What I Learned from B2B Content Marketing Expert Ann Handley

Content Marketing

Ann Handley MarketingProfs SpeakingOne of the aspects of my job I love is that I learn something new every day. It could be about new technologies or agile processes or marketing. Then, there’s the awesome days where you learn several things at one time. This week at a conference organized by Heinz Marketing that we sponsored, I learned (or had previously learnings validated) 7 valuable tips from B2B content marketing expert Ann Handley of MarketingProfs.

1. Start with the Basics – Who, What, Where, Why

Using the publishing industry and journalism as an example, Ann talked about the foundation of good content, which included:

Content marketing elements

2. Content is King but Strategy is Scarce

I have used this phrase “content is king” for years. For me, content is the foundation for all marketing, starting with strong messaging and positioning. Ann emphasized how content in marketing is more important today than ever before with our online culture and vast social media ecosystem. Yet, in spite of this, most content is not good, not tied to a plan and not speaking to the customer. What’s more, recent research by MarketingProfs shows the majority of marketing leaders do not have a clear content strategy.

3. It’s All About Engagement

I love how Ann talked about engagement and relationships, not just “content”. We need to tell stories about people rather than products. Tell stories well, while making your customer the hero of your story. In developing content for engagement, think beyond single pieces of content and focus instead on a content ecosystem – using a theme and pieces of content across your integrated marketing channels and programs. She asked this question: What would your marketing look like if your customer signed your paycheck? Ironically, at a startup, I think you actually feel like your customer does sign your paycheck! To gain engagement, your content needs to combine empathy, relevance, inspiration, and usefulness.

B2B Content Marketing Equation

4. Math is Good in Marketing

I admit I’m a data geek, but Ann reinforced how math and marketing go hand in hand, even when we are talking about content. She provided this equation:

Useful x Empathy x Inspired = Great Content!

She emphasized that the multiplication symbols were intentional. It’s not just a matter of adding these together, but obtaining exponential growth of engagement through combining these three elements. Also, Ann reminded everyone to use data to figure out is/isn’t working and then make adjustments accordingly, whether that’s data about your market, your customers, your competition, etc. I of course am bias here, since our business is all about marketing analytics with competitive intelligence. But I do believe data is power, and we can help you be more successful with analytics about your market.

What Is Your Story? B2B content marketing

5. Create a Personal Experience

Not only do you need to be empathetic of your audience, but you also need to create an experience for your audience. Use the words “you” and “your” not “customers” or “users”, and use “we” and “us” when talking about your company rather than “the corporation”. When you write content, tell stories that show the personal experience of your customers and your people. Be human. Oftentimes here, we talk about how B2B is really H2H (human to human), and I think this is exactly what Ann is talking about – we aren’t selling to a business, we are selling to humans. So your marketing must be humanized, too! Even when you are communicating over digital channels, like social media or blogs.

6. Think Agile Innovation

Agile is all about iteration. In marketing, this often means experimentation, where you place a lot of small bets to see what will work. This is often true with early-stage companies, where you neither have the budget nor necessarily enough data to know what works best to reach your prospective customers. This lines up well with data, as with agile — use data to know what to do more of or what to stop doing. Also, think about what inspires you and what you see others in your company or in the market doing that is innovative, and ask yourself, “What innovations can I port over to my marketing?” One example she gave was a marketing research organization that created a Hollywood style movie preview for the launch of their index report. It was funny, creative and unforgettable. Innovation and inspiration can come from completely unexpected, unrelated places.

oreo tweet during superbowl

7. Be Real Time

The most famous recent example of this was the Oreo social media and TV campaign that went live almost immediately following the power outage at the Superbowl. You can do this in smaller and less expensive ways but with the same innovation and impact. What conversation can you lead that no one else is talking about? Identify trends that are not yet mainstream conversation and be the one who starts the conversation. Connect with news that is happening and be relevant. Again, you can use analytics and data to try to identify topics or trends.

You can do it!!

In marketing, we know it is all about our audience. But with our resources and creativity stretched to the limits in today’s digital world, it’s easy to get frustrated or even forget about the basics of great content. I appreciate every reminder, tip and reassurance that we can do this, regardless of how small our marketing organization is. I hope you found these seven things as helpful as I did.

Win an Autographed Copy of Ann Handley’s Book

ann handley book Everybody Writes

As a special bonus to these tips, the first two people who sign-up for Rival IQ via this page will receive an autographed copy of Ann Handley’s book “Everybody Writes”, and the following 10 people who sign-up will receive a “Data Geek” t-shirt as modeled by the Rival IQ marketing team.

Data Geek T-shirt

Margaret Dawson

A 20-year tech industry veteran, Margaret is known for taking people, brands and companies to the next level through creativity, awesome positioning and messaging, coaching and hard work. She is a proven entrepreneur and intrapreneur, having led successful programs and teams at several startups and Fortune 500 companies, including Amazon, Microsoft and HP. She’s a frequent author and sought-after speaker on subjects such as cloud computing, big data, women in tech, and the convergence of technology and business. She is also an active mentor for men and women in technology. You can follow her on Twitter @seattledawson.

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