It’s that time of year when businesses large and small are making budgetary decisions about the year ahead.
Some of those decisions will affect marketing budgets and among them will be proposals to invest in B2B content marketing.
Here’s the punchline: Investing in B2B content marketing shouldn’t be a decision.
It is mission critical.
I’m going to share a story to illustrate why.
To understand the importance of B2B content marketing, you must examine it through the lens of the intended recipient—your target audience.
This means putting yourself inside the head of the buyer—or, more accurately in the case of most B2B transactions, the buying committee—at your target customer.
Antonio (not his real name) is a rotating equipment buyer for a multinational engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) firm.
Rotating equipment is a term used in the chemical and manufacturing industries to describe equipment that moves fluids, gasses, and other materials through a processing facility. This includes pumps, compressors, generators, and engines.
Antonio’s responsibilities include maintaining the firm’s list of approved rotating equipment vendors, evaluating new products as they come to market and bringing them to the engineering teams’ attention, and negotiating purchase agreements for rotating equipment specified by the company’s project teams.
His personal scorecard, which determines his eligibility for an annual bonus and impacts his chances of being promoted, includes several factors. This year, a new category was added to align his activities with corporate sustainability targets.
Specifically, Antonio was tasked with reducing the environmental footprint of the rotating equipment his company installs.
This meant finding equipment that was more energy efficient, used fewer consumables, used more recyclable components, and which created the lowest possible footprint during its manufacture.
With several hundred manufacturers and several thousand products to evaluate, finding and compiling this information became a major project for Antonio. His manager also suggested scouting for new technologies—and new vendors—that might deliver a step-change in environmental performance.
Antonio is twenty-eight years old. He was raised in an upper-middle class home by parents who consider themselves fast-followers of the latest technology. In other words, Antonio wasn’t the first kid to own the latest gizmo, but he was never too far behind.
As a Zillennial—born on the boundary between Millennials and Generation Z—Antonio considers himself a digital native. He grew up with technology and his first instinct is to use the internet to find whatever information he needs.
The sustainability project was a perfect example.
With help from a virtual assistant in Costa Rica, he scoured vendor and industry websites for information about the environmental footprint of products in his equipment category.
To his surprise, many vendors had already published articles describing the need for more sustainable solutions. However, few had translated that need into real data, let alone action.
It quickly became apparent that the number of vendors who would qualify for new contracts being let by his company would fall dramatically.
He also found himself staring at a giant spreadsheet full of data that was difficult to analyze.
Each vendor had taken their own approach to defining, measuring, and reporting relevant information. How on earth was he supposed to make recommendations when the basic information was as comparable as apples and pears?
Once again, the internet came to his rescue.
He found a blog article, written by a relatively unknown equipment manufacturer, that explained the terminology in detail and gave helpful examples of how to compare one type of measurement to another.
This had two important consequences: Antonio was able to produce a ranked list of products that he felt comfortable defending to his superiors and Antonio added a new vendor—the one that had published the article— to his approved list based on their clear expertise in an area of increasing importance and their competitive product lineup.
Actually, there was a third important consequence: Several established vendors suddenly found themselves on the outside looking in when Antonio’s firm issued its next request for proposals.
Anxious emails and urgent phone messages hit Antonio’s inbox and voicemail, as well as those belonging to his boss. Vendors that had supplied the firm for years wanted to know how and why they were suddenly excluded.
Four months later, the new vendor that Antonio had added to his approved list received one of the largest purchase orders in its young history.
After several years of knocking on doors and treading exhibit hall carpet, the company’s CEO recognized an important shift in their industry. Buyers weren’t responding in the ways he had experienced earlier in his career.
Like business leaders across industry, he observed an increasing number of younger buyers moving into category purchasing roles.
They refused to meet with sales reps and opted not to walk the show floor at an industry conference—even if it meant passing up a nice lunch or missing out on a VIP ticket.
Instead, they worked behind the scenes, researching, evaluating, and selecting products over the internet without much vendor contact whatsoever.
By the time his sales reps found out about a new opportunity, the buyer had usually decided what to purchase and in many cases who to purchase it from.
To intercept these opportunities earlier in the process was difficult. The team had grown up making cold calls, schmoozing receptionists and executive assistants, and building relationships with buyers on golf courses and in nice restaurants.
Now, the only relationship his reps had with many of the buyers was a connection on LinkedIn.
And that was the a-ha moment.
The CEO realized that his team needed to build relationships over the internet, in ways that impacted buyers while they were still in “stealth mode”.
This led to a complete overhaul of the vendor’s marketing and sales strategy, including building buyer’s journey maps to understand what information they should publish and starting a weekly blog on which to share relevant, helpful information.
That’s where the article “How to Compare Rotating Equipment Based on its Environmental Footprint” was published.
That’s how they leapfrogged much larger competitors to become top of mind with a buyer at one of their ideal EPC customers.
That’s content marketing in action.
The story I’ve just shared is apocryphal but distills key points from several very real experiences I’ve observed with my clients (both B2B buyers and sellers).
If you’re a B2B vendor, think about the members of your buying committee—the people who evaluate and select your product or service—and how they find and process information.
Are you confident that your solutions are being seen and fairly evaluated by all the buyers you hope to target?
If not, how will you bring them to buyers’ attention and educate buyers on how to evaluate them appropriately?
What new information might buyers be seeking that hasn’t been included in your existing materials?
Assuming they prefer to avoid interacting with a salesperson, how else will buyers find that information?
In a digital-first world where buyers use the internet to research, evaluate, and select products without making themselves visible to vendors, content marketing is the only viable way to provide them with information about your solutions and to show them how to objectively evaluate competing options.
Against that backdrop, can you afford NOT to invest in content marketing?
I contend that the decision your company should be making isn’t whether to invest in B2B content marketing or not, but how much to invest and how to do so effectively.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock