It’s business not as usual in new era of content
B2B brands are following their consumer peers by adopting innovative content marketing strategies across the array of media channels, in an effort to engage their audiences better.
The business-to-business sector is starting to embrace content marketing to the extent that the business-to-consumer market has. Thirty per cent of the Content Marketing Association’s members are now B2B specialists and the same proportion operate in both the B2B and B2C markets.
“B2B brands are using content marketing extensively. It’s a particular area of growth currently,” says Clare Hill, managing director at the CMA. A better economic outlook combined with increased knowledge of the benefits of this marketing channel is causing a surge in brands creating and commissioning innovative content to engage its audiences.
LV=, this year’s Marketing Week Engage Awards winner in the B2B category, is one such brand to make use of content marketing in a B2B context. Last year it launched a website for independent financial advisers, as part of its Taking the Guesswork out of the EU Gender Changes campaign. It wanted to educate them about the significant changes to European Union legislation that had a big impact on the price of financial protection for consumers.
The website focused on the impact of the changes, what the deadlines were and the opportunity advisers had to use the changes in a positive way. It also included a tailored marketing toolkit to help raise awareness with clients.
Another example is Heineken, which is collaborating with agency Wardour for the launch of its 2013 cask ale campaign. Based on the concept of ‘Discover Cask’, it will include a communications and marketing drive to independent pub and bar owners, to alert and inform them about the sales potential cask ale offers their business, and a consumer engagement programme.
Launching in June, the campaign will start with an on-trade focus with a catalogue to go to 6,500 licensees across the UK, showcasing cask beers supplied by Heineken and offering advice and tips for bar owners on how to talk to drinkers about them. It will be reinforced by the rollout of in-bar promotional materials, such as posters, loyalty cards and stamps, to engage new and existing cask ale drinkers.
Not only is the business-to-business sector embracing content marketing, but these strategies are also increasingly becoming channel neutral, providing clients and customers with content in any medium they want it.
“The trend for strategies at the moment is for a multi-channel response, which is probably relatively new for the B2B sector. A lot of the techniques that proved successful for B2C are now being applied in a B2B environment,” explains Hill at the CMA.
Digital security company Gemalto ensures not only that the content it produces for mobile phone operators, financial institutions, governments and transport operators positions the brand as a thought leader within its field, but also that each customer can access it in the way that best suits them (see Q+A below).
“We’ve been distributing an increasing amount of articles, videos and other media via responsively designed sites,” explains Tim Cawsey, from Gemalto’s branding and corporate communications team.
Similarly, Economia, a magazine produced by Progressive Customer Publishing for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), has adopted a multi-channel approach, producing dynamic, innovative content that spans every touchpoint (see case study).
Social is also becoming an increasingly important part of the B2B mix. Spiceworks is a community for IT professionals that launched in 2006 and boasts 2.5 million members. It has been working with technology brands to help build content that they then distribute to Spiceworks members.
“People are waking up to how important content is,” explains Jay Hallberg, co-founder of Spiceworks.
The community has 1,800 technology vendors, including brands such as Microsoft, HP and Google. With access to the community, brands can see what IT professionals around the world are talking about and then create reactive content.
This could take the form of a ‘how to’ manual for a product, a buying guide, business case generators, video content or even live-stream broadcasts. It could also mean joining in discussions among IT professionals, adding value with specialist knowledge around products or markets.
“Vendors don’t jump in and say: ‘Hey buy my product,’ they say: ‘Did you consider doing this?’ That’s a valued conversation. At its most basic level, these conversations can be the content. If a vendor participates in 20 conversations and they’re judged to be useful, that person becomes a valuable part of the community because they’re creating valuable organic content,” explains Hallberg.
Content currently represents a fairly small amount of the business but Hallberg says it is growing. “We can correlate who has looked at what type of content and what sort of buying actions have come from that. After three to six months we’ll have some good data for brands and be able to say: ‘Have you tried these 10 pieces of content? It looks like the winning combination is these for this segment of people and those for that segment’.”
Spiceworks, like Economia, is also forward-thinking in its design, dispelling the traditional notion that serious content must be presented in a purely functional way.
“There’s no reason that the information needs to be distributed or communicated in a dull way, even though the information may be very specialist and appeal to a certain niche market,” says Hill at the CMA.
Content marketing in the B2B space has graduated from a murmur to chatter. Brands need to make sure they join the conversation.
Richard Branson, BT chief executive Ian Livingston and King of Shaves founder Will King may be the kinds of names usually found in the national press, but they have also all recently been profiled in Economia, the magazine and website of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
Launched in 2012 to help change the perception of accountants from dull, risk-averse ‘bean counters’ to dynamic ‘change agents’, it is distributed to 138,000 members across 88 countries. It is the key way ICAEW communicates with its membership.
ICAEW worked with Progressive Customer Publishing to produce independent, multi-platform content across print, online, email and an app, which has now reached 12,000 subscribers since its launch last November.
Multi-channel coverage includes webinars, video reports, interactive data, infographics and Twitter Q&A interviews, as well as profiles and thought-provoking features.
“This is an effective content-marketing strategy that is increasingly allowing members to engage and interact with us through their preferred platform,” says Sue Best, marketing director at ICAEW.
Nearly 90 per cent of members agree that it provides useful insights. The magazine has an average circulation of 159,908 per issue, the website gets 30,000 unique users a month and the weekly newsletter has more than 15,000 opt-in subscribers.
Branding and corporate communications
Marketing Week (MW): How valuable is content marketing in the B2B sector?
Tim Cawsey (TC): Content marketing is extremely valuable in B2B, whether online or offline. In the online context, most business research starts with a Google search, therefore it is important to be found for your key product and service areas. Once found, it’s important you have something interesting and relevant to say — not just a sales pitch. In the social media age, buyers are less trusting of branded sales messages and would rather learn something from you or from a third party.
MW: What are the aims of your current campaign?
TC: With our print magazine The Review and its online supplements, we, together with our agency Wardour, provide original, intelligent content around the different digital security topics that interest our customers and prospects. We don’t just focus on areas where we provide solutions, but also related topics, often interviewing key industry players. Gemalto wants to be seen as the opinion leader in its field and our content should reflect this.
MW: What is especially innovative about this campaign?
TC: We’ve realised the importance of getting great content to where people want to access it. While many of our customers in traditional sectors such as the public sector still want to read our magazine, others, such as our mobile operator customers, want quick bites of information on their mobiles or tablets.
MW: What are you hoping to achieve with this campaign?
TC: We want our publications to reinforce our image as an expert in digital security as well as pleasing our customers. We already get very positive feedback from our magazine readers and we’re looking to increase interactivity with them through more of a digital presence.
There has undoubtedly been a greater appetite for content marketing services from business-to-business companies this year. Why? Because content marketing works just as well in the B2B market as it does in the B2C.
The more content you’re creating, the more value you give to your B2B brand.
When good, relevant content is combined with content amplification such as guest blogging, PR and social media - and increasingly native content advertising - the opportunities for B2B brands to win big with content are numerous.
B2B marketers need content if they want to engage with communities on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+. The size of the digital landscape has blurred the boundaries between search, social, email and display.
B2B content marketing is not about creating content for search engines or for social media, it is about looking for customer engagement and placing content at the heart of any B2B digital marketing strategy.
B2B content marketing is growing across all sectors. We are working with everyone from financial services companies to technology, IT, recruitment, business travel and HR-related B2B companies. We work with them to create a content strategy tailored to onsite blog content, as well as regular features, white papers, infographics, social media promotion, guest posts and native advertising, promoting the content at multiple touchpoints to target B2B customers.
Brands have the opportunity to position themselves as thought leaders and join in the conversations that are taking place within their own industries, rather than just jumping in and interrupting it with sales messages of the ‘come and buy from me’ variety. B2B brands that understand this can build brand recognition and cultivate sales leads.
As an agency we do not work on retainer fees, but rather on the content services we provide, so there is a quantifiable return on investment.
There are challenges for B2B businesses looking to invest in content marketing, but in our experience these are swiftly overcome. The key is to plan properly, which is where external agencies such as ourselves can help.
Many B2B companies are sitting on a wealth of resource, expertise and data that can be incorporated into a content-marketing strategy. They just need a little help from content experts to pull it all together. Think about what you want to say, who you want to speak to and what your objectives are. Get that right and you are off to a really good start.