Chances are, if you’ve had any sort of social media account for more than a couple months, than you have at one point or another been the recipient of an unsolicited message. Long lost classmates, ardent admirers, recently deposed kings looking for help with a back transfer—these messages can come in any shape or size from welcome surprise to unintelligible garbage. Most social networks try to prevent this sort of communication because they understand that these messages serve to poke a hole in the social media experience.
When it comes to B2B content marketing, however, you might imagine this is a different case. Surely a profile on LinkedIn isn’t going to be subjected to the same rabble as on other sites? (We’re all professionals here, right?) Surely those who find my email online and reach out to me are doing so out of genuine, unique interest in working with my brand? Surely they’ll only send studies that are actually relevant to what I do every day, right?
The reality couldn’t be further from this perception.
From cut-and-paste InMail sales pitches to studies buried beneath heavy landing page forms, it seems that B2B brands have been giving up trust in hopes of winning a few more conversions. Unfortunately for these marketers, this practice is untenable as a long-term marketing strategy.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now—people don’t care about your B2B brand.
But what about all of your customers, your history, your reputation that’s been built from blood, sweat, and toil? Well, all of that indicates that your company understands the first “B” of B2B. It doesn’t show that your company understands that brands don’t just interact with each other on their own. A business has never made a pitch, read a blog, or secured a partnership. A business has never built its own marketing platform out of thin air. Ultimately, businesses are moved by the people that make them up, and those people are who your company needs to be marketing to.
It isn’t quite the same thing as B2C, because you aren’t necessarily trying to reach an individual customer. Perhaps it would be better to think of this like Business to Human or Business to Person marketing. But in either case, if your B2B brand is still focused on that second B, your marketing is never really going to be able to connect.
This mentality is at the heart of the issues unearthed in a recent study from Squiz. With B2Bs having trouble earning new accounts or demonstrating ROI for their marketing, a new shift toward customer-centric marketing has arisen. The concept is pretty simple: When trying to market to a business or institution, focus on the struggle of the individuals involved, as opposed to the needs of the institution as a whole. When the customer(s) involved in discovering, interacting, and eventually buying from your brand are engaged, your company becomes considerably more attractive to do business with.
While a simple idea in theory, human-oriented B2B content marketing actually presents a number of difficulties in practicality. Primarily, the process for learning what’s most relevant and useful to the individuals you’re targeting is far less clear than when trying to reach an audience of consumers.
Consumer needs can be readily researched, either formally through primary and secondary review, or even informally by just interacting in spaces where they collect. Business targets are different, though. Businesses frequently hide their weaknesses and needs as a matter of course, which in the past has meant that the best marketers can do is try to generally understand the difficulties of a particular position, and then speak to them. But customer-centric marketing would suggest that your brand has something to say for more than just a position—your brand has a story to tell to every individual at a company you’re targeting, and your marketing should reflect this.
The new goal then is to create a content marketing strategy that reflects the individual more than the whole. But given the subterfuge inherent to targeting a company, how do marketers learn exactly who their audience is?
For the most part, standard marketing principals still apply for customer-centric B2B marketing, but it places marketers in a bit of a catch-22. Option one, you can try to adapt your regular B2B practices to be more personal, but then much of your targeting isn’t going to be centered around the individual. On the other hand, you can try to find a way to adapt B2C practices to fit your B2B needs, but then you’ll quickly run into the trouble that most marketing executives have in that reporting and analysis become very difficult.
Given these challenges, here are just a couple ways that you can rework your B2C content practices to better fit your customer-centric plan.
At the end of the day, B2B marketing boils down to people trying to work toward their goals. Brands as a whole don’t react to your content, interact with your campaigns, or express their needs, so your content marketing will always fall short if you try to reach an institution before reaching its members. Think personal, track specifically, and remember that your brand’s experience is being shared with a part of a whole—in this, your brand may find it’s story having the impact it was always meant to.