Marketing orthodoxy is largely written by leader brands for leader brands, which are only
a tiny minority of the brands that exist. This extends to B2B brands and their content
marketing efforts, which I think is particularly problematic, for two reasons.
First, "fake it till you make it" doesn't work very well in B2B. Or at least it doesn't
work as intended, because fake it till you make it is all B2B brands seem to do. Followers
copy leaders. And buyers can't tell vendors
Which might sound ideal if you're a follower, but it isn't, because when buyers can't
tell vendors apart, do you know who wins the business? The leader whose name they knew
. Congratulations, non-leaders, you've achieved nothing.
So I've devised some content marketing tips to help non-leaders stand out from the herd.
Approve & Publish Content Fast
In the animal kingdom, smaller members of a species tend to be faster than larger ones.
And this is how businesses should be, but it often isn't the case with content marketing.
The reason why is approvals. They need to be fast in B2B, because B2B is tech-heavy, and
tech content falls out of date quickly.
Large businesses often have clearly delineated chains of people who know and accept that
approvals are part of the job, so they're often quite fast. But at startups, approvals can
be slow, because the CEO is often the approver, and they're always busy.
At SMEs there are often a circle of approvers, not a chain, with things moving in both
directions, and at least one vital link always on a three-week trip or doing tradeshow prep
or something else that gives them an excuse to ignore you -- so again, often slow.
But this just doesn't work. You've gotta approve fast, and be more timely in your content
topics (timeliness is a shortcut to relevance). React to what's in the news and the industry
discourse with your content. And consider reacting directly to what prominent journos or
analysts write. It'll do wonders for your brand's mindshare if you can get them to mention
you back by name.
However, even if you can get fast approvals, you also need timely subject matter expertise.
Your average junior in-house writer or freelancer will require too much research time for
their content to keep up with the high-speed game of content ping-pong you're trying to play.
You'll need a writer who really knows your industry. That can cost money, but if you're
willing to play this game, it can be worth it.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is perhaps the Achilles heel of leader-brand content
marketing. A lot of non-leaders don't realize this because they're doing it wrong, by
choosing to butt heads with the leaders over the same buzzwords. And notice how I said
buzzwords, not keywords. Leader brands love buzzwords, and the bigger the better. AI, 5G,
the Metaverse, and how they affect the industry you're in. They want these buzzwords
because the attention returns are high.
But non-leaders should let the leader brands have these hills. You can't beat them
head-to-head. Their millions of followers will just brute force you off page one of a web
search. But you can take the less buzzy keywords they can't be bothered with.
Leaders can be surprisingly lazy when you start moving away from the buzzwords. Because
they don't really need these smaller hills. They've got strong websites. Favorable media
coverage. Innate familiarity. They don't need to expend resources parking cars in front of
every Google search user, hoping to be crashed into.
They've got mindshare (which appears to be the most important thing
when it comes to the
buyer's journey). They don't need to fight for every hill to keep on winning, because they
already control the big hills. But if you can take enough of the little hills that
surround them, eventually it'll make a difference in the war.
Be Outbound, Smartly
Despite what I just told you, inbound is a surprisingly ineffective way for non-leaders to
advance themselves. I said you must respect SEO, but I didn't say SEO is your savior.
Inbound as a strategy often isn't enough if you're a non-leader brand. The reason why is
because few know who you are (i.e., nobody's explicitly looking for you). You lack the
gravity that leaders have. So if you want to connect with people, you can't just try to make
people find you. You need to tap them on the shoulder by being more outbound.
How can you be more outbound? Paradoxically, one of the best ways to be outbound is to send
out fewer emails and newsletters. Businesses love sending out emails and newsletters because
they think they're buying mindshare. But what you're really doing is teaching your customers
to ignore you.
Try sending out fewer but better emails. Maybe no more than once a month. Make sure that
every email is special or unusual. Use celebrity guest bloggers. Hit them with surprising
findings. Offer real value. Train customers to be happy to see you.
Say Something Different
If you're a leader brand, you've got gravity. And what you say is industry news, which means
people will consume your content no matter how predictable or pedantic it is. But if you're a
non-leader brand, you don't have that luxury. People won't consume your content just because
it exists. Especially if you're just parroting the leaders. Why would anyone read your content
when they can get the same info from the leaders?
The best way for non-leaders to get read is to say something different. And there's a hunger
out there for something different. According to a study
from LinkedIn and Edelman, 80% of B2B
decisionmakers they surveyed prefer thought leadership that "offers provocative ideas that
challenge their assumptions regarding a topic."
Challenging assumptions is surprisingly easy to do. Every argument has flaws. And the world
runs on bullshit. What's hard is actually saying something challenging out loud. It takes
boldness, which is not exactly abundant in B2B. But remember, out in the real world, when
discussing the issues of the day, people disagree all the time. And a lot of their positions
are later proven wrong.
What happens when they're later proven wrong? Usually nothing. Unless the author chooses to
acknowledge a mistake themselves, they usually just move on to the next topic. We're ruled by
politicians and constantly fed opinions by columnists and talking heads who've never been
right about anything, but they keep on talking. If you're a follower brand, you might want to
think about adopting a bit of this mindset.
Consider Employee Advocacy
If you're an SME that isn't well known, your company's social media following and reach may
be modest. However, the combined personal social media reach of your employees may be
considerably larger, and you should consider taking advantage of it, if your company is
, in the form of an employee advocacy (aka brand advocacy) program, where employees
share your company's content in a concerted effort on social media.
Use Third Parties
Some say that paid digital advertising is the shortest route to overcoming the fact that you're
small (and can't get much organic engagement). But this is not true at all. Paid digital
advertising is fraud-ridden and less than reliable, and it works better when you're already
famous (i.e., you don't have to waste precious space in the ad explaining who you are and why
people should trust you).
Journalists are the shortest path to legit reach and engagement. Search engines prioritize what
they write. Of course, pinning down journalists
can be cat herding, but if your brand says
something different, and keeps saying it, eventually a journalist will hear it or read about it,
and then they'll be the ones trying to pin you down.
You also want analysts writing about you, favorably, because they're kingmakers in B2B. It can
require a lot of resources and handholding to make this happen, and a somewhat different
communications style than many B2B companies typically use (analysts often need plainer English
than what they normally receive), but it's worth it if you've got the goods.
Influencers can also be useful, and in B2B I view them as a good way to engage with close-knit
niche communities that might be hard to reach through more conventional means (like makers or
In terms of increasing your overall reach more generally, I'd only utilize them after you've
taken it to the max with more proven means like analysts and journalists. With the limited
resources a non-leader has, you don't want to risk spreading yourself too thin on a less certain
However, if you have a CEO who has a lot of street cred in the target industry, I might make an
exception, as that CEO will often be an influencer magnet, which ups the possibility of some
real magic being made.
But non-leaders must be cautious with influencers, for four reasons. The first is fraud. The
second is the fact that, even when reach and engagement aren't fraudulent, the benefits to brands
aren't well established (compared to more orthodox third-parties).
Many influencer studies don't pass the smell test, and often come from agencies peddling services
instead of insights. Third is the fact that influencers sometimes aren't very good listeners, at
least compared to journos or analysts, so they have an irritating tendency to get the facts wrong
And fourth, influencers can represent a greater scandal risk than journos or analysts. You
never know who might be a guest on a racist podcast, or be accused of online sexual harassment.
Leaders have the means and brand equity to weather these storms. Non-leader brands, not so much.