If any industry has shown the value of content marketing, it’s B2B. At least that’s what Jay Baer, author of the bestseller Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is About Help, Not Hype, believes: “If you ask me what is the industry where content is the most important, it’s 100 percent B2B. It’s where content isn’t just nice to have—it is 100 percent required.”
It’s hard to argue against his position. Content marketing is all about providing relevant information to your customers, and no one needs information more than a B2B customer. B2B customers aren’t just buying a cup of coffee at Starbucks, they’re making big decisions that can dramatically help or hinder their businesses.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that B2B companies are creating some of the best content marketing we’ve come across. HubSpot and LinkedIn in particular have thrown down the gauntlet, building valuable content empires that have taken their businesses to the next level.
Let’s take a look at how they’ve done it.
Commitment to content
Both Kipp Bodnar, vice president of marketing at HubSpot, and Deanna Lazzaroni, manager of global content marketing and social media strategy at LinkedIn, are at the forefront of their companies’ respective efforts. And as you can imagine, they’re big believers in the value of B2B content marketing, as they explained during a panel at Contently‘s SXSW Content Cookout, moderated by Contently Editor-in-Chief Joe Lazauskas.
“It’s crucially important,” Lazzaroni said, who manages LinkedIn’s popular Marketing Solutions blog. “B2B cycles for purchasing are really long, obviously, so you need to get in front of people early. And to do that, content is really the vehicle. It influences people’s perception about your brand, gets them into that top of funnel awareness stage, and then brings them through a journey with you.”
Bodnar believes effective content marketing is even more important when your company is selling a complex product, which is often the case in B2B. “At HubSpot, we have a bunch of different products, so you need a lot of content that addresses the different use cases that are there,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re leaving it to a website page, or in the hands of whoever that person is interacting with on your team, where you really need to supply that customer with the whole gambit of information they need to make an informed decision.”
HubSpot makes sure to attack the complexity of its products head-on, creating content for every stage of the sales cycle and just about every target demographic, publishing at least half a dozen posts daily across its three blogs. The company also emphasizes a data-driven, organized editorial approach to better address the needs and concerns of its audience. According to Bodnar, maintaining a clear editorial strategy and paying close attention to past work has been key to HubSpot’s success.
Not surprisingly, LinkedIn has a similar mission for its own content marketing: to provide helpful, relevant information.
“It’s trying to get under the skin of B2B marketers who are having pain points with their lead gen efforts, or potentially branding efforts,” Lazzaroni said. “We think about those different segments and market content specifically at those marketers.”
Most of LinkedIn and HubSpot’s content is targeted at marketers themselves, which brings its own unique meta-challenges. “Marketing to marketers is the hardest job because they’re all the toughest critics of their own content and other people’s content,” Lazzaroni added.
How do these two companies create content that marketers actually really want to read? That’s where data comes in.
Metrics, testing, and a willingness to fail
For HubSpot and LinkedIn, there is no god metric. Both employ a fluid strategy that changes depending on the ultimate goal of a particular piece of content. Bodnar said this adaptability is what separates B2B content marketing from the typical news organization that tends to prioritize engagement, sharing, and increasing readership.
Instead, HubSpot and LinkedIn focus on determining the right metric to capture success depending on the purpose of their content. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of driving awareness, but often it’s a more specific goal such as driving leads or building a conversation for a certain topic.
Bodnar explained that if HubSpot doesn’t have a core purpose behind a piece of content, it won’t be published.
But how do you determine what kind of content drives what kind of behavior? In other words, how do you know whether one piece is good for driving leads, while another is better for driving shares? For Lazzaroni and LinkedIn, only repeated testing can give you the right answer.
“We test the hell out of everything,” she said. “We’re constantly testing different copy links, different imagery, different CTAs, different landing pages—just so much testing.”
In this vein, both Lazzaroni and Bodnar agree B2B content marketers can’t be afraid to fail to see what kind of content works—and what doesn’t.
“A lot of marketers are just too precious about the work they’re doing,” Bodnar said. “Sometimes you just have to get something out of the door and see if it crashes and burns or not. It’s marketing. It’s not art.”
Multimedia: ‘Do it if you can’
Failing is much more difficult to endure when there is a large budget at stake. It’s why so many companies are hesitant to create multimedia content despite its proven value.
HubSpot and LinkedIn benefit from a commitment to content that allows them to experiment. In general, though, they emphasize a cautious approach when it comes to multimedia content.
“It’s important but it’s hard,” Bodnar said. “It’s one of those things where you should do it if you can. If you have the special skills on your team or the budget to do it, then it does differentiate you. But doing it poorly is actually worse than doing it at all.”
Still, video and multimedia content—when done right—has the potential to be some of the most influential and compelling work a brand publication can create. “Video is powerful,” Lazzaroni said. “That’s how people, a lot of times, can relate to [the content] emotionally. You get into a richer and deeper space with video than you can with a static image.”
But full-fledged video isn’t always the best option in B2B marketing. A simple SlideShare or multimedia presentation can get the job done.
“From the B2B perspective, there’s a lot of value of engagement with a piece of content within an organization,” Bodnar said. “A slide deck is a lot easier to share with your boss or a bunch or peers instead of a dense blog article that might only be relevant if you’re a hardcore practitioner in whatever that topic is.”
Ultimately, what separates LinkedIn and HubSpot from the average B2B marketing operation is an intense belief in content and a deep understanding of what makes content marketing unique. While B2C efforts often attempt to reach a broad, fluid audience for a small commitment, B2B marketers are driving a much more defined audience to a big-time commitment.
The relatively small audiences that B2B companies target also makes it easier to track the close relationship between content marketing and the sales funnel. The smartest companies capitalize on this marketing opportunity by emphasizing metrics and testing so much as they commit to telling helpful and engaging stories to their customers.
B2B no longer stands for boring-to-boring. If you need proof, just ask LinkedIn and HubSpot.