Uninformed executives are the biggest threat to B2B content marketers, says Michael Brenner, head of strategy for content marketing platform provider NewsCred. A strong believer in the value of content, Brenner says it will always deliver ROI and tells Content King Juliet Stott how businesses can incentivize employees to contribute to their thought leadership and content marketing efforts.
Juliet Stott: What have been the emerging B2B content marketing trends for 2015?
What we’re seeing this year is the emergence of social selling—it’s about taking the content and moving it down the sales funnel, closer to the customer. This is purely a B2B issue. Brands have figured out they need to build a content machine inside their companies, which they can extend out to their sales teams. Sales people are now reaching out to customers in a new way—such as saying, “I saw this piece of content and I thought of you.”
JS: Can businesses justify having a B2B content strategy? Is it a luxury or necessity?
It’s not a luxury, it’s an imperative. But I think there needs to be a shift in focus in the content creation process. This takes courage to do. Brands need to stop doing things that aren’t working—such as producing late-stage product-focused fact sheets, technical specifications, etc.—because they’re poorly done and no one ever consumes them. They’ve been created because someone thought it was important, but they never asked if their customer really needed it. It’s funny, when I talk to CMOs about this, they get really uncomfortable. It takes courage to stop doing things you’ve done in the past. And it takes courage to tell the sales team that the things they think they need are not really what they need. Brands need to concentrate their investments on creating content that future customers need. When they do this, the prospects will then become customers.
JS: What are the biggest challenges facing B2B content marketers?
The biggest challenge, and we hear this almost universally, is executive buy-in, followed closely by content marketing ROI. There’s a total interplay between the two. I think what happens is an uninformed executive will say, “I’m not going to do this new thing (in our case it’s content marketing) unless I know there’s going to be ROI.” They say it as almost a defense mechanism against openness to change. My response to that is content marketing ROI, for those that have demonstrated it, is as simple as just looking for it. In other words, if a brand commits to doing content marketing and they commit to measuring the success of it—and this has happened with every brand I’ve worked with—they will find a return on investment. And the ROI will not be small, it won’t be 10 percent or 20 percent, it’s generally in the magnitudes. Julie Fleischer from Kraft Foods Group, who talked at Content Marketing World last year, said Kraft saw four times the return on investment using content marketing in comparison to their average return from other marketing activities.
JS: How do you measure ROI?
ROI comes in two forms. The first, to be a successful content marketing brand, is having true empathy for your market. Every product was started to serve an unmet customer need. So successful marketing is empathetic. It talks to the customer need more than talking about the brand’s product/solution and how it’s better than others on the market. The second has got to start with the customer-centric objectives. A content marketing program should focus on delivering content to help earn, engage and drive trust with customers—who will ultimately return the ROI.
JS: Which content marketing methods are most effective in a B2B world and why?
I think it’s different for every brand. You’ve got to experiment and see what your audience responds to. You need to test and optimize what works. You’ve got to make sure you play the volume game. So out of 100 pieces of content of which some are visual, text, whitepapers, webinars, et cetera, you can tease out the information and insights that are the driver and answer to that question.
JS: Are some channels more suitable for a B2B marketer?
The real channel for B2B marketers is LinkedIn. It should be the primary channel for almost every single B2B company largely because it’s a professional network. It’s accessible, it holds information on what jobs people have, and you can now pay to target folks based on their company and the titles that they have. Some B2B brands will walk away from Twitter too early, as they don’t see the same kind of value that they see with LinkedIn, which is a mistake. I think Twitter is really important. It is the tip of the spear—the things that society sees as important and are talked about generally start there.
JS: What can small B2B businesses learn from the larger ones?
The strength of any large organization is their employees. When I worked at SAP, which had in excess of 60,000 employees, I thought if I just got 1 percent of them to contribute to our thought leadership and content marketing efforts I knew I could make a big impact. And that’s exactly what happened. I approached 12 bloggers who were producing really valuable content, and asked them if I could repurpose and reuse some of the content they’d created. I emphasized that it would not only help build the company’s reputation but also their personal brand in the process. One hundred percent of them said yes immediately. This then created an amplifier effect where all of a sudden everyone wanted to jump on board, even external people. I built a volunteer army of contributors—for free. That’s something small companies can learn from. But in smaller companies the participation rate needs to be greater. When I was looking for just 1 percent out of 60,000, a small company needs to have as many people helping to create the content as possible.
JS: What can small B2B brands teach the large companies?
Small businesses are agile and more customer-focused. They can respond instantly to their customer needs on social networks. Big brands still struggle with this. Smaller businesses are focused on trying to help their customers, whereas the larger companies still have a desire to talk about themselves—they have the belief that their brand makes them unique, and it’s this uniqueness that attracts people to buy from them. I often say to my clients that the secret to content marketing is you don’t need a big budget. It’s not without investment, but often the answers are sitting in your employees outboxes and PowerPoint presentations. It’s just about harnessing that information. I think small businesses are more capable of doing that.
JS: Often the best content comes from within an organization. How can you incentivize employees to contribute?
I don’t believe in trying to force people to do it. But what I do believe is that everybody has a unique point of view, a wealth of knowledge and experience and there is a way to harness it. But it has to come from the top. There has to be senior-level commitment—people that want to and are capable should make it part of their jobs. It should be something they’re measured on and incentivized to do and it shouldn’t feel like it’s competing with their day job. For those that have that resistance it’s about getting the tools or the support they need to turn that around. For example, I’ve got people to look at all the email questions they’ve answered recently and found 25-50 that could turn into a pretty decent blog post. It’s about showing people where to look.
JS: Can you cite a good example of great B2B content in action?
from our client Cap Gemini is a good example of a B2B company using thought leadership content to bring people closer and engage with their brand. What they do is use licensed content from companies like Fast Company, The New York Times—publications they know C-level executives are reading—and republish these on their branded content hub. They use LinkedIn’s sponsored updates to target relevant executives. When those executives click on the articles they land on a Cap Gemini-branded content hub. Once they’re there the executives are invited to connect with consultants and practice leaders from Cap Gemini. It’s really a soft conversion. But it’s an amazing customer experience.
JS: You are a prolific blogger in your own right. You’ve built your own personal brand. How do you have time to do this as well as your day job?
I consider it part of my job. It takes about an hour a week to write a blog post. It’s not a lot of time. It’s therapeutic. I often write about the questions our customers are asking with content marketing objectives. So I’m trying to help. I don’t think what I say is truly unique or amazingly insightful—I’ve just been consistent and that has helped to build the brand. I get about 10,000 unique visits a week. It’s humbling. But I don’t really look at my traffic numbers. When I first started writing I read a quote by Seth Godin, who’s written so prolifically about marketing, who said just write for one person. I really do try and focus on that one person and that keeps it real for me.