6 Great Blogs for B-to-B Marketers

In our fast-changing marketing world, a smart B-to-B practitioner keeps up to date by learning from thought leaders. While this used to mean reading business books and magazines, today it means blogs. We’ve all heard the stats about blog proliferation. A new blog launched every six seconds—or whatever. And there is no dearth of blogs on B-to-B marketing. So I would like to share my favorites, the blogs where I find inspiration, new ideas, and provocative stories, to keep the gray matter humming.

In our fast-changing marketing world, a smart B-to-B practitioner keeps up to date by learning from thought leaders. While this used to mean reading business books and magazines, today it means blogs. We’ve all heard the stats about blog proliferation. A new blog launched every six seconds—or whatever. And there is no dearth of blogs on B-to-B marketing. So I would like to share my favorites, the blogs where I find inspiration, new ideas, and provocative stories, to keep the gray matter humming.

Here’s my list of six current faves.

The Point, by Howard J. Sewell. Howard is a seasoned lead generation pro, and a terrific writer. His blog is probably my most retweeted, as every post contains some useful nugget. Highly scanable, too, which is welcome. My recent favorite article is the amusingly titled “Sorry, But ‘How Many Touches Does it Take to Make a Sale?’ is No Longer a Valid Question.”

The Business Marketing Institute, by Eric Gagnon. Available as “Tuesday Marketing Notes,” these posts are meaty—more like book chapters than blog posts. Eric’s writing is always practical, action oriented, and a joy to read. No wonder—he’s the author of the single best book on B-to-B marketing, The Marketing Manager’s Handbook, now apparently out of print.

B2B Lead Roundtable Blog, by Brian Carroll, with additional contributors. Brian made an important point in his recent post Stop Cold Calling and Start Lead Nurturing. It seems so obvious that a robust lead nurturing effort reduces the need for constant lead acquisition, but is often overlooked. His organization also manages a thoughtful and wide-ranging discussion on the B2B Lead Roundtable group on LinkedIn.

Viewpoint: The Truth About Lead Generation, by Dan McDade. So refreshing, isn’t it, to cut through the hype and get to the truth? Dan’s interests are far-ranging, and he’s a master of content marketing (a blog, video chat interviews, white papers, book reviews, training videos), with no fluff. I was honored to contribute a guest post for PointClear last year.

B2BMarketingSmarts, by Susan Fantle. Susan being a first-rate B-to-B copywriter, it’s no surprise that her blog is both well written and full of insightful observations, examples, and success stories. Have a look especially at her six-step tutorial on writing great lead generation copy, beginning with her first step, which is about focusing in on the prospect’s pain point.

Matt on Marketing, by Matt Heinz, who runs a B-to-B agency in Seattle. Matt is a prolific writer, and assembles lots of helpful ideas from others, to boot. This blog is a treasure trove. What I especially like is his positioning as “sales acceleration,” which is, to my mind, where B-to-B marketing needs to be.

And what are your favorites? Do tell!

A version of this article appeared in Biznology.

Inside the Recycling Tub: Catalogs & Direct Mail, Post-Consumer

The year was 1990. Earth Day turned 20 years old. The darling book that year was 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Its author’s top recommendation was “Stop Junk Mail.” The book was a “cultural phenomena,” as one reviewer recalled, selling more than 5 million copies in all.

The year was 1990. Earth Day turned 20 years old. The darling book that year was 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Its author’s top recommendation was “Stop Junk Mail.” The book was a “cultural phenomena,” as one reviewer recalled, selling more than 5 million copies in all.

During the early 1990s, millions of consumers wrote their request to the then-Mail Preference Service (MPS, now DMAchoice) to remove themselves from national mailing lists, partially as a result of the media hype around that publication and its recommendation to consumers to sign up for MPS. Even some cities and towns urged their citizens (with taxpayer money) to get off mailing lists. I don’t think the Direct Marketing Association released publicly its MPS consumer registration figures, but it swelled to the point where some saturation mailers nearly considered not using the file for fear it would disqualify them for the lowest postage within certain ZIP Codes where new MPS registrants were concentrated. (DMA developed a saturation mailer format at the time to preserve MPS utility.)

Removing names from a mailing list is what solid waste management professionals call “source reduction”—an act that prevents the production of mail (and later waste) in the first place.

One of the reasons “junk mail” met with some consumer hostility then was simply because once you were done with a catalog or mail piece, wanted or not, there was no place to put it except in the trash. It seemed to many, “All this waste!” (that actually amounted to about 2.3 percent of the municipal solid waste stream back then).

Thankfully, there were other marketplace and public policy dynamics tied to support of the green movement, circa 1990. In a word, “recycling” (like source reduction) was seen as a part of responsible solid waste management. At the time, North American paper mills were scrambling to get recovered fiber to manufacture paper products and packaging with recycled content. Some states (and the federal government) set minimum recycled-content and “post-consumer” recycled-content percentage requirements for the paper they procured, while California mandated diversion goals for solid waste from its landfills. Increasingly, foreign trading partners were clamoring for America’s discarded paper to meet their ravenous demands for fiber. The cumulative results were an aggressive increase in the amount of paper collected for recycling and the number of collection points across the United States.

All this boded well for catalogs and direct mail, as far as their collection rates. Catalogs and magazines are considered equivalent when it comes to their fiber makeup. They do tend to have more hardwood (short, thinner fibers) versus softwood (long, strong fibers) since the hardwood gives a nice, smooth printing surface. When they are collected for recycling, recovered catalogs and magazines are suitable for lower quality paper/packaging grades, as well as for tissue. Some of the fiber does wind up getting used as post-consumer waste in new magazines and catalogs, but producers of such papers much prefer having recovered office paper (ideally not mixed with other lower-quality post-consumer papers) as their source of post-consumer content, as the quality is better for making higher quality magazine/catalog papers. (See link below from Verso Paper.)

Most direct mail when recovered is classified as mixed papers, and is suitable for tissue, packaging and other recovered-fiber products. (Today, a lot of paper recovery mixes it all together, and with positive reuse.) By 2007, DMA had received permission from the Federal Trade Commission to begin allowing mailers to place “recyclable” messages and seals on catalogs and mail pieces (roughly 60 percent of U.S. households must have access to local recycling options before “recyclable” labels can be used). Upon this FTC opinion, DMA promptly launched its “Recycle Please” logo program. By 2010, in addition, thousands of U.S. post offices were placing “Read-Respond-Recycle” collection bins for mixed paper in their lobbies.

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began tracking “Standard Mail” in its biennial Municipal Solid Waste Characterization Report in 1990, the recovery rate (through recycling collection) was near 5 percent. By 2009 (the most current year reported), the recovery rate had increased more than 10-fold to 63 percent—but I cite this figure with a big asterisk. There will be a discussion in a future post on why the EPA MSW recycling data may not be as accurate (and as optimistic) as these findings seem to present. In fact, the EPA itself has asked for public comment on how its current MSW study methodology can be improved—again, more on that in another post.

While I’m not an expert on solid waste reporting, I certainly can see the positive direction underway here, no matter what the actual recovery rate may be. The more catalogs and direct mail that are recovered for their fiber, chances are that there will be more efficient use of that fiber in the supply chain, rather than ending up in a landfill. That helps relieve pressure on paper and packaging pricing, which is good for our bottom lines.

It might also, just a little bit, make a consumer think to herself “I love my junk mail”—as she takes the no-longer-needed mail at week’s or season’s end and places it into a recycling tub. Recycling makes us feel good. It is simple to do. Recycling may not truly save the Earth, but it certainly does extend the life of an importantly renewable natural resource, wood fiber.

Helpful links:

75 Years Ago, Three Young Men …

I’ve always loved reading old magazines. As a kid in the mid-1970s, I spent hours on rainy afternoons with issues of Look, Sport, and Life saved by my mom and dad from the early 1960s. It wasn’t just the pictures and stories about JFK, Willie Mays and the Beatles that pulled me in; it was also the advertising. The cars, the foods, the TVs — a lot of it was already pretty different from what I knew.

I’ve always loved reading old magazines. As a kid in the mid-1970s, I spent hours on rainy afternoons with issues of Look, Sport, and Life saved by my mom and dad from the early 1960s. It wasn’t just the pictures and stories about JFK, Willie Mays and the Beatles that pulled me in; it was also the advertising. The cars, the foods, the TVs — a lot of it was already pretty different from what I knew.

The other day, I went further back in time – 75 years – via the March 1935 issue of Popular Mechanics that I had picked up at a yard sale. There are articles on developments in television, solar motors, and around-the-world travel on the Graf Zeppelin and the PanAm Clipper. And, the city of the future (1960!) is shown on the cover: a fantasy of terraced skyscrapers, giant pedestrian bridges and rooftop helicopter buses. (See image in the media player to the right.) Oh, well … “The future,” said French poet Paul Valery, “isn’t what it used to be.”

So, then I turned to the ads. Some of the brands are still around (Ford, Harley-Davidson, Simoniz), even though their products have changed in some big ways since then. And there are companies that have disappeared over the decades (LaSalle Extension University, Plymouth, Midwest Radio Corp.).

But for most of the ads, whether full page, fractional or classified, there was only one reply option: the mail. That’s right, no websites, no Twitter or Facebook, not even a phone number … just a mailing address for the prospect to reply to. Many of them even had a clip-out coupon.

Because only the inside and back covers were in 4-color (selling cigarettes), many of the rest have to rely a lot on their copy (and the emotional appeal behind it) to draw a response. “Send for FREE BOOK,” “Become a RADIO EXPERT.” Legendary bodybuilder Charles Atlas promises salvation with a new physique: “I’ll prove in ONLY 7 Days that I can make YOU a New Man!”

This is great stuff! As antiquated as the ads may appear, a lot of these techniques and rules are still at work today, in a variety of media, including direct mail and email. But what made my jaw drop was a page spread (see image in the media player to the right.). On the left page, the headline for a half-page vertical for the Encyclopedia Britannica: “He’s the best paid man here because he is the best informed.” At right, the full page for International Correspondence Schools (now Penn Foster Career School) shows three identical male faces, and asks: “WHICH ONE gets the job? They’re alike in everything — except just one thing! [O]ne factor … makes one of these applicants the logical man for the job! HE HAS TRAINING!” (See image in the media player to the right.)

I instantly thought of “Two Young Men,” Martin Conroy’s 2-page letter for The Wall Street Journal, the most successful advertisement in the history of the world (and which Denny Hatch discusses in his forthcoming book about copy drivers for DirectMarketingIQ.) That mailing was its control for 29 years starting in 1974, and earned it well over $1 billion. It tells the story of two men who go to their 25th college reunion, and while they’ve turned out alike in many ways, and even work for the same company, one of them is its president, because of what he knows — that made the difference.

That this classic mailing used a similar comparative technique to space ads from 40 years earlier is not surprising. Even in recent years, a dozen or more direct mailers have their own mailings that echo, loudly or otherwise, Conroy’s effort. They’ve just “stolen smart.” It’s more proof, that as much as culture and technology have changed, as sophisticated and clever as we may now think we are, the direct marketing rules and techniques of the past are still quite valid, and profitable, today.