Great ideas can be found anywhere – and so can great B2B content marketers. They work for big companies, small companies, small corners of big companies. They lead not-so-small teams at not-so-big companies and in every set of circumstances imaginable.
It’s not the budget or the scale or the title that makes a B2B content marketer great – it’s the ability to lead people (internal teams, audiences, and customers) out of the status quo, show them how things can be better, and help them take action to make it so.
Want to know how they do it? We asked the three 2020 B2B Content Marketer of the Year finalists to share a little wisdom.
Make it personal and emotional, and it’ll never be boring
Content marketing director
When you hear digital asset management, do you feel inspired? Creative? Interested? Sure, it’s a handy technology that makes it easier to share creative assets and simplifies workflow. But digital asset management (DAM) sounds, well, technical.
That’s why PhotoShelter’s choice of someone with storytelling skills as its first B2B marketing hire really paid off. A former TV reporter, Kristin Twiford knows that people form the beating heart of every story – even those that revolve around technology. And the people who use DAMs? They’re inspiring, creative, and interesting.
When PhotoShelter set out to build a customer-centric B2B marketing strategy, Kristin’s journalism training kicked in.
First, she reviewed answers to the one question she had asked customers since she started with the company: What would you like to learn from us?
Again and again, people told her they want to know how other creatives do what they do.
“Our audience wants a window into the creative strategies of their peers. They want to see how other creative people find stories, produce compelling visual content, share that content with their audiences, and measure results,” Kristin says.
Next, she grabbed a video camera and documented PhotoShelter customers in action. That’s how, in 2016, she found herself on the NFL sidelines, shooting footage of the Baltimore Ravens’ team photographers and videographers. The experience helped her realize that PhotoShelter is perfectly positioned to give its audience members something they would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else: a behind-the-scenes look at how their creative heroes do their work.
A new content strategy, informed by analytics that showed that video content kept visitors on PhotoShelter’s site much longer than text alone, took shape. It culminated in a bingeable video series that debuted in 2018, called Behind the Scenes With the Storytellers.
Each video spotlights the visual creative geniuses behind notable brands like GE, MLB’s Boston Red Sox, James Beard Foundation, Premier Lacrosse League, and others selected for their relevance, advanced workflows, and potential to attract an audience. Each episode rolls out with an accompanying blog post, email, social posts, and an audience-interactive webinar with the featured person. Not only does the webinar generate leads, but the audience questions get packaged into new blog posts that link to the on-demand webinar.
Kristin acts as interviewer, videographer, editor, and writer, but she’s not a one-person team. She collaborates with her demand-gen counterpart and leads for social and communication to make sure each content piece gets used and reused to make the most business impact. And, she has the support of an executive team that believes in stories. (That’s why when you look for “blog” on the PhotoShelter site, you’ll come up empty, but you will find the category “Stories.”)
The strategy paid off in 2019. The series generated 200,000 leads and contributed to $9 million in pipeline, Kristin said. The team also saw webinar attendance lead to larger deals – about 50% higher than average. The series earned a finalist nod for Best Content Marketing Program in the 2020 Content Marketing Awards.
As the events of 2020 made nearly every marketer rethink how best to connect with their audiences, Kristin’s empathetic understanding of her audience kicked in again. Sensing that everyone was craving connection, she and the team set up a virtual summit in late June featuring photography and photo editing directors, producers, digital content leads, and other creatives from WP BrandStudio, Major League Baseball, Special Olympics International, the Carolina Panthers, NASCAR, and others.
No one on the team was sure what kind of attendance to expect from the day-long event, but the results impressed them. About 1,000 people watched the summit live, and more than 1,000 have watched it on demand. Kristin says the conversations were meaningful and continue today on the summit’s Slack channel.
That brings us to Kristin’s words of wisdom: “Make it personal. It’s so much easier to learn from someone else who is doing the work every day. If you can show someone this is how this product changed my life – that’s emotional. If you can make people feel something, you’ve done your job.”
Elevate your standards, but don’t let them slow you down
What do you think when you hear the name Atlassian? If you use its products, like Jira or Trello, it might sound familiar. For most people, the software company’s name doesn’t ring a bell. Yet, Atlassian is a $7 billion company that’s been around for nearly two decades and it held a buzz-generating IPO just a few years ago.
That was the challenge John Ville faced when he joined Atlassian two years ago to lead a handful of in-house content team members. His strategy to generate brand awareness surprised many in Atlassian’s 200-person marketing department.
To raise the company’s profile, John’s team would stop talking about its products.
Or at least, stop making the brand the first thing they talk about.
Like many companies, Atlassian published a blog filled mostly with product-focused content. Stories about new releases, how to use the products, and other standard fare worked for loyal customers but did not produce growth.
When John joined the company, the content team already knew change was needed. They even had experimented successfully with customer-focused stories. But they weren’t sure how to take the approach to the next level.
John brought skills honed over many years in consumer publishing that were new to the Atlassian team. At publishing giant Rodale, where he worked on Men’s Health, all content used a service mindset – every story had to provide something that benefited the audience.
After spending six months learning about Atlassian and its products, John suggested carving out a dedicated space for big ideas – separate from product news – that reflects the company’s mission to support teams.
He wanted to create something that showed how well Atlassian understands its customers – how they work and what they need to work better. But more than how the company’s products fostered that, it needed to be about people and processes. The Atlassian Blog (as it was named at the time) had “gotten products right and were dabbling in practices, but we hadn’t gotten the people angle right,” John says.
John led his scrappy content team in exercises to challenge and elevate every element of their publishing practices. They came up with an audience-focused name. They worked with designers to come up with a fresh approach to visuals related to the brand but with a distinct look and feel.
He coached the team on journalism and storytelling concepts like how to find a unique angle for a story, how to write briefs to guide the creation, find and interview sources, write great headlines, and keep the benefits to the reader front and center.
Work Life sprang from those exercises. Though you can find product news easily (a link sits right of nameplate), you won’t read about them on Work Life’s front page. Instead, visitors see a mix of entertaining and informative articles on leadership, team culture, and productivity.
Though they set big, hairy, audacious goals for Work Life’s first year, they exceeded them easily. They aimed to increase traffic by 30% over the previous year – and ended up at 130% growth. They set out to grow newsletter subscribers by 25% – and increased them by 85%. Organic traffic grew. Traffic from unpaid social content doubled. Customers and readers offered praise. It won Best Digital Publication in the Content Marketing Awards.
But John’s not resting on those laurels (nor the praise for the team’s new podcast Teamistry, a finalist for Best Podcast/Audio series in this year’s Content Marketing Awards). “I’m not confident or cocky enough to say we’re all the way there yet,” he says, “but we’re moving in the right direction.”
That direction includes being closer to Atlassian’s mission than they were 18 months ago. “We’ve done a great job of convincing internal folks to believe in what we’re doing,” John says.
While John brought journalistic standards and a sense of rigor to his talented content team, he’s quick to share what he’s learned from them.
“In my (publishing) background, you have to be perfect immediately,” he says. “That sense of perfection is not what content marketing needs. It needs the agility to keep assessing so next time you can make it better and better.”
You will have enough stories
Director of global business development – denim
At first glance, Tricia Carey is an unlikely content marketer. You don’t see content or marketing in her title.
But she knows her product, she knows the people who buy it, and she knows the people who buy products made from it. And a few years ago, she realized her company was in danger of losing them.
Among other products, Lenzing makes TENCEL Lyocell fibers used in sustainable denim production. Most of its marketing happened through trade shows, direct mail, and press releases.
“That doesn’t mean anything to a denim designer,” Tricia says. “They need the information interpreted in their own language. We had great stories, but our corporate voice didn’t connect.”
Other companies in the space market with compelling stories in blogs, emails, and social media. Tricia knew soon it would be harder, if not impossible, to get the attention of denim designers, garment manufacturers, mills, and “prosumer” influencers with Lenzing’s existing approach.
She faced skeptics at every step. Lenzing’s IT teams said it would be a challenge to create a secure platform for publishing. The marketing and communications team worried there would never be enough content to make an impact.
But Tricia knew she could find the stories. “Denim is so unique,” she says. “Denim is this blank canvas. We wanted to tell the stories of the people who create it.
She persevered with the denim team, finding examples of what other companies were doing, sketching series ideas, showing how processes would work, researching ways to manage photo rights, investigating costs, and detailing ways to justify the investment.
Carved in Blue launched in 2016 with stories about the latest design innovations in the denim industry, the fabric’s environmental impact, and the people who work at Lenzing’s mill, brand, and retail partners.
After more than 600 posts (three a week for several years), Tricia and her two internal project partners have silenced the skeptics.
Reach and impressions have increased every year, including a 15% increase in users and a 40% increase in sessions in 2019. The blog’s monthly direct email earns a click-through rate of 20% to 25%. The content is shared with industry publications to expand the content’s reach, and Carved in Blue won Best Topic-Specific Blog in this year’s Content Marketing Awards.
Some of the results even surprised Tricia. “We took it to a level I didn’t think was possible. People started coming to us with story ideas,” she says.
While the blog has improved relationships with partners and affected business development, that’s not the only way to value the initiative.
“You need this multiplier effect in the market,” Tricia says. “It’s not only about what you post or what you put in a banner ad. It’s really what other people say. You can’t put a price on the fact that you have your customers speaking for you.”
Check out all the honorees for the 2020 Content Marketing Awards. Join us during the virtual Content Marketing World to see who wins.
Grow your business, improve your skills, and more at CMWorld Oct. 13 to 17. Register today! You’ll have access to all the presentations as well as exclusive post-event content.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute