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Industry Expert Ardath Albee Shares Thoughts On Connecting The Dots For B2B Buyers With Engagement Hubs

ardathModern buyers demand modern buying experiences, and that means the opportunity to consume as much content as they want — when they want — all in one place. Considering this, many progressive B2B marketing teams are turning to engagement hubs that provide their audience with the information they need on their terms.

In a conversation with Ardath Albee, B2B marketing strategist and CEO of Marketing Interactions, Inc., she shared her thoughts on the emergence of engagement hubs in the B2B marketplace and how marketing teams need to pivot their priorities to make the most of this type of customer experience.

Demand Gen Report: What are your thoughts on the current usage of content engagement hubs in the B2B marketplace?

Ardath Albee: I think advances in technology are making it easier to present content in this way for marketers, so you don't have to go to IT or to your web developer and have them actually build it. When I first started talking about it, it was actually a development build to present content in these ways. I think the technology has just enabled us to make better presentations and create better experiences with content.

The biggest thing I see is that not enough of us are doing it. I still think that too many people are putting content out there without connecting the dots. And even with the ability to create something called " a content hub," what you put in the hub that makes it a hub is really important. Does the content build the story within the hub?

Quite often, I'll see people using the hub-type concept, but they're just kind of putting content in there that doesn't logically go together. One piece doesn't lead to the other and it's not building a coherent story for either a persona or a problem to solution. I think that's still a challenge for people; they don't understand how to put everything together. And I think if you do it incorrectly, it's not helpful.

For example, I suggested one client use one of these [engagement hub] solutions, and they were using it. Then they decided it didn't work, so they quit using it. I called my friends at the company and asked them about how the client had used the hub. And what they had done was put forms in front of every piece of content on the hub. So, people were abandoning the content because they didn't want to fill out the form. The ability to track what people do within the hub should suffice, rather than having them fill out forms. While content hubs are a new concept, the way we think about marketing hasn't changed.

But I think, if you're emailing them the link, you have their information, you can track what they do when they come back. Why do we need a gate? It's interesting, but I go through this with a lot of my clients who are really working hard to use content marketing, develop stories, present content experiences in a way that's engaging — like with a hub. But they still haven't let go of the traditional B2B marketing thought process, or lead gen process.

DGR: This trend is being fueled greatly by the consumerization of B2B buying practices. Are there any other factors fueling this trend's growth?

Albee: People want a consumerized experience, but they're not getting it from B2B because a lot of us are still doing things the old-fashioned way. And I think one of the challenges that I have quite often in working with clients is that their performance is still graded based on how many leads they generated. If you're still graded on that, then you can't give up the gate and you can't try new things. Until we start evaluating our marketing and our performance differently, I think we're going to still have these issues with using new types of experiences — like content hubs — in a way that is easy and embraced by our prospects, buyers and even our customers.

Now, by the same token, one of my other customers, Invoca, is using hubs and achieving remarkable results. They use the hub to promote expertise around their user event and they generated a ton of meetings scheduled before the event even launched. They had opportunities that were moving forward before they even got to the event because they created such an engaging experience around all the expertise that was going to be at the event. It's amazing what can happen when you actually present content that helps people make progress, advance and figure out how to solve this problem.

It goes back to the fact that we're selling to people, not companies. Personal experiences are now much more different than they ever were in the past. In B2B, just because you're buying something for your company, your perspective is going to be different.

What's happening is buyer expectations have now overflowed — B2B buying should be the same, and it should be easy. One of the things that buyers keep asking for is to make it easy for them to buy. And for some reason, we keep making it more difficult.

I'm doing a lot of work right now trying to help salespeople get into conversations, because the old methods aren't working anymore. People don't have to talk to a salesperson. They can get as much education as they want without ever talking to anyone. I'm playing in one project where sales reps can create their own content hubs to help educate their buyers and have interactive discussions in line with the content that they're adding to their hub based on that buyer’s engagement. So, they're actually building hubs, and that’s driving conversations.

The other thing, of course, is that you must have the content to build a great hub. It's also the modern-ness of the presentation of content that the technology for the hubs allow, which makes it feel more like a consumer-type experience than a stodgy B2B experience.

DGR: Does the content format matter for an engagement hub? Why or why not?

Albee: For me, that question goes back to what you learned when you built the persona that you're marketing towards. So, some of the things I'm always asking when I'm developing personas are, "What kind of content do you engage with? What do you like? Do you like videos? Do you like articles? Do you like research reports? Do you like analyst reports?"

Information can be presented in many ways, but what does your buyer engage with?

I think you need to provide a variety of content types within a hub because some people want video, some people want articles and some people want the more heavy-duty stuff. Let people choose and make it easy.

But I also think that — and most technology will help you do this — you need to be able to monitor things like depth of engagement. How far through a video did they watch? How far did they read into a PDF? Or did they just read the first paragraph and say, "Nope, that’s not for me! Time to move on to the next piece." Just because they clicked on three things in your hub doesn't mean they read them all. So, unless you know that, which technology will now allow you to do, you need to think about what you can learn from how they engage with that particular content format in your hub.

DGR: What are some tips/best practices you would share with practitioners looking to incorporate a content engagement hub into their prospective customers' buying journeys?

Albee: One of the things I would say goes back to the gating [topic]. For a content hub, don't gate it, but give them the opportunity to request a conversation as a separate action within the hub — but not similarly to forms where they must converse before consuming the content. I think we need to focus on building that engagement with people, and then they'll reach out on their own accord to speak with you.

I also think that you need to think about the goal for your hub. Are you telling the story? Are you giving them a problem-to-solution journey? Are you trying to help them interact with the other members of the buying committee? Figure out what the goal is and build your content hub with purpose — not just to see how many pieces of content you can get somebody to engage with.

Part of the challenge — and I still see this in research all the time — is that marketers still don't know the best way to engage their audiences or what the next step should be to continue movement in the pipeline. Part of it is because they don't build their content or create a content hub to actually give them insights based on what someone engages with. A lot of marketers are still in the place where they're like, "Oh, they clicked. They read something. Let's send them something else," without thinking about what the next step should be. We need to develop a strategy for how we're using a content hub over the presentation. People get excited about the presentation of it, but what you really need to think about is the purpose of it. What kind of meaningful engagement are we creating with every content hub that we build?