Trial, discount or brand: How does B2B work in sponsored content?

By
Daniel Conn
,
CRO @ ThoughtLeaders
May 13, 2020

Do business decision-makers listen to podcasts? How do you reach fortune 500 CEOs? This week we explore how B2B works in sponsored content.


What is B2B?

B2B can mean a lot of different things to different people. “Selling to a business” can equally mean selling to someone doing paid design work for the very first time or selling to a Fortune 500 corporation.

In this study, we’re going to give B2B a quick look up and down to see if we can learn some lessons about the approaches B2B marketers take when using sponsored content.

We have a few approaches to segmentation available to us, and starting with the Target Groups seems like a reasonable way to go. We could also look at Format (YouTube, podcast and newsletter) or the Promotion category (trial, discount or brand) as segmentations, but these variables make more sense as layers to filter by once we have already defined the focus on Target Groups.


So now that we’re focusing on Groups, let’s take a look at what we’re working with. We can break down the strata of B2B into four categories based on the target audience:

Freelancer: Solo worker profile, typically providing creative services although not exclusively. 

Mom and Pop: Any small business in any category could be online or highstreet. They have liabilities but are not big enough to reasonably split up into departments. The buyer, therefore, is commonly the owner.

SMB: Similar to Mom and Pop, SMBs can also be high street or online. The differentiator at this level is the clearly defined departments segmented by role, and the target is typically the head of that department. 

Enterprise: Now we’re into the world of corporate procurement processes. Finding your buyer is complicated by the overall size of the organization.


Who is doing the sponsoring?

Freelancer

The one man band, typically a creativepreneur, a designpreneur or a videographreneur (may have made some of these up…)


Storyblocks

The brand Storyblocks is a content creator’s tool kit, a suite of resources for getting professional content out to the masses quickly (I should write their copy!). 

They are targeting heavily on YouTube. 

Storyblocks has been investing heavily into YouTube for a long period of time and although has some experimentation in newsletter and podcast, the clear winner, as we can see in the charts below, is the video platform.

The question is - are they alone, or is this a common conclusion? To answer this query, let’s have a quick look at a couple of other brands that fit a similar bill. 

Fiverr and Envato similarly are targeting the creative entrepreneur and undoubtedly YouTube dominates the space. 


These companies are clearly finding success so if you are looking to reach the creator/creative freelancer profile, YouTube represents a great opportunity.

When we dive into the content we can see examples of how the message comes across.

In the examples below, we can see that Envato is leveraging a 70% discount offer whereas Storyblocks does not put the offer in the video itself, but rather offers a 50% discount on an annual option when you arrive on the landing page.


These brands all have a lot in common: they’re operating in a highly competitive market, have a low price entry point, and are therefore extremely sensitive with media pricing considerations.

The question is, what if your entire business model isn’t around creatives, but they DO represent a segment of your business. Could you leverage these same channels?

Freshbooks

Freshbooks has been steadily growing its presence amongst YouTubers like Will Paterson who runs a design channel with really similar messaging to the main brands above.



Mom and Pop

Once we break into the next business size the media landscape changes significantly. We move heavily into the Podcast world. 


LegalZoom

LegalZoom is a provider of legal services for small businesses, those essentially that don’t have an internal legal department.

It’s exactly the profile of a company that is targeting the owner/founder profile because there won’t be legal services in-house.

Format Focus

We can see that the  brands’ approach slants heavily to Podcast having featured on approximately 70 podcasts to date. 

Recently after years of playing around with sponsorship they have spiked on Podcasts as you can see below.


The question is what podcasts are they featuring on? The last 3 that LegalZoom was featured on are as follows:

Valleycast:

The Charlie Kirk show: 




Adam Corolla show:


It stretches the imagination to call these business podcasts. We can see in these examples that LegalZoom appears alongside brands like Betterhelp, ExpressVPN, and Lifelock. In this case LegalZoom is marketing a B2B brand like a B2C brand - and it makes sense to do so.

The small business owner is almost as numerous as the consumer and reaching them requires scale built into the approach, which would explain why a service such as LegalZoom would be using large scale audiences on some of the biggest podcasts around.

We can also see from the integration that LegalZoom is hinting at savings by using the redemption code. I have to say, though, trying to find where to enter your redemption code on the LegalZoom site is indeed a challenge. 


Let’s look at another brand marketing to Mom and Pops in a very similar way but with a better designed funnel.

ZipRecruiter

ZipRecruiter offers DIY recruitment for small businesses and is one of the biggest in the game when it comes to podcast sponsorship.

Let’s have a look at their approach to sponsorship on the Adam Corolla Show. In this example we are seeing a custom domain promoted over a coupon code and the end result is a much more appealing landing:



The landing page below clearly welcomes the listeners in a way that LegalZoom’s offer has not by offering an easy free sign up. LegalZoom is clearly getting the value they want out of their podcast advertising based on their spend trajectory but it could be dramatically improved by making the landing page easier to use.



SMB
Once we get into the world of SMB the mass marketing approach of a LegalZoom or a ZipRecruiter becomes less appealing. After all, how many of Adam Carolla’s listeners can be an email marketing specialist at an eCommerce company?


Klaviyo

Klaviyo positions itself as an email marketing platform with a focus on eCommerce. Their strapline is “Where eCommerce businesses come to grow”.
This narrowing of the focus must have an impact on the types of sponsorships they undertake.

Format Focus

If we look below we can see that podcasts dominate but newsletters as well start to become a useful promotional mechanism.

In addition, if we dive into the categories of the content, we can see that by far and away the largest segment is the marketing category followed by business and entrepreneurship. We are starting to see the segmentation of a category that comes with targeting a specific role.


Let’s have a look at some examples:

On May 8th Klaviyo appeared both in the Entrepreneurs on Fire podcast and in the EoF newsletter that runs parallel. Jake Cohen is the head of Product Marketing at Klaviyo and a guest of the show. On the exact same day they are running an offer in the EoF newsletter.

This is a great example of using multiple levels and approaches to content sponsorship and is an approach so well-suited to B2B.

Another approach we are seeing is the content piece like this example, seen in the specifically marketing-focused Digiday Daily newsletter.


Klaviyo is a great example of a company with a well rounded multi-faceted sponsored content strategy, one that is clearly working given the consistent growth they have had over the past two years.

But what about the behemoth that is Salesforce? We can see that they actually take a remarkably similar approach to Klaviyo.

We can see Salesforce’s integration in this recent edition of Fast Company with a resources-focused content approach:

Salesforce is equally likely to do a more standard podcast approach such as the episode below:



These companies can still use offers, discounts and trials in their promotions but are clearly marked by the fact that the content they appear in is almost exclusively business-related, and they do clearly try to pick out specific user profiles.


Enterprise

Now we’re in the world of corporate. This is squarely in the branding budget. No one is counting lead gen here and we see this reflected in the approaches that brands like Deloitte take…

Deloitte

Deloitte, one of the big four ‘masters’ of the corporate world wants to let you, Fortune 500 CEO, know that as you have your nootropic breakfast after the 3am workout and read the news, they are at the forefront of stuff. 

Format Focus

We can see that Deloitte has in the past two years scaled their sponsorships significantly, almost exclusively in newsletters.


When we dive into it, though, we can see that they have put their eggs in one or two very specific baskets. Wall Street Journal and Fortune. That’s where you find important CEO types - so that’s where to sponsor. Deloitte has been in the Wall Street Journal’s various newsletters as a sponsor 633 times! 

They aren’t the only ones at it. Of course, the WSJ is taken up by Deloitte pretty much exclusively from what we can see, so looks like IBM will have to make do with the Washington Post.

The question is, can this be all there is for the Enterprise space in sponsored content? Is it simply taking what was already happening in the newspapers 30 years ago and just taking it online?

I’d say no.

Senior leadership of major corporations make regular appearances as podcast guests and the podcasts they appear on are a fantastic format for diving deep into complicated subjects.

I’d like to see a scaled enterprise marketing approach on podcast. After all, they aren’t going to be using those airport billboards for a while.



Sponsored content can be used by all types of businesses selling to other businesses, whether that’s a one-man band or the largest of corporates.

Promotions, content, trials… anything and everything is being used, and often in coordination. How well are your brand and growth marketers diving into the same landscape to understand how to cooperate with and support each other’s goals?


B2B is only growing in sponsored content and at ThoughtLeaders we’re excited to help brands shape their strategies.