Content marketing is a tricky beast—B2B marketing, in particular, because talking about software and services can get bogged down in technical specifications. And nobody wants to sift through that.
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"There's so much jargon...It's overwhelming," says Julie Revelant, Marking Smarts' latest podcast guest.
But you're still marketing to humans, and tactics that work for B2C brands can be mined for ideas. Content people want to consume. People can tell when you didn't have fun creating something, and they're not going to have fun consuming it.
Having fun is a major talking point in Episode 503 (!), as are storytelling, providing value, working with real journalists, and focusing on your messaging framework.
"Get all your ducks in a line. Pull together your brand messaging framework...Do the hard work upfront and make sure you have the foundation for what will be great content creation," Julie says. "Then look again to consumer-facing brands, because they're doing it well."
Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.
George Thomas: We're back with another episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast. I am super excited because today we get to dive in and talk to Julie Revelant about B2B content that, in my terms, doesn't suck. But let's learn a little bit more about Julie first.
Julie Revelant is the owner of Revelant Writing LLC, a firm that provides content marketing, copywriting, and brand journalism services for the healthcare industry. Julie works with Fortune 500 healthcare companies, payers, hospitals, and health systems, and healthcare analytics and technology companies that want to stand out in a competitive complicated industry, create newsworthy timely content, and make their C-suite shine. Working with an extension of their marketing teams, Julie not only writes B-to-B healthcare content, but she strategizes, problem solves, and collaborates so that they can achieve their goals.
As a health journalist, Julie has written hundreds of stories for magazines and outlets such as FoxNews.com, EverydayHealth.com, and First For Women Magazine. Before starting her company, Julie worked in various marketing and sales roles for ABC TV and as a writer/producer for the Yes Network. Julie also hosts the Food Issues Podcast. Learn more about Julie at RevelantWriting.com. Ladies and gentlemen, Marketing Smarts listeners, let's get into the good stuff.
Julie, I'm super excited to be here. I am amazingly thinking about what we're going to learn over the next 20 to 35 minutes as the Marketing Smarts listeners. Let's just start with this question right here to set the framework, the foundation. Why do you think historically B2B content has been, or at least has been considered boring? What's the top two or three culprits that are happening here?
Julie Revelant: Typically, with B2B everything, the product, service, solutions are all very technical and complex, so there is a big focus on the features and benefits and technical specifications. I work in healthcare, I'm a B2B healthcare copywriter and content marketing writer. There's so much jargon. There's RCN, HL7, AI, machine-learning, all of it. It's overwhelming.
When people think about B2B, there's a myth that they can't do the same type of marketing that B2C can do. They think they can only do whitepapers or brochures and sell sheets. Really, in fact, they can do a lot of what B2C does with marketing. They want to use those types of marketing, those content assets, but who says you can't have fun?
Then they forget that they're selling to businesses, but they're also selling to humans at the end of the day. A lot of those buyers, especially in B2B tech, are Millennials. They're humans, too. People want to do business with people, and also people that they trust. Those people have the same motivations and desires and emotions and challenges, just like the rest of us.
George: I love that we broke this down to you're marketing to humans at the end of the day. I really love that you leaned into this idea of the myth, and busting the myth. I actually do want you to kind of talk about maybe a little bit of we usually did this as B2B marketers, we realized this was a myth, here is something that we have done actually to break the myth and do something different in the space.
Julie: I have a background as a journalist. I started out writing B2C content, so when I moved into B2B, I actually had my very first client on the B2B side say to me, "This is so complex. It's really difficult," and it's as though she was saying, "You can't handle it." I was up for the challenge. I realized that just because it was so technical and complex and difficult and full of jargon, that didn't mean that it couldn't be interesting and engaging. You can totally take notes from B2C to make your B2B content a lot more interesting.
George: I love that. I think there are some things that maybe were unhooked in your brain that we need to unhook for the other B2B marketers that are listening to this or maybe even watching the Marketing Smarts Live show on YouTube when it goes live. What do B2B marketers need to know or understand before they can break this cycle of what historically has been boring content?
Julie: Just because you have something to say doesn't necessarily mean that someone is likely to consume it. A lot of my clients will pull together thought leadership campaigns, and they think, "We've got the best next thing to say. Everyone is going to read it." It's really a long game. It takes patience; it takes consistency. Just because you're saying something different or maybe new doesn't mean that you're going to get clicks or you're going to get leads.
It's also about storytelling. You want to always prioritize storytelling and the people, and not just the product, service, and solution because really no one cares about that. They want to know about you and your business, why you started the company, and what you offer that is different. You have to take the time also to think about what is going to make your content fresh and newsworthy and "new" if possible, something unique. It has to be something that someone wants to consume and will also get them coming back for more every single time.
George: I love this idea of something they want to consume, the thing that will keep them coming back over time. As you were talking about that, my brain went to if you write it and you wouldn't want to read it, they're probably not going to want to read it. A litmus test of I'm human, let me read it. Yes, other humans are going to dig this. Then you said about them, not about the products, not about the services, but about the hurdles, about the aspirations, about the benefits. Such good stuff.
How can B2B marketers get started? Because that's the hardest part. In any transformation, in anything in life that we're trying to go from point A to point B, the starting point is the hardest part. How can B2B marketers get started transforming, pertaining to the historically boring content, and turn it into content humans want to engage with? They've been creating content, now what to do with it.
Julie: I would say first and foremost is to prioritize storytelling. Regardless of the type of content, there should be a story behind every single thing you create. Whether that's a blog post, a thought leadership piece, a video, audio podcast, info graphic, whatever it is, there has to be a storyline. Just like when you read a great novel, there has to be the beginning, middle, end, there has to be those emotions, desires, the build up and all of it, and this amazing conclusion.
Even when I write thought leadership content for the C-suite, when I do interviews with them, I really try to get a story. I'll give an example of one of my clients who is a CMO at a leading healthcare company. I try to pick his brain and say, "Tell me what it was like when you were treating patients. What did you see? Tell me these amazing stories of where you were in third world countries treating people."
Even in B2B, that can be really interesting. People want to know about the stories and where that person came from and what they've experienced. I think now more than ever we just need to prioritize humanity, and empathy, and love, and understanding, and compassion, and all of it. I think that maybe not always possible in B2B, but we have to think about that. I think that's what is going to make brands stand out, when they prioritize humanity and empathy.
Another thing is to do something new. Who says that you have to do whitepapers and case studies and brochures? Create a new video. Even in healthcare or B2B, you can do fun animated videos. They don't have to be these boring behind-the-scenes videos with your C-suite and talking about your products and solutions. It can be really fun.
I also like behind-the-scenes content with all of your team members, your C-suite, if they're engaging, or maybe you can equip them to be, you can train them to be more engaging. Q&A with team members. Again, just have fun.
I really love email marketing. You can have so much fun with email marketing, because you can get so creative with the email subject line. Again, in B2B it's very straightforward when you see emails from that side. I think that you can have fun with it. Don't just think about your clickthrough and your open rates, but have fun.
Another tip is to look to other industries and brands. Whatever industry you're in, look at the polar opposite and see how they grab their audience's attention. Then in terms of your writing, it should always be simple and clear, and not so much focus on the jargon and the acronyms and the industry terms. Get to the point quickly, tell me what I need to know. People don't have time, they're scanning blog content, they're not reading the whole thought leadership article, they don't even have time to maybe watch a two-minute video. Get to the point quickly and tell me what I need to know.
Finally, provide value. There is so much fluff out there. We have to give people the meat, give them the new and the newsworthy, and forget about all of the high-level fluff.
George: Such good stuff. Marketing Smarts listeners, you know what I'm going to say. We've officially reached the rewind point. There are so many good pieces, Julie, that you pulled out and talked about. You mentioned the word fun multiple times, be creative multiple times, index on humanity, show the human. Marketing Smarts listeners, seriously, rewind that, get your notepad out, your dry erase board, whatever it is, because there is a lot there that you need to dig into.
Also, if you have been listening for a while, you know that Julie is coming in the episode right after the Sally Hogshead series of different is better than better. That's one thing that you leaned into there is look outside of your industry, find something new, be different. It was so refreshing.
Here's the thing. The listeners might be there thinking, "We're down with this, we want to do storytelling, we want to go through this transformation, but I don't know if it's me or if I need somebody else." The next question where my brain goes is are there certain seats that need to be filled if you're a mid to enterprise B2B company that help you with this transformation?
Julie: I have to say that I know this sounds very promotional, but it's not. I take calls with prospects every week, and 9 out of 10 times they will tell me, "We have an agency, and they don't get it." That's not to knock agencies. I work with a lot of marketing and PR firms, and I think what they do is great. They don't always look at it through the lens of content and storytelling, so there is a gap there. Maybe they know SEO, they know how to pull together marketing and PR campaigns, but they may not be content experts.
I recommend that you work actually with a journalist who knows how to do research, who knows how to conduct interviews, who knows how to tell a story, and a story that is going to grab eyeballs and get clicks. Oftentimes, journalists have hopped over to content marketing, copywriting, and all of it. That's really where I think you should invest your resources, if you can.
Obviously, your marketing team should have someone on their team who knows how to tell stories and maybe even has worked as a content creator. If you hire someone or you have someone on your team who understands how to create content from scratch, I think that's really important.
George: I love this. Again, I'm going to wax a little bit silly for a second. If you know Billy has a YouTube channel, Billy is actually in a mindset of creating content, pick their brain, get them into some type of meeting or mix that you can do this. I love journalists are really content marketers, journalists, hand in hand. We saw this years ago start to historical journalists and people who are going to journalism school funneling right into content marketing because they do have the toolset of that research and storytelling and different things like that that they've just been using in different types of media.
It's interesting. I know that you've been doing this for years as well. I really want to open the door for the Marketing Smarts listeners' minds of what does success look like. Do you have a couple of case studies or stories of success where B2B companies are killing it on creating this nonboring content that we've been talking about?
Julie: I'll start with HubSpot. Everyone loves them. Why? Everything they do is amazing. But they prioritize the storytelling and they provide value, and they're having fun. Mailchimp, they have a line of business Mailchimp Presents, so it's short form series and films and podcasts. Again, storytelling. Zendesk is another one. They have a lot of videos on their YouTube channel and a lot of customer stories, again prioritizing the humanity and behind-the-scenes content. People want stories. There are interviews as well.
Novartis, they have a brand journalism site called Stories, and there's a lot of first-person stories there. It's a B2B site, but they're bringing in consumer content. Especially in healthcare, that works really well. Finally, I'll mention I'm a little bit biased, but my client AKASA provide AI-enabled RCM solutions, and I think that their team has done an amazing job to make B2B content interesting. They do a lot of behind-the-scenes, Q&As with their SMEs and different team members, video, and their overall brand messaging, if you will, is light-hearted and fun and makes RCM accessible.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, you can go check out any of those brands. My heart might have skipped a beat when you mentioned HubSpot. Just saying. It is really good stuff. There are so many brands that you can pay attention to and almost mirror or mimic in a positive way, not in a ripping their ideas off way.
Then that also takes my brain into this idea of a matrix or a process. You've mentioned the word story a bunch of times during this episode, so I don't know if the matrix conversation goes around story. I also know that you probably have a process that you go through when you're trying to do this with clients, so I don't know if the matrix is around process. Inquiring minds want to know, so I'll just ask the question.
Is there a formula or matrix B2B marketers should be thinking about or leveraging for their content creation process?
Julie: Like with anything in marketing, you can't just go ahead and do it, it has to be informed by data and insights. Number one, and I think this is so important for any brand, is to have your brand messaging framework in place.
I do like the Simon Sinek way, method, approach. I was introduced to it actually last year by a client, and I'm all in on it. He talks about knowing your why, why you do what you do and why you get up in the morning. Spoiler alert, it's not to make money. Your what, your how, and then your why. Why is it that you do what you do? Why do people care? And why is this making an impact on the world, how is it making the world a better place? Within that brand messaging framework, you have your what, your how, and your value propositions, and your buyer personas.
That leads me to my next point, and that is your target audience. You have to know who your target audience is, what they want, what their desires are, what their challenges are, and what their obstacles are to what you offer. I can't tell you how many clients don't have buyer personas. Every time I talk to them, it's like come on, you have to have that in place to know who you're talking to. How can you create content if you don't know who you're talking to?
Those buyer personas need to be created via interviews with your customers. If you're a tech startup, for example, maybe you don't have customers yet, maybe it's part of that market research process as you start to develop your company. Definitely do interviews.
I think that's the foundation of creating content. Again, it's looking to other industries, it's getting creative, it's thinking outside the box, and not thinking straightforward B2B marketing collateral.
George: As I was listening, I'm the type of person that I get these visual pictures when I'm listening to people during the interviews. It's funny, when you were talking about the target audience, the buyer persona, and the amount of companies that don't have a buyer persona, and let me throw in also ideal client profile. If you don't have an ideal client profile or a buyer persona, first of all, I'm twitching right now.
But here's the thing. Visually, I imagine that guy or gal in front of the baseball or football stadium, standing on a box screaming out their propaganda. That's your business, because you're literally screaming on the internet to everybody and to nobody at the same time. It's so vitally important that you get that in place.
I want to go again kind of off the beaten path for a second. There are probably people you've seen who have said, "Julie, I want to do this," and they started down the journey to try to do this less boring B2B content. There might be people listening right now that are like, "Okay, creative, fun, human, behind-the-scenes, let's go." Then they get going and there are these roadblocks, these hurdles, these potholes, these pits with snakes and spikes that they run into.
Historically, so that we can warn them, what are a couple of things that you've seen that are just crushing to the process or the idea of trying to create what I'll call creative B2B content versus the boring content that people should be looking out for?
Julie: I think that when you work, whether you're working with your marketing team or you're hiring a content creator, you have to get really clear on your goals. That starts with a creative brief. It's old school, but it's your goals and what you envision the project to look like. I would recommend that people provide examples to whoever they're working with and get really clear on your goals and what you want the final product to look like.
In full transparency, I had a client within the past year or so, and she kind of sent me a high-level description. I provided an outline, and she signed off on it. Then when it came down to it, she just wasn't happy with it. What she sent back to me, she redid it, and it was boring. It was not only boring, but it wasn't what I would consider high-quality content and providing that value. I think that maybe where that went awry is that we probably should have had better communication around what she envisioned it to be like. I can come in and have my own thoughts about what something should look like, but you have to be happy and you have to be clear on what you want it to be.
I'll also add I think another obstacle is that the SMEs or your C-suite, like I said, can tend to not be prepared to do interviews. If you're doing video, that can be an obstacle. A lot of these C-suite leaders aren't very engaging on video and in interviews. That could really bring your content down, but it can be overcome if you prepare them. Again, they should know the goals of the interview.
I actually wrote about this on LinkedIn today. They should know the goals of the interview, they should know why you have a content marketing strategy in place. They can be media trained. It's pretty simple, it's not a big deal. They can be media trained and get better on camera, and that can help them give better interviews with the media and when you're creating content as well.
George: So good. Communication is key. Understanding that you're actually communicating with the world, not the camera, and get rid of the nerves. There's a whole bunch that you can do as a B2B marketer to set those C-suite folks up for success. To be honest with you, that's probably a whole other episode.
I also love that you wrote about it on LinkedIn. Here in a minute, I'm going to give you an opportunity if people want to reach out, where they can get in touch with you, so we'll get to that. Before we do that, as we send people off on their journey to make the world a better place and create B2B content that people want to digest, that adds value, that impacts the world, what are some words of wisdom that you would leave the listeners with pertaining to how to make B2B content less boring?
Julie: Get all your ducks in a line. Pull together your brand messaging framework. Do those interviews. Do the hard work upfront and make sure you have the foundation for what will be great content creation.
Then look again to consumer-facing brands, because they're doing it well. If you look at the biggest consumer brands, they're engaging people and they're making them want to come back and continue to read what they have to say, think about what they have to say, and change their perspective on whatever it is. Look at those consumer-facing brands and see if you can tweak what you have; you can repurpose content, and see what you can do better, differently, and model after them.
Think differently. Again, let's just get our perspective out of this traditional marketing mindset and think B2B can be interesting and maybe we can have some fun here, or we can push the envelope a little bit, or we can say something new. Again, a lot in B2B is the same old thought leadership over and over again. Let's think about what we can say that is new, newsworthy, trendy, different, unique, that makes us stand apart.
George: Push the envelope and say something new. Julie, if people want to reach out to you, if they have questions, or if they just want to connect, where do you want to send them.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast? Make sure you reach out and let us know either in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.
I know for me one of the most mind-blowing sections of this episode was the idea of doing something different, something noteworthy, something special and of value for our communities.
We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode where we talk about the next top topic to help you be a better B-to-B marketer, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on July 7, 2022
Julie Revelant, owner of Revelant Writing, a firm that provides content marketing, copywriting, and brand journalism services for the healthcare industry. Julie works with Fortune 500 healthcare companies, payers, hospitals and health systems, and healthcare analytics and technology companies that want to stand out in a competitive, complicated industry; create newsworthy, timely content; and make their C-suite shine. Working as an extension of their marketing teams, Julie not only writes B2B healthcare content but also strategizes, problem-solves, and collaborates with companies so they can achieve their goals. Julie also hosts the "Food Issues" podcast.
LinkedIn: Julie Revelant
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