Content as community – Velocity Partners

Content as community: How content marketing is changing in the new B2B GTM

This is one of a series of blogs about the changing B2B go-to-market. You can check out the others in the series at the bottom of this piece.

A few years ago, just after B2B content marketing morphed into, well, just B2B marketing, I got together with the senior team here. The agenda was that as content became mainstream, we needed to be more than just ‘the content marketing agency for B2B tech companies,’ That had served us well for many years but things were changing and we needed a new Galvanizing Idea

We looked at a number of alternatives to answer ‘What does Velocity actually do?’ and ‘How should we align that with where the market is going?’ You’ll be glad to hear we quickly rejected ‘The B2B marketing agency for marketers who fucking hate marketing’* option.

*Actually, it’s not as stupid as it sounds. It was based on a belief — still strongly prevalent at Velocity — that most marketing treats marketers as morons and doesn’t recognize their agency or expertise. Hardly any of it has soul or craft. We set out to build a company that didn’t do those things.

One we liked at the time but ultimately spurned looks much, much stronger today. This was:

 ‘Velocity helps B2B tech companies build audiences.’

Our thinking was based around a definition of an audience as ‘a group (or community) of potential, highly relevant prospects who subscribe to receive your content and regularly return to get it,’ Back then, we were making content in short bursts to hit largely short-term goals — essentially, to feed the ravenous maw of the lead gen stack. (I say ‘back then’ but most B2B tech firms operate like this even now.) 

All our clients’ processes and metrics were tied to delivering leads, not growing frequently returning audiences. Clients spent money in bursts, hoping to generate enough leads so they could get more money to do it all again (sound familiar?). Content was part of connected campaigns, sure, but the goal was to build an automated lead machine where ideally you could press a button and presto! content and paid media would alchemize to produce leads. 

The concretization of that lead gen imperative was why we didn’t choose the audience-building positioning platform at that time.

What’s happening today, though, makes me think we were onto something back in 2017 when we rejected this positioning option in favor of our current story. Content marketing is now but one arrow in the B2B marketer’s quiver. But as I hope we’ve shown through this sequence of blogs about the new B2B GTM, prospects no longer value new content from vendors. 

Attention is harder than ever to capture, mainly because, as Kieran Flanagan writes, in the last decade, “the number of marketing channels has stayed flat [while] the number of marketers nearly doubled.” At best the content itself is mediocre; at worst it’s total crap. (One of the most depressing aspects of the last 7–8 years is that content quality has been nakedly sacrificed on the altar of lead gen, as if content volume drives pipelines — no matter how rubbish the eBook, video, landing page or email.) 

As it is, paid channels have strangled off organic reach and proven themselves to be one of the least efficient GTM channels (and efficiency only gets harder to find when you over rely on paid media — Google seems to be on an inexorable vector towards ever higher prices for every search term). 

Today’s mantra is that to access prospects you have to pay (generally through the nose). Nearly everyone is seeing spiraling costs with plummeting pipeline performance. In lots of firms, moreover, an iron curtain is growing between sales and marketing where sales doesn’t generally value the content the marketing team produces (and is often running their own devolved content programs on their own platforms), and marketing is frustrated that sales doesn’t use the messages it has put so much time into manufacturing.

A new dawn?

The good news is that there are some early signs that B2B’s addiction to sugar rush leads is waning. We’re seeing early rumbles of what may prove to be a seismic stirring from traditional lead gen (or what Velocity calls ‘fire, and call what you hit the target’ marketing) towards a new community-focused GTM.

This community model delivers the right results using content arsenals that relevant prospects come back to again and again. In this new world, putting a form in front of mediocre content — and then having your telesales people call the poor deluded soul who filled it out 20 minutes later to ask if she wants to buy — is a non-starter.

The first glimmerings of change came from the intelligent Ehrenberg Bass Institute work showing only 5% of your market is ready to buy at any time and 95% are not. That’s surely a dagger in the heart of the simple-minded approach? The first AI-supported (admittedly early stage) platform to help marketers build and engage an owned audience — with best-practice media promotion and analytics — has appeared from Anthony Kennada’s company Audience Plus. And in a recent conversation with Jon Miller, the high priest of math-based inbound marketing, he mentioned that brands have to think more like the New York Times. 

Learning from the NYT

The Times has probably been the most successful media property in the world, building subscription-based, digital-first content that’s always worth paying for. More than 10 million customers pay for premium experiences online, high-quality content and unexpected goodies like Wordle and all those great puzzles and podcasts. 

The Times’s strategy can inform how B2B firms approach the next phase of content marketing (see their strategy document here). Their overarching goal is to be the best news destination in the world. They do that by producing entertaining, multi-format, authoritative stuff that subscribers can always trust. 

Authority and trust married to a commitment to fun, engaging innovative formats feels like a content manifesto for B2B. 

It is highly time- and resource-intensive. And the Times wants to do more than just write all the news that’s fit to print. They have oodles of material on culture, lifestyle, sports and much more. They’re curators at large with the task of helping their subscribers decide what to watch or read or attend or try or visit. And all these content products are connected so that subscribers can engage and get value out of all the Times offers.

Let’s contrast what the Times does to the typical B2B tech firm’s approach to content. The Times spends resources to build their audience; most B2B firms only spend to get leads. While acquisition costs are out of control for many companies, they spend like misers on content quality. This isn’t every B2B company — check out our interview in this series with Udi from Gong where he talks about what content quality means — but it’s a lot of them. Most content is tied to specific sales campaigns and could never be described as evergreen. Few companies use content to learn about their best prospects’ interests so they can target better when the prospect isn’t yet ready to buy.  

Prospects’ confidence in content has dropped vertiginously mainly because that content is nearly always written for algorithms over humans. 

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