There are scenarios in which content marketing works great for B2B firms and scenarios in which it does not work.
B2B firms often need to do concept selling.
Let’s take a look at some of the competitive positions from which a B2B firm tries to sell its products and see how content marketing works out for each:
A B2B firm that creates a market (that is first to enter a market segment) stands to benefit from content marketing for the following reasons:
- The firm needs to educate people about the concept that they are selling.
- By published informative content on the concept that their products are about, the ecosystem that develops around the concept will link to their content or use their content to explain the concept to prospective B2B customers, which in turn causes their content to rank higher in searches, and improves their chances of being found by anyone searching the web in order to learn about the concept. Imagine yourself in the 1990s, and there is a new concept called the application server. If you were a vendor of application servers, it would make sense to publish the highest volume of informative articles about application servers in order to establish oneself as the leader in the space.
The originator would, on account of their content, be more findable, and as more partners and customers found their content, they would get more in-links and consequently rank higher and consequently become more likely to be found.
b) Fast Follower
Certain marketing strategists hold that it is better to be a fast follower than the market originator. The argument goes that market originators have a 47% failure rate whereas fast followers have an 8% failure rate.
A fast-follower will need to put out informative content to highlight why their product is better than the market originator’s. However, the fast follower would run into the findability barrier.
No matter how much content they put out, their content would not be found by a prospect searching for the concept.
This is because, in the beginning, the market originator’s content would rank higher and be more likely to be found than the fast follower’s.
So, the fast follower would have to come up with alternative ways of getting known.
They would have to pay for ads on search engines (search engine marketing) and build a partner network (a network of people invested in them and who would link to their content) before their content would become findable.
Their content creation efforts would eventually pay off, because after building a big enough head of content and getting a sufficiently large community behind it, they might succeed in becoming more findable than the originator, and then the network effects would conspire to help them maintain or increase their lead without further investment.
Clayton Christensen in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” wrote about a category of firms that bring about “disruptive innovation”. He wrote that established firms do not pursue innovation that they are aware of because their business environment does not allow them to (it would take away resources from the more profitable sustenance and consolidation of their existing innovations or cannibalize their existing offerings).
So it is left to smaller firms to pursue what is called disruptive innovation because the smaller markets and revenue streams that initially exist are still worth pursuing for a smaller firm.
Disruptors will not be able to get much leverage from content marketing as I have explained in detail in another article “Does content marketing work for startups?”
The gist of the story is that a smaller firm will find it hard to outspend the larger and more established firms in or near their product space.
Their content will have the lowest findability of all (because there is less of it), and hence content marketing would not work for them.
B2B firms offering services are a category of firms whose offerings can be highly commoditized and largely undifferentiated. Outsourcing firms in India are good examples of such firms. So are BPOs.
It would be difficult for such firms to market themselves using original content as their content would be dwarfed by content from other service providers, branded vendors and open source projects.
About the Author
Cohan Sujay Carlos is the CEO of Selasdia, a social sales and B2B marketing automation vendor, and Founder of Aiaioo Labs, a research SME that works on machine learning and natural language processing. Cohan writes about marketing and sometimes about artificial intelligence and linguistics.