Guest Host: Desmond Khor, Senior Marketing Manager, Hexagon
Vyoocast #2: Desmond Khor is with Hexagon Safety and Infrastructure, a U.S. based software development company that provides geospatially powered software to businesses and governments around the globe. As we continue our reverse interview format, Desmond will be our guest host as he speaks with Henry Wong on life and strategic direction in B2B Marketing.
2.1 ON WORKING WITH COMPANIES WITH IMPACT
Henry: I'm here with Desmond Khor, Senior Marketing Manager of Hexagon Safety and Infrastructure. Desmond, thank you so much for having me here and being my host to guide me through this discussion. So tell me a little bit more about your company. [READ MORE]
Desmond: Sure, Hexagon Safety Infrastructure is the company I work for. We are part of a larger group of companies under the Hexagon brand. My brand in particular is involved with ensuring public safety and protecting critical infrastructure. But what I’m most excited about working here is, our interaction with a variety of verticals and variety of companies. And also with our Hexagon colleagues, they have this mission of solving some of the most important issues that we see in society today. Be it aging infrastructure, the threat of natural disasters – all of these things bring such a huge economic impact. Let’s say, when something like that happens, you know it’s such an honor and such a great place to be part of a company that actually solves these problems for customers.
Henry: That’s really amazing and I don’t know if I’ve shared with you but when I launched Vyoo, I had a very simple mission. And that was simply to work with companies that have an impact on the world. It’s quite a privilege to work with companies like that.
Desmond: Yea, it’s quite interesting. In this company and other companies that I’ve worked with in the past, there’s so much in the world that we don’t see. There’s a lot of underlying technology and solutions that have been put on market. And obviously, a lot of people benefit from that. But it’s sometimes good to be behind the curtains in some ways to see how solutions and innovation actually happen and all those things I’m really interested in. How people get together and come up with really, great solutions. That kind of impact not only for public safety but also leapfrog companies and the community at large to hopefully help the next generation.
Henry: I think we’re at a really interesting time in society where there’s a lot more focus on what good can happen with ideas that are created with business. I find that hugely fascinating.
Desmond: In your work with Vyoo and I see with your approach to helping customers solve their own problems, what’s most important in getting to the heart of an actual customer problem? What steps do you take to find out what the problem is and then ultimately create solution from that?
Henry: We actually go through an audit, an in-depth audit before we actually get to the solution. Quite often with many creative shops or advertising shops or even digital marketing shops, you immediately jump to the answer and you subjectively pick the direction to go.
There’s a lot more to it than that. So a key part of what we do is a simple process where we interview the key stakeholders and their customers and even ex-customers to unravel, unveil what might be something that you hadn’t looked at.
So while you may understand what the pain points are, we’re able to come back with a set of findings, a report that will unveil that. And then from that, we see what the pain point is that sometimes marketing can solve. And sometimes it’s more of a business solution. But more importantly we can identify it. And if there is a solution that the company has, we help communicate that – typically through marketing, through content, through advertising, whatever the ideal solution might be.
2.2 ON EMOTION AND THE BIG IDEA
Desmond: I've been involved with several companies in pitch sessions in coming up with brainstorm ideas for marketing campaigns, et cetera. One of the things I always gravitate towards and one of the things I always ask our partners is, “what is the big idea what we're trying to build” and I want to ask you, Henry, what do you think is the big idea? How do you get to that big idea? What does the big idea really mean? [READ MORE]
Henry: So the big idea isn’t something that you can stand back and go, wow that’s really a great idea you came up with. It’s a little bit more, in my mind. It’s a thought, or a direction, or a movement or an “idea” that can transform the business. It has to move the needle in some way and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s within the creative marketing space but it’s some idea that can help change the way people think. And that to me is it is a big idea.
An idea is where you can go, wow, I didn’t think about that before. So if you can put that on the table whether it’s through content or through the brand campaign, then you’ve succeeded in many ways. Otherwise, it just becomes a very subjective call. It still needs to come back to moving business in some way.
Desmond: It’s something I always try to get my teams to focus on when we talk about the big idea. Sometimes my personal interpretation of what big idea is almost like an emotional response to a problem that we’re trying to solve, right?
Henry: So while it may be a business problem they’re facing, it still comes back to something fundamentally emotional. And that’s why you react emotionally when you see the idea because this is how it can align to solve that problem.
Desmond: But is that process to get down to that solution different between B2B companies and B2C companies?
Henry: No, it’s very much the same and it should be. In spite of many campaigns looking from a very logical point of view, we as human beings still react in an emotional way. And that even applies in business to business. We need to solve something that is emotionally based.
It could be as simple as getting that right photocopier because otherwise I can get in trouble with my boss. There’s an emotional problem underlying an issue with citywide infrastructure that you need to solve problems for your customers and their customers because there’s a certain amount of risk involved. A catastrophe that might occur or if there’s an inability to make a decision, if you don’t have the right information. That’s all emotional. That’s not necessarily logical. We may justify it logically but there are a number of competitors even in your field in which potential customers are looking to decide on. And often that comes down to simply, “I would prefer to work with this company because there is something intangible that we can’t put our finger on”, but it comes to that emotional place.
2.3 ON B2B MEDIA STRATEGY AND CONTENT
Desmond: In your recommendation with customers, do you also outline some potential channels or some solutions to help a company break through? [READ MORE]
Henry: That’s very much in media planning but not in the traditional media planning sense in which you decide: I am gonna buy a set of publications that will be geared to my target audience. We go a little bit more in the shoes of the customer. So let’s say for example we look at your customer and go through their daily route and ask what contacts they make; what trade shows they might encounter; how do they go through their decision making; what their route might be even to and from the office; what sort of contact they have with people. And you look for those intersection points where potential media will be. Too oftenm companies will go, “Oh we should be on Facebook” and begin posting all sorts of social media posts. However, are your customers there? Everyone else might but not your customer. So it’s really important that you look at where those intersection points are, so that you can deliver that message to them.
Desmond: And I think part of that conversation is really about generating good content, content that they’re looking for that is timely and speaks well to their environment.
Henry: Absolutely. It’s because if you think of the old adage, people read what interests them and sometimes it’s advertising, it’s very much in the world of content. You want to have something that is of interest to people otherwise they will move on to something else. More now more than ever, we’re bombarded with thousands of more messages than my generation or the generation before. So the amount of time and attention span we have for anything is very, very limited. So if I can’t find those areas that my customer or my clients are interested in, I’m going to move on to something else. And that’s where the value of content comes in. You’re able to create something of value for them that they are able to pay attention to.
Desmond: What are some new channels that companies can participate in? Traditional advertising would be magazines and any mass would be TV or radio but obviously now there’s a lot of budget and attention spent on digital and social. But what are some channels and avenues that can break through.
Henry: Particularly in the B2B area where the decision-making is a little bit more informed and a little bit more deliberate, there is still an emotional connection to it. We still look for those factors that contribute to the decision making and a lot of that requires more information and it’s not simply reading through a brochure or hearing a sales pitch or sitting through a webinar. It’s really being educated in that environment or that particular topic. So a lot of companies are gaining success by creating separate blog sites or thought leadership content that their leaders or their key people can be the authors of, whether it’s written or whether it’s recorded interviews. Webinars are a little bit more challenging because you’re defining the amount of time that someone needs to spend with you when in fact they need to define the time that they spend with you. So something that they can digest at their leisure. Whether it’s a podcast or whether it’s a quickly written article or highlights from it is far more successful at gaining attraction than the usual. Digital ads still work in terms of driving them to your site if you share with them something relevant. We’re working on a current campaign for example, which we’ve created a little web series. So people are watching it. There’s some entertainment value attached to it and there’s a reason for them to watch it. Along the way they get educated and they get sold and they clearly understand what’s happening because it’s a little bit more engaging.
Desmond: This is interesting – to entertain a particular prospect or a viewer alongside providing great content, great information. It almost seems like you need to have those things in place these days because of all the competition for our attention.
Henry: Absolutely and as much as entertainment is important, it needs to also be relevant to what you’re selling or it’s a total disconnect. Your customers aren’t going to necessarily make the leap and understand the point you’re making, other than, “Oh that is an interesting cat video” that I could share with other people. But ‘how does it tie back to the brand, how does it connect back to your sales message’ is really the key.
2.4 ON THOUGHT LEADERSHIP AND CONTENT
Desmond: We talked about leadership earlier. How would you recommend someone attach any sort ROI or calculate any sort ROI from putting out a thought leadership blog or podcast, or a video? [READ MORE]
Henry: I think in the world of online, as you know, it can be very simply done. Links to your site and measuring the traffic that comes as a result of it.
And being able to track even within your own network. Almost every one of us is on LinkedIn in business. Businesses have a LinkedIn profile. We have hundreds if not thousands of followers that those are people you could tap into. So if you share content, it’s an opportunity to be a conversation starter. So in other words, it’s the first entry into a deeper conversation. With the sales process, you’re really initiating contact, you’re finding opportunity to get deeper into that conversation. That podcast with thought leadership allows you to do so much more than simply saying, “Hey would you like to sit down and let me give you a presentation”. Now I’ve established myself as a potential expert in this field and I want to find out more from you. I want to dig a little bit deeper to see how you can solve my problem. And typically that aligns with the business objectives as well.
Desmond: We’ve gotten more and more involved with native advertising and native content. Some of the ways we do that is obviously by paying media companies for example. But I think a lot of consumers, a lot of our audience and viewers – they know that a particular content is paid for. I want to get your thoughts on whether or not native content or native advertising is still relevant and still effective.
Henry: I think there definitely needs to be a balance of both. There are times when you need to reach out to people and tell them what you do and maybe the best pipeline is paid advertising whether it’s online or whether it’s in print. But ultimately it still comes back to, ‘how is this relevant to my day to day?’ If I see it and it makes sense for my life and I see it through advertising, I will react to it. If I see it through an article that I read or content that I consume, if it’s relevant to me, I will react. And that’s really what it comes down to it, if it’s relevant to me, I will respond to it. If it’s not, I move on to something else very quickly.
2.5 ON GLOBAL BRANDS AT THE LOCAL LEVEL
Desmond: So I work for Hexagon and Hexagon is a global brand multinational. We are invested in many parts of the world and our solution is obviously relevant in many parts of the world and have been successful in business. How do we make ourselves relevant to local markets? [READ MORE]
Henry: It’s really very much about creating teams and tribes that are the offshoot of the main brand itself. So, if you came in with the same mission as the global entity, that typically will not play in the local market because it’s so far removed from their day-to-day. The beauty of having offices and set ups and sales structure within the local market is that it gives you an understanding of what the customer needs at that point. And that’s the best way because you’re looking for opportunities to sell to that customer. But really what you’re looking for is things that you can identify with and it’s only at that local opportunity that you able to see that, rather than taking it from a global view. The global view can still establish the overall brand, but look at what the products are, how is this relevant to me. And this is where either individuals or case studies or simply discussions around how a problem was solved can make it relevant. So while there may be something in let’s say Malaysia that is so far removed from my day to day, there may be an issue that’s very similar. So if you can make it relevant to that person in the market, then you can score all sorts of points. You can make that connection necessary to continue that discussion.
Desmond: You used the word tribes earlier and I liked that word. I think one way companies can succeed in the global market at a local scale is to create even a matrix-like organization where one particular team or tribe can pull from the strengths of other people around the world. And I think that’s the beauty of being in a global company because we can identify who is best suited to solve a particular customer problem. And I think some companies struggle with that but some companies are really good with that. How do you make it easier for organizations and departments to, first of all, identify who those people are and also have the ability to pull on those resources when you need?
Henry: Well that’s certainly the infrastructure within the organization, itself. But a lot of the work that I do also involves internal communication and that’s really important, too, because while there may be a mission and a direction and a philosophy and a culture that the company has, not everybody’s aware of it. But that’s really key and fundamental to the success of a company – that everybody really sings from the same song sheet or has the same script that they follow.
And it’s surprising if you do a simple exercise: You gather people within, let’s say, a unit of a company or a company and simply ask, ‘How do you describe your company when you hang out at a cocktail party? How do you tell them what you do’. Inevitably, you’ll hear different answers, five different people, there will be five different answers. Quite often, what’s happened is not that they haven’t been brainwashed but simply that they haven’t been communicated to. They haven’t been given the story. That’s what it comes down to. What we do quite effectively is to help companies tell their story both externally and internally.
Desmond: Right, that’s a good point. I think sometimes we need to market internally as much as we do externally too. Internal communication would be great if we have an actual substance to pull from and sometimes we may not know what’s happening around the world within our own company. But I think the internal marketing of our success is also quite important too.
Henry: Absolutely and being able to share that with everyone because it excites and motivates people at the same time. And you do raise a really good point, Desmond, in that the internal people are as important as the external people. And a good way of looking at it is treating them almost as if they are customers. Because staff themselves come with the same cynicism and obstacles in their mind to receiving a message. So what’s the best way to overcome that? And it isn’t simply putting out a memo. Sometimes. It isn’t simply putting out a newsletter. Sometimes it might be. But at the same time, you are looking for opportunities to connect with those people on an emotional level that they take the message, receive the message and then get excited by it and go forth and share it with their connections and their people.
2.6 – On Mission Statements And Key Messages
Desmond: One more question – you mentioned tipping point. You know, companies need to mobilize presumably all troops to one common goal. What are some strategies that a company or a leader can employ to mobilize their teams. And get everyone to face in the right direction? [READ MORE]
Henry: The most important thing is simply communicating that mission. It’s surprising the number of organizations I walk into and work with, who really haven’t been communicated to and that’s typically why they’re suffering that problem. It’s as easy as just sharing that with people. So a mission statement may exist on the reception wall but it may not be understood by people. It’s being able to have people live and breathe it. And as you create emissaries within the organization, it’s really quite interesting what begins to happen. They begin to share that same sort of philosophy and culture and that’s how the mission gets carried out. Ultimately, it’s the message and the relevancy that we’re trying to create with those messages that gets it out there.
So fundamentally it begins with that mission and what the value proposition is within the organization . And what you put out into the world both internally and therefore externally.
Desmond: Can you have multiple missions?
Henry: No. Think of it it in terms of fighting a war, fighting a mission within a war. If you have cross purposes then you will end up stepping all over each other. You won’t achieve the goals, itself. You may still because you could have multiple missions and the objective is still to sell more and win the battle. But there could be a lot of casualties along the way. The idea is to minimize the casualties and get people thinking the same so that it’s a concerted effort – a strategic effort that will be efficient.
Desmond: What about the core purpose? Do you need one core purpose or can you have multiple purposes and does it apply to the company or does it apply to projects?
Henry: There is a core purpose that exists for the company and that begins with that mission statement. It could be to better the world, you know, better infrastructure. All the projects itself may have minor objectives in terms of, let’s say, achieving sales or pushing a certain product but ultimately it’s still the bigger mission that’s at play. And as long as everyone has that in mind and understands how this fits in with the larger piece of the puzzle, then it makes sense. So I’m not just simply pushing a campaign out or pushing at particular sales initiative. There is a higher purpose to it. And when you can understand that, you get behind it and want to participate.
Desmond: When a brand comes to you and ask for your help, they’ll have a problem. They’ll describe to you what their mission is or maybe some companies may not know what their mission is. What are some recommendations that you can make to companies to prepare for this meeting who come to you and seek help?
Henry: A lot of it is just getting enough people in the same room. We do a very simple exercise where we ask people to simply tell the story. So I use a starting exercise to ask people internally to try to write their six word story. We put that all on the wall and we take a look at it and we see quite clearly that often people are looking at it from different perspectives. So the key is to really get all the essential people into the room to begin to align. There’s a difference between agreement and alignment and through the exercises that we do, we help align people to that mission, to that story that needs to be put out in the marketplace. You can simply create something and have everyone agree to it but that doesn’t necessarily mean they believe in it. So part of that cultural shift is creating that alignment.
Desmond: Have you ever been in a situation where you know personally that there’s one person in that room that does not truly buy into all of this, does not align what most of the people in the room align to?
Henry: We are self-motivated people meaning that we look for what’s in it for me. But typically, we can identify that person and what the cause of it is. More than likely, it’s because of their own situation. They’re facing a different type of challenges in the market or they may have some personal aspects that they’re bringing into it that affect it. And what that means is, perhaps, they’re not the ideal person to be part of the company. If the leader and the majority of the people are seeing the company move in one direction and this one person sees it another, while influential, could be harmful to the greater cause.
Desmond: How do you make a recommendation to a company? Is it you host a series of meetings and you walk through your plan or is it delivered as a document. How would you do?
Henry: It’s all of the above and I think the most important thing is to be able to simply spend time with the client, walk them through the strategy. But more importantly the process that got us here. It’s very easy to come back and make a recommendation and put it with a 100 page document. And say. ‘here’s where your business should be going but there’s no buy-in along the way. So the key part of it as we’ve talked about it is really aligning people and getting them to
really believe in the direction you’re going. And if they’re part of the process by the time they see the recommendation or the creative output or the story that’s told, they’ve been a part of it so they’ve contributed to it and therefore can more easily embrace it.