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What Are the Keys to Finding Success with B2B Content Marketing?

by: Adam Needles (@IBMforMarketing)
05 February 2010

A changing B2B marketing environment -- where the buyer is more empowered and in control than ever before  -- is pushing marketers to adopt new approaches.  Content marketing is just such a new approach, emerging as a new set of best practices.  I noted this last week in a post on my Propelling Brands blog that analyzed the factors 'behind the rise of content marketing':  "Whereas marketing content has always been with us, I submit that modern content marketing is something altogether new -- an evolutionary approach to engaging buyers with buying-stage-relevant information and a response to several rapidly-changing B2B marketing dynamics."  But to be clear, the idea is not to arbitrarily add new programs into the mix. 

Content marketing is not merely something to do in addition to the other marketing tactics you are deploying; rather, it's meant to be a unifying mindset -- raising content to a more strategic level.  I detailed this in my recent Propelling Brands post, “Content is no longer the static prose of taglines and brochures; rather, it is the connective tissue of a new era of ‘bottoms-up’ B2B marketing … and powers buyer dialogue."  My colleague, Kristin McKenna, put it a bit more succinctly in her own recent post on this site:  "Essentially, content marketing is the notion that delivering (through sharing) high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable buyer actions."

In fact, content marketing and a content marketing mindset are critical to success with marketing automation and lead management.  Content marketing is the strategy you need to power thoughtful 'dialogues' with potential buyers via your nurturing programs.   “Marketers agree that ‘content is paramount’ to feeding the demand management process, for initial prospect acquisition and for nurturing buyers through the purchase process,” comments Laura Ramos of Forrester in the whitepaper, “How Managing Leads Pays Off In A Stronger, More Qualified Pipeline.”   And consumption of marketing content is one of the keys to measuring where a buyer is in his/her buying process and to translating that into a lead score that both powers your lead management framework and determines when a buyer should be engaging with your sales team.

So you're saying, 'Sounds great ... sign me up ... where do I start?'

Adopting a content marketing mindset and infusing it into everything we do as a marketer can be challenging.  How do we overcome this?

I promised in my Propelling Brands post last week that I would detail what I believe are the keys to consider.


So what are the keys to finding success with B2B content marketing?

Here are the core principles I recommend:

> Think like a publisher:  The first obvious call-out is content marketing requires you to think, not only with a new strategic mindset, but also with a new tactical mindset.  You're partly in the business of publishing now as a marketer.  This means paying attention to dialogue in the marketplace, listening to the issues your audience is concerned about and producing content with timely insights.  One way to do this is to task your marketing team with setting aside time each week to think less about outbound messaging and, instead, to read what others are saying in the marketplace.  Ask them to develop an 'editorial calendar' that details the blog posts, white papers, presentations, etc., that you will produce to respond to issues and needs in the marketplace.  Let inbound insights drive your outbound content.

> Plan to be found:  Thinking like a publisher also means thinking about how your buyers will find your content.  Buyers are increasingly directing their own information search, so you must plan for serendipity and be smart about 'getting found.'  This means syndicating (via mechanisms such as RSS), search optimizing (via smart tagging, relevant terms in the text and regular updates) and driving digital word of mouth (via Twitter and other social mediums for sharing links).  (These are probably the themes you have heard around the new 'inbound marketing' concept that is being discussed more and more frequently in the marketplace.)  The issue is clear:  You can't just post content and expect that it will get found.  Promotion of your content -- and subsequently, your thought leadership -- must become integral to promotion of your products/services.

> Leverage personas; stay focused:  It's clear there is a lot of content you have to publish, but you also have to stay focused with this content.  Know your audience and leverage personas to identify the key audience segments and how they will use this content.  This will help you keep from going crazy when it comes to actually developing content.  I'll be honest, many marketers get derailed with personas, but you don't have to.  First, remember that personas are not only about the individual you're targeting, but also the context of how you are interacting with them.  Second, keep it simple when using personas.  In fact, here is a quick resource on 'four keys' to successfully leveraging personas.

> Really participate:  One key callout from the book Groundswell, by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li, is you may not always be talking directly to your buyer; instead, you need to be smart about leveraging the community of buyers.  Get them on your side; get them promoting your company for you.  This requires trust and reputation for the digital era.  This means participating ... really participating with your content marketing.  Don't just have a Twitter handle for shilling your product; actually share valuable content (particularly content that is not your own) and be an active member of the community in real time.  The less artificial the dialogue and insights are, the more successful your content marketing will be.

> Embrace -- rather than run from -- dialogue:  Given buyer power and the Groundswell, buyers now have more power than we do as marketers.  But that doesn't necessarily impair B2B marketers.  It just requires you to engage with buyers on their terms and avoid 'spin.'  That means real dialogue -- real one-to-one -- that addresses real issues.  No company can run from dialogue today; plus, it's a losing strategy.  Instead, embrace it and use it to your advantage.  And make sure your content tackles real issues on your buyer's mind, including how you're different from your competitors.

> Recognize content is more than text:  I was reading a great post on the Savvy B2B blog this week, detailing three case studies in the use of video as part of B2B organizations' content marketing strategies.  And it reminded me of a very simple fact:  Content is more than text.  In the age of YouTube, this is something you can’t forget.

> Make sure you 'charge' the right amount for your content:  Chris Koch with ITSMA published a recent piece that reminded me we need to be thoughtful about the give and take equation in content marketing.  The goal in content marketing is to deliver content that is of value -- that helps a buyer move forward in his/her buying process.  Depending on the relative value of the content and where that buyer is in his/her process, (Koch reminded me) we must be thoughtful about what we ask for from our buyer.  "[W]hile generally we can’t put a price tag on our content, we do charge for it," commented Koch.  "The price is the forms we make people fill out to download white papers or sign up for events.  Trouble is, we take a one-price-for all approach to our content."  For example, we should not ask for too much information too early on in the process; likewise, we shouldn't be sheepish about requiring registration for truly compelling research and reports.  Use best practices such as 'progressive profiling' ... and find the right balance (and read Koch's post).

> Plan to get 'passed along':  Content marketing is -- in effect -- a direct dialogue with buyers, but keep in mind the path to reaching that buyer may not be direct.  More than ever, content moves cross-medium (a point that is related to my 'really participate' recommendation above).  This is something that Silverpop identified in the recent 'share to social' study the company conducted.  My colleagues looked at the usage patterns of a new feature on our platform, which enables marketing e-mails to be shared to social networks and the results pointed to strong uptake.  The implication:  Design your content to get passed along from one medium to another.  Make it easy and the Groundswell will help make sure your message gets to the right buyer.


Your thoughts?

Adopting a content marketing mindset is critical to succeeding in the 'brave new world' of B2B marketing and especially to powering and finding success with marketing automation.  But it can also be challenging.  What would you add to my ideas about how to get started with content marketing?  What are your own experiences when it comes to opportunities and challenges for B2B content marketing?


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