Inside B2B Influence 14: Ann Handley of MarketingProfs on Content Marketing and Influence

Ann Handley

Ann Handley

Inside B2B Influence is a show that goes behind the scenes of B2B marketing and showcases conversations with insiders from the world of influencer marketing. We connect with influential practitioners at B2B brands of all kinds and sizes to answer the rising number of questions about working with influencers in a business context.

In this first episode of the second season of Inside B2B Influence, I was able to catch up with the incredibly popular, talented and beloved Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, Ann Handley. I’ve known Ann for well over 10 years and she’s been a great friend, client and source of inspiration to me about more meaningful content marketing.

Ann talks with me about a variety of topics ranging from the nature of influence in B2B, demand for B2B influencers during the pandemic and our mutually favorite “dogfluencer”, August – the most dashing Cavalier King Charles Spaniel you may ever meet.

Highlights of this episode of Inside B2B Influence with Ann Handley include:

  • Does everybody have influence? Yes and no
  • How the change to digital first B2B marketing has affected demand for influencers
  • The importance of a relationship driven approach
  • Trends in B2B influencer content collaboration
  • Growing emphasis on executive thought leadership and influence
  • Worst practices influencer engagement
  • How to integrate influencers with your newsletter
  • What B2B marketers should do to improve their influencer marketing
  • Some of Ann’s favorite B2B industry influencers

Listen to episode 14 (Confluence: The B2B Content and Influence Connection) of the Inside B2B Influence podcast here:

You wrote the best selling book, Everybody Writes. Do you think everybody has influence?

Ann: That’s such an interesting question because at first pass it’s like, well of course. But then on the other hand it’s kind of an existential question, isn’t it? I really had to think about that for a second. I mean, yes, I do think that everybody has influence, but not everybody has credibility, right? Yes, we all have influence, but not in all topics. Like for example, I really like sushi, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a fish influencer. Is that a thing fishfluencer? I think we all have our spheres of expertise and we are influential within those spheres of expertise. But I don’t think that people are influencers across all things.

Everybody has influence, but not everybody has credibility. @annhandley

I also think that, especially in B2B, that the notion of influencers is even more narrowly defined than it is in, in B2C. Because the expertise that I have in marketing is, you know, it’s content, it’s writing. It’s very specific. I don’t think you would come to me if you were looking for somebody to talk about analytics. Like you would go to Chris Penn for that. He’s an influencer in marketing analytics. So I think, especially in B2B, that that it is absolutely true that the credibility I have as an influencer is very specific and narrow. And I think that’s true of any, any B2B influencer.

The pandemic accelerated digital transformation in B2B impacting all aspects of doing business including marketing. What impact has an emphasis on digital first in B2B marketing had on the demand for influencers like yourself?

Ann: I have definitely seen more of those opportunities come my way because I think, just to your point, all of the traditional B2B tactics of field marketing and in person trade shows and other moments to experience the brands face to face, all of that went away in the past 15 months or so since the pandemic. So what takes its place? That’s been what’s fueling a lot of that digital transformation happening at B2B companies.

Influencer marketing is very much part of that because, how do you build that sort of trust with your audience if you don’t have the ability to meet them in person, to sit down, to have a conversation with them? So I think influencers have become a proxy and a conduit for that.

We’re going to see more companies start to embrace the opportunity to form relationships with influencers versus straight up transactional. @annhandley

What’s interesting and what I see straight up from an influencer standpoint, is that more of those companies seek to have those relationships with me. They’re seeking to build those relationships with me in much less of a transactional way. You and I have talked about this Lee, I remember saying to you that this is like the future of B2B influencer marketing. We’re going to see more companies start to embrace the opportunity to form relationships with influencers versus, you know, straight up transactional – make it less of an advertising / transactional play. Like here, I’ll pay you X amount of dollars if you share my thing, you know? That’s more of a B2C model.

I think in B2B what we’re seeing, and this has been fueled by the pandemic, is that we are seeing those relationships start to happen between brands and influencers like me where they’re reaching out to me proactively and saying, “Hey, we don’t have a thing right now, but we want to work with you. Can we sort of get to know each other?”

And so I think we’re seeing an increasing impetus toward an approach that I feel, has more sustainability long-term and it’s the way that I like to work personally. So yeah, I think we’re seeing a whole lot more of that.

What are some of the content collaboration opportunities between B2B brands and influencers that you’re seeing more of in 2021?

Ann: There are yeah. I want to caveat this by saying that I’m speaking from my personal experience versus, you know, I haven’t necessarily polled B2B marketers. So you probably have a better perspective on this too and whether what I’m talking about is actually reflected in the broader B2B community.

What I see is more brands looking to have a longterm relationship. Not just, come speak at our webinar, but, can we actually think about this over like a fiscal year? What can we do together in Q1 and Q2 and Q3, so that it becomes much more of a, not quite ambassador, but at least more of a brand alignment, right? So that I’m saying, “I believe in what you do” and and you’re saying that you trust me as well.

More long-term engagements and less transactional is honestly the foundation of a successful B2B influencer marketing program. @annhandley

I think longer-term engagement with a trust foundation to it is definitely something that I’m seeing. I’m also seeing these situations where even if it is about providing a quote for this, or for example, I’ll put something in my newsletter that’s sort of sponsored but for me, it’s not anything that you can buy. It’s something where I read the paper and I believe in it. I have a relationship with the company and so therefore I will share it with my audience. So yes, it’s sponsored, but it’s like, it’s sponsored with my whole self. I guess I’m a little bit goofy, but you know what I mean, with integrity, I should say.

That is a situation where it’ll be over several months, so it’s not just like a one and done. But can you help us promote this and here’s what’s in it for you and here’s what we want to give to you and your audience, that kind of thing. I guess to sum up, much more long-term engagements and less transactional, which I think is honestly the foundation of a successful B2B influencer marketing program anyway. But you probably have more perspective on that than I do.

It’s been really interesting what’s happened not just in terms of content creation and the thought leadership through partnerships between executives and external influencers, but also the relationships that are being facilitated.

Ann: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I think it makes total sense, right? Because in the past 15 months of the pandemic, I think that the brands who have really demonstrated that we’re all in this together, have actually had to show up in a real human genuine way and to be there for their audiences. I think that’s in part what’s driving the kind of collaboration that you’re talking about.

Brands realize that to trust somebody, you’ve got to know them. And how can you trust a B2B brand unless you sort of see the faces of the people behind the brand? @annhandley

Because I do think brands realize that to trust somebody, you’ve got to know them. And how can you trust a B2B brand unless you sort of see the faces of the people behind the brand? I think that cascades throughout B2B marketing as well as influencer marketing. I think that’s clearly one area where we are seeing where that comes to life,

Along with best practices there are also bad practices. I’m curious if there are any bad behaviors in terms of how people reach out or engage with you?

Ann: I think there’s been a few situations where I just, I tend not to engage basically. That’s a situation where a big agency will reach out and it’s clear that I’m one of many. Like I’m like part of a stable of influencers that they’re looking to. And they ask me to respond and fill out this Google form about the size of my audience. I’m not going to do any of that. That’s not what I want and that’s not who I am. It’s not what my brand is all about. That’s just not what I’m going to do.

It doesn’t matter to me how much money is on the table, because damage to my brand, reputation and my credibility far outweighs anything else. @annhandley

So it doesn’t matter to me how much money is on the table, because damage to my brand, reputation and my credibility far outweighs anything else. That’s a situation where I just wouldn’t engage. I can’t even say that it’s a bad practice but it’s de-motivating. When those come in we just sort of delete it immediately.

Or they come at it from a tactic standpoint. I get this a lot. For example, my email newsletter. I’ve talked a lot about it the past couple of years, it’s grown pretty significantly and it has really healthy, open rates. The list is just over 50,000 now. So it’s a good, robust list. I get a lot of people who say, will you share this in your newsletter? And I don’t know them. I don’t have a relationship with you. So if the onus is on me to do the legwork and figure out who you are, what your solution is all about or what your piece of content is all about, then I’m not going to do it.

Also, that’s not the role of the newsletter. If you know me, and if you’re on the list, then you know that, right? So, if you want to get something in my newsletter, then that’s not the first step. The first step is engaging me on social, get to know me. All the things that, you know, you do to start a relationship. All the best practices around that. Not. “Will you share this in your newsletter?” That’s all the stuff that just ends up being deleted immediately.

What are some ways you can imagine someone incorporating influencer content in a newsletter?

Ann: If you’re a marketer and you’re publishing your own newsletter and you want to work with influencers, trying to figure out a way to highlight them in that environment could be something simple, like highlighting some of their content or highlighting them as an individual. Or it could be something more like inviting them to be like a guest editor depending on the relationship.

I think there’s lots of opportunity there to influence the influencer as part of your brand and not just thinking that your relationship with the influencer is only in the social space. Because I think an email newsletter is just such a rich opportunity to communicate directly with your audience. The degree to which you can invite influencers into that relationship is going to solidify your relationship with the influencer as well.

Who are some of your favorite influencers, you know, that would, you know, that operate in the B2B world in some way, whether it’s marketing or tech or somewhere else?

Ann: Avinash Kaushik at Google. I don’t even know if he would consider himself an influencer, but he is. I think mostly because his brain functions so differently. I’m on his newsletter list. I love to read his perspective and his point of view, and follow him on social for the same reasons.

Chris Penn is somebody else who you know, again, has a very different approach. But if you took Chris Penn’s brain and took my brain and sort of put them together, you’d get like this whole body marketer, you know? I think I come at it very much from the art and high touch perspective and he comes at it very much from a science and analytics standpoint. I appreciate his message so much because he helps me elevate in what I do just by paying attention to what he’s doing.

I love what April Dunford talks about around positioning. I think she offers some really valuable advice and I always love seeing what she has to say and hearing her point of view on things.

You certainly. I think you, and I know it’s like your show so I probably shouldn’t, but like the work you’ve done around influencer marketing, I think you absolutely are helping to push the industry forward in terms of like how to do it right. And, and how to create programs that actually do sustain themselves long-term and deliver value for your organization.

Thanks Ann! You are a great source of inspiration to B2B marketers all over the world and a wonderful human being!

You can also watch the full video interview with Ann Handley here:

For more B2B marketing insights, you can subscribe to Ann’s amazing Total ANNARCHY newsletter here and connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn. Also, don’t miss out on the MarketingPros B2B Forum coming up October 13-14 this year.

Be sure to stay tuned to TopRank Marketing’s B2B Marketing Blog for our next episode of Inside B2B Influence where we’ll be answering the B2B marketing industry’s most pressing questions about the role of influence in business marketing.

You can also download The State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report featuring insights from a survey of hundreds of B2B marketers plus case studies and contributions from marketing executives at brands including Adobe, LinkedIn, IBM, Dell, SAP and many more.

The post Inside B2B Influence 14: Ann Handley of MarketingProfs on Content Marketing and Influence appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

Optimize for B2B Customers with Digital First Content Marketing

Digital First B2B Content

Digital First B2B Content

The evolution of B2B marketing has required companies to extend the transformations and pivots made during the pandemic to more permanent changes in marketing driven by evolving consumer preferences for information discovery, consumption and interaction. B2B marketing is evolved as a digital first practice and there’s no going back.

While most marketers understand it is simply not enough to rely on push marketing tactics and advertising, they still rely on these familiar and comfortable tactics.

Today’s business customers have more content choices in text, images, audio, video and interactive formats on more devices than ever. They expect more than just useful information from the brands they buy from.

In reaction to many of these changes in technology and an increased demand for information, many businesses have resolved to creating more content; more information to feed the insatiable appetite of the search and social web.

B2B marketers are responding to this need. Yearly research from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs on Content Marketing consistently shows marketers are dedicated to using content in their marketing.

Unfortunately, simply creating more digital first content isn’t the answer. Competition is fierce for customer time and attention, raising the bar on content from simply providing information to delivering meaningful experiences. To stand out, engage and inspire action, todays businesses must engage in smarter, customer focused content marketing.

The shift from traditional digital marketing to a focus on integrated content experiences is requiring companies to rethink their approach. Making that transition requires an understanding some essential shifts:

Information Overload
According to a study from IBM, we’re creating 2.5 quintillion bytes daily— so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.

Competition for attention has increased exponentially as brands evolve their publishing efforts and consumers are increasingly empowered to publish themselves. Blogs, social media sharing sites and networks are powered by brand and user generated content, all competing for time and attention.

Since most consumers are confronted by thousands of marketing messages every day, it’s essential that companies understand their customers and those who influence them. Using the right tools for everything from influencer discovery to topic optimization, brands can embark on a continuous effort to improve the performance of their content investment.

Data analysis and optimization tools will surface knowledge of specific customer segments and their pain points, goals and those who influence them. Armed with such insight, marketers will be better prepared to craft meaningful content marketing experiences to exceed customer expectations and pass the competition. Businesses must think beyond the mechanical and transition to a more meaningful approach to PR, search, social media and content marketing.

Disruption or Evolution?
Traditional publishing models have been significantly affected by these changes in technology and consumer information preferences. Print based publications are on the decline, newsroom resources and staff are shrinking and the roles of brand publishers and traditional media publishers are exchanging.

Driven by the Customer Journey
The diversity of information options and access through myriad devices empowers consumers with more decision making power before they ever act on an intent to purchase. The customer journey from awareness to consideration to purchase weaves it’s way through channels like search, news and social media in a dynamic path that is rarely linear and increasingly numb to push messaging.

Those companies that can attract and engage consumers earlier in the journey can establish a stronger brand connection and influence sales, despite a greater diversity of content and rising competition.

Architecting a content marketing plan across the customer buying cycle will enable marketers to plan content topics meaningful to each stage: awareness, interest, consideration, purchase, retention and advocacy. Content discovery, consumption and action at each stage can then be planned to optimize the customer experience.

Great content isn’t great until it’s discovered, consumed and acted on.

Re-thinking a content marketing strategy and it’s integration with search, social media and PR requires a solid definition of content marketing:

Content marketing is the planned creation, promotion and optimization of brand stories designed to create useful and meaningful experiences that attract, engage and inspire a target group of customers from awareness to purchase to advocacy.

With that definition, marketers can build a content marketing strategy that draws from both consumer insights and brand goals to create great content that is optimized for discovery, engagement and conversion towards business goals

Next steps and key questions:

  • What business goals could be solved by more useful and meaningful content?
  • Who are the target audiences your business needs to connect with? What do they care about? What are their goals?
  • Develop an editorial calendar that takes into account how each target customer segment discovers, consumes and acts on information needed during their buying cycle
  • Build search, social media and media optimization best practices into your content planning and promotion efforts.
  • Continuously analyze key performance indicators and business outcomes to optimize the performance of your content marketing investment

The post Optimize for B2B Customers with Digital First Content Marketing appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

How to Accelerate Reach and Engagement of B2B Content Through Co-Creation

Co-create B2B Content

Co-create B2B Content

“Look, I made this!”

Sharing things we create is a human compulsion that traces back to childhood. Whether you’re showing your mom a drawing so she can pin it up on the fridge, or linking social media followers to your latest blog post, it’s natural for people of all ages to proudly broadcast their creative output.

Therein lies the power of co-creation for content amplification. “If you want your content reach to be great, ask your community to participate.”

Let’s explore this approach to content collaboration from a B2B marketing perspective.

Why Co-create Content for B2B Marketing?

There are many benefits to collaborative content creation. TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden covered several in his writeup last year on winning at B2B influence with the magic of content co-creation. Among them:

  • Incorporating the first-hand viewpoints of experts infuses greater authority and credibility to your content.
  • Featuring various outside voices makes your content more relatable and accessible to varied audiences.
  • Relevant influencers can inspire action and foster trust in unique ways.

These qualities all trace back to a core fundamental advantage of co-creation: it generates better and more resonant content. And that contributes heavily to the more easily-observable benefit we’ll focus on today: co-created content drives greater reach and engagement without needing to rely on paid boosting.

The influencer marketing campaign we partnered with monday.com to develop serves as a prime example. With a diverse team of influencers helping shape the content and sharing it out to their respective networks, the company surpassed its goal for social reach by an astounding 1,790%, driving more than 300,000 organic impressions on social media.

B2B Influencer Marketing Metrics Monday.com

Maximizing Reach & Engagement with B2B Content Co-creation

Of course, content collaborations are not as simple as pushing a button. Taking the right strategic steps before, during, and after your B2B content co-creation initiative will make a vast difference in reach and engagement.

Make the Content Great
There are many tactics and techniques that can be activated to increase reach and engagement, but none are more important than simply creating awesome content that people are genuinely compelled to share.

Instead of asking “How can co-creation partners maximize the reach of this content?” start by asking “How can co-creation partners make this content incredible?” Tap their prime area of passion and expertise so that their distinct strengths are fully reflected.

Get Influencers and Co-creators Invested
If the extent of your co-creation approach is adding someone’s generic and extraneous insight on top of your completed content, solely for the purpose of shoehorning an influencer into the mix, those partners are not likely to feel the level of ownership that inspires them to enthusiastically share and amplify.

Two specific pointers to drive greater investment from influencers:

  • Invite them to take part in the planning and shaping of the content, rather than asking for an add-on quote at the very end.
  • Avoid the urge to push for product-focused or promotional contributions — people will be more motivated to share content if they feel it advances their reputation as a thought leader, as opposed to shilling a solution. (And audiences will find the content far more authentic.)

Make It Easy (and Valuable) to Share
Consider drafting social messages on behalf of your co-creators to make the process of amplifying as simple and effortless as possible for them. The key nuance here is to know these partners well enough to be able to create social copy that matches their voice, and to center your message on the content’s value to their audience, rather than its value to your company.

For example, if your influencer is Wile E. Coyote, you’ll get better results with the framing, “I recently shared my thoughts on what’s next in the future of trapping technology and desert ecology,” compared to “I joined a podcast to talk about why Acme brand products are great for dealing with pesky roadrunners.” Meep meep.

Involve Influencers that Bring Authority and Credibility by Proxy
One of the underrated motivators for influencers and co-creators to share content is what I like to call “authority by association.” In part this can stem from the brand itself — if you’ve built a respected and buzzworthy reputation, people in your industry will see value in having their names attached to your content — but also from the other co-creators.

Wile E. Coyote will be more inclined to share content he’s involved in if Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck also contributed. (Maybe not the Road Runner.) Or, to tie things back to real life, there’s the aforementioned monday.com campaign. Our roster of influencers included recognizable big names from the creative world, as well as up-and-comers who were extremely enthused to have their insights appear alongside the likes of Ann Handley and Minda Harts.

As a more personal example, a few years ago I was invited to write the Minnesota Twins chapter in the Baseball Prospectus 2018 annual. And while I was moved to promote the book in large part because it featured my writing and because Baseball Prospectus is a giant name in the realm of baseball media, I was extra-excited to spread the word because Nick Offerman (aka Ron Swanson) wrote the Cubs chapter. How cool is that?!


via GIPHY

Plan for Continued, Ongoing Promotion
Given how much effort, time, and resources are often poured into large-scale content projects, it always astounds me how frequently the promotion plan basically entails sharing out a few links when the content goes live, and little else. Brands leave so much reach and utility on the table when they fall victim to Invisible Content Syndrome.

Think about ways you can extend the lifecycle of your content promotion and keep co-creators engaged for weeks rather than days. A few suggestions:

  • Make timely updates to the content over time, giving influencers a prompt to re-share and highlight new value for their audience.
  • Repurpose the content so they can share their portions in different ways (video, quote snippets, customized visuals, etc.) while linking back to the larger piece or asset, and space them out.
  • Keep tagging co-creators on social media whenever you’re promoting the content, so it stays on their radar long after launch.
  • Stay committed to mutual value. Continue to invest in your relationships with these influencers and co-creators, and promote their work on your own feeds when relevant to your audience.

Fuel Your B2B Marketing Reach with Influencer Co-creation

Our famous friend Jay Baer has famously stated that “content is fire, and social media is gasoline.” It’s a great way to describe the role that each plays in a marketing strategy, and I think it can easily be applied to co-creation as well. Selecting the right strategic partners to develop awesome content will start the fire, and taking smart steps to encourage promotion and sharing will help those flames rise high enough to be seen from miles around.

Ready to get cooking? Learn more about how TopRank Marketing approaches influencer marketing and how we can help you.

The post How to Accelerate Reach and Engagement of B2B Content Through Co-Creation appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

How B2B Brands Can Boost Confidence in Livestream Video, Podcast and Clubhouse Marketing

B2B content confidence clubhouse

B2B content confidence clubhouse
Without a doubt, the challenges and changes of 2020 have pulled business customers towards digital formats more than ever, especially with video and audio content.

Is Text Content Dead? Of course, text will always have its place in content marketing like this very blog post, but video and audio in recorded or live formats have emerged as a top preference for customer engagement. Whether livestreaming on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook or publishing podcasts and hosting rooms on breakout audio social network, Clubhouse, content marketers have a significant opportunity to create more engaging experiences to meet the evolving expectations of their customers in 2021.

Understand the Why. But none of that matters if B2B marketers don’t get their house in order when it comes to the why of using video and audio formats. “Because our competitors are there” and “I just read a B2B marketing trends blog post” cannot be the only drivers for business brands to start livestreaming video, produce a podcast or start engaging on platforms like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.

Perspective Matters. The problem with how many B2B brands approach livestreaming video or producing audio content and experiences is the problem with all B2B content innovation: Brands that take an ego-centric view of content focus entirely on the information they want to promote vs delivering content experiences on topics and in formats customers are actually most interested in.

The Big Mistake. For content marketers, the lack of a customer driven “why”, regardless of how well innovative content formats are trending, is a disconnect. The lack of empathy towards customer content preferences reduces the effectiveness of the marketing investment as well as minimizing value to customers. Or worse, it creates a content disconnect and that is an experience all B2B marketers should avoid.

The Truths of B2B Marketing. Content Marketing trends come and go, but there are some simple and highly effective universal truths to help marketers succeed year after year. One of the most important is a focus on creating marketing experiences based on an understanding of buyer information preferences are for content discovery, consumption and triggers for action – something we’ve evangelized here at TopRank Blog for a very long time.

It’s About Trust. Of course, great content experiences are not so great if no one can find the content or worse, if no one trusts the content if they do. Understanding these content experience preferences is what enables B2B marketers to optimize for the findability and credibility of their content.

Optimize for Experiences. Content Marketers can boost the success of their marketing investment when they optimize content for discovery wherever buyers are looking, subscribing and influenced. This is as true for livestreamed and recorded video as it is for podcasts and audio conversations on Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces. But how can B2B brands engage in innovative formats and channels when they don’t have the skills, experience or confidence?

Partner for Success. For B2B marketers that are not fully confident about how to produce or promote content in newer digital formats and networks, one of the best ways to enter the new environment is to partner with those that are already there. By partnering with influencers that truly understand both the B2B brands’ customers and the inside scoop on innovative content formats, B2B marketers can increase confidence that the experiences they are creating are relevant, meaningful and effective.

Make the Influencer Connection. Working with external industry influencers not only validates the brand’s message on those innovative content platforms and formats. but it also helps build the trust that is so desperately needed between consumers and brands.

What’s Next. Be sure to watch for our upcoming posts showcasing how B2B brands are partnering with video and audio creators to build content experiences that engage, inspire, and influence action.

The post How B2B Brands Can Boost Confidence in Livestream Video, Podcast and Clubhouse Marketing appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

5 B2C Content Marketing Techniques that B2B Marketers Should Steal (And 5 They Shouldn’t Touch)

Pickpocket taking money from oblivious man on phone image.

Pickpocket taking money from oblivious man on phone image.B2B marketers, are we over the B2C envy yet?

We used to have a legitimate reason to be envious. B2C marketers got to be more creative, personal, emotional, and interactive. We were stuck with dry, logical appeals with no-frills presentation.

These days, though, B2B marketers can be just as dynamic and creative as our B2C counterparts. And we not only can, we should.

Yet we still hear that drumbeat: “B2B marketing needs to be more like B2C.” 

Does it really?

I would argue yes, but only to a certain point. B2B is its own discipline with its own best practices. There are a few recent developments in B2C that we should borrow, but there are just as many strategies and tactics that don’t translate as well.

In the interest of continually evolving B2B marketing to be more sophisticated, more useful, and more effective: Here are five B2C trends to steal, and five to leave to our esteemed peers on the other side.

5 B2C Content Marketing Techniques to Steal — And 5 to Leave Alone

The central thesis for using B2C techniques in B2B is the realization that there’s no such thing as a “B2B buyer.” They’re not a distinct species. People are people, whether they’re at work or at home. As the lines between home life and work life continue to blur, that distinction gets even fuzzier. However, that doesn’t mean we need to take on B2C techniques that don’t work, or don’t work as well as what we’re already doing.

Steal These:

1 — Take a Stand

Historically, B2B brands have stayed out of broader societal discussions. This is a holdover from the idea that B2B marketing should be exclusively logical, dealing with facts rather than emotion, delivered in a neutral tone. After all, why should B2B buyers care if their cloud server provider supports Black Lives Matter? Why not focus on your solution’s speed, bandwidth and low latency?

Here’s why taking a stand matters: A recent study found that 77% of consumers buy from brands who share the same values as they do.  Another global study found consumers are four to six times more likely to purchase, protect and advocate for brands who have a larger purpose. In this climate, a neutral stance is more risky than taking a principled stand.

We should point out that it’s not enough to talk about your brand’s values or put them in a mission statement. Consumers will be looking for consistent, meaningful action that expresses your values.

2 — Embrace Diversity

I’m old enough to remember the first TV ad with a gay couple, way back in 1994. The controversy was enormous. But Ikea weathered the storm and continued to push for diversity of representation in their advertising. Over time, the rest of media gradually caught up with them.

As a whole, B2B marketing hasn’t been as aware of diversity. How many old eBooks and white papers feature pictures that are overwhelmingly white and male? As the executive audience grows more diverse, we can’t afford the ongoing mental stereotype of a B2B buyer as a heterosexual, middle-aged white man. 

As you select images for your marketing materials, look for the audiences you might be missing. We want people to see themselves in our content, recognize themselves as the target audience and be moved to action. If we fail at diverse representation, we’re locking out potential buyers.

3 — Be Visually Stunning

It says a lot to me that one common unit of B2B marketing is the “white paper.” What a bland and utilitarian thing — it brings to mind a list of features and benefits in black text on a plain white page. 

There’s no reason B2B marketing shouldn’t be beautiful to look at. General Electric’s Instagram proves that you can find gorgeous imagery in the most industrial settings. Communication company (and client) Mitel draws you into their latest interactive guide with a fanciful futuristic home office.

In a quick-scrolling online world, brands need to have visually arresting content that grabs attention.

4 — Embrace Multimedia

Friends, Romans, B2B marketers, I come here not to praise the static PDF but to bury it. There may still be a place for old-school gated eBooks, but their role should be a lot less prominent in a modern marketing environment. We have the ability to create video cheaply and easily. We have live-streams and podcasts, countless platforms with a quick click-to-publish.

Our agency is seeing great success for clients with interactive assets like the Mitel one I linked above. Tools like Ceros make it easy for a designer to create something dynamic and engaging. What might have been just another PDF becomes an experience that unfolds, comes to life, and looks great on mobile and desktop alike. 

At the very least, multimedia can serve to augment more traditional content. For example, our client Prophix turned a report into a long-scrolling, influencer-activated, bright and engaging power page. But they also provide a static download of the report in PDF form to cover all the bases.

5 — Get Personal

I can bring to mind a dozen B2C ads that have made me either laugh or cry. The same can’t be said for B2B. Tim Washer’s Fast Innovation and the Slow Waiter ads are funny, but I can’t think of many more examples of ads that moved me on a personal level. 

We can’t afford to hold people at arm’s length anymore, focusing on just the intersection of our solution and their workplace. The thing is, work is personal. What we do for a living is tied up in our identity, our sense of self, our security, our families, and our future. B2B marketers should feel empowered to address all of those entanglements, a whole person rather than a “B2B buyer.”

Let B2C Keep These:

1 — Transactional Influence 

Influencer marketing in B2C tends to be more of an endorsement model. Whether it’s Kim Kardashian hawking beauty cream, or a micro-influencer holding an energy drink, the focus is bringing an audience’s attention to a product.

For B2B, influence is more about providing value and building relationships. Influencer content shouldn’t be product-focused. It should be designed to highlight the influencer’s expertise, provide real utility, and strengthen the brand by association with credible and thoughtful content.

2 — Snarky Social Media

Look, I love the ferocious sarcasm of the Wendy’s Twitter account as much as the next guy. Ditto the absurd and frequently bleak Moon Pie account. But that type of attention-grabbing, potentially off-putting weirdness only makes sense when your product costs less than $10. 

B2B content should be emotional, human, and even humorous, but it should always aim to provide value. Leave the roasts, call-outs and memes to our B2C counterparts.

3 — Vanity Virality

B2B marketing isn’t a numbers game anymore. It’s a relevance game. Would you rather have a million views on a video, but no conversions, or 500 views that lead to 100 closed sales? I don’t know many marketers who would pick the former.

Yet we still tend to measure effectiveness in terms of numbers rather than relevance. We know that hitting the right audience is better than hitting the biggest possible audience — it’s high time we quit chasing vanity metrics.

4 — Every Channel Advertising

Is your brand on TikTok? Instagram? Snapchat? LinkedIn? Facebook? Should you be?

Better question: Where is your audience? If you find that your most valuable decision makers are on TikTok, fire away. If you never get any engagement on Facebook, let it fade away. B2B marketers should feel free to focus their efforts where they’re getting the most results.

5 — Top of Funnel Focus

For many B2C brands, awareness is everything. Like the Moon Pie and Wendy’s examples above, it’s about keeping the brand top-of-mind for the next checkout-line impulse buy or fast-food lunch. You don’t see a lot of, say, 1500-word blog posts on why Wendy’s hamburgers are better than McDonald’s.

Even as B2B content gets more creative, emotional, and personal, we can’t let lower-funnel content slide. B2B solutions are rarely impulse purchases; we need conversion content as well as awareness-building content.

Let B2B Be

I’ll admit it: Every time I see an awesome B2C ad, I do feel a little twinge of envy. There’s a degree of creative freedom in B2C that will never fly with a big B2B brand. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate how B2B content can be deeper, more meaningful, and more useful than a lot of B2C can aspire to.

So the next time you hear, “B2B marketing needs to be more like B2C,” take it with a grain or two of salt. As much as B2C gets the glory, B2B is its own discipline, and we get to blaze our own trail.

The post 5 B2C Content Marketing Techniques that B2B Marketers Should Steal (And 5 They Shouldn’t Touch) appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

Problem Solved: Increase B2B Content Marketing Success by Conquering 4 Conundrums

Content Marketer Deep in Thought Image

Content Marketer Deep in Thought Image

In his recently-published book, What’s Your Problem: Become a Better B2B Marketer by Enhancing Your Problem-Solving Skills, Steve Goldhaber argues that the discipline of content marketing boils down to a simple consistent objective: solving problems.

It’s a reasonable framing. Almost every piece of marketing content is essentially aimed at solving a problem. This really gets to the fundamental intent of B2B content marketing as a practice: by helping our audience solve day-to-day problems and overcome business challenges, we hope that they’ll eventually consider using our product or service to solve a bigger problem.

But content marketers can’t focus solely on solving problems for customers. We also need to look inward and address key challenges that threaten the value and impact of our problem-solving content. The old saying about “getting your own house in order” comes to mind.

Here’s a look at four prevalent conundrums faced by B2B content marketers today, and how I recommend confronting and conquering them.

How to Overcome 4 Vexing B2B Marketing Conundrums

Content marketers need to reckon with these stumbling blocks before they can race to big success with their strategies.

Conundrum #1 ? More brands and platforms than ever are competing for the diminishing currency of attention.

On the surface, it seems like a clear positive: Fueled by social distancing and a lack of in-person experiences, audiences flocked online more than ever in 2020. Usage of mobile devices and social media apps has risen dramatically. In theory, this means it should be easier than ever to attract eyeballs and engage users via digital marketing.

So, why the conundrum?

Two reasons. First: every brand and content-creating entity is aware of this trend, so there’s been a widespread increase in supply to meet the demand. That means more competition. Second (and not unrelated), audiences are fatigued after a year of being necessarily glued to their screens. Without question, it’s growing more difficult to earn and sustain someone’s attention, not to mention drive action and engagement.

What To Do? 

It has never been more important to adopt a quality-over-quantity approach. Zero in on a narrowly defined audience whose problems you can help solve. Create highly focused and directly relevant content. Personalization holds the key to breaking through with a clear message in an online environment full of buzzing static.

[bctt tweet=”“Personalization holds the key to breaking through with a clear message in an online environment full of buzzing static.” @NickNelsonMN #B2Bmarketing #personalization” username=”toprank”]

Of course, the heightened competition also calls for a re-emphasis on capturing the attention of a scrolling user. Go against the grain and deliver something your audience isn’t expecting. Rock the boat in a sea of sameness.

Our clients at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions recently shared tips for thumb-stopping content that catches a user mid-scroll and invites engagement, including examples. I especially like the bear ad example from eCornell.

Conundrum #2 ? Measuring results is difficult when direct links to revenue aren’t always clear or straightforward.

During times of economic duress, there is a natural inclination for businesses to scale back on discretionary spending. In its early days, content marketing was often viewed as discretionary, or a complementary aspect of business development. While that perception has generally changed, marketing leaders still can face an uphill battle when vying for a fair share of reduced budgets.

What To Do?

The connection between content marketing and revenue is not as overt or direct as some other investments, that’s true. But it is undeniable. The ability to map content to revenue is becoming a key asset for marketing departments, and in some cases it may require rethinking conventions.

For example, some organizations need to slow down their campaign measurement, to align with a complex and lengthy buying cycle. Another opportunity: refining attribution methods to deliver more clarity and comprehensiveness. Do you track user actions across channels? Are you accounting for both post-click and post-view conversions? Are you quantifiably measuring brand awareness and engagement? If not, these are worthy aspirations in a results-oriented business landscape.

Conundrum #3 ? It’s tough to authentically integrate influencers into content when audiences are suspicious of brand sponsorships.

Influencer marketing is a broadly-applied term, and in some applications it can feel a little sketchy. When people relate the concept with Kylie Jenner shilling for Pepsi in a tone-deaf Super Bowl ad, or Instagram celebrities promoting a disastrous tropical festival, it’s understandable how they’d become skeptical. The credibility gained by associating your brand with a respected figure is negated (and then some) when the influencer isn’t genuinely interested or invested.

When done right, influencer marketing is highly effective. But more than ever, marketers need to be strategic, and mindful of optics.

[bctt tweet=”“When done right, influencer marketing is highly effective. But more than ever, marketers need to be strategic, and mindful of optics.” @NickNelsonMN #B2Bmarketing #personalization” username=”toprank”]

What To Do?

It all starts with selecting the right influencers. Identify voices with strong topical and audience alignment. Aim to be more relationship-based than transactional in your partnerships. Deliver clear value to the people you work with to spur enthusiastic participation. Co-create content and find interesting ways to incorporate influencers’ expertise, perspectives, and stories.

Above all, make transparency a fixture. You don’t want your audience left to wonder about the motivations of people involved — or worse yet, feel misled.

Conundrum #4 ? Fast-rising new channels don’t have obvious applicability for B2B marketing purposes.

When glancing at recent trends and stats in content marketing, it’s hard not to notice the meteoric rise in usage of apps like TikTok and WhatsApp. Brands are gravitating toward Instagram Stories.

These channels are intriguing, but they don’t intuitively have much applicability in B2B marketing.

What To Do?

The last thing you want to do is jam a square peg in a round hole for the sake of seeming cool or hip. But that’s not to say there aren’t creative and contextually-fitting ways to market a B2B brand on B2C-centric platforms. Doing so effectively is an opportunity to stand out and differentiate, in accordance with our solution to Conundrum #1.

[bctt tweet=”“Finding creative and contextually-fitting ways to market a #B2B brand on B2C-centric platforms is an opportunity to stand out and differentiate.” @NickNelsonMN #B2Bmarketing #personalization” username=”toprank”]

For inspiration, courtesy of PixelMe, here are 10 creative Instagram ads from B2B companies (led off by our clients at monday.com).

Break Down B2B Content Marketing Barriers

Both challenge and opportunity can be found within each of the conundrums presented. Those B2B marketers who take the right steps to solve them will enjoy a more smooth and frictionless path to success.

Keep four things top-of-mind as you venture ahead:

  • Create with a purpose (and flair)
  • Measure robustly
  • Partner strategically
  • Experiment away from the beaten path

For more advice on overcoming obstacles to resonate with your audience, check out my recent post on five B2B content marketing pitfalls to avoid.

The post Problem Solved: Increase B2B Content Marketing Success by Conquering 4 Conundrums appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

6 Eye-Opening B2B Content Marketing Statistics for 2021

Content Writer Drafting Copy on Laptop

Content Writer Drafting Copy on Laptop“You can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Forty percent of all people know that.” – Homer Simpson

Homer might be right, generally speaking. But I still maintain that good, accurate, timely statistics from trusted sources can serve as vital guideposts and benchmarking tools, especially when it comes to business strategy.

This certainly applies in my own corner of the business world: the fast-changing and critically important field of B2B content marketing.

Trends in content marketing tend to reflect broader truths, since we’re talking about the ways in which companies and customers interact and communicate. Because of this, I like to keep a close eye on new research and data as it surfaces, filing away nuggets that strike me as especially telling.

Today, I’ll share six new B2B content marketing statistics that everyone should know.

6 Eye-Opening B2B Content Marketing Statistics for 2021

These stats highlight many of the challenges, opportunities, and changes unfolding here in 2021.

#1: Businesses are the most trusted institution for information in 2021. (Source: Edelman)

Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer shows that the business sector has risen above government, media, and NGOs in its Trust Index. Edelman also found that business is now seen as the institution that is both competent and ethical.

Edelman Image

Needless to say, this is a big moment for content marketers. Distrust is running rampant among misinformation, uncertainty and anxiety across the globe. People are looking to businesses for credible, clear, and accurate insights and guidance. As marketers, we must harness this opportunity to earn and solidify this trust.

How can we best do so? Edelman’s survey results point to a clear answer: by vigorously guarding information quality and filtering out the noise.

Edelman Image 2

[bctt tweet=”“People are looking to businesses for credible, clear, and accurate insights and guidance. As marketers, we must harness this opportunity to earn and solidify this trust.” — Nick Nelson @NickNelsonMN” username=”toprank”]

#2: 88% of marketers say collecting first-party data is a priority in 2021. (Source: Merkle)

This comes from Merkle’s 2021 Customer Engagement Report, highlighting a key frontier for informing content strategies this year. While third-party data and insights like those we’ve aggregated here are useful, nothing can quite match the relevance and impact of information drawn from your own customers and digital experiences.

Heightening data privacy regulations are playing a major role in motivating these initiatives, according to Merkle’s research. The report also points to a rise in “zero-party data,” which includes “transaction intentions, preference data, personal context, and what the customer thinks about the company.”

Per Merkle: “Marketers don’t have to infer customer preferences or behavior through secondary behavior but are instead explicitly told, straight from the source. The best zero-party data is when the customers trust the brand and are willing to volunteer their data with the understanding that it will improve their experience.”

#3: Mobile device usage rose dramatically in 2020. (Souce: App Annie)

Surely this comes as no surprise. Deprived of the ability to congregate in person, many of us increased our reliance on different forms of connection and entertainment. App Annie’s State of Mobile 2021 report found that mobile adoption saw two-to-three years worth of advancement in 12 months during 2020, with mobile time surpassing live TV.

Substantial increases were seen across the board globally:

App Annie Image

App Annie also shared data around the most-used social networking apps in 2020. No. 1 on the list may surprise you:

  1. TikTok
  2. Facebook
  3. WhatsApp Messenger
  4. Instagram
  5. Facebook Messenger

While these apps tend to be utilized more in the B2C realm for marketing purposes, it’s valuable to note the popularity and traction.

#4: Brands are using Instagram Stories more than ever. (Source: Rival IQ)

On that note, the newly released 2021 Instagram Stories Benchmark Report from social analytics firm Rival IQ casts light on usage and engagement trends around Instagram Stories, a fast-rising channel that holds some intrigue for B2B brands. As mentioned above, Instagram is a traditionally B2C-centric marketing app, but given the growing adoption and the amount of time people spend on it, no marketer should ignore it. I wrote here a couple years ago about why Instagram Stories were generating B2B buzz, and now that buzz is loudening.

For those who are interested in dabbling, Rival IQ offers this advice based on its research findings: “Focus on creating a few really engaging, dynamic frames to start off your Story. If your brand can hook viewers early with great content, it’ll improve your retention and turn your followers into fans.”

#5: Most B2B marketers say the pandemic had a meaningful impact on their strategies. (Source: CMI/MarketingProfs)

The 2021 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report placed a special emphasis on understanding how organizations responded and adapted to COVID-19. Seventy percent of respondents in the survey from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs said the pandemic had a major or moderate impact on their content strategy, with most describing their adjustments as a combination of short-term and long-term.

CMI Image

When asked specifically about the most common changes made in response to COVID-19, these were the top responses from B2B marketers:

  1. Changed targeting/messaging strategy (70%)
  2. Adjusted editorial calendar (64%)
  3. Changed content distribution/promotion strategy (53%)
  4. Changed website (40%)
  5. Put more resources toward social media/online communities (40%)

#6: The top barriers to creating great B2B content are workload and changing priorities. (Source: Radix Communications)

Radix Communications surveyed more than 100 B2B marketers to learn which obstacles loom largest in this year. The most commonly cited barriers in the way of great content were changing priorities and workload, although respondents were more likely to name interference and resources as a “big problem” than workload.

RadixI Image

Another finding in Radix’s research: “B2B marketers who can’t talk to customers are 27% less likely to be happy with their content’s business results.” This ties back to the prioritization of first-party data and gathering direct insight from the audience.

B2B Content Marketing by the Numbers

Homer Simpson wasn’t entirely off base. People can dig up statistics to make almost any type of case. But here, the numbers only confirm trends and realities that most B2B content marketers are already experiencing. Trust hangs in the balance; data is growing both more important and more nuanced; mobile and social media usage have exploded; and evolving priorities create new challenges for planning.

We hope that the context provided by these B2B content marketing statistics helps you as you find your way in the new landscape. For more forward-looking insight to guide your strategy, check out Lee Odden’s post on the Top B2B Marketing Trends for 2021.

The post 6 Eye-Opening B2B Content Marketing Statistics for 2021 appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.

How Successful B2B Marketers Integrate Influence in the Marketing Mix

B2B Influencer Marketing Integration

B2B Influencer Marketing Integration

Influencer Marketing is a fast growing discipline for B2B marketers and while many brands view it as a stand alone tactic, mature marketers realize that influence can play a role across the customer lifecycle in virtually any business communication, content type or publishing channel.

There’s plenty of evidence to show that business customers do not limit their information discovery and consumption to single communication channels or content types. Neither should business marketers. That’s why savvy B2B marketers integrate influencer content across marketing disciplines from ABM to Public Relations to SEO to create the kinds of customer experiences that create credibility, reach and engagement.

To truly take full advantage of all the benefits greater influence can bring a B2B marketing effort in 2021, it’s important to understand how successful marketers are integrating influencer content with other marketing, the best practices they use and what a successful influencer content integration effort looks like.

Content Optimized for Findability and Credibility

According to our research from the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, the vast majority of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing with social media (90%) and content marketing (83%) activities. As B2B marketing moves entirely online as a result of the pandemic, another influencer integration opportunity exists: SEO. When marketers integrate the findability of SEO with the credibility of content that is influencer activated, it helps B2B brands become the best answer for  topics they want to be known for and that customers care about.

The Value of Influencer Content Integration

“When brands have trusted experts to tap for insights, content and advocacy, the contribution to customer experience can be significant. More than ever, buyers are pulling themselves through the sales cycle with digital information in a variety of formats and channels.

To meet customer demand for relevant content where they want it, B2B brands that run influencer marketing programs are integrating influencer content with other marketing activities from social media marketing and content marketing to public relations and SEO.

Whether influencer content is customized or repurposed for the different channels where customers consume content, the result is a better experience for the buyer and for the brand.”

Ann Handley MarketingProfsAnn Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs:

So what does an integrated B2B influencer marketing program look like?

Let’s take a look at how Cherwell Software’s integrated influencer content approach helped them reach millions and generate a 342% better click through rate on their content.


The credibility and continuity of a brand’s message can be the difference between marketing success and failure. When a B2B brand needs to pivot its message, building trust and being seen in all the channels where customers are, is essential.

As a tech company transitioning its messaging and focus from ITSM towards digital transformation, Cherwell Software sought to accelerate their credibility within the industry with an influencer marketing campaign focused on helping the target audience overcome obstacles and get buy-in along their digital transformation journey.

To build message credibility and ensure visibility, Cherwell partnered with trusted technology experts to co-create content in formats that would resonate with customers including video, interactive content and blog posts in support of new original research in the form of an industry report.

With the brand and influencer messages coordinated across formats and channels, Cherwell Software was able to drive awareness, engagement and conversions.

By co-creating content with influencers and integrating the message, Cherwell Software’s influencer marketing program achieved reach and engagement goals while building trust in the new brand message:

  • 5.45M in potential reach from influencer shares
  • 90% of all visitors were new users
  • 882 interactions with the interactive content

See the full case study here.

Top Opportunities for Influencer Content Integration

B2B marketers top influencer marketing goals focus on building brand awareness (84%) and lead generation (69%). Achieving both goals with any kind of influencer marketing program requires message integration across channels to create a consistent brand experience.

In our research we found 6 key areas where influencer marketing was integrated with other marketing activities:

  • 89.9% Social media marketing
  • 82.8% Content marketing
  • 55.6% Public relations (PR)
  • 49.5% Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • 43.4% Branding
  • 32.3% Account-based marketing (ABM)

Social Media is where a significant portion of influencer marketing activities happens and in B2B marketing, content activations are a best practice. Integration of influencers with public relations activities or influencer relations, is a longstanding practice.

As more B2B buyers rely on search engines to find information in today’s increasingly digital world, search engines represent an ideal opportunity for B2B marketers to be the best answer for customers at the very moment they need them most. SEO keywords serve as an indication of buyer demand and those same keywords can be used for influencer selection, content planning and promotion.

Branding integration synchronizes with the top influencer marketing goal of brand awareness as B2B marketers seek to gain brand reach and influence by working with experts that already have it. ABM integration is relatively new and represents a significant opportunity to add credibility to content used for targeted accounts.

Influencer Marketing integration means leveraging the credibility of trusted experts in all the channels where customers are looking whether the goal is branding focused or generating new leads.

Customers know authenticity when they see it and naturally trust humans more than brands. Working with credible B2B influencers helps to build brand authority through real, human conversations and interactions. @saritasayso

Sarita Rao AT&T BusinessSarita Rao, SVP – Portfolio Integration & Partner Solutions at AT&T 

Top Considerations for B2B Marketers to Better Integrate Influence in the Marketing Mix

  1. While the majority of B2B marketers integrate influencer marketing activities with social media (90%) and content marketing (83%), integration with SEO (50%) presents a significant opportunity for brands to gain a competitive advantage with content that is easy to find and highly credible.
  2. B2B marketers can partner with influencers to co-create and integrate content messaging for brands that need to pivot or adjust. Cherwell Software successfully engaged influencers to do just that and achieved impressive results with content reaching 90% new users.
  3. Marketers are not handling influencer integration efforts alone. 63% of marketers say they enlist agencies to help integrate influencer marketing programs with other marketing tactics from social media to SEO to Public Relations.

B2B Influencer Marketing Report Preview

Get more insights into where influence can fit in your mix with the State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report.

The post How Successful B2B Marketers Integrate Influence in the Marketing Mix appeared first on B2B Marketing Blog – TopRank®.