Presentations

Building a B2C2B Content Strategy


Roughly two years ago, I was faced with a new challenge: start a new business blog. Take it from 0 to … something.

After 8-months of work with two of the smartest people I know - Brian Balfour and Dan Wolchonok - the Sidekick Blog was alive and running.  

Around this time last year, I shared a presentation on how we launched and initially grew that blog.  

Post-blog launch came the second new challenge on my plate: develop a strategy for turning content into a meaningful revenue channel.  

Sounds simple, right? I’ve been at HubSpot for nearly four years. I could develop a B2B content strategy in my sleep. In fact, that’s what I did.

From June to August 2014, I experimented like cray. I was launching offers, hosting webinars, generating leads … but it didn’t work. I had contacts, I had volume. But no one was converting.

And that was when our eyes opened to the problem: Sidekick isn’t a B2B product. It’s not a B2C product either. It’s instead a part of what the industry is calling the "consumerization of IT." It's B2C2B.  

That brings me to my latest presentation. The following deck covers almost two years of experimenting, learning, executing, failing, adapting, and recovering. It’s a journey that started with me as a one-woman content machine for Sidekick and one that continues today with a five-person content squad.  

This deck doesn't have all the answers, but it's what we’ve figured out so far. If you prefer reading comprehensive copy over visual presentation, the entire, detail-heavy, written version of the presentation is below.  


    

I love telling stories. In our industry, we refer to storytelling as content marketing. How we execute on content varies whether we’re a B2B or B2C business. Here's some quick context on each variation:

B2B: BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS

“A good B2B content strategy often boils down to simply being the most insightful source of information on the work you do.”

B2C: BUSINESS-TO-CONSUMER

“B2C content marketing is often focused on the topics consumers care about; a good B2C content marketing aims to entertain.”

DEFINITIONS VIA CONTENTLY

As I mentioned, I work for Sidekick, a B2C2B product.

What is B2C2B?

B2C2B stands for business-to-consumer-to-business. According to venture capitalist Tomasz Tunguz, B2C2B means “winning hearts and minds of the intermediate consumer, the employees of a company.”

Here's a visual of how it works, adapted from Tomasz' site:

how-b2c2b-works-visual-tomasz-anum



 

Our growth approach for Sidekick is B2C2B. Sidekick is a freemium product that tracks your emails and surfaces helpful contact information right in your inbox.

Imagine this situation:

You work in sales. What feels like every month, some new software is being forced upon you from top leadership. It takes you weeks to get onboarded and months to fully integrate the software into your flow. You feel controlled and aren't happy with the product being forced on you.

Now imagine this situation:

You work in sales. The rep sitting next to you is hustling through emails. You ask him what his secret is and he says Sidekick. You navigate to the product website and try it yourself. You fall in love with it yourself. You tell your friends in sales. Pretty soon everyone on your team is using it and succeeding with it. With the whole team's success, you make a case to your manager to upgrade to premium for unlimited usage. The results are so good he does. Pretty soon other sales teams at the org want the same success.

And like that, an entire company is now paying for Sidekick.

That's what B2C2B should look like - very natural, but strategic word-of-mouth product adoption straight from the end-user. In fact, this is the model behind companies such as LinkedIn, Expensify, Slack, and more. 

So, how do we employ a content strategy in this new B2C2B framework?

On the Sidekick content team, we believe it comes down to four core principles. Throughout this guide, we'll walk through each principle as well as an example of how it comes to life for our team. I've hyperlinked each principle and its subsections so you can easily jump around this guide.
 

Principle 1: Commit to a highly experimental process.

Principle 2: Seek excellence through authentic growth.

Principle 3: Allow data to inform intelligent decisions.

Principle 4: Use technology to drive success at scale

Let's dig deeper into each one.

b2c2b-content-principles-anum-hussain

COMMIT TO A HIGHLY EXPERIMENTAL PROCESS

 

Ladies of the 90s (and gentlemen who had to witness), do you remember the phenomenon of this "one-size-fits-all" popcorn shirt that actually didn't look good on anyone at all? 

From where I see it, one-size-fits-all is to fashion what best practices are to content: a bunch of BS. 

While best practices can inspire us, every decision we make should stem from an experiment. During my time as a one-woman content machine for Sidekick, all my research of the "must-have" content channels pointed to:

  • business blog
  • linkedin pulse
  • gated ebooks
  • slideshare decks
  • SEO web pages

With our experimental model in mind, I began testing each. Let's use LinkedIn Pulse as an example to review what this looked like: 

clipboard-top-anum

Experiment
To understand if LinkedIn Pulse can become a scalable channel for driving activated users for Sidekick.

Hypothesis: 
Based on what we could gather, if this experiment is successful, we predict it would add 201 new activated users because -    

*31,000 views x 0.65% conversion rate = 201 activated users.    

*31,000 views = avg # of views a post from influencer program .65% = rough avg %of people who activate after reading getsidekick.com/blog

Strategy
Since there was little understanding of this channel, we tested with an efficient, low investment way to garner some data about ROI. Since it was only available for individual users (not brands), our experiment involved republishing previously successful content under Mark Roberge’s profile with the following tactics:

1. text-based CTA at end of post
2. intro copy linking back to sidekick blog
3. click-to-tweet links
4. landing-page style post
5. hyperlink images
6. image/button CTAs

Performance
linkedin-pulse-performance

Results
linkedin-pulse-performance-results
** We also generated 17 new blog subscribers. 

Conclusion
Currently, LinkedIn Publishing has not shown enough positive viability as a core content channel for Sidekick.

With limited resources, we get better ROI on our time other channels. We may use LinkedIn to help support other goals - such as getting an offer more attention or recycling some content.


This experimental framework guided us through every channel we attempted to make work for the B2C2B funnel. Here were the results for all the aforementioned channels:

 business blog - a business blog is at the core of most content strategies. While we had to find our own strategy to break through the clutter, as discussed here, our experimental approach guided us along the way. 

x linkedin pulse - as shown above, this channel was one that did not prove enough value to be included in our playbook.

x gated ebooks - we'll be learning more about why this did not work in principle two. 

slideshare decks - a big channel for the Sidekick strategy. We've created a collection of guides that return us with new Sidekick users monthly. 

SEO web pages - a big win for our B2C2B content strategy, more to be shared on this in principle three. 


By August 2014, we had a strong grasp on the channels that would sit on our B2C2B toolkit. But now it was time to figure out how to actually measure our success here, which brings us to principle two ... but first a review of this one. 

 

minion-teaching-b2c2b Principle Review: Avoid blindly following best practices and focus instead on uncovering what works best for your own audience. [Click to Tweet]

 

[Back to Top ↑]

b2c2b-content-principles-anum-hussain

SEEK EXCELLENCE THROUGH AUTHENTIC GROWTH

 

Most growth teams seek authentic growth through active usage. This typically is defined by either DAU, WAU, or MAU:

DAU: DAILY ACTIVE USER
unique amount of users who are "active" within a day

WAU: WEEKLY ACTIVE USER
unique amount of users who are "active" within a week

MAU: MONTHLY ACTIVE USER
unique amount of users who are "active" within a month

We measure Sidekick in WAUs. We use a set of criteria that shows if users are getting value from our product every week. That core metric helps us monitor the success of our B2C2B growth.

To support this authentic product growth, we set on a mission to turn content into a meaningful revenue channel.

Fortunately for B2B content teams, that path to revenue is clear - fuel inbound lead generation from visitors --> leads --> customers.

But here sits the problem with inbound lead flow in the B2C2B funnel: You don't have a sales team focused on nurturing these leads. 

While our content team drives new user acquisition, our sales team turns those free users into paying users. Rather than spending their calls getting people bought into the concept of Sidekick, our sales team is onboarding and upgrading the users we're already acquiring through content or paid channels. 

Mark Roberge calls this "adopt before you buy."

quote

Our sales reps aren’t calling up leads; we rely on our growth marketing channels to bring in new, free users. Our sales team then takes a targeted cohort of that free user base and explains how they can unlock even more value by upgrading to a paid tier. The people we talk to have already adopted our product, our ‘sales conversation’ is simply a matter of buying more usage.

mark-roberge @markrobergeHUBSPOT CRO 

 

Therefore, there is not stage where content lead generation is relevant - hence gated ebooks making the "failed experiments" list in principle one. 

So ... if content leads are not the input to revenue in a B2C2B content strategy …  how do we build this meaningful revenue channel in the B2C2B context? 

Well, we decided to apply the same authentic growth metric behind product to content. Just as a B2C2B product measures its success through monthly active users, we measure our content's success through monthly active subscribers. [Click to Tweet]

MAS: MONTHLY ACTIVE SUBSCRIBERS

noun

1. an individual subscribed to content and clicking through on that content through emails

2. definition used by Sidekick content team to monitor authentic audience growth 

Monthly-active-sidekick-subscriber-growth-1

While we aim to rapidly grow our email list, we focus more on how many subscribers are actively engaged. Are our subscribers interested in our content post-signup? What does it take to go from a vanity list based on volume to an incredibly engaged list of loyal readers? 

For far too long, list building has purely been about that one *shiny* number of list size. From where we stand, list engagement outpowers list size. In fact, we even routinely churn our list of inactive subscribers to focus on engaging loyal subscribers who play a part in our long-term success and growth. 

From where we stand, looking purely at “views” can fog our vision while ensuring active engagement allows us to assess our content’s true effectiveness. 

 

minion-teaching-b2c2b Principle Review: It’s far too easy to get caught up in vanity metrics – push you or your team to pursue meaningful metrics for authentic growth. [Click to Tweet]

 

[Back to Top ↑]

b2c2b-content-principles-anum-hussain

ALLOW DATA TO INFORM INTELLIGENT DECISIONS

 

Alright, so as we've learned, gated ebooks and lead generation are not at a part of B2C2B's core content strategy ... then how are we getting people to our product ultimately?

To figure this out, I turned to the smart folks at HelpScout. Ever since I began creating content, I've been obsessed with HelpScout's resources. Every resource is a thorough, ungated, web page guide. Their customer acquisition guide particularly caught my attention for one big reason:

When you Google "customer acquisition" in incognito (to rid of any personalized search results), the HelpScout guide ranks above Wikipedia. With Wikipedia's powerful domain authority and mass of content, that is insanely difficult to accomplish. But this result inspired our own SEO strategy - without gated ebooks on landing pages, it made sense to go the route of ungated, comprehensive web page guides.

We call these guides site pages. This past summer, we ended up creating around eight site pages (shout out to up-and-coming marketing all-star Cambria Davies for the bulk of the work on these). Click on any of the icons below to check out a sample of them:

email-etiquette-guide-icon follow-up-email-guide-icon email-tracking-guide-icon


After launching six new site pages, we began averaging 10%+ W/W organic traffic growth. Better yet, as organic traffic from content continues to compound, we're essentially doubling traffic every (roughly) six weeks. 

So DAMN right?! Time for the team to celebrate our success?

Not exactly.

Although organic traffic was moving up-and-to-the-right in interesting waves, it wasn't necessarily because of what we initially intended - aka, the sole creation of site pages.

After digging into the data, we uncovered a spectrum of key learnings. Here's three sample learnings to illustrate this principle:

Learning 1: Updating historical blog content with related site page links helped increase organic traffic for the old blog post as well as the new site page.

Let's review an example post in this bucket to explain the impact we discovered. One of our well-performing posts followed this organic traffic growth pattern: 

blog-seo-growth-b2c2b-content-strategy

1. We launched this post in late 2014 and naturally saw some slight organic traffic kick in. 

2. In early 2015, the post saw a few spikes in traffic but always dipped back down again.

3. In the summer of 2015, we republished the post with optimized links to a new, related site page (also referred to as "optimizing the past"), and saw organic traffic spike again.

4. After the re-publish with added site page relevancy, organic traffic didn't dip again but instead now continues to grow at a new bar of weekly search traffic to the post. 

Learning 2: Organic traffic from site pages is growing at a faster rate than that from blog posts.

At the time of this analysis, we had published 132 blog posts. These 100 posts were contributing to our growing organic traffic.

Meanwhile, we published less than a dozen site pages that were contributing almost as much traffic - in fact, these site pages were growing in how much traffic they contributed at a far faster rate. This clearly signaled that our site pages are meaningfully contributing to our end goal, even if not as the sole reason.

Learning 3: Doubling down on the same topic across all content (site pages + blog) is where maximum growth is achieved. 

Okay so we learned about the blog and site pages, but how are these two content types contributing to one another?

Part of our research strategy for site page creation was evaluating historic blog content to surface posts with proven success. Of the posts that did well, we re-purposed similarly-themed posts into one comprehensive site page.

Here's how this looks: With the new repurposed piece, we now had a full site page on topic A with a series of blog posts already published on topic A. We then linked all these content pieces to one another, ultimately showing vast knowledge on topic A to Google.

As a result, the more we wrote on that subject and linked all the related pieces together, the higher we ranked in SERP for all terms related to topic A. So clearly, showing topical expertise across content was a key component to our growth.

topic-authority-google-rankings

These three findings helped us further develop our SEO strategy as it relates to content: We now go beyond site pages and have SEO research transcend all the content we create, regardless of type. Essentially we're at the core of our own version of what Moz and others have been discussing for a while: Stop thinking keywords, start thinking topics

But the main lesson here isn't in how SEO is the flame fueling B2C2B content growth, but how we have to constantly be looking at the data we have available to watch how every input to our strategy is playing out. Even when all is well, we shouldn't keep from questioning why we're succeeding. In our case, we uncovered insights that will (hopefully) help us succeed at a more rapid rate. 

(Want to hear more about our unfolding SEO strategy and the other learnings we uncovered? Subscribe below for a future presentation in the works).

 

minion-teaching-b2c2b Principle Review: Surface-level insights paint only half the picture. Dig deeper and uncover learnings that can continue developing your own content strategy. [Click to Tweet]

 

[Back to Top ↑]

b2c2b-content-principles-anum-hussain

USE TECHNOLOGY TO DRIVE SUCCESS AT SCALE

 

Experiments got us to the right channels. Authentic measurement helps us monitor success. And digging into the data helps us move in faster, more impactful ways. That leaves scalability - fortunately that's what this last principle hones in on.

As one of the three members of HubSpot's first growth team, I was lucky enough to work alongside Dan Wolchonok, senior product manager for Sidekick. As our new user experience (NUX) team grew, Dan led the team's product growth efforts. The whole crew became obsessed with user retention - aka, the number of users that stick around from one time period to another, according to Andrew Chen. So the higher Sidekick's retention became, the stronger our userbase stayed long-term.

Dan and his crew ultimately launched 60 onboarding experiments to figure out a new user welcome flow that would contribute to this retention growth. They tested, reiterated, and tested again until something clicked. 

retention-growth-sidekick-product

 

This entire concept - giving new users value within their first interactions with your product for long-term retention - made me think more about current content subscription models:

Step 1: Reader subscribes.

A standard step reflecting some form of opt-in for content.

Step 2: Reader receives "subscription complete" email.

Another standard step where a confirmation email - some funnier than others - is sent to make 100% clear that the reader has successfully joined the email list.

Step 3: Receive next content piece.

Whatever that blog publishes next will be received by the reader.

This model is fundamentally a waste of potential value. Think about it: If an optimized user onboarding flow leads to longer user retention, wouldn’t an optimized subscriber flow result in a similar impact? 

With that question in mind, I began running our own content onboarding experiments to better understand how we can give our readers immense value upon sign up to retain them as monthly active subscribers for an extended period of time. 

In fact, Ty Magnin adopted this practice of applying user onboarding strategies to the Appcues blog, leading to a 50% reduction in subscriber churn. Pretty awesome, huh? He first heard about this tactic from Greg Ciotti at HelpScout, so needless to say, there's value in giving this a try yourself. 

While we still have a long way to go and can learn more, the content onboarding we have in place currently is already proving useful.

Step 1: Reader subscribers.

This is still a standard step where some human is opting in for some content.

Step 2: Reader enters drip campaign.

Here's where things get slightly different. Our hypothesis was that the higher the engagement with subscribers was early on, the longer those subscribers would retain as monthly active subscribers.

To make this happen, we had new subscribers enter a four-week email workflow that sends them our top performing content. So now instead of receiving whatever post we publish next - whether that post crushes it or tanks completely - new readers receive content with a higher likelihood of engaging them. 

The early results seem to prove our hypothesis true. These workflow emails generate 2x the clickthrough rate as our normal weekly sends – an indication that first impressions really do count. We attribute part of the growth of our MAS in principle two to these experiments around improving content onboarding. 

Step 3: Reader receives new posts.

Once the four week workflow is complete, readers move from the drip campaign to our official subscriber list where they will receive new content as it's published and shared with the result of the list. And as a result of the higher engagement during content onboarding, they now have a stronger rate of giving our future content a click and retaining as readers.

As anyone could easily point out, this content onboarding flow uses technology in it's simplest form: setting up smart drip campaigns. 

Looking to the future, there's far more technology can do to further the impact and effectiveness of our content. One of the biggest opportunities we see is around personalization. 

You may be thinking, really? Personalization?

We're not discussing the "personalization" we all see today - ya know, where a company can say "Hi {First Name}," in the beginning of an email. We mean something far more customized than that. 

Current content subscription models work in a basic form: subscribers join an email list and on some frequency receive the same post as everyone on the list. Sure there's some basic segmentation that happens by role, geography, or the like, but current email models are still far from understanding the vast idiosyncrasies of every human in our database

In other words, we're looking at "mass personalization." Here's how my manager explains it:

quote

With the explosion of content, automation, and a bunch of other things, end customers are getting bombarded with more and more noise. To break through that noise, companies need to get more personalized.

One simple example: A company shouldn’t blast the same set of blog posts to their entire subscriber list.  Nor do a few segmented variations suffice in the future.  Everyone should receive a much more personalized experience based on their interests and behavior.  The level of granularity needs to get much finer.  An email list that you might segment four ways today may be segmented hundreds of ways in the future.  

More personalized = increased Opens, CTR’s, list retention, etc."

balfour @bbalfourHUBSPOT VP OF GROWTH 


Although the path to mass personalization, or any other use case for how technology scales content in the future, has yet to be invented, it's clear that technology will play a big role in the next evolution of content.

 

minion-teaching-b2c2b Principle Review: Uncover what growth levers can supercharge your content process into a well-oiled machine of value. [Click to Tweet]

 

[Back to Top ↑]


Our B2C2B content strategy is in motion, but we fully recognize it's not set-in-stone. We test, fail, learn, and grow everyday. There's a genius crew working to figure it out. As we do, these four principles help keep us in check:

clipboard-top

Avoid blindly following best practices and focus instead on uncovering what works best for your own audience. 

It’s far too easy to get caught up in vanity metrics – push you or your team to pursue meaningful metrics for authentic growth. 

Surface-level insights paint only half the picture. Dig deeper and uncover learnings that can continue developing your own content strategy

Uncover what growth levers can supercharge your content process into a well-oiled machine of value. 


Shoutout to three incredible folks for the coffee chats, the geek out sessions, and the overall inspiration / support in developing this strategy: Brian Balfour, Ivana Flodr, and Hiten Shah

Think this is a strategy you can get behind? We're hiring on the Sidekick Content Team. If you're a content crazy like me who wants to jump on board and own the internet, let's chat - my email is my twitter handle [at] hubspot [dot] com.

 

Let's own the internet together. Subscribe for email updates.

Sup. I'm Anum. ✌ 

anum-hussain-speaking-at-inbound-about-blogging

 

And I'm not a content "thought leader."

Or a social media "guru."

 

I'm simply a growth marketer who spends every day strategizing, executing, and experimenting with the two channels I'm most obssessed with. 

 

Here you'll discover my learnings / thoughts - all packaged in easy-to-experience presentations. Feel free to subscribe for one new presentation every month or so. ☺