Last week 954 of the world’s brightest B2B marketers descended on Boston for the 2015 B2B marketing forum, a three day event focused on offering practical advice on making marketing magic. I’ve been to a lot of conferences this year, but this one is unique in that it really aimed to unite B2B marketers, give them a home base and build aspirational CMOs. How? Through oodles and oodles of great workshops, keynotes, breakouts and by bringing marketers together to network and have fun.

Eager beavers could come a day early and take part in one of eight intensive, four hour workshops. Topics range from optimizing content for search and mobile to writing for marketers. Living and breathing in the video content world, I opted for a session on developing a content strategy to grow your audience.

Content Rules!

In this workshop we learned about how building great content starts with building trust. Trust is developed by providing value, and this means doing three things really well.

  • consistently creating quality content
  • proactively creating content before your reader needs it
  • regularly offering content that’s both fresh and relevant

If you’re like me, this probably got you thinking about your content strategy. Is it consistent? Is it proactive? If it regular and relevant? And all this was just in the first 30 minutes!

We also learned about the types of questions that B2B buyers and researchers are asking at each stage of the buying journey and best practices for different types of content from blogs and photos to podcasts and video (my favorite, but hey, I’m biased!).

With Day 0 in the books, the conference could officially begin.

It’s Not the Ink, It’s the Think

After a terrific welcome from MarketingProfs Chief Content Officer, Ann Handley (which included an accordion performance with back up band – what?!), we were in for a real treat with opening keynote speaker, Avinash Kaushik, digital marketing evangelist at Google. This was my favorite session of the conference, hands down.

Avinash delivered a powerful and important message: it’s not the ink, it’s the think. That the difference between companies that survive and thrive and companies that die. The ink (the creative and the campaigns) is easy to change, but the think (the strategy) is far more difficult to iterate. Changing the think means challenging the traditional frameworks and disrupting what we know and accept today. And that’s exactly what Avinash’s talk went on to do.

He proposed that the traditional funnel framework is broken. That it’s selfish and focused on the brand, not the customer. He proposed that a better framework would start by looking outside in. That it would start by focusing on intent.

Intent is a powerful and beautiful thing. And it’s a signal we can only get through digital. Whereas demographics and psychographics say nothing about a person’s intention, digital marketing can tell us what he or she finds relevant based on all the things they do digitally – their behavior.

Avinash’s new framework for marketing strategy focuses on four clusters of intent.

  1. SEE: the largest and most addressable qualified audience
  2. THINK: the largest and most addressable qualified audience with weak commercial intent
  3. DO: the largest and most addressable qualified audience with strong commercial intent
  4. CARE: Current customers, with two or more commercial transactions

After defining the intent clusters, marketers can then go about the task of developing the content marketing and measurement that solve for the different types of intent. Different types of marketing excel at different types of intent. Finding the right match is key. Here were some of Avinash’s suggestions:

  • Paid Search – Good at ‘think’ and ‘do’ intent
  • YouTube – Good at ‘think’. Okay at ‘see’ intent.
  • Facebook – Good at ‘see’ intent. Not much else.

So how do you get started with embracing this new business framework? Start by pivoting on intent. Focus on developing great content and marketing for ‘do’ intent first. Get good at it and then move to ‘think’ intent. Then ‘see’. And last ‘care’.

Two Key Takeaways: Storytelling & Authenticity

While there was no way to catch all the sessions live, a great conference app made it easy to keep a pulse on some of the key themes. Here’s what I took away:

Storytelling

Storytelling might be a bit of a marketing buzzword these days, but the fact that marketers are competing with TONS of content today means that the need for authentic, well-told stories is more real than ever. A number of sessions touched on storytelling including one from Bobby Lehew called ‘From Storytelling to Story-selling’. Bobby talked about how to use the classic story arc found in pretty much every movie we’ve ever seen to tell a B2B story that people can connect with.

Authenticity

Creating content that converts means creating content for real people. That means being interesting, being authentic and giving your audience what they want. To use a quote from Ann Handley, “take your brand out of the story, make your customers the hero’. I saw a really interesting comment relating to one session called ‘How To Build Your Content Marketing’ that read “You can trick people into clicking on content, you can’t trick them into sharing it”. A great reminder that people will only truly engage and interact with content that they find entertaining, valuable, or some combination of the two.

Off the clock at MarketingProfs

There were also a bunch of really fun off-the-clock antics to meet other marketers and recharge after long days of learning. I took in a photo walk around Boston with digital marketing pioneer and video blog pioneer Steve Garfield.

Vidyard Photo Walk

There was also yoga for marketers and Friday fun to get attendees energized and ready for the final day.

That’s a quick recap on my time in Boston at the MarketingProfs B2B marketing forum. Were you there, too? If so, what were some of your favorite sessions?

Jeff Gadway