There is no shortage of articles on the Internet attempting to cover various content marketing tips and strategies. Almost always, however, the case studies and examples cited are tailored towards B2C, leaving B2B marketers to fend for themselves to try and adapt the various ‘learnings’ to their respective businesses. The fact of the matter is that B2B content marketing is inherently different. As such, what typically works for B2C won’t necessarily translate for B2B, and vice versa.
Given that 57% (and as high as 70% in some instances) of the B2B purchase decision-making process is complete before a buyer ever contacts a salesperson (Source: CEB & Google) and B2B companies that actively blog receive 67% more leads each month than those who do not (Source: HubSpot), the harsh reality is that B2B content marketing is critical for success with today’s information-hungry B2B buyers. These astounding statistics suggest that B2B buyers are doing the majority of their homework on their own, so being discoverable via social media and organic/paid search is do or die for B2B marketers.
In 2011, the largest operating unit of a Danish business conglomerate set out to change the game by creating what is arguably one of the most robust and successful content marketing strategies ever implemented by a B2B marketer. That company is none other than Maersk Line, the world’s largest container shipping company with approximately 25,000 employees and operations in over 125 countries.
In order to craft their content strategy, Maersk Line ranked 10 social media channels from least to most corporate, and segmented them into fans, customers, employees and experts. The idea behind this method was to assist the company in setting achievable engagement goals and developing appropriate content based on four key areas of focus—communications, customer service, sales and internal usage.
Unlike the majority of B2B marketers online, Maersk Line refreshingly chose not to use their social media channels directly for lead generation or customer acquisition. As such, none of their social networks are ‘spammed’ with business or sales content. Instead, the brand focuses on sharing relevant and engaging content in the form of powerful and interesting stories. Where Maersk Line really shines is in turning the positive (as well as negative) realities of container shipping into powerful narratives that humanize the brand and resonate with their target audiences. Not only does this establish Maersk Line as honest and trustworthy, it also assists the brand in remaining transparent. Prime examples of this can be witnessed in how the company responded when a Maersk Line vessel accidentally struck a 12-meter long whale, or when a seafarer fell overboard and spent almost 10 hours in the Atlantic Ocean before being rescued:
What’s more, Maersk Line leverages the expertise of their employees to establish them as thought leaders in the industry. Not only does this provide rich content for Maersk Line’s digital presence, it also empowers their employees to hone their skills and grow as individuals, while taking pride in their work:
In my opinion, Maersk Line is the perfect example of how great content can stem from almost anywhere. Who knew container shipments could be so fascinating?
7 Lessons for Effective B2B Content Marketing
I have taken the liberty of extracting and consolidating 7 lessons that B2B content marketers can and should take away from the Maersk Line success story, which I believe deserves a gold star for its spot-on content strategy. B2C marketers should also take note, for a change!
- Obtain organizational commitment to content development. Even the best content strategy in the world won’t work if there is a lack of buy-in by key decision makers or the C-Suite. Trust from upper management is critical to be able to experiment with new channels and test things continuously in order to make the most of the short feedback loop offered by social media. What’s more, everyone should feel a strong commitment to the strategy in order to achieve optimal results.
- Develop content that resonates through communication, not marketing. Content should be developed around customers as opposed to solutions. Be sure to leverage as much earned, owned and paid media as possible to keep costs down and improve the ‘time to market’ for your content strategy. Segment audiences and categorize content accordingly to provide users with the information when and where they are looking for it. This will assist the brand in creating relevance and generating authority around specific topics or areas of interest.
- Find trends in online and offline data and identify potential topics or keywords of interest. Combine this data with social listening to develop and provide users with the right content at the right time. Investments in developing relevant and engaging content around active conversations will pay off in strides.
- Strategically align social media with business objectives. Use social media as an extension of how the business connects with, and is a resource to customers, prospects and the greater community. Have realistic expectations for what your social strategy will be able to accomplish and what it will not in order to set goals accordingly.
- Leverage ‘expert’ employees to form the basis of your content strategy. Not only will this benefit the brand in building confidence and credibility as a ‘trusted’ resource, it will also help your employees to connect with and get closer to target customers.
- Extend conversations beyond just selling—if you have a story to tell, tell it. Be educational, yet entertaining. The creation and development of powerful narratives will organically drive shares and mentions while humanizing the business so fans and followers can relate to the brand and its vision.
- Create an abundance of compelling content in the ‘voice’ and ‘tone’ of the brand. Integrating this content consistently across various digital platforms will bolster reach and resonance, thereby forming the basis of a winning content strategy.
We’re rapidly moving away from the classic marketing approach. It’s no longer about content that highlights the unique selling points, but about sharing knowledge that adds value for your customers. You need to let go of your own short-term interests only related to making the quick sale.
For instance, the rise of social selling requires of the marketing guys that they can write a white paper for a specific group of customers which the sales reps can then share via the social networks. The content has to be relevant, otherwise customers don’t want to follow the sales reps.
The whole trend is that you try to get in early in the buying process, at a point where you can shape customer demands. You might not even know what kind of product to sell based on your knowledge sharing, but you’ll find out together with the customer who you’ve been so kind as to share the company’s wisdom with.
Another trend is that you start treating B2B customers as real people and share engaging down-to-earth content with them. Simply as a way to build customer loyalty and humanize your business. You need to be trustworthy and allow people to interact with you.
– Jonathan Wichmann, Head of Social Media at Maersk Line
Just remember, if a container shipping company can do it, your B2B business can too—regardless of its size or reach. For more on Maersk Line and their approach to content marketing, check out Maersk Line Social and Jonathan’s influential blog: The Digital Blueprint.
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