Social media and content marketing are arguably revolutionising the way businesses think about marketing and the ways in which they act. The most successful B2B marketers are now doing things that not so long ago were unthinkable and even today can seem counter-intuitive.
So, what are the emerging new habits of successful B2B marketing and why are they so successful?
1. It’s healthy to give away your expertise
For any business that survives by selling things to other businesses your expertise is often your greatest asset – particularly if you sell services. Traditionally, jealously guarding your expertise was vital. Keeping things to yourself was how you maintained your competitive advantage. Expertise is also a commodity that can be traded through consultancy services, so why would you want to give it away?
Successful modern marketers know that publishing content that is freely available is a great way to get yourself noticed. Giving away at least some of your expertise through blog articles, videos and social media comments, plants your expertise and credentials in the minds of people who might not have heard of you or might not have considered talking to you.
The more meaningful and significant the information you give away for nothing, the more likely you are to achieve the desired results. Your free content can also be a gateway to deeper content that people have to subscribe to receive, so that they elect to join your lead generation and nurturing process.
However you capitalise on these contacts, you have to start by giving away something meaningful and of genuine value – something you would have billed for in the past.
2. It’s OK to help your competitors
Traditionally we kept competitors at arm’s length. And for some businesses there will always be cut-throat competitors where any type of constructive dialogue would be impossible – let’s be realistic. But, increasingly, I see examples of businesses you might think would be competitors commenting on, re-posting and liking each other’s content.
I think there are a couple of drivers behind this: one is mutual benefit; if I see somebody post a really good article on the benefits of business blogging I’m highly likely to re-post it because it helps make the case for content marketing. If more businesses understand the potential of content then there should be more work for all of us who are involved in content creation.
I see the same thing going on with SEOs and social media experts where they quite commonly blog on each other’s sites and share each other’s content. The other point about sharing other people’s content is that it shows confidence in your own ability:
‘We’re not going to pretend that there’s nobody else out there who does what we do – here’s what they have to say, here’s what we have to say.’
If you have a clear sense of your strengths and USP and a clear understanding of where you add unique value, is acknowledging the reality that there are similar (but not identical) businesses such a big deal? People can always find this out on Google and LinkedIn anyway.
Talking to our competitors also opens up opportunities for collaboration. In reality expertise and experience are hardly ever matched exactly and opportunities often emerge for serving a wider range of clients.
Finally, by engaging with potential competitors through social media you are also engaging with their networks. I see this spirit on Google+ in particular, and from what I see everyone seems to be benefiting.
Starting a discussion on LinkedIn could be an opportunity for a competitor to jump in and hijack the conversation; and I suspect this is what puts some businesses off engaging. But the ensuing debate can also be an opportunity for you to differentiate your business from your competitors.
Openness and authenticity
The net effect of points 1 and 2 is B2B marketing based on openness and authenticity.
In the old days a potential customer would have to research potential suppliers on Google or another directory. They would then have to try to penetrate the glossy shell of traditional marketing content on company websites to try to work out what each supplier was really like.
They might then organise a dog and pony show where potential suppliers roll up and give a traditional marketing presentation.
Now everything is laid bare. From the content a business publishes people can see who they are, what they think and what really drives them. It’s easier for businesses to identify suppliers that best match their needs, philosophy and objectives. The discussion is then much more about details and price rather than: are you the right people for us to work with?
3. Don’t get obsessed with SEO
Or to be more precise, don’t get obsessed with individual page rankings. So much of on-line marketing has been about making sure your site ranks on page 1 for targeted keywords. As a result people have over-optimised their sites and acquired back-links that are now defeating the very goal they set out to achieve.
Successful modern marketers understand that part of the secret to succeeding on Google is to act as though it didn’t exist. Building vibrant on-line communities will reinforce your trust, reputation and authority. Your communities will earn you traffic that doesn’t depend on search; and your content and social media activity will make you less dependent on Google’s strategy and algorithms.
And guess what – all this on-line authority will ultimately help you get found by relevant people through Google searches too.
4. It’s not all about the message
A traditional view of marketing has been heavily focused on getting the message out – the brand-centric approach of telling people what we do and why people need what we sell. This is usually accompanied by the sort of marketing communication that sells, persuades and attempts to force people through a sales funnel – isn’t that what marketing departments are for?
An alternative approach is to construct your strategy around building an audience, through creating content that they choose to engage with. Some experts like Brian Clark at Coppyblogger maintain that modern marketing is all about the media and not the message: build the audience and they will tell you what they want.
I recommend having a look at Brian’s New Rainmaker series of podcasts. You might not agree with every word (I don’t if it comes to that) but he will challenge all of your assumptions about marketing and make you re-evaluate what you are doing. That’s everything I want from a piece of content.
Perhaps that’s a bit too radical for some but it illustrates a fundamental difference in thinking: rather than marketing being something that we do to people it becomes a process that they are actively engaged in and feel in control of.
Which brings me to my final bit of ‘difficult thinking’…
5. Marketers are no longer in control
Should Marketing be in control of marketing? Until not so long ago it would seem self-evident that Marketing and PR should control everything that is published or communicated in a company’s name. Without that control how could you have consistency in the messages that are put across and how can you ensure that published material meets the required standards of professionalism and identity?
These are still very real concerns, by the way. I recently explored some of the challenges associated with brand publishing. But, in 2014, with the opportunities created by content publishing and social media, are centralised control and micro-management of marketing still advisable or even tenable? Or does the effective modern marketer learn to let go and trust people a bit more?
Expertise and authenticity are the new currencies in on-line B2B marketing.
If expertise lies with the people ‘doing the job’ and centralised control and standardisation act against authenticity and spontaneity, does a traditional marketing approach help or hinder the process? People will not engage with content if it comes across as yet another bit of faceless marketing (even if it does have a picture of somebody’s face attached to it).
I would argue, therefore, that a modern B2B marketer shouldn’t try to control everything that looks like marketing.
A healthy debate
While I’m typing this I’m heavily conscious that this final point (indeed all of these points) might be controversial and far from a trivial debate. But a good debate is always healthy.
And if successful marketing is going to be so topsy-turvy and counter-intuitive, what is the role of the marketer? In my view marketers will deliver more value by learning to become enablers rather than controllers of a company’s marketing efforts.
Here are some invaluable things that professional marketers are best able to contribute:
- Identifying the audience and creating customer personas. Whoever creates the content, it really helps to understand who it’s for.
- Creating marketing themes that can be used to guide content creation.
- Managing the assets, particularly owned media such as the website and blog, and the social media channels.
- Strategy and metrics.
- Advice and coaching – helping people create better content but not telling them what to write or telling them off when they get it wrong (whatever that means).
- PR – identifying influencers and channels to amplify the content.
These are some critical tasks and I’m sure you can identify others. But what they shouldn’t do in my opinion is insist on writing, editing or approving every piece of content that gets published, which is the change they may find hardest of all.
Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger and Content Marketer
01823 674167 email@example.com