The Messenger Is The Message: A New Era For B2B Content Marketing


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B2B content marketing as we know it is broken.

Only 30% of B2B marketers say their organizations are effective at content marketing, according to the 2016 B2B Content Marketing Benchmark Report.

There are two main reasons for this:

  1. Most of your customers are suffering from what Mark Schaefer (a globally-recognized marketing consultant and a speaker in our upcoming Content Marketing Mentors webinar series) calls “content shock”—meaning they are incapable of consuming the sheer volume of content being produced.
  2. When a piece of your content does manage to get your audience’s attention, most of them (91%) don’t trust it. “Too many vendors are failing buyers with overly promotional and overly technical content,” says Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council.

Connecting with your bored, skeptical and overwhelmed readers isn’t going to happen by creating more of the same. It isn’t through tweaking your headlines, finding more provocative images, or publishing on a new channel either.

Instead, marketers need to change the messenger. Making this simple shift in your thinking will revolutionize your content marketing strategy.

Remember communications guru Marshall McLuhan’s famous 1967 theory “the medium is the message”? Fifty years ago, he wrote and lectured about how the medium through which a message is disseminated (e.g., radio, television, print, etc.) impacts the message itself. A lot has changed since then. Today, the messenger is the message.

According to a Demand Gen Report survey, 97% of B2B buyers say that user-generated content (UGC), like peer reviews, is more credible than other types of content. And B2B buyers are scouring social networks, online reviews and third-party sources (just like they do in their lives as consumers) for content that will help them make sound purchasing decisions.

That means the most powerful marketing tool you have isn’t something you can create on your own; it needs to come from an independent messenger. (And if it comes from an independent channel you don’t own, even better.)

Your best messengers are your customer advocates. Advocates are your biggest fans who are predisposed to talking about your brand. They’re the people who can validate your messaging and deliver it successfully to your target buyers—who just happen to be their peers.

You may be thinking: “Meh. I’m already creating eye-catching case studies and white papers that include well-crafted customer success stories.” But that’s not enough to move the needle.

Empowering your advocates and integrating them into content creation process is valuable for two important reasons:

  1. Harnessing their personal, authentic stories and perspectives will ensure your messages resonate with and are trusted by buyers
  2. Advocates make the ideation, creation and distribution stage of content marketing easier, faster and less expensive for your brand

By empowering customers to become your messengers, you’ll be able to move away from the selfish content marketing tactics you’re used to, towards something more meaningful:


B2C brands are already using consumer-generated content to provide social proof all of the time. For example, Apple recently ran a campaign for the iPhone 6 camera that showcased beautiful Instagram photos created by 77 iPhone users around the globe. And the Starbucks white cup campaign encouraged customers to decorate their cups and share their photos on social media, which influenced 3,000 contest entries in 3 weeks (and a lot of free social promotion for Starbucks).

Some B2B organizations are already turning advocates into their messengers. They do this by empowering their advocates at every stage of the content creation process.


This makes advocates feel invested. And when they’re invested, they’re more likely to lend their voices to your stories. Here’s what that looks like for several B2B brands with formal advocate marketing programs:

1. Develop ideas.

taylor-mooreYour customer advocates can help you come up with content ideas that are guaranteed to resonate with your audience. Taylor Moore, Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro says she relies on her advocates to “to validate our hunches so we know we’re delivering valuable insights to our audience.” For example, by polling TouchBistro advocates, Taylor learned that customers wanted content about recruiting, training and retaining staff. Although the topic isn’t the main focus of their product, TouchBistro’s staffing content is some of their best-performing assets.

2. Create content.

ChrisPeltzEncourage advocates to not only write their own content on third-party sites (e.g. review sites and social networks) but also play an active role in creating your content. Chris Peltz, Business Operations Manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Software says that by nurturing customer relationships, the company has published two full eBooks with advocate contributors: one on IT service management best practices that was written 100% by advocates, and another on DevOps that was written in large part their advocate community. Advocates also write 50% of HP Enterprise Software’s blogs.

3. Distribute content.

francescaExpand your content’s reach by leaning on your army of advocates to share it with their networks. Francesca Krihely, Senior Manager, Content Marketing at open source database software company MongoDB makes social sharing simple by gathering all of MongoDB’s content in their advocate community, and providing her advocates with sample messaging so they don’t have to think about what to write. As a result, MongoDB’s advocates drove 50,000 unique visits to its website via advocate social shares in just four months.

How to get started with advocate-generated content

To start incorporating advocates into your content strategy, follow these first steps:

  • Stop sending out your own content
  • Start recruiting your army of messengers (i.e. your advocates)—the customers who love your product so much that they’re willing to share their positive experiences with peers.
  • Inspire and empower messengers to amplify the volume and reach of their collective voices by creating and sharing your brand stories. It starts by building long-term relationships with messengers who continually rave about you to their peers.
  • Recognize your messengers for their efforts in front of their peers and through professional development opportunities.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jim Williams
Jim Williams is VP of Marketing at Influitive, the advocate marketing experts. Jim is a veteran marketer for early and growth stage tech companies that loves bringing new concept products to market. Before joining the Influitive team, he held marketing leadership roles at Eloqua, Unveil Solutions, Lernout & Hauspie, and several PR agencies.


  1. Hi Jim, I couldn’t agree more with the points you raised. I’d like to add my thoughts on this subject. One of the things that fuel advocates is conversation. Most b2b companies lack the initiative to ask customers to share their experience, and that’s a missed opportunity right there! Whether it’s by adding share buttons or providing links to business profiles on review sites, this will increase positive engagement and turn your customers into advocates.

  2. I agree that customer advocates can be invaluable as message creators and advocates for selling a vendor’s products and services. In fact, in B2B sales, when my prospects stood at that precarious point before making a buying decision, I often urged them to contact a customer or two. Most of the time, they “flipped” the right way.

    But rarely – if ever – would I recommend abdicating message creation and delivery exclusively to customers. There are several reasons for this:

    1. For certain products and industries, it would not work. Several major product categories are stigmatized (e.g. categories of personal health care items and health care services), and providers would find it difficult to recruit advocates.

    2. Some providers don’t even want consumers carrying advocacy onus. For example, would a financial services company want customers broadcasting messages about their short-term gains? Or, should they control the messaging by creating advertising and other content that spells out risks and sets realistic expectations for financial outcomes?

    3. In some industries, regulations require providers to develop content that conforms to specific standards (e.g. pharma, financial services). Companies in these industries cannot step away from this responsibility, and therefore, they cannot leave message creation and delivery solely to customers.

    4. Customer advocacy can spread misinformation. This is particularly acute with physicians and dentists, whose customers often praise things like office amenities, or in the case of dentists, that a procedure was “painless.” But these artifacts do not mean that the care was effective or proper. Similar to the above examples, providers have much at risk by not being involved in content development or distribution.

    5. Not every culture or generation embraces customer advocacy. In some cultures, for example, people take great personal pride in keeping their homes clean. Admitting that one used an outside service for this purpose would be difficult, and many customers would not likely choose to broadcast their recommendations online.

    6. Without vendor-controlled content, customer advocacy risks warping a brand’s image. While I am sure Timberland didn’t mind the revenue from sales of its boots when they became urban chic, they also lost control of the marketing messages they needed to send.

    From a personal note – and I have no research to cite that corroborates my attitude – when I read a non-stop slew of glowing recommendations about a product I’m researching, I become skeptical. Is the website paying people to post rave reviews? Is this customer praise the output of a “loyalty incentive?” Is someone tweaking the comments to create this bias? I know it’s counter-intuitive, but I put more credence in product reviews that also contain palpable grumpiness. In my mind, no product is perfect, and it just looks weird when everyone seems enamored with it.


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