As a B2B CEO, how active are you in marketing your business?
Many CEOs are the face of their franchise. They speak on panels, give presentations at seminars, and bring gravitas to a critical sales meeting to help get a deal over the line.
But, as B2B buyers conduct more of their product research, evaluation, and selection online, content marketing has overtaken in-person approaches in both importance and effectiveness.
Should you, the CEO, be leading those content marketing efforts, too?
My answer is an emphatic yes, for five reasons that I’ll elaborate below.
In the days of yore—in other words: before the internet—marketing was synonymous with advertising and sales enablement.
It was the department that produced snazzy graphics, quippy copy, and glossy brochures.
When the C-suite pounded its fists on the boardroom table and demanded more growth, the marketing machine cranked out magazine ads, mailers, and perhaps even a radio or TV campaign.
And when sales said jump, marketing filled its rolling bags with shiny spec sheets and all many of branded tchotchkes for conference goers to take home to their kids.
As the internet crept into our living rooms to gobble up our attention and bring the store to our sofa, business-to-business marketing and sales lumbered on, oblivious.
Then, suddenly, businesses began buying things online.
A new generation of B2B buyers took behaviors learned at home and brought them to the office. A pandemic accelerated the trend by bringing the office to the couch.
Today, B2B buyers search, research, evaluate, and purchase almost everything via the internet. End-to-end digital processes are becoming the norm, with buyer surveys revealing an increasing level of comfort making million-dollar purchases without any in-person interaction whatsoever.
To play this game, a vendor must engage in content marketing. That is, the practice of publishing relevant, helpful information about the challenge their product or service solves and the value it delivers in places where buyers go to find such answers.
Much like prize drawings that take place at the end of a trade show, choosing a winner from business cards deposited in a goldfish bowl, content marketing is a “must be present to win” affair.
Companies that fail to play the game effectively will go unnoticed and won’t even realize there was business to be won.
Taken to its logical conclusion, firms that master the content marketing game will intercept all the buyers that are searching online, putting content marketing laggards out of business.
What happens if you, as CEO, choose not to champion content marketing?
The future success of your business will depend on how effectively your team implements content marketing without your leadership. In my experience, that’s a tough road for them to hoe.
Whether you’re a startup that’s growing for the first time or an established firm that grew up before content marketing was a thing, you will be asking your organization to learn new skills, adopt new processes, and reallocate time and resources to support the content marketing effort. There will inevitably be resistance to such changes.
Without strong leadership, that resistance might undermine your company’s content marketing efforts and render them ineffective.
Content marketing has become a mission-critical activity for most B2B businesses, ranking alongside product-market fit, operational efficiency, and quality management as things that can make or break your business. It’s absolutely something a CEO should care deeply about and choose to lead.
There is both a carrot and a stick here.
While marketing traditionally benefited the C-suite and the sales team, content marketing serves a much wider group of stakeholders.
Brand awareness floats all boats. The more widely recognized your company and the stronger its reputation for delivering high value solutions, the more attractive it becomes to talented people. So, HR should care about content marketing, and so should those responsible for staffing other disciplines.
The same goes for attracting investors. While fund analysts bury themselves in spreadsheets and data, investment principals are heavily influenced by the story you tell and the reputation you hold in the marketplace. Content marketing is where you tell the story and how you build that reputation. So, finance and corporate development should care about content marketing, and so should your board of directors.
Product development benefits from the credibility and user feedback that domain authority and thought leadership attract. Both are pillars of content marketing.
Customer success benefits from having ready-made content at its fingertips that can be deployed to answer user’s questions and to identify and nurture upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
Anyone who is a stakeholder in the business benefits from content marketing’s ability to attract, engage, delight, and retain customers, some of whom will become advocates for your solution.
In short, everyone in the organization benefits from content marketing so it makes sense for the CEO to champion the content marketing effort and explain its value and benefit to the team.
With that value—the carrot—clearly articulated, it becomes much easier to enlist support from across the organization for the content marketing effort.
To wit, the stick…
The traditional marketing department, staffed by a handful of relatively inexperienced people, cannot deliver an effective content marketing strategy.
There are three main reasons: quality, quantity, and authenticity.
The B2B buying process usually involves several people on the buyer’s side, each of whom needs to be convinced in a slightly different way. For example, technical, legal, financial, strategic, operational, etc.
Each of those buyers moves through a journey of awareness building, solution evaluation, solution selection, implementation, satisfaction, and loyalty.
Content marketing plays a role at each stage in each of their journeys, helping to meet their information needs, solidify their understanding, answer questions, boost enthusiasm, assuage concerns, and generally remove friction from the process.
Getting their attention requires publishing content that is comprehensive, accurate, and of greater value than whatever else is out there. That level of quality can only be reached if subject matter experts from within your organization are actively involved in producing and reviewing the material.
Producing and maintaining content for each of those situations is a significant task. Once you’ve built a solid library of material, it must be regularly updated to prevent obsolescence and to adapt it to the ever-changing mix of market trends, customer preferences, and competitor responses.
To produce, polish, publish, monitor, and manage that library requires more than just a couple of marketers who are good at writing and know how to work social media.
Contributions will be required from throughout your organization, and that requires a mandate from the top.
Lastly, content must evoke a positive emotional response for your target audience to choose your solution over those of your competitors. This means earning your prospects’ trust, for which the key ingredient is authenticity. Buyers can smell disingenuous content a mile off and will quickly click away to another website.
Content built within the organization carries far greater authenticity than something generated by outsourcing the process. Ghostwriters can still play a role by taking some of the heavy lifting off your content production team’s plate, but the source material and fact-checking is still something your experts must own.
As CEO, you set the tone by establishing the importance of content marketing alongside other business priorities. Then, you must hold senior leaders accountable for their teams’ contributions to the content marketing effort.
If you don’t make content marketing an executive-level priority and hold feet to the fire on contributions, it’s too easy for functional teams to prioritize what they know and do best.
Product won’t have time to contribute because there are critical features to develop and test.
Operations won’t quite get around to it because there are urgent orders to fill and ship.
Sales will be too busy nurturing relationships with blue chip prospects on whose orders the annual sales target hangs.
Are any of them wrong? Are those no longer priorities for the business?
The key is for everyone to understand that content marketing provides the life blood that keeps the orders flowing, without which none of those product, operations, and sales efforts will matter.
Then comes the understanding that content marketing isn’t the sole responsibility of the marketing department, it requires support from many places. This is analogous to achieving a high standard of safety, which isn’t the sole responsibility of the health and safety department; it requires everyone’s active participation.
These are fundamental mind shifts for many organizations. Consequently, they require leadership from the top to ensure thinking, decision making, and the allocation of resources adapt to the new balance of priorities.
They might not admit it, but employees throughout your organization are watching the CEO’s every move for clues on how the business is doing, what matters most, and how they should behave to best position themselves for future success.
This is especially true in smaller businesses where the whole team has line of sight on the CEO and other senior leaders.
Imagine a scenario where content marketing is left to the marketing department to manage, without any involvement from the CEO. What does the wider team see?
They hear the CEO extolling the importance and virtues of other initiatives, whether in product development, operational improvement, sales, or some other tangible aspect of business growth.
Which means they don’t hear content marketing mentioned as a priority.
Conclusion: no need to worry when the boss asks who has a spare hour to write a post for the company blog. Someone else will take care of it and, if they don’t, it’s much more important to focus on the things the CEO chose to mention in his remarks.
As the CEO of a B2B company that’s either growing for the first time or trying to regrow in the wake of the pandemic, you must recognize and respond to the mission-critical importance of content marketing.
It’s your responsibility to educate your team on the importance of content marketing, how it benefits anyone with a stake in the business, and why contributions from across the organization are essential to implementing an effective content marketing strategy.
Since this is a major change in the role played by marketing and requires a fundamental mind shift by others in the organization, it’s the CEO’s job to establish the priority of content marketing alongside other business initiatives and to reinforce that priority by holding senior leaders accountable for making it happen.
Finally, people throughout the organization are watching the CEO, listening to their remarks, and reading their messages. They take their cues from what is said and written, as well as from what isn’t said and what’s not written.
Content marketing should be something that a CEO references and champions openly and often. If not, you risk your company underperforming at content marketing, which creates an existential threat to your business.
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Photo credits: AdobeStock