"Content marketing" is the all the rage among today's B2B marketers, along with the overused phrase "content is king." But for those of us who live and breathe this stuff, we know that a good deal of it is really good public relations.

A March 2014 study by Nielsen/inPowered MediaLab looked at three types of content—branded (company-generated) content, user reviews, and third-party expert content. Hands down, the expert content had the most impact on buyers throughout the purchasing cycle, the study found.

Why? The implied endorsement of third-party experts holds much more weight to consumers than anything a company can say about itself.

B2B marketers should take a page out of the B2C playbook, and actively seek out such experts. Before exploring the realm of third-party reviews, let's take a quick look at both branded content and user reviews. They, too, can help build your content kingdom.

Branded Content and User Reviews

A perfect example of branded content is the Nielsen/inPowered study I mentioned, which was widely quoted in the business media.

inPowered offers a content marketing platform, and publishing an industry report with a respected research firm helps to elevate its thought leadership status. And I'm a perfect example of a third party indirectly promoting the company by referencing its research.

Other examples of branded content include e-books, webinars, blogs, infographics, and more.

User or customer reviews, too, can help your company (or lead to its demise). For example, as a teenager I worked for a catering hall, and my boss said something I'll never forget: "For every great event, in time we'll pick up three more. But for every bad one, we'll lose ten." It's human nature that people are quick to complain and slow to compliment (as much as it pains me to say that).

Now let's focus on the most powerful content of all—the content generated by third-party experts. We'll take a look at how to find them, woo them, and make the most of their reviews.

Finding the Experts Who Can Help Your Business

Who are the credible experts in your industry? Look for experts with "volume of voice" and a solid following in the markets you want to penetrate. These third-party experts can include...

  • Journalists and bloggers
  • Industry analysts
  • Association leaders
  • Noted authors in your industry
  • Government officials (if your company is taking a stand on a cause, for example)

Where to find them

First, spend time "listening" online to identify the true experts in your industry. The more deeply they focus on your market segment, the better. I am always on the lookout for experts in manufacturing, which is where my interest lies.

If you're with a company that manufactures pumps and valves, or one that focuses on metalworking or fabricating, you'll want to reach the influencers in those niches. Look for people whose endorsements, reviews, coverage, or commentary about your products or brand will be most helpful to you:

  • Read industry publications, websites, and blogs. See which columnists' and bloggers' pieces are typically shared, retweeted, and commented on. Don't forget regional business media, too.
  • See who's most active on LinkedIn and Twitter. On LinkedIn, what groups in your sector have the most members, and which members have large numbers of contacts in your industry? On Twitter, which influencers have the most followers, too?
  • Check out industry associations/professional societies. Their publications, social media networks, etc. also have the potential to reveal distinctive voices.

(Looking for more? Find additional expert sources here.)

How to woo them

Be patient as you identify the experts. Developing rapport takes time. Social networks offer the perfect channel for this process, so join the groups where experts are active and follow their commentary. Build a relationship by providing meaningful information they can't get elsewhere. Share coverage of your company, or industry-related articles you find interesting. Add to discussions when you have unique expertise or a compelling point of view.

If you're reaching out to journalists, provide relevant news, story ideas, and research that is specific to their beats, and do it privately. To gain their interest, you need to demonstrate that you offer something new or otherwise relevant to their coverage.

Addressing industry issues your company is passionate about is also a wonderful way to attract experts' attention. A great example of a manufacturer who does this well is Tracy Tenpenny, vice-president of Tailored Label Products (TLP) in Menomonee Falls, WI. Tracy's company is tackling a challenge that affects the manufacturing industry's future: the skilled labor shortage. TLP co-sponsors a program called Second Chance Partners, which brings disengaged, at-risk high school students into area companies so they gain new skills while earning their diplomas. This sort of approach is much more valuable than just tattooing its logo on Little League baseball caps.

Tracy also shares third-party research about the issue with the media, including ThomasNet's own Industry Market Barometer, from which we benefit. The press coverage he has gained is bringing him calls from other manufacturers and industry leaders who want to help tackle the problem.

Like Tracy Tenpenny, I regularly receive calls and unsolicited invitations to speak at industry events (and it's not just because of my charming personality). My point? Don't force it. If you're doing it right and doing it consistently, expert connections will happen organically. Before you know it, you've created buzz about your business and brand.

You've Earned the Positive Reviews—Now What?

It's not enough to get a positive mention. You've got to harness it for best results. Paint it on the side of a building (a billboard will do)! More seriously: include it on your website and in emails to your customers and prospects, business proposals, newsletters, and more. Comment on it on social media. Like, share, and retweet it.

That's just the start. Turn your employees and sales force into brand ambassadors. Provide them with testimonials to use in sales calls, prospect letters, and emails, and give them links to social media posts to share. Positive buzz carries the best kind of ripple effect.

Since you're reading this article, chances are you're online. So start researching your industry's experts right now. Of course, if you first want to add a comment below, be my guest. Who knows? I might even include a rave review in my next blog post.

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In the Content Marketing Kingdom, Third-Party Experts Rule

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image of Philip Paranicas

Philip (Phil) Paranicas is director of new product development at ThomasNet.com. He is responsible for creating new products and services that support ThomasNet's mission of helping bring buyers together with sellers. Reach him via pparanicas@thomasnet.com.

Twitter: @Flip2Market

LinkedIn: Phil Paranicas