This month, I’m pleased to have Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, contribute a blog post addressing our questions about B2B trends and tactics. Joe has some great insights about the importance of being more social, as well as tips on content marketing, understanding buyer personas and why we should listen to our customers and prospects:
[caption id="attachment_2313" align="alignright" width="128" caption="Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute"][/caption]
1) What does “listening” mean in the context of B2B marketing, and how can today’s marketers listen better?
First off, B2B companies have been listening in one form or another forever. We get feedback from our sales teams and customer service, do focus groups, conduct surveys and more. The difference today is that our customers and prospects are actively communicating online without necessarily interacting with us.
That means, as an organization, that we can choose to either use that information for the betterment of our customers, products and business, decide to ignore it, or cherry pick the tactics that work best.
The first step to listening better is to set goals, like we would with any marketing tactic. We need to ask ourselves, "Why listen?" just like we would ask ourselves why we should blog or why we should do a direct mail program. So, why should we listen? There are a number of reasons:
- Feedback on products and services
- Recruitment efforts
- Demand generation
- Community building
- Brand awareness
- Customer service
- Content generation
- and more
After you decide why, you simply need to decide what tools to use and what you’re going to do with the ongoing data you receive.
My favorite, of course, is to use listening for content generation and community building. Whether you have a sophisticated reputation management system or you use a combination of Google Alerts and Twitter, listening will help you determine what the pain points are of your customers. What's keeping them up at night? With that information, you can begin to develop content through your blog, white papers and social media that meets those informational needs, effectively positioning you as the industry leader in your B2B niche. If you move fast enough when you do that, you can develop content that may even "break" stories in your industry. All B2B companies are publishers in their own right, and that responsibility needs to be taken seriously.
2) What is content marketing, and why is it important in today’s marketplace?
Content marketing is both a mindset and a practice. First, the mindset of content marketing means that you need to start thinking and acting like a publisher would to attract attention. The practice of this means developing valuable, relevant and compelling content on a consistent basis to attract and retain customers. It's content that ultimately helps your customers "do" something that positively affects your business.
Think of yourself like the leading trade magazine in your industry. What kind of content would you create that solves the informational needs of your customers? Knowing that our customers are so inundated with marketing messages, we need to develop information that truly makes a difference in our customers’ lives.
This is NOT new (see this video). Non-media companies have been doing this for years. The difference today is that the barriers to entry are gone, and anyone can publish content in five minutes. Creating content that makes an impact on your customers and your marketing is what makes the difference. Setting up a process for that is what challenges most B2B organizations.
3) How can B2B marketers best approach social media and integrate it into their overall lead-management strategy/process/campaigns?
I believe that in a few years, social media will just be called marketing. We'll continue to see more tools, but again, it's the culture and mindset that makes all the difference. For example, research from the Content Marketing Institute about B2B organizations tell us that 65 percent of B2B companies have blogs, but very few of those organizations have blog commenting programs. The content you’re creating needs to be activated. This means we have to be human. We have to respond. We have to share content that’s not ours.
Every campaign we run, even traditional programs that involve direct mail or trade shows, has a social component. The ones that work are the ones that are always social in everything they do. Just launching a campaign with a Twitter hashtag won't do much good if you haven't been active before that point, or that you start and stop when you feel like it (your campaigns). Our customers are always social today. That means we must be always social. Just make sure that the content you’re creating through those social channels is interesting and helpful to customers, or it won't go very far.
4) What’s a “buyer persona,” and why is this a critical concept for B2B marketers to understand?
Simply put, it's a visual and textual representation of your customer decision maker. In content marketing, your content creators must first understand who the "subscriber" is. If you were writing for the leading trade magazine in your industry, your first step isn’t to tell the story, but to understand the audience. That's what the buyer persona is about. How can you create the best content on the planet in your niche if you first do not understand your customers’ pain points?
5) What’s the most important thing that many B2B marketers aren’t currently doing that would help them nurture leads and/or drive revenue?
In order to drive a constant stream of online leads and attention, we really need to think about how we can be the leading experts in our industry. You’re competing not only with your competitive set, but Google, the trades and the blog down the street. To cut through that clutter, the information coming from you needs to be the best. To do that, you need to start evolving your marketing department into a publishing department. Start hiring journalists and managing editors. Start thinking about developing real-time content marketing processes in your organization. Get involved in all the sites on the Web where your customers are hanging out.
When that happens, no one will question where to go for questions in your industry. They'll go to you. You'll be the expert. You'll get more leads and drive more revenue. After all, you are the publisher.
Joe Pulizzi is the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, which includes the largest industry event, Content Marketing World, Chief Content Officer magazine (subscribe here), and vendor-matching site Junta42. Joe can be reached on Twitter @juntajoe.