How to turn B2B brands into thought leaders, with Mark Raffan

March 23, 2022


Mark Raffan was almost eaten by great white sharks. Yes, he shares that story. He also shares how B2B brands can become thought leaders by investing in content marketing. Here’s what we cover:

  • why B2B orgs should invest in content
  • getting stakeholder buy-in for content
  • insourcing vs outsourcing content
  • amplifying content with influencers

Connect with Mark on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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John Tyreman:  Hi gang. Welcome to episode 44 of the Digital Marketing Troop where we interview marketing leaders and practitioners to help you learn more about digital marketing. I’m your host, John Tyreman. And I am joined today by Mark Raffan, Founder and CEO of Content Callout and Host of the Negotiations Ninja Podcast. And we are here to talk about how to turn B2B brands into category thought leaders with content marketing. Mark, it’s great to have you on the show. I have to ask though, in your bio, it says that you almost died while cage diving with white sharks. Can you tell that story?

Mark Raffan:  Yeah, well, first of all, thank you so much for having me on, John. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you and it’s such a pleasure to talk to your listeners today. And yes, it did feel like at the time I was going to die. So I’m originally from South Africa, lots of great white sharks in South Africa. And I had a few years ago taken my wife to South Africa to visit family, do some backpacking, enjoy ourselves down there. One of the things that we wanted to do was to go shark diving. And there’s a lot of amazing outfits that get you to do that and they’ll pick you up, take you to the location, feed you breakfast and take you out. What I found, and I didn’t know this about myself before, is that I get horrifically seasick going on boats. And so I fed the fishes on the way out to the location and got to the location. And we were about to get into the cage, but it sort of goes in stages. And the way that the cage works is it hangs off the side of the boat, really well structured, reinforced, right? Like, solid piece of metal that really there’s nothing that’s going to get into. But I was nervous, obviously, because we’re about to get into water with great white sharks. And that’s not a small thing. And so I was standing on the side of the boat feeling horrifically sick, just thinking that I wanted the day to end and almost wishing a shark would eat me at that point, because I was so so sick, and my wife was like, super pumped and bubbly about it. And she was trying to reassure me that everything was gonna be okay. Anyway, the group that was ahead of us got into the cage, you could only get four people in at a time and it was surface supplied air, right? The air was coming off of the boat And then they had these regulators that you could suck on basically to get the air out. And then the idea is that they chum the water basically, to bring in these great white sharks. And then you can view the great white sharks from the cage. Now, having been on top of the boat, you can see the sharks coming in really, really clearly. And they are giant, like one of the sharks looked like it was as big as the boat that I was on. It was enormous. And what they do as well as they’ve got this little chum bowl that they put at the edge of… at the end of a rope that they throw almost like a fishing line. They would throw it into the water and it’s frozen, and then they pull it in and they lure the shark in and then they pull the chum bowl out of the water. And then the shark turns in front of the cage so you can get a good view from the cage when you’re in the water. Problem is the guy that was doing the chum bowl wasn’t really paying all that much attention with the group that was in front of us. And he pulled the chum bowl out too late. And the shark charged the chum bowl. And as he pulled it out, the shark hit the cage that the people were in. And when the shark hit the cage that the people were in – we were on a 25 foot boat. I’ve never felt something move so fast in water that choppy on something so big. It literally shook the boat. The boat moved from what felt like one side of the ocean to the other side of the ocean. And when the shark hit the cage, the cage hit the boat, the entire boat, this was 30, 25 foot boat moved backwards and forwards. Everyone in the cage came out with their heads in the cage screaming like “AAAH!”, like they were gonna die. I thought I was gonna die at that point in time. I was like there’s no way, no way I’m getting in this water. Anyway, everyone calmed down. Nothing happened to those people. The cage was perfectly fine. They just freaked out. Everyone got out of the cage, wiped their asses because they will shit themselves basically. And now I had to go get into the cage at that point in time, it was our turn. And my wife wasn’t going to let me get away with not getting in the cage with her. So I got into the cage and I thought I was gonna die. And I thought that was my last moment on Earth. I thought for sure the shark is gonna break through the cage. We’re all gonna die today. Anyway, needless to say nothing happened. It was an amazing experience. I got to see great white sharks, had an amazing time, and then went back to shore and everything was fine. But at that moment I felt like I was going to die, John.

John Tyreman:  Well, Mark, good for you for following through on that. I’m gonna have to cross off seeing great white sharks from my bucket list. That sounds terrifying. Oh, my goodness. Well, Mark, that is an incredible story. And I don’t know that we’re going to reach the peak of that. But we do have a very interesting topic that I do want to get to. But first, you host the Negotiation Ninja Podcast. Can you share what your podcast is all about and the kinds of topics our listeners could expect to hear if they tune into your show?

Mark Raffan:  Yeah, yeah, we host a couple of different shows. So one is the Negotiations Ninja Podcast. The other one is B2B content marketing, which is a content marketing show called the Content Callout. On the Negotiations Ninja Show, we’re the number one negotiation podcast in the world. We bring in negotiation experts from a variety of different backgrounds. They could be everyone from mergers and acquisitions experts to sales experts, procurement experts, hostage negotiators, suicide hotline negotiators, pretty much anyone and everyone that works in and around negotiation, who can lend their expertise, lend their knowledge to educate our listeners. And everyone approaches negotiation in their own way. And they all have their own unique backgrounds. And a hostage negotiation is very different to a commercial negotiation. A commercial negotiation is very different to a suicide hotline negotiation. And so we talk all about the different approaches. The cool thing about it is that you get to hear all of this varied experience and take that knowledge from the best negotiators in the world and apply that knowledge to what people do on a day to day basis. And the result, of course, is that people get much better deals and much better value in their lives.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, I’m in the middle of reading Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference. And it has opened my eyes to the power of negotiation and applying hostage negotiation tactics to sales and marketing. So I’m gonna have to check out your podcast, Negotiations Ninja. I’m very interested in that right now.

Mark Raffan:  Yeah, thanks, man. He’s an amazing guy, by the way. Chris Voss is an amazing guy. We’ve had him on the show three times. And he’s yeah, just a wealth of knowledge.

John Tyreman:  Mark, let’s start here. Why should businesses invest in content marketing in the first place?

Mark Raffan:  It is the gift that keeps giving. That’s the way that I like to describe content marketing.  Look, SEM has its place. I’m not saying SEM is a bad thing. PPC is really, really important. Any kind of digital lead gen is really important. And most of the time, when we do that, it’s for the short term game, right? To get the email, to get the download, to get the lead, whatever it might be. But once you get that, then you have to have content to be able to serve to those leads, in order to warm them through the funnel, to make sure that they convert into something that you want to be able to convert. And it’s in much the same way that I describe traffic generation more than anything else. Like if you’re going to drive traffic to a website, that’s great. But if you don’t want your bounce rate to be super high, if you want people to stay on site, to be able to look at what you have to offer, there has to be something to offer them. Right? It’s not just about the offer, they may not necessarily be ready to buy yet. And if they’re not ready to buy yet, and they may not be ready to buy for some time, then you have to have something that keeps them engaged and something that they can come back to over and over and over again so that they can… we can stay top of mind for that potential customer. And if you’re not doing that with content, and by the way, content could be anything content related. We’re talking about blogs, white papers, case studies, video content, infographics, all of it. When you think of that, like this show, for example, this show is a form of content. It’s a way that you give value to your prospects, to your customers. That’s what we’re doing here. And so when you don’t have that kind of content, and you don’t have any content period, you’re missing out on a massive opportunity.

John Tyreman:  Based on, from what I understand, in any given market, there’s about 3% of the market that’s ready to buy right now. And that’s really where a lot of business owners want to focus in on and capturing that existing demand. But you’re leaving 97% of the market out of the equation. And your point, if I’m hearing you correctly, is in order to appeal to the 97% of the market which is not ready to buy right now, you need to to engage with them and keep your brand top of mind throughout their sales journey so that they number one, remember who you are when they’re ready to buy. And then number two, you’re adding value to them to help make a decision. Do I have that right?

Mark Raffan:  Yeah, absolutely correct. The other thing that you need to consider is, maybe they just haven’t consumed enough content yet to make a decision. They might be close to being ready to buy. But data shows and in fact, there’s been a bunch of research that’s been done about this. Upwards of 87 to 90% of people look at wide varieties is of content on multiple different locations, whether it’s LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, your own personal website, other sources of information, G2, if you’re making a tech purchase, Clutch, if you’re making a service purchase, all those kinds of things. They look at all of these varieties of sources of content, and then they make a decision. Right? And so if you’re not serving that need, the likelihood of them ever making a decision in your favor is pretty low.

John Tyreman:  Well, and then also in B2B, what is it? Upwards of seven different decision makers involved in purchase committees, depending on the product or service you’re purchasing? So the content not only needs to appeal to specific buyer personas within an organization, but there could also be multiple different stakeholders that roll up into that ultimate decision.

Mark Raffan:  Yeah, really interesting that you said that, John. Most people don’t think about that. But if you think about it, right, like, if you’re in B2B, which is what our business is, then you, you’ve got to think that the product or the service that you’re selling is probably over $10,000, at a minimum. Which means that people are not going to make an immediate purchase decision. It’s not like going on to a sneaker website and buying a new set of kicks, right?  We’re making tens of thousands of dollars worth of decision. Now, that’s not going to happen right away. So there’s going to be a number of people involved in that decision. So it’s not just about creating content for your target persona, but it’s also about creating content for the influencers of that target persona. So once the influencers of that target persona are able to consume that content, it makes you significantly more likely that you’re going to get a deal.

John Tyreman:  You could really go overboard in one direction or another right? And I’m thinking about, let’s call it the spectrum between account based marketing and fishing with nets or the typical funnel model. Right? So on one hand, you’re casting a wider net, on the other hand, you’re fishing with spears. So how would you balance that in an organization?

Mark Raffan:  Yeah, look, there is a… it’s easy to, to go overboard. The fortunate thing is that the vast majority of companies that we work with have a limited budget. So… and content marketing is not super cheap, right? So it’s not like I can say to you, “Hey, we have this PPC campaign, there’s a specific persona that we’re looking for, the management of the account is gonna cost you three grand, plus the media fees are gonna cost you five grand a month. And so you can expect to pay eight grand a month”. Now, that’s one offer, one landing page, one thing that’s going to be happening. What we’re trying to do with content marketing, is we’re trying to create a lot of consumption and a lot of awareness primarily through the funnel. And then we also have to have other content that people can consume, if they are at another stage in that funnel process. So if they’re a consideration, if their intent, there’s got to be different types of content that we’re going to be producing. And it’s easy to say, “Okay, well, let’s create it for all of the personas. And let’s create it for all of the influencers of all of those personas”. That’s gonna cost you a lot of money. Don’t start there. Start with something that’s more targeted, more akin to a PPC campaign and say, “Hey, you know, we’ve got one persona that we want to target, these are the things that we want to target for them, we want to start creating content in and around that. Let’s start with one pillar piece”, right? Something that’s a 3,000, 4,000 word piece of content that’s going to track well on SEO that’s going to be engaging for someone to read. There’s intro graphics within that pillar piece, something that is actually a resource for that person. Ungated. Right? Make sure that it’s actually usable information that people can use. And then once they start to consume that, and by the way, distribution is a key part of this, so even paid distribution outside of organic. Once they start to consume that then we can start to move them along the funnel.

John Tyreman:  Yes, well, it’s easy to go overboard, as you said, but at least there aren’t great white sharks waiting, swimming in chum.

Mark Raffan:  At least there aren’t sharks. That’s right. Thank God for that.

John Tyreman:  Mark, I’m curious. So let’s say that B2B marketers understand the importance of investing in content. How can these marketers get decision makers to buy into an investment in content? 

Mark Raffan:  A lot of it comes down to education of the senior executive, and also understanding what the senior executive means and what the senior executive wants. The senior executive, for the most part, thinks that marketing is a lead generation activity. But marketing is not just lead generation. It’s also brand building, it’s also awareness building, it’s also service to the market, it’s also education. All of those things build the organization. All of those things are important for the brand. The unfortunate thing is that I think we’ve given ourselves, as marketers, a bad rap with senior executives, when we reduce ourselves to just lead generators. Not to say that lead generation is a bad thing. For those lead generators that are listening right now, I’m not trying to be derogatory in any sort of capacity. But, people think that marketing is everything that you do, when it could be significantly more than that. So number one, education. Number two, understand what the senior executive needs and wants. What is it that they’re trying to achieve? What’s the business plan for the year? All of our marketing objectives need to align to business objectives, we can’t be out of step with whatever the business objectives are. So if we’re in a growth stage within the organization, where, for example, we’re trying to build a category… This happened with friends of ours, a company called Casted recently. They’re a B2B podcasting platform. And we’re good friends with them. They’re clients of ours and were clients of theirs. And what they realized early on is, look, we’re creating an entirely new category, right?  Amplified content production. And what they had to realize is that they had to invest a lot of money and a lot of time into a category creation procedure, which means that they had to produce a lot of content that reinforced that category. In much the same way that HubSpot created the inbound category, or others created other categories, they’re creating a whole new type of category. And they realized that their goal was to create the category and then basically be like a blue ocean strategy, be the owner of that category, and then they would be able to build their company substantially. That’s not to say that they didn’t want to invest in lead gen, but they knew that the focus was about brand building and category building, which means that they had to invest in the content for it, which is why they worked with us to be able to do that. Now, if your goal for the organization is super short term lead gen to get out of a sales funnel, or maybe you’ve been losing money recently, and you need to like close some business, that’s entirely different, right, on how you would approach that strategy. Or maybe the goal for your organization was to be perceived as a market leader within your industry, then your marketing goals would be different, and you would be getting more PR, you would try to be placed in Forbes, maybe Inc, or Entrepreneur or something like that. There’s going to be more traditional PR that may be involved in that. So there’s a variety of different ways that you may want to approach it, but the key is to always be in lockstep with whatever the business objectives are.

John Tyreman:  So it sounds like the first step is education and the second step is aligning marketing objectives to your business goals or objectives. I’m curious, what are some different tactics maybe marketers could use to curry influence with, maybe it’s the CEO or if they’re reporting to a CRO or a CMO? What are some, like the human to human components of influencing that decision?

Mark Raffan:  Yeah. I’m glad that you asked that question, because so many people think that people are going to be logical and reasonable in those conversations. And most often they’re not. They’re not right, because we’re emotional beings and we make emotional decisions. And the reality is, that we have to be able to tie into someone’s emotions. By the way, it’s not a new idea. Aristotle came up with this like 2,000 years ago. He said that for anything to be persuasive, you have to have three components, you have to have logic, yes, there has to be a reason that something needs to happen, but then you also have to have what he called pathos or the emotional appeal of something. So how am I going to tie your emotions to the logical decision so that you make an emotional decision and then justify it with logic that may exist? So I need to first understand what do you need? What do you need? What do you want? And now how am I going to leverage what I can do to help you get what you need and want? And how am I going to tie that to the objectives? Now we can, I’m going to make this super, try and make it super simple. The easiest way to address someone’s emotions is by… we’ll say two different ways. One… this is going to sound super Freudian, for those of you that are psych majors… pain and pleasure. So if you, if I’m trying to get you to make an emotional decision, I could amplify the amount of pain that you would experience by not making that decision. Or I could amplify the amount of pleasure that you would experience by making that decision. The key, when it comes to internal discussions with the people that we’re working with, especially those in the C level is, what is this person going to miss out on – pain? Right? The fear of missing out, we can leverage that internally. What is the fear of missing out that I can leverage in this conversation to get them to make a decision? And then what is the pleasure? What could they get out of it if they did make a decision? Once I can identify what things I can amplify to help you make an emotional decision, then it becomes a lot easier, because then I can identify what you care about, amplify that you’re not going to get those things if you don’t make this decision. That will help me with my argument. And if that’s backed by a logic of why we should make a decision, it becomes significantly easier for you to be able to agree to that. Because now not only are you going to be like “Oh, well, I don’t want to miss out on that. Well, he did have a good point with this logic over here. So I guess we should make that decision”. Now. All of that is strengthened with what Aristotle called ethos, which is really our credibility, our ethical credibility or authority. In our common modern phrases, I guess we could probably most commonly align it to personal brand. What is your brand within the organization? Do you have the credibility to be able to carry this argument or this decision? And the stronger that your credibility is, the stronger the emotional appeal will be, the stronger the logic argument will be justified, and then people make much better decisions. So before you go, and have that conversation with your senior executive to try and curry favor, do yourself a favor, think first about what does this person need and want? Then think about, what do they care about? What are they emotionally attached to? How am I going to leverage that in the conversation? And then obviously, make sure that your credibility is good. Otherwise, what’s the point of having a conversation in the first place?

John Tyreman:  Well, these are, I feel like we could have an entire podcast conversation talking about those techniques of appealing to the emotional state or the pathos of most of the key influencers when trying to get an investment going into content. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that B2B marketers can get past that step. They’ve gone through that gate of getting that buy in, How should they approach the challenge of insourcing content production versus outsourcing it?

Mark Raffan:  Yeah, brilliant question. Ultimately, I think this comes down to a rent or buy decision, right? So is it going to be more effective and more efficient and more valuable for us to be able to insource this? Or should we go to an agency to be able to produce it. And a lot of it, I think, depends on the pain that you’re willing to experience to develop that capability in house at the beginning. I would say that the vast majority of medium, small businesses should be working with an agency, because the amount of pain that you have to experience to get a content marketer to the point where they understand your business to the depth that they need to understand it to produce the volume of content that you have to produce, is so significant, that it’s not going to be worth it for you to produce an inhouse team. Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t have an inhouse marketing person. I believe very, very strongly that every business should have an inhouse marketing person. But then that marketing person becomes more of a coordinator and a project manager, than someone who’s actually producing the ad copy or actually producing the content that goes into things. Use an agency for that because most likely if you find the right agency that has worked in your industry before, they will have a history of examples of where they’ve done this well, and where they continue to do it well, and as long as the agency knows your industry, they probably have the bench strength to be able to develop the content for you. That being said, if you’re an enterprise level organization, and you’re earning over a billion dollars in revenue, you have the capacity and you have the money to be able to develop this internally. And I would highly recommend that you do a phased approach where you probably work with an agency to get you up and running. And then you start building that capacity inside of your teams. There’s a transition strategy between the agency and the inhouse team, and then the agency is in a support capacity, right? They’re no longer producing on a regular basis for you, but you pull them in occasionally to be the pinch hitter.

John Tyreman:  Just like bringing any aspect of marketing inhouse, there’s going to be lessons learned, it’s going to be a calendar time investment in learning what works, what doesn’t, failing, learning from those failures, iterating and improving. In my own experience, I’ve found freelancers, content shops, they sometimes don’t have the technical understanding enough to write about your services or the challenges you solve in a simple way. I found that there’s freelancers who… they start to get it, but then the content becomes overly technical, and that’s unappealing to buyers, too. So it’s interesting that you mentioned that you need to find an agency that works in your industry. I think that’s critical. How have you addressed that challenge? How can content agencies really understand some of the more technical aspects and translate that into simple terms?

Mark Raffan:  Yeah, I think it comes down to a lot of the bench strength that the executive comes into the business with. So if you’re a content agency and your executive has experience from other industries, you bring that experience with you. An example is like we are really strong, Content Callout, the agency, is really strong in healthcare, it’s really strong in rail, logistics, procurement, supply chain, it’s really strong in project management, and accounting. It is not strong in Fung Shui or furniture or other types of things, right? Like, we’ll just say no to those things, it doesn’t make sense for us to be able to even have that discussion. Because we know we’re not going to produce good work. So I think for the org, and then, you know, you’ll start to get the occasional project here and there that maybe outside of that focus area. And you can potentially start to build knowledge and skill set and ability outside of that. But I think if you’re an agency, it starts with the industry that you come from. So for example, if you come from accounting, for example, you are a marketing person in an accounting business before you were in a firm, you understand that business intuitively. It’s a part of your DNA. It’s how you think, to a large extent. So start there and then build out.

John Tyreman:  I’m curious, what’s your take on amplifying content with influencers? Personally, I think it’s still a little early in B2B and something not a lot of B2B marketers may be thinking about. I’m curious, what’s your take?

Mark Raffan:  Not a lot of B2B companies are thinking about it. I think there’s a massive opportunity. There’s a massive opportunity that a lot of B2B companies are missing out on. I mean, when you think of like… Look, if Charli D’Amelio on Tik Tok starts dancing and holding your next cosmetic product, you’re gonna make millions of dollars, it’s going to happen, right? If Kendall Jenner gets onto Tik Tok, and says, “Hey, this is what we’re doing”, or one of the Kardashians says something on Instagram, you’re gonna make money. It’s almost guaranteed. B2B companies aren’t considering this at scale yet, and it’s a huge opportunity. There are a few, don’t get me wrong. There’s a few companies that are doing this and they’re doing it very well. And they’re basically taking the house for all their money. Right? Like it’s a massive opportunity for organizations. But I think it’s… I think people would be foolish not to consider it going forward.

John Tyreman:  Would you say though, that everyone holds some degree of influence, you hold a degree of influence, I hold some degree of influence. Would you say that this, even this podcast right now, what we’re doing, is a form of influencer marketing?

Mark Raffan:  Yeah, absolutely. And I want to differentiate between influence and influencer. So yes, we all have influence but it’s not binary, right? It’s not either you have it or you don’t have it there are degrees to having it. An example is like a good B2B strategy to find an influencer or let’s call them what we call them, which is like a thought leader, right? That’s our word for influencer and B2B. When you find that thought leader, it could be someone… Let’s use accounting as an example, because you come from that world. You could find a senior level accountant or a partner in a firm that had a lot of clout regionally within a certain geographic area. And everyone knows who that person is regionally. It would make a lot of sense for an accounting software company to approach said influencer and say, “Listen, why don’t I make your salary super fat, you come into our organization, as a partner, a quote/unquote, partner, and you are the thought leader for our organization. Yes, there’s some accounting work that you’ll do – great. But it’s really going to be about you getting you in front of our potential customers”. Now, here’s why that’s brilliant. Because that person already has clout. It’s going to be really easy for that person to get introductions. it’s going to be really easy for that person to get on a stage. It’s going to be really easy for that person to be able to meet the people they need to meet, to be able to produce the business that that software company wants to produce. It’s a no brainer. To do that is fairly simple. And as long as you’ve got the amount of money to be able to afford that person, I think it’s a strategy that should be done.

John Tyreman:  Yeah, so it’s almost like you’re, as an organization, you’re leveraging the personal brands of the industry influencers for your own game. And for practitioners out there in B2B, I guess this is a great case to be made as to why you should be building your personal brands, because over time, you could find an opportunity where it makes sense to make this kind of a pivot in your career. This was really interesting, Mark.

Mark Raffan:  I think the benefit of a good personal brand is it benefits everyone. It benefits you, it benefits the organizations that you move into, it benefits everyone that’s involved in that conversation.

John Tyreman:  Well, Mark, this has been such a fascinating conversation. I’ve really enjoyed going down, talking through negotiation tactics, your podcast, content marketing, everything that goes into investing in content marketing within an organization. If folks want to connect with you and learn more, where can they find you?

Mark Raffan:  Best place to find us is on our website at where you can reach out to me on LinkedIn. And I do have an offer for your listeners as well. If you listen to this podcast and you think “Hey, this is super interesting. Maybe I’ll try Mark’s firm out. We’re willing to give a free blog post to whomever reaches out to us with 1,000 words. And we’re happy to help with that as well.  Just connect with me on LinkedIn to be able to get that.

John Tyreman:  Well, that’s a fantastic offer. Thank you, Mark. Hopefully our listeners take you up on that. 

Mark Raffan:  I hope so too.