B2B Marketer Spotlight: John Hall, CEO, Influence & Co.

John Hall

John Hall, author of the book “Top Of Mind” and CEO of Influence & Co., is a recurring guest at our event each February and a go-to marketing speaker and source for events to attend, trends to follow and what’s next for content marketing and B2B strategy. In his new book, building trust within your target audience is the focal point of delivering consistent value for target audiences.

In this Q&A with Hall, he shares tips and best practices on how to develop a content marketing program that engages audiences that matter most, while also providing details on some of the main topics and themes from his new book.

An interesting chapter in the book is titled, “Building Relationships By Helping Others.” Can you share a little glimpse into the concept of cause marketing, how helpfulness relates to content marketing and if there are applications for this within the B2B sectors?

A big part of facilitating your own success is by also helping your peers and customers out as much as possible. I’m not saying you should be a blind advocate, rather you should be more than willing to support another influencer, industry professional or business leader if you believe in their cause and would like to expect the same out of them. How you help others is a direct reflection of your personal brand, therefore being helpful not only helps others, but it helps yourself too.

There is also a chapter on “Being Transparent and Likable.” Those two characteristics may not always go together, but you talk a lot here about not always being self-promotional and focusing on adding value. These seem like fundamental content practices a lot of brands don’t understand. Can you share some quick tips on how you are seeing brands address these issues? 

I like to follow IDEA Communication, a phrase I coined to help me keep myself in check and make sure I’m being transparent, allowing my natural self to come through and avoiding promotion.

  1. Industry-leading—Do you discuss something unique and innovative? Something that other people aren’t already providing?
  2. Data-driven—Include data to back up your claims as much as possible. It shows you care about concrete evidence, hence making your claims even more powerful.
  3. Educational—Are you focusing on providing knowledge above all? This will help you avoid promotion as you tend to stick more towards sharing knowledge.
  4. Amusing—Give your audience an enjoyable read. Let your personality shine through and you’ll show your true, authentic self.

If you are always offering content that is valuable in one of the above ways or, hopefully, more than one, you will keep an audience engaged so that they come to you as a trusted source for information.

You also talk about how important it is to be clear on “why you’re communicating in the first place.” Is this an important step a lot of content marketers skip? What other tips would you share around this? 

I don’t know necessarily know if a lot of content marketers skip this; I just think that it’s sort of something that gets less focus. So many content marketers focus on “what” they push instead of “why” they’re doing content at all. Focusing on the “why” keeps the big picture in focus and makes you more aware of your larger goals and, therefore, more important results. A great way to keep this in mind is to establish a “why” for each piece of content you create before getting started, then ask yourself if the result meets it.

There is a chapter in the book titled, “Beyond The Marketing Department,” where you talk about building a team of thought leaders. Is this a hard concept for a lot of companies to grasp? Do most brands still think of content as simply the marketing team’s job? 

Yes. It’s absolutely hard for companies to grasp and there are huge barriers that prevent this in larger companies. Departments are separated right now and they don’t always look out for each other’s best interests. The brands that are winning are companies that go across party lines and departments to work together.

I’ll give you an example with thought leadership content that we have learned from. When we started the company, we simply thought that creating and distributing content from the key leadership would be great to build trust with potential sales. As time went on, we realized what we were developing was an incredible asset for the company. The insights, experiences, and vision coming from core leadership aren’t just about sales. That can also be used in attracting talent, training or even communicating to investors. Once a company realizes that you can create assets used within several departments, they will start increasing the ROI as a company and not just for marketing.

You also talk about the importance of having content for every stage of the buyer’s journey, and the importance of “strategic distribution.” Can you expand on this a bit? 

A lot of people think that companies can only have one thought leader to see true success from content marketing. That isn’t true. Your team plays a big part in the success of your company’s content marketing—be it from crowdsourcing content ideas or helping with distribution. I do think most brands think of content as the marketing team’s job and I think it’s because, in business, it’s easy to compartmentalize everything.

We’re so busy that we like to section off our “duties” based on department, but the sooner everyone realizes that content isn’t a one person (or one department) show, the more results they’ll see. A buyer’s frame of mind, concerns, questions, etc. are completely different at each stage of the journey. Therefore, having content that addresses each question and concern at each stage of the journey shows the buyer that you completely understand what they’re going through, what they need and that you can be the trusted partner they need to help alleviate and address those concerns and questions.

Strategic distribution helps get your content seen by the right people. Once you create content, you can’t just sit back and wait for something to happen. In fact, once your content goes live or is released, your work isn’t done in the slightest. You must find where your audience is engaged and put your content there for them to find. You must do your part to be seen and share your content with as many people as possible on the platforms and channels you know your audience is already engaged on.

Do these same principles you describe in the book apply equally for B2B organizations, or are there different approaches you suggest for B2B marketers? 

Absolutely the same approach. Honestly, I think they are even more important for B2B marketers. Trust is important across any business relationship, but in B2B a lot of times the customer is working with the business because of the people behind the business. It’s important that you are truly thinking about the best ways to engage your customers so don’t just trust the company, but the people behind it.

You have attended out B2B Marketing Exchange event, do you feel like the agenda and sessions there are well aligned with some of the topics you cover in the book? 

I do. I think the B2B Marketing Exchange does a really great job at educating their audience. It’s a conference I recommend to my Forbes readers and to other business leaders. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen a keynote there that covers this helpfulness mindset as a marketer and the psychology behind short-term to long-term memory. However, that’s been somewhat new content for me to develop so I wouldn’t expect it. Overall, I’ve been very happy with their content when I have dropped by.

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