Surprising Lessons from IBM in Successful B2B Content Marketing

Michelle Killebrew Sheds Light on Why Business Customers Crave Engaging Content

Published in the Content Insight Blog on September 11, 2014.

Selling candy, appliances, or fast food can involve rapid-fire, high volume social media campaigns driven by the latest trends in website, mobile, and social content. By contrast, B2B products and sales cycles appear bland. Yet, B2B customers and prospects are people, too. Shouldn’t the same B2C engagement principles apply to B2B content marketing?

Michelle Killebrew

Michelle Killebrew

Michelle Killebrew answers with a resounding “Yes!” However, she points out that leveraging those trends requires a granular understanding of your audiences. Once you understand what content your audience craves, Killebrew says you then know what content they will view, share, and use to eventually buy your product or service.

In this interview, Killebrew offers plenty of insights about IBM’s successful Rethink Business campaign that highlight the importance of audience analysis, effective translation of B2C marketing techniques into the world of B2B content marketing, and measuring success.

Many trends seem to blaze like wildfire through the B2C marketing world but sometimes lag with B2B content marketing. How do you leverage content marketing trends in video or social media to help engage a B2B audience?

B2B marketers need to remember that they sell to people, and they need to engage with those people. It’s easy to look at B2C marketing from a transaction viewpoint as if any of those trends don’t apply to B2B’s longer sales cycles. However, much of the B2B sales cycle leverages an engagement strategy before the prospect passes over to sales. B2B marketers are starting to see that the sales cycle begins with that initial engagement—and what captivates and engages B2C audiences can also apply to a B2B audience. To leverage B2C trends for B2B content marketing, put yourself into the shoes of your target audience, understand their challenges, and build a campaign around those insights.

People crave different content depending on their role. How did you go about segmenting and differentiating content for different roles and audiences for the new IBM Rethink Business website?

We focused on a roles-based messaging approach and really rolled up our sleeves to get in-depth and in touch with each of our target audiences. When creating a digital campaign, we not only look at different content and messaging for various roles but also take look and feel, usability, and interaction into consideration. For example, digital marketers want a slick, engaging, visually-rich, and high impact experience. They’re upheld to that kind of standard in their roles, and they want to learn how to up their game as digital marketers by seeing us practice the digital marketing best practices that we preach. On the other hand, IT professionals feel that slick websites lack credibility. They don’t like marketers marketing to them, and they prefer to hear from other IT professionals. That’s why it’s important to not only consider the content you create but also the experience around that content.

IBM’s Rethink Business page focuses on a roles-based messaging approach.

What particularly made your social content successful with a B2B audience? What ingredients worked that you feel others can use too?

Peer to peer sharing worked especially well for our social content. People like sharing content to their network with a click. For example, when people come to our website and engage with our content, we include visually appealing, sharable facts and data. Sharing this social content shows them off as thought leaders to their networks. For us, we bring their social traffic back to our site. Also, our overall social plan ties into different pieces of content. We might feature a blog post about a webinar that encourages people to participate, and that post offers links back to our main website where people can engage with more content. Or when we post something like an analyst report, we’ll blog about that content and push it out through our social media channels to bring people back to the site. And don’t forget Facebook! I’m surprised how often B2B audiences use it, and B2B marketers should not ignore that platform.

When you sell technology solutions, there’s always a risk of delivering dry technical content that falls flat. How do you avoid this pitfall and engage audiences?

Know where your audience is in their buyer journey. Our campaign primarily intended to capture and captivate new audiences. As users go through their buyer journey, our intention is not to go too deep on that “first date.” Opportunities will exist later to drive your audience toward deeper content as they journey further into the funnel. They may not be ready for a sales engagement, so we don’t overwhelm them with too much technical content out of the gate. Instead, we speak to their business pains, why our services matter, and how other people solve similar problems through sharing case studies and peer-to-peer examples.

How did you measure the success of your campaign? And what was the indicator or visible turning point when you felt a sigh of relief and knew that it all worked?

Given part of our portfolio—and my pre-acquisition legacy—we leverage IBM Digital Analytics (formerly Coremetrics) to analyze and optimize the digital experience. Obviously, we measure page views, conversions, and how people interact with our content (such as the number of video views). During a campaign several years ago (before Coremetrics was acquired), we included an interactive feature where a user needed to click something in order for a video to pop up. We noticed by looking at our metrics that only a small fraction of the visitors looked at it and took an action. In response, we made our call to action more visible so that more people saw the video. Because the video formed a significant investment as part of the total campaign cost, we used metrics to make sure we fixed any engagement problems and ultimately ensured that the video was a valuable part of the user’s experience. We had to rearchitect and reengineer the technology serving up that user experience, but by taking the time to collect analytics, look at the interaction experience, and then act on our evaluation, we increased the sophistication of our user experience.

From a user flow data collection perspective, we collect user information in a relatively short form. After that, we cookie the user. They fill out the form once, but on the backend the user submits an invisible form for each piece of content they interact with. When I pull up John Smith, I can see that he downloaded whitepaper A and webinar B. I know exactly what he likes. The person isn’t bothered with multiple forms, but I can see a user’s interaction and behavior within the site to see what’s working and not working with our content. Additionally, we can leverage those cookies for retargeting with IBM Digital Data Exchange (DDX). That helps leverage the behavioral insights gained from on-site interactions and syndicates it out to demand-side platforms (DSPs) and networks across multiple online publishers.

As Killebrew points out, your B2B campaign can absolutely leverage B2C marketing techniques IF you keep the following in mind:

  • Remember that you’re selling to people. B2B products may seem more complicated and technical than most B2C products, but you still need to captivate and interest people.
  • Deeply learn about each of your audiences. You may need to design different content and user experiences for different customer segments
  • Evaluate your content, and then act upon your evaluation. Make changes when you realize what’s not working in order to maximize your marketing and content investments.

Read more about IBM’s Rethink Business campaign.

To see the end result of IBM’s campaign, visit IBM’s Rethink Business page.

Demand Generation + Social + Mobile = BFFs

Published on ClickZ October 2, 2013. 

We all know that the increase of digital media consumption has changed how we approach demand generation. These days, people respond to your outbound campaigns on their cell phones, or they find your campaigns through a friend or colleague’s tweet.

As outbound marketers and demand generation professionals, it’s up to us to figure out how to take advantage of this change in behavior. To do that, we need to completely rethink the customer experience.

IBM Rethink Campaign: optimized for mobile

I’d like to demonstrate an example of this by walking through some of the ways social and mobile were successfully integrated into a recent campaign I helped develop at IBM. I’ll point out some specific considerations we made throughout the process—as well as some lessons we learned—that might be helpful to you as you create your own approach.

We started by asking ourselves three questions for this outbound/inbound digital campaign microsite, and as we answered each one, we developed new ways to engage our customers.

1. What Did This Audience Really Want?

Thinking about our diverse audiences as well as the variety of solutions that make up the overarching value proposition, we decided to custom-tailor the content to each specific role. In other words, we put our clients’ perspectives first, rather than our view of the broader market.

Of course, we recognized that we had to demonstrate excellence through execution. Marketers are one of our eleven audience roles, so we realized we’d have to provide a seamless user experience while demonstrating the marketing technology represented in our portfolio. Part of this process included the inclusion of social sharing links at every interaction point.

2. How Could We Craft the User Experience in Context to Impress Our Audience?

Our customers are busy business professionals, so we need to provide them with facts they can use right away. We took interesting statistics, incorporated them into a visual treatment that we called a mini-infographic and made sure each one was immensely shareable.

Factoids can be fun to share over social, so we made it easy: with a single click, a visitor could send each one via Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook – all pre-populated with the factoid, hashtags, and a web analytics-tagged URL to bring people back to the website.

We included an image of the mini-infographic because we knew that visuals increase interaction on Facebook and LinkedIn. Taking a dynamic approach to the user interaction and web design was one of our key decisions. We decided on an HTML 5 parallax-designed website in that was visually engaging—one that focused on showing, not telling, through videos, webinars, interactivity, and of course, social sharing. The site had to be optimized for mobile, so we considered the mobile format when approaching the site design. We kept the buttons large and used pre-populated social links would improve social engagement on mobile devices.

3. What Would Continually Keep Our Audience Engaged?

We built the site experience around relevant, focused content that could be a great resource for our customers. We knew that during most B2B solution investigations, buyers and influencers need multiple interactions and validation points to make a decision. Our goal was to speed up some of those exchanges by providing a variety of quality resources for the visitor to engage with. At every interaction, the visitor was able to share these resources via social.

The social links were presented on the success page of the webinar, e-book or report, so the visitor could share that specific asset with their peers. The links embedded in the pre-populated posts directed the visitor directly back to that asset—no need to hunt for it on the microsite. Our approach to social engagement for the content was to make access for the inbound social visitor as easy as possible.

IBM Rethink Campaign: post-conversion social sharing

IBM Rethink Campaign: post-conversion social sharing

Do You Make It Easy to Engage?

As you start to create your next campaign, consider how the user experience informs what’s valuable to your target audience. Making it easy for your visitors to engage in social is key to that experience. There are many people out there who are still just getting started with social media—and of course, we’re all pressed for time—so if you can make it easy to share your content, more people will be more inclined to do so.

The benefits are clear: Most of the visitors that you successfully engage on your site are networked and connected to many more visitors who share a similar profile and are therefore part of your target audience. If you set up your site well, develop valuable messages and content, and enable social effectively, you won’t have to go looking for new customers—they’ll come looking for you.

Want to hear more? Join my session at SES Chicago on Wednesday November 6th from 2:00-3:00 pm, as we rethink B2B marketing and explore social as a lead-gen machine.