Selling candy, appliances, or fast food can involve rapid-fire, high volume social media campaigns driven by the latest trends in website, mobile, and social content. By contrast, B2B products and sales cycles appear bland. Yet, B2B customers and prospects are people, too. Shouldn’t the same B2C engagement principles apply to B2B content marketing?
Michelle Killebrew answers with a resounding “Yes!” However, she points out that leveraging those trends requires a granular understanding of your audiences. Once you understand what content your audience craves, Killebrew says you then know what content they will view, share, and use to eventually buy your product or service.
In this interview, Killebrew offers plenty of insights about IBM’s successful Rethink Business campaign that highlight the importance of audience analysis, effective translation of B2C marketing techniques into the world of B2B content marketing, and measuring success.
B2B marketers need to remember that they sell to people, and they need to engage with those people. It’s easy to look at B2C marketing from a transaction viewpoint as if any of those trends don’t apply to B2B’s longer sales cycles. However, much of the B2B sales cycle leverages an engagement strategy before the prospect passes over to sales. B2B marketers are starting to see that the sales cycle begins with that initial engagement—and what captivates and engages B2C audiences can also apply to a B2B audience. To leverage B2C trends for B2B content marketing, put yourself into the shoes of your target audience, understand their challenges, and build a campaign around those insights.
We focused on a roles-based messaging approach and really rolled up our sleeves to get in-depth and in touch with each of our target audiences. When creating a digital campaign, we not only look at different content and messaging for various roles but also take look and feel, usability, and interaction into consideration. For example, digital marketers want a slick, engaging, visually-rich, and high impact experience. They’re upheld to that kind of standard in their roles, and they want to learn how to up their game as digital marketers by seeing us practice the digital marketing best practices that we preach. On the other hand, IT professionals feel that slick websites lack credibility. They don’t like marketers marketing to them, and they prefer to hear from other IT professionals. That’s why it’s important to not only consider the content you create but also the experience around that content.
Peer to peer sharing worked especially well for our social content. People like sharing content to their network with a click. For example, when people come to our website and engage with our content, we include visually appealing, sharable facts and data. Sharing this social content shows them off as thought leaders to their networks. For us, we bring their social traffic back to our site. Also, our overall social plan ties into different pieces of content. We might feature a blog post about a webinar that encourages people to participate, and that post offers links back to our main website where people can engage with more content. Or when we post something like an analyst report, we’ll blog about that content and push it out through our social media channels to bring people back to the site. And don’t forget Facebook! I’m surprised how often B2B audiences use it, and B2B marketers should not ignore that platform.
Know where your audience is in their buyer journey. Our campaign primarily intended to capture and captivate new audiences. As users go through their buyer journey, our intention is not to go too deep on that “first date.” Opportunities will exist later to drive your audience toward deeper content as they journey further into the funnel. They may not be ready for a sales engagement, so we don’t overwhelm them with too much technical content out of the gate. Instead, we speak to their business pains, why our services matter, and how other people solve similar problems through sharing case studies and peer-to-peer examples.
Given part of our portfolio—and my pre-acquisition legacy—we leverage IBM Digital Analytics (formerly Coremetrics) to analyze and optimize the digital experience. Obviously, we measure page views, conversions, and how people interact with our content (such as the number of video views). During a campaign several years ago (before Coremetrics was acquired), we included an interactive feature where a user needed to click something in order for a video to pop up. We noticed by looking at our metrics that only a small fraction of the visitors looked at it and took an action. In response, we made our call to action more visible so that more people saw the video. Because the video formed a significant investment as part of the total campaign cost, we used metrics to make sure we fixed any engagement problems and ultimately ensured that the video was a valuable part of the user’s experience. We had to rearchitect and reengineer the technology serving up that user experience, but by taking the time to collect analytics, look at the interaction experience, and then act on our evaluation, we increased the sophistication of our user experience.
From a user flow data collection perspective, we collect user information in a relatively short form. After that, we cookie the user. They fill out the form once, but on the backend the user submits an invisible form for each piece of content they interact with. When I pull up John Smith, I can see that he downloaded whitepaper A and webinar B. I know exactly what he likes. The person isn’t bothered with multiple forms, but I can see a user’s interaction and behavior within the site to see what’s working and not working with our content. Additionally, we can leverage those cookies for retargeting with IBM Digital Data Exchange (DDX). That helps leverage the behavioral insights gained from on-site interactions and syndicates it out to demand-side platforms (DSPs) and networks across multiple online publishers.
As Killebrew points out, your B2B campaign can absolutely leverage B2C marketing techniques IF you keep the following in mind:
To see the end result of IBM’s campaign, visit IBM’s Rethink Business page.
Originally published on the now-archived Content Science blog in September 2014.
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