MarketingProfs B2B 2016 Forum Main Stage
Marketing Content Strategy

9 Content Strategy Tips from MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum 2016

10 Minute Read

When I told my sister over dinner that I had been at a B2B marketing conference, she asked what my job had to do with apiaries. “Bee-lieve it or not, nothing,” I said.

When I think of Ann Handley and MarketingProfs, I think of a distinct brand of humor: sharp, punny, and exuberant. But I also think of the amazing conference they’ve been putting on for 10 years now, inviting some of the best B2B marketers from around the world to gather for four days of learning content strategy and being inspired. In this wrap-up post, we’re sharing top tips from speakers at MarketingProfs B2B Marketing Forum 2016.

1. In marketing, you need creativity and a willingness to fail—Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs

Session: Opening Keynote

Welcomed to the stage by the New England Gospel Choir, Handley started by telling us to find a crew that we can rely on. “I want you to form squads. Go back to your offices and feel like you have a community around you.”

Ann Handley Jack-o'-lan·tern at MarketingProfsHandley talked about our collective history, and how we can build marketing programs to last, elevating marketing within our organizations. How do you make B2B history? Take these tips to heart:

  • You can’t check every box. Look at the data and make some assumptions about what might work.
  • Be creative, and fail. Handley recalled Leonardo Da Vinci’s philosophy on life: “Life is pretty simple. You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works.”
  • Technology is great—but it will never replace a marketer’s intuition.
  • Embrace thoughtful and deliberate marketing.

2. Build marketing momentum, not marketing moments—Andrew Davis, Founder, Monumental Shift

Session How Smart Businesses Spin Extraordinary Success from Ordinary Marketing

The marketing pie is getting sliced so many ways these days. In the past, you had paid and earned media. Then along came owned media, a website, an SEO strategy, content marketing, and on and on it went. We’ve been slicing our marketing thin, and within each sector of our efforts, we’re chasing our next marketing spike.

Davis’ message was clear: stop chasing your next high. Instead, learn from your marketing valleys, and make sure the depth of your current valley is higher than the valley before it. This will change the way you think—not creating stuff for the moment, but building marketing momentum.

One way Davis suggested doing this was to take advantage of Google Trends, creating content around timely events and content that’s already “socially approved,” which has a higher likelihood of being shared.

3. Create content that empowers sales to actually help top prospects—Jon Miller, CEO, Engagio

Session: Beyond the Hype: How to Use “Account-Based Everything” As Your Best Outbound Weapon

What’s the point of B2B inbound marketing if your sales team can’t close the deal? Not much. In this session, Miller introduced the power of account-based everything (ABE, as opposed to unfounded outbound marketing). In it, he explained how marketers can “build pipeline at target accounts, expand existing relationships, and connect with more decision makers.”

Miller likened using strictly an inbound marketing strategy to fishing with nets: trying to catch enough fish, but not focusing on catching the right fish. Account based is more like spearfishing with sonar. “As marketers, we’ve got a little drunk on inbound,” said Miller. What marketers need to do to set sales up for success is to drive the leads that will have the highest chance of salespeople closing the deal.

However, using the phrase “account-based marketing” is dangerous, since it potentially alienates sales. Instead, pursue an “account-based everything” approach to break down silos. This is the two-part foundation of success for ABE:

  1. Identify the target accounts. (Sales and marketing need to define this list together [but sales owns the accounts.])
  2. Create personalized content campaigns for each of your target accounts.

Miller also condemned sales spam, which he thinks is a huge problem in outbound marketing and sales. Instead, salespeople need to provide their prospects with relevant content that helps them—and that takes hard work. For tier-one accounts, marketing needs to create completely bespoke content that speaks specifically to the largest challenges that company is having. And they need to pass that content to their sales teams, equipping them for successful conversations and ultimately closing business.

Carlos Gil speaking at MarketingProfs B2B Forum 20164. Snapchat geofilters are cheap; use them for your events—Carlos Gil, Global Head of Social Media, BMC

Session: Using Snapchat for Social Selling in B2B

Right up front, Gil defined what Snapchat is not:

  • Just for kids
  • Unable to prove ROI or target an audience
  • A sexting app

In this session, Gil offered examples of how brands have seen success with Snapchat, such as MGM Resorts, Spotify, and Gatorade. He asked: should your brand be on Snapchat? Here are some quick figures that make the case for adoption:

  • On any given day, 41 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds use Snapchat.
  • There are 200 million users and 10 billion video views per day.
  • Brand adoption exceeding that of Facebook and Twitter.

He urged marketers whose companies sell to that demographic to get on the platform, and to think about Snapchat as product storytelling a la Twitter meets YouTube. Gil cited General Electric’s Snapchat strategy, which he called “fun and creative,” showing a screenshot of one of GE’s Snap Stories flying a drone into a volcano.

Where can B2B brands use Snapchat marketing? Gil recommended:

  • Industry events and trade shows, using geofilters
  • Employee advocacy (Cisco does this)
  • Employee branding (for recruiting Millennials)
  • Sales prospecting and business development

5. Don’t go global unless you can go local—AJ Huisman, Founder, Y Content

Session: The Ultimate International B2B Content Marketing Case Study: Best Practices From The Most Successful Internationally Operating B2B Companies

Huisman began his presentation by sharing differences between cultures: a checkbox in many countries, the United States included, means “complete,” but in Sweden or Finland, a checkbox on a report card means “incomplete.” His point was that global marketers must have an acute awareness of cultural differences or risk the consequences. Here are Huisman’s “critical success factor” for global content marketing, in his words:

  • Set clear goals and ambitions.
    • Business goals, overall marketing goals, regional goals
  • Agree up front on the personas.
    • Common challenges, pain points, needs, or desires
    • Update regularly.
  • Get everyone on board right from the start, including sales.
  • Document your strategy (32 percent do not, according to MarketingProfs.)
  • Repurpose global content in local flavors.
  • Have faith in your local teams (they know their regions’ specifics best.)
  • Establish clear lines of communication.
  • Find sponsorship in the management to advocate for your program.

6. Forget about perception; get dirty and be creative — John Maeda, Global Head, Computational Design and Inclusion at Automattic

Session: The Creative Leadership Challenge

Art today is somewhat inaccessible, said Maeda. We think of it as stored in museums, and in large part, it is. But what actually makes art meaningful? Our perception of it. We see things that others cannot see, which is unique to our own experiences.

Unlike art or mechanical technology, you can’t hear or see information technology. Moore’s Law, the doubling of transistors since the 1970s, has made things incredibly complex and impossible to understand everything about IT, which is getting twice as good every year. “Imagine if cars got twice as fast and were half as expensive every year,” said Maeda.

It’s hard in the tech era to be creative, since the software we use is designed with creative limits. Most is designed to produce specific outcomes, and that’s limiting. Maeda encouraged us to get dirty like art students drawing charcoal sketches, thinking back to his time as president of Rhode Island School of Design. “Artists tend to not care about how they’re perceived; innovators have that capacity,” said Maeda.

7. Increase your reach with a marketing partnership—Kristen Craft, Director of Business Development, Wistia

Session: How To Pick The Perfect Co-Marketing And Technology Partners To Grow Your Marketing Programs

We all want a bigger audience, but as good as your marketing is, it’s only as good as the size of your reach. “The right partner gives you a bigger megaphone,” said Craft. Here are her tips for creating successful partnerships:

Common Partner Strategies

  • Pursue partnerships that support your company’s goals, which often revolve around customer acquisition, lower churn, and a bigger profit margin.
  • Simplify partnering—focus on partnerships to better one of your goals, not all of them.
  • Reseller partnerships, for instance, can be used effectively to drive sales.

Picking the Best Partners

  • Compare your target customer to your potential partner’s target customer.
  • Even though it may be uncomfortable, as your potential partner’s traffic and list size to determine if it’s a good fit.
  • Determine if your potential partner’s brand voice aligns with your own.
  • Ask your potential partner whom they’ve partnered with in the past.
  • Align expectations with a statement of work to be clear about both parties’ commitments.

Identifying New Ones

  • Partner with companies that are your own size or larger than yours, even if that means you’re pulling a little more weight.
  • Find the experts by going to industry events and visiting sponsor booths.

Building Partner Strategies

  • Check out active brands on social media and read their content.
  • Call your potential partner to discover if it will be a good fit.
  • Share with your potential partner what your competitive advantage is.
  • Thank your partners after the completion of your partnership with a physical thank you note, a t-shirt, or something else personal.

8. Automate your reporting and save time—Paul Roetzer, Founder and CEO, PR 20/20

Session Content Marketing In The Machine Age: Tools And Techniques To Make Your Content More Automated And Intelligent

Can we use machine learning in marketing? Yes, we can.

“When you hear the term AI, most of us think sci-fi,” said Roetzer. “What’s happening in Hollywood is artificial general intelligence—where machines share human qualities. We don’t know if we’ll ever get there. What AI does is take menial tasks and does them for us and therefore enhances our ability to tell qualitative and human interest stories.”

All the software we use every day uses the principle of a set of instructions tells the machine what to do. In AI, the machine learns what to do on its own without human input.

Is AI new? No—the government has been working on it since the 1950s, but the technology has started to catch up with theory. That’s the reason AI has taken so long to get to marketing and sales—it was first being prioritized by engineers to solve for the industries with the greatest potential for disruption. For example, automated Wall Street trading, and smart shipping routes for companies like FedEx. The same is true with Netflix’s House of Cards: “75 percent of what people watch on Netflix is from some algorithm-generated recommendation.”

“Natural language generation” tells a story with data using AI, and there are a number of companies that do that, such as Narrative Science and Automated Insights. If you want to do it right now without hiring a software company, you still have to develop and enhance the templates that will write the rules of how the computer writes the report.

How will it affect jobs? It won’t replace jobs outright; instead it will extend our ability to create, said Roetzer. “With AI, humans need to do what they’re uniquely qualified to do: be creative.” In his words, here is how to get started with AI in marketing:

  1. Evaluate repetitive, manual marketing tasks that could intelligently automated.
  2. Assess opportunities to get more out of your data—discover insights, predict outcomes, devise strategies, personalize content across channels, and tell stories at scale.
  3. Consider the AI capabilities of your existing marketing technology, and explore the potential of emerging AI solutions.

9. Turn your content into stories—Karen Guglielmo, Content Marketing Manager, Iron Mountain; Tricia Travaline, CMO, Skyword

Session: Case Study: How Iron Mountain Built Audience, Cultivated Trust, And Kicked Ass Through Content Strategy And Brand Storytelling

“Story is the most persuasive form of communication, and we’re now in a position where we can apply story to business. That concept is incredibly powerful,” said Travaline.

Story is the most persuasive form of communication, and we’re now in a position where we can apply story to business. That concept is incredibly powerful

The big challenge? Original, sustained storytelling is really difficult.

As a key first step, brands need to stop renting their audiences and start owning them with original content and storytelling. But not every brand is ready to start churning out masterfully told stories. The Content Marketing Continuum (CMC) is an assessment designed to measure organizations’ sophistication of content marketing and show them how to move to emotionally captivating brand storytelling. Here are the stages of the CMC:

Bystander–Creating product content only

Novice–Creating campaign-driven content

Expert–Shifting marketing to sustainable content creation

Leader–Storified marketing

Visionary–Storified organizational culture

Iron Mountain works with Skyword to build and cultivate trust within its varied audience: HR employees, tech experts, and others. In the second half of the presentation, Guglielmo explained Iron Mountain’s transition from an outbound marketing approach to one focused on inbound marketing. She recalled the launch of her brand’s partnership with Skyword in 2013 when Iron Mountain was producing 50 articles a month. “We were a content factory,” Guglielmo said. “That didn’t work.”

Guglielmo and her team realized 20-30 percent of the content they were creating wasn’t performing well. Why? They weren’t talking to the writers, who were at the time just writing to gain SEO benefits, so they reduced content creation to 20 articles per month and recruited industry experts, paid them more, and ultimately upped their quality and program performance.

She explained moving from product-focused content to audience-centric content, as well as moving from campaign content to sustainable content, demonstrating the correlation between fewer, higher quality articles and an increase in search views. Guglielmo also shared that she and her team once or twice a month host “story time,” a meeting where internal subject matter experts share stories with the team. Are they Visionary storytellers? Not yet, but their work is paying off in a big way.

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Managing editor of the Content Standard, writer at Monster, Sound of Boston, Trill, and others. Hip-hop producer.

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