The Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs released their annual benchmark report on B2B content marketing. It is based on surveys of 1820 North American B2B Marketers across all industries and company sizes. This is the fifth year that they have released this report, and it continues to improve each year. The entire report is embedded at the end of this post.
The first, and most notable stat in this report is that number of B2B marketers using content marketing has gone down from 93% last year to 86% this year. That is because they changed the definition of content marketing to “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” Apparently this helped some respondents realize that there is a difference between content marketing and just creating content.
This is a benchmark study, so it gives you something you can compare yourself to. The study also examines the habits and activities of the most effective B2B content marketers, so you can see how you are doing against those who report that content marketing is meeting their goals and driving business value.1. 86% of B2B Marketers are using content marketing
I recently participated in a project with the Oracle Marketing Cloud where they interviewed marketing professors about the state of B2B marketing and how they are using that knowledge to develop curriculum to train the marketers of the future. It was an esteemed panel of professors, including:
- Barbara Kahn, Patty and Jay H. Baker Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania
- Josh Murdock, Professor of Educational Technology & Social Networking, Valencia College
- Mark Schaefer, Marketing Consultant, College Educator and Author, Rutgers University
- Peter Fader, Professor of Marketing, Co-Director of Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative, The Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania
- Eric Bradlow, K.P. Chao Professor of Marketing, Statistics, and Education, The Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania
- Jessica Rogers, Graduate Social Media and Marketing, Southern New Hampshire University
- Jeffrey L. Cohen, Distinguished Lecturer of Marketing Analytics and Social Media, Ball State University (hey, that’s me!)
Download the entire ebook here (registration required), but in the meantime, here are my answers to the questions.
1. What is the number one thing marketers may have lost sight of?
Too many marketing activities are siloed from the top-level business objectives of a company, and are not measured against metrics that others in the company care about. If your executives follow daily, weekly or monthly numbers related to things like sales, customer retention, cost savings and customer satisfaction, then reporting softer marketing numbers will not win any points with those executives. Marketers need to find ways to tie their efforts to those business metrics.
2. What are your observations with respect to the nuances of the B2B and B2C marketing disciplines?
As a lifelong B2B marketer, and co-author of The B2B Social Media Book, B2B marketing makes sense to me. No matter what techniques you use, you are ultimately driving prospects into a buying process where you can track where they came from. While selling through a distribution network can complicate things, a company sales rep, or someone no more than a couple steps removed away from the company, handles B2B purchases, making tracking possible. I have never understood how Coca-Cola marketers can track their efforts to sell a bottle of Coke at the grocery store or convenience store. This action is too far removed from their brand marketing and advertising to attribute action to particular campaigns.
3. What do you think a B2B marketer can learn from B2C or vice versa?
B2B marketers can learn creativity, creating an emotional response and storytelling from the B2C pros, and B2C marketers can learn more about calls-to-action, attribution and leading a buyer through a journey from their B2B brethren.
4. Can you compare and contrast the curriculum that you’re teaching and the current roles and responsibilities of today’s marketers?
I am teaching students about the importance of their public, online presence and how to keep up with a constant flow of information in their industry. This would not be an explicit part of their marketing role, but an understanding of this will make them stronger marketers. Traditionally, it has been social media savvy folks on the team who really understand how to build a personal presence and follow all the right sources in a manageable way, but these skills are important as a solid foundation for all marketers.
Students learn how to create and analyze social media marketing campaigns that resonate with customers, B2B and B2C, and are based on solid marketing and business principles. Proper goal setting and how to review analytics to understand success are also a key part of my learning objectives. This fits in with the skills and requirements of marketers in the field. Marketers create campaigns, analyze competitors’ campaigns and review the success of their own efforts.
5. What will you teach my future employees this year?
I start by explaining the difference between personal social media, which is what most college students do, and professional social media. They need to understand the importance of a professional profile, not just on LinkedIn, but on all social platforms, if they are going into marketing. This is part of the transition to the working world. I tie social media to business results and the basic principles of marketing, so students understand the value of social media to an organization. I go though major and minor social platforms, looking at current examples and best practices, so students have an understanding of what is happening right now in social media marketing.
Please download the ebook here to learn what the rest of the panel thinks about the state of B2B marketing and how education feeds into it (registration required).
The days when B2B companies picking up the phone or answering emails was good enough are long over. Now, customers take to Twitter even before they call you. They’re tweeting about how terrible your hold music is even as they’re waiting, ripping apart the scripts your agents use even as they’re working on solving their problem and publicly pushing you to deliver a quick fix for a bug they spotted minutes ago. And things are only going to get worse if your B2B company isn’t on Twitter.
When you’re small, having a single touchpoint is definitely enough, but it’s inefficient as you grow your business. Your support queries mix with your branding efforts and often enough, your customers are going to misinterpret your premeditated marketing messages as callous indifference to their problems. So, when you expand into multiple products and reach global markets, you need an entirely different strategy to deal with customers on Twitter (just like you might have an overall strategy for customer support as your company expands).B2B Startups Need One Twitter Touchpoint To Rule Them All
If you’ve just started out and your business has just a few thousand customers, no matter how spread out they are across the world, a single Twitter account would serve both the purposes of communicating with your customers and marketing your brand.
For example, Freshdesk, a leading customer support solution, was down recently because of a denial of service attack. The company immediately got on to Twitter to appease customers complaining about the down time, because that’s where their users went to first. Freshdesk used Twitter as an announcement channel before they could get a blog post ready with more details and told their customers that they were working to fix things.
Twitter provides companies the opportunity to engage with customers and answer questions coming in from different locations. B2B companies striving to provide exceptional customer service have no excuse to be absent from Twitter in 2014.
When you’re small, it doesn’t make sense to have a dedicated support agent looking at your lonely notifications feed on Twitter. You’re probably going to get only a couple of customer questions spread throughout the day. Setting up Twitter to send you email alerts when something comes up on Twitter will do. You’ll know that there’s something bubbling up out there while you’re working on building a great product.
The staff at Buffer also make it a point to wow their customers when they least expect it. They consistently engage with almost every tweet they receive, and keep users informed every minute when there’s trouble. They use Twitter as a medium to deliver exceptional service as the whole world watches, and earn fans along the way for their transparency.Dedicated Support on Twitter Is the Best Bet for Big B2B Companies
If you’re growing like crazy (by the millions every month), and if your customer base is primarily young and tech-savvy – quick to get on to Twitter even before looking up your phone number or support email address – you probably need a dedicated support presence on Twitter to deal with the sheer volume of queries you may be getting.
Twitter works well in helping distribute critical information to some of your most vocal customers.Spread Out Support Presence Across Regions and Products for Global B2Bs
For a company like Dell that has millions of customers all over the world, a distributed support strategy works pretty well. From executives to dedicated teams, it’s not uncommon to see Dell’s distributed Twitter accounts responding almost instantaneously to consumers who are seeking information about their devices and tweeting about their PC problems. Dell scores in this regard by decentralizing their social media channels, and having a considerable number of their employees respond to customers region-wise.
Customers also end up having a positive customer service experience instead of a nightmarish one waiting on hold endlessly trying to get their problems resolved.
How have you scaled your Twitter customer support presence as your B2B company has grown?
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My friend Tom Skotidas and I are at it again and this time we talked about how anyone, but especially B2B sales pros, can use their LinkedIn profile to attract inbound leads. Tom calls this inbound social selling. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. We have been talking about the intersection of sales and content marketing for B2B companies. A lot of people call this social selling, but there is more to it than just that.1. Re-Think the Purpose of Your Profile
Rather than just create a profile that shows your job history and qualifications, create a profile that shows how you can solve your target audience’s problems and serve their needs. Think of your profile as a piece content that reflects your company’s capabilities, rather than your resume.2. Use the Right Keywords
Throughout your LinkedIn profile you should use keywords that are related to your products and services. Not just any keywords, but ones that your prospects commonly use. One way to determine those keywords is by using Google’s Keyword Ad Planner Tool. It is designed to help determine keywords for Google ads, so you need an AdWords account (connected to a regular Google account), but you don’t need to place any ads to use the tool.3. View Your LinkedIn Profile as a Web Page to be Indexed
As you are re-thinking about your LinkedIn profile and using the appropriate keywords, remember that this is a web page that is indexed by Google and other search engines. LinkedIn is a high-ranking domain and can show up as a top result in searches for your keywords.4. Don’t Forget About LinkedIn Search
Active LinkedIn users use the search functions within LinkedIn to find what they are looking for, beyond people’s names and companies.5. Optimize These 9 Fields in Your LinkedIn Profile
Once you have your keywords to attract your prospects, what do you do with them? There are several fields in your LinkedIn profile that Tom identified as the most relevant.
- Headline: The default is your current job at your current company. This is the most important thing to change to appeal to prospects.
- Contact Information: This should include the best ways to contact you, plus a website or landing page that includes information to your target prospects
- Summary: This is where you can really speak to the prospect about how you and your company can solve their business problems, using a good selection of keywords.
- Experience: What you do in your job is another opportunity to tell the story of your success helping customers solve problems.
- Marketing Assets: Work with your marketing team to get Powerpoints and PDFs to add to your LinkedIn profile and use your keywords in the title of the pieces.
- Skills & Endorsements: Have others endorse you for skills that are most relevant to your target prospects. You have the ability to edit your list of skils.
- Publications: Relevant blog posts, ebooks or articles quoting you can be listed here. If you don’t have any, this is a good time see if you can collaborate with someone to create some things to list.
- Recommendations: Ask your customers for recommendations. They will use the terms that others in your industry use, and they will also validate your position as someone who is helpful.
- Groups Joined: The Groups you join show on your profile, so make sure you join relevant Groups with names that look and sound good.
What have you done on your LinkedIn profile to attract B2B prospects?
Many B2B companies start their social media efforts by gravitating to the large, common platforms and setting up profiles. Step 1: Twitter. Step 2: Facebook. Step 3: LinkedIn. And once these boxes are checked, they struggle to find the right content to post to each of these platforms. And marketers wonder if they should even be on all these platforms, especially Facebook, as organic reach has deteriorated.
This approach ignores several important marketing questions that B2B marketers should be asking about Facebook.1. What are you trying to accomplish with social media?
B2B companies need to use these social media platforms to achieve higher level business goals that others in the organization are tracking and supporting. Note that I said business goals, not social media goals. Getting more followers is not a business goal. Increasing sales is a business goal. Increasing the number of leads from online sources, especially social media, is a way to track success against that goal. Make sure you have properly framed social media in a business context to evaluate Facebook as an appropriate platform.2. Are your customers on Facebook?
This is a critical question in evaluating the platform, but you have to do so in a business context. Even though 71% of online adults are on Facebook, many B2B buyers may not use Facebook during the day or like Business Pages. While there are B2B companies that have large followings on Facebook and have generated traffic and leads, if you are struggling to build an audience there, you may be chasing shadows. And even if you do get people to like your Page, if they don’t engage with your content, Facebook is less likely to display it in their newsfeed.3. Are you able to provide value to customers and prospects through your content?
If you are creating content to educate, inform and entertain customers and prospects, that is the first step. If you see that your content is being downloaded and shared on any platform, then you know that the content is appropriate for your audience. At any point during this evaluation process, you can ask select customers or prospects about the value of your content. It is easy to make a list of the topics you think would connect with your audience and would drive action, but without direct feedback, it’s possible to miss the mark. And don’t survey them, ask them.4. How do you reach them without advertising?
Facebook only shows the most interesting posts in the newsfeed, as determined by its algorithm. Interesting is defined as posts that people will interact with (like, comment, share, click). You need to use as many off-Facebook techniques to get people to interact with your content so Facebook will show them more of it. If you get good engagement on Twitter, then post exclusive content on Facebook and use Twitter to drive traffic to it. People need to know what’s there and to like it so they will see future posts. And don’t forget email signatures, newsletters and phone conversations. “We just posted this really fun picture of the sales team on our Facebook Page. You should like it.”5. Can a B2B company quit Facebook?
And now the biggest question of all. What if your customers really are not on Facebook in a business context, those that are don’t engage with your content, Facebook doesn’t show your updates to many people who like your Page, and you just can’t justify advertising to increase reach, can you really delete your Page and leave Facebook altogether? Do your customers expect you to be on Facebook? Is there a stigma attached to not being on Facebook? If Twitter or LinkedIn are working for you, driving traffic and leads, and otherwise serving your business and its goals, and Facebook is not, it is time to leave. If you have tried everything and it’s only getting worse, you can go. There is more of an expectation for B2B companies to be on Twitter than Facebook. And when you leave Facebook, write a blog post about all your efforts and share the numbers of your lack of success. Nobody will fault you for dedicating your resources to platforms that have business value. One final thing to consider before leaving: It makes some sense to keep the Page alive, but not active, to keep the custom Facebook URL. If you do this, post a note on the Page where people can find you and your current content.
If you have Facebook success stories about your B2B company, please share it in the comments below, especially if you have turned around a low-performing page.
My friend Tom Skotidas and I talked about what can finally bridge the gap between sales and marketing. He is the founder of Skotidas, Asia Pacific’s leader in B2B Social Media Lead Generation. We have been talking about the intersection of sales and content marketing for B2B companies. A lot of people call this social selling, but we talked about a situation where the sales team can actually generate leads with content marketing.
Some of the highlights of our conversation:
- How to use content within a LinkedIn profile to generate leads
- What happens when B2B sales teams start to understand what content converts
- How sharing content through individuals targets audience segments
- And the sharing of this content is trackable. You will know which of your B2B salespeople have results.
Photo credit: Flickr
I recently judged the online marketing category of an internal marketing competition for a B2B company. The marketers chose their best online marketing campaigns and submitted the details of their strategies, activities, creative work and metrics of success. There were a lot of great ideas and great effort on the part of the marketers. The following lessons are derived from my feedback to the entrants and some reminders for all marketers that occurred to me as I reviewed their entries.1. Marketing Goals Must Align with Business Goals
Marketing cannot exist in a silo. This is one of the biggest issues that marketers, especially social media marketers, have. They create their own set of goals that are not important to anyone else in the company. While those goals may be important to the marketing team, you also need goals that relate to the high level business goals. These are the things that executives care about. These are the things that you must report on. These are the things that have material impact on the business.2. Tactics without Strategy Will Only Get You So Far
It is easy for marketers to do things to look effective, and maybe on small levels, they are effective. But unless those small tactics add up to the overall strategy, you will never truly grow the business. Can you get more people to like your Facebook? Sure, but how does it relate to growing sales or improving the customer experience? You need to make sure you understand how to leverage that larger audience to meet the strategic goals. Grow your audience for the sake of having a bigger audience is not going to win any points with anyone. And if your boss wants a bigger online audience just so the numbers look bigger, tell them they are wrong. It’s about more than that.3. SMART Goals are the Best Way Ensure Solid Marketing
Make your marketing goals:
Every so often fantastic things happen as a result of a marketing campaign. Maybe you achieved a big bump in sales that you weren’t counting on. Whether or not you can attribute this to your marketing efforts, or it just occurred in the measured time period, you cannot take credit for this success if it wasn’t one of your goals. The point of goals are to plan what is going to happen and what success looks like. So that success can become repeatable. Happy accidents are not repeatable. Your boss might be happy with the extra sales, but if you don’t know how to make them happen again, they are not one of the success points of the campaign.5. Present the Context of Your Success
Measurement is a key to understanding your success. Did you meet your goals? Did you grow your business? Did you drive traffic back to your website in significant numbers to make the effort worth it? Just like marketing doesn’t work in a silo, neither do metrics. How do your increases compare to a similar period? That could be the previous period or the same one last year. This context is required to understand the success of your marketing. And if you are doing something new, look to industry averages as your baseline. Even if a click-through-rate sounds good to your gut, you need to compare it an industry benchmark to know if it really is good.6. Let Your Customers Tell You What They Want
Your customers are your marketing audience. Even if you are trying reach new prospects, they are like your current customers. Make sure you know what things are important to them. And not just as they relate to your products and services, but in the running of their business. What are their typical business problems? How do they like to receive information? And how do they communicate back with you? Thankfully we have stopped using fax machines to communicate.7. If You Can’t Explain the Value of Your Efforts to Your Boss, What Are You Doing?
One of the more interesting evaluation elements of the marketing contest was to view the submission from the perspective of a company executive. This is very different from looking at it from a marketing perspective. Does your boss understand what you are doing? Do they understand the value of it to the business. If not, there could be one of two main problems. There could be a communication problem. You are just not explaining it very well. The other is that your efforts just don’t have real value to the business. This happens when you are chasing the wrong things. The ones that don’t have enough business impact, or they don’t lead to something with business impact.8. Focus on One Core Campaign for the Best Results
Sometimes marketers get caught up in big, complicated campaigns with lots of moving parts. Not only are these expensive, but they are harder to measure. Marketing campaigns should have a core strategy and all the elements pointing in one direction. Successful campaigns should have multiple elements, but they’ll be more successful if they are ultimately trying to do the same thing.9. Don’t Get Left Behind Best Practices
Today’s marketers need to keep up with trends in the marketplace. This means paying attention to their own industry verticals, but also marketing trends in general. Social media practices have evolved over the last 5 years and what made sense then no longer makes sense. For example, merely growing your social media followers as an end goal is one of those activities. Nobody cares how many people like your Facebook page. But if you are growing your audience on Facebook and other platforms as a means better serve your customers and drive prospect traffic to your website, that makes sense. As overloaded everyone is, you need to make a little time in your day to dip into some of the top marketing blogs. You will get a better sense of what other marketers are doing and where they are finding success.
Photo credit: Flickr