By Published On: November 30, 2020

The annual MarketingProfs B2B Conference has been happening for a whole bunch of years (the exact number, I’m not sure). This year, it was different in two distinct ways. 1) It was virtual, and 2) I got to be there. Here’s a synopsis of what I saw and what I learned.

The format

Like the other online conferences I’ve attended this year, I think the organizers did a great job. They promoted it well, communicated effectively with attendees beforehand, and created an easy-to-navigate website. None of this came as a surprise—it was put on by marketing people after all.

The conference host, Ann Handley, kept things interesting from the start by using her handmade “slides” to highlight key points and caricaturize some of the speakers she introduced. It was refreshing and adorable. Speaking of adorable, her Bernese Mountain puppy made a few appearances along the way too. She even did a fireside chat with one guest, complete with a fireplace prop made entirely of construction paper.

Other presenters got creative too. One guy used a bitmoji of himself for part of his talk, and another took his laptop for a walk with the camera on him (and, consequently, the surroundings of his suburban neighborhood) while he gave his presentation.

Most of the presenters pre-recorded their sessions and gave a quick live “hello” before the recording began. This allowed them to refine their presentations beforehand and to eliminate any jitters or tech issues. It also allowed them to monitor the chat room during their session, so they’d be ready for Q&A at the end when they reappeared live.

Like most conferences of this nature, there were multiple sessions running concurrently covering various topics. I picked the ones that resonated best with me, but I missed a few that could have been interesting. No problem there—a few days after the event, I received an email with a link to ALL the sessions so I could go back and watch whatever I wanted, complete with the live chats. Which I must say, was a pretty entertaining part of the conference. It’s not very often you get to see into the minds of the audience during a live presentation.

The content

I attended about 15 sessions over the course of two days (sheesh…no wonder I was exhausted at the end.). Here are highlights from some of my favorites:

David Meerman Scott reminded us that it’s not just sports teams that can have fans—businesses can too. If you’ve made an impact on your customers, they’ll advocate for you. How do you make that impact? Educate them with meaningful, engaging, and entertaining content (video is great for this). Got a boring product? Put your personality out there, like the Skateboarding Dentist did. This guy was just another dentist in town with a website that looked like everyone else’s. When he decided to incorporate his love for skateboarding onto his website and into his office, his business grew exponentially. People were into it, even if they weren’t into skateboarding. It was fun and different.

Even if I knew everything there was to know about virtual presentations (which I don’t), I would have attended Brian Fanzo’s session entitled “Re-Inventing Virtual Presentations So They Suck Less” just because of the name. As suspected, he had some great ideas. Rather than attempting to replicate in-person presentations, he suggested creating new kinds of experiences by using technology like embedding messages and slides, using a bitmoji, changing backgrounds, using a combo of live, prerecorded, and produced, content, and encouraging participation with chats and polls. Also, don’t forget to test, tweak, and repeat.

Ann Handley, our gregarious and lovable host, shared some tips on how to create an email newsletter that people will clear their calendars to read. She should know—over the course of two years, her newsletter grew organically by 1082%! Here are her tips on upping your game:

Be there for your customers, especially in a crisis (like now!). Why? Because 65% of consumers say a brand’s response in a crisis will have an impact on their future purchases.1

How do you do it? Communicate peer-to-peer instead of brand-to-target. Create empathy for your audience by telling them you understand what they’re going through.

Instead of asking why you need a newsletter, ask what does your audience need from you? Then, give it to them. Whether it’s tips on surviving, a discount (if you can swing it), or a tiny piece of entertainment, just show your face.

Write from a non-neutral voice. In other words, add some personality. Perhaps you can’t do this in all your marketing materials, but you can certainly do it in your newsletter. Have fun with it. Be yourself. And always remember to make it useful by making it about them.

Every time someone signs up for your newsletter, send a welcome message. It can be automated, but it doesn’t have to be stuffy. Make it light. Say thank you. Ask if they need anything. According to research, welcome emails generate 4X more opens and 3X more transactions than other marketing emails.2

Our friends at Tennant Company hosted a session about humanizing B2B brands. They reminded us that, contrary to what we might think, B2B buyers often use personal values and outcomes to make purchase decisions. In other words, it’s not just about the price. They showed examples of how they used video testimonials with real users of their industrial floor cleaners (janitors and custodians) and those who benefit from clean environments (school kids). They also highlighted their Custodians Are Key contest, which encourages schools to nominate their custodians for excelling at keeping their schools clean and safe. Winners get cash prizes and a grand prize of $10K goes to the top winner’s school. If that doesn’t show the human side of what a manufacturing company can do, I don’t know what does.

Keynote speaker April Dunford gave a thought-provoking and entertaining talk about brand positioning in crowded markets. She challenged the traditional method of brand positioning that first defines your target market, then identifies your product and category, and finally highlights your product’s benefits. She instead recommends marketers answer a series of questions around the competitive differentiators of your product, the value it brings, the audience who cares, and the context in which it should be delivered.

Example: A group of lawyers developed a file-sharing software product for law firms. They chose the Email Market Category for their product and positioned themselves as an improved email solution for lawyers. But the firms they were approaching didn’t see the need for a new email platform. With help from April, they realized they had an innovative secure file-sharing system masquerading as an email, when it really should have been placed in the Collaboration Software Category. Once they made the change in their positioning, they were able to sell more subscriptions AND charge a higher price. Who doesn’t want that?

So, there you have it. My highlights from two days of modern-day marketing school for professionals. I learned a lot. Had a few laughs. And got to know some very interesting people. The only thing missing was the lobby schmoozing and the cheap coffee.




About the Author: Danette Knickmeier

Danette Knickmeier
The number of hats Danette wears at the agency rivals the number of toppings you can put on a pizza. Now seven years into her second residency at cat&tonic, she enjoys putting her many talents to use, including (but not limited to) account services, project management, strategic planning, copy and content writing, general operations, and snack ordering. Her wicked planning skills and natural ability to keep projects on task—without annoying all parties involved—make her our go-to, get-it-done person. Danette’s first stint at [c&t] lasted six years before she got the itch to try on a few larger agencies for size. She grew professionally and made several life-long friends in those days, but she missed the small agency vibe and was eagerly welcomed back by her life-long [c&t] friends.
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