Michelle Killebrew
Program Director, Strategy & Solutions, IBM, Michelle Killebrew

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.

Many trends seem to blaze like wildfire through the B2C marketing world but sometimes lag with B2B content marketing. How do you leverage content marketing trends in video or social media to help engage a B2B audience?

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.

People crave different content depending on their role. How did you go about segmenting and differentiating content for different roles and audiences for the new IBM Rethink Business website?

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.

IBM Rethink Business
IBM’s Rethink Business page focuses on a roles-based messaging approach

What particularly made your social content successful with a B2B audience? What ingredients worked that you feel others can use too?

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.

When you sell technology solutions, there’s always a risk of delivering dry technical content that falls flat. How do you avoid this pitfall and engage audiences?

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.

How did you measure the success of your campaign? And what was the indicator or visible turning point when you felt a sigh of relief and knew that it all worked?

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:

  • Remember that you’re selling to people. B2B products may seem more complicated and technical than most B2C products, but you still need to captivate and interest people.
  • Deeply learn about each of your audiences. You may need to design different content and user experiences for different customer segments.
  • Evaluate your content, and then act upon your evaluation. Make changes when you realize what’s not working in order to maximize your marketing and content investments.

Read more about IBM’s Rethink Business campaign.

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.

The Authors

Michelle Killebrew is the Program Director, Strategy & Solutions – Social Business at IBM.

Content Science is a growing content strategy and intelligence company and the publisher of Content Science Review. We empower digital enterprises for the content era by taking their content approach to the next level. Customers of our professional services and one-of-a-kind products (such as ContentWRX and Content Science Academy) include the Fortune 50, the world’s largest nonprofits, and the most trusted government agencies.

This article is about



We invite you to share your perspective in a constructive way. To comment, please sign in or register. Our moderating team will review all comments and may edit them for clarity. Our team also may delete comments that are off-topic or disrespectful. All postings become the property of
Content Science Review.

Partner Whitepapers

Writing with Feeling: A Guide to Emotive Language for More Effective Content

Content that uses emotive language performs nearly twice as well as purely factual content. Learn more in this guide from Acrolinx.

From Intent Fracture to Cohesive Content Clusters

Learn why one page is rarely enough to rank for competitive topics and how to build a content cluster that positions you as an authority in this MarketMuse whitepaper.

The 3 Elements of Content Intelligence

Make better content decisions with a system of data + insight.

Digital Transformation for Marketing

Your content approach makes or breaks your digital transformation. Learn why intelligent content strategy + engineering are critical to your success.