Companies with blogs see 67% more leads every month than those which do not have blogs (Source)
But B2B companies are often have several questions about content marketing
What type of content should we create?
How often should we create blogs?
Is social media content essential?
What can we expect as the outcome?
Who should we create the content for?
It is important to remember B2B companies need to leverage the power of content marketing to support their buyers through all the stages of their buying cycle. For each stage, the type of content different. Here is how your content marketing funnel can look like
2020 may have been a rough year for all of us, but technology companies did a great job at continuing the business even through the peak of the pandemic.
2020 was the year when technology companies looked beyond networking at events or getting recommendations from someone and embraced B2B marketing willingly. According to a LinkedIn report, 76% of marketers were compelled to change their key objectives to align with the current situation.
As an agency that has supported B2B-focused mid-sized technology companies in establishing themselves as thought leaders of their industry for the last ten years, we believe that now is the right time to invest time and efforts into B2B marketing.
When it comes to B2B marketing, let’s take a look at some of the unique challenges of mid-sized technology companies, especially those which are just starting with their marketing efforts.
Don’t have big budgets for ads: It is natural to do paid ads to get more leads. While it might work for B2C, it might not necessarily work well for B2B companies. A mid-sized company may have a limited budget, while a single ad campaign could cost the company $1000-$2000 per month for ads. The returns are low too, with the CTR being as low as 3.10%. Even those clicks may not necessarily convert as the sales cycle in B2B is longer than B2C. That apart, unless the company has first established a strong online presence, spending on ads would not lead to any benefits. Hence, they need to think of alternatives to get more leads.
Creating multiple content formats is not always possible: It is tempting to create various content formats to gain diversified traffic. However, companies must remember creating multiple formats such as videos and podcasts can be time-consuming, expensive, and require people with specific skillsets. Companies that are just starting with their online marketing efforts need to prioritize where they want to spend their energies.
They need focused marketing efforts: Mid-sized companies need to start with specific marketing goals, so that they can focus their marketing efforts on achieving them instead of trying everything and seeing no results in the end.
Marketing needs to support sales efforts: Marketing and sales can no longer work in silos – especially for B2B companies. They have to help each other to drive business and revenue growth. 57% of companies believe that collaboration between marketing and sales will advance marketing’s contribution to sales success and generate more ROI.
CXO’s personal network plays a critical role: A CXO of a mid-sized technology company would have a strong network with other C-level executives of other companies. They can tap on this gold mine by posting their views and news on social media and interacting with other peers actively. Building a personal brand is imperative for creating a positive impact.
Marketing needs to be a self-running effort: With limited bandwidth, time, and budget, mid-sized technology companies may face challenges in running campaigns and achieving marketing goals. They need to, therefore, focus on creating a self-sustainable marketing plan that can run with minimal effort and resources.
Now that we have set the ground rules, let’s look at the actionable trends that mid-sized technology companies can implement easily.
B2B Marketing Trends in 2021 For Mid-sized Technology Companies
80% of decision-makers prefer to get information from an article instead of an ad.
Hence, technology companies must focus on developing high-value content such as whitepapers, eBooks, and blogs. Cover topics such as the latest trends and industry news with unique take from experts, solution-specific content that addresses the company’s pain points, principal content such as prominent use cases or latest product updates, etc. Whitepapers are also a great way to launch email campaigns.
While creating high-value, evidence-based, and research-backed content is important, it is also equally important to create content regularly. Developing a content calendar and planning content distribution is the best way to ensure that content is published periodically. Publishing regularly will help the company to create brand awareness and also increase organic traffic to the website over a period. Ensure that there is content available at every stage of the customer journey such as attraction, consideration, and conversion, so the decision-makers are guided through the process.
Robust social media presence
According to the Harvard Business Review, 90% of C-level executives ignore cold outreach. So, those cold sales calls and emails will no longer help in generating leads.
Instead, marketers and the sales team must focus on social selling. 84% of C-level and VP-level customers use social media to make purchase decisions. Posting on social media regularly will help technology companies to create brand awareness, network with prospects in an organic manner, and humanize the brand. Some types of posts that work well on social media include – posts from C-level executives, trends and challenges related to the industry or target customers, regular product principal content updates, new releases or wins, etc.
Plan your blogging and social media posts using a social media calendar and regular schedule to strengthen its presence. Monitor its outcome regularly to know what works and what doesn’t and use those insights to create a solid social media strategy.
Webinars or live events on social media
Typically, technology companies leverage trade shows and industry conferences to network and get leads for their company. However, last year, it took a beating with most trade shows, exhibitions, and conferences getting canceled due to the pandemic.
Companies can now conduct webinars and live events on social media to create awareness of their offering and generate leads. 46.5% of companies confirmed an increase in webinar hosting during the pandemic. Webinars are cost-effective, remove geographical barriers, and it’s easy to get the best speakers to speak to prospects across the world. Most importantly, webinars are generally attended by prospects who are in the consideration stage. So, the chances of conversions are high after the webinar is completed.
Focus on personal branding
We cannot stress enough about the importance of personal branding.
82% of people are more likely to trust a company whose leadership is active on social media.
Encourage the C-level executives to actively post on social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. It will not just give a face to the company, but it will also help gain the attention of customers and investors. The best part is the leaders do not have to do anything elaborate to build their personal brand. Even small efforts such as sharing a personal opinion on the trends taking place in the industry, sharing personal or professional anecdotes and lessons learned from it, and writing an authoritative piece of article can help the leader establish their reputation as a thought leader.
Read more about personal branding in our previous blog here
Build credibility with social proof
According to Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer Survey, 70% of respondents said that trust is more important for them when dealing with brands. To gain the trust of prospects, technology companies will have to show social proof to back themselves as experts in the industry. These social proofs could be in the form of client testimonials, case studies, or industry-recognized certifications. These will enable companies to demonstrate their expertise and impact on prospects. Ensure that the feedback and ratings are collected from customers regularly and publish them on the website and social media to show value and build trust.
2021 – The Road Ahead
There are so many things that companies can do to build their brand and get more leads. But with limited time, bandwidth, and budget, mid-sized technology companies must focus on getting their foundation strategy right before experimenting with other trending tactics. We would recommend beginning with these three actionable tactics:
Write high-value content regularly
Establish a strong presence on social media
Empower the C-level executives to share their opinion on social media and leverage their network
We have created a post-pandemic marketing plan – it outlines a rescue recipe for all kinds of mid-sized technology companies. Read it here
These tactics will take time to show results. But our experience of working with some of the best mid-sized technology companies has demonstrated that with consistency and quality content, companies can even supersede their goals and build a long-term relationship with their customers at a fraction of costs and efforts.
Mid-sized technology product and services companies have always been somewhat more focused on sales than marketing. And B2B tech marketing has never been easy.
Business leaders and marketers in technology companies have to juggle between several platforms, ensure a meaningful omnichannel presence and do everything in the book and yet there’s always room for improvement in how they market their products and services.
Conventionally, B2B technology companies were largely dependent on the word-of-mouth recommendations passed on by clients to their peers and others in the network, the powerful network of the founders, and CXOs who are most likely alumni of prestigious universities and B-schools or the good old outbound route.
Gradually, targeted email campaigns, presence at tech events, expos, and sponsoring tech conferences were also brought into practice to reach out to new potential customers. The mid-size tech companies with potential clients located primarily in the USA and other English-speaking geographies were pursuing all of these, in tandem to attract new customers. Of course, all that was supplemented by a hefty focus on travel by the sales pros and key executives.
The pandemic, however, has changed everything.
We’ve put together this handy guide for B2B tech companies who are wondering what to do to get their marketing game on. The question on their minds is, whether or not to focus on marketing during this time. (the answer is, Yes)
This guide is for every B2B technology company that is striving to tap into new customers, is eager to retain the existing ones, and does not want to get washed off by the competition.
This guide can help B2B technology businesses direct their content marketing efforts to survive the pandemic and thrive in the situations that will abide after.
This guide covers
Changing Dynamics of B2B Tech Sales
Why now is the time to do marketing
An “all bases covered” playbook covering content, social media and personal branding of founders
The ROI – What you will get
Changing Dynamics of B2B Tech Sales
At the onset of the pandemic, B2B technology businesses weren’t directly impacted. But this gradually manifested into a considerable hurdle. IT sales is faced with obstacles all around. Suddenly, every potential customer of the B2B tech companies had a fully remote team, operations were shifted online, processes were overhauled and person to person contact became very different.
With severe restrictions on travel, sales reps could no longer travel for meetings. As things stand, even after travel restrictions are lifted, things won’t return to normalcy soon, and even for the local clients, setting up face-to-face meetings in the times of social distancing is going to be quite impossible. Moreover, all events and conferences for the entire year are canceled or moved online, nullifying the prospect of meeting potential clients, networking, and meeting new people. Tech companies can, obviously, no longer get the visibility they otherwise would.
The traditional sales channels are being constrained even more than usual (which were already getting outdated – who answers cold calls made to the office landline when everyone is practically working from home?) and other outbound methods such as email marketing are facing too much competition (you don’t want to spend your marketing efforts simply adding to the pile of emails your client receives each day), a fresh approach towards marketing is the need of the hour.
Obviously, doing nothing is not an option. Clearly, the pandemic demands B2B tech companies push their boundaries and think outside the box to nail marketing now to outlast the tough times.
Why NOW is the time to do marketing
Unfortunately, the first expense item to take a hit during the pandemic was the marketing budget. ‘If customers aren’t buying, why to spend on marketing?’ was the impulsive call that several business leaders and marketers took in the first half of 2020.
But this approach WILL prove absolutely fatal to B2B tech companies.
The big economic numbers might be slowing down, but that absolutely doesn’t mean that your potential clients do not need a solution for their pressing business problems. In fact, with events canceling, even these clients are exploring other avenues to find solutions that are the right problem-solution fit for their needs.
Now is the right time to become visible in their eye line with valuable content that focuses on solving the business problems that plague your customers. ‘Out of sight is out of my mind’ and you don’t want to be out of the eye-line of your customers at this crucial time.
Of course, you have to be empathetic, and hard-selling like before seems a little out of place but there couldn’t be a better time to grow the top of the funnel and to nurture your audience with value-adding content.
In fact, with no commute and people -including business leaders and decision-makers working from home, there has been a significant rise in the time spent online. People are consuming content online, the only question is, whose content is it?
Sooner or later, your clients are going to be looking around for the right solution and this is when you want to be top-of-the-mind. Now is the time to invest in creating customer-focused content that can prove your authority and expertise and ensure your offering appears to be the most viable option for your target audience.
Once you decide you want to leverage the situation and direct your content marketing efforts other questions will arise. Which channels are to be explored? What type of content should be created? How often should the social media posts go live? Who should your target?
Let’s explore each in detail!
An “all bases covered” playbook
Let’s talk about content
It is needless to say that in the era of screen fixation, remote working, and fewer avenues to strike a face-to-face conversation with your potential clients, digital content is truly the king. Investing in content creation at this stage will not only help you come into the much-needed spotlight but also help you in the long run, especially if you choose to create timeless content pieces that are going to be valuable today and in the future.
Let us have a look at the type of content B2B tech companies should be creating right now!
Nothing makes your content more worthwhile than true utility to your audience. Irrespective of where your customer is in the buyer’s journey, you should have relevant, valuable, and highly informative content to offer. This content should not only be engaging to read with extremely accurate information but should also have key takeaways that can help your readers solve their real-world problems. The content need not necessarily lead to a conversion, at least not through the first piece your readers consume. But it should be worth remembering, useful, practical, and authentic enough to build trust with your users while also resonating with their problems and challenges.
Focus on creating content pieces that have actionable insights, especially in times like these where your customers are anxious and are quite frankly looking for solutions, not stories.
Another excellent example is the blogs from construction technology services company Virtualize Services. They have very cleverly created content that amalgamates their service areas with the newly required mandates and changes the construction sector is going through in the USA.
Content riding on current topics
Staying relevant is crucial for making any marketing activity, a success, especially in times like this. Ghosting the current topics is obviously not an ideal route. Your audience needs to know, in their unique context, how your company, its products, and services are relevant to them in the current times. Hence it is extremely important to create content that rides on current topics. This content might not be usable once the trend subsides but, it is worth the effort for the contextual impact.
Aroscop, an ad-tech company has put together several articles around the changing dynamics of consumer behavior and digital ad rate trends due to COVID-19 which are also a fine example of writing about current topics while continuing to focus on the key concerns of your target audience.
Content demonstrating business as usual
With uncertain times, it is quite natural that your potential customers (or the existing ones) are anxious. And while being empathetic is important, the real challenge is that no one really knows what to do next. Hence, creating handy guides that can help in getting back to business or preparing their businesses once the ‘new normal’ sets in can be impactful.
Not enough can be emphasized about how remote working has impacted several businesses. For most businesses, this entire remote working wave was unexpected, and the transition hasn’t really been a cakewalk. Especially since remote working looks like it is here to stay, businesses are clueless and do not know how to go about remote hiring, onboarding, and employee engagement while everyone works remotely.
The job market has been merciless and as per the experts, with the approaching recession, it is only going to get worse. But companies are still going to hire high-quality people. This is why writing about your company culture around hiring is important. It not only helps you put the best foot forward as a brand but also helps in attracting rich talent to your organization, in times of uncertainty.
It is important to consider the possibility of having an audience that doesn’t consume a lot of textual content. It is about time to get creative and present diverse content types so that you don’t miss out on anyone on the radar! Especially if your past marketing experience for a particular niche in B2B tech has been driven by diversified content types, you should actively focus on creating more.
For example, TruckX Inc has been creating highly engaging visual content that focuses on the trucking companies that are their customers and truckers who are their end-users for promoting their products.
This could also be a good time to release podcasts or host webinars since a lot of people are working towards upskilling. Presenting your customers or your internal thought leaders could be a very important move for your branding efforts.
Let’s talk about social media
Unlike B2C companies, B2B companies seldom fully acknowledge the power of social media. The perception that social media presence works more for B2C companies has sometimes made B2B tech companies stay away from social media marketing. Most companies, especially the small or midsize ones, have almost no presence on social media and look at it as an unnecessary effort. They simply post links to their new content pieces or to announce new collaborations or major updates. They have no expectations from the efforts and those expectations are met!
If you are not actively engaging on social media platforms, you should start now. And here’s what you should post on social media, apart from sharing links to your content such as blogs, whitepapers, and ebooks.
Hiring related updates
Speak, scream, and tell the world if you are hiring during the pandemic. Not just job seekers, but your customers will also have a newfound respect for you once they learn you are hiring in these tough times. Because it simply means- your business is up, running, and doing well, you have future plans put together, you have enough projects lined up which basically means you know what you are doing and this is exactly the type of company anyone would want to do business with!
Relevant content – tips and tricks
You can’t expect each of your potential clients to read through the detailed content that you create and hence your company page should be alternating between sharing links to content and sharing tips and tricks as a post on social media. These not only provide quick assistance to the ones who are looking for it but also serve as a great engagement engine. Especially if the tips and tricks you share are new, experience-based, or unique, you can expect users to engage on the post, which essentially helps in increasing the reach of your post and ultimately your brand.
Let’s talk about Personal Branding of founders
Founders are invariably the face of the company and play a huge role in establishing the brand of the company. Especially for the small, midsize companies and B2B tech startups that do not have the cash flow to invest in full-blown advertising, the company branding is subtly established via the founders. When it comes to cracking large value deals, clients look for companies that have trustworthy founders who they’ve read about or seen and interacted with on social media.
If you are a founder of a B2B company that is looking to establish itself during these changing times, there couldn’t be a better time to build your personal brand. B2B tech founders have a great deal of industry experience, good references, and knowledge of the ecosystem. Creating content to focus on personal branding aligned to the company’s brand can be the key to engage customers, leave a long-lasting mark in the mind of the audience as well as attract new talent to fill in key positions in the company. Being social-media shy is not ideal. Today, there is no excuse to have dormant LinkedIn profiles or be invisible on other platforms such as twitter. People need to know the face behind an organization, especially when it comes to small and mid-size companies.
Here’s how you can get started with founders’ personal branding:
It could be personal growth experiences of the founder or their take on anything they hold an expertise in. Founders of tech companies are tech leaders in their respective fields and over the years have garnered tons of experience. This could be not only an interesting read but also create thought leadership. Founders can share their interesting perspectives, opinions, and their personal journeys to create a bond with your readers along with amplifying the company branding.
Here are a few examples of how founders can share stories, opinions, and experiences:
Resonating with your audience and exhibiting your expertise is commendable, but what makes your potential customers take the leap of faith are your success stories. You can share your success stories, client testimonials or peculiar experiences of solving challenging business challenges and those will usher in a direct impact. Since these are the stories your potential clients are going to read and relate to and they are a data-backed proof of your expertise and efficiency as an organization.
For sure, be careful that your story doesn’t brag, overpromise, and is not salesy. Think of it as a candid exchange between your network and remember a little goes a long way.
Here are a few great samples:
Founders who want to take up personal branding seriously need to remember that this activity is not short-term and needs a lot of nurturing, just like real-world relationships. And hence, if you are only going to be talking about your journey, your products, and your experiences, you are going to be uninteresting for your reader. It is important that you write about current topics, share your opinions on how it will impact the space your customers care about. It’s also ok to be controversial if you can justify your stand.
You can check out how these founders have spoken about current issues which have helped them stay relevant within their network:
The ROI – What you will get
As we reiterate whenever the discussion of B2B marketing picks up, we firmly believe that strategic B2B marketing should be done with the intention of gaining brand visibility to the right set of audience in exactly the right context.
Putting in efforts and investment in building a comprehensive marketing strategy based on all the points mentioned in this guide can yield that brand visibility.
You can create a positive impression of your brand in the minds of your target audience.
You will be more visible. You will be understood better.
Your target audience will be able to place you in the right frame in light of exactly what you can do for them.
Then, you will see them reaching out to you when they feel motivated enough to want to solve those specific business problems.
You will be the frontrunner in that race, maybe even the only runner. There will be a number of signs along the way that this is working.
You will see a noticeable difference in connection/follow requests for your founders’ social media pages, improved web traffic, and a warmer response to your sales outreach since your customers already know about you!
Maintaining the consistency and context with your content is the bottom line. Traffic, engagements, and leads will follow suit. That’s the way to beat the COVID-induced slowdown.
As someone who has been in the field of Digital Marketing for the past 15 years, I have seen the evolution of marketing – especially B2B marketing. Content marketing has taken center stage. It is the key element which helps marketers capture the attention of their target audience.
One of the most common questions asked to us is: “I have a killer product. Do I still need to invest in content marketing? Won’t my product sell itself”. Today, with the proliferation of new and emerging technologies, a lot of innovative products are coming in the market every single day. But look at it this way – if your target audience does not find the solution to their problems (aka your product), then they are not going to come to you. In fact, content marketing helps tremendously in concept selling.
So once you are convinced that you do want to start your content marketing efforts, the next obvious question is, what type of content. Contrary to the common belief, blog is just one type of content which you can create.
Let us look at the four most popular types of content which you can benefit from –
Types of B2B Content
A blog is an easy way to keep your target audience engaged with information and educational content. As we all know, search engines love fresh content and blog is an excellent way to keep your website updated with new content. Remember that your blog should NOT be about your product or service – you have the other pages of the site for that. The blog should have articles which provide answers to the questions of your target audience. It should provide solutions.
B2B Blogging Tips
Keep the articles in the range of 800-1000 words
Include at least one image in each article
Your articles can be technical or non-technical – depending on the needs of your target audience. In any case, again, the articles should provide answers to the questions of your audience.
Start with a frequency which you can maintain. There is no point in writing five articles in one month and none for the next 3 months.
Involve your subject matter experts in providing the content and have the B2B content writers translate that into a promotable and publishable format.
Whitepapers are more in-depth and more authoritative reports than blogs. The difference between a blog article and a whitepaper is that a whitepaper addresses a specific business issue in detail. From the organization’s perspective, these are great resources for demonstrating in-depth technical and business knowledge.
B2B Whitepaper Writing Tips
You need to involve the subject matter experts at a deeper level for writing a B2B whitepaper – from the content writers perspective, they need to do a more in-depth study of the topic, prepare the outline, and then have a detailed conversation with the SMEs.
You can, by all means, include a section in the whitepaper which highlights your expertise in the area. It is a great place to position yourself as an expert in the field but don’t make the complete paper a sales pitch.
Be sure to present proofs and references to your claims.
Make the whitepapers and eBooks available on request and use these in your lead generation campaigns. This requires you have a landing page for the whitepaper which outlines key benefits of downloading the paper.
Feel free to reuse the content in the whitepaper and create more detailed blog posts for each section in the paper.
I see that many people are big fans of infographics. Infographics are highly visual in nature and are great for showcasing a complex topic in an easy to comprehend manner. These are great for sharing on social media (although one needs to zoom in to see most of the infographics completely). Infographics are great for creating awareness about your brand and also to drive traffic to your website.
B2B Infographic Tips
Infographics are much more complex and well researched than simple graphics. These require a deep understanding of subject matter and design. Don’t attempt adding this as a part of your social strategy unless you have access to both these talents.
Finalize the promotion plan before creating an infographic. Most of the social platforms do not render infographics well.
You can always reuse the infographics by converting it into a blog or a video.
If you haven’t tried webinars as a part of your B2B social media strategy, I would highly recommend you venture into it in the coming year. Since webinars offer a great opportunity to learn from the experts, B2B buyers prefer these during their research phase. Webinars can also help in generating qualified leads and moving the prospects up in the interest ladder.
B2B Webinar Tips
The success of the webinar heavily depends on the speaker and the webinar topic. Make sure that you not only have a great topic but also have an equally wonderful, established, expert speaker to deliver the webinar.
Have a concrete promotion plan in place – leverage the network of your employees, partners, and customers to promote the webinars.
It’s a good idea to give away a whitepaper or eBook on a related topic as a part of the webinar giveaway.
Make the webinar recording available post the webinar for those who miss attending it
For more tips of making the webinars successful, here is a more detailed post.
What does this mean for your content strategy?
Apart from the content types mentioned above, there are also other types of content which you can create such as case studies, videos, presentations, eBooks, testimonials, emails, social updates etc. When it comes to creating your content strategy and deciding the type of content to create, honestly there is no one answer. It totally depends on who your potential buyers are, on which platforms they are searching for information, and what types of content they are consuming.
If you are just starting with content marketing and social media, possibly blogs are the easiest to start with. Videos, although very impactful, are difficult to produce. Case studies and presentations are something which you will require irrespective of your strategy. Get into Whitepapers and eBooks once you have a strong blogging strategy and execution in place.
Lastly, do remember that just creating content is not enough. You need to promote it too. So when you plan for your content creation efforts, don’t forget to have a strong content promotion plan in place!
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Miguel de Cervantes
Maybe, like Cervantes’ most abiding creation, I am tilting at windmills here but indulge me please. I have taken to this forum to try and understand the “Proof of Concept” phenomenon in Content Marketing and yes, to share the pain with other content marketing agencies out there similarly afflicted.
This has happened to my agency on a couple of occasions now and I wanted to vent or alternately get better informed in case this is the vanguard of an inevitable but undesirable trend. The way the story goes in a couple of prospect discussions close to the sharp end of the sales cycle after the usual rounds of “hoop jumping” the prospect suddenly asked us to work on what they called a “proof of concept”, essentially an obligation-free exercise to create some custom content specifically for them. If this hit the mark we could hope to be engaged for more remunerative work. Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?
First let me say to prospects that I understand, sort-of, where you are coming from. I know that the quality of a service is only apparent after it is consumed so prior to doing anything irreversible you are looking to re-assure yourselves that the people you are considering engaging have got what it takes. To accomplish that the advice you seem to have paid heed to is Cervantes’.
That being said, to my mind, there are so many better ways to get that assurance. In each of these instances we have happily provided several examples of content created by us already out there in the public domain, we have provided written references from clients who have used similar services from us and we have also given contact information for live references for the prospect to engage with more deeply or to address any specific concerns. Despite all that how does one justify the need for more custom content creation? Perhaps the prospect is a disciple of Thales of Miletus who said “A multitude of words is no proof of a prudent mind.”
The logic the prospect usually presents is that what they have to offer is so path-breaking or so unique that they need to first validate our capacity to understand it well enough to be able to create and promote appropriate content. Without even getting into how thin on the ground truly innovative and unique business models or offerings are, this poses a conundrum.
If the offering truly is unique then before churning out any meaningful content an agency would have to put in, presumably, long hours of study and substantial research. This being the case how appropriate is it then to expect the agency to commit that kind of bandwidth before any deals are inked
The alternative seems incomprehensible as superficial study will lead to shallow content – an unacceptable outcome. Presumably the objective would be to put your best foot forward so no compromise would be acceptable right?
On the other hand if the prospect is looking for content that is not so specific to them or, as is entirely likely, their offering is not really so unique after-all then why go through the exercise at all? Would it not be easier and faster to check references and / or review the content already presented.
That’s a Helleresque Catch 22 for Content Marketers – doing something you would rather not do, in a manner that doesn’t satisfy you, for someone who doesn’t know really what to do with it for an unclear purpose. I’m looking for answers – from agencies that have faced and dealt with the issue or have become convinced of the value of this additional stage in the sales cycle or from prospects who have a reason for the “proof of concept” demand that may have escaped my own attentions. Till I get them though I would like to leave with an anonymous quote that pretty much sums up my own feeling on the subject “If you believe in something, no proof is necessary. If you don’t, none is sufficient.”
“Marketers always ask me how to make more or better content, and it’s almost always the wrong question. The right question is: “How do I get my content in front of the right people?”” Joe Chernov – VP of Content at HubSpot
You were among those that embraced Content Marketing early. You truly believe that high quality, well-written content that informs and educates is a great way to present your own expertise. You have also spent a considerable amount of time and energy in building a process internally that listens socially to identify issues that matter in your area and then captures your own unique point of view about those issues in an article. Despite all this, the nagging fear is something is not working out. Month on month the trend is clear – “views” and social shares are down and so is engagement. Does that sound like your story? If – so you are not alone.
In essence, the problem is one of plenty – the content marketing case is so strong that everyone is climbing onto this particular bandwagon. The result is 30 million items of content being shared online every single day. It’s asking a lot of your content to grab the eyeballs while buried in that dense a thicket. Is it time then, to hang up your content marketing boots – not by a long shot! Here are 5 types of content that will still stand out from the crowd.
“The only way to win at content marketing is for the reader to say, ‘This was written specifically for me.’” : Jamie Turner, 60 Second Marketer
Something written for everyone makes sense to no-one. An ever-present temptation is to try to address the larger target segments with your content – in the current situation the reverse may well work better. Create more pieces of content – each piece specifically targeted at specific sub-segments or even smaller target groups. The fact is their needs are different in their own way – identify those differences , address them specifically and watch the small but highly targeted audience lap it up.
Research commissioned by 3M showed that nearly 90% of the information consumed by the brain is visual and as a result, visual information gets processed by the brain up to 60000 faster than text information. This gives a clue why in recent times the most shared content is all visual. In the context of the content of value to organizations, this suggests that the Content Marketing focus should be on creating Infographics, Process, or Flow Charts and text articles liberally supported by pictures and diagrams.
Audio / Video Content
The kind of videos actor Mike Henry had in mind when he said “We’re living in a world where one good video can lead to a massive social following” are perhaps not what most organizations would find useful. That being said one can no longer ignore the importance of audio / video content when YouTube is pushing to be the world’s 2nd largest search engine after Google. Bandwidths today are not a problem and creating webinars, podcasts, and animated or live action videos is no longer as challenging as used to be the case. The medium is still relatively underserved – a good opportunity for content you create to be viewed positively (pun intended).
Customer Generated Content
Surveys show that 51% of Americans trust user-generated content, 16% information on the company website and 14% news articles about the company – the numbers won’t be very different for other markets. While not the easiest to produce if you have a customer willing to lend their name and inputs to a piece of content this can swiftly become a magnet for similar organizations or for those with similar questions that need answering. You marketing team will also tell you that promoting content written by someone else has the ring of truth to it and is hence often easier to promote!
Randall Lane, editor of Forbes said – “Tell a relevant, targeted, transparent story, and the whole world will share it.” Attention spans are short and there is a lot of competition for the mental bandwidth of your target audience – a story told well that echoes the situation your own target audience is facing is thus more likely to strike a chord. Given a choice between a pedantic article and a story, the story will get picked each time. It’s obviously an easier read and the customers believe themselves smart enough to extract the right message from it.
This is a fast evolving space – everyone has bright ideas and the motivation to make their content better. My suggestion is, don’t be content if your outstanding content – the real value will be when it stands out!
(Note: This article first appeared in more or less the same shape in Social Samosa under my byline a while ago – I’m reposting it as it popped up in a recent discussion with a client.)
Through Midas Touch, the B2B specialist social media agency which I run, we have worked with several B2B organizations – especially in the technology space. We have strategized and executed several social media initiatives and have seen tremendous success.
We all know the stats as well –
57% of purchase decisions are made before a customer ever talks to a supplier (Source)
80% of business decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement. (Source)
94 percent of B2B buyers conduct some form of online research before purchasing a business product (Source)
And yet, many B2B companies fail in their social media efforts or are not able to derive the desired results. What could be the reasons? Are they not serious about their efforts? Are they putting in efforts at the wrong place? Are they clueless about what to measure and what not to care about? Or there are some other reasons?
Here is my take on why the social media initiatives of B2B companies could fail –
“Strategy is thinking about a choice and choosing to stick with your thinking” —Jeroen De Flander
Strategy – probably the most overused word in the business space today. To me, the above quote summarizes the meaning of strategy. It helps you tie together your goals into plans and helps you achieve those goals. Organizations, when they start their B2B social media efforts, need to think hard and formulate a coherent strategy – what do they want to achieve, how do they plan to do it, what are the available resources, should it be done through in-house team or outside agency, how to engage the subject matter experts, how to monitor, and how to measure the ROI – all such aspects form the components of a solid strategy. Hiring an experienced marketing professional cannot be termed as the strategy 🙂
Lack of Consistency
“If you want to be taken seriously, be consistent.”
Pretty hard-hitting, isn’t it? It, however, is absolutely true in case of B2B social media. If you start with an assumption that you want to “try” social media for three months and then decide whether you would like to continue or not – I would say don’t even start thinking. B2B social media requires influencing multiple decision makers (right from CFO to technology director), the sales cycles are long (something running into months) and the decisions are not taken based on one article (social media is part of the overall sales funnel and not the only channel) – considering all these aspects, it is extremely important that you start your initiatives with a long-term plan. Have a mechanism to monitor the response and results at regular intervals and do ongoing tweaks.
Too Much Focus on Technology
“Our business is about technology, yes. But it’s also about operations and customer relationships.” – Michael Dell
Sure, you are into technology business. Your team has technology ninjas who are extremely passionate about technology and can give an hour long talk on the latest tool. But do you know that not “all” of your target audience may be “always” interested in your technology understanding? Businesses need to understand that technology is just one of the many tools to solve business problems – businesses care about solutions to their business problems. I have seen that many time, technology companies go overboard with their passion for technology and talk only about that instead of focusing on how that technology is going to help in solving a business problem. The B2B content which the company publishes needs to focus on answering the questions of the target audience – it is less about you and your knowledge and more about customer questions and answers to those questions.
Incorrect Choice of Platforms
“Do what is right, not what is easy.”
The world’s most active social platform with the largest user base may not be right for you. B2B social media is more about education more than emotion. It is about building thought leadership than creating just another blog. It is about providing answers to the buyer’s questions than talking about the greatness of your product and service – all such things make B2B social media different than B2C. While you are still interacting with humans, the purpose is different and, hence, the choice of platforms also differs. It is not possible to send a “friend request” to your prospects but you can certainly “follow” or “connect with them” – getting the difference? The choice of social platforms can make or break your social strategy. You will end up doing a lot of “social activity” without any results. Talk to B2B social media experts or read up to understand and know which could be the right platforms for your business.
“When you say RoI, do you mean Return on Investment or Risk of Inaction.” – Paul Gillin
B2B companies often make the mistake of thinking that the R in RoI is always Revenue – actually the R in RoI is Returns. You will be able to achieve the RoI from your social media initiatives only if you know what to measure, how to measure, and when to measure. Enhanced awareness amongst your target audience, visits to your website, thought leadership, social conversations – all these are valid returns from your social efforts. When you measure the RoI, ensure that you look for qualitative as well as quantitative metrics. Qualitative metrics could include interactions with an influencer, valid product feedback, appreciation by your prospect on your content and so on. Quantitative metrics could include visits to your website, visibility on social platforms, the number of interactions, the number of downloads of your eBook or whitepaper, and so on. It is important to keep monitoring these metrics and tweaking the strategy based on the results.
Lack of Synergy with Sales
Stop trying to sell with marketing, instead use marketing to help customers buy.
B2B organizations need to ensure that there is a very tight integration between sales and marketing – these two teams HAVE TO work in alignment and not in isolation. The sales and marketing strategies need to work together for acquiring customers – essentially because the sales cycles are long, evaluation periods extend in months, building trust takes time, and building thought leadership takes even longer. Marketing needs to understand the sales campaigns and needs to align itself according to those – for example, if your sales team is focusing on a particular industry vertical in a particular quarter, your social media presence has to reinforce your knowledge and expertise in that sector through blog articles, webinars, eBooks, and social promotion. Similarly, the sales teams need to leverage marketing and the social channels to build connections and engage with prospects on social channels.
Completely Ignoring Executive Branding aka Personal Branding
“Your personal brand is a promise to your clients… a promise of quality, consistency, competency, and reliability.” – Jason Hartman
Be it B2B or B2C, finally, people connect with people and people trust other people. Thinking that you don’t need a “face” in the online world is one of the most common mistakes which most of the B2B companies make. Companies need to ensure that all the external facing profile – be it the CEO, your sales director, your marketing head, managers who interact with the client or sales execs who interact with the prospects – need to have a strong online presence. It is absolutely critical that the top management has a strong online brand – they need to demonstrate their values, the expertise of the company, and build trust in the minds of the prospects, customers, suppliers, or future and present employees. Unfortunately, this is often the most ignored aspect – especially by the top management of technology companies. Believe it or not, it has a strong impact on the overall company brand as well.
Hope this helps you in knowing what to avoid so that your B2B social media initiatives are successful. Do share your feedback and comments!
“Content marketing is all the marketing that’s left.” – Seth Godin
Well, when it comes from one of the most prominent names in marketing, you cannot ignore it. I am sure you have heard a lot about the importance and relevance of content marketing. Let us look at some holistic stats on content marketing –
80% of business decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement. –Stratabeat
While all these stats look amazing and enough to convince any B2B business to adopt content marketing, more often than not, there is a bit of hesitance, ignorance, and skepticism – possibly because of the lack of understanding on how exactly to proceed on that. However, when done right, it can result in more traffic to your website, more conversions, and improved search rankings for your site.
In this blog post, I try to cover the why and how of B2B content marketing and also share some tips to help you make your B2B content marketing program more successful.
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
To understand content marketing better – let us understand the role it plays in the buying cycle. A typical buying cycle includes Awareness (Making the customers aware that a solution to their need exists), Consideration (Customer does the research and starts comparing different solutions), and Purchase (Customer makes the decision and the transaction happens).
Traditionally, all the stages were heavily driven by sales. Today, the buyer is more informed than before. The buyers do their own research, find the content that answers their questions, and if they find value in the content, they approach the vendor directly. Now, two things have changed here: one, the buyers are not engaging in any sales tactics since the beginning and two, they have already made up their mind before they even contact the vendor.
Content marketing, thus, plays a vital role in the awareness and consideration stages of the buying cycle.
How is B2B Content Marketing Different than B2C Content Marketing?
Now that we understand that content marketing is important and critical, let us understand how content marketing is different for B2B businesses –
B2B sales cycle is complex and involves multiple decision makers. Therefore, it becomes very important to create the content which talks to specific category of decision makers and answers their questions. This also means that you need to create various different types of content to address the questions of various decision makers.
B2B content requires understanding of the specific product and service. Therefore, the B2B content writers need to closely interact and work with the subject matter experts to create the valuable content.
The content you create cannot be about your product or service – it needs to provide answers to the questions of your target audience. Before writing the content, it, therefore, is important that you know their questions and needs.
One of the prime objectives of the B2B content is to build value and trust – hence, it cannot be promotional.
B2B content should help in building the thought leadership of the brand –therefore, the content needs to have a lot of maturity and depth.
B2B content marketing also requires a closer alignment with the sales and should help in generating leads for the sales teams.
Guide to Defining the Content Strategy
Your content marketing strategy should include the following steps
Define the target audiences, goals, and buying stages – your content needs to address all these points.
Identify the SEO keywords and phrases – if you want your content marketing strategy to help in your site ranking, it is advisable that you identify a list of keywords and phrases which are used by your buyers and use those judiciously within your content pieces. Of course, be careful about not stuffing your content pieces with keywords – that does not work anymore.
Define and stick to editorial calendars outlining the content pieces, objectives of those pieces, target audience, timelines, formats etc. This will help you streamline your efforts for maximum results. It will also help you in content reuse.
Traits of B2B Content Writer
Considering the fact that B2B content marketing is quite different than B2C content marketing, when you build your B2B content writing team, you need to look for specific traits. Apart from their writing talents, you need to also check their storytelling skills, they ability to connect and capture information from the subject matter experts, and their understanding of social media and various tools and technologies. I have written more in detail on this topic in a separate blog post.
Types of B2B Content
Here is a quick list of various types of content which you can create –
Blog articles – Blog articles are the most common form of content which you can create. The articles reside on your website and help in enhancing the search ranking of the site. Typically, the articles should be in the range of 800-1000 words, should include images and provide answer to specific questions of your target audience. Blogs which provide educational content are excellent for establishing thought leadership.
Whitepapers and eBooks – Whitepapers and eBooks are more in-depth form of content and more authoritative reports than blogs. Typically, whitepapers and eBooks address specific business issues in more depth. These are excellent resources for demonstrating technical or business knowledge. You can make these available on request and use these as weapons for your specific lead generation campaigns.
Infographics – Since infographics are highly visual in nature and need to be very well researched, these form a good resource for establishing your thought leadership. You can use these to create awareness and drive traffic to your website.
Webinar and Podcasts – I would term these as secret weapons of your marketing. Since webinars and podcasts offer a great opportunity to learn from experts, these are preferred a lot by various buyers during their research phase. You can use webinars to share your expertise and experiences. These are brilliant avenues to generate qualified leads and move the prospects up in the interest ladder.
I will soon write a more detailed post on various types of content to be used in B2B.
“Content marketing is a commitment, not a campaign” – Jon Buscall
I think this quote summarizes the essence of content marketing. You need to have a long-term strategy, meticulous planning, flawless execution, and continuous monitoring to make sure that your content marketing efforts are successful.
No one claimed Lead Generation was easy – especially when you are in the B2B space. There are so many moving parts that a key problem becomes how to get them all pulling in the same direction. You may have one or more of the following teams contributing to demand generation:
Research team keeping track of market developments
Contact discovery or database research team building the lists
Content creation team responsible for collateral, campaign drafts etc.
Social Media team
Inside Sales and / or Telemarketing team
Pre-Sales and / or Sales team
You may be getting a sense of the possible complexities just looking at this list. Pretty much every organisation I have spoken to over the last 3 – 4 years has people doing some of these activities. The problem I have usually found is that they all work within their own individual silos. The activity levels are always high and each individual team is usually capable but the result when they come together is generally somewhat underwhelming. My own view is this happens because there is usually no “big picture” view being taken. If you get all these groups working towards a common goal chances are the synergies will lead to much better results.
Let’s consider the example of an organisation that has services to offer to companies in the Cloud space and how an integrated approach would work for them.
The team keeping an eye on the market could come up with a finding that of late cloud file storage companies seem to be attracting funding.
This could be the trigger for the content generation team to start putting together collateral that would be of relevance to this sector – say a white paper about a technology trend and it’s applicability or a user case study of a success story in the same or a comparable space
The next step for the content team would be to start working on reasonably customized crafted emails targeted to sub-segments within the larger Cloud File Storage segment.
While this is going on the Contact Discovery team could be hard at work building a database of companies and individual decision makers within those organisations who could be receptive to the message.
On getting sufficient content ready the next step is to make it available on the specific social media platforms the target customers are likely to gather on to inform themselves. In the context of the example this may be Cloud focused LinkedIn groups as an illustration.
There is also a case for tracking specific influencers in the Cloud Storage space – say the CTOs of the target Cloud Storage organisations. The objective would be to build a map of their social media life – their Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, their blog and so on. Sharing what they have to say in a great way to learn from their experience as also to get on their radar. This is a longer term strategic activity – the objective is to connect with them and engage with them at their own terms on ground they feel comfortable on.
Now it’s time to launch the outreach campaigns – first email and then telemarketing, assuming that is right for the business. The chance that someone will respond to the outreach is proportionately greater if they have encountered the company or some useful content in the digital or social world previously.
Key is integrating the outreach program into the sales process – not only to ensure that any leads that get generated receive the prompt attention they demand but also to be able to build any feedback received at any stage back into the appropriate point of the process.
Rinse and Repeat!
My personal view is that if the end objective is that more people should respond positively to your outreach efforts then it’s pretty much mandatory that an integrated approach be followed. Chances are otherwise the results will more often than not be lower than the quality of the team and the visible activity level would suggest.