BMA annual: Content marketing takes center stage

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Chicago—The 2011 International Business Marketing Association Conference here put on display Wednesday just how central content marketing has become to b-to-b marketing strategies in the Internet era. “We are all here for the same reason—to learn from each other in order to become better b-to-b marketers,” said Gary Slack, chairman-chief experience officer of Slack & Co., Chicago, who served as chairman of the BMA for the past two years, in opening remarks. He turned over the reins of the BMA chairmanship to Al Maag, VP-chief communications officer of Avnet Inc., Wednesday. Maag, who took the stage in a NASCAR racing suit to promote race car No. 16, which will be racing in Chicago June 4 with the Avnet and BMA logos on it, said his goal is to help b-to-b marketers do their jobs better and enhance the BMA brand. “Content, content, content—that's what we're here for,” he said. “We need more content. Where are we going to get that content? From you. We are going to ask you to send us a variety of things—white papers, surveys, blogs, research. I don't care if it's on a video or on a napkin. If it's good content, that's all that matters.” The first panel, moderated by Teresa Poggenpohl, executive director-advertising and brand management at Accenture, also emphasized the importance of content. Each of the four members of the panel, called “Unleash Your Content to Generate Meaningful Thought Leadership,” examined a different aspect of how content can be used to promote an organization's thought leadership. Panelist Laura Ramos, VP-industry marketing, services, North America at Xerox Corp., discussed how important content marketing was to help Xerox emphasize that it is not simply a copier company but also offers services. On its website, Xerox tells this story through video case studies, such as how the city of Dallas used Xerox to boost its sustainability practices and cut costs. “Sustainability is a key message that comes across in these testimonials,” Ramos said. These highly produced videos receive twice the interaction that text does on the Xerox website, she said. But she pointed out that Xerox also uses YouTube and Flip-style cameras to produce less polished videos that are also effective. A key lesson Xerox learned about content marketing is a simple one: “It's important to have your customer tell their story, not yours,” she said. Another panelist, Andrew Bosman, chief marketing and communications officer at Navigant Consulting, said his company has altered its content marketing strategy over the past few years. Previously, its employees focused on creating long, in-depth content, such as two-hour webinars and 30-page white papers. That content approach had two main problems, Bosman said. First, it was a challenge to create. “We had to keep looking for content,” he said. “We didn't have enough to keep the cycle going.” Second and more important, Navigant clients and prospects said they wanted shorter content. So the consultancy changed its model to emphasize short content that Bosman called “three minutes to impact.” The idea is to leave prospects hungry for more. “We don't want to tell a potential client everything we know,” Bosman said. A third panelist, Bob Pearson, chief technology officer at WCG Co. and a former Dell Inc. executive, focused on the impact social media has made on content marketing. He said b-to-b marketers need to be less concerned about where their content appears and should instead focus on making it shareable for bloggers and other social media influencers. “Content is more important than the outlet,” he said. Pearson encouraged b-to-b marketers to focus on regular, if not daily, communications with their prospect base. He said that too often marketers build communications around a single event, which he likened to a skyscraper. “Build mountain ranges, not skyscrapers,” he said, meaning that communications should be constant and give influencers such as bloggers many chances to share content. The fourth panelist, Ben Edwards, VP-digital strategy at IBM Corp., discussed how his company was trying to get employees in front of customers and prospects—even if only virtually. “The brand experience [for most customers and prospects] is primarily through IBMers,” Edwards said. So IBM has developed a beta website, called Social Business @ IBM, to automatically put forward internal experts on specific topics when customers or prospects are searching on the IBM website. This approach, Edwards said, is how IBM is trying to “scale” the social media experience so that people wanting to do business with the company can more easily get to the people who can answer their questions and solve their business problems.
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