[Podcast interview] The future of B2B content marketing with Joe Pulizzi

Jakob Löwenbrand • 9 Apr, 2021

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Below is the transcript of a podcast interview we did with Joe Pulizzi, Author and Co-Founder at The Orange Effect Foundation. Joe Pulizzi is one of the leading speakers in the world on content marketing, delivering hundreds of keynote presentations to marketers, publishers and journalists around the world. In this interview, Joe shares his most valuable perspectives on what the future of content marketing will hold and how you can create effective content to build relationships with your audience. Listen to the full podcast episode here.

Question: Today, we will talk about the future of B2B content marketing, and with none other than Joe Pulizzi, co-founder at the Orange Effect Foundation, author of numerous books on content marketing topics, and one of the leading speakers in the world on these topics as well. It's my pleasure to say welcome to our podcast today, Joe! So, where do you think people should start in 2021, if they’re a practitioner trying to build a marketing plan with an epic content strategy that really gets the needles moving? What's your recommendation?

There's a couple of things, Jacob. One is, if you're in the lead gen business, you know that you can use some part of the practice of content marketing to help move that buyer through the buyer's journey. Right? So, whether that's white papers at certain moments, whether that's a key podcast, an e-newsletter that they signed up for, whatever, to make them more amenable to buying your products and services. My recommendation is don't try to boil the ocean and create content at every point in the buyer's journey. Pick one spot at the beginning of the journey, but before they know you and your brand, that might be an email newsletter.

That might be a white paper. That might be a webinar series. Whatever the case may be. Then if that one doesn't work, maybe you say, "Well, we want to create more loyal customers." So maybe that's more of a magazine type format, something where they already know you, and you're just delivering really good content to separate yourself from the pack.

So, focus is key. Where a lot of B2B marketers, get hung up is when they start creating so much content at all different steps of the buyer's journey. They're sort of mediocre at all of it, not great at any of it. It's just a lot of wasted time and energy. If you're just using content marketing as part of the sales process, that's great. Where we're seeing things really change right now in 2021 is the focus on audience building. So, it's content marketing as I'm not just going to move my customer from point A to point B. What we're going to do is we're going to build an audience. We're going to position our brand as the leading informational experts in this niche and we are going to do it so well and so consistently that that audience ends up buying whatever we have to offer.

Now I think this is where you've got your big tech company, your Amazons and your IBMs and your Cisco systems. That's what those companies are focused on. They've been doing the content marketing as part of the buyer's journey for 10, 15 years. Now it's changing to a land grab of audiences, because you're like, okay, we can communicate with these customers now on a regular basis. If the content is good enough, they'll opt in. They'll let us in on a regular basis, and we can create content as good or better than any media company on the planet and we're consistent. I think that's where the opportunity is. You're seeing a melding of the media model and the marketing model. Jacob, I don't know if a lot of people have seen this coming. Thee model today is that if you're looking at content creation and distribution and you work for a B2B company in tech, it's the same approach as you will take as if you work for a media company. The only difference is how you generate revenue.

If you are a media company, you're generally generating sponsorships, events, paid subscriptions. But if you are, let's say a B2B tech company, you're generating more product sales, more service sales, better yield on your products and services, and more loyal customers. Those two together are being melded where a B2B tech company that builds an audience can do all of it. They can sell sponsorships, they can sell subscriptions, and they can also sell more products. In 10 years, you won't be able to tell a difference between a media company and a product company. Maybe you will perceive it differently, but the process is going to be exactly the same.

Question: How do you see that playing out in the kind of marketing area? Do you think we should incorporate that into the content marketing strategy?

ABM is a very specific type of way to go to market. I love it because if you really focus on one company and multiple titles within that company, I mean, that's how the B2B buyer’s process happens. You have seven to nine, maybe more, sometimes people involved in that purchase process. What I love about it, is that you could take a little bit of content marketing and put it in there, and what does that look like?

Those are the best ABM programs out there. Let's say that you are selling multi-million-dollar pieces of enterprise software. If you're doing that, you only need one or two sales here, right? You don't need a thousand sales like you would if you're on the consumer side, you need one or two sales. So, I would look, and if you could bunch companies and personas together and say, "Okay, well these 10 companies with these 20 accounts," 20 different titles at each one of these companies, so you've got let's say 100 to 200 people that have the same informational needs. What if you created a content product just for them? Who are our most important prospects? What do they look like? You could bunch them together and create your own content marketing program just for those people. Because you have the data, because you know who those people are today, that's where I think you've got so much opportunity from a content perspective. Then you can do so many things. You could do a book program, you could do a mini magazine, you could do an email newsletter just to those people and make it very personal and very, very relevant to them.

So, I think test it first, don't go out and say, "Oh, we're going to do content marketing, ABM programs all over the place." I would say, what's one challenge that you're really having a problem solving, or maybe there's a group of people that just don't understand that you can sell this type of software, this type of tech? Try a nine-month program, and focus on a very small group of people, sending consistent information to them with their permission, see how that works out and then follow them along the process and see how their behavior changes.

Question: I know one of your books stated that killing your current marketing structure may be the only way to save it. It would be interesting to hear you elaborate a little bit on that. Is what you mean how to kill your structure and what to build instead?

Well, first of all, Robert Rose and I wrote Killing Marketing in 2017, and we're both marketers. We love marketing. We don't want to see marketing die in any way, shape or form. But what we were seeing with a lot of the big enterprises that we were talking to; they were using old marketing strategies that simply don't work anymore and was all around distraction and interruption.

The case that I was making to you before is that we were trying to say, "Look, this is now. You don't see this, but this is right now. We believe that if you build a loyal audience at the center, you could generate 10 different types of revenue." We thought that it's short-sighted to just create content to a specific audience and sell more existing product and be done. It's like, okay, that's fine. You've checked the box. You've accomplished a goal, but what if you wanted to be truly innovative, one of the fastest growing in your industry? That's what we were trying to say.

What's the next thing? We're like, well, that's where there's this land grab going on with audiences. So, I think instead of just looking at the product campaign, everything's a campaign, right? Oh, here's the product, here's the campaign. Here's what we're going to do. We need to look more long-term. We say, "Here's the audience and here's the industry." I mean, look at a company like 3M, look at most companies, the majority of what they sell are products that they've launched in the last three years. It's not just about your product. Look at your mission statement. If you just have, "This is what we sell, and this is what we do," I think it's shortsighted. I think we should be focusing on asking, what is the group of people or the person that we're really trying to talk to, and what are we trying to do to change this industry?

That opens up so many more opportunities for you to talk about the industry. For you to be an expert, for you to cover the industry like a journalist would. Okay, then you've got to get realistic. How do you actually create a process out of this? You have to hire journalists and writers and producers and content creators. That's where your marketing department is going. You've got, of course, a lot of data people, a lot of tech people, these are very important, but you’ve also got a lot of storytellers. That's going to be the marketing function going forward.

You can do ads any time. But I think the ads ultimately will end up promoting your content versus your audience. So instead of saying, "Oh, here is the ad," and the ad goes to selling the product, what we're going to see is here's the ad, the ad goes to selling the content. The content gets the audience. Then once they become an audience member of ours, a subscriber, then we sell them stuff. So. it's just adding that little bit extra. By doing that, you'll keep that customer much, much longer than just making one sale.

Question: You have also written a book called Corona Marketing, especially focused on the topics that are so top of mind for everybody working in this environment that we're in right now. So, what's your key takeaways from that book?

Yeah. So, it's interesting. I put this together, I think it was in May, because I started getting so many questions from marketers about the pandemic, the lockdowns going on, we're all staying at home. My customers are acting differently. I can't go see my customers. What do I do? What are you seeing? And so, I put together Corona Marketing, you can get it, it's free. coronamarketingbook.com. The big issue that we're trying to teach, and this is also coming out of the great recession in 2007, '08 and '09. We're seeing a lot of the same things happen. Really the big picture is: less is more. What you see now with a lot of companies doing wrong, Jacob, is they're just creating all this content and they're throwing it in every channel they can possibly think of. It is just a waste of time.

I would rather them not do anything, because it's not helping them at all. So, what we go in and what we're trying to preach here, which is the way that it's working, is: less is more. I'll give you an example with social media. Let's say you're a B2B company and you have five Twitter accounts, seven accounts on LinkedIn, you're dabbling and trying to figure out if you should be on TikTok or Twitch or whatever, right? You've got all kinds of stuff. If you go into a big tech company, they've got well over a hundred social media accounts. What I would say is let's kill a lot of those. Let's get rid of a ton of those, as much as you can and be focused on being great at one.

If you are focused on five social media channels as a B2B company, I would say use three of those as listening channels, customer service channels, and focus on one or two for regular content creation. Let's say that you've got a virtual event series, a webinar series, a podcast, an e-newsletter, a blog. Let's say you're doing all those, and, basically, most B2B companies are doing all those. But they're doing them all mediocre. It's just okay. They would be better off, especially in this environment, become great at one or two of those. We talk about this in the book, that every company has only so much content energy. You have only so much energy you can put into delivering a valuable content experience, a valuable experience to your customer. You can do that through content.

So, you have to do an audit, figure out what you're doing right and what you're not doing right. Oh, is that e-newsletter even being opened by your customers? You have to remember why you created that email newsletter, and you start to kill off certain things. You'd say, "Well, instead of doing..." By the way, the average B2B company has about 13 to 15 different content activities they do on a regular basis, which is great, but too many. Get that down to being amazing at two or three of those things and focus on that. So, what I would like to see, instead of doing all of them, have the best email newsletter in your industry to that target audience. Have the best weekly podcast to your constituents. Then don't worry about the other stuff. Then use that energy that you gained from stopping doing those other things and put it into being great at one of them, like the podcast or the email newsletter.

This is a well-worn strategy. If you look at any media company that's ever been successful, that's how they've started. If you look, how did The Financial Times start? They had a fantastic newspaper. How did Ted Talks make it? They had the best in-person event series out there. How did Huffington Post make it? They had one good blog.

Everything is very, very simple in media. Then once you build a minimum viable audience, then you can diversify. So, what's happened on the brand side is we've diversified immediately. We're like, oh, we could just slap this content everywhere. Well, that's wrong. You shouldn't do that. You should focus on being great at one or two of those things. Once you do that, establish yourself, then you can diversify. So, I talk about a lot of ways to do that, because it's very hard if you've been doing the same thing as a B2B company for a long time in marketing. It's very hard to say, "Oh, we're going to stop producing that, or we're going to move those resources." But I think now is a really good time to reallocate resources.

If you would like to learn more about Joe and his upcoming projects, you can read more on this page. 

Would you like to get our 5 top tips on how to succeed with content marketing? Join our webinar "5 keys to successful content marketing – A webinar for tech CMOs"

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