Marketing has always included some form of storytelling. The positioning of a company’s products and services means understanding what the company is offering, and determining the best way to “sell it.” But as digital has become the primary way that we communicate, the buyer’s journey has become increasingly complex, and unpredictable. And while the opportunities to tell your brand story to business audiences are endless, the challenges of doing so have increased in parallel.
It’s 2018. Digital marketing and social engagement are no longer a “nice to have,” yet I still scratch my head wondering why so many B2B brands still refuse to adapt or evolve. The times of posting press releases or sharing product pages on social are long over, and have been since 2010 (I still can’t believe I have to write this.)
Though in past years a return on investment in this form of marketing was unclear, we now know the data exists to report on and optimize performance. Sophisticated marketers at the forefront of the industry understand how to use analytics and make them actionable.
Activating digital programs for B2B companies requires a completely different train of thought than for consumer brands. Even if similar tactics are used - like content marketing, performance media or social engagement - the approach requires a different way of thinking.
Fluff aside, there are several best practices that need to be adopted in some fashion for B2B brands. Here are five you can start thinking about today, and begin to implement in your approach.
1. Use audience intelligence to deliver actionable insights
The future of B2B marketing rests on audience intelligence. This simply means that marketers need to understand their audiences first, then build content and marketing programs that will resonate and add value with those groups.
There are several social media platforms that can help identify and segment audiences. My favorite is Audiense, (formerly SocialBro). Their technology applies machine learning to identify and segment audiences by analyzing connections and clustering topics.
Here’s an example from an analysis I did of an enterprise security audience below:
The advantage of clustering audiences like this is that you can then explore and analyze each subset in depth.
You can drill-down on the basics, like demographics and geography, and even go further to explore the interests, affinities and media consumption habits that make each segment unique.
2. Reach audiences with the right content at the right time with data-driven storytelling
The term “data-driven storytelling” is overused, and, the reality is that while most marketers are using data in some way, very few are turning those insights into action.
I’m not sure why because the practice itself isn’t very complicated and you don’t have to be a data scientist to do it - way back in 2015, the Harvard Business Review predicted that data-driven storytelling was positioned to be the next big trend in content marketing. Today, while many brands are starting to dive into data, many are still far from making it actionable.
So, what does data-driven storytelling look like?It’s analyzing and understanding your audience before you establish your narrative.
Every business puts together a series of personas or target audiences whom they plan to address with their marketing message, but most of the time these personas are based on assumptions, or downloaded from a template online. Very few brands dig deeper and conduct research on their target audiences outside of the standard customer journey.
Effective storytelling combines social/web/media data (understanding the “what”) with primary research (understanding the “why”) in an effort to find whitespace in the market, or extract that “human truth” that your brand can own.
3. Activating influencers across all media
Reaching B2B decision makers is difficult, and controlling the narrative they’re exposed to is even more challenging. They are sophisticated, well-educated, skeptical about marketing and they won’t answer the phone when your sales team tries to cold call.
The buyer’s journey is complicated, dynamic and unpredictable - but one thing for certain is that B2B buyers seek and value third-party validation, whether they find it in a Google search result or if one of their colleagues forwards them a blog post.
B2B influencer marketing relies heavily on identifying the right influencers - essentially the 1% of that market that's driving the conversation. I use the 1:9:90 Model of Influence as a way to segment a market, whereby the 1% (influencers) are driving the conversation, the 9% (core audience) re-package, share and provide their point of view on influencer content, and the 90% (the market) who consume and validate whether they agree/disagree.
By researching influencer conversations and media habits, and then building activation programs which leverage paid, earned and owned media channels, B2B brands have the opportunity to surround sound their audiences with relevant content, and reinforce their brand message at the same time.
4. Ushering in a new channel of storytelling with employee advocacy & social selling
B2B brands are beginning to realize the impact of employee-driven content, and how it can influence others through the purchase funnel. Data from Aberdeen Group indicates that 72% of salespeople who use social selling as part of their process outperform their peers, and exceed quota 23% more often. The same study also states that 79% of firms have reported an increase in online visibility after implementing a formal employee advocacy program.
It’s clear from the research that employee advocacy (and social selling) are becoming more established business practices.
When it comes to trust and credibility, we know that employees are impactful, authentic and influential online. We also know that B2B buyers are the "most-marketed-to" group on the internet today - and that they filter out marketing messages 100% of the time. They do, however, pay attention to content shared by people like themselves - engineers, developers and IT leaders. This is a key opportunity for B2B brands.
5. Humanizing your brand, your people and your culture with video
The “play” button is the most persuasive action on the internet. I mean, who doesn’t watch videos in their stream daily, or get sucked into YouTube for hours on end because you keep clicking “related videos?”
Facebook are the leaders in the live video conversation, and the engagement stats show that this is paying off. Facebook has reported that its users spend 3x longer watching live than non-live videos, and that they comment 10x more. In 2017, LinkedIn launched its video uploads for users to share their expertise, give advice and share thought leadership.
Take a quick scroll through your feed on either platform and you’ll see the execution of live video everywhere. B2B buyers are consumers too, and they want to be entertained, educated and informed. Given this, your videos have to showcase more than just a tradeshow booth, or your CEO being interviewed on CNBC. Live videos (and videos in general) must be real and authentic. It brings to life the culture of your brand and humanizes engagement.
Brand relevance sounds like a fluffy term - and maybe it is - but think about the last time you went to go buy a pair of sneakers, dined at the restaurant where everyone knows your first name or booked a flight on your favorite airline.
There's a reason why you made the decision to spend with your chosen company in each instance. That's brand relevance.