Reflections on a Year of B2B Content Marketing (2022)

December 28, 2022

I started MessageUp at the end of 2021 after thinking long and hard about how and where I could deliver the most value. All paths led me toward content marketing.

At the parent company, Strategic Piece, my co-founder and I have worked with several dozen B2B companies, across various verticals, ranging in size and maturity from startups to hundred-million-dollar corporations. Almost every project led us back to content marketing.

As I dug deeper into what will drive B2B recovery and growth in our post-COVID world, I realized that fundamental changes are afoot in B2B buyer demographics, behavior, and preferences. All of them demand content marketing.

And thus the stage was set for 2022—a year to be spent researching, learning, writing about, and focusing on B2B content marketing.

Here are some things that surprised me, delighted me, frustrated me, and brought me to where I’m at today.


The Stark Reality of B2B Content Marketing

Do you find yourself thinking about things that seem “only a few months ago”, only to realize that it’s been 3 or 4 years since they happened?

The COVID pandemic has done funny things to our perception of time.

“Not that long ago”, most B2B transactions depended on vendor salespeople meeting buyer representatives in person, often at tradeshows, to pore over printed catalogs and kick the tires on products to be sold and bought.

Today, it’s a digital first world.

An inexorable trend toward digitalization was grinding away in the background, almost imperceptibly shifting the way things are done.

Then, boom! Working from home—now morphed into various forms of remote and hybrid working—turbo-charged the trend.

Buyers and sellers were grounded. Trade shows were cancelled. In-person came to mean Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, or bust.

“Our need will be the real creator.” (Socrates, Republic)

Or, as we prefer to say it these days: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Digital solutions have proliferated and matured at unprecedented speed. End-to-end digital processes have been designed, implemented, and adopted like never before.

And there’s no going back. Not all the way, for sure.

Demographically, B2B buyers are younger and more digitally native.

Geographically, they are scattered across the globe rather than confined to headquarters.

If you want your business, products, and services to be seen by today’s B2B buyer, you’d better be thinking digital.

Content marketing—the practice of making relevant, helpful information available to your target audience via the communication channels they prefer—has been transformed from a marketing backwater into its mission critical core.

I use that phrase a lot these days. Mission Critical.

If you aren’t pursuing an effective content marketing strategy, your company will struggle to complete its mission—whatever that mission might be.

That’s the stark reality as I see it now.

Every B2B company in every industry must embrace some form of content marketing strategy or else risk disappearing into obscurity while its competitors go digital and thrive.

Small wonder all pathways to growth are leading me back here.


The Wonderous Journey of Writing a Book* about B2B Content Marketing

*and how one book became two…

As the criticality of content marketing was coalescing in my brain, so too was another realization: B2B leaders aren’t ready for this.

The career paths that led us to C-suite roles at B2B businesses didn’t travel through content marketing country. They took us through the familiar territories of cold calling, sales campaigns, and gritty dealmaking.

We didn’t compel our teams to write product-agnostic guides to selecting the right solution or make snappy videos on implementation best practices.

Blogging was for twenty-somethings in hoodies who had more to say about meatless burgers than industrial equipment.

Suddenly, we were thrust into a world where all these things mattered and our entire companies—let alone our leaders—lacked the skills, experience, processes, and tools to make them happen.

The client teams with which I’ve worked have struggled to balance existing, revenue-generating ways of doing things with exploring and learning new approaches.

A lot of old dogs are being forced to learn new tricks, no matter what the proverb says.

And while many can see what needs to be done, few can chart a practical course for getting there.

They need a game plan. A basic road map. A framework.

Over the course of six months, I blended experience, research, and a long-repressed passion for writing to produce a manuscript. It was 70,000 words long. And messy.

But damn, I wrote a manuscript!  As published authors know, that’s more than half the battle.

Then I interviewed editors and hired a wonderful partner-in-crime to help transform my shitty first draft (a technical term in writing circles) into something people might read.

Two months later, we reached a critical decision point. “This isn’t one book, it’s two,” my editor informed me. “You need to clarify your target audience and write specifically what they need to hear.”

She was right. I’d overlooked (or ignored, who knows) a key tenet that I push my clients to accept: your product isn’t for you, it’s for them. So get really clear about who “they” are and build accordingly.

Under her watchful eye, I separated my Siamese manuscripts into a book for CEOs and a book for marketing leaders. Sounds easy, but it wasn’t.

As 2022 closes, my prosaic progeny are back with their editor, hopefully for the last time, and I look forward to seeing them published. April, maybe? Watch this space.


Six insights to help you frame the B2B content marketing conversation

Six Big Hairy Things I Learned about B2B Content Marketing

When you’ve written north of seventy thousand words on a topic, it becomes hard to see the forest for the trees.

However, forcing myself to step back and take stock, a few things jump out that I find worth sharing.

I won’t go into detail on each—you’ll have to read the books for that ;)—but here are six insights to help you frame the B2B content marketing conversation:

1.    B2B purchase decisions are almost always based on emotion, with logic and data used afterwards to rationalize and justify the outcome. Successful content marketing strategies deliberately evoke favorable emotions in their target audience to prompt the desired action.

2.    Authenticity is the single most valuable ingredient in great content. Amid the tidal wave of content flooding every channel, we’re ever-more dependent on our BS meter to filter the genuine from the deceptive. B2B buyers are human consumers, and humans prefer to do business with companies they trust. Authenticity builds trust, so authentic content is key to winning B2B buyers’ hearts, minds, and business.

3.    We are beholden to search and social media algorithms. Without them, it would be impossible to sort through the millions of posts and billions of online resources to find answers, vendors, or products (or memes worth sharing!)  While our content must attract and engage a human audience to be successful, it must also be recognized as authoritative and worthy by the algos. Creating content that meets both of these objectives is difficult but crucial.

4.    Rome wasn’t built in a day and nor will your content library be. That sounds like Yoda pontificating at a marketing roundtable but it’s a legitimate observation. Rigorous analysis will show that your company needs to publish content on dozens of topics. It will also show that your team’s publishing capacity is seriously bottlenecked—not least because content production competes with other business priorities for people’s time. Successful content strategies establish a cadence that the team can sustain, preferring regular publication over racing to cover everything. Quality tortoises beat quantity hares.

5.    The rules of the marketing game are constantly changing. Oh, and the goal posts are always moving, too. Content marketing seeks to make relevant, helpful information available on the channels that your target audience prefers. Changes in market conditions, customer preferences, competitor behavior, and technology (particularly search and social media platforms) all affect the definitions of “relevant” and “helpful” and your audience’s channel predilections. This means that content marketers must always be experimenting to figure out what works, since what worked last week or last month probably won’t work as well next week or next month.

6.    Content marketing strategies seldom fail, but they are frequently abandoned. Online propaganda that offers quick fixes, jammed calendars, and explosive growth creates the false impression than marketing can be quick, cheap, and easy. In reality, successful marketing takes time, costs money, and requires hard work. Expectations must be level-set accordingly.

There’s so much more I want to share but this is neither the time nor the place. Message me if anything I’ve written here sparks curiosity or sets off alarm bells.


Doubling-Down on B2B Content Marketing in 2023

Not much to say here except “more of the same!”

The books will (eventually) be published. Webinars are in the works. Clients are keeping me busy, and I have room to take on a couple more (grab time here if you’d like to chat).

Remember that every B2B company in every industry must embrace some form of content marketing strategy or else risk disappearing into obscurity and combine that with the six insights above and you’ll see there’s plenty of work to be done.

I’m excited for what 2023 holds in store at MessageUp!


Why Life Isn’t All about B2B Content Marketing

In case you think I’ve drunk a glass too many of the content marketing Kool-Aid (or some other potent libation), let me wrap up this post with a few non-marketing observations.

The world is full of uncertainty. It has been a difficult year for many, where things we took for granted—affordable energy, fully-stocked grocery stores, reproductive rights, and more—have suddenly been cast into doubt.

I hope 2023 brings us greater stability and security as we work to rebuild what a pandemic, political buffoonery, and various autocrats have torn down.

Trust in institutions, of all shapes and sizes, is at an historic low. This includes businesses, where leaders must work diligently to earn back the trust of their customers. Facts must eventually triumph over ideologies. Reason will prevail over rhetoric.

Take a deep breath, reevaluate what matters most, reconsider the norms and needs of a civil society, and think deeply about who we should trust

I hope 2023 gives us a chance to take a deep breath, reevaluate what matters most, reconsider the norms and needs of a civil society, and think deeply about who we should trust when it comes to matters of health, finance, and law.

Finally, the world operates on many levels—from the macro and geopolitical to the local and familial. Much of what happens on the grand scale is beyond our control. We’re just passengers and observers. However, we can—and must—participate in democratic processes to effect change for the long-term, and we must work to ensure those processes survive the threats that currently besiege them.

I hope 2023 affords us the wisdom and fortitude to control what we can control and accept the rest with grace and compassion. It won’t all be pretty, but we can choose to focus on the good and not give the rest any more airtime than necessary.

Thanks for reading. Your engagement is what makes writing these posts worthwhile.

My very best wishes to you and yours for the holiday season and for the year to come.


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Image credits: Adobe Stock


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