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Building a B2B Content Strategy – Lillian Haase // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: Great content is the foundation to a successful B2B marketing strategy. The difficulty in a content based B2B marketing strategy lies in identifying what types of content perform best for B2B audiences. Join host Ben as he continues B2B SEO Week with Searchmetrics’ Director of European Marketing Lillian Haase discussing how to build a B2B specific content strategy.


Ben:                  Welcome to B2B SEO week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro, and this week we’re going to publish an episode every day discussing what you need to know to optimize your SEO efforts to reach business partners and prospects. Joining us for B2B SEO week is Lillian Haase, who is the director of European marketing at Searchmetrics, which is an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. So far this week, Lillian and I have talked about why SEO matters more than ever for B2B brands. And today we’re going to talk about how to build a B2B specific content strategy. Okay, here’s the second installment of B2B SEO week with Lillian Haase, director of European marketing at Searchmetrics. Lillian, welcome back to the Voices of Search podcast.

Lillian:           Thanks Ben. Nice to be back.

Ben:                 Excited to have you back here. We’re off to a great start. We had a little debate yesterday, we talked about whether SEO is more important than ever. And I think that your take was look, it depends on what your company is trying to accomplish. And my take was, brands are pulling back from performance marketing because they have budget insecurity and more brands are leaning on content and therefore SEO. I think what we can both agree on is that content is the center of a B2B marketing strategy. Maybe it’s not specifically for SEO, but you’ve got to be able to talk to your customers and provide them with the right information.

Lillian:            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                  So talk to me a little bit about how you think of building a content strategy for a B2B brand.

Lillian:            Yeah, it’s definitely something worth investing in for any B2B company, us included. And it really starts with understanding your customer and understanding how your sales and solution and software actually services the customer.

Lillian:            What are you bringing them in terms of value, in terms of quality, in terms of trust and so forth to help them build their business and be a real partner. So I’m very passionate about understanding the customer journey. I believe this is the foundation for any content marketing plan. So if you know what someone is thinking about, worrying about, needs to know, or just generally is curious about in all stages of their progress with your product, you have the power to then answer those questions through content or educate in a way that influences that person to bring them along through the product while they’re still [inaudible] stage or those deciding stages. So for me, the core is definitely the buyer journey, the customer journey.

Ben:                  Okay. So step one, understand the buyer journey, right? You’ve got to understand the problems that your customers are trying to solve with your products or services. Now that leads the question of, well how do you understand the buyer’s journey? Are you reaching out to customers? Are you talking to your customer service team? Where are you actually getting the information to figure out what is the problem and how your customers are trying to solve it?

Lillian:             Great question too. Yeah, of course there’s many ways to understand the customer, but definitely the best one is to really listen. So you’re listening to customers, setting up structured interviews with customers, listening to your sales teams, and the feedback also from the customer side on the phone. So when resources permit, I definitely recommend focus groups with prospects and customers. So for a prospect, just for an example, you can quite easily survey them post a deal loss, for example. So you’ve had a long buying cycle. They decided to go with a competitor, someone from the marketing team give them a quick call and say, “Hi, really nice to meet you. We were just wondering if we could ask a few questions why you decided to go with a competitor.” That opens up a lot of information that was perhaps hidden during the buying cycle, or maybe it was right there in front of the sales person, but they didn’t know how to solve it.

Lillian:             So then the marketing team can go back, take that, and think, well, maybe we could have solved that early on. Maybe there was something we could have done. Maybe there was a video or a tutorial, or maybe it’s something for the product team, who knows. Either way I think interviewing your customers, listening to your sales team and the sales representatives who are on the ground, hearing what these customers are going through and prospects are going through. But then once people are a customer, it’s critical to understand why they’re a customer in the first place, why they chose us, and also why they stay. So within the customer, those two questions within their answers are all the marketing messages for the future prospects.

Ben:                  So you’re building a feedback loops it sounds like, where there are different points of the customer journey, hey, we had a lost customer. We’re going to try to reach out to that person and understand why to figure out where there is leakage in our funnel. There’s also the people that are your customers that you’ve won. Do you talk to the people that have had positive relationships to figure out what was the reason why they bought your products and how did they think about it as well?

Lillian:             Mm-hmm (affirmative), absolutely. I mean, actually it’s best to do this at scale. So it’s easy to have one conversation but a bit more difficult to have 20 conversations with customers, so … but once you do it at scale, you start to identify some patterns. For example, some companies would notice service is the reason. They go through the product, it’s very logical. It’s very easy to understand or hard to understand whatever it is, but they understand the technical side of it. But their final decision actually rested with the personality of the salesperson. This is actually quite common believe it or not. It’s like, “Yeah, the product’s really good. It wasn’t exactly what I needed, but I really felt like they cared about me.”

Lillian:             So it went from logic to feeling, and us as marketers we know this world quite well. That a lot of people, me included, buy based on emotion rather than logic. We only justify the decision with logic later. So yes, that’s the short answer to how I go about it, I prefer to go about it. Going into a customer focus group or doing customer surveys to understand why they bought the product in the first place and why they stay is definitely the key for the marketing or the content that you might need for the future, but also the marketing messages that you need for the future.

Ben:                  Now, there are times when you can reach out to your customers and there’s times when you might not have customers yet. When you are in an environment where you can’t or you’ve already gotten customer datas, you’ve already built in the feedback loops, you’re having the conversation. What are the other ways where you can get information about the customer journey or the environment that you’re operating in that’s going to impact your content strategy?

Lillian:            Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. Great question. And especially before people become a customer it is a lot more difficult to get inside their head, to figure out what they need, where they’re at. And with people not really wanting to talk to a sales person until they’re ready, until they’ve done their own research we don’t hear that story as much as we used to maybe 20, 30 years ago. And I read an interesting statistic actually a few days ago that half of all B2B buyers right now are millennials, and generally they’re doing the research themselves. They do not want to talk to someone, and that becomes a key factor for us as marketers to understand our data. So we can’t talk to these people or they’re not talking to us, but we’ve got all these data checkpoints where we can interpret the signals we’re getting. So just as an example is of course analyzing your website.

Lillian:            So how people use the website, which pages are getting the most clicks or the average time on site is quite high. You can also take this a step further though, so if we’re connecting this data from a website with a content marketing plan, by tracking what people actually type in the search bar on a website, you can get some incredible clues into what’s going through their head that they don’t want to talk to you about just yet. And I’ve used this tactic quite often. It’s more for spontaneous content creation rather than a proper plan, but it’s certainly helpful for pattern analysis and just discovering where maybe our website is letting people down as well, where we should have been answering questions. And so I definitely recommend that for any of you. If you do have a search function on your website, find a way to track that and then make it a habit to analyze that once a month, you might be surprised what you find in there.

Ben:                So you and I are going to start a SaaS product. It’s going to be a SEO optimization tool called Smirchmetrics. We’re going out on our own and we’re going to do some research, we’re going to talk to some prospects about what they’re interested in. We build a website, we’re looking at what people are searching there. And we come up with some topics that we feel like are relevant. How do you figure out how to title, what formats of content, what the actual plan should be once you have a good sense of who your customers are and what their needs are?

Lillian:           Okay. So yeah, starting from scratch, great time to learn about your competitors. If you’re new in the field, it’s a brand new type of software that no one else in the world has invented you have a very special challenge ahead of you. And so in terms of finding or setting up the foundations for a marketing plan … I can’t help it, but I still come back to the customer. So if you have no customers and you were really flying blind, you need to go wide and broad and figure out what works. So that would mean developing a plan with a different set of content pieces, and really figuring out what resonates with your audience.

Ben:                  There’s risk there. That sounds really expensive.

Lillian:            Oh, it’s a huge risk. Definitely.

Ben:                  Hey we’re going to create content and we’re going to create content for everything.

Lillian:            Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben:                 And we’re going to figure out what works, and then we’re going to refocus on that. That sounds risky to me.

Lillian:             It’s in a scenario if you had no customers yet, because you do not perhaps understand what is so good about your product. So if there is a comparable product on the market and you need to understand the competitors, and there’s a lot of search data there for you to look into as well, of course.

Ben:                  Talk to me about how you think about bucketing content where if we’re in a new product, we don’t have a lot of data. We can’t rely on our customers. So we’re going to be relatively broad. I’m assuming that there are some classes of content, some that are specifically lead generation, some that are dictionaries and definitions. When you’re going broad, what’s the formats of content that you’re thinking about?

Lillian:            Yeah, so that’s a really great question. So it’s a mix of format and then of course what you’re talking about in the content. So you could have a topic, okay not too broad, but a very specific topic that would be relevant for your target audience. You should at least know your target audience, who they are. Underneath that you have subtopics in there, but it’s also split into the different stages of the journey. So you’ve got your awareness stage. I think most marketers know the basic stages. Got your research stage, where they’re in the learning. They’ve got the consideration where they’re really thinking about buying and then of course the pitch or the proposal, and then closing the deal. So under this topic, the different kinds of mediums that you translate that same content into can be 10 different mediums. For example, you have a topic covering how to set up a video camera to monitor the security for your door.

Lillian:             In the beginning you’re not sure if you need this TV camera or this video camera in your doorway, and you’re just curious, and you’re going to do some research. This is an awareness stage. So some people consume video content, some people want to read about it, some people will look at an infographic. Some people will just talk to a friend or pick up the phone or some will go on social media and start a chat. So there’s just five different channels where we could answer the question to help that person think this through in their own time on the channel that suits them.

Lillian:            When they’re in the consideration stage, we can get into other formats as well. So one that is not so easy to control but is critical, especially in an example like this, is reviews. So this is also a format that … It is content. It is there, it is fine. It’s searchable content. That’s something that businesses should definitely keep an eye on and solicit reviews because it is a format where people are going during that consideration stage where they don’t quite trust the seller yet but they’re curious, and they need to know more about it because they’re thinking about spending money.

Ben:                  Absolutely. I think that when you’re in the awareness phase, you’re doing customer education, right? You’re talking about the class of products. You’re doing a little light differentiation. You’re not specifically getting into the features, but you’re talking about why there is a need for the class of product and your approach to it. When you’re in the research phase now you’re talking about credibility, right? What are the case studies, who are the people that have used it? What are the KPIs that they’ve seen? How were they … Were they able to drive positive ROI, right? What’s all the social proof, what’s all the credibility building.

Lillian:             That’s right.

Ben:                  Talk to me about getting over the hump. How are you using content to actually grow and convert?

Lillian:            Yeah. Again, it’s no one size fits all. I see all kinds of scenarios in my daily work. So that final piece of content that finally pushed someone to do something is different for a lot of different people. Admittedly, we do not have one piece of content that always brings in unlimited amounts of leads. We’re always having to try different things.

Ben:                 That’s not true. There’s a Voices of Search page on Searchmetrics’ website [crosstalk]

Lillian:           Predictable. Scalable. Yes. So are you … Sorry, Ben.

Ben:                Loud.

Lillian:            I think something that can be quite powerful though is a buyer’s guide. So this is something … It’s kind of replaced the brochures of the past with, instead of this shiny brochure that you would pick up or be handed by a salesperson offering people a buyer’s guide, which is not only technical documentation about the product, but it’s about what the solution is in an all encompassing [inaudible] document. So this is something that’s often misunderstood or confused with whitepapers. So you can create whitepapers to generate awareness and educate the market and build the trust in the brand but the buyer’s guide is something else lower in the funnel that can also be a really powerful asset for actually pushing people over the line, pushing in a good way, of course. Well I hope, most of the time.

Ben:                So let’s take a step back and talk about B2B strategy as a whole. We’re going to do our customer research, we’re creating this new product called Smirchmetrics, and we’re going to understand who our customers are. Actually, there’s some search data and intent data we could look at and we’re going to be broad. We’re thinking about awareness, building some credibility in the middle of funnel and then doing some buying guides to get people across the finish line. Are there any other tips or bits of advice that you have for marketers that are thinking about refining their content marketing strategy?

Lillian:          Yeah, actually it’s in the question. So you mentioned a lot of different things and if you were to do all of those marketing initiatives at the same time, that’s a hell of a team putting that all together or a big budget for agencies and content marketers for support. So my advice is definitely to prioritize in terms of value. So going beyond just thinking, hey, I think our customers would like this coming way to the other side of that gut feeling and going straight to the data and figuring out what is their problem right now that I can solve with interesting content, some kind of offer. So the key is always focus and making the best use of your resources by making very good decisions based on data, not your gut feeling.

Ben:                Turns out SEO and content marketing is a data-driven medium.

Lillian:          You say, really?

Ben:               Don’t tell anyone on the performance marketing side we look at numbers too. And that wraps up this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Lillian Haase, the director of European marketing at Searchmetrics. Join us again tomorrow when Lillian and I talk about how to use content as a B2B lead gen tool. We’d love to continue this conversation with you so if you’re interested in contacting Lillian, you can find a link to her LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact her on Twitter, her handle is lilonline. L-I-L-O-N-L-I-N-E. Or you can visit her company’s website, which is Just one more link in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to where we have summaries of all of our episodes and contact information for our guests.

Ben:               You can also send us your topic, suggestions, your SEO questions. You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is voicesofsearch on Twitter, and my personal handle is benjshap. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the workweek. So hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed tomorrow morning. All right, that’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.