Why B2B Brands Are Becoming Media Companies (And What You Can Learn)

Once upon a time, B2B marketing was all about reaching the right decision-maker with the right message at the right time. SDRs would cold call and email to book a demo, then pass the baton to an AE to close the deal. Rinse and repeat.

But in today‘s digital-first B2B landscape, that old playbook is quickly losing relevance. Buyers now expect to self-educate and build meaningful brand relationships long before ever speaking to a sales rep. According to recent data:

  • 70% of B2B buyers fully define their needs before engaging with a sales rep (Forrester)
  • 60% prefer not to interact with a rep at all as their primary information source (Gartner)
  • 95% are willing to consider a vendor that shows up strong in search results (Pardot)

To meet modern buyers where they are, more and more B2B companies are making a transformational shift—from simply selling products, to also becoming media powerhouses in their own right.

Brands like HubSpot, Mailchimp, Wistia, Intercom, and Shopify now operate high-traffic blogs, podcasts, webinar series, and other editorial destinations that attract millions of viewers each month with educational content. In many ways, these companies are starting to resemble media organizations as much as they do SaaS providers.

This "content-first" approach isn‘t just a passing trend, but a fundamental rewiring of B2B go-to-market strategy for the digital age. By investing in owned media channels, these brands can organically shape buying preferences, earn audience trust, and fuel sustainable growth.

Let‘s explore why the B2B media company model is on the rise and what your business can learn from the pioneers who are paving the way.

A New Era of B2B Marketing

The B2B marketing landscape has undergone a profound transformation over the past decade. According to HubSpot‘s VP of Marketing Kieran Flanagan, it can be broken down into four key phases:

  1. Marketing to individual decision-makers (2010s) – Marketing messages aimed at specific executives or gatekeepers with purchasing power. Think targeted email campaigns and old-school ABM.

  2. Account-based marketing (mid 2010s) – A more coordinated approach to targeting all stakeholders within a target account. Think personalized content and sales-marketing alignment around a set of priority accounts.

  3. Product-led growth (late 2010s) – The product itself becomes the main driver of acquisition, conversion and expansion. Think freemium and trial models that let the product sell itself.

  4. Community-led growth (2020s) – Fostering brand affinity and advocacy within a networked community of users. Think user forums, events, and content hubs that add value beyond the product itself.

While elements of each phase persist today, it‘s clear that the center of gravity has shifted decidedly towards the latter approaches. Rather than myopically focusing on decision-maker outreach, leading B2B companies are taking a broader view of their audience and investing in crafting rich experiences across the customer lifecycle.

This is especially true in crowded, commoditized markets where core product functionality is no longer a meaningful differentiator. As Wistia Co-Founder & CEO Chris Savage puts it:

"The reason we‘re investing so much in brand and content is that there are now dozens of companies that basically do what we do. Our view is that brand and content is how you stand out and win in this market."

By becoming a true media destination for their audience, B2B brands can maintain an ongoing relationship with buyers and continually reinforce their differentiation. It‘s less about one-off lead generation tactics, and more about maximizing lifetime value through always-on engagement.

The Limits of Paid Advertising

For years, paid advertising has been the go-to lever for B2B marketers looking to drive growth. Whether it‘s search ads, sponsored content, or retargeting, the prevailing wisdom was that you could spend your way to success by buying eyeballs and landing page traffic.

But as digital ad costs continue to skyrocket and audiences tune out interruptive messaging, many companies are starting to question the ROI of this approach. Just consider these statistics:

  • The average cost per click for B2B search ads increased 15% from 2020 to 2021 (WordStream)
  • 40% of B2B marketers say proving the ROI of marketing activities is a top challenge (HubSpot)
  • 27% of internet users now use ad blocking software, up from 15% in 2014 (Hootsuite)

Bombarding buyers with ads they didn‘t ask for, especially in the early stages of their journey, is becoming a less and less effective way to warm up leads. Not to mention the risk of brand safety issues from having your ads appear next to questionable content.

As an alternative, many B2B brands are discovering the power of earned and owned media to attract qualified audiences more organically. By creating genuinely useful content that aligns with buyer needs and interests, you can pull people towards your brand on their own terms and generate demand from the ground up.

Rather than renting one-off attention through ads, you can build an owned audience of opt-in followers and subscribers that compounds over time. And by getting smart about content distribution and promotion, you can scale your program without proportionally scaling your paid media budget.

That‘s not to say that advertising is dead by any means. When deployed strategically to amplify your best content and target bottom-funnel buyers, ads can be a powerful complement to your editorial program. But relying on them as your primary acquisition engine is looking like an increasingly shaky proposition.

Serving Your Audience, Not Just Selling to Them

Another limitation of paid advertising is that it‘s inherently brand-centric. Everything from the ad copy to the CTA is geared towards driving conversions for your product. There‘s little room for telling a broader story or providing standalone value to the audience.

In contrast, a successful B2B media operation puts the audience‘s informational needs front and center. Rather than using content as a Trojan Horse for your product pitch, you lead with legitimately helpful insights and advice that build credibility and reciprocity over time.

By mapping your editorial calendar to the key priorities, pain points, and aspirations of your target personas, you can earn permission to engage them across all stages of the buyer‘s journey. A well-architected content experience might include:

  • Top-of-funnel thought leadership that frames industry trends and establishes your unique POV
  • Mid-funnel educational content that helps buyers evaluate solutions and weigh tradeoffs
  • Bottom-funnel product content that validates your specific capabilities and helps buyers make a confident decision

Importantly, these content assets shouldn‘t just live in isolation, but should be strategically linked together to carry the buyer from one stage to the next. Each piece plays a specific role in an integrated narrative arc that culminates in your product being the natural solution.

Of course, building out this kind of full-funnel content architecture is no small feat. It requires a deep understanding of your audience‘s journey, a clear editorial mission, and the right mix of creative talent to bring it to life. But when done well, it can be an incredibly effective way to generate demand and guide buyers towards a purchase decision.

Take Intercom, for example. The customer messaging platform has built a world-class media operation that includes:

  • The Inside Intercom blog covering product and design best practices
  • A podcast series featuring interviews with startup founders and operators
  • An extensive library of ebooks, guides, and reports on customer engagement
  • A branded publication called Inside Intercom that explores macro trends in tech and business

By putting out such a wide range of valuable content, Intercom has become a trusted resource for its target audience of product managers, marketers, and customer success leaders. It‘s not just selling to them, but genuinely helping them level up in their careers.

When it does come time to buy a customer messaging tool, guess who they‘re most likely to turn to? The brand that‘s been there all along, providing guidance and inspiration at every step of their journey.

Becoming the Signal in the Noise

Perhaps the greatest benefit of embracing a media company ethos is that it allows B2B brands to rise above the noise and establish true thought leadership in their industry.

In a world of skyrocketing content volume and dwindling audience attention, simply publishing blog posts is no longer enough to stand out. To really capture mindshare, you need to have something original and authoritative to say. You need to take a stand on where your industry is heading and back it up with unique data and insights.

That‘s exactly what HubSpot has done with its annual State of Marketing Report. By surveying thousands of marketers and distilling the findings into actionable trends and benchmarks, HubSpot has become the de facto source of truth on all things marketing.

HubSpot State of Marketing Report

Source: HubSpot

But thought leadership isn‘t just about putting out a splashy research report once a year. It‘s about consistently publishing content that pushes your industry‘s thinking forward and challenges the status quo. It‘s about having a distinct editorial voice and point of view that shapes how your audience perceives the world.

As Animalz Founder Walter Chen explains in his breakdown of editorial strategy:

"Content is an opportunity to generate real insights—proprietary data, original research, unique arguments—that contribute to your company‘s competitive advantage. The editorial operation should think of itself as a horse, carrying valuable intellectual property across the battlefield to the sales team."

To cultivate this kind of editorial edge, B2B brands need to hire the right mix of journalistic talent—not just subject matter experts, but skilled writers, editors, and content strategists who know how to sniff out a story and make a compelling argument. They need to build an editorial team that has the autonomy to take risks and the judgment to know which trends are worth weighing in on.

Most importantly, they need to have the courage to say something that not everyone will agree with. Because if your content is designed to please everyone, it will end up resonating with no one.

Operationalizing Editorial Excellence

For B2B brands looking to build a bona fide media operation, the path forward is clear but not necessarily easy. It requires a significant investment of time, budget, and organizational willpower to pull off.

At a minimum, you‘ll need:

  • A dedicated editorial team with the right mix of creative and strategic skills
  • An always-on publishing cadence aligned to your audience‘s content preferences
  • A multi-channel distribution strategy encompassing email, social, SEO, and more
  • Robust performance measurement tied to core business objectives

But beyond these table stakes capabilities, true editorial excellence also demands a shift in mindset. It requires a willingness to play the long game and prioritize audience needs over short-term lead gen tactics. It means giving your editorial team the freedom to experiment and occasionally fail in the pursuit of breakthrough ideas.

Most importantly, it means recognizing content not as a cost center, but as a core growth driver on par with product and sales. When executed at a high level, an editorial program can be the rising tide that lifts all other marketing functions—breeding brand awareness, cultivating demand, and expanding customer lifetime value.

So if you‘re a B2B marketer looking to future-proof your strategy in an increasingly crowded and noisy market, it may be time to start thinking like a media company. By hiring the right team, investing in always-on publishing, and committing to a reader-first mindset, you can build an owned audience that will power your pipeline for years to come.

The B2B media company model is here to stay. Will you be leading the charge or watching from the sidelines?