Building a fanbase in a B2B brand

It’s easier than ever to build an online fanbase for a B2B brand—but don’t forget the link to revenues.

Imagine your company’s content marketing grows such an engaged audience that investors start fighting for a stake in it. That’s exactly what happened to Terminus, an account-based marketing platform.

As a small startup, Terminus launched an account-based marketing content hub called FlipMyFunnel, which has mushroomed into a portfolio of live events, daily podcast and Slack channel with an active community of more than 7,000 B2B sales and marketing professionals. The company is now being courted by venture capital firms that want to spin off FlipMyFunnel as a separate content brand.

It’s a particularly successful example of using supercharged content marketing to build community, publishing such a wealth of high-quality content that it becomes not just an online publication, but the online hangout for a digital tribe.

Done right, it provides a route for sophisticated messaging, and data collection, that would be prohibitively expensive through conventional social and media channels. Some B2B firms have even bought conventional publishers to capture this effect. Done wrong, though, it can swallow a lot of cash with little or no return on investment.

It begs the question, if FlipMyFunnel has become such a success, why doesn’t Terminus shift its focus to publishing? According to Sangram Vajre, Terminus co-founder, a product with a community built around it is a powerful thing.

“That is the secret to growth and category leadership,” he says. “Just look at Salesforce with Dreamforce, Hubspot with Inbound and now Terminus with FlipMyFunnel. We are trying to create meaning, purpose and a sense of belongingness, beyond the product. Without a community, you are simply a commodity.”

Building a fanbase has its risks

Other examples of brands that have developed successful content creation arms include American Express with its Business Trends and Insights hub, and Adobe with its digital magazine

By disintermediating trade media, these companies have grown engaged audiences, which they fully own and control. It’s a compelling proposition, but there is a risk that comes with investing in this type of venture over traditional marketing as there’s no guarantee your audience will be interested in becoming customers.

Financial services company UBS disbanded its content initiative Unlimited after admitting it was not driving business results. The glossy site, launched in 2016, aimed to engage a new generation of millionaires for UBS’s wealth management business with interviews with Stephen Hawking and Lewis Hamilton, and images by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz.

However, according to UBS global head of marketing communications Thierry Campet: “I thought people would read Unlimited and go to UBS and sign up.” Ultimately, they didn’t. Visitors to the site are now redirected to conventional financial content on UBS’s main site, such as a report on the Swiss property market.

Bridget Perry, Europe, Middle East and Africa vice president of marketing at Adobe, warns: “It takes time to build a site’s audience and influence, and take the customer from reading an article to signing that final contract.

“My advice to any brand that’s looking to build its own digital community would firstly be to ensure there is a core purpose and unified voice that underpins all content. That content then needs to be integrated with effective audience segmentation and retargeting tools to drive engagement and conversion.”

More than just financial ROI

The truth is, the return on investment of content marketing that has been largely unlinked from its parent brand can be hard to measure. However, for some companies there is more to building an online tribe than quick financial returns.

Among them is electronics company RS Components. In just two years, the company has grown an award-winning community of 580,000 electronics professionals around a content hub and forum that mixes in-depth technical discussions with inspiring content about how electronics is making the world a better, safer place.

“We’ve seen such a positive impact from this type of content in the past two years,” says Adam Pridmore, brand campaign manager. “It’s such a powerful way for businesses like RS Components to elevate ourselves above the functional, tell real-life stories and give real-life examples of how our products are enabling engineers all around the world to do amazing things.”

But in a world where more and more brands become publishers, will there be enough readers to go round? Tim Walters, vice president and the privacy lead at consultancy The Content Advisory advises keeping efforts highly targeted.

“Don’t try to capture every potential customer. Think, where does your competitive differentiator lie? What are the profile types that you really want to talk to because you know you have a distinctive value proposition for them? It might be a relatively small number of people, but that’s who you should be creating content for,” he concludes.

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