We’ve all heard the notion that the customer is king. It’s our job to serve them up everything they need to seamlessly travel through the customer journey. This is true for every industry, not just B2B. Even the medical, freight and insurance industries need to curate content experiences for their audiences, but it’s often the case that these industries are a little behind on adopting strategies widely used in others.
At the upcoming B2B Marketing Exchange, Mike Ruby, Creative Director at Flexport, a freight forwarding and customs brokerage company, will share how the brand shook up the freight industry by creating a steady stream of timely, educational and compelling content that touches on various hot topics in the industry. We sat down with Mike to get a preview of the session, as well as to hear his perspective on the state of content marketing.
B2B Marketing Exchange: You’re speaking in the C2C track this year. What, in your opinion, is the state of content marketing today? What trends are you seeing in the space?
Mike Ruby: Content marketing is bifurcated. On one hand, a more apt name for today’s content marketing is “DIScontent marketing.” According to recent Edelman research, nearly a third of the B2B decision makers they surveyed rate the overall quality of the thought leadership they consume as “mediocre to very poor.” Ouch. There is such an abundance of content out there, and it’s growing exponentially. So much volume, so many channels, so much chatter — and, unfortunately, so much sameness. I call it “white paper white noise” — a veritable sea of assets that are too often focused on hard selling products or juicing SEO instead of addressing the issues that keep buyers up at night.
On the other hand, it’s incredibly encouraging to see more and more brands, both big and small, digging in and developing useful, shareable, participatory content experiences. Yes, that means employing more interactive methods, like video, podcasting, digital experiences and augmented/mixed reality. But much more than formats or channels, there’s a growing understanding that content experience is customer experience. Differentiated content is key to a differentiated customer experience. And, for successful brands, that content is increasingly customer-centric instead of company-centric.
Today’s business buyers, like consumers, are empowered with technology to control their customer journeys. The brand and customer experiences often begin long before a prospect raises his/her hand — and it extends far past the purchase. Content experiences are the currency that builds and strengthens brand perceptions, preference and relationships.
At the same time, the myths about what a business buyer will read, watch or listen to are finally breaking down; great content is informational and, dare I say, can be entertaining and satisfying. For example, if a person enjoys listening to podcasts, odds are they might like a podcast that will help him/her learn about things associated with being better at their work.
B2BMX: Seeing as the freight industry tends to be slower to adopt content marketing practices often seen in other industries, what was the driving force behind Flexport’s decision to dabble in crafting content experiences?
Ruby: At Flexport, our mission is to make global trade easy for everyone. Empowering clients with information, tools and resources they can use to improve their supply chains is part and parcel of realizing that mission. From early on, we’ve offered a robust Help Center filled with information, data and tools. We’ve published a weekly “Freight Market Update” that shippers rely on for current ocean and air freight rates and trends, as well as customs and trade industry news. So, I wouldn’t say we’ve dabbled so much as doubled down on creating more and deeper content experiences to meet our clients’ increasing need for information and clarity — from long-form guides, thought leadership hubs on tariffs and analyses from our Chief Economist to rich client videos and a customer conference that are focused more on engagement and education than hard selling.
There’s never been more complexity in global trade. Tariff wars. Continually evolving regulations. An uncertain global economy. The call for greater environmental sustainability. We’ve got a front-row seat for all of it at Flexport. And we’ve recognized the opportunity to leverage our unique data-driven perspective to give shippers the information and best practices they need to make smarter decisions about their supply chains. At the same time, our content experiences enable us to generate leads, nurture opportunities and strengthen customer relationships, as well. Content marketing is marketing, after all.
B2BMX: What was the biggest hurdle the Flexport team had to overcome during the process?
Ruby: Keeping up with demand is a lucky problem to have. The more we create, the more the appetite for content experiences from clients and our internal teams grows. If we have to miss a week publishing a newsletter, we’re chased for it. We publish a thought leadership microsite for one area of the business, and a leader in another business area says, “I want one of those!” At the same time, the pace of change in global trade today is such that it can change as fast as a president can tweet. Keeping up with what people want and need — or need but didn’t know they wanted — is the new name of the game.
After you’ve created the content engine, maintaining and scaling it becomes a process of its own. The challenge is finding the “Goldilocks Zone” of neither creating too much nor too little content, so you don’t overburden your teams or your audiences. But, again, it’s the best kind of challenge to take on!
B2BMX: What else can you share about your presentation? What is one main takeaway you want your audience to go back to their office with?
Ruby: CX is CX is CX: customer experience is content experience is customer experience.
The customer journey today begins and carries on far past the traditional sales process. The content and marketing experiences we create manifest our customer experience. They enhance it. They differentiate it. So, as marketers, we need to understand how all facets of our businesses impact customer experience — because our content experiences can play pivotal roles everywhere, throughout the customer lifecycle.
I hope that the audience can walk away reaffirmed that we each have unique stories to tell as B2B marketers, and that we can create powerful experiences to vivify them. Powerful doesn’t mean “big” or “expensive.” You don’t need to have what some might consider a “sexy” industry or product. Powerful means focusing on the things that are important to customers and creating assets that are useful, participatory and shareable. In my presentation, I’ll walk through some of our content experience journey at Flexport, our processes and best practices and how customer experience and content experience drive business impact.
And, if you’ve ever wondered how the goods you buy travel from a factory on the other side of the world all the way to the store shelf or to your doorstep via big metal containers, you’ll learn about that extraordinarily complex and fascinating process, too! Trade is a uniquely human behavior. What better subject for exploring customer experience?
B2BMX: What are you hoping to get out of your time at B2BMX? Are there any sessions you’re looking forward to?
Ruby: I’m looking forward to being inspired! I’m sure I’ll come back from B2BMX with ideas and energy, fueled by the stories I hear and people I meet. As far as sessions, I’m particularly excited for Todd Henry’s keynote. I’m currently reading his book, “Herding Tigers,” and I’m keen to hear his perspective on how to foster a deeper creative culture across teams. I’m also very excited for the Killer Content Awards, where our team is a finalist for two “Finnys.” Fingers crossed!
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