10 Expert Pointers To Create Better B2B Content With Authentic Influence

Smiling woman at computer.

How does authentic content help drive better customer experience?

And how does influence help optimize B2B content marketing performance?

Both of these are important questions for today’s B2B marketers heading into the uncertainty of 2021, where we face falling organic social reach and declining brand trust. To help guide the way we have gathered together the answers to these key questions and eight others.

Our CEO and co-founder Lee Odden explored the topics of authentic content and how influence can optimize content marketing performance during virtual presentations for the ContentTECH Summit and the IABC MN Convergence Summit, and we’ll share some of the top take-aways from his insight-filled sessions.

Let’s dig right in and look at Lee’s 10 pointers to create better B2B content with authentic influence in our age of the new normal.

1 — Build Brand Trust With Authentic Content Co-Created With Experts

Women's rowing team image.

Lee explained how in order to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of customers, successful brands should harness the power of authentic content co-created with experts — a process that when done right delivers stellar results and memorable customer experiences.

The pandemic has changed B2B marketing, however, with 72% of B2B events having cancelled their physical experiences (CEIR), and driven buyers to consume 50% more content (MFG), all while three in five CMOs say that marketing is more important than ever (The CMO Survey).

What can B2B marketers do in such a volatile and uncertain market?

Lee pointed out that B2B content preferences have changed significantly in 2020, and noted that smart marketers will need to factor in these changes for successful 2021 efforts.

The top content consumption habit that changed during 2020 has been an increased focus on the trustworthiness of content sources, Lee noted.

He cited a DemandGen study which revealed that 67% of respondents said they rely even more on content than they did last year to research and inform purchase decisions, and noted that 58% of B2B buyers don’t believe the claims made by the vendors they most recently bought from (TrustRadius).

The most successful types of content also changed in 2020, with the same study noting that the top content types were:

  • 65% Video
  • 60% White Papers
  • 56% Blogs
  • 54% Webinars
  • 54% Case Studies

How can B2B marketers stand out in such a crowded and content-filled landscape with less trust than ever?

2 — Savvy Brands Differentiate with Powerful Customer Experience

Rocketship and booster rockets image.

With such a lack of trust in 2020, Lee encouraged marketers looking to differentiate their brands to focus on the power of customer experience in 2021.

What can help in this area, and what kind of experiences are you set to create in 2021 and in an eventual post-pandemic landscape?

74% of B2B marketers said that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand, according to our groundbreaking 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report.

Lee said that it’s hard to create a great experience if customers don’t trust brand communications, and pointed out that trust is the gateway to influence.

It’s no wonder that interest in influencer marketing is high, as it allows B2B marketers and brands to co-create so many powerful types of content, including:

  • Blog Posts
  • Recorded Video
  • Webinars
  • Interviews
  • Podcasts
  • Live Video
  • Industry Presentations
  • Case Studies
  • Infographics
  • Interactive Content
  • Third-Party Analyst Reports

86% of customers said that authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support (Stackla), Lee shared, and offered four insights about what the customers of 2021 will want:

  • Customers Want What’s Real
  • They Want to Trust
  • They Don’t Trust Brands
  • They Trust Peers and Experts

3 — Learn From Brands Putting Authenticity into Action

Lee used real-world client success stories as examples of brands putting authenticity into action, starting with LinkedIn’s* use of authentic influencers.

LinkedIn’s social-first campaign focused on the personal stories behind influencers and their individual and unique marketing careers, which turned into an influencer community of 75, with some 2,000 brand mentions by the influencers and their networks, totaling a potential reach figure of 84 million, Lee explained.

Lee showed how IT service management software firm Cherwell Software* used trusted B2B influencers to achieve 342% better click-through-rate (CTR) on influencer content, with a potential reach of some 5.45 million from influencer shares, and how the firm was successfully able to use influencers to build trust around a topic they hadn’t previously been known for, resulting in 90% of all visitors being entirely new users.

Lee also shared how Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise* (ALE) co-created content with prospects which led to an award-winning program, with the successful IT Vanguard Awards program, using IT industry influencers as judges to honor prospective customers. The awards program facilitated multi-million dollar deals, and went on to win an award at the 2020 Content Marketing Awards, while producing:

  • 52 Nominations
  • 14,000 Micro-Site Views in 10 Weeks
  • 3rd Party Media Recognition & Local Ceremonies

4 — Accelerate Internal Credibility

By matching internal influencers with external experts, B2B marketers can accelerate internal credibility, whether it’s executives, industry experts, analysts, stakeholders, media, peers, or sales, Lee explained.

Using an example from SAP* and its Tech Unknown podcast, Lee showed how the firm created a podcast show with an influencer host in Tamara McCleary, featuring both industry influencers and SAP executives.

This approach resulted in some impressive outcomes, including:

  • 128M in potential reach from influencer shares
  • 101% of industry average for downloads
  • 66% increase in podcast downloads over the show’s previous season

A solution that applied a unified process and specific tools for efficient sourcing, production, and promotion was employed for the SAP Tech Unknown podcast, creating a successful storytelling format surrounding technology topics.

Accelerating internal credibility is just a part of the overall trust equation, however.

5 — Double Down on Activating Customers

Mirrored floor reflections of giant puzzle piece image.

Another step for building trust with authenticity in content marketing is to double down on activating customers, Lee explained.

It’s important to identify both the customer roles and the brands that are most influential — information that can then be applied when leveraging for reviews, testimonials, case studies, as well as a variety of contributions to brand content, Lee noted.

An example Lee shared came from SAP’s Success Factors, a resource for customers that includes both customers and industry influencers alongside employees, to explore the universal issue of wellness versus well-being.

Using brandividuals — a term Lee uses to represent those influencers who have reached the level of being their own brand — along with industry experts, employee experts, and customers, SAP Success Factors delivered:

  • 66% landing page conversion rate
  • 85% of all views driven by organic social (contributors)
  • 69% of all conversions drive by organic social (contributors)

The power of customer activation takes on even more important role when external influencers are included in the credibility mix, however.

6 — Work with External Influencers to Build Credibility

Working with external influencers is also a key step in building credibility and trust with authenticity in content marketing, especially as marketers increasingly face what Lee has called a content attention deficit.

This is especially important today, as 77% of B2B marketers say prospects rely on influencers for information, and 63% believe they would have better marketing results by having an influencer marketing program — two revelations Lee shared from our 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report.

B2B is behind on influencer marketing, however, as just 19% of marketers run ongoing influencer marketing programs, and 60% say they don’t have the knowledge to execute or have the right skills in-house, according the the report.

Lee showed an example from monday.com* in which the remote team management firm significantly boosted brand trust using relevant industry experts.

Content that monday.com co-created with industry influencers added credibility, trust, reach and engagement, leading to impressive results including:

  • 1,700% above-goal social reach from influencer shares
  • 17.9M potential reach from brand mentions by influencers, topping a 1M goal
  • Over 300K organic impressions on social media
  • Nearly 3K video views of a live-stream featuring industry experts within the first week

Lee also showed how monday.com successfully utilized B2B influencer marketing to partner with remote work leaders, driving discussions via live-stream that resulted in exposure to thousands of potential customers.

“With content attention deficit and information overload, buyers can easily be distracted. It’s important for B2B brands to stand out and stay connected with findable, credible content that delivers an experience.” @LeeOdden Click To Tweet

7 — Create a Content Collaboration Ecosystem

An additional step for building trust through content marketing authenticity comes when B2B marketers work to create a content collaboration ecosystem.

Lee shared a powerful example of such an ecosystem in the Adobe* Insiders program, a diverse group of over 60 influencers that includes leading executives, industry leaders, major media correspondents, contributing journalists, technology pioneers — including Lee.

Adobe utilized its influencers and activated its industry experts for the Adobe Summit event to create a variety of content types — from social shares and live-stream video to blog posts and articles in major publications including Forbes and CMO.

Lee showed how the Adobe Insiders worked together to provide a cornucopia of content creation, resulting in:

  • Millions in social reach from brand mentions and earned media by influencers during and after the event
  • A Twitter DM channel for influencer communications that’s had daily posts since 2019
  • Individuals to sub-groups of influencers continue to be activated

8 — Optimize Measurement to Customer ROI

Another step in the content marketing authenticity equation comes by taking the time to optimize measurements to customer return-on-investment (ROI), Lee showed.

  • By attracting, marketers reach new audiences
  • By engaging, they improve content consumption
  • By converting, they gain subscribers, downloads, trials, demos, leads, & sales
  • By retaining, they increase community participation
  • By advocating, they inspire brand love and referrals

Lee shared an example of how these elements can successfully come together, from Dell Outlet*, which used each to optimize for trust using influencers.

Dell Outlet took a small-to-medium-sized business audience and used industry influencers to combat an initial lack of brand awareness and trust, while also increasing the perceived value of refurbished technology.

Working to build awareness and credibility, Dell Outlet partnered with SMB influencers, and achieved a Finny-award-winning program that saw:

  • Awareness: 425k additional reach from influencers
  • Engagement: 693k video views and 1,350 hours watched
  • Purchase Influence: 175% over goal in traffic referred to product pages

9 — Harness Technology to Help with Influencer Marketing

Hands holding gears and cogs image.

Smartly harnessing an ever-expanding array of software technology can take a good influencer marketing program and make it great, and Lee shared how B2B marketers are using technology to help with influencer marketing, with data from the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report showing uses including:

  • 76% to identify influencers
  • 69% to monitor influencer social network activity
  • 65% to qualify influencers
  • 63% to measure and report on campaign or program results
  • 43% to manage influencer campaigns or programs
  • 41% to manage and nurture influencer relationships
  • 35% to activate influencers

In the latest episode of our new Inside Influence series, Lee also took a close look at how B2B marketers can help maximize their return-on-investment (ROI) with data-driven influencer marketing software, exploring the issue in detail with Pierre-Loïc Assayag, CEO and founder at enterprise influencer marketing platform Traackr, in “Inside Influence EP07: Pierre-Loïc Assayag from Traackr on Influencer Marketing Technology.”

Traackr is one of several powerful B2B influencer marketing tools, Lee shared, with a sample including:

  • BuzzSumo — For social, author, and influencer search
  • Onalytica —An enterprise B2B influencer marketing platform
  • Traackr — A B2B & B2C enterprise influencer marketing platform
  • CreatorIQ — A B2C enterprise influencer marketing platform
  • BuzzStream — An outreach tool
  • Pitchbox —An outreach tool
  • Nimble — A social customer relationship management (CRM) and influencer engagement tool
  • GroupHigh — A blogger and influencer discovery and outreach tool
  • Keyhole — A social listening and influencer discovery tool

“The pandemic and the strain on budgets in companies…really forces everybody to face the music and stop focusing on vanity metrics and start focusing on results.” @pierreloic Click To Tweet

10 — Achieve Content Marketing Success with Purpose, Relevance, Reach & Resonance

Through the smart use of each of Lee’s steps we’ve outlined and shown examples of here, B2B marketers can achieve content marketing success that is rich in purpose, relevance, reach, and resonance.

Sharing a quote from Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman — “In this time of turmoil people are turning to brands as islands of stability,” — Lee urged marketers to ask themselves two important questions:

How will the world be different after you’re successful doing what you do?

How does that narrative translate into your marketing?

To bring greater relevance to your content marketing efforts, Lee urged marketers to use data to understand and create authentic content experiences, leverage the voices of your customers, prospects, and those they trust, in order to add credibility and context to your message.

To maximize your reach, Lee recommended that marketers look to “be the best answer” for your customers with content that is easy to find and exists in context wherever buyers engage.

Finally, to increase resonance, Lee said that B2B marketers should seek to understand the motivations of their audience throughout the entire buyer journey, to better inform the creation of messaging that truly “clicks,” and inspires the type of action and makes a concrete and measurable business impact.

Ready to learn more about B2B influencer marketing? Contact us and find out why brands from SAP, LinkedIn, AT&T Business, and Adobe to IBM, Dell, Cherwell Software, monday.com and more have chosen TopRank Marketing.

* LinkedIn, Cherwell Software, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, SAP, monday.com, Adobe, and Dell Outlet are TopRank Marketing clients.

10 Expert Pointers To Create Better B2B Content With Authentic Influence

Smiling woman at computer.

How does authentic content help drive better customer experience?

And how does influence help optimize B2B content marketing performance?

Both of these are important questions for today’s B2B marketers heading into the uncertainty of 2021, where we face falling organic social reach and declining brand trust. To help guide the way we have gathered together the answers to these key questions and eight others.

Our CEO and co-founder Lee Odden explored the topics of authentic content and how influence can optimize content marketing performance during virtual presentations for the ContentTECH Summit and the IABC MN Convergence Summit, and we’ll share some of the top take-aways from his insight-filled sessions.

Let’s dig right in and look at Lee’s 10 pointers to create better B2B content with authentic influence in our age of the new normal.

1 — Build Brand Trust With Authentic Content Co-Created With Experts

Women's rowing team image.

Lee explained how in order to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of customers, successful brands should harness the power of authentic content co-created with experts — a process that when done right delivers stellar results and memorable customer experiences.

The pandemic has changed B2B marketing, however, with 72% of B2B events having cancelled their physical experiences (CEIR), and driven buyers to consume 50% more content (MFG), all while three in five CMOs say that marketing is more important than ever (The CMO Survey).

What can B2B marketers do in such a volatile and uncertain market?

Lee pointed out that B2B content preferences have changed significantly in 2020, and noted that smart marketers will need to factor in these changes for successful 2021 efforts.

The top content consumption habit that changed during 2020 has been an increased focus on the trustworthiness of content sources, Lee noted.

He cited a DemandGen study which revealed that 67% of respondents said they rely even more on content than they did last year to research and inform purchase decisions, and noted that 58% of B2B buyers don’t believe the claims made by the vendors they most recently bought from (TrustRadius).

The most successful types of content also changed in 2020, with the same study noting that the top content types were:

  • 65% Video
  • 60% White Papers
  • 56% Blogs
  • 54% Webinars
  • 54% Case Studies

How can B2B marketers stand out in such a crowded and content-filled landscape with less trust than ever?

2 — Savvy Brands Differentiate with Powerful Customer Experience

Rocketship and booster rockets image.

With such a lack of trust in 2020, Lee encouraged marketers looking to differentiate their brands to focus on the power of customer experience in 2021.

What can help in this area, and what kind of experiences are you set to create in 2021 and in an eventual post-pandemic landscape?

74% of B2B marketers said that influencer marketing improves customer and prospect experience with the brand, according to our groundbreaking 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report.

Lee said that it’s hard to create a great experience if customers don’t trust brand communications, and pointed out that trust is the gateway to influence.

It’s no wonder that interest in influencer marketing is high, as it allows B2B marketers and brands to co-create so many powerful types of content, including:

  • Blog Posts
  • Recorded Video
  • Webinars
  • Interviews
  • Podcasts
  • Live Video
  • Industry Presentations
  • Case Studies
  • Infographics
  • Interactive Content
  • Third-Party Analyst Reports

86% of customers said that authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support (Stackla), Lee shared, and offered four insights about what the customers of 2021 will want:

  • Customers Want What’s Real
  • They Want to Trust
  • They Don’t Trust Brands
  • They Trust Peers and Experts

3 — Learn From Brands Putting Authenticity into Action

Lee used real-world client success stories as examples of brands putting authenticity into action, starting with LinkedIn’s* use of authentic influencers.

LinkedIn’s social-first campaign focused on the personal stories behind influencers and their individual and unique marketing careers, which turned into an influencer community of 75, with some 2,000 brand mentions by the influencers and their networks, totaling a potential reach figure of 84 million, Lee explained.

Lee showed how IT service management software firm Cherwell Software* used trusted B2B influencers to achieve 342% better click-through-rate (CTR) on influencer content, with a potential reach of some 5.45 million from influencer shares, and how the firm was successfully able to use influencers to build trust around a topic they hadn’t previously been known for, resulting in 90% of all visitors being entirely new users.

Lee also shared how Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise* (ALE) co-created content with prospects which led to an award-winning program, with the successful IT Vanguard Awards program, using IT industry influencers as judges to honor prospective customers. The awards program facilitated multi-million dollar deals, and went on to win an award at the 2020 Content Marketing Awards, while producing:

  • 52 Nominations
  • 14,000 Micro-Site Views in 10 Weeks
  • 3rd Party Media Recognition & Local Ceremonies

4 — Accelerate Internal Credibility

By matching internal influencers with external experts, B2B marketers can accelerate internal credibility, whether it’s executives, industry experts, analysts, stakeholders, media, peers, or sales, Lee explained.

Using an example from SAP* and its Tech Unknown podcast, Lee showed how the firm created a podcast show with an influencer host in Tamara McCleary, featuring both industry influencers and SAP executives.

This approach resulted in some impressive outcomes, including:

  • 128M in potential reach from influencer shares
  • 101% of industry average for downloads
  • 66% increase in podcast downloads over the show’s previous season

A solution that applied a unified process and specific tools for efficient sourcing, production, and promotion was employed for the SAP Tech Unknown podcast, creating a successful storytelling format surrounding technology topics.

Accelerating internal credibility is just a part of the overall trust equation, however.

5 — Double Down on Activating Customers

Mirrored floor reflections of giant puzzle piece image.

Another step for building trust with authenticity in content marketing is to double down on activating customers, Lee explained.

It’s important to identify both the customer roles and the brands that are most influential — information that can then be applied when leveraging for reviews, testimonials, case studies, as well as a variety of contributions to brand content, Lee noted.

An example Lee shared came from SAP’s Success Factors, a resource for customers that includes both customers and industry influencers alongside employees, to explore the universal issue of wellness versus well-being.

Using brandividuals — a term Lee uses to represent those influencers who have reached the level of being their own brand — along with industry experts, employee experts, and customers, SAP Success Factors delivered:

  • 66% landing page conversion rate
  • 85% of all views driven by organic social (contributors)
  • 69% of all conversions drive by organic social (contributors)

The power of customer activation takes on even more important role when external influencers are included in the credibility mix, however.

6 — Work with External Influencers to Build Credibility

Working with external influencers is also a key step in building credibility and trust with authenticity in content marketing, especially as marketers increasingly face what Lee has called a content attention deficit.

This is especially important today, as 77% of B2B marketers say prospects rely on influencers for information, and 63% believe they would have better marketing results by having an influencer marketing program — two revelations Lee shared from our 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report.

B2B is behind on influencer marketing, however, as just 19% of marketers run ongoing influencer marketing programs, and 60% say they don’t have the knowledge to execute or have the right skills in-house, according the the report.

Lee showed an example from monday.com* in which the remote team management firm significantly boosted brand trust using relevant industry experts.

Content that monday.com co-created with industry influencers added credibility, trust, reach and engagement, leading to impressive results including:

  • 1,700% above-goal social reach from influencer shares
  • 17.9M potential reach from brand mentions by influencers, topping a 1M goal
  • Over 300K organic impressions on social media
  • Nearly 3K video views of a live-stream featuring industry experts within the first week

Lee also showed how monday.com successfully utilized B2B influencer marketing to partner with remote work leaders, driving discussions via live-stream that resulted in exposure to thousands of potential customers.

“With content attention deficit and information overload, buyers can easily be distracted. It’s important for B2B brands to stand out and stay connected with findable, credible content that delivers an experience.” @LeeOdden Click To Tweet

7 — Create a Content Collaboration Ecosystem

An additional step for building trust through content marketing authenticity comes when B2B marketers work to create a content collaboration ecosystem.

Lee shared a powerful example of such an ecosystem in the Adobe* Insiders program, a diverse group of over 60 influencers that includes leading executives, industry leaders, major media correspondents, contributing journalists, technology pioneers — including Lee.

Adobe utilized its influencers and activated its industry experts for the Adobe Summit event to create a variety of content types — from social shares and live-stream video to blog posts and articles in major publications including Forbes and CMO.

Lee showed how the Adobe Insiders worked together to provide a cornucopia of content creation, resulting in:

  • Millions in social reach from brand mentions and earned media by influencers during and after the event
  • A Twitter DM channel for influencer communications that’s had daily posts since 2019
  • Individuals to sub-groups of influencers continue to be activated

8 — Optimize Measurement to Customer ROI

Another step in the content marketing authenticity equation comes by taking the time to optimize measurements to customer return-on-investment (ROI), Lee showed.

  • By attracting, marketers reach new audiences
  • By engaging, they improve content consumption
  • By converting, they gain subscribers, downloads, trials, demos, leads, & sales
  • By retaining, they increase community participation
  • By advocating, they inspire brand love and referrals

Lee shared an example of how these elements can successfully come together, from Dell Outlet*, which used each to optimize for trust using influencers.

Dell Outlet took a small-to-medium-sized business audience and used industry influencers to combat an initial lack of brand awareness and trust, while also increasing the perceived value of refurbished technology.

Working to build awareness and credibility, Dell Outlet partnered with SMB influencers, and achieved a Finny-award-winning program that saw:

  • Awareness: 425k additional reach from influencers
  • Engagement: 693k video views and 1,350 hours watched
  • Purchase Influence: 175% over goal in traffic referred to product pages

9 — Harness Technology to Help with Influencer Marketing

Hands holding gears and cogs image.

Smartly harnessing an ever-expanding array of software technology can take a good influencer marketing program and make it great, and Lee shared how B2B marketers are using technology to help with influencer marketing, with data from the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report showing uses including:

  • 76% to identify influencers
  • 69% to monitor influencer social network activity
  • 65% to qualify influencers
  • 63% to measure and report on campaign or program results
  • 43% to manage influencer campaigns or programs
  • 41% to manage and nurture influencer relationships
  • 35% to activate influencers

In the latest episode of our new Inside Influence series, Lee also took a close look at how B2B marketers can help maximize their return-on-investment (ROI) with data-driven influencer marketing software, exploring the issue in detail with Pierre-Loïc Assayag, CEO and founder at enterprise influencer marketing platform Traackr, in “Inside Influence EP07: Pierre-Loïc Assayag from Traackr on Influencer Marketing Technology.”

Traackr is one of several powerful B2B influencer marketing tools, Lee shared, with a sample including:

  • BuzzSumo — For social, author, and influencer search
  • Onalytica —An enterprise B2B influencer marketing platform
  • Traackr — A B2B & B2C enterprise influencer marketing platform
  • CreatorIQ — A B2C enterprise influencer marketing platform
  • BuzzStream — An outreach tool
  • Pitchbox —An outreach tool
  • Nimble — A social customer relationship management (CRM) and influencer engagement tool
  • GroupHigh — A blogger and influencer discovery and outreach tool
  • Keyhole — A social listening and influencer discovery tool

“The pandemic and the strain on budgets in companies…really forces everybody to face the music and stop focusing on vanity metrics and start focusing on results.” @pierreloic Click To Tweet

10 — Achieve Content Marketing Success with Purpose, Relevance, Reach & Resonance

Through the smart use of each of Lee’s steps we’ve outlined and shown examples of here, B2B marketers can achieve content marketing success that is rich in purpose, relevance, reach, and resonance.

Sharing a quote from Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman — “In this time of turmoil people are turning to brands as islands of stability,” — Lee urged marketers to ask themselves two important questions:

How will the world be different after you’re successful doing what you do?

How does that narrative translate into your marketing?

To bring greater relevance to your content marketing efforts, Lee urged marketers to use data to understand and create authentic content experiences, leverage the voices of your customers, prospects, and those they trust, in order to add credibility and context to your message.

To maximize your reach, Lee recommended that marketers look to “be the best answer” for your customers with content that is easy to find and exists in context wherever buyers engage.

Finally, to increase resonance, Lee said that B2B marketers should seek to understand the motivations of their audience throughout the entire buyer journey, to better inform the creation of messaging that truly “clicks,” and inspires the type of action and makes a concrete and measurable business impact.

Ready to learn more about B2B influencer marketing? Contact us and find out why brands from SAP, LinkedIn, AT&T Business, and Adobe to IBM, Dell, Cherwell Software, monday.com and more have chosen TopRank Marketing.

* LinkedIn, Cherwell Software, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, SAP, monday.com, Adobe, and Dell Outlet are TopRank Marketing clients.

5 Tips For Finding Your Authentic Marketing Identity

Collage of heroes and unsuccessful people.

What do you think of when you see a person’s business title, and how do the role assumptions we all inevitably bring to the table affect our ability to market authentically?

Can we find our own more effective and authentic marketing identity and build greater business communication opportunities by ditching preconceived role beliefs?

Marketing has seen dwindling levels of trust in recent years, and as our CEO Lee Odden observed in his recent “In Search of Trust: How Authentic Content Drives Customer Experience,” building great customer experiences is an uphill battle if customers don’t trust brand communications.

86 percent of customers have said that authenticity is important when deciding what brands they like and support, which ought to make marketing that resonates with truth a key goal among forward-thinking B2B marketers.

Understanding that we’re not interacting with businesses but with human beings is also especially important as we push towards 2021, as our senior content strategist Nick Nelson examined in “How Authentic Content Builds Brand Trust in Uncertain Times.”

So sit back and let’s explore how to find your most authentic marketing identity through the lens of authenticity when it comes to how we perceive the many professionals in our business lives.

Looking Anew At Our Universe of Business Associates

Back in 2011 during my decade as lead editor at search and social media conference Pubcon I created a grid image in a style that was popular at the time, making light-hearted fun at how some people in the world of technology might mistakenly view those in different segments of the industry.

It highlighted how we sometimes tend to see ourselves and others who hold the same positions that we do in generally more favorable light than how we view our associates who have differing roles.

Back then I included search engine optimizers, social media optimizers, social media marketers, chief executives, and affiliate marketers, and I thought it might be time for an update including chief marketing officers, chief information officers, and influencers.

Collage of heroes and unsuccessful people.

While “To thine own self be true” is unmistakably sound Shakespearian wisdom, it’s also important to see others as they truly are — without the prejudice of weighty titles.

Being true to ourselves starts when we strip away preconceived notions of what a CMO does or what a CEO doesn’t do and look instead at the totality of each person — a shift that can begin a newfound level of productive communication in both our professional and personal lives.

After all, as Vanessa Colella, chief innovation officer at Citi, recently noted in an American Banker podcast, “We’re all the same size rectangle on the Zoom screen.”

Using A Fresh Understanding of Others To Learn More About Ourselves & Tell More Authentic Marketing Stories

We’re all so much more than mere titles — each of us is a fantastic and unique collection of strengths, weaknesses, and the cumulative collection of professional and personal journeys our lives have given us.

Our personal histories shape the stories we’re able to tell in our marketing, and making our storytelling authentic is a primary factor in making it successful.

“We’re all so much more than mere titles — each of us is a fantastic and unique collection of strengths, weaknesses, and the cumulative collection of professional and personal journeys our lives have given us.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis Click To Tweet

Let’s now look at five tips for uncovering and putting your authentic marketing identity to work:

1 — Bring Measurement to Authentic Content Experiences

“Creating trust with authentic content experiences must be a measurable exercise,” Lee has urged. “Beyond share of voice and brand sentiment metrics, marketers must pay attention to measuring the effectiveness of content through the customer journey,” Lee added.

It’s not enough to infuse authenticity in top-notch digital content, as to truly understand the significance and success of our efforts we need to incorporate a measurement to gauge performance.

Measurement comes in many forms, from manual to automated solutions, and each can only tell you so much if you don’t have the proper key performance indicators (KPIs) relevant to your authentic campaigns. Albert Einstein offered insight that applies to marketing measurement and analytics, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

via GIPHY

We’ve explored how marketers can measure for success in a number of articles, including these to get you up to speed:

“Authenticity is essential for influencer collaborations to work so it’s important that marketers do their due diligence with influencers through proper identification, qualification and engagement best practices.” @LeeOdden Click To Tweet

2 — Look to the Long-Term for Business Relationships

“Content marketing is inherently a long game, focused on building relationships first and foremost,” Nick has observed. “Right now, the best way to pursue this goal is through authenticity and altruism, in the context of your business and its audience,” he added.

Always-on marketing has become more important in efforts to build trust, strengthen relationships, and achieve ongoing long-term success — a trend we’ve explored recently since the launch of our groundbreaking 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing report.

“As the need for B2B brands to reach and connect authentically with customers rises, B2B influencer marketers are evolving from transactional and intermittent campaigns to more relationship driven, Always-On Influencer engagement programs,” Lee observed in “For Successful B2B Marketers The Engine of Influence is Always On #B2BIMReport.”

You can learn more about how always-on marketing benefits B2B marketers in the following additional articles we’ve published on the subject:

“Marketers, brands, and creators of all kinds can make a positive difference. Being legitimately and authentically helpful in a moment like this can have a lasting impact.” @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

3 — Bring Authenticity to Every Facet of Your Life

Authenticity matters everywhere in our lives, and leading a life where we’re as authentic as possible in all areas makes it easier and more natural to incorporate it into our marketing efforts.

Unforgettable marketing and best-answer marketing often go hand-in-hand, both filled with the kind of authenticity and genuine emotion that builds especially strong brand affinity.

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen,” author Brené Brown has observed.

“Building authenticity can be accomplished by sharing the kind of best-answer content that your audience is actively searching for.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis Click To Tweet

4 — Purpose & Authenticity Go Hand-in-Hand

“Building a purpose-driven authentic brand brings growth,” Lee has observed, and during this year more than others brands have had to take a close look at their purpose and how they are pushing beyond words and into the realm of taking action.

In “B2B Brands Take a Stand: 5 Examples of Going Beyond Words to Action,” I examined at why it’s never been more important for brands to show purpose and to be connected to what’s important to customers, and seeing others and ourselves authentically can certainly go a long way in making this happen.

“Don’t mistake good communication for action. There is a really big difference.” Karen Kahn of @HP Click To Tweet

5 — Authenticity Builds Mutually Beneficial Programs

In B2B influencer marketing programs, cooperative marketing efforts serve to benefit both brands and influencers, as Dan Gingiss, chief experience officer at The Experience Maker recently examined in our influencer marketing strategist Debbie Friez’ “B2B Influencer Marketing Advice from 9 Top B2B Influencers.”

Whether working with influencers or in more traditional marketing efforts, authenticity cuts to the heart of what drives the type of brand storytelling that truly connects with customers.

It’s also the kind of authentic digital storytelling that is remembered well beyond the two seconds that recent research suggests is all marketers are likely to get these days — see “You get 2 seconds to engage consumers online: Mars neuroscientist shares key findings.”

“The best influencer programs highlight an authentic relationship between the influencer and the brand, and the best way to accomplish that is to ensure a mutually beneficial program.” — Dan Ginigiss @dgingiss Click To Tweet

Authenticity Energizes Marketing & Our Personal Journeys

via GIPHY

Being authentic and true to ourselves is a process that can shift over time, requiring occasional reevaluation and possible adjustments to how we live and work. We hope these five tips for uncovering and putting your authentic marketing identity to work serve you well in your own personal journey.

Finally, to further your insight into authenticity in B2B marketing — a subject we’ve explored over time — here are several helpful takes on how you can harness its power in your marketing efforts:

Implementing a successful authentic marketing program takes time, effort, and dedicated strategy, which leads many brands to use a top B2B influencer marketing agency such as TopRank Marketing, which was the only B2B marketing agency offering influencer marketing as a top capability in Forrester’s “B2B Marketing Agencies, North America” report.

How Authentic Content Builds Brand Trust in Uncertain Times

Man Interacting via Virtual Meeting

These are strange times indeed.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my home office, because my employer – like so many others across the country and world – is doing what it can to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This is the type of event that casts new light on just about everything, including the topic I’d planned to tackle today.

No business wants to act or appear opportunistic right now. That goes without saying. But the truth is that marketers, brands, and creators of all kinds can make a positive difference. Being legitimately and authentically helpful in a moment like this can have a lasting impact.

With personal interactions and physical proximity being minimized, people will turn to the web more than ever for trusted sources of information and meaningful content experiences. It’s worth thinking about what role you and your brand can play.

The Show Must Go On

As I mentioned in one of my earliest blog contributions after joining TopRank Marketing, I have a side hobby outside of my career in marketing: running a Minnesota Twins baseball community site. With this passion playing such a big role in my life, it goes without saying that I’m feeling affected by the sudden and indefinite absence of baseball, at a time where the sport’s lengthy season is normally just getting underway.

Empty Stadium Seats Image

(Image Source: Peter Feghali, Unsplash)

I recognize, of course, that in the grand scheme of all that’s happening, this is small potatoes. It’s a game. But it’s also a source of comfort and routine for me and so many others. And the bottom line is that while Major League Baseball’s schedule will not proceed, life will. And this applies more broadly to businesses and content creators across the spectrum.

As our CEO Lee Odden wrote recently with regards to marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, “the need for information and solutions might slow or change but not stop.”

Let’s explore how brands can go all-in on authenticity to strengthen bonds during a time of universal uncertainty and anxiety.

“Marketers, brands, and creators of all kinds can make a positive difference. Being legitimately and authentically helpful in a moment like this can have a lasting impact.” @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

Building Trust through Authentic and Altruistic Content

Content marketing is inherently a long game, focused on building relationships first and foremost. Right now, the best way to pursue this goal is through authenticity and altruism, in the context of your business and its audience.

Keep Your Audience Informed

The ongoing pandemic affects different industries and verticals in different ways. If there’s a white space for providing news and updates in the niche you serve specifically, you might consider filling it. Curate news from authoritative sources (like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and make it available in an easily accessible place.

This is also a great time to provide helpful guidance around adjustments and adaptations being made in response to this situation. For example, our clients at Antea Group leveraged their expertise on the subject of employee health and safety to provide ergonomic tips for a home office. Another client, LinkedIn Sales Solutions, served up advice on staying connected digitally when “in-person” is not an option.

Be Open and Human

We talk about authenticity in B2B marketing frequently because it’s so vital for practitioners to constantly remind themselves that we’re not interacting with businesses, we’re interacting with human beings. COVID-19 presents a universally shared human experience on a scale that is unmatched in many of our lifetimes.

There’s never been a better time to open up and share real, relatable stories. Everyone is going through something, and it can be comforting to learn how others are dealing with the unique circumstances brought on by this scenario.

Focus on Connection

Thanks to technology, distancing doesn’t need to equate to isolation. People are likely to be yearning for social connection in a major way. The simplest thing a company can do is place an emphasis on being accessible and responsive via social media, email, and other channels. But you also might consider finding ways to replicate the dynamic of personal interactions. For example:

  • Webinars & Live-Streaming: It can sometimes be difficult to draw big crowds of busy professionals for a live broadcast, but at a time where traveling and in-person meetings are reduced, there are more openings on calendars. Running a webcast with a theme that’s relevant to the current times might hit a sweet spot.
  • Virtual Networking Events: With so many major conferences and summits being canceled, there’s still a need for people to network and grow. This may present an opportunity to host or participate in online gatherings and meet-ups. One thing worth considering is a virtual happy hour, where people flip on their laptop camera, crack open a beverage, and enjoy a genuine chat from their own respective locations.

“At a time where traveling and in-person meetings are reduced, there are more openings on calendars. Running a webcast with a theme that’s relevant to the current times might hit a sweet spot.” @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

Stick to Your Strategy

Understandably, it can be weird to think about selling at this moment. Pushing products and services – especially those that might be deemed “non-essential” in the face of a global health crisis – feels tone-deaf at a time where everyone’s attention is pulled toward the headlines. I get it.

But here’s the unavoidable truth: This ordeal isn’t going away anytime soon. Life will be different for a while, and as we acclimate to a new norm, the drumbeat of business will regain its steady rhythm in most spaces. So it’s important to keep a holistic, integrated, full-funnel strategy in place, even if you’re lessening the conversion emphasis temporarily.

One thing many companies will want to ponder is how they can make it easier to digitally purchase and transact.

Into Unknown Territory

There is no playbook for this. Every person, family, and business is treading new ground. But we’re all going through it together and that’s why it is more valuable than ever to let our authenticity shine through.

“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of prosperity.”Ulysses S. Grant

How Brands Can Avoid the Dreaded Fauxthenticity Pitfall

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Fauxthenticity

Let’s be real for a second here.

Today’s marketers and brands are collectively recognizing the need to strike a note of authenticity with their audiences. That’s excellent.

But in the quest to get real, it’s all too easy to wind up making the exact opposite impression by trying too hard, especially on social media channels.

When I think about this subject I’m always reminded of Steve Buscemi’s attempt to conform with school kids on the TV show 30 Rock:

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So, we should ask ourselves: How can we, as businesses, avoid this “fauxthenticity” pitfall? How can we overcome the inherent barriers that inhibit genuine connections between brand and customer? How can we speak the language of our audience without looking like we’re trying really hard to speak their language?

It might be helpful to start out by looking at a few examples of authenticity gone awry, and dissect where things misfired with an eye on getting it right.

Can a Brand Be Your Friend?

Ian Bogost wrote a piece for the newest issue of The Atlantic entitled Brands Are Not Our Friends. Referencing an experience where the telecommunications giant sent Bogost delivery pies in response to a Twitter quip, the subhead reads: “Comcast sent me 10 pizzas. This isn’t nice; it’s manipulative.”

There’s a fine line to walk here, isn’t there? Comcast was executing a “surprise and delight” strategy, which isn’t a bad idea. But when the action rings hollow and transparent, the desired impact won’t be there.

In his story, Bogost cites another example where the social media team for Steak-umms, a seller of frozen beef, reached out to him via DM to sign a petition as part of the company’s tongue-in-cheek campaign to become verified on Twitter. When he learned that he’d been selected for inclusion by sophisticated software that analyzed his location, interests, and social media usage habits, it made him a bit uncomfortable.

The bottom line here? If you’re seeking to surprise and delight, you certainly don’t want to surprise in the wrong way.

The ultimate point of Bogost’s article is, I think, a good one. No, brands cannot be your friends. They can be friendly, but even with a real human being behind the account, they’re still intangible entities driven by commercial motivations.

But you know what? That’s OK, because there’s still a space to play.

What brands CAN strive to be is trustworthy, likable advocates with empathetic connections to their customers and prospects. And that is what our aim should be.

When it comes to achieving this distinction, I believe there are four fundamentals that must be front-and-center, which I get into below.

Fleeing Fauxthenticity: 4 Ways for Brands to Keep it Real

#1 – Know Your Audience

More or less the prime directive for content marketing in general, but in this conversation it becomes further magnified. It’s not simply about understanding general demographics, or keeping up with segmented trends, or regurgitating the terminologies and buzzwords they like to use (our Josh Nite had a great post earlier this year that opened with an ill-fated brand attempts to ride the wave of popular user hashtags).

It’s about understanding what really matters to them, and knowing them well enough to anticipate what’s going to resonate or fall flat. Dig deeper in your research. Study past campaigns by other brands or agencies with similar audiences, to see what’s worked and what’s totally missed. Have actual conversations with the people you serve or wish to serve.

At TopRank Marketing, our content team focuses extensively on gathering and analyzing audience insights before we start trying to connect or engage. Authenticity efforts guided by incomplete information or algorithm-based assumptions (like the aforementioned Steak-umms case) can instill negative feelings rather than positive ones, which is certainly not what we want.

Internet users are getting smarter these days. They see through half-baked stunts.

#2 – Don’t Be Overly Rosy

From my view, this is the absolute most pivotal element, and also the toughest to nail. No company wants to go around trashing itself, or sending off negative vibes all the time. But, then again, the world can be a difficult and upsetting place. Things don’t always go right.

The most transparently fauxthentic brands to me are those bubbly, peppy, happy-go-lucky ones that speak solely in optimism and exclamation points. People by and large cannot relate to that.

As an example, check out this recent Listerine-sponsored Instagram post from internet celeb Scarlett London, which drew massive backlash:

Scarlett London Instagram Post

On his blog, Scott Guthrie wrote of this cloying attempt at influencer marketing:

“Yes, it was staged, yes it was trite. Yes it appears to feature tortillas propped on her bed masquerading as pancakes. Yes the influencer was sitting on a bedspread that sported a huge photo of herself on it.”

Suffice to say this post left a bad taste in people’s mouths. “Instagram is a ridiculous lie factory made to make us all feel inadequate,” ranted one tweet that’s been liked 111,000 times.

Yikes.

I think brands should not necessarily skew more negative, but more realistic. Acknowledge the struggles so many of us share. Mix in failures with your success stories. Confront the flaws or drawbacks of your solution head-on instead of pretending they don’t exist.

And also: Don’t be afraid to repel people who aren’t really in your wheelhouse. If your content can filter out users that aren’t fits for your business, and avoid wasting their time, that’s almost as valuable as pulling in the right people.

#3 – Infuse Influencers in Their Natural Element

The Listerine example above shows how influencer marketing can backfire when mishandled. During her session on dispelling influencer marketing lies at CMWorld 2018, TopRank Marketing’s Digital Strategy Director Ashley Zeckman cited a couple examples of similar Instagram flops, wherein the “influencer” accidentally pasted the brand’s instructions into their post captions:

Influencer Marketing Fails on Social

The ultimate of fauxthenticity fails.

Integrating relevant influencers into marketing campaigns is a terrific way to add credibility, but only if those participants can become a genuine part of the narrative. Paying for promotion from online celebrities with no real tie to your brand isn’t the way to establish authenticity.

Lee Odden’s CMWorld presentation on the Confluence Equation offered a framework for effective influencer-powered content, which you should check out.

#4 – Leverage User Generated Content

I wrote here recently about UGC as a method to build authentic awareness and trust. There really is nothing better for that purpose than amplifying the voices of actual everyday people discussing your product, service, company, or industry as a whole in a natural setting.

Much like with influencers, this approach will sputter if you miss on the “natural” part, so it’s critical to eschew transparently disingenuous setups (e.g., contests or prompts that simply incentivize people to say nice things). You can find plenty of useful pointers in the blog post linked above.

Upping the Ante for Authenticity

In this frenzied environment, with low consumer trust and competition forever increasing, authenticity is set to become one of the biggest differentiators for brands.

“Almost everyone I speak to in marketing, who is serious about their brand, thinks that trust and authenticity” have become a big deal, noted HubSpot’s Scott Brinker in a recent interview.

Fostering a truly authentic reputation in this faceless digital world, while combating the instinctive consumer tendency to distrust corporate messaging, presents a very real challenge. Those brands that are ready to meet it with gusto will become champions of the new era.

The path to fending off fauxthenticity lies in knowing your audience, avoiding phony zeal, getting it right with influencers, and incorporating user generated content.  

Want to be real with your customers? Then the No. 1 rule, fellow kids, is this: Don’t fake it.

For further guidance on finding your brand’s authenticity sweet spot, check out some other past posts from the TopRank Blog: