Ancient cultures believed the complexity of the world and all its beings could be explained through four elements — earth, air, fire, and water. In B2B marketing, while some voices overcomplicate the nature of what we do, we can see how our work condenses down to our own “four elements” — people, process, custom content, and marketing technology. By mastering each of these elements individually, and blending them strategically, we are able to establish a solid foundation for a marketing outreach strategy that achieves our goals, and exceeds expectations.
The Elements of B2B Marketing
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden became famous for starting every season with a single lesson: how to tie shoelaces. Wooden understood that properly tied shoes were essential to enabling players to perform at their best, (not to mention preventing injuries). His philosophy was simple: if you don’t master the basics, even the most brilliant offensive and defensive strategies will do you no good.
As B2B marketers, we must begin our approach by mastering the basics of people, process, custom content, and marketing technology. These are the basic building blocks for any successful marketing outreach strategy. When all four receive equal attention, the potential for achieving your goals remains strong.
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the “tools and toys” of B2B marketing, every successful strategy begins with people, and not just the ones we ultimately want to sell to. We must align and coordinate the entire community of individuals who make our marketing outreach work, which encompasses
- Our audience: It’s vital that we understand, not only who these people are, from their job titles, levels of seniority, and other details, to their priorities, their pain points, and their buying cycles.
- Our teams: Marketing is a complex undertaking, and when we think one person can do it all, and be successful, we’re kidding ourselves. Look at the individual tasks which make up any marketing outreach: research, writing, design, analytics, coding, and more. Putting the right people in place to get the job done right is mission critical to the success of any program.
- Our partners: Look for the potential evangelists who can help elevate your brand message, including current and past clients, complementary businesses, even vendors and suppliers.
- Influencers: Media contacts are essential, but there are a lot of others that can influence your brand as well. Look for bloggers, podcasters, webcasters, and other industry influencers who can help amplify your message and grow your brand footprint.
Successful B2B marketing involves the coordinated interaction of elements, and without processes designed to guide those interactions, it’s easy for the whole operation to slide off the rails.
The most successful B2B marketers understand the word “process” rarely exists in the singular. To succeed in our field, we need a matrix of processes covering every stage of our journey, including:
- Research processes: “How will we go about learning what we need to know — about our audience, our industry, the latest trends, and the latest best practices?”
- Strategy processes: “How will we go about creating a solid strategy, and more importantly, how will we go about revisiting it in order to ensure it continues to deliver results?”
- Analytics processes: “How will we measure our results, and once again, how will we deliver those results to the appropriate stakeholders?”
- Creation processes: “How will we go about creating the custom content that goes out to our audience? What will our specific processes for creating text, visual, audio, video, and interactive content be?”
- Delivery processes: “What is our process for formatting, publishing, and sending this content to our audience via the blog, email, social media, and other venues?”
- Feedback processes: “How will we keep track of feedback from various sources — blog comments, social media posts and messages, incoming emails, etc. — and incorporate this feedback into our ongoing strategy?”
Content is the fuel for your B2B marketing outreach engine. Unlike most consumer marketing, B2B relies on education to guide prospects from one stage of the buyer’s journey to the next, and custom content is what makes that happen.
To choose the right content approach for your brand, it’s essential that you understand your audience’s preferences, in addition to your own brand personality. Consider each content venue has its own norms and best practices; for example, blog posts of 1,000 words or longer tend to perform better for SEO, while emails containing 125 words or less tend to get the best response rates.
As you build a game plan for your custom content, think about breaking out of the text box, and incorporating other media, such as:
- Images: infographics, slides, charts;
- Video: how-to videos, explainer videos, “vlog” posts, expert interviews;
- Audio: podcasts, downloadable MP3s; and,
- Interactive: webinars, hangouts, live events.
Technology is the final piece in the puzzle; it is the “go button” that lets us set people, processes, and custom content in motion. As you review your current marketing technology portfolio, make sure you’re covering the following bases:
- Research technology: Leverage intent monitoring platforms to gain insights into potential customers’ online habits;
- Content creation technology: Use team collaboration, workflow, and project management platforms to ensure that all custom content is created on time, and with the appropriate approvals are in place;
- Distribution technology: Select the right CMS, email marketing, and other platforms for targeted content distribution to your audience; and,
- Analytics technology: Leverage data and analytics platforms to track key performance indicators (KPIs) and respond accordingly.
The Four Elements in Action
Once we have the four elements of people, process, custom content, and marketing technology in place, it’s time to step into the lab and start strategically combining them. Consider implementing the following four initiatives in order to establish a solid foundation for a successful B2B marketing machine.
1. Build a Content Marketing Strategy
If we’ve done our homework about our audience, (see “People” above), we know them pretty well by now. We’ve dug past company specifics, job titles, seniority, and other surface differentiators to uncover their priorities and pain points. We now have the foundation of our custom content marketing strategy.
Remember, content always serves the buyer first, so it’s vital that you build our content around what you know about your audience — not just around the products you want to push, or the brand attributes you want to emphasize. Use your audience profile and personas to build a strategy around content which answers their questions, addresses their challenges, and helps them do their jobs better.
2. Build a Custom Content Production and Management Plan
In many organizations, custom content creation is a group effort, involving subject matter experts (SMEs), writers, designers, developers, and of course, the leaders tasked with reviewing and approving everything before it gets published. Creating a unified strategy brings all moving parts together, and enables your process to flow smoothly.
On the content management side, it’s essential to have one central hub where all marketing content resides — an important consideration when choosing a content management system. Developing and using a tagging system will keep your content organized, to facilitate future reuse or re-circulation. And don’t forget the consistency factor: have standards and processes in place to ensure that all content aligns with your brand guidelines and serves your custom content marketing strategy.
3. Streamline Distribution and Monitoring
Your distribution platform is critical in ensuring that targeted content is delivered to those for whom it was intended. Remember, the days of “spray and pray” messaging blasts are over, and delivering custom content to targeted groups, and subgroups, is the key to gaining attention and building engagement.
Before digging into your monitoring, reporting, and data interpretation tools, make sure all stakeholders have a solid understanding of your KPIs: where they come from, what they mean, and how they fit into the big picture. Ensure that your tools offer a 360-degree view of your results, and make it easy for to key stakeholders to access those results that relate to their piece of the puzzle. For example, SEO keyword performance would be of interest to your website team and your writers, while specifics on video views will be useful for your video production team.
4. Monitor Social Media Engagement in Real Time
Social media moves at the speed of light, so we need to continuously monitor not only the performance of our own content, but overall trends that could present opportunities. Use your intent monitoring platform to determine the topics, formats, and styles that get the highest engagement rates from your target accounts, then adjust your approach accordingly.
Just as ancient cultures looked to the elements of earth, air, fire, and water as the building blocks of their universe, those of us in B2B marketing would do well to focus on our own “elements” of people, process, custom content, and marketing technology as the foundation of our strategic journey. By truly mastering these elements and combining them in innovative and strategic ways, we can forge a path toward our goals that makes the most of our resources, while helping us earn customers for life.