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The importance of building communities in B2B marketing

Having built up a huge following online for her music before crossing into the world of B2B marketing, LinkedIn’s Lizzy Knights-Ward hasn’t had the most traditional career path. We spoke to her about her journey from musician to marketer and why community is key in B2B marketing.

Q. Can you tell us about your career journey — how did you get started in marketing?

I think my career journey has been a bit unconventional — I sometimes think about where I am now and wonder, how did that happen?

I studied Drama with English at Loughborough University and when I left, I planned on becoming a journalist. My first job was working as an editorial assistant, where I wrote advertorial features about why you should become a member of the Institute of Directors. That was where I got my first real insight into B2B marketing copywriting.

I later moved on to a cost-per-engagement advertising agency — they were one of the first agencies that were doing that at the time, and I remember it feeling ground-breaking. We were working to keep an audience consuming, to keep them reading more and all along I was thinking, well, this is what we need to be doing. We need to be paying attention to what the audience wants and what the data says.

So, that was how I was introduced to the world of marketing and, specifically, copywriting and audience engagement.

Q. How did you move into B2B marketing and content marketing specifically?

Well, after working in the agency, something unusual happened in my career. I decided to move to Australia — as a lot of young people in London do — but during that time I was actually doing a lot of music, writing songs and playing gigs. I was building up a following through my music and it grew much larger than I could have imagined.

I built up a really engaged following on Google+ — just shy of 3 million people — and that led to me getting an introduction to the Google marketing team, who were based in Sydney. I spent some time with them and told them how I was using Google Plus as a musician, which led to me eventually being offered a job with their B2B marketing team to help small and medium sized agencies use Google products better.

When I started my music I didn’t really have a strategy for growing my following, but after some time I had gained the skills and knowledge to know how to engage an audience. And it’s that experience which has led to me being able to work in companies like Google, Hootsuite and now LinkedIn.

So, I went from thinking that I wanted to be a journalist, to having a B2B marketing role based around content and community. I’m very lucky to have found something I really enjoy, but I did accidentally fall into it as a result of building this community of music fans.

Q. Do you find working in B2B marketing allows you to have the same opportunity to be creative?

Something I’ve found is that if you spend some time with B2B marketers and find out more about their lives, they’ve all got incredibly creative, unusual passions and pursuits that you would never know.

You can be creative and resourceful and all of those wonderful things as a B2B marketer or B2C marketer. I think, if anything, B2B is more creative because it can be a much harder sell. Sales cycles are longer and so your marketing campaigns need to go the distance.

Q. What does creativity mean to you at LinkedIn?

But in saying that, it can be easy to get caught up in the pressure of always having new content out there. You can start to lose the long-term vision of the piece of content. For example, if you’ve created a whitepaper, there’s so much more you can do with it over a year-long period. Its effectiveness doesn’t expire after just one quarter.

So, it’s a balancing act of trying new things, experimenting but also giving things time to be successful before moving onto the next trend.

Q. LinkedIn is a platform with over 600 million members — what does a community building strategy look like when you already have such a large audience?

A challenge for us is that there can be an assumption, amongst our users, that LinkedIn is purely a job platform and not so much more. We have products and services such as Marketing Solutions, Sales Solutions and LinkedIn Learning that cater to so many other audiences than just recruiters and candidates.

So, what my team and many more at LinkedIn are trying to do is create communities of professionals working in B2B that are filled with like-minded people who can get together and discuss challenges.

I think in B2B especially, community is going to become so much more important. The way that businesses buy goods or services has changed so much, with the rise of tech, that having that source of credibility from your own network and peers is vital.

So, I think if you as a brand can get behind a community, encourage conversations and support them, you are in a much better position. Not only does it make you seem like a more credible partner, but it also gives you direct access to the feedback, challenges and viewpoints of your audience. And that information is priceless.

One example of how we’re putting that into practice at LinkedIn is through our Sophisticated Marketers Program. This is a community we’ve made to help inspire and educate the modern marketer, by giving them a dedicated LinkedIn Learning path. Now in its 5th year, we continue to share exclusive content, tips and tricks on how to use LinkedIn to advance your marketing and a quarterly magazine.

Q. What trends do you think B2B marketers should be focusing on next year?

I’m going to bang the drum for sales and marketing alignment. I’ve been haunted by the idea that all the work that we do in marketing could be destroyed in one moment, because sales and marketing aren’t on the same page. It is an issue that continues to be challenging for both sides of the table, but I think there is a more creative way to bring the two parties together.

As for something external and more trend driven, I’d say being able to identify your ‘anonymous buyers’ and fully understanding the customer journey that B2B buyers go through nowadays.

We recently created a study on how B2B buyers make decisions and one statistic really stood out to me: 70% of tech buyers are getting three quarters of the way through their buying journey as anonymously as possible. As content marketers, we need to respond to that.

There is so much content to choose from now that people are becoming overwhelmed with the choice. So, as a result, they are going back into their shells and deciding to do everything on their own terms. As marketers, we need to devise a way of mapping that anonymous customer journey so that we can create content and marketing messages that will engage and resonate with the audience, even when they don’t want to be identified.

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