Content Marketing Veterans Weigh In: #B2B Marketing Lessons to Apply in 2017

There’s no shortage of articles that call out the biggest buzzwords and trends that are getting the most hype – all useful in helping you gauge where the winds are blowing next in B2B content marketing. Rather than weighing in on the finer details, we’ve opted to provide you with deeper insights from people who work in the trenches, just like you.

We recently assembled a roundtable of veteran B2B marketers who work for different industries and have different audiences, goals and challenges. The common thread connecting them is their extensive experience in content marketing, and their willingness to share their unique experiences, recommendations and pitfalls other marketers should avoid. Here, we’ll share the highlights of our conversations with:

  • Christine Elliott, Content Strategy and Operations Leader at Crowe Horwath, with 30 years of experience in B2B/professional services marketing, 15 of which she’s spent on lead generation.
  • Kelvin Gee, Senior Director of Marketing Business Transformation at Oracle, whose B2B marketing career spans 19 years in lead generation and four in content marketing.
  • Merrie Beth Salazar, Sr. Director of Marketing Strategy at Cox Media, who’s been involved in lead generation and content marketing for the past six of her 14 years in the B2B marketing world.

Must-Haves for Next-Level B2B Strategies

When you’re looking to enhance your brand’s marketing strategy as the year unfolds, Christine Elliott recommends that you begin with realistic goal-setting.

“Focus on continuous improvement and transformation,” she says. “Once you rest on your laurels, you’re missing the point. Continue to test new things – including A/B testing for e-commerce, new lead-nurture programs, new content formats – to identify what works best for your organization. Measure what you can.”

The key, Elliott adds, is constantly testing new hypotheses and finding new ways to engage and inform your buyers. “It helps to have a voracious appetite for learning. Pay attention to technology; understanding technology can help evolve your strategy.”

With realistic, measurable goals in place, you can begin to gauge what’s gaining momentum. Then it’s time to tailor the most successful approaches based on unique business structures and attributes.

Merrie Beth Salazar explains it this way: “Getting into a cycle of constantly reinventing your core content strategy is both difficult and time-consuming. Use your metrics and other internal reporting – heck, use some gut marketing, even – to create a solid foundation, and build (don’t deviate!) when something new comes along.”

And that “something new” is always around the corner. There are constantly new trends and technologies emerging and evolving. Some of them are simply new names for age-old concepts, while others are cutting-edge gadgets and techniques that will change the way we tell stories forever.  

While our experts definitely have their favorite trends, Kelvin Gee thinks there’s a more foundational concept that marketers need to keep in mind: With every piece of content or campaign you create, you need to think about how it will impact the broader customer experience.

“As interactive technology like AR/VR matures and becomes more prevalent, content marketers need to start to think beyond the written word,” Kelvin advises. “Leading brands like Apple, Amazon and Disney have raised the bar for all marketers – regardless if they’re B2B or B2C. Great content is a key contributor to customer experience. So if we can change how content makes people feel, that will help make our brands more memorable.”

Writing the History of B2B Marketing

Every year, B2B marketers are tasked with identifying new trends, tactics and tools that will benefit their internal processes, their marketing strategies and ultimately, their bottom-line results. You may sometimes recognize old strategies in new packaging, as Merrie Beth was quick to point out. When asked which trend was the one to watch in 2017, she responded: “Account-Based Selling and Marketing! I’m just kidding; that’s been around for years. We’ve just given it a new name and an acronym to make it sound new.”

It’s more valuable, she says, “to keep an eye on the trends where customers are plugging into our content.”

That most definitely includes storytelling, a trend that will inevitably extend into 2017.

“It’s a hot topic now,” says Kelvin. “More marketers are realizing they need to tell stories to break through the noise and better engage their audiences. People are naturally inclined to listen to stories; think caveman drawings, Egyptian hieroglyphics and bedtime stories.

“There is plenty of scientific evidence that shows that the human brain recalls facts and statistics better when they’re wrapped around a story,” he adds. “So as content marketers, we need to understand the signposts for powerful storytelling, because at the end of the day people want to be educated, entertained and engaged – ideally, all at the same time.”

Creating an educational, entertaining and engaging story doesn’t necessarily require pages upon pages of copy. In fact, Merrie Beth believes that the next chapter of the B2B marketing story will focus on the “mobilization of the B2B buy,” which will require us to rethink the way we publish and distribute B2B content for an increasingly mobile audience. Buyers are changing, and that demands that your company adapt by transforming the way it comes up with content ideas, executes them and measures their success.

Embracing that transformation could spell the difference between success and failure. As Christine pointedly states: “Doing things the way we’ve done them in the past will not continue to work.”

Your Mantras for Success

Kelvin, Christine and Merrie Beth have each navigated successfully through the changing tides of lead generation and content marketing. What are their secrets?

Kelvin’s mottos, he says, are “be useful” and “they ask, you answer.”

We eagerly endorse his approach, because it puts the customer dead-center of your content-creation strategy. Customer-centric content always starts by answering your readers’ top questions and concerns rather than force-feeding them what you want them to know.

Christine is just as concise: “All content, all day.”

Content marketing strategy has evolved to become an art and a science, and as such, it now requires the expertise of marketing professionals with a depth of understanding of their organizations’ customers, what they care about, what they need, how they find and consume information, how they make decisions and what triggers them to make a decision.

And as urgent as the demands may seem, Merrie Beth’s advice is just as crucial: Be patient.

“Part of being the best is letting our creatives be unproductive until they’re productive,” she says. “Good content isn’t enough anymore; it has to be remarkably great. If you think they’re going to jump on an ideation call and bang out a great idea on the spot – well, that idea probably isn’t worth investing in. Coming up with unique spins that tie your customers’ pain points to your unique product offering is hard. It takes thinking and a willingness to throw out some good ideas to get to that great one.

“Content marketing is not for the faint of heart,” she says.

We couldn’t agree more.

Now that you’re inspired, get started. Contact us to learn more about these insights, or visit our Content Resource Center.

  • Great Post! Thanks for sharing. These ideas would help us revise and update the marketing strategies implemented on our business.