A funny thing happened at a conference. I learned things. And I remembered stuff. And I am still thinking about how I could apply those things to my work. Oh, and I laughed. When talking about B2B technology, I laughed.
I’ve worked in B2B technology-focused marketing for 15 years, and while there are a lot of smart, funny people working in this broad space, the marketing and PR doesn’t always reflect it. At NewsCred’s Content Marketing Summit, there were still a few dry presentations, but many mirrored the current discussions around content marketing — to be memorable and impactful, written content must be approached from a storytelling perspective.
This is no secret. Yet, 60-70 percent of content produced by B2B companies goes unused, according to SiriusDecisions. We’re seeing the consumerization of the enterprise as companies realize that humans use the apps and platforms that make businesses run more effectively. Much of the marketing, however, is still filled with buzzwords and product features that fail to connect with those people. Sirius calls for a shift from “product-centric” to “audience-centric” content to better engage and ultimately drive demand.
Within the remaining 30-40 percent that does get used, there is some great content.
BuzzFeed and VICE are leading the industry in rising above this stat. Jonah Peretti talked about how content and communication are merging, as people increasingly share content and visuals in lieu of their own words. Video and storytelling is the key for Eddy Moretti at VICE. He said “news media today is like a kids soccer game; everyone goes here, then everyone goes there. There is a lot of other stuff going on in the world, and today’s youth want to know about it. We are using video to tell those stories.”
There are well-publicized successes on the consumer side: KMart’s “Ship My Pants” and HelloFlo’s “First Moon Party” were provocative and hilarious, but also received nearly 10 million and 30 million views, respectively, and generates press from TIME to Mashable to The New York Times.
But what about B2B?
Tim Washer, a renowned comedy writer who produces rich media for Cisco, started us down that path. His first slide was powerful: “73 percent of people who read corporate blogs are human.”
To underscore the magnitude of this stat, he put it into a pie chart. Then he offered some perspective from Oscar Wilde: “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”
Washer points out that humor can cut through the clutter and demonstrate authenticity, which is exactly what any marketing effort should strive to accomplish. He gives an example: there is undoubtedly nothing funny about a Cisco router, but he shared a Valentine’s Day video campaign where the ASR 9000 product was portrayed as the perfect way to delight a woman. People might not run out and buy it after viewing this video, but a key theme of the conference was around the “content gap.”
The sales funnel is long and divergent, yet most B2B companies focus on getting people into the funnel and then leave the rest of the journey to sales calls, product marketing emails, or boondoggle dinners. Audience-centric content like the Valentine’s campaign supports those gaps in the sales cycle, and can move current or potential customers along the process. NewsCred’s Michael Brenner led a panel with SAP, VMware, and Travelers Insurance that dove into this more. VMWare’s Oliver Roll said that if your team asks “How many sales leads will this generate?” then you’re not ready for a content marketing strategy. I get that, but if we stopped there we would get nowhere, right?
This leads me to my big unanswered question: How do you get a B2B company on board with applying more consumer-like strategies to its marketing? Here are some thoughts:
Start Off Small: Trial and error is a big part of content marketing. If you put all your eggs in one big expensive basket, and it doesn’t work, then you likely won’t get to try again. Start off with a small effort that can scale larger so you can more easily get buy in.
Small Doesn’t Mean Cheap: Poorly done rich media is VERY obvious. And people will point that out. Although John in accounting might very well have a knack for video, bringing in a creative director who knows how to make content that engages people is a worthwhile investment.
Find a Champion (Ideally Outside of Marketing): Content marketing can touch on myriad aspects of your business. It can bring in leads, drive brand awareness, help nurture prospects, bring customers back, and drive press. Getting people to see that a humorous, well-done piece of rich media is not a stunt, but rather a business strategy, is a crucial tipping point in a successful content marketing campaign.
Share a Case Study: Behavior change is ultimately the outcome of a content marketing campaign. This includes how someone perceives or recalls your brand, thinks about an industry, or re-considers the problems in their lives for which they need solutions. But this isn’t always visible in the bottom line, so make sure to have some successful examples in your back pocket that measure impact.
Tell a Story: Back to that 73 percent — In almost every B2B market, humans are involved and you are likely helping them solve a problem. Tell those stories. Talking about product specs and features is not a story.
The biggest message that I came away with is that content marketing is not a one-off, isolated project, but rather a seismic shift in how companies communicate to their stakeholders. You just have to start somewhere; and even if it is small, make it good. Or funny. Or taking a page from BuzzFeed, contains kittens.
Tyler Perry is GM and Partner, Bateman Group