Sean Hargrave
Sean Hargrave 9 December 2020
Categories B2B, Content, Social Media

Listen Harder And Build Trust – B2B Content Marketing’s Role in 2021

In the absence of major ‘marquee’ events to reach high volumes of prospects, B2B marketing executives are going to have to carry on working harder than ever to reappraise content strategies. That was the take-out from a recent roundtable on content marketing, hosted by Demand Exchange and the BCMA, which also found marketers must build trust through listening harder to address pain points with insightful content.

Last week’s Future of B2B Content Marketing roundtable was held by Demand Exchange in partnership with the Branded Content Marketing Association (BCMA). The conversation started with a look at the implications of large events being cancelled and then, in most cases, being moved online. The general feeling was this had been done to a varying degree of success.

Andrew Canter, Global CEO of the BCMA, pointed out that B2B marketers had to think on their feet because so many traditionally rely on adding prospects to their pipeline through speaking, sponsorship and networking opportunities at their industry’s major annual events. Putting these online has led to a ‘disconnect’ where people do not feel as part of a massive event, with so many participants, as they do a smaller roundtable or webinar on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Reaching a Hybrid Balance

On the positive side, though, he held up the example of a recent Association of Estate Agents webinar which tapped into readiness to be part of an industry networking session and attracted interest from 20,000 participants. The group take-out was that, though these large events online can work, they shouldn't be totally relied on.

A hybrid approach, perhaps with activity stretching over a couple of weeks which can be dipped in and out of, was roundly agreed on as a potential answer for distributing a wide range of content. This can include research findings and white papers but, participants reminded, this year’s increased interest in podcasts and videos should not be overlooked.

Stefano Marrone, head of a digital creative agency that creates live events, underlined how important this is. Far too many ill-conceived shows are coming out of a desire to simply lift events and put them online without thinking how they might be better presented, he said. The Nucco Brain MD also pointed out that way too many brands have virtually no means of capturing data gathered through an online event and combining with their CRM database to better inform future marketing.  

Trust Trumps Vanity Metrics

The shift to a hybrid approach comes at a time when immediate future social media agency founder Katy Howell summed up some lead generation clients as “running around with their pants on fire” as third-party tracking cookies are on the verge of being ditched, and they have no replacement. B2B marketers, she said, need to be get away from a mindset of always acting tactically, often for vanity metrics, and instead think more strategically about the multiple touch points on the customer journey.

This move is going to make trust all the more important. The consensus was that to earn and maintain trust, marketers need to create genuinely interesting, well researched, “pain-addressing”, insightful content that the recipient can feel is so relevant, if feels almost personalised.

Senior representatives from a national business newspaper, who work in branded content partnerships with B2B, pointed out how central this can be to getting a message over that communicates a brand’s message but does not feel salesy. One suggested marketers have a role in educating the rest of the business of the need to create content to the highest quality. This is because, they warned, once trust is lost, it’s very hard to win back.

The importance of marketing working with other parts of the business was brought home when the conversation turned to social. Content obviously has to be interesting, relevant and of high-quality,  but it does not always need to come solely from influencers and the business’s social team.

Instead, it needs to emanate from across all divisions within a company. Delivering impactful, meaningful social engagement is “a horizontal responsibility” as a representative of a customer engagement platform suggested. Or as an influencer marketing network head suggests, it is “1% of everyone’s job, not 100% of one person’s job”.

Reaching Across the C-Suite

Nobody suggested this is an easy task, particularly as the founder of a new content strategy consultancy pointed out, B2B marketers are rarely speaking to one member of the C-suite anymore. In many big decisions, the CMO can expect to be consulting the CIO and CTO, as well as Chief Revenue Officer and perhaps even the CFO. This multi-disciplinary approach to decision making makes it all the more necessary for B2B marketers to use content to address those pain points felt across the organisation.

This need to address issues experienced within different parts of a prospect’s business, and within different job roles, led to the group agreeing a phrase summed up the new approach required. In a year of pandemic, B2B brands need to understand a crisis is “a time to serve, not sell”.

Listen Harder to New KPIs

This brought the roundtable to agreement that effort on two fronts could reap huge dividends going forwards. Brands need to listen harder and they need to find new ways of measuring impact and success.

The point was put neatly by one exec who affirmed, in her experience, there are just way too many brands who do not listen to what their audience wants. This is reflected in old KPIs which she summed up as achieving nothing new but instead just adding to a “confirmation bias” at brands who are not asking more pertinent questions of themselves.

A trend from this year, which all participants could agree on, was that B2B marketers were now waking up to the pointlessness of measuring a campaign’s success by the number of leads generated, rather than their quality.  

Roundtable co-host and founder of Demand Exchange, John Horsley, pointed out this is why the company uses AI to score the leads its B2B content marketing campaigns deliver. The process not only ensures only those with verified details are collected in the first instance, but they are also scored against a B2B client’s criteria and the stage the prospect is at in the customer journey.

The conversation ended in agreement that the pandemic ending B2B marketers’ reliance on major industry events has forced many to think harder about how they generate quality leads. This should be achieved through a mixture of large- and small-scale online events with plenty of opportunity for prosects to self-serve at a time of their choosing.

Trust was unmistakably the big take-out. If B2B marketers think the way out of a pandemic is to pump out thinly-veiled sales material, they are in for a rude awakening. Instead, participants agreed it is a time to listen and then to serve through truly helpful, pain-addressing content made accessed at the recipients’ convenience.

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