How can marketers find joy and build greater trust in the B2B landscape of 2023?
In the newest episode of our “Feeling B2B” series of expert video interviews, these questions and more are explored by Ahava Leibtag, president at Aha Media Group, who graciously took time recently to sit down with our own CEO Lee Odden.
With the MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2023 event coming up on October 4 through 6 in Boston and online, our “Feeling B2B” interviews bring insight from some of the top B2B marketing industry experts slated to speak during the conference.
If you haven’t yet seen our previous two episodes, tune in and find out Joe Pulizzi’s take on unconventional marketing, and learn the latest on B2B marketing from Pam Didner.
“Feeling B2B” is created by TopRank Marketing in partnership with MarketingProfs B2B Forum, which is slated to feature many of the brightest minds in the B2B marketing industry.
Ahava has more than 20 years of marketing experience with some of the world’s largest firms, and in 2020 was inducted into the Healthcare Internet Hall of Fame, and is the author of “The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web.”
Let’s jump right in and find out how Ahava finds joy in B2B marketing, the nuances that separate B2C from B2B content experiences, the power of using plain language, and what she’s looking forward to the most at this year’s strong agenda at MarketingProfs B2B Forum.
WATCH AHAVA LEIBTAG’S FULL VIDEO HERE:
You can also read the full conversation between Ahava and Lee here:
Welcome to the Feeling B2B show, a limited interview series featuring conversations with some of the B2B marketing industry’s top voices, brought to you by the fine folks at MarketingProfs B2B Forum. I’m your host, Lee Odden from TopRank Marketing, and today we’re speaking with Ahava Leibtag, a content marketing expert, public speaker, author of “The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web,” and president of Aha Media Group. She’s also — and most importantly for our conversation — an experienced speaker at the upcoming MarketingProfs B2B Forum that’s happening in Boston in October. Welcome to Feeling B2B Ahava.
Thank you so much for having me here.
Thank you for making the time to be on the show. So let’s get right into it. What do you love about B2B marketing?
I love that you need to put on a co-persona hat. So one of the things I always talk about is that you’re selling to the buyer, but you’re also selling to the person that signs on the dotted line. That makes it sometimes a more layered experience where you really have to think about where the buyer needs the information that’s going to tell them this is the right product, and where the buyer needs the information that’s going to help them convince the person who has the purse strings that it’s the right product. I also think I like it because there’s a lot of different levels that you have to talk to within a company, and I think that always makes it very interesting in terms of just from a writing and content marketing perspective. B2C marketing is intricate and complex also, and my expertise is in healthcare, so certainly there’s a co-persona usually, as a caregiver or a doctor when you’re talking about that.
To me, B2B is a little more layered — it’s a little more nuanced. Also quite frankly, sometimes from a content perspective I find it more challenging, because we’re trying to help people understand that writing in plain language is really going to help them convince their buyers. And very often in B2B, they just think that they can convince people by being as complex as possible. And so I’m really excited to present research this year that we did in this area.
That’s awesome. I like what you’re saying about layers because there is a level of sophistication when you’re thinking about not just as you say your buyer, but who they have to convince, or even a buying committee or something like that. You know, we don’t go to the grocery store with a committee to go buy some shampoo, right? But we imagine how hard that would be actually getting everybody on the same page. One thing I notice with the folks that I’ve been able to talk to is they love a challenge. They love the excitement that comes from being curious and solving difficult problems, and that’s kind of what you’re leaning into a little bit is that B2B is fun in that it presents new challenges that you can solve for.
Absolutely. I also think it presents challenges because you are not allowed to be as “creative” as you might be able to be in a B2C space. You’re allowed to talk a certain way to a consumer, or you’re allowed to use language such as, “Hey girl,” and do things like that. Whereas in a B2B space, B2B marketers really pull back from that kind of language and that kind of casualness of audience. One of the exciting things I think that Ann Handley has really facilitated amongst the audience is this idea that we can be playful and that we should look for those opportunities, and that really nailing that voice and tone is one of the ways you’re going to get to where the boundaries are for your company. I love that part of it also.
Ahava, you’re a longtime speaker and attendee of B2B Forum — I don’t know how many years in a row you’ve been at the event, but I know it’s many, and I’m wondering if you could share a moment from your experience at the B2B Forum event that really stands out for you?
That’s a really good one. So Ann’s entries are always hilarious — I think she once came in and played the accordion. For me, the most important moments have been when I’ve been in a session and I’m getting information faster than I can, and I pull out my laptop and I start typing because there’s no other way for me to grab all the information. I think that the speakers that come to B2B Forum are there to give you very tactical information that you can use tomorrow. I think about when Andy Crestodina presents — you could take a list of a hundred different things to do with your SEO and he gives it to you in 45 minutes and you may not have caught even half of that. Those are the kinds of sessions that I’ve been to where I’ve really taken away a very practical aspect.
I remember one time I presented there and I didn’t do as well as I would’ve liked on my scores, and Anne said to me, “What did your examples look like?” I went back and the next year, I nailed it because I realized the people who go to B2B Forum are investing in making sure that they walk back to the table the next day as a better B2B marketer. I think that’s really why the sessions are of such high quality. I feel like you can go to some conferences and you’re just lucky if you picked the right title and the right speaker. Whereas at B2B Forum, I’ve never been in a session and felt that it was a complete waste of my time. I always learn something.
For sure — they’re delivering on the promise of a great experience, and part of that experience comes from really high quality content. So “walking the talk” in the content marketing world.
It’s a very fun conference. People are in a good mood, and are happy to see each other. There’s a lot of sharing in the hallways, and I think that’s also something that has to be facilitated. You and I go to a ton of conferences, so you see how at some conferences people keep to themselves. They don’t really talk to other people at some conferences. People want to share, network, and learn from each other’s challenges. I find the questions at the end of sessions are were I always learn just as much sometimes from the way the speaker answers the questions as opposed to just the presentation itself sometimes. So that’s just a nice thing to go to — there aren’t a lot of shy introverts at B2B Forum.
Right, and they make it easy for people to connect and network, because there are lots of social activities and fun shenanigans going on in the exhibit hall. Can you tell us about a little bit about your presentation, about how plain language resonates better and helps you more effectively speak to a broader audience?
One of the things that we’ve learned at Aha Media Group, and we’re a content marketing agency that focuses exclusively in the healthcare space, is that in the B2B healthcare space, you have subject matter experts who are very often academic scientists making decisions about how to talk to their customers. But very often the thing that they’re selling, the customers are not those kind of experts. They either facilitate in the CIO role or in the marketing role, and are thinking about it from that perspective. When it comes to the product they might be buying, they don’t have the same scientific understanding. It’s kind of like when a programmer writes your marketing copy — you know, probably not what a programmer should be doing, just like a writer shouldn’t be programming. So one of the things that we, we’ve pressed back on our clients for years about is that you’re using a lot of jargon and making this way more complicated than it has to be.
If you really want your buyers to feel trust with your audience, you have to explain yourself in a way that they’re going to understand. The phenomenal thing about the research that we’ve done so far is that it proves our point. We did qualitative sessions where we asked two B2B buyers how they felt about a piece of plain language versus a piece of jargon. And they responded to the plain language so much better, and one of them said something really important, which was, “I cannot bring this jargon to my people because they won’t understand it either. It’s just so thick with technical terms. I don’t feel armed to talk about the product in a way that’s going to help me make a great presentation.” We did a quantitative study as well with survey data, and we’re very excited about the results. I think that it’s so helpful when you arm marketers with information that they can take back to their executives and say, “It’s not just me.”
We also need to do a better job of explaining to B2B marketers that plain language is not dumbing things down, but it’s helping people find what they need, understand it, and then use it to make a decision. I think when you start to strip away that dumbing down bias that people have, you start to get into a place where they realize, “OK, so what you’re really saying is don’t try to sound smart in writing,” and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Human to human — speaking to people in the way they want to be spoken to, in a way that they can understand. It’s effective marketing and it’s effective communication, right?
If we all know that and agree on it, why aren’t we doing more of it? That’s the part I don’t understand. I feel like I talk to the smartest marketers in the world and they’re like, “Yep,” and then by the time it got through the chairman or the boardroom or the CEO , it turned into this bloody mess. So that’s why we did this research, because we really felt that it was important to give people data that they could use to sort of sway their managers about how to be as clear as possible. Particularly in healthcare.
It sounds like a great session that people should attend.
Yes, absolutely — it’ll be a lot of fun.
Because COVID has kind of thrown a little curve ball at a lot of conferences, and a lot of conferences this year are just kind of coming back online with momentum, I’m curious what you are looking forward to most at this year’s B2B Forum?
That sharing of knowledge — I feel like a lot of people there are working hard, on Zoom all day, and just that like sitting around a lunch table with people or getting coffee in the morning and just introducing yourself to somebody and being like, “Hey, what do you do? What are you dealing with? What are your challenges?” At that conference I think creativity happens around the water cooler. I don’t necessarily think it always happens in the Zoom interaction, right? So it’s just one big water cooler moment for you. You get to learn from a lot of different people, and you meet experts who you continue to follow. You know, I met you I think — not at B2B Forum — but then I got to know you better through that conference.
And you’re somebody who I trust when I have a question. I’ll reach out to you and be like, “Lee, tell me what to do.” And anybody else can do that too — it’s not just because I’m a speaker, people reach out to me all the time also and ask me questions. I think that’s really important, and when I interview people, I ask them who are the people in the field who you follow who you have been to conferences and heard what they have to say, who you’ve heard at webinars online, and it’s always really interesting to hear those same names come up. That means somebody’s engaged in the field. And I think that if you want to be a good marketer, you have to be a curious, constant learner.
Absolutely, and I’m really glad for the constant learning. It’s the hallmark of a great marketer, right, and the fact that you brought up that in-person interaction, and that creativity happens around the water cooler. There’s no substitute for interacting in person. It’s great to connect digitally of course, but being able to interact and get all those nonverbal cues and the atmosphere and the spontaneity of in-person is really valuable, and MarketingProfs B2B Forum is a great platform for B2B folks to do that.
Totally. The energy just crackles, you know — you just feel good. You walk away inspired. Listen, our jobs are not always easy — you know. We’re being asked to do more with less and figure out big problems that I don’t know the answer to, but let’s find out, and I think sometimes it can grind people down. I think if people really want to find inspiration in their work again, and they want to get that next push for the next year, this is a phenomenal way to do it. There’s just no finer B2B programming personally in the world.
Well, you know, it’s the great Ann Handley who’s behind that programming, so it’s no surprise that it’s so good. Thank you so much, and you can see and learn more from Ahava at MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2023 in Boston and online — you can go either route, whichever is the most comfortable and convenient for you.
Come in person!
Yes. October fourth is when the workshops are happening, and the main conference is October fifth and sixth. You can get all the information you’d ever want to know including the speaker lineup, the agenda, travel recommendations, venue information, and all kinds of other fun insights about the event at the event website.
Thank you Lee. It was great to be here.
Thanks To Avaha Leitag For Sharing Feeling B2B Insights
We extend many thanks to Ahava for sharing her unique perspectives on B2B marketing ahead of the event.
Stay tuned for more exclusive expert conversations in the #FeelingB2B series, and be sure to mark your calendars for the upcoming MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2023, where B2B marketing innovators and subject matter experts come together to exchange the latest insights and research, share experiences, and push the boundaries of B2B.
Full event registration information, agenda, and speaker details are available at mpb2b.marketingprof.com to learn more
PLUS: Get $200 off individual registration and $400+ for groups of three or more by using our special code, “TOPRANK” when you register here.
Connect with Ahava:
Ahava Leibtag on LinkedIn
@Ahava on X
See Ahava speak at #MPB2B:
October 5 – 10:45 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Plain Language Is Preferred… Even by PhDs
October 5 – 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m.
Using Pop Culture in B2B: Expert-Led Roundtables
Also, be sure to catch Lee Odden speaking at both #MPB2B on Tuesday, October 5th at 4:05 p.m. Eastern, presenting “How to Elevate B2B Marketing Results with the Influence Trifecta,” and during Content Marketing World 2023 on Wednesday, September 27 at 1:45 p.m. Eastern, presenting “You’re Doing SEO All Wrong: How to Optimize Content for Search Intent.”