Ding dong, B2B content marketing is dead!
Okay but what do we do about it?!
Ding dong, B2B content marketing is dead!
The title/subject line is a reference to a controversial post I made on LinkedIn. More specifically, it’s how many misinterpreted or failed to read the words “as we know it” in the first sentence and central thesis of my argument: it’s the end of B2B content marketing as we know it.
My “viral” LinkedIn post stirred sum shit
If you haven’t yet, you can read my diatribe and the ensuing discussion (including a comment from the Godfather of Content, Joe Pulizzi!) here, if you’d like. But it's not required to understand the story I'm about to tell you.
Before we begin, let me ask you a question: Do y'all know the story behind Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?
The reason I ask is because one the comments I received has been ringing in my ears like a nagging case of tinnitus. It was from my friend Tommy Walker, host of my favorite series about the philosophy of content marketing, The Cutting Room.
“Ok serious question though..." he says. "We’re all feeling it, this is probably the 4th or 5th time I’ve seen something like this this week. What do we do?"
What do we do? What do we do? What do we do?
So, what do we do about B2B content marketing?!
The discussion my LinkedIn post kicked off was truly fascinating and played a prominent role in the launch of this newsletter. Opinions varied wildly as to who or what’s to blame for the trials and tribulations plaguing B2B marketing in 2023 and a great deal of marketers warned there are no signs of this madness stopping anytime soon.
A curiously-large consensus agreed the decade-old content marketing playbook pioneered by Hubspot, Marketo, and other super talented marketers — the one that fundamentally changed the trajectory of marketing and practically redefined it — is now an antiquated relic that’s wholly inadequate for the realities we're presently facing.
I'll waste no time repeating the facts. I mentioned them in my LinkedIn post, my first newsletter, and the welcome email if you want to be informed.
But we must move on. Because, as our friend Tommy so aptly put it, talking about the problem isn't the same as solving the problem.
So, what can we do? How do we save B2B content marketing from seceding to B2B content creators who'll happily charge B2B brands a premium for access to the audiences they built while this craft devolves into a shell of its once promising potential?
My answer might shock you. Because I honestly don't know. Nobody does for sure. Some of us will probably get it 50% right. But it's also possible we'll get it 100% wrong. Just ask the folks raged in opposition to generative AI when OpenAI’s ChatGPT took AI mainstream. A lot of them did a 180°. Some now sell courses. A couple of them are good.
The point I'm trying to make is that the pace of change is far too rapid for me to confidently say anything about the future in general, much less the future of B2B content marketing.
At the start of 2023, for example, a bunch of hopeful AI startups began the year dreaming of ways to capitalize on the AI gold rush only to get erased off the map when OpenAI released new features this month. Google has been dropping algorithms out of nowhere like random drug-screen testing.
Nobody knows anything.
B2B content marketing needs its Sgt. Pepper moment
If I had to put my money on anything, it’d be this: We need to think differently about B2B content marketing. We need to unlearn what we've learned and be wary of people who say "well, that's just the way we've always done it."
This is not to say the old ways lack merit and should be forgotten. As we march forward, the truly best practices of the past will find their way back into our strategies and workflows. Like the Men’s Warehouse CEO, I guarantee it.
It worked out that way for us at Hopin.
The Hopin content team consisted of me, Melisse Lombard, Kristen Boe, and Alex Bleeker. We were a newly-minted team who had just come back from the holiday break, emerging victoriously from a four-month sprint to reset expectations with our cross-functional partners and lay the foundation for a well-oiled, revenue-driving media company for Hopin.
I began the first content team meeting of 2022 with a seemingly odd question.
"Do y'all know the story behind Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?" I asked. "More specifically, do you know why The Beatles chose to name the record that?"
Do you? They didn't. But I believed telling the story would break our old habits and free us to imagine what’s possible so that we could write our own B2B content marketing playbook.
ASMR? Sure, why not? A deeply-vulnerable admission from a VP working on a virtual event to raise awareness for and offer support to the mental health wellbeing of event professionals who ends up ironically having a mental breakdown in the process? Sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than the standard boring recap.
Seven months later, in July 2022, the content team was laid off.
Our run was short. But as I look back, it’s impossible not to notice the magnitude of our accomplishments — and I think my Beatles parable played a key role in our success.
“I am the walrus” and unhinged brands on social, same vibes
Iconic album art for The Beatles’ groundbreaking “Sgt. Pepper” concept album
In 1966, The Beatles, after an endless cycle of touring and recording, found themselves trapped by their success. Their most recent album, Revolver, experimented with new styles of music and nascent production techniques. But while songs like Tomorrow Never Knows demonstrated their desire to push boundaries and challenge expectations, most of the album never dared to stray too far from "traditional" Beatles music.
Paul McCartney had a wild idea. What if they weren't The Beatles? They could be Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band instead and do whatever the hell they wanted!
The concept of a fictitious band liberated The Beatles from their former "mop-top" image and gifted them the freedom to record an album that is widely considered to be a turning point for The Beatles and music, et al.
The use of sound effects, tape manipulation, and a blend of various genres was a dramatic leap that paved the way for a never-ending list of music artists who followed.
Sgt. Pepper also popularized the concept of a musical alter ego. Without it, we might not have David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust or KISS.
When I told this story to the Hopin content team that day, I wasn't sure if it was anything more than an interesting story to my team. But as Steve Jobs said in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever."
A few days into my unemployment after Hopin, I attended one of Sparktoro's many great Office Hours. During his typical charismatic presentation, Rand Fiskin pulls up an engagement guide we published to the Hopin blog and praised it.
We aspire to grow up and not have to live to see our heroes turn into assholes. Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure to continue having a reason to look up to Rand. But I didn’t have Rand Fishkin, a major influence on your career, will tell a public audience your team’s work is exemplary of a higher standard on my career bingo card.
The high from that day gave me fuel I’m still burning today and don’t think I’ll run empty for a very long time. But my hero’s recognition was overshadowed by knowing all the great work that was ahead of us… until it suddenly wasn’t.
After looking back for so long, the gift of hindsight has allowed me to see how much we accomplished at Hopin.
In terms of the bottom line, I wrote about that here if you’re interested.
Nothing we did, however, holds a candle to the mental health series. I'll save the backstory of these stories for another edition of Marketing Under The Influence. All I’ll say is this: Doing what's right is good for business.
Until next time…