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Lee Odden

B2B Marketing Innovation: What B2B Marketers Can Learn From Cartoons with Tom Fishburne

By Lee Odden     B2B, Interviews, Marketing PR Conferences, Online Marketing

Customer preferences for information discovery, consumption and engagement have evolved in a way that requires marketers to adapt. In particular, B2B marketers have had to find new and innovative ways to communicate with customers over long sales cycles filled with digital distractions from smartphones, tablets, computers and other connected devices.  Content types are equally diverse and can range from videos to white papers to infographics and even cartoons.

Tom Fishburne is the Founder and CEO of the wildly popular Marketoonist and in this interview, he’ll share a sneak peek into his B2B Marketing Forum presentation, the importance of storytelling, deciding on visual content and his prediction on the future of B2B Marketing and innovation.

We’re big fans of your work!  Please describe how you become a “Marketoonist”.  Did your journey really start with doodling on business cases at Harvard?

Thanks! Harvard Business School isn’t exactly a feeder school for cartoonists.  I’d dreamed of being a cartoonist when I was a kid, but I’d let it go.  In business school, I started doodling again on the backs of business cases, then in the school paper, and pretty soon professors started asking me for cartoons to use as teaching aids.

I knew that cartoons were powerful communication devices, but I never saw cartooning as a potential career, so I worked in marketing after business school, at General Mills, Nestle, and Method Products.  I kept drawing cartoons on the side, sending them once a week to my marketing co-workers in a simple email newsletter.  Ten years later, my marketing cartoon reaches over 100,000 readers a week.

I thought about submitting cartoons to the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, which are two of the main cartoon markets.  But then, the Wall Street Journal contacted me.  They asked if I could create a 20-page cartoon book to help communicate with their readers on how to get the most out of the Journal.  It dawned on me that my unique combination of marketer and cartoonist (Marketoonist) could be valuable to others.

Two years ago, I started Marketoon Studios full-time to develop cartoon-based content marketing campaigns.  I work with a variety of B2B companies, including Oracle, Vodafone, Kronos, and Guidance Software to help them connect and engage with their audiences, using the unexpected medium of cartoons.

What are you most excited about when it comes to B2B marketing?

There has never been a better time to work in marketing. The shift in the role of marketers as publishers is particularly exciting, because it elevates our role to become thought leaders, rather than just pitching features and benefits and parroting our single-minded propositions.

At the MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum next week you’re presenting “Content Worth Sharing: What B2B Marketers Can Learn From Cartoons”. What are 2-3 of the most important takeaways from your presentation? What can people attending expect to learn?

With all of the technology at our disposal as marketers, we sometimes forget the value of the big marketing idea. Technology is only as valuable as the marketing ideas that the technology enables.  We can’t make an antisocial experience social just by adding social media.   Technology can’t save a boring idea, but it can amplify a remarkable one.  The impetus is on marketers to create marketing worth sharing.

Another main point is the power of preaching to the choir.  It’s a misnomer that to be a big organization, we have to try to talk to everyone in our marketing.  One size actually fits none.  The more niche we get in our communication strategy, the more powerful the bond we create with our audience.  It’s better to be deeply appealing to a few than blandly appealing to the great majority.

Target Market - Marketoonist

One of my favorite sayings in marketing/sales is “Facts tell, stories sell”. What advice can you share about the importance of storytelling with B2B marketing?

I completely agree with that sentiment.  Features and benefits are boring.  There is no longer a captive audience in marketing.  Without a story, it is easier than ever for our audiences to tune out our messages altogether.  In B2B marketing in particular, brand communication is frequently fact and feature-based.  There is a tremendous amount of power in telling stories when everyone else is telling facts.

Brand Storytelling - Marketoonist

The growing appeal of visual content has provided B2B marketers even more opportunities to attract, engage and convert prospects to customers across the buying cycle. What advice can you give companies that are trying to decide what kind of visual content or media is right for them and their target audience?

I think of visual content as Trojan horses.   It’s most important that it breaks through the clutter and that the audience lets it in.  This means it can’t come off as an advertorial.  But it’s also key that it convey some meaning about your brand.  With our marketoon campaigns, the topics that we parody in a cartoon somehow link so the problems that that brand is trying to solve.  The brand proposition for Kronos is that “workforce management doesn’t have to be so hard”.  So every marketoon parodies situations where workforce management has historically been “hard”.  The audience sees the humor in the situations, and the Kronos brand comes along for the ride.

Developing a solid B2B marketing plan takes research, an understanding of customer goals, pain points and journey.  What are some of the most common myths or mistakes you’ve seen with B2B marketing planning?  Any tips on how to be more successful?

Don’t be a one hit wonder.  Many businesses take a “Flock of Seagulls” approach to B2B marketing.  They create one piece of media and hope that it “goes viral”. If it doesn’t, they often give up.  The web is full of “social media ghost towns” from B2B brands that have given up.  What’s far more important than virality is continuity.  Commit to the long haul in how we connect and engage with our consumers, rather than the one-off campaign.

Go Viral - Marketoonist

With all the hype in the business marketing media, it’s tempting for companies to chase trending B2B marketing tactics. What tips can you share that will help marketers convince management on the importance of creativity, experimentation and innovation? 

Chasing the shiny new thing is a real challenge for marketers.  It feels sometimes like the tail is wagging the dog.  Many campaigns are built around the tactic of the week, as if the tactic alone was the big idea.  The advice I would give marketers is to stay focused on the big ideas, and remember that the tactics are enablers to those big ideas.  Creativity and experimentation are needed to bring the big ideas to life.  That’s a better sell to management, and ultimately leads to better executions with customers too.

Go Digital - Marketoonist

Any predictions on the future of B2B marketing and the role of visual content?

I think that B2B marketing will become much more interesting in the future as we move beyond the hype of new technologies, and focus more on the big ideas that can be enabled by those technologies.  We can engage with our customers in more meaningful ways.  Technology amplifies great marketing.   I think that visual content will play an increasing role in the marketing we want to amplify.

Please share a tip on how companies can be more innovative with their B2B marketing efforts.

Whether B2C or B2B, the most important shift in marketing is that brand communication is no longer a one-way command-and-control megaphone.  It’s a conversation.  Don Draper is no longer in charge of our brands.  Our audiences are in charge.  So the best inspiration for our marketing efforts comes from our audiences themselves.  Our goal should be, not to market how awesome our products and services are, but figuring out how to make our audiences more awesome.

Thank you for your insights Tom!

If you’re looking for even more insight on making your business more innovative,  be sure to attend Tom’s solo presentation at B2B Marketing Forum “Content Worth Sharing: What B2B Marketers Can Learn From Cartoons” Friday, October 5th at 8:15am.

Sadly, this is the same time as my Track Keynote on Integrating Search, Social and Content across they Buying Cycle but regardless of which presentation you see, you’ll get great info . This is why you should bring 2 or more people to the B2B Forum, so your team can attend multiple sessions scheduled at the same time!

We’ll be releasing a B2B Marketing Innovation eBook on Friday 9/28 that’s chock full of B2B Marketing Innovation tips from marketing champions like IBM, SAP and Silverpop, so be sure to check back!


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