Business-to-business purchase behavior has changed, and the traditional sales funnel taught in business school is outdated. Buyers and decision makers today start the purchase process on the homepage of the internet, Google. This usually takes place after a conversation they had either online or in person with a peer or co-worker. They spend hours, days and sometimes months researching the technology, asking questions and bouncing ideas off their network.
B2B decision makers get as far as two-thirds through the process before they decide to reach out to a vendor. This makes the job of a marketer a rough one.
B2B buyers are sophisticated, well-educated and skeptical about marketing. They install ad blockers on their browsers, they block calls from numbers they don’t recognize, they don’t click on paid search results and they don’t read press releases. They basically avoid any type of human connection with a technology provider until they are ready.
OK, enough with the sob story. Let’s talk about how you can overcome the challenges and be the bad-ass marketer you were meant to be. Do these five things and watch the magic happen:
Build an audience, analyze, activate the content engine
Whether you are trying to reach an executive audience, security engineers or the snarky developers that spend all day with headphones on coding in Python, you can’t just launch a campaign and expect to see results. You’ll need to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty and really, really understand your audience. I call this audience intelligence and, if you do it right, you can build marketing programs that really deliver on business value.
Building an audience is easy if you have access to the right social platforms to help. The key is to use a specific set of criteria, keywords and bio search terms.
Here are a few ways to think about the architecture (especially if you work in B2B/tech):
- Self-identified IT decision makers like “head of IT” or “vice president, engineering.”
- People who follow technology companies or industry media sites like Forbes.
- People who share technology specific content or use certain language or words when having discussions online (e.g., Kubernetes, Docker, Hadoop, etc.).
Once you build the audience, there will be data and insights at your fingertips:
- What media platforms are they paying attention to and reading—Wired, HBR, MIT Technology Review?
- What is their technology vernacular? What buzzwords and jargon are they gravitating toward?
- What keywords, terms and hashtags do they use and in what context?
- What are their unique interests and characteristics that make them different from everyone else?
This intelligence will help you tell stories better than your competitors, and who wouldn’t want that?
Adopt the opportunistic media mindset
Can we stop hiring agencies or interns to build and manage stale, branded content in some Excel document? It’s 2018, so you should be thinking of new and innovative ways to reach your constituencies.
The technology industry moves just as fast as marketing, if not faster. It’s vital to keep your eye on what’s happening right now and in real-time with your customers and prospects.
Managing pre-planned content, approving content weeks in advance and sending snarky emails to your agencies for lack of creativity is a waste of time. Content planned two weeks out won’t be relevant to your audience anymore, especially when you are linking to product pages or a poorly written blog post.
Uncovering technology pain points and trending discussions among your audience is critical to opportunistic media. I am not talking about the Oreo moment, either. Oreo got lucky, and every consumer and technology brand since then that has tried to replicate that moment has failed. I’m talking about uncovering real nuggets of conversation happening between your customers and distributing a creative piece of content into the marketplace when the opportunity presents itself.
Spend more on paid, even if you work in PR
I hear this all the time: “We work in public relations so we don’t do that,” or, “That’s marketing’s job.” I understand, I do. Internal politics suck. But isn’t it PR’s role to be brand storytellers?
You can’t expect to write up an executive profile, byline or blog post and have everyone beyond your own communications team see it. And that great piece of coverage you scored in the top-tier media publication would be so much more impactful if your customers and prospects actually saw it.
Distributing stories is just as important, if not more important, than telling them.
Organic reach in social media is gone. It’s common knowledge. So, we can either sit back and complain, or we can do something about it.
There is absolutely nothing stopping you from being strategic about the content you put paid media behind. Start small with little increments of paid investment and you’ll see how much further your content is traveling on the internet.
Build a newsroom powered by storytellers (employees)
There are two things to consider with building a newsroom: the actual look and feel of the website destination and the operations that power it.
Newsrooms should be used for storytelling, not as a press-release graveyard. No one reads them anyway, and Google doesn’t index the pages because it’s considered duplicate content.
There are a few brands I have seen that are doing this right. Prudential is one. Its newsroom isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the better sites I have seen in a long time. It’s visual, easy to read and it’s broken down by topics that their customers may find to be important.
Marriott also has a good newsroom. At first glance, it looks like a Pinterest board, visual with different types of media. Once you drill down into an article, the focus is purely on the content—large headlines, lots of white space and no distractions in the margins.
The foundation of a traditional newsroom is built on three pillars—people, process and technology. The people consist of writers, journalists, editors and creatives. They have editorial processes to ensure the quality of content, and they use technology to route and approve content.
A brand newsroom works in the same way, except that you are using employees to fuel the content. Certainly, this is much easier said than done, but with the right culture, training, editorial processes and content strategy, you’ll be ready to turn on the engine and be an effective brand publisher.
I call this participation marketing, whereby you unleash your employees to “participate” in market conversations and become brand storytellers.
Look beyond the buzzwords
Sometimes we get so caught up with buzzwords like “content marketing” that we forget how critical all forms of marketing are in reaching your audience. It must all be integrated.
Everything you do in marketing and communications must be grounded in data, analytics and insights. Press releases, website copy, bylined articles, executive content, media relations, blogs and social content will perform exponentially higher when it’s informed by data. Otherwise, it’s all guesswork.
Execute. Do these five simple things and you’ll start to move the needle and deliver business value almost immediately. Your brand stories will be closely aligned and either compliment or reinforce key messages at every customer touchpoint.
You’ll understand your audience and their unique characteristics. Your content will have authority in the organic search results for both branded and industry search terms. Your paid media strategy will start to perform with smaller investments. And, you’ll start to reach your core audience in real-time and in the media publications that they are actually reading.