Have you ever thought about what makes B2B marketing special?
Because there is something about it, isn’t there? There’s a certain…feeling to B2B marketing that those of us who live in it day to day inherently understand.
We collaborated with MarketingProfs B2B Forum partner TopRank Marketing to explore that feeling with experts and thought leaders in B2B marketing today.
Check out this special “Feeling B2B” series, hosted by TopRank Marketing co-founder Lee Odden.
The countdown is on to B2B Forum 2023. But there’s still time to join us!
Use promo code COUNTDOWN at checkout to save 15% off an in-person pass to join us in Boston (or use it for groups of 3 or more to save 15% on top of the $200 per person group discount!).
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Lee Odden: Welcome to the Feeling B2B show, a limited interview series of conversations with some of the top voices in the B2B marketing industry, brought to you by the fine folks at MarketingProfs B2B Forum. I’m Lee Odden, your host from TopRank Marketing, and I’m excited to kick off this series with none other than the godfather of content marketing himself, Joe Pulizzi. Joe is a longtime friend, fellow runner, and a serial entrepreneur, and I think someone that you could argue is probably the most passionate about the topic of content marketing in the industry. He’s the founder of Content Marketing Institute, the organization behind the famous Content Marketing World Conference. He’s also founder of the Tilt, the organization behind the Creator Economy Expo, and together with his amazing wife, Pam is co-founder of The Orange Effect, a nonprofit focused on autism and research into speaking disorders. Welcome to Feeling B2B Joe Lee,
Joe Pulizzi: I am thrilled to be talking to you today. Thank you for having me, and anytime you want to talk about B2B marketing, I’m ready for you. So bring it on.
Lee Odden: What is it that you love most about B2B marketing?
Joe Pulizzi: I love B2B. I mean, first of all, I grew up in B2B marketing. I started in 2000 with Penton Media, which was all around B2B publishing and marketing. And I actually thought it was the best place to start versus consumer because I really felt if we did marketing correctly, we published the right content to the right person and focused on their needs and pain points. We can truly make a difference in their lives. And I know that’s kind of fuzzy and feeling, and I know we’re sort of talking about that, but I really do believe it and I’m like, okay, who is that person you’re really trying to talk to? What are their pain points? What keeps ’em up at night? And can you deliver ongoing communications to them to not only help them in their jobs, and of course that’s what we’re here for, we’re B2B talk, but you can also help them in their jobs and their lives at the same time.
And of course, it’s a little altruistic, but I certainly believe that’s a possibility. And so I’ve made it a passion of mine for the last 25 years to focus on that. And I don’t think B2B gets enough credit for innovation and marketing and really if you think about it maybe you call it one-to-one marketing like Peppers and Rogers used to call it or integrated marketing communications from Don Schultz. But if you’re talking about real, true content marketing programs over time, I think you’ll find most of them have happened on the B2B side. Most people don’t know that because why would you know it? You don’t see ’em on newsstands, you don’t see ’em on television. They’re not big flashy ads, but it’s happening. And so a lot of that innovation and content marketing happened first on the B2B side and continues to happen.
Lee Odden: Yeah, that is exciting. And you’re right on that innovation point. And the great thing about it of course, is that the sky’s the limit in b2b, there’s so much more opportunity because the longer sales cycles and so many other opportunities, content marketing has become a very different thing since you’ve founded Content Marketing Institute and obviously in the last couple of years since you founded the Tilt. I’m wondering what you feel is a lesson that you’ve learned in that experience that you’ve had that’s still true today when it comes to content.
Joe Pulizzi: Well, one of the things that I keep preaching about content marketing and have for a long time and people still aren’t doing, which I hope they get to it, and I learned this lesson when I started at Penn Media, when I was in charge of a p and l, you had to come up with two ways to grow revenue. One was organic growth, so what are the employees you’re going to use, the initiatives, the strategies, the money that you have to build your revenue lines from that standpoint. And then the other one was acquisitions. Can you go out and find somebody that’s doing something so you don’t have to spend two or three years building it up? You can see results right now if you have the cash to do that. So when I talk to a lot of content marketing directors out there, VPs of marketing, I always say, look, we’re always trying to do things organically and we absolutely should.
We’ve got wonderful, amazing people that understand B2B marketing. We want to do that when it comes to content marketing. But you also have to look at acquisition. So I want you as a content marketer to look at, okay, what are the blogs out there who are already targeting your audiences and already saying the things you want to say already built the audiences out there. What are the podcasts, the YouTube channels, the Twitch streams, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter, but they’re already there. Those audiences are built, those content brands are already built. We need to look at those for opportunities. And those deals are happening right now, and I think there’s a lot of marketers out there in executive positions that aren’t thinking about, wow, I could go out and buy that blog, that podcast, that e-newsletter, instead of spending three, four years.
It’s tough. This Lee, it’s tough to build an audience today. So what’s out there? There’s a lot of amazing content creators and entrepreneurs out there that have already built these things that are maybe a little bit spent with the whole thing or they’re looking for an exit. Well, you can be that savior to them and come in and say, look, we want to keep your thing going, but we want to invest in you as a content creator, or we want to take that audience off your hands, or we want to buy this for X amount of premium. And that’s what I want content marketers to do. And I’ll talk a little bit about that at the event as well where there’s an opportunity that still a lot of B2B companies haven’t come around to.
Lee Odden: It reminds me of an expression on PR of borrowing to build, right? Borrowing someone else’s credibility to build your own. And you’re talking about buying to build, right? Very interesting.
Joe Pulizzi: Absolutely. And it’s so simple. We’ve been talking about this for two decades, and you get it right because you work with senior marketers all the time and they automatically think, what do we need to do? What do we need to create? And there’s nothing wrong with that. We can create some amazing things, but if it’s already created out there, what do you do? What are you wasting time for? Do your competitive analysis, see what’s already out there. And then if it doesn’t work, go ahead and create your thing, but look at both avenues. Yeah!
Lee Odden: Exactly. There’s recent research from LinkedIn citing real world events as one of the most effective current content marketing, B2B marketing tactics, and obviously events have been incredibly successful. For you, what would you say the connection is between real world, real world events and content?
Joe Pulizzi: If you want to truly make an impact in your industry and be the leading expert, events are one of the most powerful ways to do that. I would say in-person events and writing a book are probably two things that marketing departments aren’t thinking enough about. And here’s the truth when it comes to AI, you and I are spending a lot of time figuring out this whole AI and marketing thing today. What is going to distinguish you as an organization and an individual in the next three to four years with everybody being able to produce content is your interpersonal relationships and your interpersonal communication and your one-on-one interactions at events, and you getting up and speaking in front of people and you as an organization putting on an event and being the thought leader over a particular area of expertise. I think it’s a wonderful match.
If you’re out there putting together a content marketing program and you have an e-newsletter or a content brand and you say, what’s missing? How do I bring these buyers and sellers together and do so? And not only raise up the industry’s level, but raise your own brand up? There’s nothing better than putting on an in-person event. As you know with the Creator Economy Expo or content marketing world, I’ve done 30 events in my day, and there’s always a next level that you don’t realize when you’re putting on, you’re getting ready for the event. But once you get those people in, you realize that, oh my gosh, this is going to affect our entire business. It takes them, if they’re just a lead or a name in your database, it takes them to a next level. They will buy quicker, they stay longer as customers, you might be able to increase the yield. There’s all sorts of marketing benefits to this, but it isn’t easy to do. But if you really say look like in content marketing, we always say, okay, if you’re going to do this, how do you become the leading information in your niche? You have to consider an in-person event as part of that…
Lee Odden: Program. Yeah, digital is exciting, but in-person is powerful. Right. At the B2B forum, speaking of events, you are going to be speaking about unconventional approaches to content marketing. Could you share one of those?
Joe Pulizzi: Oh, absolutely. So I’m going to share as many tangible, unconventional content marketing approaches as possible. We talked about one, which is the idea of buying. And a lot of marketers don’t understand how to actually go through the process of buying content marketing programs. You are buying a newsletter, buying a podcast, so we’ll talk about that and we’ll unpack how you actually do that. I think some of the research that we’ve been finding at the Tilt, and I’m going to share as well, is less is more. I think a lot of marketers are mistaken out there in B2B where, oh, I’ve got to be everywhere. I’ve got to be on LinkedIn. I got to do the newsletter. I got to be on the webinar series. I’ve got to do the book program. Those things are all good, but generally what happens is a B2B program will be jack of all trans masters of none when it comes to content marketing.
They’ll be like, oh, we’re sprinkling our content everywhere, but they actually don’t build an audience in any one of those channels. So what we found out is really focusing on one or two instead of the 12 or 13 approach for winning. I think the last thing I want to talk about too, and I’ll talk about many other things, but I think we’ve been talking about this forever, you and I Lee, about the importance of email. But if you really go and you do an audit of most marketers’ B2B marketers email programs, they’ll say, oh, we’re getting a 4% open rate. We’re getting an 8% open rate. We’re getting a 12%, or we’ve got a lot of promotions in our email, or we don’t have a really good ongoing editorial strategy or really doesn’t make an impact on our customers, or nobody does email anymore, or it all goes to spam and who cares?
And we want to be social. All that stuff aside, email is still the most important channel because that is your first party data, Twitter or X or whatever you want to call it, TikTok, YouTube can’t take that away from you, that direct connection, that permission for them to say, I want you to contact me company brand. And if we get that permission, we have to be better about that. We have to do better with that information. And you have to create email communications that actually will make a difference in their lives. So don’t give me those low open rates. Give me 20, 25, 30, 35, 40% open rates. And those things will really start to make a difference in your program. And we’re going to talk a little bit about how to take your email more seriously as a core part of your entire content program.
Lee Odden: That’s exciting and I can’t wait to see your session. So you’ve spoken at and attended quite a few, maybe all of the B2B forum events. Yeah. Can you share a moment that really stands out for you personally that you’ve had at the event?
Joe Pulizzi: Well, what I love about marketing Cross B2B is the best of the best. B2B marketers are always there, whether you run into yourself or Anne Hanley or Jay Bear and Andrew Davis, and I’m walking down the hall and I’m like, oh my gosh, these are my people. This is why I came up. Now
The content is first rate, it’s always been first rate. The sponsors are wonderful, I always learn about a new technology or tool or whatever, but the best part about B2B is the relationships you leave with. And so there’s always one or two or five or six people that I’ve just met there for the first time that I can take and we can grow some kind of a relationship together. And you’re not alone in b2b. And that’s what’s great is once you get on premises, you all realize that we’re not really competing with each other and we all have very similar problems. It’s different than if you go to a very large event where who knows who’s dealing with what. You go to a B2B marketing event like Marketing Frost, B2B, we’re all dealing with the same stuff. So I love that aspect of you going to meet some real people and it’s going to make a difference in your life.
Lee Odden: Yeah, it’s definitely a community focused event. That’s the feeling of community, for sure. What would you say for this year, what are you looking forward to most at the B2B Forum?
Joe Pulizzi: I got to tell you, I was a naysayer on the whole AI thing for a long, long time. I wanted to deny this, and now I’ve come to the point where this is an inevitable part of our job as b B marketers to understand this not only the impact that it’s going to make in our business and our lives, but we really can use these tools and it’s going to be a differentiator for us as individuals in our career. So for the last six months, I’ve been going down rabbit holes to figure out what does AI in marketing mean? How do I need to use it responsibly? How do I need to train on that with my team and my colleagues? And I know a lot of the content at marketing, prop B2B is going to be focused on that. Even in those sessions that aren’t AI related.
Everybody seems to be touching on it these days, which I think we have to. The good part is if you talk to just regular human beings that aren’t in B2B marketing right now, they don’t really understand the impact that is going to make on our society. So I think we have an opportunity to learn this stuff, to get ahead of it and to understand, okay, how are we going to use this and how are we going to be good users of it, which may be the most important thing. Just because we can use it doesn’t mean we should. So we need to focus on how to use it in a responsible way, and then we can teach other people how to use it. But if you’re just selfish and you just want to be better in your career and you want to rise up the ladder, this is going to be great as well because learn how to do that. But that’s kind of what I’m most interested in. And I want to pick up on how some of the leaders in the industry are using this thing and what I can take from it and then share with my team.
Lee Odden: Yeah, I love that attitude. Love that perspective. I mean, it’s a tool, and it reminds me of the early days of social media only accelerated, and there’s something I’ve always said: A tool is only as effective as the expertise of the person using it. And so we have an opportunity and an obligation, as you say, to learn about these tools and help others understand how it’s going to impact them because it’s going to happen with or without us or anyone else, and things are moving forward. So there’s a lot that I love that you brought attention to because there are a lot of sessions, there are a lot of opportunities for people to learn about. Well, answering the question, what is Gen ai? What is ai? What does it mean to me as it relates to B2B? You’re going to get answers about that at this event.
So super. Thank you so much, Joe, for sharing. You can see and learn more from Joe and a whole host of other top B2B marketing experts at Marketing Props B2B Forum 2023 in Boston or online. October 4th is when the workshops are happening. October 5th and sixth is when the main conference is happening. You can check out the full conference agenda, see who all the speakers are and all the other shenanigans. That marketing process is famous for organizing, but the website is MP B two b.marketing profs.com. And of course, I’ll have that link in the show notes. Joe, where’s the best place for, I mean, you’re almost impossible not to find, but what’s the best way for people to connect with you, to follow you?
Joe Pulizzi: Yeah, I’m Joe Pulizzi, P U L I Z Z I, everywhere on social media, joepulizzi.com is the place to get information about me. And then we talked a little bit about the Tilt. That’s sort of my current project right now. Go to tilt.com and learn a little bit more about content creation specifically for the individual. But I’m happy and really excited to see you at Marketing Cross B2B, and also to have everyone come to the session and we can talk about some of these unconventional approaches that I think are missed opportunities by a lot of companies.