The Science of Influence: Insight Into Today’s Technology Purchasing Decisions (Study)

At long last, B&O has refreshed its B2B Tech Influencer Study—a survey of 807 senior-level B2B technology decision-makers (506 in the U.S. and 302 in Canada) that explored what is most influencing technology purchase decisions across both SMB and enterprise IT buyers.

This highly anticipated study fills a void in the otherwise overcrowded pantheon of marketing-oriented and infographics. This one provides rare and actionable insights into where B2B marketers can B2B picadjust their creative approaches, channel strategies and digital marketing techniques to drive sales more effectively with their elusive buyers.

For years, previous iterations of this study were a mainstay in internal B2B marketing budget discussions. Not only did it validate the role B2B tech marketers played in driving lead generation, it also quantified the impact marketing was having on deal closure and competitive positioning. The most recent study was conducted back in 2012, and so much has happened since, we thought it was high time to revisit many of the most important questions, including:

  • How frequently do B2B tech buyers turn to influential sources of information, such as trade publications, vendor web sites, analyst reports and advice from peers?
  • What is the relative influence of these sources of information when it comes to B2B purchase decisions?
  • What is driving positive word of mouth among B2B tech buyers, and what should technology vendors be doing differently to adjust their approach?
  • At what point in the sales cycles are these information sources having the most influence—lead gen, deal closure, or somewhere else?
  • What role are industry analysts still playing in all this?

An executive summary of the report, which you can read here, indicates a few important trends that should immediately impact how much budget B2B marketers allocate toward their programs and the techniques they use to reach B2B buyers. At first blush, the following trends became immediately apparent:

  • The continued rise of word of mouth among peers as a primary driver of B2B purchase decisions
  • The convergence of peer opinions and expert analyst opinions into a dynamic we call the “rise of the expert peer”
  • The increasing impact of positive word of mouth on both ends of the funnel—lead gen and deal closure—which indicates that great content plus great conversations result in great conversion rates
  • The continued role that an open-ended, provocative question—what we’ve often called the “viral question”—plays in generating positive word of mouth
  • The continued presence of industry analysts as an essential influencer in B2B tech purchase decisions

As a tribe of change agents who are constantly looking for ingenious ways to drive more revenue for our clients, B&O is taking these new findings to heart. In the coming months, watch for even more service innovation and inspirational case studies around how we’re putting these lessons and insights to good use.

And if you’d like to be one of those case studies, or are interested in brainstorming how these findings apply to you, don’t hesitate to give us a call. We love to practice what we preach. We’ve just delivered the content. Now we’d love to have the conversation that leads to conversion—for you.

For more information, and for a full copy of the study, please visit the Blanc & Otus website.

New Chapter

Credit: Lou Levit, StockSnap.io
Credit: Lou Levit, StockSnap.io

It’s with mixed emotions that today I am stepping back as CEO of Blanc & Otus after two years in this role, and it’s with great pride that I pass the torch to Annemiek Hamelinck (and because it matters, it’s pronounced ON-a-MEEK HOMM-eh-LINK) as the agency’s new General Manager. Today is my last official full-time day in the office, though I am staying on as a strategic advisor to the firm.

I’m sad to be saying goodbye to my friends here. I’m excited to be moving on to an opportunity that was just too good to pass up—an opportunity I’m not at liberty to share just yet, though I can say it’s an in-house head of marketing position with an exciting young start-up. And I’m humbled by the tide of support from friends and colleagues around the world wishing me well on my next chapter.

The most overwhelming feeling, however, is gratitude. B&O is an amazing tribe. I’ve learned so much from working with this group of tenacious, resourceful and relentlessly authentic people. And I’ve had an opportunity to partner closely with some of the most inspiring CEOs, CMOs and PR professionals in the industry.

I’m also grateful that the company is on such a solid trajectory. We’ve added seven new clients over the past few months alone. We continue to grow our team, with the newest addition arriving in a few weeks, and we continue to deliver work we’re fiercely proud of for our clients.

But perhaps most remarkable to me is the stability and wisdom of the team that’s always been in place here, the team that both predates me and outlasts me. We recently promoted Simon Jones, Suzi Owens and Kristin Reeves to SVPs, as well as Danielle Tarp to VP. Kristin and our research and market insights guru Jay Andersen have each been here 16 years. Simon and Suzi have been here 12 years.

That kind of longevity is rare. This team’s commitment to their clients and to each other is what drew me to the firm in the first place. And that, along with the expert stewardship of Annemiek, is what will ensure the firm’s continued success long into the future. This year marks the 30th anniversary of B&O, and with people like this at the helm, the next 30 years will be even better.

Finally (and this will put me over the 400-word count the editorial staff at B&O imposed upon me, but after the past two years I hope I’ve earned a little leeway), I wanted to share something a little personal. On my desk I keep an old blue cookie jar with the words “Suggestion Jar” written on top, and a pad of paper and pen next to it. It’s a nice analog, humanized way for my team to share ideas with me.

In the past, I’ve had everything from “revamp the blog” to “office dog” and “company offsite in Vegas.” Today, as I was cleaning out my desk, there was just one note in there: “visit often.” And as a strategic advisor to the company, I plan to.   But it also occurred to me this was probably my last chance to offer a few suggestions of my own, so here it goes—things I wish I’d known earlier in my own career.

Demand mentorship. Learn as much as you can from anybody whose work you admire. Ask to work on different kinds of projects. Maximize your personal and professional potential by insisting on learning something new.

Believe in business karma. Treat people the way you want to be treated, and somewhere down the road it will pay off, financially and otherwise. My entire career is a testament to this principle.

Be entrepreneurial. The great thing about working in tech marketing and PR is you don’t have to know code to invent something valuable. I dare each of you to create a new service or methodology or technique and share it with the world.

Be fearless. Never live with the sinking feeling in your gut when work feels lousy. Nobody is ever truly stuck. Speak truth and offer solutions. Remember that we teach people how to treat us. Teach people to trust and respect you by being authentic.

Be curious, courageous and compassionate. Whenever somebody’s decision makes no sense or pisses you off, suspend judgment. Get curious. Try to feel what they’re feeling. Discover what’s behind their behavior. Not only will you earn their trust, you might just learn something.

Value the people you work with. My biggest regret over the past few years has been not spending more time enjoying the company of my coworkers. Revel in your work relationships. They matter.

Thank you, B&O, for everything. This isn’t goodbye. It’s just a new chapter …

Joshua

Innovation: Beyond Buzzwords

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

Out here in Silicon Valley, “innovation” is center square on buzzword bingo. Everybody talks about it. Everybody wants to be associated with it. Everybody claims to do it. But not all innovation is created equal. As we strive to become innovators in our industries, I’d like to offer a few practical tips for how to think about innovation in a way that breaks through the noise and delivers impact.

Necessity is the mother of invention
Step 1: Find a purpose.

Innovation is most useful when it’s in response to a clearly understood need. The more grounded we are in a precise, differentiated purpose, the more effective our ideas will be. Just last week, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner shared with a group of LinkedIn B2B Connect attendees that having a clear differentiated purpose is in fact the single most important determining factor in the success of any new LinkedIn feature or service.

For a professional services organization like Blanc & Otus, there are three primary needs to consider: helping our own people, helping our clients, and helping our profitability. And while all three are connected, helping our people is the most important. After all, we are our own product.

Whether we’re looking to improve our efficiency and automate tasks we’re already doing, or looking to improve our effectiveness with new services we’re not doing yet, or looking to improve our impact with data services that show the value of what we’re doing…helping unleash the full potential of our amazing tribe of consultants is, I believe, the best possible purpose behind any of our innovations.

Engage in a little creative destruction
Step 2: Blow some stuff up.

Not literally, of course, but conceptually. When imagining and engineering new ways to work, it’s extremely helpful to blow up old assumptions and outdated models to clear a path for fresh thinking. When Facebook first launched, it was a stated assumption of all Internet-driven businesses that it was bad to have “white space” on your web site. MySpace had set the standard, and it looked a teenager’s bedroom wall that had been over-run with fan posters. But Facebook challenged that assumption and believed that a social network was less about pushing media and more about pulling people together. And when it launched, it had the most minimalistic webpage anybody had ever seen. It defied convention. And it worked.

So, once you’re grounded in purpose, ask yourself what old assumptions you’re carrying around with you. Dump them. Create some conceptual white space in which to work. And have some fun while you’re doing it!

Innovation isn’t just about technology
Step 3: Be human.

Innovation is about way more than the latest shiny new gadget or app. Technology is but one of many forms of innovation. People, process and technology all have to work in tandem for a new idea to work. And of the three, people are usually the slowest moving component of any change. After all, a new technology doesn’t resist change when you upgrade it.

That’s why cultural innovation and changing the human operating system are as important, if not more important, than the technology operating systems we work with. Process innovation, and shifting the protocols by which we work together, is also a great way to reduce complexity and increase speed and scale. Even environmental innovation, and changing the space in which we work, can have a profound impact on our overall creativity and productivity. So, ask yourselves, how can we innovate the non-technical aspects of innovation and make a real impact?

Ingenuity is as valuable as innovation
Step 4: Use what you’ve got.

Innovation is the creation of something brand new, like a wheel. Ingenuity is the creative recombination of existing components to produce something useful, like when somebody took two wheels, ran a stick through the center of them, and put a box on top to make a cart. Ingenuity is particularly helpful in professional services firms where people are already resourceful and tenacious.

Looking again at Facebook as an example, ingenuity is what the company was all about. Mark Zuckerburg didn’t invent anything. He used existing technologies in a new and disruptive way. Same with LinkedIn. Same with Uber and Lyft. So, the question is, how can those of us in the professional services industry become models of ingenuity?

Co-Create Something Amazing
Step 5: Crowd-source your solution

Once you’ve found your purpose, blown up old assumptions, thought through the human implications of your innovation, and used your existing resources to full effect, now you’re ready to create something brand new. And in this final step, nothing is more important than tapping into the wisdom of the amazing tribe of people around you. And it’s important to reach beyond your immediate circle of employees and colleagues. Involve your customers and clients, partners, influencers and most especially your critics in your creative process. Collaborative co-creation yields so much more innovation because it brings together such a rich combination of complementary perspectives. And collaborative co-creation allows for more people to have a personal stake in the success of the innovation initiative you’re pursuing.

At B&O, we’re fortunate to have a tribe of digital natives who are in touch with the latest digital tools and techniques, and who are on the front lines of delivering value to our clients. Our Facebook, Instragram and LinkedIn programs were all started by our youngest employees. We recently aired one of our marketing summits on Periscope at the recommendation of our staff. By being open to experimentation and involving a broader group of people in the creative process, we’ve been able to embrace change in a way that brings us closer together as a team. 

What are your own pointers for embracing innovation? We’d love to co-create some professional service innovation with you, so join the conversation!

The New Norm: The Convergence of Strategy, Execution and Measurement

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Thinkstock

We all know that tech communications is evolving rapidly. But amidst the constantly changing technology, workflow and communication challenges we all face on a daily basis, the really interesting thing is that a new norm is slowly forming. Strategy, execution and measurement are beginning to converge. Old myths are being challenged. And a new playbook is forming around creative destruction, co-creation and authentic omni-channel storytelling.

First, this convergence of strategy, execution and measurement has enormous implications for what the new norm looks like in technology marketing. Strategy and execution are merging as the stakes are raised for strategies to pay off quickly.

And they are not the only things. Measurement and strategy are converging, as well. We used to conduct marketing and communications measurement after the fact and ask ourselves, how did we do? What might we do differently next time? Realistically, we’d do this once a month, in some cases only once a quarter, just because we were so busy executing we had little time to measure. But now the data that’s available to us on the impact of our communications is everywhere, it’s instantaneous, and it’s imperative that we learn from it.

Meanwhile, execution and measurement are merging. Traditionally, measurement would rarely actually impact how we were executing, because we waited for the final results to show up before we bothered to look at the data. As we learn to filter out the signal from the noise and become more adept at reading data signals intelligently, we can stop doing marketing and communications in the rear-view mirror and start looking at our instrumentation as we’re driving forward, not after we’ve finished the trip. Then we can adjust both our strategy and our tactics in real time to change the outcomes we’re measuring.

And all this means that as a marketing and communications function, we have to converge, as well, and collaborate more closely and fearlessly than ever before. Drop the silos. Don’t let org charts and reporting structures get in the way. Strategists and planners, creative designers and developers, project managers, relationship managers, data analysts—the entire team needs to gather around the table and recognize that it’s all connected now, and sharing information and insights faster internally is more important than ever. All too often, it’s our own internal political and organizational friction that limits our success.

And when we do gather as a team and start thinking collectively, it becomes that much easier to see through some of the more unhelpful myths that are getting on our way:

  • Communication innovation isn’t always about inventing new words.
    Sometimes, technology companies get caught up in category creation and creating new must-haves and catch phrases that nobody has ever used before. This is actually a time-consuming and costly approach. With all the white noise that already plagues most technology categories, the wiser approach is to engage in a little creative destruction, rhetorically speaking. Challenge existing myths and hype, be the voice of reason in a crowded discussion, and create some space for new ways of thinking.
  • Thought leadership isn’t a dictatorship.
    The next myth is that thought leadership is all about educating an audience and telling them something. In fact, thought leadership is about curating a discussion and asking your audience to see a current problem or challenge from a new perspective. Once you’ve cleared your rhetorical space of the b.s. and hype that’s clouding people’s understanding, you can co-create a point of view with your audience through the use of viral questions and interactive content strategies across multiple channels.
  • It’s not all about gorgeous content and keywords.
    Nobody will deny that brilliantly designed content and engaging form factors such as videos and apps work wonders to capture people’s attention and imagination. And clearly the right SEO strategy will boost visibility. But unless those eye-popping experiences and keywords lead to a measurable shift in sales, stock price, talent recruitment or some other KPI that the CEO cares about, it’s hard to justify even the most conservative of invoices on creative content. What’s really needed is for content creators to converge their thinking with the business strategists and data analysts around the table and come up with the omni-channel narratives and experiences that also lead to cash.

This the new norm that we see, and it’s just part of what we’ll be discussing in our upcoming series on The New Norm. There are many other PR myths to explore, and new ways for technology communicators to work together. We’ll be taking a look at them more closely in our upcoming series, and we invite you to share your ideas with us, as well.

PR Pros: Shut Your Phone Off This Valentine’s Day. I Dare You!

Just turn it off. (Thinkstock)
Just turn it off. (Thinkstock)

We have written a lot about the changing nature of communications. But when it comes to personal communications, many things haven’t and shouldn’t change.

That’s why I’m shutting my phone off for 24 hours this Valentines Day. And I dare my fellow PR professionals to do the same.

If you’re like me, you’ll find it harder than it sounds. PR is a dynamic and fast-moving industry that often requires us to be hyper-connected, but at times that can be stressful and make us a little obsessed with our phone, tablet or other personal device of choice. To make matters worse, people everywhere are turning to technology of all kinds to give Cupid’s arrow a little boost with Valentine’s Day coming up. That means we risk spending more time than ever with our other secret lover—our mobile device—right before we re-engage in real life.

For those who already have a valentine, the stakes are high. A recent study showed that 53% of all U.S. women will dump their man if they don’t get a Valentine’s Day gift, which might explain the last-minute online rush for flowers, chocolates and that perfect corner table at the romantic restaurant.

For those still looking for love, there’s historically a spike in online dating site traffic, as folks spend extra time swiping through Tinder, Zoosk, OkCupid or Match.com. And we won’t even get into what happens on the biochemical side of the innovation equation around Valentines Day. Whether it’s alcohol, aphrodisiacs, aromas, or little blue pills, people try to hack the human code when the stakes are high, as MSNBC reported a few years ago.

But the one thing all these tech tools have in common is this—they’re used by people seeking to improve a distinctly offline experience. We find our partner, we get the flowers, we buy the chocolates, we get the perfect table … and then hopefully we switch the smartphone off and spend time actually looking into the eyes of the person for whom we’ve gone through all this trouble. Hopefully this is all in service of authentic human connection.

Sadly, that’s not always the case. The problem is that the same tools we use to find love are the same tools that can get in the way all too easily. Last fall, The Huffington Post reported on studies that showed how mobile devices, apps, and social media can ruin relationships. Just search “Technology and Intimacy” and see what comes up—article after article warning of the perils of tech addiction, occasionally interspersed with a pitch for how a new technology can help relationships.

That’s why this Valentines Day I’m shutting all my mobile devices off for 24 hours. I want to see what it’s like to go cold turkey and re-engage with the people around me. I’d love to rediscover the electricity from simply maintaining eye contact. And I’d love to test my ability to process the exabytes of data rushing at me in the form of my hand being held, hearing a joke, observing body language or smelling perfume.

If you’re looking for something to fill the hours, try this: 36 questions that are engineered to build authentic human intimacy between two people who’ve just met. You could even print it up if you want to hold true to your vow of digital abstinence.

At B&O, we believe that technology is most amazing when it lives in service of people and their quality of life. We also believe in the importance of work-life balance, even in a profession as hectic as tech PR. And we’re going to encourage all of our people to switch off and reboot over the Valentines Day weekend. Because in the always-on lifestyle of PR professionals, a little downtime and authentic human connection helps us stay true to our mission and ourselves.

Things that Go Boom: Kicking Off 2015 with Some Creative Destruction

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Thinkstock

Every December, my brothers and I gather with our parents on our farm in Missouri to ring in the New Year with some serious fireworks. There’s something cleansing about blowing things up — a reminder that in the wake of creative destruction, a blank canvas emerges, paving the way for new possibilities.

As storytellers, B&O deals in the currency of words. We use them to change attitudes, impact markets and create understanding. But we know that some words carry more value than others. Through overusage, many lose their power. Others have hazy meanings to begin with. Some are just nonsense. The technology industry, with its acronyms and “insider” language is no doubt an offender. Tech PR is also an offender, relying on the familiar crutch of jargon or buzzwords to tell their stories.

So, as a start to the New Year, we asked B&O team members what words and concepts they would like to blow up in 2015.

I’m kicking things off by blowing up the word “innovation.” It’s the most overused word in tech PR, one that through extensive usage has lost its meaning. Hear what else I have to say about this word in my video:

And stay tuned to our Twitter feed (@BlancandOtus) over the next week to see what other terms members of the B&O team want to blow up. Because there’s nothing like a little #creativedestruction to set the stage for a great 2015!

The Stories that Matter: 2015 Technology Trends that Most Impact Our Species

Bigstock
Bigstock

It’s January, and that means by now most pundits have shared their predictions around the biggest technology trends that will emerge this year. A few months ago, Gartner shared its list of the most transformative technologies of 2015, along with the ones that should command the most budget among B2B buyers. Prognostications abound around consumer digital trends, and many others have shared what they think 2015 holds for digital marketing.

If we look at some of the biggest tensions, opportunities and dynamics going on where all these technology trends intersect—and if we look at where many of the largest marketing war chests are already being spent—it isn’t all that difficult to see where some of the most compelling narratives are going to emerge around technology in 2015. Here are a few of the overarching technology storylines that will unfold this year—and that will give technology companies of all sizes an opportunity to ride along with these rhetorical trade winds.

The Changing Face of Privacy: Whose Data Is It, Anyway?

The merging of digital and physical worlds, along with the intersection of analytics, mobility, pervasive computing, ubiquitous applications and the proliferation of everything-as-a-service, means our information is everywhere. That means there are no more secrets. Somebody is always watching everything we do, and after events like Target, Sony and last week’s hack of the US Central Command’s Twitter feed, everybody now knows that there’s no such thing as complete security anymore. It’s not a question of if, but when, we’re going to get hacked. And while security analytics companies profit from the shifting game of security—moving from preventing attacks to recovering from them quickly—the new question that will emerge is, what about privacy? Security is a technology. Privacy is a policy. More accurately, privacy is an agreement—who gets my information? Do I have a right to know who’s watching? How much should I care? There is a potent, latent tension between the benefits of all-automated world and the yet undiscovered human impact of a world without secrets—and that’s a storyline that will play out as hackers continue to do what they do, and as social networks and digital marketers continue to do what they do—trade on our information.

Guidance: Focus on the human decisions, policy considerations and attitudinal shifts as much as the security systems and technologies that play out in this story. Engage in viral questions that challenge people to re-examine their attitudes about privacy, and spur discussion that reveals what value remains in personal data and where the responsibilities lie to protect what little privacy yet remains.

Humans vs. Machines: The Race to Learn

Last year, Stephen Hawking, arguably the smartest man on the planet, said AI “could spell the end of the human race.” Machine learning, AI and all of its various manifestations, including the Internet of Things, wearables, and self-driving cars, are outpacing the ability to learn. Machine connectivity, social networks and communication technologies are, in some cases, beginning to degrade rather than enhance authentic human connection. And it’s ironic that we now begin to talk about the glories of “connectivity” when in fact clinically diagnosable addictions to devices, applications and virtual experiences are threatening to stunt the personal and social development of an entire generation. But what’s most at stake is the ability to learn and adapt to constantly shifting environments. This is the new Darwinian race afoot: how quickly can humans learn and thrive in shifting environments on the one hand, and how much faster can machines do the same on the other. It’s progressed far beyond the cost savings and profit-boosting of industrial automation. It’s about who’s on top—people or things?

Guidance: Focus on promoting technologies that are in service of rather than in place of human learning, human collaboration and human development. Position them as the ones to watch in 2015, and raise the stakes beyond financial ROI or consumer experience. This is the context for narratives around human-first technologies such as digitally enhanced education platforms, data visualization, unified communication 2.0 and collaboration platforms, and many others.

The End of Consumerism

Looking at some of the technologies that have dominated our attention at the past few CES shows, it’s easy to shift in our attitudes about technology. It’s no longer about merely consuming things like content via amazing screens or music via amazing audio equipment. It’s about our ability to produce things and create our own experiences. 3D Printing, self-publishing online, citizen journalism, virtual world-building, application development by the masses, and even digital enhancements to everyday tools all give us the ability to build things, make the most of existing resources, and share them with each other. Even the rise of what many last year called the “sharing economy” is a function of this shift away from thinking of ourselves as consumers toward thinking of ourselves as producers.

Guidance: As technology storytellers, focus more on what your audience can create and do with your product or service. Focus on what they need to invent and build. And if necessity is the mother of invention, begin your story with their necessities, and offer them a new way of looking at their challenge—one in which they become the hero of their own story. And position yourselves as the ally who equips the hero to meet their own need. Most importantly, challenge the myth of scarcity in your storytelling. We have enough fear and greed in the world. The time has come for marketers everywhere to shift from using the stick to using the carrot to motivate behavioral change. It’s time for our desire to create to trump our fear of not having enough to consume.

Marketing + Breaking Through the White Noise

If 2014 was the year marketers everywhere realized that the race was on to become content marketing experts, 2015 is the year we figure how the heck to execute against a vision we’re just beginning to understand. Most brands seem to have figured out that everybody’s a publisher. But if that’s the case, then who does that leave to be the readers? People are now more inundated than ever with content, thought leadership, infographics, and yes, even viral stories. And with most storylines coalescing around a pyramid of analytics, mobility, social technologies, security and IoT, there’s more white noise than ever in the world of tech PR. So the question in 2014 was, what’s my story and what model can I use to create an awesome one that goes viral. But the question has now expanded in 2015 to how to get that awesome storyline to get noticed and rise about the din of similar-sounding stories. (Even story models themselves have proliferated to the point that every agency seems to have their secret sauce. Truth be told, all of us—B&O included—owes all the credit to Joseph Campbell for making the Hero’s Journey accessible to all of us.)

Guidance: Whatever storytelling model you wind up choosing (and naturally, we highly recommend our own Viral Storytelling model as a starting point), make sure you reverse-engineer your story creation process to break through the noise. Start with an analysis of the story arcs, influencers and media cycles that already exist. Sometimes it makes sense to ride a wave. Sometimes it makes sense to invest in creating a new wave. And sometimes the best strategy is simply to question the myths, misperceptions and overabundance of hype generated by your competitors.

These are just a few of the big storylines of 2015. There are several more, and we will continue to explore them together in our XTC column as the year unfolds.

XTC 12/10: The Biggest Tech Stories You Won’t Have to Pitch in 2015 (Part 1)

Our Crystal Ball of Buzzwords predicts equal amounts of innovation and disruption next year. (Thinkstock)
Our Crystal Ball of Buzzwords predicts equal amounts of innovation and disruption next year. (Thinkstock)

‘Tis the season for 2015 trends. Each December we’re treated to a veritable cornucopia of content around hot technologies, spending forecasts, innovative marketing bets, and disruptive business models.

But for those of us in tech PR, one of the most precious commodities in 2015 is time, followed closely by budget. So this year, B&O is proud to share our view on the biggest tech stories of 2015 that will get written whether or not you spend any time or budget on them. For those of us from the old school of PR, this is called “drafting”. For those of us from the new school, I believe the term is “trend-jacking”. And for those of us into Kanye West, you could call this being an “SEO gold-digger”.

Let’s start with a summary of what we already know from the plethora of predictions and prognostication from pontificating pundits and pollsters:

B2B Tech

The B2B tech market is predicted to grow in low single digits in from 2014 to 2015, with the most spending coming from industries facing extreme disruption—those who no longer have a choice and face a mandate to either disrupt or be disrupted.

According to Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2015, the biggest areas of disruption fall into three categories: the merging of real and virtual worlds (which includes mobile computing, the Internet of things and 3D printing); intelligence everywhere (which includes data analytics, context-rich systems and smart machines); and the “new IT” (which includes cloud computing, software-defined IT architectures, web-scale IT and security). And interestingly, all of these are technologies that have been around in some form or other for quite some time.

Consumer Tech

Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of overlap between the consumer tech predictions and B2B tech predictions this year.

Take, for instance, the Consumer Electronics Association’s 5 Technology Trends to Watch, 2015 Edition. It showcases data analytics, the Internet of things, digital health, immersive entertainment, and the acceleration of business model disruption. Meanwhile, actual device innovation is reported to be reaching a plateau—it’s about services more than gadgets now. Again, many consumer technologies aren’t necessarily new. They’re simply achieving global scale thanks to better pricing, packaging or evolving human behaviors.

The Pattern That’s Emerging

When you look at these trends more closely, a common theme emerges: 2015 is the year we as individuals, businesses and marketers figure out how to use the technologies that already surround us more intelligently.

Think about it. As a species, we’ve seen a dizzying array of technological advancement over the past few years. Mobile tech means what we can do is no longer limited by where we are. Social tech means that we always have the power of the crowd (which is more powerful than the cloud) at our disposal. Analytics means we never have to guess at anything, ever. So being isolated, being alone and being ignorant—some of our most defining human challenges—have basically been erased within the past decade.

That’s a big deal.

Because much of this innovation has outpaced our ability as humans to absorb it all. So the big tech winners of 2015 will be the ones that help people catch up with these innovations and put them to good use. The other big tech winners of 2015 will be those who help prevent us from doing more harm than good with technologies we don’t quite yet understand or know how to control.

This is the central tension that will define the biggest technology stories of 2015—the ones you’ll never have to pitch because they are the technology story for next year.

What exactly do those story lines look like? What are the PR challenges we’ll have to overcome in 2015? And how do we get our signal through the deafening noise of tech innovation PR? Stay tuned for Part 2 of our series … when we come back from the holidays!

Holmes Report Innovator 25: A Thank You

I’d like to take a moment to thank the Holmes Report for including me in their list of Top 25 PR Innovators. It feels awesome to be included in such inspiring company, and I’d also like to take a moment to commend my friends and colleagues who’ve been recognized as fellow innovators in PR. In particular, I’d like to say congratulations to my friend Charlene Li for also making the list, and for inspiring so many of the ideas that many of us have been putting into practice this year.

What strikes me about the list this year is to what extent the people on this are passionate about their own particular vision for communications and content. Whether or not we “made the list,” that’s something all of us in PR share—we are all in service of telling somebody’s story, and we are all in service of innovating new ways to tell that story. And that involves a fair amount of “creative destruction”—which in PR takes the form of blowing up old processes and form factors to make way for more useful ones. As a troublemaker at heart, I have to admit to enjoying the destructive aspect of the creative process, and I’m curious how many of my colleagues on this list share my penchant for rhetorical demolition.

At B&O, the creative destruction in 2014 has been all around storytelling. If anything, my inclusion on this year’s innovators list is a nod to the hard work the entire B&O team has put into advancing our shared vision for Viral Storytelling. Our storytelling model, which like many other successful story models is based on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, is pre-engineered to generate the positive word of mouth that drives sales, reputation, talent retention and brand engagement. And it’s a storytelling model we use in each and every one of our accounts.

What’s best about this story model is that it’s based on authenticity. We find what is most true about our clients. We help them discover the most compelling way to evangelize themselves and attach themselves to the trends that make them the most relevant. And we help them articulate their purpose and mission in a way that gets their audiences to want to see them succeed. It’s amazing what storytelling can do when it’s authentic and not all about yourself, as I had a chance to discuss in a recent speech at LinkedIn TechConnect 14.

It’s been fun to blog about storytelling and essentially open-source our Viral Storytelling model to the industry. We believe that smart innovations are worth sharing. And we’re just getting started. In the coming months, the broader bench here at B&O will be sharing even more inspiration and insight into innovative trends in communications, including:

  • The power of human connections and community uprising
  • Social and multichannel messaging
  • Brand journalism
  • Research tools, analytics and the power of big data in PR
  • Focusing our storytelling on the human impact of new technologies

Again, my thanks to Aarti Shah, Paul Holmes and the Holmes Report for including me as a Top 25 PR Innovator. And perhaps most importantly, on behalf of my B&O teammates and myself, I’d like to express our deep appreciation to our clients who’ve had the curiosity and courage to creatively destroy a few old models and co-create some high-impact stories with us this year.

LinkedIn TechConnect 14 and the Power of Authentic Connection

Tech ConnectLast week, I had the pleasure of presenting to a crowd of tech marketers and entrepreneurs at LinkedIn’s TechConnect 2014 conference. For those of you who missed it, video of the presentation is available, as are the slides from the presentations themselves.

The event opened with an inspiring presentation from Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, who among other things spoke to the importance of having a clear mission. In the case of Khan Academy, that mission is all about giving a world-class education to anybody, anywhere, for free, and that anybody can—and should be given the opportunity to—learn anything. It was a powerful example of the impact communication can have when it’s authentically rooted in a strong belief in something that matters.

I had the opportunity to speak to ways that tech marketing often gets in its own way when it strays from this principle of authenticity, something I wrote about in my last blog post. There’s just no substitute for being in service of something bigger than yourself. And when that belief shines through with authentic storytelling, it’s more compelling. It attracts customers, talent, partners, valuation and public support.

Of course, there are so many traps we can fall into that pull us off our authentic centers. There’s the temptation to overhype leadership, be it market leadership, technology leadership, thought leadership or team leadership. There’s the temptation to put your own agenda ahead of your audience’s agenda and make your story all about you instead of them. There’s the temptation to dictate the story, rather than co-create it with your audience. All these pitfalls are such a natural part of the tech marketing landscape, they’re sometimes hard to see. In my presentation, I explored some practical tips for spotting these traps and ways to inject authenticity and meaning back into our communications.

But looking again at the example of the Khan Academy, Sal himself is a wonderful model for what happens when you’re serving a genuine purpose. He doesn’t worry about claiming market leadership—he simply talks about how many people his organization has educated and how many educational videos are available. He doesn’t brag about his great technology, he simply demonstrates how easy and intuitive the learning experience is and what problems are solved. He doesn’t fall back on buzzwords in an attempt at thought leadership, he simply provides compelling example after compelling example of how he and his organization have had a real human impact. And as a team leader, he demonstrates overwhelming humility in the light of his accomplishments and instead focuses the spotlight on his team and their shared vision.

So I’d like to conclude this week’s XTC post with a simple thank-you to Sal Khan, not only for his inspiring work with Khan Academy—a resource my own children use daily—but also for how brilliantly he models what is authentic and impactful about leadership.

XTC (Examining the Change) is a weekly column in which B&O CEO Josh Reynolds examines the intersection of technology, disruption and storytelling.