By Michele Linn published October 25, 2013

What the Future Holds for B2B Content Marketing: Experts Look Ahead

b2b research roundtable-part 3While the Content Marketing Institute team digs into our research stats each year to see what trends are characterizing the current state of B2B content marketing, we have also found that one of the best ways to advance the conversation is to look forward. 

During a B2B research roundtable discussion that took place at this year’s Content Marketing World, SAP’s Michael Brenner kicked off the conversation:

This is kind of a subtle thing I noticed this year. In the past we’ve been talking about content marketing is the future, and now I’m hearing questions of ‘what is the future of content marketing?’ So it’s a subtle difference, but I’m interested in what your thoughts are on what is the future of content marketing?

In this final installment of our ongoing series focused on the newest B2B content marketing research from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, Michael, along with fellow industry experts Ardath Albee, Carla Johnson, Michael Weiss, and Todd Wheatland shared their views of the future of B2B content marketing.

Huge thanks to Shiri Friedman from Brightcove for moderating this discussion.

So what does the future of content marketing have in store for its practitioners? Much of the conversation revolved around how content marketers can improve how they work with other teams across their organizations:

Marketing to better align with sales

I mean we’re getting asked by our sales team — who are really getting social selling and social business as a concept — they’re asking the content marketing resources inside our company to come and train them on how to write blogs and how to connect with people on LinkedIn, and ‘how do I upload my sales presentation on Slide Share?’ So I agree with you. I think that we’re seeing that evolution happen. —Michael Brenner

Sales enablement is a big consideration in B2B content marketing (it’s also the topic of our most recent #CMWorld Twitter chat with Carla Johnson). While it makes sense for sales and marketing to work together, this can often be tough to coordinate and manage over the long haul. But it can be done, and here are some tips to help get you started:

Telling a consistent story on behalf of your company

I’d also like to see [storytelling] be more integrated within companies, so it’s not just telling that story externally; it’s telling it internally, so there isn’t that schizophrenic, disjointed connection between what people experience in sales and marketing and [what happens] when they actually interact with companies. —Carla Johnson

And, on the same subject:

Well, in addition to buying it, we can no longer have all these little silo teams — the social media team, and the web team, and the PR team, and the demand-gen team — and none of them ever talk to each other. I mean, how in the heck do you tell a consistent story if you don’t even talk to each other? That’s even worse than marketing and sales not speaking to each other. —Ardath Albee

While it’s tough to get all of the communications-focused teams within an organization on the same page, great things can happen when you make the effort to get the whole company involved in telling a consistent story. Though it’s not a B2B company, the story of Coca Cola’s Content 2020 program serves as a great example of how to rally the troops.

More focus on influencer marketing

We’re now at the sweet spot for a content distribution platform, so these advertising platforms, ways of getting that visibility… I think we’re just going to have wave upon wave of the next things, like the influence of outreach is also harder, and there’ll be a lot more technology investment in that space. —Todd Wheatland

Having a strategic plan for working with your influencers will be key. Here are some posts to help get you started:

Other trends to watch for

At CMI, we think about what’s next for content marketing a lot. Here are just a few of the trends we see:

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this, as well. What content marketing trends do you think are most essential to track? Where do you see this discipline headed?

View the other videos in this roundtable discussion:

You can also see more results from our B2B content marketing research, visit CMI’s Research Page.

Author: Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company's strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio's Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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  • Steve Peck

    As highlighted in this post, I believe building the bridge between content marketers and sales teams will be key. What we continually hear from our customers is that part of the problem lies INTERNALLY, given the fact that an organizations’ marketing and sales teams use very different systems and processes to distribute and track content engagement, so there is often a struggle between marketers trying to control everything through Marketing Automation Platforms, while sales prefers everything driven through their CRM.

    As we think about product development at Docalytics, we always approach the problem of how can we build a solution that bridges the needs of sales and marketing to ensure all parties have their specific needs met. We’ve seen that by simply taking both departments processes into account, there is often an immediate increase in cross-functional collaboration and utilization of content assets.

    Has anyone else found ways to increase sales and marketing collaboration for the good of your content marketing strategy?

    • Michele Linn

      Hi Steve,
      We just had a great #CMWorld Twitter chat about sales enablement this past Tuesday with Carla Johnson. Once the transcript is posted, I’ll include it in the comments. Lots of great ideas in there!

      • Steve Peck

        Wonderful! I look forward to reading the update and learning more from the transcript…

    • Carla Johnson

      Hi Steve,

      Collaboration between sales and marketing is something I see almost every company struggle with, even the ones who earnestly try to build a collaborative relationship.

      The companies who do it well are integrating their functions as much as they can. Building diverse teams that not only include sales and marketing, but also product research, customer experience, IT, etc. They understand that it takes a more holistic picture. When sales and marketing understand the situation from a 360 degree perspective, sales is better equipped to have a business conversation – not a product/service conversation – with customers and prospects.

      The ability to use content to move the conversation to a business discussion helps sales teams get in the door earlier and build trusted relationships.

      Thanks for sharing your experience,

  • Erika Heald

    I strongly agree with the importance of having an integrated content team to drive message consistency across all your channels. Your head of content should be involved with all your external communications, to keep things on message, and in support of your marketing goals. I’ve found that having a well-defined brand voice, and a content style guide that’s used throughout the marketing team (and by your agencies) is also a great driver of consistency.

    • Michele Linn

      Great points, Erika. The more consistent a brand can be, the better . . . as long as it’s not watered-down corporate speak 🙂

    • Carla Johnson

      Hi Erika,

      I agree that having the documented framework and integrated team is key for consistency. It works not only externally, but is crucial for internal consistency. It’s the rest of the company that keep the promises that sales and marketing make.

      Nice to hear from you!

  • Cooperatize

    I think the focus on influencer marketing cannot be stressed enough. Having someone to vouch for your great content goes a long way in helping your content get discovered and ultimately for driving new business. In addition to identifying influencers, I think there should be more standard ways to build relationships with influencers. Most of the time this is done through referrals and connections. However, there must be a more automated way to establish relationships with media outlets and bloggers you want to work with and partner with.

    • Michele Linn

      Influencer marketing is something we have been thinking a lot about lately. I agree that the first step is the list, but you need to have a systematic 9not automated or inauthentic) way to reach out as well.

      • Cooperatize

        Thanks Michelle. Curious to learn more about ways your strategy for reaching out to influencers especially in the B2B field.

        • Michele Linn

          What kind of specific questions do you have?

          • Cooperatize

            Just sent you an e-mail with questions, thanks!

  • Naomi Garnice

    Thanks for sharing. Love the idea of training Sales in creating meaningful content!

  • Andrew Goldman

    Nicely done Michele! We at LinkedIn agree so strongly with these insights and trends we’re working to share the news and POV on our networks. Great kickoff to the last Quarter of ’13!

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks, Andrew!

  • vbhagat

    Michele – curious as to your thoughts for the role of “social proof”/ reviews in the context marketing mix for B2B. I see B2B buyers increasingly mirror the pattern of B2C buyers, in that they want to do independent research prior to contacting a vendor. They appreciate the thought leadership/ strategy content from vendors, but in terms of identifying and evaluating solutions, they’d rather rely on independent, peer driven sources.

    I for one think B2B vendors, need to embrace transparency, and accept the fact that B2B buyers are going to be searching for candid insights from their peers. Here’s an article I wrote to that effect:

    Interested to hear your reactions.

    Vinay Bhagat
    CEO, TrustRadius

    • Michele Linn

      Vinay — I like what you are proposing in terms of B2B technology companies more actively soliciting honest reviews to help potential customers make decisions. However, it is a process that needs to be operazationalized so comments are responded to quickly and appropriately. Yes, there is a risk of inviting feedback as well, but that feedback likely already exists. But, it’s a culture shift for many, I’m sure.

      In terms of the future of content marketing, I like how this would give companies another way to get feedback so they can create better content at all parts of the sales process — including retention.


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