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The market for AI is so overhyped, virtually anybody looking for a fast buck can repackage an old abacus and sell it as a “machine learning” platform. Misinformed people buy the idea and the mounting frustration makes it extremely difficult for legitimate AI companies to get their message heard above the din. To successfully stand out in a crowded market, creative marketers have found it critical to create unconventional educational content and enlist the support of credible B2B influencers in their space.

In the ever-shifting AI solutions ecosystem, even expert-led and well-thought-out marketing campaigns can fail — and often do. To reduce costs and save time, marketers of AI products need to learn as early as possible what works. In addition to basic AI marketing techniques like gathering customer testimonials or offering technical education, approaches such as content-, influencer-, and account-based marketing have proven to be effective methods for showcasing and selling business applications of AI.

To glean strategic and tactical insights into how to make such marketing techniques work in AI, I spoke to the CMOs of two top AI vendors — GumGum’s Ben Plomion and Nudge’s Jaxson Khan. These two have successfully leveraged unique content and B2B influencer approaches to convince and convert their target audiences. GumGum applies patented image recognition technologies to analyze, protect, and optimize brand messaging, while Nudge probes all relevant communication data to generate actionable relationship intelligence.

1. Establish trust with credible advocates

For Jaxson Khan, content marketing for AI is not really about the volume of content but more about building “pillars of trust.” He explains:


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Because AI promises to be so powerful and sophisticated for our buyers, AI companies and those that want to demo AI solutions have a pre-eminent responsibility to demonstrate trust. The primary way to demonstrate trust in B2B, especially for sales and marketing technology, is to galvanize and activate a community of influencers and advocates.

Khan found that influencer marketing delivered the highest returns for Nudge and that organic traffic was more effective than paid ads, with 80 percent of inbound traffic driven by posts from influencers across Twitter, LinkedIn, and other channels.

2. Focus on your vertical, stay away from general AI

After executing a variety of content marketing initiatives, Khan concludes that it’s better to engage industry influencers via a few quality, highly targeted, and unique pieces than to cast a wider net using lots of content about AI in general.

“We used to write general AI content thinking we were keeping up an AI pipeline, but it would have been better not to do it at all,” he explains. “If you want to talk about AI or any popular technology trend, you need to be extremely specific and tactical and tie back to the vertical you’re working in. Otherwise, it’s not relevant for influencers.”

3. Don’t be afraid to be contrarian

Inspiring the right targeted conversations is no easy task. “The hardest part of creating great content is coming up with a great catchphrase,” Khan emphasizes. “You need a campaign people will resonate with and feel attached to. You also need content that influencers will care about and share.” One of the Nudge marketing team’s proven tactics is to champion a view that goes against conventional wisdom.

“Hustle harder” is a conventional trope in sales, where salespeople are told that success comes from aggressively prioritizing quantity over quality. Khan’s team advocated the opposite approach with their contrarian #holdthehustle campaign, which was one of their most successful campaigns — delivering 2.6 times more traffic than average. The campaign appealed to both influencers and prospective customers by arguing that building authentic relationships over time leads to more successful sales.

4. Unify sales and marketing under a clear content vision

The marketing team at computer vision company GumGum approaches brand communication on two fronts. The first involves broad, educational content for building industry-wide thought leadership and brand awareness. The second centers around tactical, how-to content that supports in-house salespeople as they convert prospectives into buyers. Content at the top of the funnel includes white papers designed to influence big brands such as BMW, Adidas, and Disney, while tactical content can include video case studies of how image recognition improved customer results or how GumGum’s advanced computer vision technologies enable superior brand safety.

“GumGum’s strategy represents a happy marriage between sales and marketing,” explains CMO Ben Plomion. “Marketing cannot be done in a silo. It must be data-driven, validated, and value-backed.” Efforts from the two organizational units are well-aligned. Marketing campaign call-to-actions facilitate seamless touch points with sales, while salespeople consistently provide clients with co-marketing opportunities, such as press interviews and case studies.

5. Let go of ideas that don’t drive your bottom line 

One key challenge of unifying marketing and sales is letting go of ideas that may seem brilliant but don’t actually convert to sales. Before he joined GumGum, Plomion and the team he was working with at another company came up with a brilliant twist on Cards Against Humanity. They called their invention Cards Against Marketing, launched it, and had a huge hit on their hands. Unfortunately, the majority of people who loved their clever marketing product weren’t actually qualified target users.

“A marketing idea may be fun or exciting, but it needs a strong business rationale for both GumGum and our customers to push the initiative through,” Plomion emphasized. He revealed that the company lets go of creative ideas if they have limited meaning for clients, don’t demonstrably translate to topline revenue, or don’t support their buyer’s journey.

6. Take creative risks with account-based marketing 

Companies don’t buy; people do. The most effective content marketing you can do may very well target just a single person.

GumGum’s salespeople had been trying to close T-Mobile for months when one of them approached Plomion for marketing help. He and his team researched T-Mobile’s charismatic CEO, John Legere, an active Twitter user who regularly engages with T-Mobile users. Plomion and his team discovered that Legere had a long-time passion for comic books and was obsessed with Batman.

A brilliant marketing campaign was born. Plomion and his team designed a fully personalized comic book with a custom narrative featuring the telecom CEO as a caped crusader reminiscent of his favorite hero, working with a swanky personification of GumGum as his sidekick. Just as T-Mobile is the underdog fighting against the behemoths AT&T and Verizon in the real world, T-Man the Data Knight battles his comic book enemies with the help of AI and computer vision.


GumGum T-Man Comic Book


Once it was completed, GumGum tweeted the comic book directly to Legere and sent copies to all of his executives and media buyers. Within an hour, Legere responded: “This is insane, this is so thoughtful! It’s perfect for me!”

His media buyers were also impressed and reached out for a meeting. T-Mobile is now GumGum’s biggest account on the West Coast.

7. Find and engage the right B2B influencers

Not every content campaign will involve the CEO of your target buyer company, so you still need to do research and develop meaningful relationships with influencers who can be instrumental to your brand. Nudge works with influencers like Brian Burns and Jill Rowley, who are masters of social selling.

For messaging that gains attention and shares, Khan advises content and influencer marketing teams to take the following steps:

  1. Create high-quality content that you think influencers deeply care about. Take their vantage point, instead of approaching the issues from the perspectives of either your brand or your direct buyers.
  2. First test the message with a few industry influencers for a period of a few weeks.
  3. If the messaging proves valuable within a given period, expand the campaign to several months to drive more extensive conversation about your product.

Nudge’s How I Buy series is a prime example of bringing a more impactful perspective into a marketing conversation. Most educational content in the industry focuses on how to market or sell enterprise technology. Rather than add to this conventional angle, Khan and his team decided to focus on the other side of the equation: the buyer. They profiled big buyers in the tech space, including CEOs, CFOs, and other check-signing executives to understand their customer journeys and how they approached important software purchases.

Plomion’s team operates similarly, starting with a thesis and then finding a sweet spot with relevant experts who have the right technical credibility and story to share. “Five years ago, it was harder to find experts in computer vision, but now it’s easier and easier to find thought leaders,” he explains. “We work with anyone who has strong ideas. It’s helpful if they have a following, but that’s not the main criteria.”

Successful B2B marketing means joining the conversation

As conversations around enterprise AI continue to evolve, B2B marketing teams at AI vendors need to embrace creative content and influencer tactics to be maximally effective. Success involves fine-tuning your approach to making your brand stand out in the important conversations that drive your niche. One way to do so is to shed the hard-sell persona and engage influencers on topics they care deeply about.

Even in an age when machines rule, meaning still matters.

Mariya Yao is the CTO of Metamaven, an applied AI firm building custom automation solutions for marketing and sales, the Editor-In-Chief of TOPBOTS, a leading publication for enterprise AI, and the coauthor of Applied Artificial Intelligence, a book for business leaders.

This story originally appeared on Copyright 2018

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