B2B content marketing done well
A B2B Council blog post authored by Miki Velemirovich and published in March defined what good content marketing has evolved to be. It also highlighted the differences between content marketing and thought leadership. In summary, below are some key takeaways regarding content marketing:
- It adds value over the long-term to develop a business relationship, where value is information that provides solutions to real business problems
- It targets upper funnel prospects – the 95 per cent of B2B prospects who aren’t currently purchasing your product or service
- It’s usually communicated through owned channels, led by website, social media platforms and email marketing
- It is long-form trust-building multimedia
In this article, we look at three uniquely different, successful content marketing campaigns, demonstrating the evolution of the concept.
Intuit QuickBooks – Ask the Expert
QuickBooks is a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) accounting software marketed by Intuit. This content marketing campaign, Ask the Expert, won Gold at the UK’s 2020 B2B Marketing Awards.
© Intuit QuickBooks
On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic. Overnight, businesses had to find new ways to operate. In addition, SMEs did not have the human or financial emergency resources that are more likely to be available to large enterprises. In response, QuickBooks’ London office in the United Kingdom created and launched its Ask the Expert content marketing campaign within five days.
The strategy was to create a series of Q&A sessions where SME owners received timely expert advice on challenges related to the pandemic impacting all areas of their business – not just accounting.
As for execution, an in-house team used influencers and external experts to answer questions in five key areas:
- Government – what support was available and how to access it
- Human resources – managing remote work
- Financial planning
- Parenting – considerations for the working-from-home environment
The questions and most urgent challenges were identified through customer surveys, online polling and social listening in multiple forms. The field experts who could best address customers’ frequently asked questions were determined in the same way.
Sixty-two shows were created and streamed live on Facebook and YouTube on a daily basis. They were made available on demand via Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, all major podcast platforms and QuickBooks’ own web properties.
- The live shows reached more than 6.5 million customers and garnered more than one million organic views with 78,000 engagements at 11.7 times the average engagement rate.
- Small businesses were deeply engaged in the shows, spending more than 15 times more time viewing than average. This viewing level became Intuit’s new record for a video series.
- Intuit QuickBooks saved £2.5 million ($3.9 million CAD) in production and agency costs by running this campaign in-house. It has now successfully scaled to other markets including Canada, United States, Mexico and India.
Slack – “So Yeah, We Tried Slack”
Born as an internal chat tool for a failing video game company, Slack was released publicly in 2014 as a business team communication tool. It was an aggregator of, and gateway for, all major business communication tools in the market, with an interface that was uniquely fun and playful. Boutique video production house, Sandwich, was one of the first customer teams to try out the startup service. The video report on their experience, using actual Sandwich staff, became Slack’s first B2B marketing communications campaign, “So Yeah, We Tried Slack…”
The communication strategy was to highlight Slack’s key communication features and benefits in a way that built and expanded on Slack’s brand character.
When it came to execution, the campaign started as an authentic customer testimonial delivered in video form with underplayed humour, borrowing the tenor and tone of the then-popular TV series, Parks and Recreation.
The video captured, and dispatched with, the target group’s biggest initial pushback – their company was doing just fine without Slack. Effective humour was unique for the category and resulted in many viewers watching for most of the video’s two minute 20 second duration.
The campaign used YouTube as the video delivery platform, linked to and augmented by, Slack’s social media properties.
- The campaign earned more than five million YouTube views by 2020, with viewing times well above average.
- Slack reached a market valuation of $5 billion by 2018, a record pace for a startup in the SaaS space.
- “So Yeah, We Tried Slack” appears in most collections of “best B2B content marketing campaigns” and was revived to address the challenges that SMEs have faced in the COVID-19 era.
Sherwin-Williams – Speaking in Color
Cannes Lions launched a new category at this year’s global awards: Creative B2B Lions. Speaking in Color won the Grand Prix. Sherwin-Williams is currently the world’s largest fully-integrated paint and coatings company by revenue. Speaking in Color is a digital AI-powered web app that utilizes natural language processing to help architects and industrial designers either find the exact colour their project needs or even create a new colour.
The idea of creating a voice-controlled tool to help designers’ colour selection process was suggested by Sherwin-Williams’ ad agency, Wunderman Thompson, in 2019. An internal multi-disciplinary team was formed, and IBM was the AI development partner. The team created the Speaking in Color web app over the next two years. The app is free for anyone to use, however the application of selected colours for industrial purposes requires engaging with Sherwin-Williams.
The communications strategy was to focus on the ease of using natural language to communicate with the app’s colour database – to rephrase, making colour selection human.
To execute the idea, Sherwin-Williams started with its own colour database. The AI search algorithm matches the natural language description to millions of images to create a personalized colour palette. Users select a near match and can refine via voice. Once a final result is confirmed, the site creates a colour code and suggests complementary colours. Learning with every use, the algorithm gets better at matching colours to verbal descriptions, and the colour database grows.
Once the web app was built, the content marketing campaign consisted of demonstrating how natural and fast the colour selection process was, with the objective of generating trial.
- The campaign earned the top prize (Grand Prix) in the Creative B2B category at the 2022 Cannes Lions. Since Speaking in Color is so new, business results are not yet available. The Cannes Lion jury tested it and felt the app was “an incredibly robust piece of technology.”
Learning from B2B greatness
Compared to B2C marketing, B2B marketing has traditionally been more focused on short-term results and rational, features-based creative. Slack’s “So Yeah, We Tried Slack” is creatively most like a good B2C campaign. It uses humour effectively to break down barriers to purchase and it emotionally engages the viewer long enough to learn about Slack’s features. Emotion is just as important in B2B content marketing as it is in the B2C world.
QuickBooks’ Ask the Expert demonstrates how providing solutions to customers’ business problems builds trust and long-term brand equity. To do this, content often needs to go beyond a brands’ category to engage customers meaningfully.
Sherwin-Williams’ Speaking in Color shows that B2B creativity can extend all the way to creating a new product or service.
These three content marketing examples show that long-term brand building objectives are part of all great B2B campaigns.
Marc Cooper, Junction59
Marcello Gortana, Tennis Inc.
Jeff Lancaster, LinkedIn
Melissa Nemec, Scotiabank
Cynthia Steele, Reprise Digital
Miki Velemirovich, 1919 Strategy Group
Robert Wyatt, Optima Communications International Inc.