The world's most powerful B2B brands are seeing the value of tapping into their creative content resources.
Cisco sent its cyber heroine, Supersmart (“the planet’s greatest defender of digital technology”), on a mission. Her role was to stop her long-time nemesis, Dr Analog, from ruining country digital programs. Supersmart, of course, foiled the dastardly doctor and saved our digital future.
Cisco is a leading B2B technology company, with annual revenues close to $65 billion. It also produces fun and informative graphic novels.
General Electric is one of the world’s top-five B2B conglomerates. It’s worth $160 billion. It produced a science fiction podcast called The Message that featured top cryptologists trying to decipher a 70-year-old alien message. The Message reached the top of iTunes’ list of most popular podcasts – a first for a piece of branded content.
Exciting, entertaining, popular … these are not words that describe content typically produced by B2B companies. Dry research papers, boring “how-to” guides, hardly-ever-asked FAQs are the things that are supposed to push qualified leads down funnels, not content that inspires real people into action or deep into thought.
Unfortunately, B2B content producers have been told for years that success only comes from cranking up the content machine and shovelling stuff out the door as often as possible. Many still rehash others’ work because they have been told that this will help their content appeal to the Google gods.
“Just because it’s B2B doesn’t mean it has to be so serious all the time.”
But things are changing, and you don't require a GE or Cisco-sized budget (although it would help). What is becoming clear is that as more B2B companies in Australia start making their own content, creativity and quality will be non-negotiable attributes.
“Changes to customer expectations, massively increased competition and social media and search engine algorithm shifts have, in combination, resulted in a new content marketing world,” writes author Jay Baer, president of US content strategy business Convince & Convert. “Now, crafting the definitive piece on a particular topic is a far better idea than crafting a bunch of OK content executions across a broader topical spread.”
Art and craft
Two recent studies in North America suggest B2B companies with a clear strategy and a determination to do things more creatively are likely to succeed.
A survey by tech research company eMarketer found almost nine in 10 B2B companies in the US will use digital content marketing this year. It said “content has become a pillar of B2B marketing”, driving leads and self-educating buyers along the path to purchase.
“Creating quality content that is focused on the audience across all funnel stages is a major goal for B2Bs in 2018,” the report said. “A refined program should include strategic, efficient and innovative content created by a dedicated team.”
The editorial content director at US PR business Walker Sands Communications, Timothy Morral, says the result shows that B2B companies must push for quality content over quantity. "Part of it is driven because B2B brands recognise that they need quality leads. Quality content and quality leads work in parallel."
Another survey, produced by MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute, reported that B2B marketers in North America had more success with their content in 2017 than they had in the previous year. It found 63 per cent of marketers thought their content marketing in 2017 was somewhat or much more successful than it was in 2016.
Overall, 91 per cent of its respondents said they used content as part of their marketing strategy and 56 per cent said they were either very or extremely committed to the practice. About 79 per cent described their content marketing as either moderately, very or extremely successful.
Again, B2B marketers found quality was an important ingredient for content marketing success. Almost three in four said their business values creativity and craft in content creation and production.
“Let’s revel in the fact that right here, in black-and-white math backed by spreadsheets, is testimony that art and craft and creativity in marketing matters,” MarketingProfs’ chief content officer Ann Handley wrote in a blog post. “We live in a noisy world full of chatter and blather, GIFs and rants. In 2018, you need to go beyond superficial: You need to matter.
“You need to differentiate who you are and why you do what you do by creating stories that uniquely resonate with a defined audience. Creativity and craft aren’t just a nice-to-have in marketing. They’re critical … Packaged with creativity come pluck, nerve, spirit, and a bit of grit necessary to take a creative risk.”
Look and feel
The next frontier for B2B marketers, it seems, will be more visual storytelling. In an article for Content Standard, New York-based engagement strategist Robb Hecht said progressive marketers would move beyond using infographics in 2018. "They will focus on video, animator videos, quiz lead campaigns and native advertising programs that help bring the brand to life visually,” he said.
Experts say that not only will B2B companies start to embrace more original photography and sophisticated data visualisation, they will use more complex animations to bring static pages to life. LinkedIn has amplified its commitment to B2B videos, which provide an ideal opportunity to distribute creative visual content to a targeted business audience.
Speaking at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum APAC in Sydney, LinkedIn’s head of content and social media marketing Jason Miller said B2B marketers need to put on their creative hats more often, even if they think they might occasionally look a bit silly.
“Lots of brands are scared to try something new,” he said. “Safe is the new boring. Just because it’s B2B doesn’t mean it has to be so serious all the time.
“The very definition of content marketing is to inform, inspire and sometimes entertain. I like the entertaining part the most.”
Note: This article was first published in digital content marketing magazine Brand Tales.
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Further reading: Does your B2B company innovate or is it truly innovative?