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B2B marketers must get useful and forget about ROI

The importance of ‘Utility’ at the centre of your content marketing was, for me, the standout message at the ‘Culture of Content’ event held in Belgium yesterday (run by Skein in association with B2B Marketing). It was great to see interest and enthusiasm in B2B growing in Europe, and the Belgians seem to have very much bought in, with some excellent presentations from inhouse marketers, agencies and consultants, on all aspects of content marketing.

This conference was novel for me at least because it took place at the offices of an actual B2B manufacturing company – Frisomat, which produces steel framed buildings – and the futuristic venue was effectively part of the showroom, with the company’s products on display in the next room. Outside the front of the adjacent HQ building, there was a large bell, which is still rung every time a significant deal is signed, and all conference attendees heard the hooter at 4.30 which signalled the end of working day for the factory – a strangely charming touch for those of us who have only ever worked in offices, far removed from physical production.

The concept of Utility is the brainchild of US author Jay Bauer, in his book of the same name, but the message seems to have had little trouble crossing the Atlantic or translating itself to new cultures – it seemed to have real traction with the audience of 100 or so B2B practitioners in Antwerp. I’ve not read Bauer’s book (yet – to my shame) although I did see him speak at BMA in Chicago last year, and found his argument that marketing output needs to be useful to its target audience or recipient, above all else, extremely compelling.

It came up numerous times during the various presentations – Tom De Baere of Happifish was a particular advocate, whilst Dominique Verniers of Xerius demonstrated its effectiveness in action, his firm having offered a helpline service to SMEs, even extending to advising how to implement the software offered by rival firms. As Bauer says (I understand) ‘Stop selling and start helping’ – this is altruism indeed, and I’m struggling to see many other B2B companies seeing the bigger picture in this way.

Tom De Baere’s focus on content marketing workflows was particularly novel and therefore interesting to me – I see a lot of focus on the content creation and dissemination challenge, but less about the detailed nitty-gritty of getting the job done within a marketing team, which for me made this session extremely welcome.

Later, Adam Sharp of Clevertouch, who was brought to speak about the role of technology, suggested that marketers need to forget about ROI and migrate to ‘forecasted demand management’, through which they can start actually accurately predicting revenue. Any stick to beat ROI with will surely be welcomed by many B2B marketers. Tom, Dominique and Adam were just three of the excellent speakers that we heard from during the event.

The conference concluded with the message from chairman Erwin Knuyt of Skein that, perhaps sadly, whilst there’s no sign of the sales force disappearing any time soon, content marketing definitely provides more a means for a better kind of engagement with them and (whisper it) even potentially the upper hand in the relationship. So congratulations to the team at Skein for putting on an excellent event – one which we are sure will by the start of a long term association with B2B Marketing. It’s reassuring to know that the business of B2B marketing is alive and well in Belgium.