Nearly three years into the branded content revolution, many B2B brands have recognized the need to move beyond the white paper and into broader content efforts to build awareness and engage their audiences.

But many of the tools and platforms treat the processes for creating B2B and B2C content as essentially the same, which has created some mixed results. According to the Content Marketing Institute, only 9% of B2B brands are “very satisfied” with their content marketing efforts, despite content marketing being about 30% of their marketing budget.

Some experts believe there are relatively few fundamental differences between B2B and B2C content marketing. I dissent. B2B will turn out to be a completely different beast than the consumer facing kind. Here are four good reasons why:

1. Amplification is hard

Traditionally, the major distribution method for B2B print content was the “controlled circulation” model pioneered in the 1960’s where one delivered a free glossy magazine to a targeted list. Those days are over: free content is standard, and there are over two million new posts a day of noise for B2B audiences to sort through. While email lists and content retargeting units are great approaches to engage and retain an audience, if readers don’t opt-in right away, how do B2B firms get the attention of regular readers?

On the consumer side, there are firms solving the problem, but LinkedIn alone, currently purports to solve the B2B content amplification challenge. The consumer content amplification firms seem poorly positioned to solve the B2B problem soon since they tend to reward for popularity, click-throughs, and engagement, but not relevance. Which leads to B2B’s second big problem...

2. Attracting the wrong audience in B2B can be worse than attracting no audience

Consumer marketers seek to develop awareness and affinity with their brand (ie. Red Bull). But B2B marketers often take a more pragmatic tack, where awareness is secondary to potential lead generation. Many B2B marketers will (appropriately) develop hooks in their content to transform readers into potential leads. But if the content isn’t attracting the right audience, these inappropriate leads accidentally enter the sales funnel, which leads to significant costs. Side note: false positives have also been a persistent problem with B2B search optimization.

Larger audiences aren’t necessarily a better result in B2B which makes success metrics in B2B content tricky to assess, especially with the backdrop of a long sales cycle.

3. Nobody wants generalist content from a B2B brand

While a consumer marketer may build awareness simply by being entertaining or diverting, a B2B marketer will be expected to deliver insight and value that is specific to their audience. This isn't just common sense, it is also a good business practice, because ideally, B2B content will act as a filter for un-targeted audiences. (ie. “Nobody but our potential customers would be interested in this content.”)

A few B2B marketers may be able to successfully develop an audience for general business insight, and compete with publishers. The rest will be unlikely to beat out publishers at the generalist game. B2B brands may overcome this hurdle by paying for expensive, well-researched, highly specific premium journalism, and a few are doing this well. But even the few brands creating amazing long-form content still have the first problem: no one hears.

4. Influencers work well, but the B2B world is sometimes a small place

One frequently cited solution for B2B marketers to solve the first three problems is influencer based content marketing, which comes in two flavors. The first approach is to build or hire internal influencers and attempt to grow an audience organically. This may be the optimal B2B approach, but is quite difficult to execute and has a few flaws: Internal B2B influencers may be incapable of crafting stories that attract an audience. Ghostwriting is devilishly difficult to get right. Building influence can be incredibly time consuming. And finally, of course, what if your influencers leave?

Another approach is to leverage external influencers. This approach is perhaps the most effective for B2B marketers: an influencer is likely to create relevant and authoritative content that is targeted and meaningful to the audience, and solve the targeting and quality problems. With the right incentives, influencers may also act as a distribution channel and amplify your B2B brand’s content through their own social distribution, and solve the noise problem. 

The biggest challenge here is recruiting the right people: the smaller the space, the more likely it is that the external influencers will have their own agenda; they may even already be aligned with a competitor. So make sure you are vetting your external influencers well, and supporting them to create unbiased, insightful, targeted content.

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