On the evening of Thursday March 13th, we gathered 100 senior B2B marketers at London's exclusive Hospital Club for our second jointly-hosted invite-only seminar and reception with NewsCred, this time on Optimising B2B Content for Lead Generation. Attended by senior representatives from heavyweight organisations across tech, finance, consulting and industry, the night was a veritable A-list of marketers hungry and curious about getting the relationship between content marketing and business development right. Given the expert, credible opinions in the room on the night, I wanted to share some highlights for other senior marketers and content builders out there.
The reason Raconteur and NewsCred were set on this topic? We both want to empower our clients to create better strategies for more effective content marketing, which helps them cut through the noise and better justifies the increased spend great content requires. The night's talking heads included Anthony Belloir, UK MD of CEB, James Gill, Global Partnership Director of LinkedIn, B2B Marketing Magazine's editor Joel Harrison, Sage Group's CMO Amanda Jobbins and Bloomberg's Head of EMEA Marketing Craig Welch - a highly qualified group of individuals well able to share insight and guidance with those present on how to make better, more effective content for achieving business goals.
The question of the night was - How do we do it? How do we get our content to help us generate high-quality leads, rather than just putting our name out there? Luckily for the audience, Anthony Belloir jumped straight into the heart of the matter: good content isn't good enough. Even thought-leadership isn't good enough anymore - not without critical insight at its heart that completely challenges the thinking of prospects. Anthony's witty, well-delivered overview of CEB's theory of Challenger Marketing hit home. "Relationship building (that is, building a relationship by agreeing with everything your prospects tell you) isn't as successful as challenging your prospects, even if it's more uncomfortable initially." "Listen to your best sales guys - they're on the ground and they know what the pain points of your prospects are." "The best way to 'unteach' your customers is to convince them that the pain of same is greater than the pain of change." Anthony took the audience through a series of question his very own team at CEB had spent months asking sales teams from enterprises around the globe about content marketing in an extensive research project: "What if the content is easy to read?" - "Not that great," said the sales teams. "What about if it's easy to find online?" - "Not that great." 'What if it's easy to share?" "Not that great." "What if it's interesting?" - "Better, but still not that great." "What if it contains real, unique expertise?" - "Yes - that would be better."
From working with their members' sales and marketing teams worldwide, CEB managed to discover that what's "great" is content that teaches prospects something new - something relevant to them and their line of work that changes their mental status quo. Great B2B content contains commercial insight - and that is useful because insight is actionable, and will lead prospects back to the supplier.
In a world where prospects are doing their research and needs assessments independently from vendors, it's even more important that content from brands cuts through that noise before the final stage, when prospects actually do engage vendors in conversations. This is what we believe at Raconteur - that great content, executed to a high standard and expertly commissioned from the right sources, moves the commercial needle by providing knowledge and insight to prospects who can't gain that information anywhere else. You can thereby establish a relationship with your client base when no other vendors can - and far earlier in the buying cycle. Otherwise, you're just part of the 'vendor show' at the end of the funnel - it's neither inspiring nor insightful, and it's certainly not the way to win business if you're in the game of quality, big contracts, and long-term relationships.
Meanwhile, James Gill pointed out, the world of work is changing. People are investing more of their time in their professional networks - which means there is a huge opportunity to understand the anthropological and social mechanics behind how prospects look for, rank, and rate information. So if you're creating B2B content, you are appealing to a professional audience that's multi-faceted and that has multiple touchpoints with other networks. James boiled the 'how to' down into three digestible concepts: value your audience as more than just 'ABC1' - understand that they are people, and think about what they need. Be helpful to your audience - you, as a brand, should be providing helpful insight and information that enables your prospects to do their jobs better. Be the editor - you should be curating the content you publish, formatting it to make it 'snackable' and relevant, and looking to tell stories, which are a great medium for communication.
Our audience also raised some questions which are telling of the real challenges out there: how do you establish credibility with your content? How do you communicate that you do, in fact, have a disruptive solution? How do you define and monitor engagement? What role do the sales teams have in all of this?
It's clear from these questions that marketers are indeed concerned about the value exchange they are offering, because they understand that this is what will make the difference between a qualified prospect and a low-quality lead that doesn't turn out to be more than a number that marketing can pass onto sales. The basic mechanics of marketing taking Route A in which they use digital campaigns to drive low-quality click leads or Route B in which they create droves of content but don't vet, vindicate or syndicate it right, are changing entirely - and those in the room were feeling the change. Deftly answered by Amanda and Craig, with additional insight from James and Anthony, the panel agreed that despite all the technology in big data and analytics available, at the end of the day, numerical calculations for lead generation don't work perfectly. It's ultimately about how good your people - and your content - are at qualifying your prospects. That insight and behaviour has typically come from sales, because they are the ones in front of the prospects, but Craig Welch from Bloomberg argued that "to an extent, content marketing can now achieve the very same thing that a salesperson used to - the ability to educate, to qualify, and to engage for the long haul. Amanda Jobbins added that it's not really even about sales and marketing anymore - the whole thing has become a meta-conversation about business development in which content marketing runs alongside the real people on the ground. As long as your content is appropriate for the channel through which you are releasing it, as long as it signposts a prospect correctly depending on what stage of the buying cycle he or she is in, it will help to advance the conversation and generate leads.
With the traditional dividing line between marketing and sales growing ever thinner, it's clear that every marketer must be a challenger. Marketers need to be spearheading content operations for their enterprises that put commercial insight at the heart of what's created and need to go out and distribute that content through the channels most appropriate for their prospects based not on theoretical calculations but real information and anecdotes from the best people in the business who know exactly what the score is on the ground. With the stiff competition out there for mental pride of place amongst the decision-makers most B2B marketers want to reach, it's even more important to ensure that content produced by brands is effective at "unteaching" in order to pave the way for re-educating.
When it comes to Raconteur and NewsCred, we're in the game of content. We understand it - we create it, design it, source or syndicate it. For many marketers, however, understanding (much less creating) high quality content is a learning process that is still unfolding. But the recipe for success - and what's sure to guarantee the best results for the business - is to create a legion of smart marketers - and salespeople - and content - that focus on the challenge of challenging.
- Freddie Ossberg, CEO & Founder, Raonteur Media
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