When we think of branded content, the campaigns of packaged goods and restaurant chains typically come to mind. We picture Red Bull and Chipotle, viral videos and millennials—B2C marketing all the way. B2B branded content may not always be as visible, but it’s just as widespread and pursues the same goal: connecting brands with customers in exceptional ways.
Despite this shared devotion to branded content, the strategies used to approach B2B and B2C content marketing are notably different. Marketers in both spaces hope to engage potential customers through stories. But the nature of the messaging and the channels used to distribute those stories are as distinctive as the content itself.
Thought Leaders and Entertainers
At a base level, B2C and B2B marketers approach their content strategies in fundamentally different ways.
B2B businesses have vast stores of industry knowledge at their disposal, and this information can be dispensed through any number of formats. By packaging expertise as thought-leadership articles, companies can offer crucial insight into the marketplace. A good B2B content strategy often boils down to simply being the most insightful source of information on the work you do.
For a while, getting eyeballs on that content has been difficult, but it’s getting easier. For example, last year, LinkedIn introduced Sponsored Updates, a new advertising feature that allows brands to expand the reach of their LinkedIn posts across desktop, smartphone, and tablet feeds. Businesses can use these to target audiences by category, job function, and job title to increase the visibility of their educational content.
On the consumer side, being a thought leader isn’t really going to move the needle if you’re, say, a breakfast cereal brand. Instead, B2C content marketing is often focused on the topics consumers care about. That’s why Red Bull has become the biggest extreme sports media company in the world. It’s also the reason American Express has become a small business publishing powerhouse.
And, of course, good B2C content marketing aims to entertain. That’s what Chipotle accomplished with its web series, “Farmed and Dangerous,” and what LEGO did with The LEGO Movie—a $200 million blockbuster that may qualify as one of the greatest pieces of branded content of all time.
Emphasizing Value and Appealing to Emotion
Why does a consumer decide to buy a product?
Basic need plays a part, but so does emotion, status, and brand appeal. Branded and sponsored content can positively impact one’s perception of a brand, as evidenced by a study from IPG Media Lab commissioned by Forbes Media. Consumers exposed to branded content, the study found, were 28 percent more likely to have a “favorable” impression of the brand. Accordingly, brands—like Duracell Canada with its recent “Moments of Warmth” video—do their best to ingratiate themselves with their potential customers.
In B2B, the more popular approach highlights a product’s features in an entertaining way. For corporate customers, purchasing decisions are grounded in reason, and brands must get creative to exhibit the complexities of their products in an engaging way.
Take Volvo Trucks, Volvo Group’s commercial truck manufacturer. When advertising Volvo Dynamic Steering, a new system designed to improve the stability of its vehicles particularly when driving in reverse, the brand created “The Epic Split,” an online video that launched in November 2013 starring a very limber Jean-Claude Van Damme.
The many faces of content personalization
Between dynamic retargeting and customized content, personalized content is quickly emerging as content marketing’s secret weapon. In fact, it’s pretty amazing it hasn’t been squished into a horrendous buzzword yet. (Perscontentilization, anyone?)
The best-known case studies for this come from B2C brands. Mobile app InStyle’s Hairstyle Try-On lets consumers try on celebrity hairstyles to find the look that suits them best. On Revlon’s Virtual Makeup Artist, users can give themselves a makeover, selecting complexion color, skin type, product, and makeup shade before making a purchase online.
Beacon-based marketing, featured in Contently’s recent State of Content Marketing: Retail e-book, is also proving useful to consumer brands. Jewelry retailer Alex & Ani delivers real-time promotions to shoppers when they’re near its retail stores with the help of mobile marketing platform Swirl. Swirl is built on Apple’s positioning and push notification system iBeacon, which can be used to personalize greetings, tender product recommendations, and deploy deals when a shopper gets close to a store. In a way, it’s like providing customers with their own personal shopper. Incredibly, the content drove in-store conversion rates in the high teens.
B2B content marketers use personalization, too, but without the need for GPS tracking. This can come in the form of dynamic calls to action, segmented emails, and companies like Demandbase, which marries user targeting with personalized ads.
“Most B2C is cookie and behavior-based,” says Martin Longo, chief technology officer with Demandbase. “In B2B, it’s not about individuals, it’s about an entire organization. Account-based marketing is a strong trend in this space.”
Companies like Cisco, HP, and Dell present Demandbase with a list of firms they’d like to target. Demandbase uses a real-time bidder tool to plug into ad exchanges like Google, AppNexus, and Centro and bids on inventory linked to the IP addresses of the companies its clients seek, placing display, video, social, and mobile advertising accordingly. The ads can promote different types of branded content like downloadable white papers and e-books. Company-specific targeting is coupled with customized ad messaging that speaks directly to the viewer.
B2B and B2C brand publishers all have to deliver value to their customers by telling memorable stories, even if they differ in the framing and method of delivery. But for all of the acronyms in content marketing, success often comes down to just three letters: awe.