marketing campaign at KACE, that afternoon, there was a line outside my office of sales reps who came into my office and said, ‘What the hell did you do? What did you turn on today?’ ‘We had run a print and online advertising campaign that basically just did a competitive comparison of us versus Alteris.’ That’s all we did. And people love being part of this. Pretty soon, when we would do video testimonials of our customers, without us even asking, they would start by explaining how much happier they are now that they’re off of Alteris and using KACE. They would draw a comparison directly for us. So it’s super powerful. It hits people’s psychology—why they get excited about being affiliated with the company.
Once you have ethos, and have done some of these things, again, there’s probably hundreds of ideas that you can come up with. What else can you do to load the gun in your favor?
Hit your targets
If you take a laser, and you point it at the moon, and you’re off by 5˚ with that aiming process, how many people think you’d actually hit the moon with that laser? Any guesses how far you’ve missed the moon by?
I haven’t done this map myself, but one of my associates did. It could be wrong but I’m pretty sure it’s right. He told me that it’s a 20,000-mile miss. And that’s incredibly important when you think about marketing. We have marketing budgets. We have marketing employees, but we also have salespeople and sales headcount, and travel budgets and expense accounts and all sorts of stuff that we’re driving.
Many people in this room—probably most, maybe all—are going to spend 10, 15, 20 million dollars on sales and marketing over the next couple of years, each of you. If you get your message on target, on point, something that would’ve cost you $12 M might only cost you $10M to do in terms of sales people, in terms of marketing budget, in terms of headcount, and in terms of your time. It’s incredibly important to get your message and your target really right, and to do that in a really scientific way.
I could probably spend a lot of time talking about this. If you’re really interested in this, I use this company called Zoom Marketing with probably five of my portfolio companies. I’ve used them three times myself. They are experts at this. If you get this right, the gun will be loaded and pointed in the right direction. It’s an incredibly powerful concept.
Being systematic is incredibly important. You can’t just create one cool hat and walk away, right? You can’t just create one great visual of your customers imagining themselves being in a better situation. You have to do this stuff everyday. You have to be relentless. You have to be on point everyday, all the time, systematically. It’s not a one-shot deal. So, as marketers, once you figure out your playbook, once you write down—and I encourage you to write down what your ethos is, what you want to create, what you want to be about as a marketing organization—once you determine that, live by that playbook all the time.
This was the best image I can come up with for kinetic energy: when a rock falls off a cliff, imagine there’s a house below that represents your competitor. Maybe a less destructive example would a roller coaster. You’ve got to push that roller coaster up that first hill to drop it off the other side. When you go off the other side—when you pull the trigger with Influitive—it’s going to be a wild and fun ride. But you have to load the gun first.