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December 12, 2023

Simon Cowart


VP of Growth

This originally appeared in Medium.

"Let your personality shine. We’ve already talked about the clutter in B2B marketing. One way to stand out is to have a personality and voice that matches your brand values and differentiators."

The B2B marketing landscape is a complex and evolving space, with its unique challenges and opportunities. Navigating it effectively requires well-thought-out strategies and insightful tactics. With a myriad of digital channels available, what are the best ways to connect, engage, and convert potential business clients? As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Renee Spurlin.

Passionate about breaking down the barriers between communications, marketing and sales, Renee has made it her mission to blur the lines between these disciplines. As Alloy’s executive vice president, Renee oversees the agency’s integrated methodology — bringing media relations, content marketing, and social media successes together with lead generation and nurturing to close the gap between traditional PR and sales. Named PRNews’ 2019 Innovator of the Year, Renee is the past president of AMA Atlanta, the American Marketing Association’s third-largest chapter.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Oh, there are so many people I’m grateful to. But if I have to choose one I’d start with my parents, who I credit with my writing abiiities. I loved to read as a kid, and they would make me write a book report for every book I completed before I could get a new one. This made written communication a foundation in my life, which has definitely helped propel my career.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” — Edgar Allan Poe

This may not seem like a typical life lesson quote, but it’s something I try to apply to both my personal and professional lives. It’s so easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks that we forget to take the time to use our imaginations. But as marketers, it’s our imaginations that will really set us apart.

Can you share with us three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves?

I already mentioned writing, which I definitely think has contributed to my career growth. Being able to express your ideas succinctly, in a way that’s relevant to your audience — be it your board of directors or your buyers — is key to getting buy in and results. The best tip I have for people wanting to amp up their writing skills is to read, read, read. Take note of the various writing styles as you do so — how people structure stories, sentences, word choice. Axios is one of my favorite sources of crisp, clean, concise writing.

A second characteristic comes from a review I received early in my career calling me “unflappable” — a word I’ve embraced ever since. Unflabble doesn’t mean unemotional or uncaring, but it means not being shaken from your goals. As marketers, there’s a lot that can shake us — new tools, new competitors, new imperatives, new personalities — but it’s important to keep perspective on what we’re working toward.

Finally, I’d say having an analytical mindset has been foundational to my career. I came up through the world of PR, which isn’t typically known for its measurement. Being able to find new ways to measure impact has helped prove the value of PR, communications and marketing to the brands I’ve worked with.

Which skills are you still trying to grow now?

Analytics! Yes, I mentioned that in my previous answer too, but our ability to measure and connect dots continues to get better and smoother, so continuing to build knowledge of the tools and techniques available is a continued focus for me.

Let’s talk about B2B marketing. Can you share some insights into how you perceive the current landscape of B2B marketing?

It’s an exciting time to be in B2B marketing — if you’re up for a challenge. It’s getting noisier and noisier. AI is making content even more of a commodity. The playbooks that worked — e.g., gated content, nurture, demo, sale! — are no longer as effective. The good news is that’s reinvigoting creativity in B2B marketing. We are going to have to sound different and look different to stand out, and I’m here for it.

How have recent market trends and changes influenced your approach to outperforming competitors?
The noise and economic uncertainty have made it a challenging time for B2B marketing. It’s a bit ironic that this is the time when marketers need to get bold to counter these two trends, and yet often that’s the exact time that we get conservative. Because of these trends, we’re advising clients to show their personalities, to show their values to stand out. We’re also advising them to prioritize customer growth. At a time when buying cycles are lagging and prospects face uncertainties and tightening budgets, it’s time to double down on protecting and growing your existing client base.

B2B buying cycles can often be lengthy and complex. How do you maintain engagement and nurture leads throughout the various stages of the buyer’s journey?

This is where close alignment between marketing and sales is key. There is so much marketers can do with personalization and automation — for example, triggered emails based on where someone is in their journey containing the content and CTAs that have proven to be most effective at that stage. Sales and marketing teams should also be looking for unplanned trigger points — such as economic or industry trends, changes in the prospect’s business and competitor news — and conduct personalized outreach on its impact to the prospective buyer. That can be through a mix of phone calls, email marketing, content and social, depending on the news.

Personalization is gaining prominence in B2B marketing. What are some ways marketers can effectively leverage data to deliver personalized experiences?

The key to personalization is to collect the right data. B2B marketers tend to collect the same few pieces of information — name, title, company, industry and location. That works fine if your solution’s value is highly based on industry or geography. But don’t rely on standard forms and prospect profile questions if that’s not where your differentiation lies. Perhaps you’d be better suited knowing their current solution, or whether they insource or outsource certain aspects of their business. Ask yourself where you can truly stand out, and then collect data based on how you can tell that story to prospective customers.

ABM has also gained traction for its personalized approach to targeting high-value accounts. What advice would you give to fellow B2B marketers looking to adopt this strategy?

ABM isn’t a tactic, but it’s often treated like one. ABM should be a strategy that permeates across your marketing team. Of course, that includes email marketing and advertising, which are the typical two channels marketers think of when they think of ABM, but it also should include your approach to social media, content marketing, and even media relations. Aligning these teams on your target accounts, continually listening out for trends impacting them, and creating a cohesive communications plan addressing their challenges and opportunities will make a more effective ABM program.

Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are 5 Tips for Your B2B Marketing Strategy to Help You Beat Competitors? Please share a story or example for each.

1 . Let your personality shine. We’ve already talked about the clutter in B2B marketing. One way to stand out is to have a personality and voice that matches your brand values and differentiators. For example, client Unbabel, a language operations platform, has fun with language, ruminating on what it’s like to communicate in other galaxies or under the sea.

2 . Don’t neglect your customers. So often in B2B marketing, we generate conversions, drive opportunities and closed deals, and then move on to the next prospect. But the customer journey is really just beginning at that point. Marketing should be in close alignment with sales and customer success to understand customer needs, challenges and opportunities and keep the conversation going. My agency is in the process of onboarding Kantata, and they’ve been excellent at managing this transition and our expectations so far.

3 . Turn customers into champions. If you do #2 effectively, you should have a strong base of customer support. Those customers can be your most effective marketing tool. Their voices carry a ton of weight with your prospects, so leveraging them for reviews, cross-collaboration in content, and PR efforts is a great validator. My agency handles B2B PR for several tech companies, and the top request from journalists is customer stories, like this one on behalf of Prevedere.

4 . Don’t over-rely on data — let imaginative ideas come to life. Often decision makers want “proof” a concept is going to work before bringing it to life. Obviously data has helped us as marketers make much smarter, more targeted decisions. However, it can be a creativity drain to only rely on previous campaign performance to inform new campaigns. For example, Slack recently described its move away from its “workhorse” ad approach, but an over-reliance on data would have had the company simply attempting to optimize its always-on approach instead of trying a completely different ad strategy.

5 . Focus on your values. My career started in CSR (corporate social responsiblity), but I rarely have a chance to flex that muscle now that I primarily focus on B2B. Not that B2B companies don’t give back to their communities, but few do so with the strategy, value-alignment and mutual benefit of B2C companies like Dove. I’m advocating for that to change in the coming years, with CSR becoming a core differentiator for B2B brands looking to stand out from competitors.

How do you utilize data or AI to refine your B2B marketing approach, and what tools have been particularly impactful in gaining a competitive advantage?

Refine is exactly the right word to use when it comes to how we’re using AI. We love Writer to streamline our editing process, and it allows us to make sure content is written at the right level and in the right tone for our personas. It and ChatGPT are also helpful when we have creativity blocks — for example, giving headline options and titling events. ChatGPT is also helpful in generating competitive research.

Which digital channels have you found most effective in reaching your target audience, and how do you optimize your presence across these channels to outshine competitors?

For most of our clients, LinkedIn continues to be a top performer. But outshining competitors on this noisy platform takes a combination of paid, owned and shared content. Employees tend to be a brand’s most powerful voice on LinkedIn, so we really emphasize the shared part of that mix, conducting trainings on how team members can be brand ambassadors while maintaining their own voice and authenticity. Then we couple that with thought leadership-oriented brand content and conversion-based ad programs to continually boost awareness, preference and leads.

Are there any underrated skills or qualities that you encourage others not to overlook?

Did I mention writing? Even in roles that don’t require a lot of it, being able to concisely articulate your ideas and opinions is key to getting understanding and buy in from stakeholders — be it your buyers, your team or your boss.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

My agency was founded on the mantra that we should “Believe the best IN each other, want the best FOR each other and expect the best FROM each other.” Imagine how much better our lives would be if we could all take this into account with every interaction. So often, we make assumptions about others’ intent. If only we could assume positively until proven otherwise, I think we would all get more from each other and be happier overall.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

My team would probably never speak to me again if I didn’t say Taylor Swift. What a masterful marketer. She has truly perfected the art of making people feel seen, understood, and like they are being directly spoken to.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.