B2B content marketing
Marketing Content Strategy

We Need Better Audience Segmentation in B2B Content Marketing

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Are you using audience segmentation in your B2B content marketing? In my role as a content strategist for a Fortune 100 software company, I often work with writers executing the strategies that I design. Recently, I launched a campaign rolling out a new software product to three different segments: small business, mid-size companies, and enterprise organizations. For each of these segements, we invested heavily in training our writers to create varied stories and copy—focusing on differente issues and written in different voices—to target the appropriate personas.

The whole process led to a critical realization: B2B marketing is too broad a category to be truly useful, yet many marketers are still thinking in those terms. One study from Smart Insights found that just 50 percent of B2B marketers are speaking to more than three personas in their campaigns. Here’s a closer look at the role of audience segmentation in B2B content marketing and how it can take your connections with customers to the next level.

One Product: Three Stories

Without clear segmentation, your B2B content strategy is going to fail to connect with any specific audience. Yet many marketers in the B2B space continue to think of the ubiquitous “business buyer” as one persona, whether they’re representing a fifty-person small business or a Fortune 500. However, as content marketing strategies become more sophisticated—and we really hone in on stories that resonate with specific buyers—it’s important to put audience segmentation into play.

We Need Better Audience Segmentation in B2B Content Marketing

Image attribution: Alejandro Alvarez

Let’s explore an example. Assume that you have a creative software suite that’s used by graphic designers to edit artwork, buy stock photography, and do layouts for digital and print content. As a product class, your software is relevant for everyone from large enterprises with significant brand machines that need to create a lot of content to the solopreneur plying her design skills in support of her own vision. For marketers, connecting that story with different potential audiences can be a challenge.

Each audience cares about something different. There’s a significant focus on issues like security, single sign-on, and platform integration that are highly relevant stories for an enterprise buyer concerned with fitting new software into their existing IT architecture. For SMBs, marketing for the same product most likely focuses on affordability and ease of rollout, which is what those audiences are concerned with when choosing a new product. Mid-size organizations need to strike the balance between cost and performance and ensure that there’s sufficient support for functions like data migration to support their in-house IT team. All these different angles on the product and buying experience are true, but the storytelling targets different audiences with the narrative that’s most relevant to them—and it’s critical to articulate this within B2B, in the same way that we do in B2C.

Sometimes this plays out at a level that’s as simple as language. In reviewing the copy that the writers produced, one article geared toward solopreneurs kept referencing the company’s IT department. Small businesses may not have dedicated IT departments—and stating that they do creates the perception that you don’t understand that company’s needs or expectations. As B2B International notes, “people’s needs differ and therefore satisfying them may require different approaches. Identifying needs and recognizing differences between groups of customers is at the heart of marketing.”

Tackling Your Own Segmentation

What steps can marketers take in the B2B space if their view of customers has, up to now, been amorphous? Here are a few ways to tackle your own customer segmentation efforts.

Embrace the role of complexity

One of the reasons that segmentation is critical is the complexity of B2B sales. CEB notes that the average B2B business sale has 5.7 decision makers. As the price point and complexity of the product or service goes up, so does the level of involvement throughout the organization. For example, a CFO may need to sign off on the financial aspects of a deal while the CIO wants to understand the technological impact. Does your audience segmentation include understanding the needs of individual decision makers within the different companies you’re targeting?

Explore different segmentation axes

In the B2B world, there are a number of different axes on which you can segment customers. One is size, described above. Small businesses, mid-size businesses, and enterprise-level organizations have different needs. Marketers can also look at industry, the types of problems people are trying to solve, geographic region, and more. Conducting an audience segmentation based on size is a natural way to start. But it’s also important to take a closer look at how other types of segmentations can help you tell increasingly relevant and persuasive stories.

Don’t be afraid to sub-segment

Microsegmentations are becoming increasingly important. For example, during a recent campaign that I worked on, the target audience was SMBs. The company defined SMBs as organizations with less than 100 people. However, within that category, there’s dramatic variation. A solopreneur has different IT resources than a company with 100 people. A manufacturing shop where most of that headcount is people working on the shop floor is very different from a small, agile creative agency.

Within B2B marketing, we’re often talking to a wide range of different decision makers and audiences. If you’re simply telling the story of your product or service through a single lens, you’re missing an opportunity to tell very specific buyers why you can solve their most urgent problems. Consider whether a more detailed segmentation strategy could help you take your connections with your customers and prospects to the next level.

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Liz Alton is a technology and marketing writer, and content strategist, for Fortune 500 brands and creative agencies. Her specialties include marketing, technology, B2B, big data/analytics, cloud, and mobility. She's worked with clients including Adobe, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Twitter, ADP, and Google. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and an MBA. She is currently pursuing a master’s in journalism from Harvard University.

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