How B2B Marketers Can Get Closer to Their Customers

Professional with cellphone and laptops image.

Last year I finished up my fifth full year as a B2B marketer. A lot has changed in that half decade.

When I started, there was a growing movement: “B2B marketing doesn’t have to be boring.” 

Now we’ve finally moved on to, “B2B marketing can’t afford to be boring.” We’ve finally acknowledged that B2B buyers are people — they want useful information, they want to be entertained, and they’re just as bored by corporate-speak-laden white papers as everyone else.

To our credit, I think marketers already knew this. We just had to convince the rest of the organization. 

For the most part,  we marketers have more leeway to choose the best way to reach our audience. And, of course, with that freedom comes responsibility. 

How do we hit the sweet spot of what our audience wants to hear, and what our brand is trying to get across? How do we give them that value that inspires reciprocity?

Here’s how B2B marketers can get closer to their audience in 2021.

#1: Ask the Sales Team

Let’s make 2021 the year we finally ditch the sales v. marketing mentality for good. Tighter alignment between the members of the Revenue Squad can only benefit everyone. 

The sales team has a wealth of insights about your target audience. They’re the ones taking meetings, answering questions, talking one-on-one with members of the buying committee.

In short, sales can tell you where the sticking points are, where more persuasion is needed, and what type of content ultimately sways people toward a purchase. Tight alignment with sales will make your content more relevant to your audience and more useful for your sales team.

#2: Flip the Script on SEO 

Are you still thinking of SEO as, “The way to get search engines to recommend our content?” If so, it’s time to update that mentality. 

The most valuable function of keyword research right now is to determine what humans are searching for and how those queries are worded. It’s all about guiding content creation to match your audience’s demand, from the planning stages through execution.

The best SEO strategy is to create content that genuinely meets — and exceeds — your audience’s needs. If your content doesn’t meet a proven need, no amount of keyword stuffing or H1 tagging will grant it visibility.

Make your keyword research a tool for understanding your audience. What do they want? How are they trying to find it? How can you be the best answer?

“The most valuable function of keyword research right now is to determine what humans are searching for and how those queries are worded.” — Joshua Nite @NiteWrites Click To Tweet

#3: Broaden Your Horizons

B2B buyers don’t spend their entire waking lives thinking about work. If we want to know our audiences better, we need to think about the broader context of their lives, too. 

When we see our potential buyers more holistically, we have a much broader canvas for relevant content. We can talk about maintaining work-life balance, the challenges of remote work, even the challenges that working parents face in relating to their children.  

Any topic for content is relevant, provided that 1) Your employees or brand has expertise on it, and 2) It serves to make your audience’s life better in some meaningful way. 

If you’ve been stuck writing “X more reasons you should try our solution” style content, let this broader context inspire you to write more useful, helpful content that takes the whole person into consideration.

#4: Explore Influence

At the heart of it, marketers are trying to earn people’s attention. It makes perfect sense to take lessons from the folks who have already captured that interest — people who are already engaging and serving your target audience.

Tools like Traackr and Buzzsumo can help you determine which voices your audience is listening to. From there, you can see what type of content they’re creating, how they’re capturing interest, and let that inform your own content creation.

And, of course, you can take it to the next level: Co-creating content with these influencers and reaching their audience directly (see our 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing report for more).

#5: Above All, Be Useful

When we see our target audience as people, rather than B2B buyers (or a target audience, for that matter), we can begin to practice truly radical empathy. Not just the empathy that lets us walk in someone’s shoes long enough to sell them something, either. 

I mean the type of empathy that leads us to find out how to improve their personal and professional lives, to be genuinely useful, to lift people up because we care about them. Content that sets out with this aim in mind is guaranteed to pull you and your customers closer together.

And, of course, helping people and caring about their success is a great way to earn attention, build relationships, and develop long-standing loyalty to your brand.

“Helping people and caring about their success is a great way to earn attention, build relationships, and develop long-standing loyalty to your brand.” — Joshua Nite @NiteWrites Click To Tweet 

In fact, it may be the only way we have left to do all of the above.

Need help creating content that gets you closer to your customers? We’ve got you covered.

Boosting and Deepening Engagement through Empathy in B2B Marketing

Business Professional Taking Notes Intently

Empathy is more than a buzzword. It’s not a box to be checked, or an added finishing touch for content. If B2B marketers want to successfully engage human audiences and break free from the deluge of irrelevant messages swirling around today’s customers, empathy needs to be at the center of all strategic initiatives from start to finish.

What Does Empathy Mean in B2B Marketing?

Empathy is defined simply as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. But I’m not sure that characterization fully does it justice in the context of modern marketing.

I rather like the way Zen Media CEO Shama Hyder described empathy in the better creative teamwork guide we helped our clients at put together:

“Empathy is critical. It’s much more than just having an understanding of what someone else’s challenges might be. Part of it is that you have to give up being a control freak. As leaders, we should really look at the big picture and ask ourselves, is this necessary? Or is this just politicking, or someone trying to make it seem like it has to be done this way because it’s the way they prefer?”

Shama was speaking from the perspective of a business leader trying to get on the same page as their team, but it applies just as well to marketing endeavors. The critical first step in developing empathy is disconnecting from our own ingrained perceptions and assumptions. Only then can we truly understand and support the audiences we want to reach.

Too often, empathy in marketing tends to be a bit narrow and self-centered (which is contradictory to the very concept itself). We often seek to understand only the challenges and pain points that drive interest in what we’re selling. Looking beyond this scope is necessary to build strong relationships founded on trust, especially now.

“What you are creating, marketing and ultimately selling is but one piece of your customer’s life as a human on Earth. One very small piece,” said Mary Beech, principal at MRB Brand Consulting and former CMO of Kate Spade, in an AMA article on empathy in marketing. “And if we aren’t keeping in mind their full journey, including their emotional, mental, social and physical needs — as well as the challenges and joys they are facing — we cannot do our jobs well.”

As Brian Solis wrote at Forbes recently, the need for empathetic customer experiences is greater than ever in the age of COVID-19 disruption. People have so much going on in their lives, and are facing so many unprecedented difficulties, that a myopic brand-centric focus is all the more untenable. “Traditional marketing will no longer have the same effect moving forward,” he argues. “If anything, it will negatively affect customer relationships rather than enhance them.”

Agreed. So, let’s find a better way.

Engaging with True Empathy in the New Era of Marketing

Imagine if it was possible to sit down and have an in-depth conversation with each one of your customers and potential customers. You’d gain first-hand insight into their worldviews, their challenges, their hopes and dreams.

Sadly, it’s not possible. You don’t have the time, nor do your customers. (Although I do recommend making a habit of engaging in direct, candid conversations with them when possible.) To make empathy scalable, marketers need to take advantage of all the tools at their disposal. This largely requires using data to connect the dots.

“It’s critical for marketers to have a real-time 360 view and understanding of a customer’s full journey, at every stage, from discovery to engagement to retention and loyalty to advocacy,” Solis wrote at Forbes.

Here are some suggestions for obtaining such a view:

Use empathy-mapping. This practice, explained in a helpful primer from Nielsen Norman Group, involves creating a visualization of attitudes and behaviors to guide decision-making. Empathy-mapping originated in the world of UX design, but given how much user experience and customer experience now overlap, it’s becoming a powerful tool for marketers.

Empathy Map

(Source: Nielsen Norman Group)

Coordinate and integrate your organizational efforts. Every customer-facing function in a company — marketing, sales, customer service — sees the customer from a different perspective. Seek ways to bring all these perspectives together into one centralized, holistic view. Per Solis: “Cross-functional collaboration is a mandate. As such, integration will become the new standard and will quickly become table stakes as every company rushes in this direction.”

Tap into meaningful influencer relationships. Influencers can play a key role in empathetic marketing because they have relationships and perspectives extending beyond our brand ecosystems. If they align with your audience, influencers can bring unique insight and connect at deeper levels. Turning influencer engagements from mechanical to meaningful is essential to accomplishing this.

Incidentally, Mr. Solis recently partnered with TopRank Marketing on the first-ever State of B2B Influencer Marketing report, in which our friend Ann Handley summarizes the impact quite well: “You could call yourself a good parent or a world-class marketer or an empathetic friend … but any of those things would carry more weight coming from your child, customer, or BFF. So it is with integrating influencer content: It’s a direct line to building trust and customer confidence.”

Research and engage with topics that matter to your customers outside of their jobs. Given the connotations of B2B, it’s all too easy to isolate our customer research around what they do professionally. But these are human beings with lives outside of work. To drive powerful engagement, marketers should search for the cross-sections between their brand’s purpose and values, and what matters to their customers.

A good example of this is found in the IBM THINK Blog, which is “dedicated to chronicling the fast-moving world of cognitive computing” and covers many important societal topics. (Recent focuses include a post on gender pronouns and a corporate environmental report.)

Examples of Empathetic B2B Marketing

Who’s getting it right and paving the way for a more empathy-driven approach to engaging B2B audiences? Here are a few examples:

Seeing human faces brings an instantly relatable element to any B2B campaign. That’s why Microsoft’s Story Labs microsite, which frames some of the company’s initiatives and guiding principles around real people and their stories, is so effective.

Microsoft Story Labs

Let Empathy Guide Your B2B Marketing Strategy

In order to walk in someone else’s shoes, you first need to untie and remove your own. Making empathy a core strategic pillar requires marketers to take a step back, disconnect from their ingrained perceptions and assumptions, and get fully in tune with the people they serve.

Only then can we create the type of relevant and personalized experiences that drive deep and long-lasting brand engagement.

For more tips that will help your business-oriented content strike notes of genuine empathy, read Josh Nite’s blog post on 5 Ways to Humanize B2B Marketing.

Ghosted: What’s a Content Marketer to Do When Your Audience Goes Silent?

How Content Marketers Can Deal with Audience Abandonment

The all-encompassing digital takeover has completely changed the way we communicate and interact as people. Naturally, in our professional realm we tend to tie this back to marketing, but the reality applies to just about every aspect of human relations. 

This includes dating and courtship, of course. The terms of engagement (so to speak) have transformed wildly. Whereas romance still can and does sprout through chance meetings, or encounters at the bar, or mutual college friend circles, it’s increasingly common for these fated connections to take place through online matchmaking sites and dating apps. (I would know — I’m marrying an amazing gal this weekend who I originally met on such an app!)

We can tie this trend back to marketing as well. Last year, our Annie Leuman shared integrated content marketing insights drawn from the world of online dating. Today, I’m a little more interested in the content marketing implications of a specific element of this new playing field: ghosting.

What is ‘Ghosting’ and How Does It Relate to Marketing? 

Ghosting is defined as “the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.” (Yes, it’s actually in the dictionary now.) Technically this is a behavior that can be traced back decades and centuries, but it has really risen to prominence at a time where achieving radio-silence — via text or messaging app, with fewer mutual acquaintances in play — is easier than ever. 


Here’s the thing about ghosting: it sucks. I’ve been on both sides of it, and I’m sure many people reading this have too. Most often, folks engage in this practice because — when you’re not really feelin’ the vibes — it can feel gentler to simply disappear and move on than to explain your detachment directly.

But the truth is that ghosting is actually more cruel than the alternative. As Psychology Today puts it, “The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.” 

“Ghosting gives you no cue for how to react,” adds the PT article. “It creates the ultimate scenario of ambiguity. Should you be worried? What if they are hurt and lying in a hospital bed somewhere? Should you be upset?”

As a content marketer, even if you’ve never been ghosted in personal capacity, you probably have experienced the phenomenon in your work. Blog traffic has inexplicably dropped. Your social media accounts have stopped receiving engagement. People aren’t opening your emails anymore.

It’s upsetting to see the numbers take a dive, but all the more so when you can’t diagnose the cause. If readers were sending you angry messages about how you’re overloading their inbox with newsletter frequency, or posting totally irrelevant tweets, it might sting a little but at least you know what’s up.

For those situations shrouded in paranormal perplexity, let’s pull out our P.K.E. meters and do some ghost-busting.


Don’t Get Spooked: How to React When Your Audience Ghosts You

A sharp decline in traffic or engagement can be as upsetting any unreturned text message. When you can’t identify the reasons behind such a drop-off, it’s like sitting in limbo. Here’s a look at four common scenarios where your audience may have inexplicably gone quiet, and what to do about it.

Blog Visitors or Comments Have Taken a Dive

Your blog was cruising along. Your analytics dashboard showed a steady flow of visitors, and your content was even compelling a healthy amount of feedback from readers. But lately, the traffic has been consistently down and you’re not getting any comments.

What Might Be Happening

  • Your topical alignment is missing the mark
  • Your publishing cadence isn’t jibing with your audience
  • There are technical issues affecting your blog
  • Your headlines aren’t grabbing attention
  • You’re aren’t properly promoting your posts
  • You aren’t optimizing enough for search

What To Do

  • Consult your analytics to determine which subject matter is gaining the most traction. Then, take a step back and build out topic cluster, or content pillars, around these areas (in a way that also makes sense for your business and objectives).
  • Audit your posting frequency to find your sweet spot. Do you get more traffic if you post daily? Weekly? Every other week?
  • Huddle with your SEO specialists to identify content opportunities (widening your topical umbrella) or technical issues (like broken links, missing metadata, or canonical URL problems). Link building is another opportunity to explore.
  • Test headlines and CTAs with punchier and more interesting words.
  • Put more effort into promoting new posts (social media, email, employee advocacy, etc.). Don’t fall victim to invisible content syndrome!

Organic Search Traffic Is Trending Down

This is a digital marketing KPI for most companies these days. Whether to your blog, your home page, or other prioritized assets, organic traffic is extremely valuable because it is so cost-efficient — when you have a fruitful strategy in place, you are driving a steady stream of (relatively) targeted inbound visits that you don’t have to pay for directly. 

So needless to say, when you see your organic traffic charts declining or stagnating over multiple months, it can set off some alarm bells.

What Might Be Happening

  • Your rankings are dropping for high-volume queries on SERPs
  • Previously high-performing pages are seeing diminished traction
  • You’re overly concerned with technical SEO aspects, at the expense of user experience
  • Searcher behaviors or engine algorithms are shifting
  • Something is broken or amiss on your site, preventing Google from crawling it properly
  • Site redesign or migration issues are taking a toll

What To Do

  • Reassess your keyword strategy to determine where you’re losing steam, and whether you should focus on other terms
  • Identify specific pages that are seeing a decline in performance and investigate
  • Explore your site from the perspective of a user, and take a hard honest look at the quality of the experience. (Google increasingly prioritizes sites based on UX signals as opposed to strictly technical ones.)
  • Research broader trends around your audience and Google’s algorithm to see if changes are potentially affecting your traffic.
  • Huddle with your web developers and SEO specialists to identify technical issues (like broken links, missing metadata, or canonical URL problems).

Social Media Engagement Is Drying Up

Social media channels present an opportunity to engage with your audience directly and authentically. When the engagement with your brand stops however, this community of more than 3 billion people can start to feel very lonely indeed. 

What Might Be Happening

  • You’re on the wrong channels
  • Your content isn’t valuable to your audience
  • Your content isn’t soliciting responses and interaction from your audience
  • You’re not posting frequently enough
  • You’re not sharing enough interesting visual content
  • Social media algorithms are suppressing your reach
  • You’re not reaching out and building relationships

What To Do

  • Re-evaluate your channel mix and make sure you’re focusing on social networks where your audience is present and active.
  • Make sure you’re sharing plenty of content that doesn’t promote your brand or solutions, and is solely intended to inform, interest, or entertain people in your niche.
  • Create more posts that ask questions or feature polls/surveys. Try running a contest with a fun incentive to encourage participation.
  • Post more frequently if it makes sense for your audience. On crowded and ephemeral feeds, you’ll want to generate familiarity and recognition with your followers.
  • Include more visually-centered posts, with images, videos, gifs, etc. 
  • Algorithms can be tough to overcome, especially when your following is still small. Integrate paid tactics to amplify your content with targeted audiences, and grow your following. Also use appropriate hashtags and encourage your employees to share posts from your accounts in their own networks.
  • Social media is a two-way conversation. Make sure you’re responsive, and proactive in talking to others. In addition, build genuine relationships with influencers in your industry. This can not only lead to active conversations on social platforms, but also more content collaboration.

Emails Aren’t Getting Opens or Clicks

If someone unsubscribes from your email list, at least they’re making a definitive statement. It’s like receiving a text that says, “I’m not interested anymore.” They might not give a specific reason, but you can look at the timing and circumstances to form your own deductions. 

When people just stop opening or clicking, though? That’s more mysterious.

What Might Be Happening

  • Your subject lines aren’t compelling enough
  • Your email content isn’t displaying properly
  • Your messages aren’t personalized
  • Your email list is outdated, unsegmented, or purchased
  • You’re sending emails too frequently
  • Your messages are getting stuck in the spam filter
  • Your sender name isn’t a real person

What To Do

  • Test punchier subject lines with evocative statements and action-oriented words.
  • Keep in mind that various email clients won’t display all of your images, emojis, or multimedia. Don’t be afraid to get snazzy, but design your emails with basic accessibility/readability in mind.
  • Make your emails more personalized. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be speaking individually to each recipient, but you want to make them feel like you are. Apply the full extent of knowledge about your audience personas.
  • Email lists can be problematic for a variety of reasons. Frequent cleansing is recommended. Remove inactive email addresses. Make sure people are opting in and never being added with their explicit permission. Use segmenting to create more customized messaging for various slices of your audience.
  • Few people complain about brands emailing them too infrequently. Been when they’re seeing you in their inbox multiple times a week, it can feel clingy. Treat the ability to email your list as a privilege and show restraint.
  • Spam filters are pesky. Avoid using words that are likely to trigger them (i.e., sale, buy, price, discount, offer). In your initial “Thanks for subscribing message,” it doesn’t hurt to encourage new sign-ups to add your email address to the non-spam list so they don’t miss your great content.
  • Use the actual name of a marketer or executive at your company in the “From” field. People want messages from people, not faceless businesses.

Reignite the Spark and Engage Your Audience

In dating, getting ghosted is usually an indication that it’s time to take the hint. In content marketing, this is not necessarily the case. As we’ve established, there is a wide variety of reasons why your traffic or engagement might’ve dropped off. They’re not out of reach, nor are the solutions. 

Need the resources or expertise to win back your audience? An SEO audit can uncover opportunities to optimize your content marketing efforts.

Stay tuned to the TopRank Marketing Blog for insights from Content Marketing World 2019, where our CEO Lee Odden and Senior Director of Digital Strategy Ashley Zeckman are presenting on boosting your content marketing fitness and scaling influencer marketing, respectively.

Wow Your Crowd: How Content Marketers Can Create Powerful Audience Connections

“Perhaps more than any other art form, comedy cannot exist for its own sake,” according to comedian Andrew Orvedahl in an essay published a few years back. “Comedy requires a bond between performer and audience. And if either ingredient sucks, comedy doesn’t happen.”

He’s right, but we could swap in content marketing for comedy and the statement would still hold plenty of weight. If your content isn’t connecting and resonating with your audience, it may as well not exist. This is one of the most critical skills of the discipline, and also one of the most difficult to harness.

While a standup comic can read the room, scanning faces in the crowd for signs of reception and gauging the volume of laughter and applause, content marketers face a greater challenge. We can’t typically interpret reactions in such a direct manner, meaning we must lean on our intuition, research, and analytics to assess whether our efforts are hitting home. 

To help you master this essential capability, we enlisted some of the best in the biz when it comes to understanding and relating to their audiences in an authentic way. Their guidance for show-stopping performances are featured in our new interactive experience, Witness the Greatest Content Marketing Show on Earth, courtesy of TopRank Marketing, Content Marketing Institute (CMI), and a lineup of awesome CMWorld speakers. 

The Greatest Content Marketing Show on Earth

Today we’ll explore their (and our) specific insights around the vital art of audience connections. 

Three Keys to Creating Powerful Audience Connections

#1 – Learn About Your Audience 

MarketingProfs Chief Content Officer Ann Handley is basically a comedian and content marketer wrapped up into one package (her contribution to the CMWorld preview literally opens with a joke, which is the least surprising thing ever). As such, her advice on this particular topic is especially pertinent.

“Delighting your audience includes understanding your customers, and understanding how your prospects or customers interact with your brand,” she says. One of her suggestions for doing so is to “Undercover Boss your own brand,” referring to the television show in which corporate executives step into a low-level roles at their companies — incognito style — to gain a more accurate understanding of what’s really happening in the trenches.

Sign up for your own service. Opt-in to your own email list. Place a call to your support center. Interact on your social channels. Ask a customer care rep what patterns they see day in, day out. — @MarketingProfs Click To Tweet

At TopRank Marketing, completing due diligence around the people we hope to reach — their aspirations, pains, and needs — is an integral component of launching a new content program. As Ann suggests, it’s important to adopt your customer’s point of view and gain a truly empathetic perspective. 

Sometimes this means simply asking ourselves questions in a different way. Instead of “How can we raise brand awareness?” ask “Why would people want to be aware of our brand?” Instead of “How do we define success for our marketing efforts?” ask “How do we define success for our audience?”

As any comedian knows, just because a joke is funny in our head doesn’t mean it’ll be funny to a room full of strangers. 

#2 – Confront the Personalization Conundrum

One of the most pervasive hurdles in modern content marketing is personalization at scale. It’s written about often, here and elsewhere, because it’s a pivotal objective and also a paradoxical dilemma. As Marketing Insider Group CEO Michael Brenner astutely (and humorously) puts it, the phrase itself seems to be a contradiction:

Personalization at scale is kind of an oxymoron like ‘jumbo shrimp.’ I love shrimp. And content marketing. So if you love shrimp and content marketing, we have a lot in common. See what I did there? — @BrennerMichael Click To Tweet

He goes on to note that the ways to overcome this discrepancy are to “know something about your audience” and “be able to deliver a tailored piece of content to those unique characteristics.” 

“It doesn’t have to be individualized,” he adds, “just tailored.”

Content marketers can accomplish this by creating more defined and descriptive audience segments (or personas). This is fundamental to our approach at TopRank Marketing, and it can take many forms. Sometimes it’s about whittling down your target audience to the most valuable prospective customers and tightly orienting your content to their role and professional context — even if that means turning away readers who don’t fall into the category. Other times, it might mean leveraging an account-based marketing approach, and refining your focus on the companies you’d really like to land.  

As I’ve written here before, effective personalization is instrumental to trust:

Personalization is the surest way to build a rapport in the digital space. When we fail to connect, it sets off immediate alarms. Personalization comes in many forms. It can be as sophisticated as using adaptive AI, or as simple as narrowing the scope and voice of your content to resonate with very specific audiences. Whatever the approach, customers clearly want it. And the potential revenue benefits are undeniable.

#3 – Invite Feedback, and Take It Seriously

Jerry Seinfeld’s elite penchant for generating laughs is rare among standup comedians, but his process for vetting jokes is not. He’s very attentive to the crowd’s reactions to each of his quips. This excerpt from a New York Times profile, describing his period of reflection after a set, says it all:

Seinfeld retired to a dressing room, plopping down beside a bucket of bottled water. I congratulated him on the performance. “I’d say two-thirds of that set was garbage,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Whether it was lines coming out wrong or the rhythm being off.” He said he’d counted “probably eight” jokes that failed to get the kinds of laughs he desired. “There’s different kinds of laughs,” he explained. “It’s like a baseball lineup: this guy’s your power hitter, this guy gets on base, this guy works out walks. If everybody does their job, we’re gonna win.”

I liken the unsatisfactory laughs to vanity metrics in content marketing. Sure, you might’ve gotten the requisite impressions and clicks, but were they meaningful? Are they moving the needle? Are they indicative of audience delight?

To reach these important conclusions, we need to facilitate the feedback loop. We need to create dialogues instead of one-way conversations. And as Tameka Vasquez of Genpact points out, “In a dialogue, you cannot truly listen if you’re just impatiently waiting for your turn to speak.”

We pump out content and then wait until it’s our turn to speak again and pump out some more per our content calendars. What use is it if neither side is listening? — @tameka_vasquez Click To Tweet

With this in mind, it’s important to craft your content strategy and editorial calendar with the audience’s voice in mind. One method for doing this, as our Josh Nite suggests in his rundown of content planning tips, is by leaning on user-generated content: “Still stuck with a few blank spaces in your calendar? Let your audience fill them in for you. User-generated content helps foster community, builds enthusiasm for your offering, lets customers see real-world examples of what your company can do, and a host of other benefits.” 

Other methods for eliciting this type of feedback include chatbots, conversations with your sales team, in-depth analysis of website user behavior, and more.

Delivering Great Experiences is No Laughing Matter

Comedians might make a living by telling jokes, but they take their work as seriously as anyone. Their careers depend on forging connections with audiences, and they know the best way to retain and grow those audiences is by delivering an enjoyable, memorable experience that leaves fans walking away smiling. Sound familiar?

You’ll experience plenty of laughs and learnings at Content Marketing World 2019 when the curtains open on Sept. 3 in Cleveland. Before then, you can find plenty more guidance on dazzling your audience in our interactive experience, The Greatest Content Marketing Show on Earth.

6 Cannes Revelations About B2B Marketing in 2020

City of Cannes Aerial view Image

In June the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity brought together some of the world’s savviest B2B marketers, brands, and other creative professionals.

From Nike, IKEA, and Visa to Tommy Hilfiger, Microsoft and Target, strong brands and the marketers behind them were involved at Cannes, and the trends they gathered to explore will play a part in shaping how B2B marketers focus their efforts in the months and years ahead.

Here’s a run-down of some of the top B2B marketing and other revelations from this year’s Cannes, and what they’ll mean for your business in 2020 and beyond.

1 — Cannes B2B Marketing Brand Engagement Take-Aways

Brand Engagement Gear Cogs Image

One running theme at Cannes this year was centered around being mindful of your brand’s purpose, and how it will be especially important when it comes time to meet your audience’s needs and make the greatest impact.

Being a change-maker brand comes from honing in on consumer desires, so listen to the signals coming from the online platforms where your customers and potential clients spend the majority of their time.

Don’t entirely eschew machine learning when it comes to your data, but build brand trust by ensuring that appropriate and responsible humans have data oversight.

Look to feed off competitive momentum and focus conversations and cultural discussions using creativity, and keep it sincere when it comes to brand activism, while avoiding all hints of opportunism, many at Cannes urged.

Brand engagement, especially through influencer marketing, has been the focus of several recent articles we’ve published, including these:

2 — Cannes B2B Marketing Consumer Journey Take-Aways

Happy people and dog jumping together on the sunset beach Image

Dig in and embrace the sometimes-messy digital world where your potential customers interact, by communicating with them and taking the time to learn about their lives through what they’re posting online, because cold and impersonal data can only get you so far in the customer journey.

These raw and real connections can unite and forge new relationships in ways that polished marketing campaigns sometimes just can’t, and some of the winners at Cannes showed examples of building these types of connections.

Build strong brand value while also allowing customers to take the wheel, nurture the connections your brand makes, and don’t be afraid to build strong creative partnerships in your efforts.

Valuing the participation of consumers while also standing by your brand’s values were among the trends explored during Cannes this year.

Search taking place from smart speakers and other connected voice-assisted is poised to boom in the coming years, and podcasting is expanding to offer new ways to integrate brand messaging.

Strive to build a seamless voice search approach that meshes with the values and messaging of your brand or that of your client, as sound is the newest frontier for B2B marketers.

We’re written about smart search recently, including in these helpful articles:

“We’re very good at doing marketing on screens. We’re not as good at audio only.” — Bessie Lee, Founder and CEO, Withinlink Click To Tweet

3 — Cannes B2B Marketing Diversity Take-Aways

Colorful diverse finger prints image.

Cannes made efforts to find and highlight the areas in marketing where diversity continues to be lacking, led by people over 50 and those who are differently-abled, and spent considerable time exploring how setting aside fear and risk can lead to huge economic and strategic opportunities.

Going beyond hiring, diversity should move towards being more of a core piece of a brand’s values, some of those gathered at Cannes noted.

Adding diversity key performance indicators (KPIs) to existing performance metrics would go a long way towards making inclusiveness an important part of opportunity pipelines, and ultimately bottom lines, it was noted during Cannes.

4 — Cannes B2B Marketing Long-Term Planning Take-Aways

Mountain hiker with map at guideposts.

Connections coming from unexpected places and new experiences are poised to change how B2B marketers expand beyond traditional sources, and an emphasis on the power of creativity to strengthen organizations was made at Cannes.

Brands and how they reflect culture at large will become more of a joint initiative at successful firms and in strong marketing efforts, especially in creative campaigns.

Cannes showed that creativity will likely thrive in the coming year, even more-so when it’s increasingly expressed as a team effort, done in what some gathered for the week called real-time branding, with all involved having a creative stake in new marketing initiatives.

Having a relevant and flexible B2B marketing strategy, and building innovative creative methods whether working solo or with an agency, were also take-aways from Cannes this year.

We’ve explored both long-term planning and the question of when is the right time to partner with an agency, in recent articles such as these:

“The value of agency creative is $10 Billion.” — Jay Pattisall, Forrester @jaypattisall Click To Tweet

5 — Cannes B2B Marketing Storytelling Take-Aways

Share Your Story image.

At Cannes a more transformational flavor of storytelling was seen as coming down the pike, one that will help evolve the narrative with more levels of both client and customer experience, all combining to bring better communication to consumers.

Rapidly-expanding digital technologies and more data than ever present challenges, but also massive opportunities, especially when the two combine to help creative storytelling efforts that help drive B2B marketing efforts.

Creating compelling narratives and delivering them in new and relevant ways will play a factor in marketing in 2020 and beyond, and firms utilizing solely technology to overcome marketing barriers may be left behind.

Learning to better recognize the people behind the data and the numbers was also seen as a key trend at Cannes, along with greater incorporation of empathy and intuition in marketing processes.

Neuroaesthetics and an evolving method of storytelling that is always-on will expand on traditional forms of narratives that have been largely limited to a beginning, middle, and end.

Micro-storytelling efforts will also help brands shows that they are listening, and encourage consumers to create and share their own stories.

A few of our helpful looks at storytelling in marketing are these:

6 — Cannes Trust in B2B Marketing Take-Aways

Hand turning trust dial image.

We’ve focused more than ever on trust in marketing over the past year at TopRank Marketing, with pieces such as these:

At Cannes the power of trust played a major role this year, and how to regain it using transparency, authenticity, and empathy, after being compromised over the past several years in the eyes of many.

A theme that resonated throughout the week was that nothing secures a relationship as powerfully as trust, which is the cornerstone of any long-term partnership.

Trust in platforms and technology were also at the forefront on Cannes this year, and admonitions to shift to marketing strategies that are more real, open, transparent, and true were common themes for rebuilding broken trust.

As the old adage goes: Trust is gained in drops and lost in buckets. #B2BMarketing #trust Click To Tweet

Building on Marketing Lessons From Cannes


These six major theme take-aways in the areas of brand engagement, customer journeys, diversity, long-term planning, storytelling and trust from this year’s Cannes can play a part in your own B2B marketing strategy as we head ever-closer to 2020.

You can also learn more by joining us at upcoming speaking events and conferences. Our CEO Lee Odden will be speaking at Content Marketing World this fall, where on September 3 he’ll be presenting “How to Develop a B2B Influencer Marketing Program That Actually Works” with Amisha Gandhi of SAP, and a solo session on September 4 exploring “Content Marketing Fitness – 10 Exercises to Build Your Marketing Beach Body.”

Our Senior Director of Digital Strategy Ashley Zeckman will also be speaking at Content Marketing World, in “Guardians of Content Vol 1: How to Scale B2B Influencer Content to Save the Galaxy.”