In the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy comes across the Tin Man. Here’s a guy who—through a series of unfortunate, enchanted events—gets his maimed body replaced by tin parts. The only thing he’s missing is a physical heart.
The Tin Man is important because of the strange irony he represents in L. Frank Baum’s groundbreaking story. While he lacks a physical heart, he still has the most tenderness and compassion of all Dorothy’s friends. Sheets of tin but still pretty human.
Luckily for modern marketers, there’s little to no expectation of maiming or metallurgy in job descriptions. But while marketing to consumers and marketing to businesses have historically largely existed on separate planes, today’s digital experiences have made them blur together.
For business-to-business (B2B) marketers, there’s an old way of doing things. And then there’s the better way.
What is B2B marketing?
At a broad level, B2B marketing aims to reach other businesses or organizations. SaaS companies, marketing agencies, and on-demand business accountants are some examples of organizations that market to and serve other businesses.
Contrast this with business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing. Department stores, streaming services, and auto repair shops market to and serve individuals.
Traditionally, B2B marketing was about getting your product or service offering out there in front of as many potential buyers as possible. We’ve got something that can help you, so you should buy from us.
While there isn’t anything wrong with that sentiment, the way people engage and operate online has largely transformed expectations for how much pushy sales content we’re willing to put up with.
Today, quality B2B marketing is less about the offering and more about the potential customer.
B2B audiences are just a bunch of humans
Sesame Street is less about the actual street and more about the neighborhood’s residents. (“Tickle Me Pavement” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “Tickle Me Elmo.”)
The same holds true for brick-and-mortars: They’re really about the people who work there or represent the brand.
B2B marketers are dealing with groups of individuals. Driven by business incentive and problem/product education, a purchase decision often involves several cohorts:
- The buying committee makes purchase decisions. This usually involves one or more individuals.
- The buying committee is influenced by other people. There’s usually some combination of influencers and users that have some say in where the organization is leaning.
- The buyer collective can be large. The whole pie is complex. The buying committee, the influencers, and the users can be a handful of people (at smaller organizations) or dozens of people (at large enterprises).
- The account is even larger. Accounts include all the contacts who work at a specific organization—whether or not they’re going to be directly involved with the product or service in question. Sometimes, when marketers haven’t penetrated the buyer collective yet, getting out in front of other non-buyers in the organization helps.
This is complex. It’s a lot of moving parts. It’s a lot of people.
It’s why purchase decisions typically happen over long sales cycles and hinge on long-term solutions and extended support.
Effective B2B marketing strategies try to grab the attention of all the contacts in an account. They each have different pains and needs—a decision-maker CMO looks at hiring fractional marketing support based on time-to-ROI while the influencer/user marketing manager may just need their help setting up digital campaigns.
The challenging part is getting the right content to each of these cohorts.
Your content needs the right home(s)
There’s a reason B2C staples like free shipping and two-hour delivery windows work—and it’s not just because we don’t like driving to buy stuff. (Gas ain’t cheap.)
The less friction there is for the buyer, the better. Make it easy for people to get what they need when they need it.
B2B brands also know this, but their delivery options are often more complex. In the financial sector, for example, a decision-making CFO may live in separate digital spaces from the rest of their organization. From the publications they read to the newsletters they’re signing up for, the content they expect to consume is unique.
As marketing technology has made strides over the years, modern B2B marketers have gotten creative with their content distribution strategy. Some tried-and-true methods include:
- Paid search solves for intent. Keywords (and their broader themes) say a lot about what search engine users are looking for. Are they looking for top-of-funnel help? Do they already know what kind of product they need? Paid search allows brands to bring users into journeys that give them what they’re already looking for.
- Paid social helps with targeting. Social media is where people live today. According to IDG, 84% of B2B buyers (at the C and VP levels) use social media in their decision-making process. Modern marketers use remarketing tactics and account- and contact-level targeting to make social work for them.
- Paid display makes you show up everywhere. As users visit other sites, your brand’s messaging can show up in display ads as they scroll. When used correctly, this can be a powerful component in remarketing and sales enablement.
- Content syndication takes paid display to another level. Sophisticated syndication programs can promise a certain number of leads for a cost. Users get served up ads and when they click, their information is collected in exchange for a branded asset. Especially if you know the contacts or accounts you’re targeting, content syndication can reinforce your marketing efforts with the right kind of air cover.
Ultimately, marketing automation platforms (MAPs) make sense of all this information. These MAPs can score how different people in your database are engaging with your site, your ads, and other assets you have in-market. This helps B2B marketers justify their budget requests and campaign proposals.
But the best marketers know users aren’t just unique sets of data. They’re unique groups of people.
Netflix and Amazon have spoiled us rotten
Because the offerings and needs at organizations are often complex, education is what helps nurture users on their buyer journeys—from lead to prospect to customer.
And not just any education. Customized, personalized education that helps them articulate their problems and understand how your offering solves those problems.
B2C marketing experiences have long been customized and personalized for individual users. Dialing up emotion for users showing intent has been a famous winning combination. Here’s the rub: Over 80% of B2B buyers expect the same buying experience as B2C customers.
No pressure, B2B marketers.
These expectations are based on what we already expect in our own digital experiences. If you find a product on Amazon, you can find 100 more that are similar but rated better or priced better or can get to your doorstep within the hour. On Netflix, you can either binge one show for hours or different kinds of content—across genres and themes—whenever you want.
B2B marketers know different cohorts within accounts are expecting similar kinds of experiences as they learn more about the problems they’re trying to solve. Audience segmenting allows for delivering on a content strategy that keeps in mind each group’s major concerns.
According to year-over-year trends, B2B content marketing has largely been evolving past a narrow top-of-funnel focus to broader goals around nurture, loyalty, and revenue.
But the most important thing? We’re all humans.
Walls & wires or head & heart?
There’s a reason we thank Aunt Sally for her Thanksgiving turkey labor of love instead of ignoring her and stuffing our faces with it. The turkey’s the star, sure. But Aunt Sally is human, and she deserve some acknowledgement. (Being nice to her may also mean some extra biscuits and cranberry sauce saved for you. But that’s just a bonus for being the good person you are.)
Even with the most sophisticated MAPs or content marketing strategies, it’s important to make your marketing about the humans you’re serving instead of your brand. This starts with solidifying your “handshake moments”—those first interactions an anonymous user will have with your brand. What will get them to share their information? What value can you give them right away?
After that initial virtual handshake, it’s all about nurturing. This can take the shape of email marketing—delivering relevant content over time to audience segments. It can also take the shape of customized remarketing. Are they looking for certain kinds of topics on your site? What other page or asset could you share that would be valuable to this person?
But what if you wanted to scale your content delivery? Instead of having users wait a week between emails or relying on the inexact science of remarketing, what if there was a great way to get more content out there in less time? (Conversion rates speed up by around 2.3x when users consume two or more assets in one session.)
That’s where content experience platforms like Uberflip and Pathfactory come into play. Platforms like these integrate with MAPs and existing nurture programs so brands can nurture their users with dynamic, personalized, and relevant content that takes them through the marketing or sales funnel faster. Users don’t just see a single asset—they see several that are connected, related, and timely.
Where to take your B2B content marketing
If you search Google for images around “B2B marketing,” you’ll see a dizzying assortment of charts, graphs, and cartoon versions of businesspeople shaking hands. You know—the universal symbol of mutual understanding among businesses.
But today’s content marketers know that the best B2B marketing programs online have to do with three things: people, people, and people. Once you’ve got that down, modern technology and content distribution channels really make the digital world your oyster.