Content strategy for tech B2B content marketers during times of crisis

May 7, 2020


By Anu Ramani

Anu Ramani is a specialist in international B2B communications.

More articles from Anu Ramani

As tech B2B marketers it’s easy for us to feel like we’re running out of options at the moment.

There is a significant decline in business confidence and willingness to invest, caused by limited visibility of the sales pipeline. Add to this the fact that many of the best-established sales nurturing opportunities like trade shows and face-to-face meetings are looking unlikely, even after lockdowns lift. The only way to nurture leads through the purchase cycle is digital marketing, with content serving as the anchor to offer prospects value. And inevitably, management and sales management and sales teams are leaning – hard – on marketing, to deliver qualified leads and keep that pipeline moving. This is particularly true of certain sub-segments of tech B2B – telecoms, OTT broadcast, cloud, and any type of Software-as-a-Service, for example.

Now, content marketers in many tech B2B organisations have been working for years to get attention and buy-in from sales, senior management, and other internal stakeholders. And now – here’s attention, in spades! Naturally, as content marketers we are delighted with the opportunity. Out we go, with ‘opportunistic’ cold marketing campaigns.

Conversations with peers are revealing similar stories across the board: limited success. Sanya described the response to a marketing campaign she had run right when lockdown began as eye-opening. Like many of us, Sanya saw opportunity in the lockdown, and believed that companies who had to quickly adapt to new ways of doing business would see value in her solution. “One of my target respondents sent a rude two-word response to my cold e-mail,” she recalled, grimacing. Another marketer said he had had a zero percent response rate to one outbound marketing campaign.

Now we come to the tricky part – how to actually implement a content marketing campaign in this period that generates results.

Why is this tricky?

Here’s the reason: the priorities of your audience have changed. If your target audience is the C-suite, for example, the content you had planned to publish may no longer be fit for purpose, as these execs focus on their new strategies and responses to the ongoing situation. This message from Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and AirB&B’s Brian Chesky are an extreme example, but illustrate what some of your prospects might be thinking about right now. The problem is widespread: this study by Econsultancy found that many brands are pushing back on digital transformation efforts, at a time when most vendors believe that they should be accelerating. At the very least, they are having difficult conversations about budget freezes, budget and team cuts, and more. They aren’t going to be interested in discussing your great platform right now, even if it is going to cut opex and deliver positive ROI within two years.

Content marketing experts need fast, intelligent innovation to help manage their campaigns through this change.

There are no parallels in the marketing rule-book we can draw on. The best place to start, in fact, is with crisis communications campaigns.

In a crisis, our audiences are in roughly the same mindset as you find everywhere today: their faith in the future and your brand has been shaken, and they no longer view you with trust or favour. Their minds are occupied with other, more pressing matters. What principles work best to cut through?

Target with a laser focus, and nurture existing stakeholder relationships:

Consider whether this might be the right time to reach out to new stakeholders or those without context. During times of crisis, people do not respond well to strangers: they turn instinctively to those they know and trust. That is why the bigger brands are all seeing significant growth. Time and resources might be better spent in nurturing existing clients and prospects. Ensure you allocate enough share of budget to enhancing brand trust through thought leadership and other top of funnel content. Spend a lot of time thinking about the target audience, and target content specifically to audience segments. If you’re trying to acquire non-technical customers into the segment for the first time, end-to-end guides that aren’t self-serving, for example, might be helpful.

Adapt your messaging and strategy to provide support and value:

This is the time to go out of one’s way to offer value. We must all manage and adapt our marketing investments and resources to deliver valuable content in context and at scale. Do we need to pivot to address a different audience? Offer free technical counselling that’s genuine and not a gimmick? Do we really need a purchase-oriented call to action? Can we offer pricing deferrals or new value-added services as part of our offer? Every piece of content we put out there needs to be examined several times through a filter of ‘Is this truly valuable? Is it telling my audiences things they don’t know but would find useful?’

A recent study by the Content Marketing Institute sought to understand the top factors that contributed to the success of a content strategy. When asked to rank their top success factors, the ability to understand and connect with the audience’s values, interests, and/or pain points (50%) was far and away No. 1.

Be genuine, but businesslike:

I have personally lost count of the number of mass marketing emails I have received in the past six weeks that have hoped that I am safe and so is my family. Do you believe the person who sent the email cares specifically about me and my family? In a tech B2B context, this type of inquiry might sometimes feel out of place. Don’t get me wrong, empathy is essential: it just needs to take the right form. In a marketing context, this might mean adding value through expertise and knowledge, as opposed to reiterating topline marketing messages. Or it might mean tools for working out the ROI of an investment, for example, rather than presenting vanity statistics.

While tech B2B marketing teams must move fast to adjust to our new realities, they also need to think longer term, using the rapid lessons learned during March-May 2020 to build lasting, robust marketing practices and customer/prospect relationships. What must we all develop in the months ahead? Enduring success that is not susceptible to crises comes from using clean, value-added fundamentals in marketing – more substance, less fluff.

Here are some resources on how to develop a content strategy that differentiates your organisation, and how to build creativity into these efforts.

We’d love to hear your thoughts! Get in touch – [email protected]

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