One of the oldest, and creepiest, adages about the value of content marketing is that you can’t ask someone to marry you on the first date.
Weird as it might feel, there’s a good reason this metaphor has held sway. A marriage is a serious and high-stakes commitment, and nobody wants to enter one without truly feeling like they know and trust their future partner.
In the business realm, purchase influencers and decision makers are under huge pressure to get it right. It’s not enough to understand the product, its price, or its features. Buyers want to believe in the brand and the people behind it.
Increasingly, significant business purchases need to be buoyed by a strong relationship. (The non-romantic type, to be clear.) Smart and strategic content marketing is how those relationships are built.
What Is Relationship Marketing?
The Association of National Advertisers defines relationship marketing as “a strategy of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that emphasizes customer retention, satisfaction, and lifetime customer value.”
Personally I think that description only partially covers the breadth of the strategy and its purpose. As we’ll explore today, relationship marketing is also a powerful – even essential – tool for attracting new high-quality B2B leads that are more likely to convert.
For this reason, I prefer the broader definition provided by HubSpot: “Relationship marketing refers to the marketing strategy of cultivating more meaningful relationships with customers to ensure long-term satisfaction and brand loyalty.”
The process of ensuring long-term satisfaction and brand loyalty can start long before someone makes a purchase with you.
Content is the currency of relationship marketing
There are plenty of jargony definitions of content marketing out there, but what it comes down to is this: creating something of value to a specific type of audience, as a means of bringing those individuals into your brand’s orbit. Great content is what attracts the right people and sparks the journey.
It’s also what sustains and builds upon these relationships. Nine out of 10 B2B buyers say online content has a major or moderate impact on vendor selection.
Simply put, content marketing is your chance to make a first impression that leads to a lasting, fruitful relationship.
Benefits of Building Relationships with B2B Content
Why make content-fueled relationship marketing a fixture in your B2B strategy? Here are five compelling reasons.
1 — Leads are more qualified and advanced
The beauty of a smart SEO-driven content strategy focused on intent is this: audiences engaging with your content are inherently qualifying themselves. By searching out articles, guides, podcasts, or videos focusing on subjects and pain points pertinent to your category, they are raising their hands as the kind of people you want to create trust and awareness with. And when they find quality content from your brand that best answers their questions, you start doing just that.
It’s no surprise, then, that organic search routinely drives the highest conversion rates of any traffic source.
2 — Strong relationships weather the storms of tough times
Business leaders are bracing for a recession in 2023. Economic downturns force difficult decisions. The strong relationships survive.
Research shows brands that continue to invest in advertising during recessions tend to come out stronger on the other end than those that don’t. Why? Because they stayed present for their audiences during a tough period, even while recognizing that purchasing activity may be scaled back.
Strong relationships weather the storms of tough times … especially when they are forged during tough times.
3 — Lopsided focus on demand generation leads to poor results
It is well understood throughout the world of marketing that strong brand awareness contributes to better lead gen ROI. People are more likely to respond to your sales activation campaigns when they’re familiar with your brand.
There’s a reason why campaigns focusing on both brand and acquisition perform six times better than acquisition-only campaigns. It’s much the same reason 75% of shoppers say they’re more likely to buy from a company that knows their name and purchase history.
There’s plenty more data to reinforce this idea, but you probably don’t even need it. Just think about how familiarity and affinity influence decisions in your own life. When you’re choosing a doctor, a babysitter, a financial advisor… with all other things being equal, you’re going to go with the one you already know and like. Right?
Not only does a sharp relationship-focused content strategy help generate demand and convert more customers, it also makes those customers more invested in your brand, increasing the likelihood of upsells, cross-sells, and referrals.
4 — Gain deeper insight about your target audience
A key byproduct of engaging more frequently and intentionally with your prospects and customers is that you learn a lot about them through the process. You find out what type of content they’re engaging with, what channels they’re showing up on, and what they really care about.
The folks at Accenture put together a great playbook on “life centricity,” or the idea of driving growth through relevance.
“To move toward life centricity,” the brief explains, “executives need to see their customers as multifaceted and understand the complex external forces that impact them.”
Step one? “Gain a profound understanding of people.” Relationship marketing, and the data it derives, are among the most effective ways to gain this understanding.
5 — Well liked brands can charge more premium pricing
One of the biggest ways an outstanding brand can add value, aside from attracting and retaining customers, is by enhancing perceived value and enabling you to charge more for goods and services.
Based in consumer psychology, this approach to premium pricing can create a virtuous loop. People will pay more for products or services from a brand they think highly of; meanwhile, when other people see that the brand charges higher prices, they perceive it as being higher-quality or more luxurious than others.
This is not to say anyone should be inflating prices or ripping off their customers. But when companies put real effort into building relationships through their content, service, and resources, it becomes a tangible value-add that justifies a higher price.
I’ll pay more for a pair of shoes if I know their customer service department has my back. I’ll pay more for an ebook if the author automatically opts me into his secret email club.
In the business world, even when a solution fits your needs, there can be real headaches down the line if the company behind it isn’t rock solid. Buyers will pay more to avoid those headaches, and they’ll be happy they did. Relationship-focused content sends that message.
Build Relationships with B2B Leads to Boost Your Pipeline
As B2B grows more complex, more digital, and more impersonal, those companies that focus on creating connections with their audience and making their brand as desirable as their offerings will be the ones that lead the way – even (or especially) in challenging economic times.