A couple weeks ago, my colleague Alia and I attended a webinar on how to build a content marketing methodology. We’ve both advised clients on various aspects of this challenge, but we were interested to hear how other companies approach it. The webinar material, particularly strategies for content distribution and promotion, was clearly geared to B2C companies. Essentially, the advice was to create a lot of content and push it out through social media channels and content marketing platforms such as Outbrain (the sponsored content you find at the bottom of high-traffic sites such as CNN) in order to drive people back to the company website.
During the Q&A session, one of the other attendees asked the question that was on our minds: how do these strategies apply to the B2B world? This question is fundamental to developing an effective content marketing strategy and deserved a serious answer. Unfortunately, the professional leading the webinar gave a somewhat rambling, ultimately unsatisfying explanation. Here’s an excerpt from our recording:
“What really gives B2B an advantage when it comes to content marketing is that you have a particular expertise, you have something that you know more about than anyone else that you really can provide a lot of value to your audience. . . . But lean in to the things your company cares about that you’re really knowledgeable about and passionate about because there’s likely other people, you know, if your company is successful at all, that care about these things.”
To understand why this explanation falls short, let’s look at some of the ways that B2B and B2C companies are different when it comes to content marketing.
Consider a retail bank that is interested in promoting a new loan product to homeowners—a fairly diverse group. To generate interest, the bank might produce content that runs the gamut from one-pagers describing the loan product’s features and case studies on how the product has helped homeowners increase the value of their home to softer human interest articles that take readers inside a home-rehab project. The bank would then amplify these content pieces everywhere its audience might be online: from social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, among others) and banner ads on relevant content websites they frequent (for example, Houzz.com or Architecturaldigest.com) to paid search. Since reaching a broad audience is essentially a numbers game, the more channels deployed, the better. However, one of the challenges in pursuing this strategy is that it requires a huge volume of constantly refreshed content. For that reason, the emphasis is often on quantity over quality.
Contrast that approach to the path a B2B company should take. A technology company, for example, may be looking to promote its implementation expertise in advance of the upcoming release of a well-known cloud-based CRM software. Its audience is a very specific subset of the business audience—in this case, CIOs, business unit managers, the heads of sales departments. When these executives think about hiring an external vendor to manage an implementation, it’s anything but a snap decision. Instead, they are looking for answers to an array of questions: How long will it take? What’s the process? Are there common pitfalls to avoid? Which vendors have the understanding of my challenges and industry to ensure a smooth implementation? Do I trust this company to do a good job?
In this case, content marketing can serve as a valuable component of the sales and business development efforts. White papers lay out the challenges and solutions in detail. Perspective pieces raise awareness of key issues and walk readers through best practices. Blogs demonstrate that the technology company has been down this road before and will be an invaluable partner. Since interest in these issues may spike every time a new software product is released, the content should aim to be relevant over a longer time period. For this reason, quality is much more important than quantity, since an article of poor quality can raise more questions for the reader than it answers.
Further, the channels used to amplify the content are very specific and provide contextual relevance: social media where businesspeople are used to getting content (for example, LinkedIn) and external publications, to name two examples. I would guess that very few CIOs found their tech partner on Facebook or Snapchat. The same goes for sponsored content: should a B2B company seeking to reach a very targeted audience place its content next to articles such as “Forget your 401k if you own a home (Do this instead)” or other clickbait? Not if they want to be taken seriously.
The overarching point: if B2B companies follow the same content marketing strategies that have worked so well for B2C companies, they will fall well short of their goals. They will likely not only pay a lot of money to create a vast amount of middling content that could ultimately undermine their reputation but also get a poor return on their investment.
And one more piece of advice: if your content marketing partner doesn’t have a more nuanced understanding of the difference between B2B and B2C companies, find a company that does.