The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.
Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.
The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.
This week we are going guest less! Jeff and Carman sat down to have a conversation around the B2B effectiveness ladder and how that translates into creating a Big Long Idea. Sorting out how B2B manufacturers with long sales cycles and intricate offerings can build an idea that will inform their marketing for years to come, not quarters. This is a super informative conversation where we dive deep into successes and pitfalls.
Using the Big Long Idea to Climb the B2B Effectiveness Ladder Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, mate?
Carman Pirie: I’m doing well. You?
Jeff White: I’m doing great, thanks.
Carman Pirie: I like these episodes when we don’t have a guest every once in a while. I feel like we don’t have to… I don’t know, we can be more unvarnished or something.
Jeff White: And I don’t have to do my hair.
Carman Pirie: That’s true. Yeah.
Jeff White: Yeah. I mean, people listening don’t know this, but we record with video on, but we don’t record the video.
Carman Pirie: Because we care about you, and we don’t want you to have to watch us.
Jeff White: Yeah. How the sausage is made is not necessarily something you need to see.
Carman Pirie: But no, these are always fun conversations where we get to kind of dive into stuff that’s impacting our world a little bit and kind of has us thinking these days.
Jeff White: Absolutely. And I mean, a lot of that kind of comes to life around what we’re doing with some of our clients, and things we’ve been learning about, and all of that, so it doesn’t necessarily negate the fantastic conversations we have with the amazing manufacturing marketing guests on here, but it does allow us to kind of wander a little bit, because we do like to certainly promote the folks that we’re chatting with, generally, and show what they’re interested in.
Carman Pirie: What they’re thinking about. Yeah. So, I guess the thing I’d like to dig into today, and I think that I would say it’s still the case that account-based marketing is the… Man, it’s moved beyond kind of buzzwordy now, or the latest greatest thing, but it certainly hasn’t gotten off the tongues of manufacturing marketers. And I think an awful lot of manufacturing marketers still haven’t dipped their toe into an ABM world and the ones that have, many of them have attempted pilots and failed, or what they thought was failure, and I guess part of that, I think, boils down to a bit of what they think going in. And what they’re expecting out of ABM, and what they’re comparing it against.
Jeff White: And I think the biggest problem there is that most marketers, especially when presented with a new advertising technology, one that is as targeted as ABM can be and should be, aren’t necessarily separating their expectations from what they expect from demand gen programs, or even PPC, and it’s not like that in manufacturing. I mean, it might be in some B2B SaaS cases, but in manufacturing it’s a different deal.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Jeff White: And that sales cycle is a different deal. And ABM needs to support it in a way that isn’t just about creating leads from a single ad view.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And look, we like to beat up on the whole notion of people viewing the B2B marketing world through a SaaS lens and how it’s misguided, and so you…
Jeff White: Well, because it is.
Carman Pirie: Indeed. And you noted that a part of that is because of the lengthy sales cycle that many manufacturers experience versus maybe a shorter path from awareness to purchase in a SaaS environment. But even… I think that’s only starting to tell part of the tale, because that starts to tell us one of the reasons why it’s a problem, but I think it’s even harder… It’s even worse than that in that you have these 18 to 24-month sales cycles, and then many manufacturers are operating in incredibly niche categories where the vast majority of the target accounts that they could focus their energy on are not in market right now for what they sell.
And just because they find out that there’s a great alternative does not put them in the market. They need to wait for their existing contract to run out, or they’re just not at the point where they’re addressing that specific challenge. Maybe you’re a contract manufacturer looking to market into product development teams inside of OEMs or what have you. Well, it may not be your fault. They just may not need a manufacturing partner right now.
So, you get an organization deploying an account-based marketing pilot against that target account list and they’re not going in with the understanding that 90% plus of this list is not in market right now, and regardless of how compelling the offer is, they’re still not gonna buy from me. It doesn’t matter. They don’t have that understanding and then they layer on the expectation that it may have the same conversion rate and immediate bottom line impact that a great paid search program has, as an example.
Jeff White: Yeah. I saw on LinkedIn this morning an old colleague and friend of ours, Joel Kelly, had posted an article about that. I am not currently part of your buying journey. You can’t define me as that. I’m not there. I’m not. Stop thinking of me as somebody who’s on a journey to buy shit from you. It’s not where I’m going.
Carman Pirie: Right.
Jeff White: I might get there but I’m not ready now.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, so I guess… I think we’ve done a good job of shaping up the problem and kind of what is at its core is that niche category, relatively small number of people who can buy what you sell, and most of them aren’t in market to buy it right now, yet you’re looking at the notion of ABM and other campaigns and needing to in some ways begin to think about it differently. Because you know as a marketer that marketing does indeed work, that you just… As a marketer, you’re looking for those levers to pull. What is it that makes the most sense? And what’s the blend of short-term and long-term executions that are optimal?
So, I think that’s what… Something that we’ve worked on a fair bit here at Kula, and something I think it would be helpful for us to talk about, is this notion of the B2B effectiveness ladder when we start thinking about different types of B2B buying content, or just content in general, not to use your… fall into the Joel trap that you just mentioned there about buyer journeys. And so, for those who aren’t familiar with this notion of the B2B effectiveness ladder, it looks at six different types of content that, if you will, I’m gonna start from the least… Not the least. To say the least impact isn’t really right. It certainly has the least long-term commercial impact and typically addresses the smallest audience size, and then we’ll move up the ladder increasing our commercial impact, but also increasing the audience size that it’s intended for.
If you think about the bottom rung of the ladder, that’s when we’re talking about kind of response triggers, right? All three of things, the bottom three rungs, are really all about converting existing demand. So, if you think about those response triggers, that’s where we’re talking about driving campaign response and interaction. So much of what I think a lot of B2B marketers think of when they think about content is just that. What are we going to do to get somebody to fill out a form so that we can sell to them, right?
And the B2B effectiveness ladder looks at that as just one rung.
Jeff White: It sounds a lot like you’re talking about that thing that we often eschew, you know? Brand marketing. And I mean, we have, to be fair, poopooed the idea of brand as a concept because the way it’s held up by so many, especially within the agency world, as this panacea, and yet this is kind of driving to a very different way of thinking about it. And I kind of want to frame that up before we go too much further into the ladder.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Well, but look, to be fair, I don’t think we’ve ever poopooed brand or the importance of brand.
Jeff White: Well, not on this show.
Carman Pirie: But what I think we’ve poopooed is the notion that creativity for creativity’s sake, let’s try to just simply shock and awe brand advertising, like, “Hey, wasn’t that funny?” That type of brand advertising that seems to be trotted out by art director and copywriter teams-
Jeff White: Awards shows.
Carman Pirie: Typically, in their mid-20s, typically fresh out of school, typically not grounded in any kind of business reality whatever, I think that’s what we poopooed.
Jeff White: For sure.
Carman Pirie: And even some of that-
Jeff White: Blind metrics.
Carman Pirie: And even frankly some of that’s pretty good. But that’s probably what we poopooed. But nevertheless, if we looked at that kind of notion of going up the ladder, I think moving beyond the response triggers, then we move into lead generators like what are the pieces of content that help us improve the value of our sales pipeline overall? Not just about a one-time response. And then there’s also on the effectiveness ladder, they talk about sales closers. So, what are the pieces of content that you can create, marketing executions you can imagine, that produce those more short-term sales gains?
So, the good news is I think these first three types of content, this notion of converting existing demand, is something that most B2B manufacturing marketers get.
Jeff White: For sure.
Carman Pirie: I think where we have trouble talking to our executive teams, selling into the boardrooms, et cetera, is this notion of how do we create future demand? And how do we invest in things today that will not show immediate payoff? And won’t show immediate payoff particularly in the context of a 24-month sales cycle layered onto the fact that a huge percentage of our market will not even be ready to start that 24-month cycle.
And so, moving up the ladder, I guess what I like about the ladder as a concept and as a framework for thinking about B2B marketing effectiveness is it forces you into those top rungs, and it says, “You need to fill out those, as well. What are you doing from a fame maker content perspective?” So, what is the content that you’re creating that allows you to get customers, prospects, and media talking about you? And then… Here’s the bad five letter word. Brand building content, to your earlier point. What are we doing to grow our overall brand equity? And then at the very top rung is that notion of a strategic asset, a strategic creative asset that grows the brand and business long term.
And that strategic asset is really providing the guidance. It’s the umbrella under which response triggers, lead generators, sales closers, fame makers, and brand builders are built.
Jeff White: The thing about this entire ladder and kind of the big, long idea that encapsulates the whole thing is that it’s largely about positioning, you know, around the brand, and kind of staking out that territory that differentiates, and then building upon that. That’s a difficult thing to do. This is not the realm of quick wins.
Carman Pirie: Well, again, I think that you… I don’t think that you need to give up the concept of quick wins.
Jeff White: No, no. But this part of it. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: But you need to try… I guess I think what we’re encouraging people to do is to think about executing on the campaigns to deliver those quick wins within an overall creative umbrella or vehicle that is capable of moving up into those more top rungs so that over time you can present an overall cohesive creative message to the market. And this kind of notion of long-term creative investment, if there is one thing that runs counter to most manufacturing marketing realities, it’s that. To try to convince the manufacturing organization to buy into a creative direction over the course of five years is… I think that’s new territory for an awful lot of manufacturers.
Jeff White: Absolutely. So, how do you think… You know, if you’re in manufacturing marketing, you’re listening to this, and it’s making sense, you know, you’ve been trying different things, you’ve been having some success, but you’re also not necessarily kind of driving the results that you’re looking for, or not necessarily understanding the scale of investment that’s required, how do you have this conversation? How do you bring this to the C-suite and get them to understand why it’s important?
Carman Pirie: Yeah, so I think the ladder is really key to that, because it communicates that success in B2B marketing effectiveness comes from hitting all rungs of this ladder. I think sometimes this conversation falls down because it kind of is often presented as, “Guys, I think we’ve been investing too much in short-term things and not enough in long-term stuff, and we should divert our investment.” Or it’s like a pivot in some way. Whereas I think part of the comfort that the B2B effectiveness ladder delivers to those skeptics is to say we’re not going to stop producing that stuff that creates some short-term benefits. We’re not gonna stop working on that. In fact, we’re gonna wrap that in a creative umbrella that helps it be even more effective.
And this notion of wrapping the overall B2B effectiveness ladder inside of this notion of a big, long idea. What is that creative platform that can extend across the ladder and lift up the effectiveness of each rung?
I think that goes a long way to helping B2B manufacturing executives understand why they need to think beyond the now. Maybe I’m biased.
Jeff White: No, I don’t think so. You know, they are interesting projects to work on, certainly.
Carman Pirie: And the other thing is to… I think if you start discussing the dynamics of a big, long idea, and what does it mean, I think most… Even somebody outside of the marketing function will get what you’re talking about. Because there are really three core dimensions of the big side of a big long idea, and three core dimensions of long, so just to quickly cover it maybe, as we look at a big long idea and what makes a big long idea a big long idea, how do you know that it’s capable of fueling content across a B2B effectiveness ladder, fueling marketing programs, campaigns, executions over a multiyear period?
On the big side, first things first is it needs to encompass your offering. Most B2B manufacturers have a fairly complex offering. And bigger ideas can communicate clarity and unity across that offering. Kind of blends both an emotional and a rational impact. It doesn’t force you to kind of imagine… It could be fully emotional and not be rational about a business that you’re in if that makes sense.
Second big dimension is audience, so it has to cover multiple decision makers and multiple decision breakers across a fairly lengthy journey towards becoming a prospect or customer. So, that notion of it has to be both inclusive and persuasive. And then the last dimension that we typically look at on the big side of this is does it have an element of surprise? Does it kind of help short circuit that, ignore the normal kind of brain wiring that we have? Does it stand out in a sea of sameness, as it were?
Good news is for an awful lot of B2B manufacturing categories doing anything that’s creative at all-
Jeff White: Is an easy way to stand out.
Carman Pirie: Can have an element of surprise. Yeah. Exactly. It’s an easier task than a lot of B2C marketers would face.
Jeff White: I think it’s even an easier task than a lot of B2B marketers would face more crowded marketplaces, you know? In a lot of the categories that we certainly deal with, there are not a large number of comparable competitors in any given area. So, there’s always something that differentiates, and I think… You know, the manufacturers who are willing to zig a little bit there and provide a viewpoint and some clarity through messaging on that can really stand out. Without sort of the traditional levels of investment required to communicate brand.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s fair. That’s fair. So, maybe we should just look at the three long dimensions here briefly, so when we think about the big, long idea, what do we mean by long? Well, time. It needs to support a months or years long buying cycle. It needs to support and be appealing to in and out of market buyers. So, that requires certainly a level of adaptability and flexibility over time that you need to imagine as you’re evaluating an idea. Continuity. It needs to, as you get deeper into the brand story, it needs to always make sense. You can’t get to a kink in the garden hose where it no longer makes sense, if you will.
Jeff White: Wait a minute. There’s a continuity error in here. You had a full glass before and now it’s empty and now it’s full again.
Carman Pirie: And then extensibility. Can it drive multiple campaigns? Can it support a variety of tactical opportunities? Can it encompass new offerings or new challenges that may emerge? So, that would maybe be the… I guess those would be the three long dimensions that I would highlight. So, three in the big and three in the long to help people imagine what that kind of big, long idea is, or what they might look like.
I don’t know, Jeff. Would it be helpful to maybe think about what are some examples of this in real life?
Jeff White: Yeah. I think… I mean, I’m gonna have to put a looney in the cookie jar here, but anytime anybody brings up Apple or Google as examples of how things should be done, or how things are done well, it’s almost an unfair advantage. But Apple wasn’t always in the place where they could advertise their brand simply with product. You know, that really only happened post iMac, and before that, in the lull between the foundation of Apple and Steve Jobs coming back, there was a big gap in product and brand understanding and connection the way there is now with the iPhone and all the typical Apple devices. We only need to see them. Just their visual design is part of the brand, and it holds up.
Carman Pirie: Yeah.
Jeff White: But… I mean, I think that you could suggest that when Jobs came back, the Think Different campaign that profiled Einstein and all of those different people with the Richard Dreyfuss narrated ad and all of that was just… was really an example of an idea of where Apple was going. Honestly, pointing to today, even. Continues now. And you…
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I think that was a good example of maybe even a big, long idea. The notion of Think Different that helped power product, guide product decisions.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. For sure.
Carman Pirie: But you’re right. I do think Apple… It does seem like an unfair one. But it also, I feel as a marketer sometimes it can feel hard to live into. It’s like, “Oh. Well, I’m not Apple, so now what?”
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: But you’re not American Express, either, but it’s interesting to note the American Express campaign where they really kind of embraced the notion that you can make a big difference by shopping small, by shopping local. So, if you remember, it was back in 2018, 2019. I don’t know. It was a bunch of-
Jeff White: Before the world ended?
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Exactly. A lot of promotion around shopping small. And they even had Small Business Saturday, it was kind of a nationally recognized day in the United States. That was something that they lobbied for as part of this big, long idea, this notion that we could make a big difference in our economy by supporting small. And of course, it helped align them to small business operators as a credit provider. But I think it’s a pretty good example of a big, long idea in action. Maybe more kind of manufacturey, maybe, more supply chain, is the Maersk, the shipping line?
Jeff White: Mm-hmm.
Carman Pirie: They have a fairly sensible creative platform that they built that has come to life across everything from trade publications, to big mural type of installations, et cetera, around this notion of together all the way. And it’s been a big, long idea for Maersk that has borne a lot of fruit, and I think if you did any kind of Google research you’d be able to find out multiple executions on this over time.
Maybe the last one I would mention is… Kind of the IBM smarter planet campaign. It would be hard to have not seen that. They may be the three that I would point to that would help put some meat on the bone and help people imagine what these big, long ideas look like in real life.
Jeff White: For sure. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Here in Canada, we have one bank that’s done a pretty good job with a big, long idea I think. Scotiabank. The idea is that you have… Most people have more wealth than they think, which they brought to life in a tagline, “You’re richer than you think.” This notion of you can do more with your money than you may be feeling. And that… Man, they’ve extended that richer than you think in so many different ways.
Jeff White: Yeah. They really have. I think that’s one of the components that makes a big, long idea work, is when it has the potential to power a number of really unique executions over a long period of time. Just as you said, that long component, but… Man, if you can still be excited about deploying a campaign that’s based on the same ideas five years down the road, that’s how you know you’ve struck upon an idea that can hunt.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. And that balance of short-term activation, can do stuff to help fill up our pipe, or at least accelerate pipeline in the next while. Can we imagine campaign executions where there’s some short-term activation opportunities but also balancing that with long-term brand building? And I find in so many manufacturers if they do have a focus on the brand build side, it will be divorced from the short-term activation. Sometimes very different initiatives or different projects, different people being responsible for them. It kind of runs quite counter to what we know to work better, right?
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: You had asked before about selling this to people who are maybe a bit skeptical, and need to be convinced to spend more money, and to commit to a longer time in market. I do think that notion of talking through the fact of, “Here’s our audience today and how many of them are truly in market today?” I still think that’s incredibly powerful. And it’s such a difference from the SaaS world, and much of the SaaS marketing you’re bringing a solution to market that maybe attacks a current problem but does so in a more unique and digital way. And so, part of your challenge is really just explaining to people that this exists and that it’s possible, and that the price is worth it.
Jeff White: Right.
Carman Pirie: So, you can get them. They may not be in market right now, but you can get them into market pretty quickly. That’s a lot different than having a five-year contractual obligation that means that I’m not in market for another three years, and then I have a two-year cycle to select my next provider. That’s a different world.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. That realization, though, that not everyone is a prospect right now, that’s a powerful one.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. And I’ve said this before. BANT is BS. If you work in a niche environment and you’re going to decide to ignore a lead, ignore a contact, ignore a target account simply because they don’t have budget, authority, need, and timeline right now, it’s like you’ve just proved that you don’t understand the world that you’re in. You just proved that you probably shouldn’t be selling in that environment. Because yeah, they don’t have budget, authority, need, and timeline now, but they’re gonna have it three years from now, and you better find a way to demonstrate your value to them between now and then.
Jeff White: Well, and I think you said that within the context of a lead. Let’s think about it of all the people who don’t convert but are just influenced by the messaging that your big, long idea is getting out there and washing over them over the course of those three years. And the differentiation it puts in their minds of your offering versus your competitor’s that when they are interested, even at that point they’re not that qualified, but they’ve been hearing this messaging for so long. It’s incredibly powerful.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. And so, how much is that worth? How much does that increase your propensity to actually get that eventual deal into closed won?
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Exactly. So, the good news is there’s all kinds of research to show that this is a much smarter approach. Bad news is it is still a bit like religion, like you gotta just believe in it, because it doesn’t come true in 90 days.
Jeff White: Maybe instead of religion we can call it a 401K or an RRSP, depending on which side of the Canadian border you’re on.
Carman Pirie: You know, you make a great point, because that’s such a common comment in content marketing these days. People encouraging you to think about content marketing like an investment strategy. I’ve seen a lot of that commentary. And that’s true, but it’s that exact same narrative that will get you in trouble if you don’t balance it with the short-term activation and understand that, as well.
Jeff White: Right.
Carman Pirie: So, yeah, I do like that notion of it is like an investment, and it takes a little while for you to compound your earnings. But at the same time, I think marketers will do well to balance that as they sell it up the chain.
Jeff White: Yeah. Don’t ignore the money market funds, folks.
Carman Pirie: All right. Well, look. This has been fun.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, I’ve enjoyed this. Thanks a lot, mate.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to The Kula Ring, with Carman Pirie and Jeff White. Don’t miss a single manufacturing marketing insight. Subscribe now at kulapartners.com/thekularing. That’s K-U-L-Apartners.com/thekularing.