In this ‘Interview with an expert’ we discuss the dos and don’ts of content marketing in B2B tech with Irene Triendl.
What is the context and background of what you do?
I help businesses sell to other businesses. My focus is content marketing strategy for tech companies — specifically helping them figure out the best message to put to their audience within their market and space.
In the B2B tech space this is a big challenge as it’s something that sits at the intersection of understanding product, the overall market, and the audience. Too often you see tech companies who are incredibly strong when it comes to building their product, but they don’t have enough understanding of the environment they are selling into. For their proposition to resonate with the industry budget holders (often different from the end users), it needs to be positioned in a way that factors in the different dynamics and forces at play. This nuance is key to the message. It needs to focus on who you are selling to, and the world they are in.
Why content marketing?
Content shouldn’t be separate from the rest of your marketing. I think marketing disciplines need to work together. I have seen businesses who have split digital, traditional, content collateral etc into silos and it can be a disaster (and it’s not efficient either!). You need to have a clear position and voice as the starting point for all your marketing. Content builds your credibility and authority in your chosen space. It allows your audience to read what you have got to say, self-educate and build trust in you. That’s why it’s so valuable — it helps find people not on your radar and bring them into your orbit. It’s out there working for you when you don’t even realise!
But, to get it right, it’s essential to lead with the bigger themes in your market rather than the product message. If you only talk about yourself, your prospects will just shut down and stop listening. You need to earn the right to sell to them by showing them you get it.
Biggest mistakes you see companies make with content?
Leading with a product message is the first. Other mistakes are companies who push out content for content’s sake. Too many firms think they need to publish once or twice a week for consistency. When they do this, they often creep into pushing out posts that either don’t relate to their expertise, or are low quality — or boring! This destroys credibility and traction, which is exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to do.
The other trap is when you have PR masquerading as content. ‘Content’ that is too self-centred, an excuse to write about a client win or award, etc. Don’t make your content library a PR catalogue. No-one will come to your site to read about how great you are. Content marketing works best when you’re generous to your audience with what you know... This allows people to self-educate. Too often it becomes too salesy too quickly which is a turn off.
Last but not least — don’t put out content that you wouldn’t want to read yourself! Use this as a sense check before you hit post. Are you saying something new and interesting? Is it formatted in an easy to read way? Can I skim it and get the gist?
Ask yourself — would a mildly interested observer want to read this (be really honest with yourself…). If the answer is no, then don’t post it.
What about the balance of content you would suggest — top of funnel vs sales and head vs heart?
There is a huge misconception that the B2B buying journey is entirely rational — so the content needs to be all sales-aids with ROIs, business plans, savings calculators etc. Yes, there is a big rational aspect but there is also a huge emotional element that gets completely overlooked.
I think that businesses need to have more emotional content!
If you have a product that solves a specific problem in an industry, there will be people who feel strongly about it. They will have been frustrated with the problem for years. And finding a solution is a relief. That’s what your marketing should talk about.
In a business, there are also ambitions and politics at play. Maybe the sponsor wants to look good to his/her superiors by finding and backing a solution. There are lots of message here that can make people sit up, pay attention and say ‘wow — I didn’t realise this existed’. I think the industry is missing a massive trick here by focusing on rational decision making alone.
What advice would you give to a company just starting? What is the minimum base you need?
The first thing to do as a tech marketer (if you are new hire in a company), is to gain the trust of the techies. The best content will always come from the expertise in the business. One way to create content and gain internal trust is to engage people internally to help create content. Ask people to write a post or interview them about their expertise. It is a great first step to make people internally feel involved, and bridges the gap between marketing and tech. It won’t cost you anything extra either if you are running on a tight budget.
What are some of the other hacks you would suggest?
Getting the foundations right and building from that will save you lots of money and headaches in the long run. As a starting point, I would be hiring a great digital marketer who understands KPIs and measurement. Lots of B2B marketing is experimenting with channels and messages. Which emails are opened, AB testing etc… try to embrace this. Get someone into your team who is excited about it, can set it up, and measure it. This would probably be one of first hires you should think about (and I know I’m shooting myself in the foot here as I’m a content marketer) — but I really don’t think you should outsource digital anymore. At the beginning you can do lots of work with freelancers to fit your budget but ultimately this won’t scale.
How can you work out if someone (new hire, agency or freelancer) really knows B2B?
The first thing I would do is look at the work that person or agency has done in the past. Have they got experience in your sector, and do you like their style? And secondly: Be rigorous when you ask them about their process — get them to take you through it step by step. How do they approach learning about a problem, identifying the audience they are trying to reach, and factor this into their work. Make sure you understand what they are doing and why as they are going to be acting as your product and company’s voice.
Irene is a marketing strategist and copywriter. She helps B2B tech companies create messaging and content that resonate with their target audience. To learn more, visit her website.