Is It Time To Replace Ads With Content In B2B Marketing?

b2b marketing - content in place of ads?
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COVID-19 has slowed us all down in one way or the other. As teams move to remote working, a lot of B2B companies are seeing a slowdown in their product roadmaps and marketing campaigns. After all, with an unpredictable future ahead, everyone’s focus has shifted to optimizing their spending (and burn).

But if promoting your B2B product has been the first thing you took off your list, this blog is for you.

Yes, you don’t want to spend as much on ads to promote your product when you’re not even sure if your audience is going to respond to it – let alone make use of it.

But at the same time, you don’t want all those months of working on your product to be lost in the COVID chaos either.

And what about all those users you have acquired? Do you want them slipping away?

I’m pretty sure you’re shaking your head right now. There’s no way you can simply let go of all that you’ve achieved in the last few months.

But what’s the way out? Re-aligning your strategy and focusing on content marketing.

I’m not saying content marketing is the replacement to ads. What I’m saying is that it is one of the most effective tactics right now to continue reaching your target audience, acquiring users, and at the same time reducing your burn.

PS. If you’re just getting started with content marketing, we recommend getting this FREE ebook on Content Marketer’s Guide To Remote Work.

Why should you focus on content marketing?

Content marketing takes time to show results. You don’t just start getting leads from the very first piece of content that you publish. So why should you invest in it now?

Well, here are some reasons to choose to amp up your content marketing efforts right now:

1. Your audience is using search more than ever and search engines love content.

Everyone’s in lockdown. We’re spending a lot more time indoors than ever and that has increased our internet usage.

Think about it, you’re forever on Facebook, Instagram, or the search engine, either looking for more news or products that you can use to improve your work from home productivity or even the general necessity items.

The ‘search’ is where we are discovering new brands and discounts or even getting educated about something we’re interested in.

Don’t you want your product to be on that search?

Here are some statistics you need to know:

  • 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine
  • 57% of B2B marketers stated that the search engine sends more traffic to their site than any other marketing initiative

2. Content can help you drive more traffic and put your sales on autopilot.

If you have been investing in push campaigns or cold sales outreach, you know how tough it can be to convert a lead.

You’re continually emailing them with different messages, case studies or even asking for feedback around your product – all in the hope that they’ll check it out and become a user in the process.

But not every target account is ready to make a purchase. Every lead is at a different stage in your sales cycle and outbound tactics can become overwhelming all too soon. Especially if you’re a small team or you’re planning to reduce your budgets on outbound efforts, replacing some with manual outreach.

With content on the search engine, you’re technically putting your sales on autopilot.

A user searching for ‘time management tips’ is clearly at a different stage in the sales cycle as compared to the one searching for the ‘best time tracking app’. Both of whom you can target with dedicated content pieces addressing their exact need at that stage.

So without having to spend hours on calls or sending 10 emails to share time management tips with the first user, you’re moving them along the sales funnel to reach where the second user is. Smart, right?

And all it took you was creating two content pieces, optimized to rank for the two keywords those users are making searches on.

Just getting started with content marketing and your team went remote? Here’s a guide you’ll love!

3. It becomes easier for you to set the tone and start a conversation with your audience.

You messaged a lead on LinkedIn. You also sent them an email. Then you sent them another message and followed up on email. You’re continually trying to strike a conversation with the lead – but it doesn’t happen easily.

This could be because of a few reasons. The most common ones being that the lead you’re pursuing is not actively looking for the solution you’re offering or your message makes no sense to them. Either way, you’re not sure how to convey your value proposition effectively and you’re struggling to start a contextual conversation with them.

But starting a conversation when a user comes looking for the product you sell is way easier. That’s exactly what content enables for you!

When you’re addressing their challenges and offering them a solution, they’re bound to come to you. Depending on which content piece they interact with, you know where they are in a sales cycle and you’re able to talk to them accordingly.

4. You don’t end up annoying your target audience.

Your target audience is being targeted by a gazillion other businesses. Everyone’s trying to push their products and services to them. Some through ads, some by continually messaging them on LinkedIn and some endlessly emailing on the address they found on one of the social media channels.

What’s worse? Some even place outbound calls that are pretty persistent.

In the end, they all tip a little towards annoying the audience – even if they have something valuable to offer.

annoying your customers

With content, that is not the case. Since users willingly come looking for something, they’re more inclined towards reading what you have to say and then discovering what you have to offer.

Pretty much the same as them coming to look for a solution, instead of you pressing them to buy a solution they don’t need at the moment.

5. It is one of the smartest (and most effective) ways to amplify brand awareness.

Yes, creating good content requires having the right resources in places. But you don’t need too many – all you need is to create that one good piece of content that addresses everything your target audience is possibly searching for – of course, relevance and context to the topic matters.

Say, for instance, you have an analytics app. Now instead of writing an article around how to use your app, you could create a series around how your target audience can get started with analytics – after all, not everyone is comfortable with numbers.

By doing so, you achieve two things. One, you have an in-depth piece of content that your target audience can use as an actionable. Two, by helping the audience first, you increase the chances of your content being marked as ‘useful’ and being shared – all in all, you 2x your brand awareness.

gary vee brand awareness

Also read: Why publishing content every day won’t get you anywhere

6. You don’t just boost brand awareness, but also build authority.

And while your brand’s name starts doing rounds, you also build authority in that niche.

Basically, people start seeing you as the person they can go to for addressing their queries, getting actionables, or even asking for help.

For example, RevTap is a Shopify Analytics app. Not all online store owners are comfortable using Google Analytics. Identifying this challenge, the app created an eCommerce Analytics Masterclass.

The content covered in the masterclass included starting right from scratch – even if that meant listing down ‘sign up on Google Analytics’ as a step.

But having that content pushed out, set the tone for the app early on to be known for anything data.

b2b marketing with content

7. Content can still help your products and services get discovered (without the paid push).

You’re cutting your marketing budget – it’s obvious. But does that mean you will stop promoting your products and services?

The answer is NO.

With content, while you’re addressing your target audience’s challenges, you are also able to subtly include the solution you offer. In fact, if you’re offering anything additionally – like a service – you’re able to plug that in smoothly too!

For instance, RevTap! While each lesson in their masterclass walked the reader through ‘how to set up analytics’ step-by-step, they concluded the classes with a subtle call-to-action.

Sometimes offering a FREE Google Analytics set up. And at other times, simply plugging in their product to say how they can make overwhelming data look easy to consume and actionable.

Here’s how they plugged in their app into one of their lessons around using ‘marketing analytics’ to create better campaigns:

b2b marketing with content example

8. It educates your customers without having to step into hours of demo calls.

Typically, a B2B product has to book at least a 30-minute call to explain what they have to offer and what challenges they’re addressing.

Then another 30 minutes to walk the lead through how they’re addressing the challenge. Add another 20 odd minutes to let them know the offer you have and how it is the best they can get and a couple of hours more to convince them or follow them up to subscribe to one of the plans.

If you think about it, getting even 10 customers with that approach is a lot of time!

With content, you can educate your target audience and nurture your leads without having to step into these many calls.

Going back to the RevTap example again. The app was actually able to talk challenges through their first lesson, establish authority over the niche with a step-by-step, nudging the reader into the funnel.

Once into the funnel, they nurtured them with the follow-up lessons which included sections on getting started with their app. So they basically used ‘educating the customer’ as an approach to close the sales!

This brings us back to the HubSpot approach of using content: Attract -> Convert -> Close -> Delight!

b2b marketing with content process

Ways to Promote Your Product With Content Marketing

Now, getting started with content marketing sounds daunting. A quick search online and you’ll find 10 long steps you need to take before you can even start writing the content.

We are all for keyword research, strategizing your content plan, and having a laid-out roadmap of how your content marketing should look like. But, at this time, putting good content out is more important than having a 3-year roadmap of what your content should look like.

create amazing content b2b marketing

That’s why we suggest that you take a quick half an hour to list the topics you want to write about. You can look at what your existing users are asking for, what your target audience is talking about right now, and what’s trending/ required by your users during this time.

Here are a few types of content you can start creating now:

1. How-to guides on using your product during this time

With changing consumption habits, the goals of businesses are changing. Your users may not be able to use your product or may not be able to adapt their existing strategies to their new goals. You need to be able to educate them about how they can use your products for newer goals.

Talk to a few of your users, asking them their goals during this time. Understand their needs and see where your product can help them. You can then write and publish a piece on how the product can be used to achieve the user’s new goals.

Let’s take an email marketing app for eCommerce businesses, for instance. Due to the coronavirus, fewer eCommerce stores would be sending promotions about their products and sales, meaning fewer emails being sent. With an apt guide like ‘Types of Emails to Send Shoppers to Engage Them’, this email marketing app can successfully bring back its users to send more emails.

Here’s a blog by Klaviyo that helps their users communicate with their email subscribers during this time:

b2b marketing - klaviyo example

2. Blogs providing solutions for your target audience

Your target audience is searching for tips and solutions to get through this crisis. How can they adapt their strategy? What are the best practices? How is the field evolving? With the right research, you can provide these answers to them.

Talk to industry experts, look for research online, and learn from your existing users who are getting through this well. You can put these tips together, including examples and actionables for your audience to take action right away. Another way to provide solutions is to invite industry experts to write about navigating through this time or speak to you about solutions for your target audience.

Here are some pieces we worked on for B2B companies who are servicing eCommerce business:

Also read: What Content Do You Really Need For Shopify App Marketing

3. Success stories from your existing customers

This may be the best time to build your credibility. With fewer tasks on your plate, you can focus on creating the toughest content pieces, but the most effective in converting leads— case studies. With case studies, you can prove your product’s worth and show tangible results to potential users.

Reach out to your top users and request for permission to use their data on your case study and get some quotes from them on using your product. If you aren’t sure where to start, here’s an easy format to follow:

  • About the customer
  • The challenge the customer faced
  • The solution you offered
  • The results
  • Testimonial from the customer
  • And of course, wherever possible, graphics and screenshots to support the case

4. Create videos of your product or around your written content

Another content form that is sure to see success is video. In this age of mobile content consumption, everyone’s consuming videos. In fact, about 54% of consumers prefer content in video format for the simple reason that it is more engaging, and is easy to consume.

You may be sceptical of creating video content but it doesn’t have to be a fancy setup. A screen recording along with a small inlay video of you explaining through the video is good enough! You can use this format to explain how to use your product.

With videos, you can also get indexed on places like YouTube for your keywords and share bite-sized social media posts that autoplay when the consumer lands on it.

This is especially important at this time because people are consuming more content on YouTube and social media platforms now more than ever. With more attention online, you have the chance to tap into this interest and convert it into subscribers (and later, into your product users).

Here’s an example from our all-time favourite (and over-used) Slack:

5. Join conversations within communities and forums

We already spoke about how more people are spending time online. You can engage with your target audience across the globe and join conversations through online communities and forums. Answer questions on Quora, add to the conversation on Facebook and LinkedIn groups and join subreddits to provide helpful solutions on Reddit.

Communities are built with highly specific interests in mind and you can join communities with interests that align with your industry. For instance, if we take the above example of email marketing apps for eCommerce businesses, we would suggest subreddits like ‘r/Marketing’, ‘r/eCommerce’, and even ‘r/Shopify’. You can repurpose your content for different questions posted in these communities.

Need help planning, strategizing, and creating content for your SaaS business? Reach out to me any time!

Should you also run ads?

Now, if you already have a budget to run ads, we won’t tell you to stop. But do keep in mind 4 tips when crafting your ads during this pandemic:

  • Don’t run ads that you had planned months earlier, for a pre-coronavirus audience. It won’t see the results you were hoping for.
  • Strategize your ad to ensure the solution you provide addresses the needs of your consumers during this hour.
  • Acknowledge the situation in your copy. Be empathetic.
  • Use retargeting and remarketing ads to improve the conversions on your previous campaigns and also lower your ad spend.

Provide your audience with value, just like how Salesforce does it with their ad promoting their ebook.

b2b marketing - salesforce ad

Pro tip: If you do have some budget to run ads, take the smarter approach of optimizing your campaign for traffic to a piece of content you’ve written. Once your audience reads or downloads your content, you can retarget these visitors with smart remarketing ads and convert them into users. With such ads, you’ll be spending less but targeting leads who already know about your value. You’ll see them converting quicker too!

Thinking of content marketing for your B2B company?

Content marketing has proven to be one of the most effective tactics to promote B2B products. Right from industry leaders to startups, we have seen success stories everywhere. But what it does require is a methodical approach – you can’t just be publishing anything that comes to your mind.

You also can’t just repurpose your feature list or pricing page to create a blog.

You have to dig deep into your customer data to identify who they are, what they want to read, and how your business can offer them that content in an authoritative way.

With the COVID-19 slowdown, it’s the perfect time to build on authority. But start with what you have and by that I mean:

  • Look into the performance of the ads you have run so far to identify the messaging and the offers that your target audience engages with the most
  • Identify the conversion pullers from your ad campaigns and the channels where the campaign has been the most effective
  • Take a look at what your target audience is really searching for during this period – using a tool like SEMrush can make it simpler for you to find keywords that present an opportunity for your content to rank
  • See how your existing customers are interacting with your product and take note of how their behaviour has changed over time and how you can address their current needs – don’t forget to look into the online conversations they’re having in community and groups

Once you know the changes in your target market, then take a call on what ads you should be running and where content marketing can step in to replace campaigns for optimizing your spend.

Similar to B2C, it’s time for B2B to be more empathetic to the needs of its users.

Wondering how you can suddenly make a switch in growth strategy and focus on content marketing when the whole team just moved to a work from home setup?

We got you covered.

Get this FREE ebook on Content Marketer’s Guide To Remote Work today!


This article was co-written by Asiya Nayeem. She is a content marketing manager who works with me to help B2B startups use words to grow their business. You can mostly find us talking strategies, content ideas or discussing pizza. Want to join in? Reach out to us here

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