Netflix, Amazon Prime and Car2Go were just the beginning. Subscription-based business models are now beginning to establish themselves in the B2B sector as well. The new "earning instead of owning" market will become one of the strongest drivers of content marketing in the next few years - and vice versa, comments Martin Schwarz.

If you have ever visited a print shop, the production manager will probably have shown you his modern printing presses with great pride. But he will have stopped at a comparatively small machine, not at all impressive at first glance, and he will perhaps have started to beam: You will then have stood in front of a Heidelberg platen, long since no longer available for purchase as new, at least 40 or more years old, indestructible, much sought after. The press is the beetle among printing presses, the technological gem of many print shops.

The crucible stands for the reliability of the Heidelberg brand, but also somewhat for the problem of the Heidelberger Druckmaschinen company. Machine builders like Heidelberg are caught in a trilemma: the machines are becoming ever more powerful - while at the same time lasting longer - but the market is stagnating overall and smaller print shops, formerly the economic heart of the trade, can no longer keep up with the market pace and the pressure to automate. In 2018 more than 5,300 printing plants in Germany each had between one and nine employees, while the number of printing plants with 100 to 499 employees was 244. Many printing plants will shy away from the high investment costs for a new, more efficient offset press, whose technological relevance may also decline due to shorter print runs in future and new technologies such as digital printing.

From this trilemma, Heidelberg would now like to with a subscription model find a way out: the machine is no longer purchased, but invoiced on the basis of the actual print volume. Heidelberg not only provides a press in the pressroom, but also supplies consumables, paper or spare parts. So the print shop, which previously only needed the Heidelberg employee when maintenance was due and whose brand loyalty may no longer be as high as it once was, will be integrated into an ecosystem configured by Heidelberg.

The machine manufacturer is thus following a trend that has long been established in the B2C sector: films are streamed via services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime, ButcherBox offers a subscription for organic meat products in the USA, razor blades and socks are delivered to the home via subscription and Daimler and BMW are planning a joint venture for their sharing services for urban mobility. Between 2011 and 2016, subscription models bundled with e-commerce in the USA have showed a growth of 100 per cent. In the B2B sector, except in SaaS markets still a little reticent, the we see a similar development.

For marketing, the turn to subscription models, especially in the B2B sector, means one thing above all: the subscriber is much more in need of attention than before and classic above-the-line models of marketing are losing importance. Only those who think they are constantly deriving benefits from their stay in the eco-system will not want to try to break out. The new focus of marketing organisations will therefore not necessarily be merely to produce new leads, but to keep customer engagement and loyalty high over the duration of a subscription. In the case of B2B goods, this may well be several years in which a customer needs to be supported and shown new opportunities for his business. Adobe, for example, does this quite impressively with the portal Content marketing is tailor-made for this subscription economy. Creating useful content through a system of blogs, case studies, white papers, webinars or other digital methods is a necessary consequence of the fundamental promise of subscription models: take care of your business and nothing else.

Content marketing is therefore not an appendix to traditional marketing methods, as is unfortunately the case in many other areas, but its core. Incidentally, this also means the compelling need to turn budget priorities around. In a survey of B2B marketing experts, which we carried out in the spring of this yearIn the survey, 33 per cent of respondents said that less than ten per cent of their total marketing budget is spent on content marketing, with another quarter of respondents spending less than 20 per cent.

For B2B subscription offers in particular, the quality of content marketing is becoming - I would boldly suggest - the key differentiator - along the entire customer journey. Because they are still so new, B2B subscription models will only be able to build trust and a sense of security with the customer if the availability and structure of the content promotes inspiration and removes uncertainties due to the inherent complexity of such contracts. What a subscription model promises, content marketing must deliver; it is a bonding agent between customer and provider. While the printer may have to deal with the service technician at most once in a while after buying a machine, with a subscription he will have to deal primarily with ideas that help him to generate maximum profitability from his activities. He needs content. Because one thing is certain with these B2B subscription models: Getting clients interested in such a business relationship is at least as difficult as keeping usage high during the contract period and frustration low - and the latter is what matters most. This is especially true in a phase in which such ecosystems are constantly being expanded, changed, and thus also experimented with a little. The flow of content sets the direction in which the customer can move; setting off selective marketing fireworks is not likely to enlighten him.

So content marketing can be almost what the Heidelberg Crucible is to some printers: a pretty reliable tool.

Author: B2IMPACT - The agency for impact and results

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