5 Tips to Help B2B Marketers Focus Their Future Efforts

July 9, 2018

With so many channels, platforms, and technologies available to marketers, it’s sometimes paralyzing to even think about committing to a course of action. Who among us wouldn’t accept a crystal ball to guide our choices?

We can’t predict the future, but we can bring you the wisdom of three visionaries who continually point B2B marketers toward a more enlightened path. To do just that, we teamed with Marketo to host a livestream Q&A featuring Marketing Insider Group CEO Michael Brenner, Type A Communications Chief Experience Officer Carla Johnson, and Marketoonist founder Tom Fishburne.

You can watch the full livestream here, but if you’re short on time, here are the discussion highlights on where B2B marketers should focus their efforts in the future.

1. Master the Art of Telling and Distributing Stories

We hear plenty about brands needing to tell stories and for good reason. Storytelling has become an important theme in modern marketing because stories are at the heart of relatability and persuasion.

But many marketers are still unsure about what it means to tell a story or where to begin. Johnson suggests starting with what matters to the customer. In this vein, Brenner borrows from Ann Handley when he advises marketers to make their customer the hero of their stories. As he points out, so many brands claim they are embracing this perspective when they’re truly pushing their brand. It’s the equivalent of propaganda and consumers have become good at filtering out thinly disguised promotion.

According to Fishburne, it works to think of stories as serial narratives. Think about what you would say on an ongoing basis over time as a way to unpack storytelling. As he underscores, if you’re telling a good story, people will look forward to the next installment.

When it comes to distributing stories, marketers have options – and that can be the problem. From Johnson’s perspective, companies try to tell their stories across so many platforms that their story becomes disjointed and diluted. Picking one medium and owning the story in that environment first is a better bet.

To that end, a simple email newsletter might be the best place to start. As Fishburne reminds us, the audience is yours and they’ve given you permission to reach out – as long as you’re delivering something they want to open. Clearly he’s in touch with what resonates with his audience – open rates for his weekly Marketoonist newsletter average an enviable 40-50%.

2. Harness the Power of Video

It’s no secret that we’re huge believers in the power of video for B2B marketers. Unfortunately, the perceived cost to produce video keeps many marketers from exploring this opportunity. As Johnson says, simply recording footage of employees from your smartphone can go a long way toward showing the human side of your brand. Brenner recommends marketers check out how TrackMaven CEO Allen Gannett posts smartphone-generated videos on LinkedIn to great effect.

Animation is another form of video that marketers are testing. Fishburne has found an effective way to reduce the risk of investing in animation: Run a series of static content and analyze the data to see what resonates. Then animate the best performers. Google engaged Fishburne for that very purpose and ended up with a 15-second animation it ran as a pre-roll ad on YouTube.

3. Where to Focus a Lean Marketing Budget

While a lucky few marketers are handed multi-million-dollar budgets, the majority scramble to get the most bang for their precious bucks. When it’s a matter of doing more with less, Johnson strongly urges a focus on writing. After all, writing is at the heart of all great content.

Then there’s the matter of cadence – or quality over quantity. When Fishburne first started blogging, he committed to one post per week. Years later, he’s still going strong while others burned out. As he reminds us, focus on delivering value and you’ll keep your audience – even if they only hear from you every week or so.

Brenner backed this assertion by referencing research from Andy Crestodina showing that a regular cadence trumps quantity. To that end, Brenner advises marketers figure out what content they can produce and then produce the highest quality version of that on a cadence they can maintain.

4. Extend Your Content Value Through Employees

When it comes to social media, Brenner is seeing a growing number of clients activating their employees to humanize their messaging and extend their reach. He shares the example of Marketo, which enjoys an enviable 100% participation rate for employee advocacy and is seeing 30% click-through rates on employee-shared content. This jibes with our own findings about the power of employee amplification.

As Johnson puts it, employees are a company’s toughest audience. Create content they love, believe in and aren’t embarrassed to share, and it will go far and wide. In fact, it will find a highly receptive audience, as people typically trust a company’s employees more than the brand.

To bring this to life, Fishburne shared the example of a weekly cartoon he has created for Kronos the past eight years. Kronos stores these on an internal database that employees can pull from to liven up their content.

5. Take the Reins to Align with Sales

Sales and marketing alignment continues to be a thorn in the side of many B2B organizations.  Johnson calls out marketers for staying safely ensconced in their silos when they could be learning from their sales counterparts. Brenner wholeheartedly agrees, pointing out that sales and marketing alignment has been the top challenge for years and it simply comes down to marketing and sales speaking regularly.

But go a step further and you’ll get even more for your efforts. Marketers can’t replace the insights they can glean by accompanying sales on customer calls. Getting a firsthand look at the ins and outs of selling is invaluable for understanding what the sales team truly needs from marketing – and for spotting marketing opportunities that sales pros might overlook. Having gone on many ride-alongs in his early career, Fishburne says this is a sure way to build clout with the sales team.

Brenner concurs, having spent five years in sales, where he learned marketing and sales are two sides of the same coin. As he so beautifully puts it, sales is helping people and marketing is about helping people at scale. He shares an example from his time at SAP where the partnership between marketing and sales proved incredibly effective. As Vice President of Global Marketing and Content Strategy for SAP, Brenner rolled out the company’s first content platform, and the first 80 subscribers were sales reps.

Brenner invited them to contribute content, and the sales team became a huge resource for creating and distributing content. This platform ultimately became an award-winning inbound marketing content destination site for SAP.

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