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B2B Content Marketing Strategy and Practice Is Steaming Full-speed-ahead. Are You Onboard?

by: Adam Needles (@IBMforMarketing)
14 July 2010

The last year has brought growing dialogue around content marketing as an integral component of modern B2B demand generation.

First, we've seen increasing acknowledgement that, in a Web 2.0 world, the dynamics of the B2B buyer are shifting and that at the core of these new dynamics are fundamental shifts in buyers' information consumption patterns.  Buyers are doing more education on their own, ahead of speaking with a salesperson.  Second, this has occurred in tandem with growing interest among B2B marketers both with inbound marketing strategies for lead generation and with marketing automation as a central platform for nurturing B2B prospects in a buyer-driven fashion.

Content marketing is the architecture behind information exchanged with the buyer before we can get them to 'sales ready'; it is the rationalization of what content that our prospective buyers need at various stages of the buying cycle and via what media and channels; and it is integral to the nurturing process.  Content thus has moved from tactical to strategic.

But that realization was all just the 'first evolution' of content marketing.  Now we are entering a second phase of dialogue and evolution around content marketing, where we're talking about how to take it forward.

What is this second phase?

We're digging down in the next layer of content marketing.  We're beginning to focus on on best practices for building successful dynamic, buyer-driven content marketing campaigns.  We're looking to hone the performance of our content and better tie content tactics to sales outcomes.  We're also talking about what it means to take content quality to the next level and to staff content marketing.

So what's next for the dialogue around content marketing?

Blogger Scott Brinker (Twitter: @chiefmartec) -- a.k.a., the "Chief Marketing Technologist" -- highlighted some of the largest macro trends today in a recent blog post, "3 Nimble Trends Changing Content and Marketing."

He noted:

  1. The concept of 'the Web site' is becoming less important than the underlying content and its social propagation.
  2. Structured data and metadata around content are becoming increasingly important.
  3. Content producers must become much more nimble (i.e., agile).

These macro points align well with the three major veins of dialogue I believe are emerging around content marketing today.  These veins cover:

> Building out the new era of dynamic, buyer-driven content marketing campaigns

Content marketing represents a fundamental change.  Too many B2B marketers are mired in traditional views of marketing campaigns -- campaigns that are about pushing a singular message out to a large audience and seeing what small returns we can get.  It's a highly inefficient process, but it's what most B2B marketers know.

Our goal is different with modern content marketing and B2B demand generation.  It is to deliver to a buyer the right content via the right channel at the right time -- aligning with the stage of the buying process that buyer is in.  It is to conduct a content-based dialogue with the B2B buyer as a way to nurture that buyer until (s)he is ready to speak with a sales person.

But this style of nurturing changes the nature of how we approach and build campaigns -- especially campaigns that are going to be managed by a marketing automation platform.

"Once you have a prospect that you are communicating with effectively.  They are giving you feedback on your white paper or asking questions at your webinar, are you taking the relationship to the next level?" asks B2B marketer Heather Rubesch in a recent Savvy B2B Marketing blog post, "Customize Your Feed and Care Plan So You Nurture Every Lead." She notes, "If your follow up process only involves outbound blasts and doesn’t adjust for feedback and noise then you are missing key ways to take the conversation to the next level."

Content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi (Twitter: @JuntaJoe) Tweeted a quote in the last few weeks that takes this point further:  "'Creating content is only part of the game.  Responding to conversations the content creates is where the real value lies.' via @nateriggs"

It's the dynamic part that makes content marketing campaigns complex.  But that's what enables a real dialogue -- a challenge that is not insurmountable.  I promise.

There are three major aspects of building dynamic campaigns:

  • Buyer-driven: First, the fundamental architecture must be built around buyers' actions -- triggers -- and have responses at each step.  This means the buyer can move at his/her own pace and 'find' content -- almost like a 'choose your own adventure' novel.  Initial content should be Web-based and optimized to relevant dialogue in social communities and/or search -- the places where buyers often start their journeys.  Subsequent content must cascade through the questions buyers have at different stages of their buying process and the channels accessed at each of those stages.  BTW -- email-based nurturing can be a critical way to serve up this content, as well as to track activity and maintain continuity of dialogue.  Also, marketing automation is critical to executing a dynamic campaign.
  • Persona-based: Second, we must conceptualize all of the content delivered up throughout this campaign in terms of a holistic 'buyer journey.'  Each campaign should be aligned to a specific persona in a specific situation, and all of the offers and interactions must represent rational next points of interaction.  And these personas need to be real, not contrived sets of demographic targets -- a point that is critical to building compelling content and assembling a dynamic campaign.  "Whether you are a B2C or B2B company, real humans are making the buying decisions  ... .  That’s why creating a persona – a humanized representation of your target customer – is vital to crafting engaging content marketing efforts," according to Keith Wiegold (Twitter: @contentkeith) in a blog post on "How to Build Personas to Bring Your Targets (Back) to Life."
  • Two-way: Third, we must set up content interactions that are two-way -- where we use what we know about a buyer to serve up relevant content and then to learn a bit more about that buyer at each next step.  This is a technique known as progressive profiling -- one that ultimately results in our getting to know more about the buyer over time -- and it represents the type of cadence a dynamic campaign should follow.

The buyer's process is a key underlying insight in all of this -- something I covered in a past blog post, "Content:  The Dirty Underbelly of B2B Marketing Automation." And it helps ground our overall approach.  "[T]he prospect is the center of the universe, not the company," reminds Anthony Power in a post on "How to Develop Content Based on Need Stage." He continues, "[s]o rather than our sales funnel, let’s look at their state of the prospect’s mind to shed some light on content development and delivery."

> Closing the loop so that it's clear what content has impact and how to tune your content mix

Analyst and author David Raab (Twitter: @draab) wrote a recent blog post on the issue of analyzing and attributing individual marketing tactics:  "[A] new consensus seems to be emerging on how to measure the value of multiple marketing contacts."  His piece points to the fundamental role of marketing automation, not only in executing and delivering up relevant content in the right place and at the right time for buyers, but also in tracking content served and being able to sync content to buyer outcomes by having a marketing automation platform sync-ed to your CRM.  And this is a core responsibility marketing automation is becoming more engaged with over time, notes Raab.

The whole point is being able to see that 'X' piece of content, combined with other tactics, led to 'Y' sale.

Content is not only critical to educating the buyer, but content consumed also can tell you something about where a buyer is in his/her process.  Behavioral cues based on Web pages accessed and documents downloaded then become critical information for your marketing automation platform to score against and to drive where a lead sits in your lead management process.  And thus you can see how much these three elements -- lead management, marketing automation and content marketing -- are really intertwined.  This is something I've previously highlighted on this blog in a post on "The Three Building Blocks for Effective B2B Demand Generation ... ."

My model below is from that post and depicts this interaction.

[caption id="attachment_818" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Source: Silverpop; click to enlarge graphic"]Source: Silverpop; click to enlarge graphic[/caption]

Marketing automation delivers the capability to tie content to sales outcomes and score against this information; however, approaches to where/how to do this analysis are varied -- even among users of the same marketing automation platform -- and this is an active area of dialogue.  Some prefer to do this analysis in the marketing automation platform, itself; others export the data and analyze it in a third-party application, ranging from Excel to SPSS.  Other options include doing this analysis via a third-party analytics package that integrates with your marketing automation platform in real time (examples include platforms such as Coremetrics and Omniture) or doing it within the CRM, such as Salesforce, itself.

I like the approach taken by Joe Moloney, principal and co-founder with Boston-area marketing automation consultancy Conselltants.  He has worked with multiple B2B marketer clients to set up CRM-side analysis where each time he creates a content offer in marketing automation (and tracks interactions with that offer in the same platform) he also sets up a marketing campaign object in Salesforce.  Then he sets up rules that tie content interactions to the campaign object and enable sales reports to show the impact of content marketing efforts via correlation of sales closes with campaign objects.  Just an example, but it shows how this type of analysis is actually very doable once you have CRM-synced marketing automation.

> Developing the right skill set and building the right team to effectively manage your B2B organization's content marketing 'machine'

The same legacy mindset B2B marketers have when it comes to static campaigns also impacts our understanding and organization when it comes to executing against a content marketing strategy.  The new B2B marketing reality requires an increasing amount of time invested in content -- much of it not immediately about your product/service or pushing your product/service, instead focused on the issues/challenges your buyer is facing.  This requires a shift in how we think about our subject matter, as well as a new approach to helping your organization identify and leverage content-producing assets.

Step one is letting go of long-held views.  We must look at content strategically, also valuing the time and resources put into producing content.  Content development cannot be a sideshow.  Blogger Valeria Maltoni (Twitter: @conversationage) -- a.k.a., "The Conversation Agent" -- talked a bit about delivering quality content in her post, "18 Ways to Walk the Talk on Content." Two thought provoking quotes stood out as challenging our old paradigms:  "quality content that is valuable takes time to create" and "[p]opularity doesn't equal value to your customers"

We also have to let go of legacy views around content value.  Good content is not just freely available; moreover, we've seen an increasing percentage of B2B marketing budgets dedicated to content marketing in recent years.  A Custom Publishing Council report published in late 2009 noted:  “Of the average overall marketing, advertising and communications budgets, branded content accounted for 32% of funds. This is the greatest ever proportion of overall funds dedicated to branded content. The previous high was in 2007, with 27%.”

Step two is leveraging new resources.  The good news is that these resources are rapidly emerging (including here on the Silverpop Demand Generation blog).  For example, recently we saw the launch of the Content Marketing Institute -- led by Joe Pulizzi of Junta42 and Michele Linn (Twitter: @michelelinn), one of the co-authors of the Savvy B2B Marketing blog.  And numerous other resources -- including The Conversation Agent blog, cited above -- abound.

Step three is re-organizing.  Successful content producers require different roles to identify content opportunities, develop them and thread them into relevant channels.  This requires moving to process-oriented roles and away from functional-area roles within the B2B marketing organization.

One such role is those individuals responsible for paying attention to marketplace dialogue and identifying content opportunities -- a function I believe is best-fit for a Field Marketing 2.0 team within your larger B2B marketing organization.  "For the content marketing process, we need this function to serve as the centerpiece of our listening posts," comments Joe Pulizzi in a Content Marketing Institute post.  "The goal of this is to make sure we continue to get a feed of information so we can always be on the cutting edge with our content."  Pulizzi further notes, "... this function can be outsourced to an agency, best practice is to make sure this role stays within your marketing organization so you are closer to the needs of your customers."

What do you think?

Where do you believe B2B marketers are focusing these days when it comes to content marketing.  Are they still mired in the basics, or are they taking the discipline to the next level?  What are you doing well at with content marketing, and what do you still struggle with?  Would love to hear your insights.


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