Here is a transcript generated by of The Content Mix podcast interview with VeraContent’s Shaheen Samavati and Elena Atanasova, on international marketing strategies:

Shaheen Samavati 0:00
Welcome to The Content Mix podcast, where we publish interviews with content marketing experts across Europe every week. We record many of our interviews live and simultaneously broadcast them across VeraContent’s social media channels. Join The Content Mix newsletter or follow VeraContent on social media to find out about our next live session so we can answer your questions on air. Today’s episode is a replay of a live broadcast. We hope you enjoy it.

Hi everyone, I’m Shaheen from The Content Mix, and I’m excited to be hosting the second live edition of our interview series with content marketing experts across Europe. Today, I’m joined by Elena Atanasova, who has 15 years of experience in developing and implementing B2B marketing strategies for international companies all around the world. She’s currently based in Paris, where she works in marketing and business development in the industrial sector. Thanks so much for joining us, Elena.

Elena Atanasova 0:26
Hey, you’re welcome. It’s a pleasure.

Shaheen Samavati 0:29
It’s great to have you. And I just wanted to remind everyone that this is an interactive session. So if you ask questions in the comments, we can bring them up on the screen. And now Elena and I would be happy to answer so as questions occur to you go ahead and ask them. But I’ll get started. And so, Elena, I just wanted just to ask you to tell us a bit more about yourself and kind of how you became specialized in b2b marketing and specifically within the industrial sector.

Elena Atanasova 0:57
It was all by chance. So after I graduated university with a specialization in marketing, of course, I wanted to join a fast moving consumer goods company. But that wasn’t very popular in Bulgaria at that time. So instead, I joined an IT company, and it all started from there. I happened to like it. It got exciting, and at some point I realized that I really liked it. And to B2B marketing fits better my personality, and my strength, than B2C marketing. So that’s where I continued, and after I finished my MBA in Paris, I moved into the industrial sector. Before that, it was mostly IT or services. And then the tech industry. It’s not that different, you know, the environment is still the same challenges, in a big part.

Shaheen Samavati 2:03
Yeah, absolutely. And I was curious. So you’re originally from Bulgaria, and you’ve moved around a lot. So what made you make all those international moves?

Elena Atanasova 2:14
That has always been a passion of mine, to travel and to experience different cultures. So even during my MBA, I did my internship in India. And then I stayed in France, moved to the US, went back to Europe, in Belgium. And now back to France. And I’m actually now on the move between France and Bulgaria, because of the COVID situation. But I like the experience, because every time you move somewhere new, you experience a whole different culture and your life changes. And at the end of it, you’ve kept a lot of views, and there’s a lot of views that have changed. And I’d like to think for the future. So I want that, and I’m planning to keep doing it going forward.

Shaheen Samavati 3:11
Awesome. Yeah, that’s really interesting, because a lot of people in our Facebook community at The Content Mix are international marketers, also, you know, traveling and working in different countries. So it’s cool that you have that experience.

Elena Atanasova 3:24
Yeah, with the jobs as well.

Shaheen Samavati 3:27
Yeah, I mean—the jobs that you’ve worked in, I guess, are they, I mean, have been really for international companies where you’re—I mean, right now, you’re kind of in charge of EMEA, marketing, right? Like, for the European Middle East areas, yeah?

Elena Atanasova 3:40
Yes. Before I was global, though, and having that experience in different cultures, brings that cultural sensitivity. I think it’s absolutely necessary for anybody that works on a global scale or on an international scale. And there’s no better way to learn that, to acquire that than to experience firsthand the different cultures by living there. So it did help a lot in my professional development, the fact that I changed countries.

Shaheen Samavati 4:12
Awesome. We have a question, just like, “What’s your favorite place you’ve lived in so far?”

Elena Atanasova 4:18
Oh, you know, after a few moves, I think it’s very difficult to have a favorite place. Because there are things that you love from every place that you’ve lived in, and things that you didn’t. And for every next place that you’re move to, the bar goes a bit higher. It’s like, “Oh, but that was better in the worst place.” You know, “This here no, this here yes.” But I would say I loved both Paris and Atlanta a lot, although they’re completely different on the two ends of the scope, if possible. But I really loved both of them. Of course, Paris is a city that it’s amazing, although it’s a bit difficult city to live in. But all the culture, all the beauty that you have all around you, it’s just great. And Atlanta, on the other hand was something that I’ve never experienced, I’ve never seen the city grow that much, and change that much within the three years that I’ve been there. So that I really loved. Because every other month, you have something new. You have a new gallery, a new restaurant, a new little park somewhere. And it keeps changing, and it’s really life that changes all the time.

Shaheen Samavati 5:53
Yeah, absolutely. So kind of going back to the topic of B2B marketing. I mean, I guess, could you share what you think, makes it different from B2C? And also just, yeah, the challenges that you face in B2B?

Elena Atanasova 6:11
Of course. So I think the biggest difference between the two comes from the audience. So in B2B, you have companies, of course, but also, you have people. But these people are actually very heavy users of your products, and very heavy users for products in the long term. There is rarely one time sales, we work a lot with contracts. And with that comes a lot of specificity. Because the quality of the product is even more important than in B2C marketing. Everything is measured, your customers actually have very clear KPIs for your product. It’s not just like, “Oh, I feel my curls look better with this shampoo.” No, we’re working for 30% improvement on the production with your products. So it’s much more logical, it’s much more technical as a field. And the biggest challenge is that very often, your customers know your products better than you do. For example, one of the product, some of the products, I was in charge of, were consumables in the process of a steel mill. So I don’t have a steel mill to test this product. We do tests that are compatible with our production to ensure level of quality, but the performance itself of the product is better measured by the customer. So that restricts you a lo in what you can say or cannot say. And already, what you know, because sometimes there might be benefits of your product you didn’t think about because you’re not using them every day for years in a row. And that’s why it’s very important that you have case studies—much more important than B2C marketing, that you have references from other customers. And but not just, “Yes, I recommend this product. But I recommend it because this, this and this. I used it like this, this, and like this, and I received this result.” And this is very difficult to get as well, because most companies, especially when they are bigger, have very strict communication guidelines. And very often they’re not allowed to disclose this type of information, because it could be very critical to their production process, depending on the products you sell, of course. But that could be a real, real challenge to get to see examples that you really need to sell to other customers.

Shaheen Samavati 9:12
And how do you like overcome that challenge?

Elena Atanasova 9:18
I must admit it’s difficult. Sometimes it’s pure luck, because some customers might have a more relaxed communication guidelines. We try to when we do such case studies, we try to give enough information without compromising the customer’s confidentiality. And sometimes, of course, you need to give them a discount or—

Shaheen Samavati 9:52
—incentivize them somehow?

Elena Atanasova 9:53
Incentivize them somehow, yes, yes, yes. And sometimes some of them that are smaller are actually more willing to do that because in this way, they show, “Okay, we’re doing something innovative, we need to increase our image of the marketplace,” whether to increase the sales or attract people to work for them. And to show, they also have to know how with the big companies, they are more willing to enter into these types of partnerships. And that’s a good start, that could be a good start, because not all of your customers are big, right? You have all different tiers of customers, and they’re all looking for different things. So it’s good that you have references in all possible segments.

Shaheen Samavati 10:38
Absolutely. So I wanted to say that I think like when when you think about marketing, like industrial products, it comes to mind like going to trade shows, passing out, you know, data sheets on the products. Is that still the way things are done, or is that changing?

Elena Atanasova 10:55
It is changing, although it still exists. I must admit, it still exists. And very often, when you go to a trade show, you have like a little stack with all the brochures, nicely printed in order there. But it’s changing, and it’s changing with the change of generations, and the customers, in all companies actually. We still have a lot of the decision makers that are in their 50s. But there’s a lot of 30/40 years old that come in the game, and they want different types of information. And they want their information to be presented in a different way. It’s curious, I visited a lot of customers with our sales guys. And a lot of the older generation, when we were asked what’s your primary source of information you get about our company, about the product, and a lot of them said, “Well, your sales guy, I know him for 20 years. We drink our beer together after work. And I trust him that he’ll give me all the information I need.” On the other side, if you ask a 30-something year old, where do you get your information? “Well of course, on your website.” It is very, very different. So you need to change. And in the last show I went to we created this virtual reality experience that was a big hit actually, even with the older generation that that was really impressed by what you could do. And that was their first encounter with this type of media. But also because they got submerged in the experience, it really puts you where things are happening, and could see with their eyes, what the product is doing. And that is very valuable. Because normally, for heavy industries like I was working in, at that time, you you have to basically stop your production, make an industrial test for a day or two, or maybe a week, and then restart, that means like you’re probably going to lose a week of production. So changes are coming very, very slowly and more difficult. But this, you experience it firsthand. So it was very successful. And I also saw companies that had whole grounds presenters, different types of virtual reality or augmented reality—although it was rare. It was rare, but it started happening. And we’re talking very heavy industry. So it’s coming.

Shaheen Samavati 13:57

Elena Atanasova 13:57
And also what I think it’s where digital can change the world is in the services that you provide to your customers around your products. Because we are going towards the B2C model, for example, when you subscribe for your phone bill, you have your customer portal, you have your dedicated space, you can see all your bills, what you paid what you didn’t pay, special offers for you, etc. This is not there yet for industrial companies, but it’s coming, it’s coming and there’s a demand for it and there is a need for it. And with that cause the different way that you push your content to the customers as well. And the channels are moving, we’re moving away from the very personal contact that we’ve had so far.

Shaheen Samavati 14:59
Yeah. Well, I was gonna ask my question about just kind of like for those interested in, like maybe getting into B2B marketing, or like maybe who aren’t sure if it’s like really for them—what what is it that you—you mentioned earlier that like, you’ve kind of like grown your passion for it over the years, like, it’s something you’ve got to fell into, but now you really enjoy. So like, what is it that you really like about it? And then also, like, is there room for creativity? I guess like people think maybe it’s very dry or straightforward—where’s the room to be creative in your job?

Elena Atanasova 15:36
There is a room to be creative. And especially now when the communication and the marketing are becoming much more important in this company it’s because before it was always considered, okay, it’s a little bit more technical. It’s an engineering company, or it’s a developers company in the case of IT, but now the communication is becoming more important. And there’s more competition and how you talk to your customer, how you deliver the message. It’s really valuable. And you have to be creative, because there’s so much information now. So you have to stand out. And you have to make people listen to you and people that normally wouldn’t particularly listen to any communication like this, coming from a B2B company. And later lately, a lot of very good marketing campaigns have been done by B2B companies. So I think it’s changing. And there is definitely a lot of place for creativity. But also, you have to be quite analytical, you have to be quite logical, you have to go deep to understand your products and your customers. And I think it’s very important that you visit your customers, especially if you work in content or marketing, that you spend time with them, that you understand what makes them buy your product versus a different one. And when I say your customers, all levels of interactions, because most often in B2B, it’s not a single point of contact that you have—you have technical or production directors, purchasing. And in cases where your offers are very big, you have general management involved in the purchases, and you need to understand what they’re looking for, all these different 2,3,4 types of customers that you have on the other side. And for this, it’s crucial that you spend more time with them, and you understand them better, and how to tweak your communication, and maybe where to communicate with which one of them because it might not be the same channels.

Shaheen Samavati 18:15
So speaking of where to communicate, we have a question from Mar. So, “Do you think every industry belongs on social media?” Yeah, basically, do you think that only some belong there or will have success?

Elena Atanasova 18:32
I think they will become successful, they will be on social media very soon. Not all for now. But it’s changing. And it—

Shaheen Samavati 18:47
—maybe depends on the social media platform as well?

Elena Atanasova 18:50
—depends on the social media, because a lot of them are on LinkedIn. But everybody’s on Facebook, right? I mean, there’s one where everybody is, and a lot of the sales guys I work with, they asked me to provide content for Facebook, because that’s where their friends are. And their friends are in similar spheres of work as them. And so that way, they can target them better. Which it’s not an intuitive channel of communication—Facebook for a B2B company. By but things are changing. And I think very soon, we’ll be able to communicate about everything there. It might not be the most efficient channel of communication, I must say, but it will be a significant one.

Shaheen Samavati 19:49
And kind of related to that, well I was curious if you could talk about, more about, like content creation and how the types of content that are most important for B2, but also—because you already mentioned case studies—but maybe other other types of content. And also just like how you make this content relatable for your audience. You know, we’re always told, like in content marketing, it needs to be about storytelling, about kind of triggering emotions, like really, you know, relating with people. So how do you make that content really interesting and relatable?

Elena Atanasova 20:21
You have to work with other teams, you have to work a lot with your production teams, with are technical teams, with your R&D, in order to provide content that is relevant. Because what we’ve seen is that the content that brought us tangible benefits, like requests for quotations, etc, was content that is technical. So you can’t create that by yourself. You need to collaborate a lot with other departments, and with your customers. That’s the best content that you can have, whether it’s a case study, or it’s a short movie, it needs to be very, to the point very concise. But a good story, still a good story, because there’s still a person there reading it. And if it’s five pages of all the technical details and some points, it then often it’s not relevant. But one of the most successful contents we’ve done was a series of short movies, actually, that we posted on LinkedIn that were shot together with a customer. We showed how we produced their products, what is the quality control that we do to assure the the quality of the consistency of them, and how they were implemented and how they are working with the customer. And that was a very long project. So at least a few months, every three or four weeks, we would post a short video. So it’s not your typical case study—here’s what we’ve done, benefits, risks, etc, but it was very successful. And it was on social media, so…

Shaheen Samavati 22:18
Very cool! So yeah, so kind of like it sounds like clients are an really important source of of content, like telling their stories and showcasing them.

Elena Atanasova 22:26
Yes, yes. And also I would say that now it’s important to find this new medium of communication that can work for your customers. And we talk a lot about digital, about innovation, about sustainability. But I do think this is a bit forward in a sense if you just give it on a piece of paper, what you’ve done in the last 50 years, right? I think you have to live it—you have to live your innovation and your sustainability and provide something that that lives that. If you have innovative communication, and in an innovative way, it’s innovative for your industry. Maybe that is not innovative in general for the IT industry, but for your industry, it could be very innovative.

Shaheen Samavati 23:20
Yeah, so where do you think there’s like room for innovation and marketing in your industry?

Elena Atanasova 23:27
As I mentioned, is the thinking the channels of communication. There’s a lot of room for innovation. And in the way in the way you present things, because for example, in our case, we were selling products for steelmaking products that go directly in the liquid steel. So before that I couldn’t show in a persuasive way, what we do and how we do it. And now with 3d animation—with virtual reality 3d animation—you can do that. You can take your customer in the furnace to see what’s happening inside. And that’s very valuable. And I think there’s huge room for improvement there. What you can do with the new technologies, but you need to adopt the new technology and make sure you have people in your team that know what can be done with this. Because very often the limit is that you know there’s something out there but you don’t know how to use it for your purposes.

Shaheen Samavati 24:51
So, we’re getting—we’re just five minutes more or less from the end of the interview. So if anyone has any final questions, now would be the time to put them in the comments. We have a couple questions from before that we didn’t get to answer. Yeah, so: “How has your exposure to so many cultures impacted your understanding of marketing?” And “How does your approach to marketing change across markets because of like cultural differences?”

Elena Atanasova 25:17
I don’t think it has impacted my understanding of marketing, it has impacted my understanding of what good marketing practices are in different regions of the world. Because what we consider to be good content visually, stylishly, it’s not necessarily good content in Asia, for example, and you have to have that sensibility to not to say, “Oh, no, no, that I don’t like! This will never work,” just because it wouldn’t work where you are. You have to accept the differences and make it the best possible. There are some guidelines, you have to observe—the tone of voice, like the visual identity, but you have to accept that the professional tone of voice in UK is not a professional tone of voice somewhere else. And you have to be flexible. I think it has improved a lot my flexibility, and my adaptability to different styles and different ways of communicating.

Shaheen Samavati 26:36
And having like lived in so many different markets, I imagine had like really helped you be able to, like think from those different perspectives.

Elena Atanasova 26:44
Yes, but they are still very few perspectives—they are still very Western perspectives.

Shaheen Samavati 26:50
That’s true.

Elena Atanasova 26:50
But that’s to say, after my three months in India, my idea of effective communication on any level got completely turned upside down, you know. The way I was communicating very successfully before in American and French companies was like, leading me nowhere. And, you know, you have to know the particularities of the different countries, but the fact is, you can’t know them all. And you have to trust the people that are there locally, that they do know that and they’re not just publishing crappy content, that they know what they’re doing, and this is what works there.

Shaheen Samavati 27:19
So real quickly, I’ll just go through the last couple of questions we had. “In terms of channels is any other like favorite channels for B2B?”

Elena Atanasova 27:49
Well, your most important channel in B2B, I think, to this day these days is your sales force. And that is very challenging, because you don’t control the message they convey to your customers. And it’s very important that you engage them, and that your messages, the messages that reach your customers, reach your sales force as well. And actually, first reach your sales force, and then your customers, because it’s important that whatever you push through LinkedIn, or Facebook or on a trade show, is the same story that your sales guy is telling your customers.

Shaheen Samavati 28:30
Absolutely. So and then just lastly, “Do you have any marketer that inspires you to innovate?” I’m putting you on the spot!

Elena Atanasova 28:46
No, because there’s a lot of people that they’re inspirational. How, I think for my personal development, what works best is more practical examples. I’ve met a lot of marketers from different companies during some seminars, or knowledge sharing events, and discussing with them was great because everybody’s strong in certain areas. And having this network of different marketers, from different areas in different industries in different countries, I think it’s more valuable than one innovative guy because his innovation and his industry might not work in mine, although it might be very inspiring. So yeah, I don’t, sorry.

Shaheen Samavati 29:54
Very true. Okay. Well, we are reaching the end of the interview. I just wanted to ask if you Have any parting advice or any final takeaways for other marketers in Europe?

Elena Atanasova 30:05
Yeah, there’s a there’s actually two things I think every marketer should know very well: their audience, absolutely crucial know who you’re communicating with, to and why. And that’s something that is often lost in companies. For every campaign, for every ad or post you put out there, know why you’re doing it. What’s the point of this? is it to have new sales, new contacts, new leads, just awareness, a new product launch? know why you’re doing it and who are the people that you’re targeting and what do they want? That’s crucial, and it gets lost in all the daily tasks very often, unfortunately.

Shaheen Samavati 30:55
Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great tip, and a great note to end on. So thank you so much, Elena, for taking the time to join us on this live Q&A.

Elena Atanasova 31:04
Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

Shaheen Samavati 31:06
And just wanted to ask for those who want to get in touch, what’s the best way to reach you after this?

Elena Atanasova 31:13
I think social media. No, seriously though, LinkedIn or Facebook. Any of them is a good way to get in touch with me.

Shaheen Samavati 31:22
Okay, excellent. Well, we’ll be repurchasing this interview for our podcast. So watch out for that on The Content Mix podcast, and we’ll also be publishing a blog post along with that with some links to Elena’s social media, so you can definitely reach out to her there. So yes, thank you everybody for asking great questions during during the interview. And, yeah, and thank you Elena, again for sharing your insights and advice with us.

Elena Atanasova 31:52
Thank you, Shaheen, thank you for having me.

Shaheen Samavati 31:54
All right. Thanks again, and bye, everyone! See you next time.

Elena Atanasova 31:57

Shaheen Samavati 31:57

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