B2B Communications that Drive Reputation and Revenue

December 5, 2019

By Dan Lochmann

Jonathan Kitchen/Getty Images

In recent years, consumer brands have eagerly embraced leveraging communications to drive sales. But some B2B companies have been slower to embrace this strategy and to overcome skepticism that it benefits to the bottom line. Today, they can’t afford to ignore a strategy that’s proven to be effective and cost-effective. If a company is to grow organically, rather than through acquisitions, it needs to embrace brand storytelling and target the right audiences.

In Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, we wanted the world to discover a remarkable quiet giant: an industrial conglomerate based in Japan with an annual revenue of $39 billion and a staff of 81,000 employees who work in some 300 companies worldwide. The company’s size and 130-year history made it a business legend back home, but beyond Japan it needed help telling an impressive but complex story that spans more than 500 products, from rockets that help supply the International Space Station to some of the world’s largest wind turbines.

As the Japanese economy slowed, increasing awareness in other markets was vital. In 2006, I joined MHI to help build awareness and understanding of its brand globally. This followed a couple of wakeup calls for the company as it struggled to grow its business both organically and inorganically due to lack of brand awareness, and, indeed, confusion as to what part of the sprawling Mitsubishi MHI actually represents, and what value it offers to customers around the world. This effort quickly evolved into an approach which connected two ends of the sales funnel: reputation-based communications at the top and product marketing at the bottom.


Stories About More than Products

For companies new to integrated communications and marketing, the process should begin with internal alignment. We toured MHI’s communications teams around the globe explaining the need for a cohesive approach based in engaging external audiences through content that focused on themes beyond product specifications. Our stories had to be relevant to society at large (and to MHI), so they encompassed issues that matter to everyone: the energy transition, decarbonization, urbanization, mobility, logistics, aerospace, and more. To link MHI to these issues we rallied around our tagline “MOVE THE WORLD FORWARD” — and set out on a mission to explain how we move the world forward.

To identify newsworthy stories, we emphasized the need for the communications teams to collaborate closely with employees in their respective businesses and with their communications peers across the organization. We formed a Global Strategic Communications Council to advocate collectively for exploring new ways of telling our stories and for validating this approach internally.

Getting buy-in from senior leadership is critical for this sort of transformation, especially in the early stages. To demonstrate the business value of content-centric communications, we targeted areas where we could make quick improvements and score quick wins.

For example, we built a digital marketing system with high-impact branded content at the top of the sales funnel, and then piloted the program with MHI businesses best suited for the campaign. Using a small portion of the ad budget, we created a basic landing page featuring existing content and did the bare minimum in collecting data. These thrifty pilots worked, generating new sales qualified leads which could eventually lead to revenue.

As the content-led program evolves, it’s important to continually ask, “Does the brand strategy accurately reflect the business strategy?” Without that interplay, you can’t deliver the desired results to grow the business. Building on our early success, our marketing communications team developed a robust lead-generation program that moved the customer from thought leadership into product marketing. We created compelling story-led customer journeys that combined earned, paid, owned and social communications to capture the attention of potential leads. The content — stories, whitepapers, infographics and videos highlighting MHI’s energy, logistics and manufacturing innovations — moved potential customers closer to requesting a meeting with MHI and, ultimately, placing an order.


Building Trust in a Brand Through Content

The new communications model underwent its first real test in 2017 with the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), now called SpaceJet. The company’s first foray into aviation was designed to be a game-changing regional aircraft in terms of fuel efficiency, aerodynamics and cabin comfort, but it had fallen behind schedule. (Airplanes are nothing if not complex.) Airline customers and key suppliers were losing patience. Meanwhile, inside MHI, there were reasons for optimism, but these stories were not being told clearly or reaching the right people.

It was precisely the sort of problem that effective content-led communications can remedy.

First, the MRJ team and its agency Edelman defined the audience: a targeted list of partners and customers at 24 airlines and 35 supplier partners. They then researched which information about the plane was most relevant to them and mapped their media consumption. Based on the findings, the team created content aligned to the audience’s needs and launched a B2B marketing program tailored to instill trust in the brand and the plane. It consisted of geo-fenced mobile ads, a HubSpot-based subdomain with regularly published progress updates, sponsored content and emails, email marketing, targeted ads and an opt-in newsletter.

The results were impressive: The campaign reached 96 percent of the target airlines, secured 518 target audience subscribers to the newsletter, and saw a paid unit CTR of .61 percent compared to the 0.05 percent B2B industry benchmark.


Key Takeaways

The campaign’s success boils down to several insights that apply to any B2B company adopting integrated communications and marketing:

  • Connect the corporate brand to solutions and products to drive tangible business results.
  • Leverage the power of digital to micro target, identifying the right audience (reputation or sales) and the locality (industry, event, regional etc.).
  • Create loyalty by providing value to each audience through high-quality content that addresses their specific needs.
  • Build company “embassies” on content platforms where you have an active and captive audience, ensuring that you are where your customers are.
  • Use digital marketing to give communications leaders a seat at the table; it can rapidly change perceptions and drive business outcomes in a cost-effective, controllable and measurable way.

Despite the breathless talk of change that often pervades business these days, true transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s ongoing.

At MHI, we haven’t completely shed our identity as a quiet giant. But we are practicing content-led global communications through our Forbes Brand Voice channel, our blog, Spectra, and on LinkedIn, and on each we continue to find our voice. We’re discovering new ways to tell the surprising stories behind our space rockets, automated trains, gas turbines and wind farms, highlighting the people who make them and sharing how we’re advancing society in ways that most people don’t realize.

They’re all part of our story, one that keeps expanding along with our business.

Dan Lochmann is head of global communications at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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