Checkout excerpts from our exclusive conversation with Lynn Huang
- Head Marketing, APAC, Honeywell
on how content marketing is becoming more & more important for B2B organizations going forward.
ACN: For a B2B organizations, content & marketing often go hand in hand. What do you envisage the role of Content for Honeywell? Do you see it going beyond marketing in the coming years?
Lynn Huang: Content Marketing is a critical part of the overall marketing strategy for any business. One a surface level, it is about creating and conveying the compelling stories to influence and convince your target customers i.e. audiences. Deep down, it is all about understanding your (potential) customers’ pain points and needs (including those unspoken ones) and understanding why your business can (help) address your customers’ needs better than anyone else!
For a B2B organization, it is even more challenging (than a B2C company) to influence your target customers’ buying journey as there are multiple different decision makers within your customer’s organization. Research has shown that averagely speaking, there are about 8-12 purchase process decision makers and influencers within one same enterprise when it comes to a B2B purchase. All these decision makers and influencers have different pain points, perspectives and requirements. As a potential supplier, what you need to do is not to simply market your products or services with a ‘one for all’ type of approach, but to instill the different right stories in the different minds of your audiences so that they can believe why they need a change (be it to adopt a new product or process, or to upgrade a system or plan) and why they need your products or services (other than someone else’) to make and/or manage the change.
Content Marketing process should not be limited to Marketing, Communications or Digital teams or departments. In Honeywell, Product teams are deeply involved when it comes to understanding target customers/ audiences needs and creating together with the marketing peers the right value propositions, messaging, product contents and solution stories. On the delivery and execution end of Content Marketing, Sales and any other customer-facing teams play a critical role too (other than Marketing teams). Sales need to be able to leverage the relevant contents to tell the right stories to their target customers. Otherwise they will not be able to influence their customer’ buying journey effectively, not to say to convince the customers and close the sales process successfully.
ACN: Do you believe B2B companies are much ahead of the curve when it comes to using Content for marketing? If yes, Why?
Lynn Huang: I would not say B2B companies are much ahead of the curve when it comes to using contents for marketing. But it is more complicated and challenging for a B2B company to use Content Marketing effectively than a B2C company. Content Marketing is more subtle and critical in a B2B context. The stakes are higher.
As I mentioned earlier, B2B companies’ target audiences are complicated. Unlike a consumer of a B2C product, an enterprise customer has multiple difference decision makers in its buying journey. Take a corporate-wide IT system purchase or update project as an example, CIO, CFO, COO, and even CEO himself will be involved in the decision-making process. Even just for an operational level product purchase plan, the relevant business or operations managers, technical or IT managers, purchase managers, finance managers, and the actual end users of the products will all very likely be involved in the purchase process. What stories to tell to each one of these purchase process decision makers and influencers and how to tell is not as straightforward as a B2C story telling process.
ACN: Sales cycles are usually very long in the B2B sector, how does that change the role of content across the funnel for Honeywell?
Lynn Huang: You are right. Sales cycle tends to be long in the B2B sector. When we talk about sales cycle, we need to flip it over and think and act accordingly from a customer’s buying path perspective. Sales cycle does not start from your sales team reaching out to a target customer. Sales cycle starts from your marketers obtaining the right customers insights and based on the insights, creating the right contents to influence the above-the-sales-funnel target markets.
Customers buying journey does not start from visiting your website and enquiring your sales people. In fact, researches have shown that B2B customers who are browsing your website have already been 58% down their purchase path. Before they decide to visit your site, they have done their search and research as well as due diligence. These customers are totally above your sales team’s funnel. As you know Sales people tend to be more short-term and usually tied up with accounts/ projects in their incumbent sales funnel, it is marketers’ job to leverage contents and relevant got-to-market tactics to influence those above-the-funnel accounts and move them into sales funnel. Content Marketing is absolutely critical in the entire sales process.
Content varies for customers above the sales funnel and in the funnel. Content also varies for the same customer who is in the different stages of his buying journey. The role of content is to address the customer’s needs and support his purchase path. At the same time, content should enable our marketers to build up the relationship between the target customer and our brand, and enable our sales people to develop the target customer into an actual one and a happy and even loyal one.
ACN: Do you believe the world is moving to 'Human to Human' rather than B2B or B2C?
Lynn Huang: Whether it is B2B or B2C, I believe Marketing shall always be “B2I” i.e. Business to Individual. Be it an enterprise customer or a consumer, the decision makers in the purchase process are individual human beings who require suppliers’ products or services to meet their respective needs functionally, economically and emotionally. With the increasing adoption of AI technologies in the marketing industry, I also believe in the near future Marketing will be “B2R2I” i.e. Business to Robots to Individuals. In fact, this has been happening in some B2C sectors.
End of the day, as long as human beings are still the decision makers along the business buying journey, marketers need to center their marketing process around these individual human beings. Again, the starting point is to understand their pain points and define their (potential) needs at an individual level. Strategic marketers shall always remember that CIO, COO, CFO and CMOs might share the same overriding organizational goals, the specific KPIs, pain points, and needs driving each individual’s thought process are actually very much different. In the context of Content Marketing, personalized content will be necessary to win both the mind and heart of each one of these individual executives.
ACN: Any content marketing campaigns or projects that you are proud of, in the last 6-12 months? And why?
Lynn Huang: Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 has been a challenging year so far for most businesses around the world. The last couple of months saw many countries gradually lifting restrictions, opening up businesses and allowing travel to resume, while the fight to control the pandemic remains a priority for most of the world. Honeywell has been supporting their enterprise customers with its software technologies (such as Operational Intelligence) and hardware products (including but not limited to Personal Protective Equipment - PPE) to re-open their businesses while enforcing social distancing and safety procedures.
One of the campaigns we have been doing is on the airline industry that was hit badly by the pandemic. As businesses are re-opening and people starting travel, airlines need to ensure they have the relevant health and safety solutions in place to cater to this new, cleanliness-conscious era of travel. Our campaign starts from understanding the air travel passengers needs. A survey was done to more than 700 frequent travelers between North America and Asia, and obtain the insights on what passengers look out for from airlines. The inflight air quality, social distancing in planes and at airports, and PPE availability are top priorities for travelers. With the insights, we were able to nail down what solution and products the campaign shall focus on and accordingly, what specific contents shall be put in place to address the needs and concerns of the target audience. The survey insights have turned out to be terrific contents for the campaign and to certain extent, made the campaign speak in customers’ own language!
Again, as I highlighted earlier, Content Marketing should be part of the overall strategic marketing for a business and bring the needed information and value to the customers. Once you have the right strategy and customer insights, the tactics of creating and delivering your contents to influence your customers shall not be an issue.
ACN: How is role of content changing in these times of COVID-19?
Lynn Huang: Content has become more critical in customer marketing in these times of Covid-19. For businesses, as the physical meetings with customers have been very challenging (if not possible) with the social distancing condition, the face to face “human touch” by your sales people to bond with and win over your customers is dated. Both sales and marketing people need to adjust themselves into a new norm i.e. to support and influence your customers without physically ‘seeing’ them. This means your ‘story-telling’ of your solutions and products to your target customers needs to be as compelling and convincing as when you were right in front of your customers. What contents to use when you tell your story is critical.
On the other hand, with the Covid-19 pandemic, enterprise customers’ pain points and buying behaviors have changed. How to weather through the pandemic storm, survive as a business in an economic recession, re-opening their operations while keeping employees safe and their customers happy become top priorities. Your incumbent marketing contents might be either dated as they don’t address any new pain points of your customers any more, or invisible among all the overwhelming Covid-19 related information. It is the time to review and evolve your content strategy and refresh your content ‘inventory’ if you haven’t done so.
ACN: Do you see brands investing more or less in content during these times? What is the state of affairs at Honeywell?
Lynn Huang: As you know most of the businesses have been cutting back their respective marketing budgets in this Covid-19 situation, but I don’t think this means brands are not investing in content. In fact, this is the good time for brands to take a step back and review what is relevant, what is really needed, and what should be changed. This pandemic has kind of forced all the businesses and people to rethink, adjust their strategies and work smarter. Brands have to invest more of their time and efforts to not only adapt to but also lead the change when it comes to marketing and content.
Strategically, be it a physical meeting before the Covid-19 or a Zoom meeting under the new norm, you will always need the content to tell your story, and your customers always need the right information to make the right decisions so that they succeed. So regardless of your marketing budgets, you will have to put your heads around your content and make sure your content is updated, very much relevant to your customers and more compelling as compared to your competitor’.
Tactically, the way of creating and delivering contents will require adjustment too with your budget constraints. You might need to move from outsourcing to in-house development of content, and leverage more on the digital channels and social platforms to deliver the content.
ACN: What is your advice to B2B Organizations who are at start of their digital content journey?
Lynn Huang: The strategic starting point of any content marketing is your target audiences/ customers. You need to address the three fundamental questions first of all: Who are your target audience? What do they really need? Why they should and would pay attention to your contents? Content marketing is not about knowing what you want to say and saying what you know, but knowing what your target audience/ customers would like to know and creating and delivering that valuable information for/ to them.
When you create and deliver your content, be mindful what content formats your target audience / customers prefer to see, feel or interact (e.g. a short video could be more effective than a long white paper), and what digital channels or social platforms your target audience/ customers use (e.g. a customized webinar might be more compelling than a LinkedIn post). If you have done all these well, in return, you may get interactive responses from your customers and be able to create the perception and interests you would like your customers to have towards your brand, your business and/or products. Only with the deep and sufficient customer insights, can you create the right and compelling content that influence and impact your customers at each step of their purchase path.
In the traditional B2B world, Marketing seems to stop at creating product brochures and company website, sending eDMs and organizing customer events. In this post-Covid-19 era, you can’t continue the same old marketing tactics without reviewing and re-focusing your strategies. B2B Marketing is an end to end process starting from obtaining enterprise customers insights, creating the right products and contents, all the way down to delivering the contents, influencing the target verticals and generating customer demands. Content is critical in this process as the right content should not only enable your sales teams but also benefit your customers and support their buying journey.