The Art of the Deal for B2B Content Marketers—Make It Personal!


Which came first – the chicken or the egg? People have argued convincingly on both sides of this age-old paradox and never reached a consensus. Well, if Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Content Marketing World is right, content marketers seem to be facing a similar quandary these days: Which comes first – the content or the audience, i.e., the consumer of the content?

As a content marketer, The Marketing Id was a little surprised by one of the top takeaways in LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog post, “5 Takeaways from Content Marketing World 2017.” Per Sean Callahan, author of the blog post, Mr. Pulizzi, declared in his opening remarks at that event:

“The focus on content marketing should be on building an audience first, then expanding what you can sell to them.”

The inference seems to be that a business enterprise, which has previously built an audience by selling an earlier product and/or service, should now focus on expanding that audience through content marketing before selling anything new. This seemed a little like putting the cart (expanded audience) before the horse (new product and/or service) to us at The Marketing Id. Mr. Pulizzi went on to back up his declaration with examples of George Lucas of Star Wars fame (probably as his B2C example) and Arrow Electronics, which acquired EE Times, as his B2B model.

It is pertinent to point out that Mr. Lucas first created his awesome Stars Wars content, which then generated a tremendous worldwide audience. Also, the EE Times kept creating compelling content that accrued an audience. Arrow Electronics simply acquired this audience that EE Times’ content had painstakingly accumulated over the years. The point being only few large businesses are really capable of “building an audience” through the acquisition of content producers, who had previously nurtured that audience.  For most of the remaining large, medium and small B2Bs and B2Cs, they simply have to develop their own content first. If that content is desirable, the audiences will follow.

Content marketers are often confronted with a “Field of Dreams” scenario, “If you build it, they will come.” In this reference, it’s the remarkable content or thought leadership that needs to be “built” first, because an audience will always consume content that is pertinent to its needs. In fact, The Marketing Id had made this very connection between content and content marketing in its July 2014 blog post, “Hey B2Bs, If Content is King, Content Marketing is Your Ace!” So let’s not put the cart (the audience) before the horse (content) for all marketers just because a few well-known brands have an audience already at their command. Besides, Mr. Pulizzi must know that Star Wars is a unique phenomenon that is not easily replicated. For example, even Johnny Depp’s long-standing “Pirates of the Caribbean” audience could not entirely fathom his role in “The Lone Ranger.” So even if Mr. Depp’s producers were seeking to expand his audience prior to the release of “The Lone Ranger,” box office numbers suggest that his audience may have actually shrunk after its release.

Nonetheless, The Marketing Id is in agreement with the other takeaways from Content Marketing World 2017, especially the one based on the opening keynote given by Linda Boff, General Electric CMO, who asserted that GE uses its content to find the “human in the digital.” Per Mr. Callahan’s post:

“Boff said that the company focuses on telling stories, a construct that humans love and respond to. ‘We tell stories to inspire, and we tell stories to reach audiences,’ she said, adding: ‘Show up as a person. Don’t show up as a big company. People relate to people.’”

Mr. Callahan summarized this takeaway succinctly as, “It’s not B2B; it’s human to human,” which was most likely a reference from Bryan Kramer’s 2015 book, “There is No B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human #H2H.” Yes, indeed, content marketing should also be about more human-to-human contact, especially in the B2B domain. In fact, in the B2B space, as is taken for granted in the B2C space, the concept about buyer personas is largely about identifying representative “human” personas to sell directly to at a targeted Business. However, the key selling attribute is that the seller side of the B2B needs to be a “human” as well – not a company just trying to peddle its wares.

The Marketing Id has long promoted a simple encapsulation of content marketing as  “Marketing the Right Content to the Right Entities at the Right Time using the Right Channels.” But it’s important for the content marketer, in both B2B and B2C domains, to make content marketing feel as human to human as possible! This does not imply personalizing every piece of content; it simply means that throughout the customer life cycle, content marketers should remember to insert a human interface, especially into their marketing automation campaigns, as necessary. During the MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) phase, it could be someone from the marketing team and during the SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) phase, this already happens with the sales rep that owns the lead.

As we are about to go to press, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog’s September 17, 2017 post, “7 Key Trends Determining the Future of B2B Marketing,” has a couple of encouraging shout outs to content marketing. In “The Hidden ROI of Thought Leadership” trend, author Mike Weir reveals, “41% of CEOs said that after reading a thought leadership piece they included a company in an RFP process.” Then, in the “Marketing Metrics Are Changing” trend, he quotes a popular metrics axiom, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” And Mr. Weir goes on to make these significant funnel lifecycle suggestions:

“For instance, we should allow cost-per-click and click-through rate to fall by the wayside for more significant metrics that measure the actual contribution of marketing throughout the funnel. In the upper funnel, for example, marketers should measure brand awareness. In the mid-funnel, we should measure content engagement. And in the lower funnel, we should measure lead generation and sales conversion — both of which give a window on marketing’s very real contribution to revenue.”

So there you have it content marketers, your path to success gets better-defined everyday. What better way to end than with a reference to memorable content – in the 1972 film classic, “The Godfather,” Michael Corleone utters this famous line to his elder brother, Sonny Corleone:

“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

Well, content marketers need to turn that sentiment upside down by making it personal in their B2B marketing efforts because, if they don’t, that lead is not going to progress rapidly through the funnel towards a deal. And, to borrow a phrase from Donald Trump, “the art of the deal” is also about making it personal on the content marketing side!

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About Jack Nargundkar

High-tech marketing is always a constant compromise between logical left-brain analytics and creative right-brain activities. Jack has been living this struggle his entire working career, which he began as a software geek after graduating with a BSEE degree from Bombay University. To hone his marketing skills, Jack went on to pursue an MBA degree from Columbia Business School in New York City. Jack has since gained wide-ranging marketing experience from working at start-ups to Fortune 500 companies in the global IT, Defense & Space, and Telecommunications industries. In the past few years, Jack has focused on developing integrated marketing strategies and plans that incorporate a judicious mix of inbound and outbound marketing techniques. In addition to being a self-published author, Jack has been recognized for outstanding analytical and communications skills, authoring technical articles (self and ghosted) in numerous trade publications and editorial opinions in Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
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