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.

Incredible Content Marketing: 6 Tips for Infusing Credibility into B2B Content

Business-woman at Computer Image

One of my favorite moments from The Simpsons is when the hilariously incompetent physician Dr. Nick burns down a building by mishandling a clearly marked chemical tank, and then exclaims, “Inflammable means flammable?! What a country!”

via GIPHY

“Incredible” is a word that can spark similar cognitive dissonance for marketers. Sure, it might technically be defined as “impossible to believe,” but if your content isn’t credible, would anyone describe it as incredible?

Quite the opposite. In this business, incredible means credible. So let’s explore the cornerstones of creating credible, and thus truly incredible, content marketing.

6 Tips for Making Your B2B Content (Incredibly) Credible

Just as you can’t fake authenticity, you can’t fake credibility. This label is earned by brands over time by developing a trusted voice, showing up for your audience, and — above all — knowing what you’re talking about. With these being table stakes, today’s post examines how you can make sure this foundational credibility is showing up in the content marketing you create and distribute.

Speaking of table stakes:

1 — Don’t lie to your audience

We’re living in an age where misinformation runs rampant. Frankly, it can make the entire experience of being online very draining and exhausting. And while folks might have no choice but to put up with the zany Facebook post by their uncle, or the click-baity headline on Google News, they are less likely to tolerate it from companies they do business with.

To be clear, I’m not under the impression that many B2B brands are out here attempting to flat-out fib to people. On this subject, I’ll make two points:

  1. It’s all too easy to be untruthful with your audience unintentionally. If careless, marketers can fall into the same disinformation traps that plague many users of the web. Always fact-check and verify information before sharing it with your audience, and don’t make a habit of running with assumptions.
  2. Shying away from the truth isn’t much different from lying. It might not feel dishonest to downplay your solution’s weaknesses, or hide negative reviews, but will your customers feel the same?

2 — Gain credibility through association

One of the primary advantages of influencer marketing is that it allows brands to co-opt the credibility of respected experts and business leaders they partner with. When audiences see these individuals collaborating with a company, producing useful and enjoyable content together, it infuses an instant element of trust.

It is not enough to simply activate influencer marketing, though — be strategic about it. Identify influencers who truly fit with your brand values, and aim for transparent authenticity in your engagements. In other words, beware of pay-to-play.

As Lee Odden put it in an interview with Brand24: “Without clear alignment between the brand, influencer and audience, the program won’t resonate and everyone loses credibility.”

3 — Be thoughtful about where your content is showing up

Your brand’s associations aren’t limited to “who”; there is also the matter of “where.” Credibility can be affected by the reputations of platforms where content is distributed, and by the other content that appears around it.

In the social media sphere, Business Insider’s Digital Trust Report has found LinkedIn* to be the platform most trusted by users three years straight, and what’s especially interest to note is the dramatic drop-off Facebook has seen over this span:

Business Insider Chart

Nearly half of the respondents (47%) in Business Insider’s 2019 report said they think Facebook is “extremely likely” to show them deceptive content. I wrote on this blog recently about the B2B implications of the Facebook advertising boycott. This isn’t to say marketing on Facebook is a universal cred-killer, but it’s something that should increasingly be weighed in your decision-making.

Any podcast your brand representatives appear on, or blogs they guest-post on, should also be vetted deeply. Just as you can gain credibility through association, you can also lose it.

4 — Put your brand’s purpose forward

I like to frame a company’s relationship with its purpose as that between the Earth and the Sun: Not so close that it’s constantly in your face, but always within view, and all of your marketing activities orbit around it.

There are many benefits to being a purpose-driven brand, but the credibility factor is a big one. Credibility is built, in part, through consistency. Staying true to a clearly articulated guiding mission is one of the simplest ways to demonstrate consistency, even amidst rapidly changing conditions.

Kim Davis of MarTech Today recently highlighted Deloitte’s seven marketing trends for 2021, which are geared toward “breaking out of our often defensive mindsets to more holistically — and authentically — meet human needs.”

The first item on the list is purpose. And I might argue that the following six confidence-building touchstones – agility, human connections, trust, participation, fusion, talent transformation – all feed off it.

Like planets orbiting the Sun.

 5 — Elevate the voices of your community

Companies aren’t credible. We can say they are, as a shorthand, but nobody actually finds a business entity trustworthy or dependable on its own. Credibility is driven by the people behind the brand, and by its advocates. Do all you can to showcase those individuals and continually reinforce their loyalty.

Customers and employees come together to form your brand’s community. People see themselves in the reflection of the community, not the company logo or product features. So if you want to build credibility, lift those voices up. In the past, we’ve preached the value of user-generated content and employee advocacy. More recently, Cara Sloman wrote at Entrepreneur about the power of customer champions for trust and credibility.

6 —Make the commitment and investment to do marketing well

At the end of the day, actions — and results — speak louder than words. Nothing is more credible than a piece of content that is downright GOOD – where it is clear that serious effort and expertise were channeled into creating something that would connect and make an impact.

You can’t manufacture the credibility of ranking first in Google for a keyword you want to own, or building a large and engaged following on social media, or boasting heartfelt customer testimonials on your website.

These things don’t come easily or automatically. And they’re never earned by taking the easy route.

Jeff Bezos once said, “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.” Say what you will about the Amazon overlord, but no one can deny he’s got credibility on the subject of growing a modern business.

Want help making your content marketing more credible AND incredible? Reach out to our team at TopRank Marketing.

* LinkedIn Marketing Solutions is a TopRank Marketing client

10 Horrifying Marketing Fears & How To Turn Them Into 2021 Successes

Man cowering in fear behind a blanket.

What are your most daunting and horrifying marketing fears?

Have you confronted them, or are they still lurking in the dark corners of your marketing mind?

The uncertainty of the pandemic has given rise to new fears for many, and brought out long-recessed ones for others.

Luckily with all of these fears come new opportunities for tackling them, learning more about ourselves, and perhaps even becoming better marketers in the process.

Let’s take a look at some of the top fears in marketing, including examples from some of our own team, and explore how you can take action to conquer your greatest marketing fears and turn them into 2021 successes.

1 — Fear of Boring and Losing Your Audience

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A top fear shared by many marketers is undoubtedly creating content that does nothing but bore your audience.

Especially among B2B marketers, the fear of producing dull and dry content is a valid concern, where many worry about how to bring life and energy to the latest whitepaper data or statistics.

Thankfully, the B2B marketing industry has undergone a significant sea change in recent times, as methods for infusing interactive and experiential elements, genuinely interesting storytelling, and the trustworthiness of expert industry influencers have proliferated — all methods you can incorporate into your own efforts to ditch the legacy of dusty old boring B2B.

Over the years we’ve written many articles about how B2B marketers can bring energy, inspiration, and genuine excitement to digital efforts, and here are just a few to help you overcome the fear of creating boring B2B content:

“B2B marketing has undergone a sea change in recent times, as methods for infusing interactive and experiential elements, storytelling, and the trustworthiness of expert industry influencers have proliferated.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis Click To Tweet

2 — Fear of Not Doing Enough & Being Unmotivated

As Tim Herrera, smarter living editor at The New York Times recently wrote in the piece “7 Months Into the Pandemic and I’m Losing Motivation. Help!”, now isn’t the time to pretend we’re living in normal times.

“Accepting that it’s OK to not feel as inspired as you did a year ago can help us adjust to this new way of life,” Herrera suggested.

Anxiety and stress can take a huge toll on productivity, so it’s important for marketers to reassess — daily or even hourly — just what progress and personal success are during a lengthy pandemic, and to define them in more forgiving and graceful ways during the pandemic.

During the pandemic some 23 percent of people across the world have turned to online communities for stress management, according to Facebook’s recently-released “Connected Convenience: How People Are Finding And Fostering Togetherness Online” report, which for marketers has given rise to newfound digital connection opportunities to reach audiences.

The fear of facing lost motivation and the decreased productivity that often follows is a significant challenge, however there are ways to start turning the table on them.

We should remind ourselves that we’re in the midst of a pandemic, and that simply making it through a day can in its own way be the biggest victory we can hope for.

It can also be helpful to take stock of anything extra beyond the bare minimum that we’ve been able to accomplish during the day — even if it’s just one small task — to remind ourselves that we not only have the power to push on and survive the daily challenges of the global health crisis, but also the ability to perform in ways that may surprise us if we take the time to seek out and acknowledge them.

B2B marketers are a busy bunch, and while having a chock full or overbooked schedule can in some ways help us make it through the next day, it’s important to take care of our own needs — whether by boosting happiness hormones or through other methods — and to work in time for reflection, physical and creative activities, and other self-care elements that will help avoid marketing burnout as time passes.

“It’s important to take care of our own needs and work in time for reflection, physical and creative activities, and other self-care elements to help avoid marketing burnout as time passes.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis Click To Tweet

3 — Fear of Uncertainty

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During the pandemic the fear of uncertainty has affected us all. Most marketers are still dealing with the upheaval of remote work, and the uncertainty surrounding a future that remains more of a mystery than anyone would like can at times feel overwhelming.

This fear of uncertainty has played a part in a significant drop in confidence among corporate executives, according to Deloitte’s new Global Marketing Trends 2021 report, surveying over 400 global CMOs and other executives. From CEOs and CIOs to COOs and CMOs, confidence has understandably fallen during the pandemic.

Deloitte Image

Marketing activities that boost trust can help overcome the confidence debt that has risen during the pandemic, such as those our CEO Lee Odden recently explored in “In Search of Trust: How Authentic Content Drives Customer Experience.”

To help face some of the fears surrounding remote work, we’ve also written several articles to assist you in turning those remote work challenges into newfound advantages, including my own “Day 4,777: Remote Work Tips From 13+ Years As A Distance Marketer.” Here are the others:

“Marketing activities that boost trust can help overcome the confidence debt that has risen during the pandemic.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis Click To Tweet

4 — Fear of Giving Away Your Secret Sauce Recipe

It’s not uncommon in the marketing world to face the fear of divulging what may appear to be too much information — to the point where you might think a client would simply be able to take your secret sauce recipe and create the same type of success that you have.

One of the greatest elements in both content marketing and B2B influencer marketing, however, is the expectation and respect of freely sharing helpful information.

Content marketing has been built on a foundation of giving away helpful information — whether in the form of writing or visual elements — which has undoubtedly been a primary reason why it’s become such a popular and successful method marketers use to connect with people.

B2B influencer marketing similarly counts among its core values the free exchange of expert insight and advice, which has likely contributed to a rise in the use of B2B influencer marketing among top brands, such as with our own clients Adobe, LinkedIn, AT&T, Dell, Oracle, and other top organizations.

Face the fear of giving away your secret sauce recipe by learning more about content marketing  — we have you covered with the following recent articles about the practice, and for learning more about the power of B2B influencer marketing a great starting point is our groundbreaking and authoritative 45-plus page 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report.

“One of the greatest elements in both content marketing and B2B influencer marketing is the expectation and respect of freely sharing helpful information.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis Click To Tweet

5 — Fear of Oversharing or Under-Sharing

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I must be sharing too much content too often? But what if I’m not sharing nearly enough to be effective…

These common fears arise when marketers haven’t conducted tests to determine the sharing cadence that works best among a particular audience or on a specific social platform.

Although it can take time to fine-tune your social media sharing frequency, finding the cadence that best resonates with with your audience is well worth it to not only attract new followers but also keep existing fans.

In our informal poll asking B2B marketers their primary reason for unfollowing a brand, sharing too much content and irrelevant content were the top reasons aside from poor quality content.

LinkedIn Poll

Each year firms produce reports based on the examination of social publishing data in an attempt to pinpoint the top times to publish on various platforms, such as Sprout Social’s “How COVID-19 Has Changed Social Media Engagement,” and Hootsuite’s “The Best Time to Post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.” This data can be helpful in developing your own plan, however it should be considered a starting off point rather than social posting gospel.

“Finding the social publishing cadence that best resonates with with your audience is well worth it to not only attract new followers but also keep existing fans.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis Click To Tweet

6 — Fear of Messaging That Appears Too Old or Too Young

Aside from our physical age, the messaging we create can be constructed in a vast range of tones, with only certain ones ringing true with your intended audience.

Many marketers are afraid of crafting messaging that goes too far in either direction — appearing to be made for much older audiences than intended, or taking on tones that make the content skew far too young.

You can help overcome this fear by learning more about your audience — who are they, what questions are they asking, and what tone will work the best when communicating with them?

Our “10 Smart Question Research Tools for B2B Marketers” shares many tools B2B marketers can use to uncover the questions people are asking, while our “5 Essential Questions to Guide Your B2B Influencer Marketing Strategy” explores how B2B influencer marketing can help connect with audiences, and in “Your B2B Marketing Book of Life: 10 Inspiring B2B Marketing Tips From Family History,” we take a family history themed look at getting to know your particular marketing audience.

7 — Fear of Aiming For the Stars

I can’t compete with that — it won top honors at Cannes!

The fear of aiming too high is another common one among marketers, as it can be daunting to contemplate going head to head with the very best marketing efforts the world has to offer.

Looking at examples of award-winning efforts, however, is a great way to help you dream big and see how brands are making their marketing dreams come true. Breaking down award-winning examples into bite-sized chunks — from start to finish — can help us see that even the greatest digital campaigns were formed by perfectly piecing together small elements that all work together in harmony.

In the following articles we’ve explored some top examples to help you conquer your fear of reaching for the marketing stars:

“Even the greatest digital marketing campaigns were formed by perfectly piecing together small elements that all work together in harmony.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis Click To Tweet

8 — Fear of Missing Deadlines

I need to put in a twenty hour day to be absolutely certain this project meets the deadline!”

The fear of being unable to meet deadlines can be daunting for many marketers, but doesn’t have to rule your professional life if you put your projects in order and implement scheduling touch points that keep things on track through the process, so those last minute surprises are few and far between.

Getting into good deadline scheduling habits that include plenty of built-in time for leeway needed to ward off last-minute chaos is well worth the effort.

Here are several articles we’ve written that will help overcome those efficiency and time management fears:

“Getting into good deadline scheduling habits that include plenty of built-in time for leeway needed to ward off last-minute chaos is well worth the effort.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis Click To Tweet

9 — Fear of Presenting New Ideas

Even if you never miss a deadline, many marketers face another fear that arises when plans abound and suggestions are plentiful — the fear of presenting new ideas.

Our own influencer marketing strategist Nic Michael has several tactics for facing and overcoming this widespread fear.

“One of my biggest marketing fears is presenting new ideas,” Nic shared.

“Whether an influencer list or a creative execution, I always fear that my client stakeholders will hate what I have done. Over time, I have realized that coming in with strategic thinking, enthusiasm, and confidence, makes presenting a much less stressful situation than it plays out in your head,” Nic observed.

Our own vice president of client accounts Alexis Hall takes a look at these and other methods for better marketing presentations in “How to Power Marketing Presentations With Data Visualization & Win Over Your Audience,” including helpful tips to overcome even the strongest fear of sharing new ideas.

10 — Fear of Missing New Industry Trends

Plenty of marketers also fear missing out on new industry trends, as keeping up with the swift twists and turns of today’s marketing scene — with mile-a-minute product launches, ever-new platforms, feature changes and additions — is not an easy task.

It can be done, however, as our director of search and analytics Seth Epstein explained.

“For a long time I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to stay up to date on everything I need to know to be relevant as a marketer,” Seth said.

“To overcome that, I’ve learned to focus on business goals and on understanding who potential customers are and what they want. Testing new strategies and tactics, and keeping up with trends becomes easier — and fun — when you’ve got confidence in your marketing foundations,” Seth observed.

One way to keep up on the latest B2B marketing industry trends is by following blogs such as our own, and by keeping up with our B2B Marketing News, which publishes every Friday.

Don’t Look Back At Your Marketing Fears

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Whether it’s the fears we’ve explored here or some of the many more marketers are facing today more than ever because of the pandemic, it’s important to move forward and not look back — like Count Orlok in F.W. Murnau’s fear-riddled Nosferatu — on the fears we’ve either already overcome or are working to face in our daily lives.

Facing our fears can make us better B2B marketers and in many aspects of our professional and personal lives as well, so I encourage you to use this first-ever Halloween pandemic season to take the methods and suggestions we’ve looked at to heart, and to create your own new form of fearless marketing and living.

Want further help facing your marketing fears? 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.

New Research: How B2B Content Marketers Are Impacted and Pivoting During the Pandemic

Professionals Wearing Masks and Bumping Elbows

Each year, Content Marketing Institute releases a new version of its B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report, providing a timely contextual snapshot of the discipline at large and its ever-shifting landscape.

Needless to say, this year’s edition hits differently. While there is always change and evolution afoot in the annual study’s findings, 2020 has been a year of unprecedented upheaval for our profession, along with most every other.

The impact of COVID-19 on B2B content marketing is a direct and prevalent focus in CMI’s latest report, which helps leaders and practitioners in the field understand how their peers are reacting and adapting to a disruptive global event.

B2B Content Marketing in the Age of COVID-19

You can find the full report here, but today I’ll share five particular stats and insights that struck me as noteworthy in the 11th Annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report.

  1. Content strategies are changing, both short-term and long-term

Slowly but surely, we’ve been making progress. Forty-three percent of respondents this year reported having a documented content strategy, which is a bit disappointing on its own, but encouraging when you looking at the running trend:

  • 2020: 43%
  • 2019: 41%
  • 2018: 39%
  • 2017: 37%

That’s remarkably steady and consistent growth! I might argue we’re still lagging behind on the whole, but progress is progress. Having said that, it is a bit ironic that at a time where more B2B marketers than ever have gotten their strategy down on paper, we’re being forced to crumple it up and rewrite it.

“It’s a bit ironic that at a time where more B2B marketers than ever have gotten their strategy down on paper, we’re being forced to crumple it up and rewrite it.” — @NickNelsonMN @CMIContent #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

Maybe that’s a bit strong, but 70% of respondents in the CMI survey said the pandemic has had a major or moderate impact on their B2B content strategy. Two-thirds indicated that the nature of their adjustments are both short-term and long-term.

CMI Image A

With this in mind, if you’re among the majority that still hasn’t developed a documented content strategy, this might be a good time to flesh one out that strikes this balance between the big and small pictures. During times of turbulence (and long-distance collaboration), it’s always good to have a single source of truth. Last year I provided a simple three-point checklist for documenting your content strategy, and the guiding principles still apply.

  1. Adjustments to messaging and targeting are the top reactive priorities

Asked about the specific changes their organizations have made in response to COVID-19, the top answer – selected by 70% of B2B marketers – was “Changed targeting/messaging strategy.” The most common answers after that were “Adjusted editorial calendar” and “Changed content distribution/promotion strategy.”

CMI Image B

Nothing too surprising about this. It goes without saying many marketing messages and campaigns that were conceived before the pandemic became irrelevant (if not blatantly tone-deaf) when the world was flipped on its side. Brands everywhere have been forced to fundamentally rethink what they’re saying, and who they’re saying it to.

For that reason, I’m a little surprised that responses like “Reexamined customer journey,” “Increased time spent talking with customers,” and “Revisited customer/buyer personas” were all so low on the list. This does feel like a good time to get back in tune with the preferences and pain points that guide people toward our solutions.

  1. Measurement methods have mostly remained stable

Another finding that stands out to me in the chart above is that “Adjusted key performance indicators” and “Changed content marketing metrics” were at the very bottom. For better or worse, it appears that most teams are sticking to the same yardsticks now as they were a year ago.

Maybe that’s a good thing! If you’ve truly locked down your measurement strategy in a way that accurately proves out results and fosters constant refinement and optimization, it probably shouldn’t change based on outside circumstances. However, according to the 2020 Marketing Measurement & Attribution Survey from Demand Gen Report, 40% of marketers said their company’s current ability to measure and analyze marketing performance and impact “needs improvement,” while only 13% said they felt they were “excellent” in this regard.

So perhaps reporting and analytics simply aren’t viewed as a priority at this time. I find that troubling, because in a time of widespread budget cuts and resource drains, the ability to demonstrate the revenue impact of marketing activities is arguably more important than ever.

  1. Content creation challenges, not pandemic-related issues, are holding back success

Among those who rated their organization’s overall level of content marketing success in the past year as “Minimally Successful” or “Not at All Successful,” CMI broke down contributing factors in order to identify the most prevalent barriers. While the fairly broad “Pandemic-related issues” was available as an option, this was actually among the least common responses. At the top of the list, cited by 63% of laggards, was “Content creation challenges.”

These challenges can take various forms (some of which can be doubly categorized as pandemic-related issues).

“Our company needs more content. We serve a deep niche and few people understand our industry well enough to pop in and do small projects for us,” said one anonymous respondent quoted in the report.

Said another: “Clients are getting bombarded with electronic information—especially now since in-person meetings and events are on hold. How do we create compelling content that gets distributed in a way that stands out from the clutter?”

  1. Virtual events and live-streaming increased — but not THAT much

Among content types used by B2B marketers over the past 12 months, the biggest risers from last year are those you would expect:

  • Virtual events/webinars/online courses increased from 57% to 67%
  • Live-streaming increased from 10% to 29%

These are hefty jumps … but they still don’t point to ubiquity, by any means. There remains untapped opportunity on the frontier of online experiences, although clearly it’s getting crowded in a hurry. The second quote shared in the previous section points to this challenge, which is at the same time both new and old.

Break through the clutter and earn attention: Amidst so much transformative change, this eternal edict of content marketers stays the same. We’re currently just seeing it play out in a new environment.

“Break through the clutter and earn attention: Amidst transformative change, this eternal edict of content marketers stays the same.” — @NickNelsonMN @CMIContent #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

Virtual events and live-streams have much potential for engagement and interactivity. We might receive some inspiration on these fronts when the folks behind this report bring their anticipated annual event, Content Marketing World, into the virtual realm this year for the first time. It’s going down on October 13-16, and our own Lee Odden will be delivering a presentation: Influencer Marketing Unleashed: Top Tactics for Success from Global B2B Brands.

As Lee will illustrate, influencer marketing should be a piece of the puzzle in forward-looking B2B strategies. Many of the other trends outlined here will converge and shape the future of content marketing.

Your Guide to Effective Storytelling in B2B Content Marketing

Book Laying in Front of Tranquil Lake Scenery

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a guy who understands content. He was the featured keynote speaker at Content Marketing World three years ago, and his company HitRecord empowers creators to collaborate and produce awesome stuff together.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt also understands storytelling. He is an actor, director, producer, and writer who has appeared in numerous beloved movies and TV shows. His work as an author includes a series of works called The Book of Tiny Stories.

“The universe is not made of atoms; it’s made of tiny stories,” the tagline asserts.

Given his experience and expertise at the intersection of content and storytelling, it’s worth listening any time Gordon-Levitt speaks on these subjects. So I definitely took notice when the film icon suggested recently that the future of storytelling lies not in movies, but video games.

The gaming medium “feels like kind of the most groundbreaking storytelling,” Gordon-Levitt observed in a new episode of the YouTube show Hot Ones. “Storytelling that’s completely in a whole different realm than anything we’ve seen before.”

Personally, I can’t disagree with him. I love video games, in large part due to the immersion of a well-crafted narrative that draws the player into an interactive virtual world. And while marketing departments aren’t exactly concocting the next Grand Theft Auto, we do have the ability to deliver storytelling experiences that go above and beyond, by embracing many of the same principles that make video games such an appealing format in the eyes of Gordon-Levitt and others.

Of course, the formula for impactful storytelling in B2B content marketing is different from video games, or movies, even though it might share commonalities with both. To help you develop stories that engage and activate your professional audience, I’ve developed a blueprint, which I’ve dubbed the S.T.O.R.Y. model.

The S.T.O.R.Y Model for Great Storytelling in B2B Content Marketing

Sizzle. Tension. Originality. Relevance. Yearning. Every stellar piece of storytelling in B2B content marketing encompasses these five words. Let’s break down each one, and how they come together for a powerful experience. (We’ll lean on JGL to visualize these concepts.)

Sizzle

sizzle (n): a state or quality of great excitement or passion

In Gordon-Levitt’s world of filmmaking, a “sizzle reel” refers to a short, fast-paced video edit featuring the best of someone’s past work. Sizzle reels are often put together by actors who distribute them in hopes of landing gigs. As the name suggests, these reels need to sizzle: The excitement and passion must be on display right away in order to wrangle the attention of a casting director sorting through hundreds of them.

The B2B marketer’s directive is no different. Earning the attention of our audiences in the era of rampant content saturation means we need to bring it. If your story does not imbue a genuine and immediately discernible sense of passion and excitement, it may very well not be worth telling.

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Tension

tension (n): a balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements

Sizzle is how you grab the audience’s attention with your story. Tension is how you keep it. Storytellers can build tension by referencing or hinting at something early on, and then gradually working toward the payoff.

This dynamic was explained beautifully by Andrew Davis at CM World – one year after Gordon-Levitt’s appearance – in his opening 2018 keynote exploring the “curiosity gap” and how it counteracts dwindling attention spans. I had the pleasure of watching Davis break it down alongside my colleague Ashley Zeckman, who recapped the session here on our blog. Read her post and you’ll learn everything you need to know about using tension to keep your audience hooked.

“The more tension you raise, the more your audience needs to see the outcome.” @DrewDavisHere #Storytelling #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

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Originality

originality (n): freshness of aspect, design, or style

In order to be memorable, it must be novel.

While it’s valuable to keep someone watching or reading to completion, we’re not telling a great story simply because they absorbed the whole thing. We’re telling a great story if it sticks with them. To this end, freshness and originality are essential qualities.

The human brain can only consciously store so many memories. There isn’t much room for redundancy.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel with every story you tell, but there should always be at least one inventive or unexpected element that makes it feel unique.

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Relevance

relevance (n): the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate

From one view, the word “relevance” is incredibly broad. From another, it is narrow as can be.

Example: Coronavirus is relevant to every human being on Planet Earth right now. But, what about the mental health impact of a pandemic on first-time telecommuters, and how HR managers can provide meaningful support? Now you’ve zeroed in.

Here is where we begin to diverge from standard forms of entertainment. Great art often speaks to the many. Great B2B content marketing should speak to the few, but in a fiercely resonant way.

“Great art often speaks to the many. Great B2B content marketing should speak to the few, but in a fiercely resonant way.” @NickNelsonMN #Storytelling #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

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Yearning

yearning (n): a feeling of intense longing for something

And here is where we fully settle into the marketing realm. Leaving the viewer with a sense of yearning is a common objective in entertainment – think cliffhangers – but only in content marketing is it requisite for efficacy.

This doesn’t mean someone finishes your story and has a yearning to go buy the product or service. That’s an unlikely (albeit highly impressive) outcome. It means they yearn for more – more installments in the series, more content from the brand, more information on the website, more social media posts from the account.

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Tell Your Brand’s S.T.O.R.Y.

When your story sizzles, builds tension, exudes originality, sparks relevant tones with a defined audience, and leaves the reader or viewer yearning for more … you’ve got yourself a highly effective piece of B2B content marketing. The specifics within this framework are flexible and open to your own creative spin – you’d hardly be able to check the “originality” box if that wasn’t the case – but the overarching principles of impactful marketing narratives are quite consistent in every successful production. They’re most often found in movies and video games too, for that matter.

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To learn how you can apply this formula to establish stronger relationships with your audience, check out my blog post on channeling the skills of Abraham Lincoln to build trust through storytelling.

Three B2B Marketing Tactics That Will Outlast the COVID19 Pandemic

B2B Marketing Pandemic

Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the B2B world with companies generally reducing marketing budgets. At the same time, many B2B companies are maintaining or increasing marketing spend as we’ve seen with most of our clients at TopRank Marketing.

While there has generally been a shift from explicit sales/push marketing content to brand messaging that is more aligned with the times and empathetic to customers, sales expectations still exist for B2B brands during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The challenge many B2B marketers are facing is to understand how to navigate both the short term changes in what works for customers in the current environment as as well as in the long term, post-crisis.

According to research from McKinsey, one of the biggest changes that has happened is the boost in importance of B2B digital over traditional means of engaging customers – 200% more than before COVID-19. This move to digital means higher expectations by B2B customers of self service as well as B2B ecommerce experiences. With those changes in expectations come changes in marketing, short and long term.

Not only do B2B companies need to mitigate sales losses because of the uncertainty during the pandemic but those who want to continue being the best solution and top of mind for customers when purchasing behavior comes back need to look at what pandemic-era tactics will stick after the crisis has subsided.

For a great overview of how to measure marketing goals in a crisis, be sure to check out Birdie’s post here. 

How buyers feel about B2B brands short and long term will directly contribute to which brands are the most relevant as budgets open up and business solutions investments experience substantial growth. Some of the long term metrics include branding goals measured by share of voice for social, share of search and earned media.

So, can B2B marketers do to optimize and measure their pandemic era marketing?

Content is the kingdom. Providing customers with information and resources for surviving and thriving during the pandemic that are useful from the customer’s perspective is a good starting point. Demonstrating how the B2B brand’s solution provides value in the current environment is also essential for creating relevance and utility with customers. Of course, useful information isn’t all there is. The shift towards digital, B2B brands need to make sure the digital experiences they provide are 100%: Information is easy to find, the inquiry or ordering process is easy and fast, there are zero glitches in using online systems.

Search is even more relevant. As mentioned in the research from McKinsey, self service is an increasing expectations amongst B2B buyers. One way buyers are performing self serve marketing  is through the use of search engines.

An emphasis on search also helps B2B brands reach sales goals without being “salesly”.  This trend has been picked up on by savvy B2B marketers with 63% of marketers saying it will be most important during the pandemic according to a survey by Conductor. This confidence is also exemplified from data reported by G2 Crowd showing B2B tech categories having a 200-600% increase in organic search traffic during the pandemic.

Of course to make search work, B2B brands need content and SEO best practices in place to ensure optimized visibility for what customers are looking for. We’ve seen many B2B brands emphasize SEO during the pandemic which enables buyers who are no longer attending trade shows and engaging in experiential or field marketing activities to use search engines for finding useful information and solutions on their own terms.

Findability works best with credibility.  Customers are as skeptical of brand marketing as ever and are tiring of the “in these uncertain times, we’re here for you” ads and messaging. While bypassing that with search engine optimization and advertising works well for connecting with customers, optimized content that has added 3rd party credibility can work even better.

In our own research in the 2020 State of B2B Influencer Marketing Report, 77% of B2B marketers say their prospects rely on influencers for information. Confidence in influencer marketing is on the rise for B2B marketers. 63% of survey respondents believe they would have better marketing results with an influencer marketing program.

So, crisis era marketing that emphasizes SEO to help buyers pull themselves to brand content that also includes credibility inspiring content from industry experts is what can really create trust and the confidence for buyers to make the connection. This is why SEO and influence are essential partners for any B2B marketing effort during and after the pandemic.

Measuring the impact of B2B content marketing that is optimized and influencer activated means understanding the search phrases and topics of influence that are most relevant for customers and then tracking the brand’s relevance, engagement and conversion for those topics.

For  search marketing, key measures include:

  • Topic visibility reporting & share of search for those topics
  • Referred traffic to content optimized for the target topics
  • Conversions from target topic content

Influencer marketing, metrics to track include:

  • Share of voice on topics of include
  • Growth of brand affinity with influencers
  • Reach of topic content amongst influencer networks
  • Engagement and conversion performance of topic content shared by influencers
  • Growth in affinity of topics and brand in social
  • Growth of organic brand advocacy by influencers and their networks

Uncertainty is a dangerous state for businesses and making no decision is often worse than making the wrong decision or failing fast. Understanding the shifts in buyer behavior can help B2B brands gain confidence in the role content marketing will play in the short and long term. Relevant content that is both findable for increasingly self-serve buyers and credible through industry expert contributions can give the competitive advantage needed to perform both short term and post-pandemic.

Hungry for More: What B2B Marketers Need to Know About Episodic Content

B2B Marketing Episodic Content

The cliffhanger is one of the greatest tools in entertainment. I’ll explain why later.

Seriously though, we’ve all experienced the cliffhanger: It’s that tension-building moment of uncertainty at the end of a chapter or installment that leaves the audience impatiently awaiting the next one. Some of my favorite binge-worthy TV shows and page-turning novels have been defined by this quality.

A perfect example from modern cinema is the conclusion of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. While I won’t give anything away, the movie ended with a shocking turn of events that seemed to leave little hope for the franchise’s heroic protagonists. In the 12 months that passed between Infinity War and its sequel, fans waited with rabid eagerness for answers and closure, reveling in theories and hyper-analysis.

When Endgame finally arrived one year later, it delivered a hugely satisfying payoff. This helped the movie score the biggest box office opening of all time, and earned its creators high praise from our own Josh Nite for overcoming common Hollywood pitfalls and fully satisfying the fanbase.

via GIPHY

B2B content marketing is increasingly taking cues from the world of entertainment in the quest to keep busy customers and prospects tuning in. When it comes to riveting your audience, there may be no more important model to borrow than episodic content, and the benefits don’t stop there.

Advantages of Episodic Content for B2B Marketing

Let’s start by springboarding off the point above, by highlighting the way this content delights those who consume it. Then, we’ll discuss some of the key operational implications for marketers.

Episodic Content Builds Loyalty and Retention with Your Audience

Storytelling is very powerful in B2B marketing. It helps audiences mentally organize, connect, and contextualize information in a way that makes the content much easier to understand and remember. In addition, storytelling through content marketing helps build trust.

Episodic content provides a means to extend the storytelling dynamic over lengthier time periods and campaigns. In the same way a strong narrative or theme compels a reader to keep scrolling through a blog post or viewing a video, connecting multiple pieces of content through this framework urges content consumers to find and enjoy that next nugget.

“Episodic content provides a means to extend the storytelling dynamic over lengthier time periods and campaigns. Connecting multiple pieces of content urges content consumers to find and enjoy that next nugget.” @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

When you drill right down to the essential purpose of content marketing — per the venerable Content Marketing Institute, that is “creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience” — it’s easy to see how well an episodic cadence aligns.

Episodic Content Brings Efficiency and Greater Utility to Your Content

Here’s a scenario: You’ve got a big old 5,000 word writeup on a topic critical to those in your industry or niche. You spent months planning, developing, and refining it. You’re convinced it’s interesting and informative enough to hold a reader’s attention all the way through.

So why drop it all at once?

Divvying such a hefty piece of content up into multiple parts means you can stretch the content out over multiple days or weeks, filling up your content calendar while also making the information itself more easily digestible and giving your audience a distinct reason to come back. The same is true of audio content, video content, and so forth.

This is something that can be (and often is) done in hindsight — “Wow, this turned out to be really long, let’s cut it into parts” — but is most effective when baked into planning, so you can build in those pivotal cliffhangers and a smooth overall flow.

Episodic Content Adds Cohesiveness to Your Content Strategy

One of the habits I recently suggested B2B marketers should leave behind in the 2010s is aimless content creation. Episodic content is a simple solution to the fragmented nature of many wayward strategies. When you start planning around sequential series of related pieces, it becomes far easier to tie everything together with a consistent thread, and helps embed that mindset throughout the rest of a program.

Examples of Episodic Content in B2B Marketing

It might feel easier to envision episodic content in the context of TV shows or movie franchises than in a B2B marketing strategy. So let’s explore a few practical ways to bring this framework to life within business-oriented campaigns and programs.

Webcasts/Vidcasts

This format is the easiest to associate with episodic mainstays like TV and film, because it follows the very same premise: pull in a viewer with an engrossing video, and then leave them wanting more. There are many examples of this throughout the world of B2B marketing, one of them being our own Break Free B2B webcast series.

The interconnected quality in a video content series doesn’t always have to be an ongoing narrative. Sometimes it’s simply a theme that resonates and applies to various installments. In the example of Break Free B2B, there’s no direct linkage between different episodes, except for the core concept — smart, forward-thinking pros sharing their best tips to escape the traditional constraint and barriers of our field.

Break Free B2B Video Example Screenshot

YouTube itself illustrates the power of episodic video content. By automatically playing another related video after one ends, viewers sometimes stay tuned in for long durations. And to reinforce the platform’s irresistible appeal, Google recently disclosed that YouTube earned more than $15 billion in revenue last year.

Podcasts

These fall into a similar bucket as vidcasts and webcasts, but with a strictly audio focus. There are plenty of popular podcast shows that unpack a progressive narrative over the course of many episodes (Serial was a breakthrough in this regard), but again, it’s often about a cohesive theme or concept.

Two of our B2B clients at TopRank Marketing are helping lead the way on this front: 3M’s Science Champions highlights the human side of complex topics, while SAP’s Tech Unknown explores cutting-edge innovation through the eyes of the innovators.

When Josh shared B2B podcasting stats here a few months ago, some of the most striking were around the devoted consumption of listeners. For example, 76.8% listen to podcasts more than seven hours a week, and 52% of monthly listeners listen to the entirety of each episode.

In other words, once you pull someone into a podcast, there’s a good chance they’ll be hooked.

“Podcasts continue to attract new listeners. And, most promisingly, those who listen are far more likely to add new podcasts than cut down.” @NiteWrites #B2Bpodcasting Click To Tweet

Social Casts

This is a somewhat new frontier, but definitely an intriguing one. Driving consistent social engagement is a challenge for many B2B brands, and episodic social content contributes to solving it.

The LinkedIn Marketing Blog* recently highlighted companies that are excelling with video on the platform, and the post includes several examples of episodic campaigns, such as Searchie’s LinkedIn Live series and the Keynotes educational series from eCornell.

LinkedIn Live Image

Other common examples of episodic social content include weekly hashtag posts, employee spotlights, and daily polls.

Blogs, Guides, Email

The above examples are mostly multimedia-focused, because that best correlates to the high-profile entertainment examples cited from the outset, but written content like blog posts and guides are also perfect for episodic delivery. A thematic newsletter, or series of related blog posts, or collection of ebooks covering the same topical area can all fit the bill. If you strike a chord with your audience, you’ll have them looking out for the next one.

On to the Next Episode

As you plan out your upcoming content initiatives, think about ways you can build them around an episodic framework. It will help you form long-running narratives, gain consistent attention and awareness from your audience, add efficiency to your creation process, and support a cohesive strategy.

Instead of thinking about the conclusion of your next campaign or content piece, start thinking about the cliffhanger.

A big part of episodic B2B content’s appeal is that it creates a lengthier and deeper experience for the reader, listener, or viewer. Learn more about why experiential content is on the rise in our recent blog entry.  

* Disclosure: LinkedIn, along with 3M and SAP, is a client of TopRank Marketing

Break Free B2B Series: Emily Thompson on the Power of Content Marketing in Health Care

Break Free B2B Interview with Emily Thompson

Trust is the linchpin of modern marketing. It plays a crucial role in every vertical, industry, or niche. But nowhere is trust a more essential crux than in health care, where the personal stakes are immense.

“We’re in an industry where, you know, it’s serious,” says Emily Thompson in her interview for Break Free B2B. “This is about people’s health and well being, and a lot of times people get very nervous — they’re scared, they’re sick.”

As a Boston-based freelance writer and content strategist who primarily focuses on the health care sector, where she has worked with a wide variety of clients ranging from startups to enterprise, Emily acutely understands the impactful nuances of messaging. She says seeing things from the other side — as a first-time mother who frequently sought information online — helped her develop a more empathetic view.

She incorporates this into her craft, creating patient-focused copy designed to build trust and confidence, and offers valuable insight for B2B marketers everywhere. In the interview, she shares some tactics and techniques that are being used effectively in her industry to achieve this rapport, from smartphone apps to user-generated content to data-driven personalization and beyond. 

Research says that 93 million Americans have searched for a health-related topic online. So If we know people are going online, we have to be there too. @BosCreativeCopy #HealthcareMarketing #BreakFreeB2B Click To Tweet

Watch my conversation with Emily below, and let her experiences and perspectives help guide you toward building healthier relationships with your B2B customers. 

Break Free B2B Interview with Emily Thompson

If you’re interested in checking out a particular portion of the discussion, you can find a quick general outline below, as well as a few excerpts that stood out to us.

  • 03:46 – The emerging focus of content marketing in health care
  • 07:05 – Big data in health care marketing
  • 09:42 – Responsible data usage and personalization in health care marketing
  • 12:35 – Leveraging traditional and emerging channels in health care marketing
  • 13:42 – Counterproductive mindsets in health care marketing
  • 16:14 – User generated content in health care
  • 19:55 – Challenges that span across industries
  • 22:17 – Rising demands from patients for digital 24/7 access

Nick: Can content marketing build trust in the patient care continuum?

Emily: That’s really what, to me, content marketing is all about. It’s building trust with the consumer, whether that’s a patient or a referring physician. And, I think that … when an organization can deliver strong content that helps inform people, it only builds that trust. And if you think about the patients that are watching, often they’re frightened, they’re overwhelmed, they don’t know where to go. And so there’s just a lot of opportunity in health care for marketers to really rely on content to help them build that trust.

When an organization can deliver strong content that helps inform people, it only builds that trust. @BosCreativeCopy #BreakFreeB2B #ContentMarketing #healthcare

Nick: Transparency is key in managing health care data. How else can marketers benefit the health care system? 

Emily: I think it comes down to messaging too, and if you make sure that your content is ultimately really helpful to the consumer. So, for example, I was on these apps [after giving birth to my son], and I was being served up a toy that might work for my son in his age and developmentally where he was at. Or food — we were struggling with a type of formula or milk that would be good for him. 

Ultimately, people just want information that’s helpful to them. It helps calm them down whether they’re nervous about their health information or they’re, you know, a new mom. It’s hard to be frustrated when an app is using information about myself that is ultimately benefiting me, helping me out.

Nick: Is there anything that stands out to you as a real opportunity for marketers, and specifically those who are working in the B2B space, to break free of something that might be inhibiting them?

Emily: Yeah. Break free from fear. I think that health care can be a very conservative market. And, you know, to be fair, there are reasons for that. We’re in an industry where, you know, it’s serious. This is about people’s health and well being, and a lot of times people get very nervous — they’re scared, they’re sick.

But I think that isn’t a reason to hold back from trying new things. I think that especially with digital, it’s very easy today to try a new type of message, or a new type of way of communicating to someone. Let’s say you never blogged before, why not try a blog? Let’s say you never did email marketing, why not try it? Or a new type of message? 

The worst that can happen is you measure it, you learn from it, and you try something new. I think that often, as health care marketers, we can get stuck in the same way of doing things. And, a lot of times it’s a little too safe.

As health care marketers, we can get stuck in the same way of doing things. The worst that can happen is you measure it, you learn from it, and you try something new. @BosCreativeCopy #BreakFreeB2B #ContentMarketing #healthcare Click To Tweet

Stay tuned to the TopRank Marketing Blog and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more Break Free B2B interviews. Here are a few interviews to whet your appetite:

If you’re hungry for more insight and advice on the state of trust in marketing, check out our Trust Factors series: