Every marketer struggles with how to be the most effective in Content Marketing and what they are going to develop in their content strategy efforts. Today’s complex world of internet marketing is so full of buzz words, technologies, strategies, and hype that it is often very difficult to sort out the chaff from the substance. Here is an interesting perspective of developing the right content strategy to be effective in today’s content drive marketing efforts.
The right content strategy: Why are B2B marketers shooting themselves in the foot?
B2B marketers were early believers in the power of content to attract potential customers. But as their traditional content vehicles — trade media — struggled with digital realities, B2B marketers sought alternate channels for engaging their targets.
The obvious solution was to become part-time media companies themselves. How difficult could that be? B2B marketers had tons of product and industry information available to them. Why not simply swath this in comforting layers of bespoke, “soft sell” content to attract – and own – an audience? After all, wasn’t it marketing content, often thinly packaged, that was the editorial mainstay of trade publishing?
So, over the last few years B2B marketers embarked on a content generation and content acquisition spree that has vaulted them to the vanguard of the content marketing revolution. It’s been a boon for survivors of the train wreck that is the trade publishing industry; many trade journalists have found comfortable homes at the companies they once covered.
But is it effective marketing?
It’s not, according to Content Marketing Institute’s report “2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends,” that came out a few months ago.
What sticks out in the report is that while 86% of B2B marketers say they use content to attract and retain customers, not even four out of 10 marketers think their content marketing is effective. Only 21 percent of the marketers surveyed are successful at tracking ROI.
It’s not for lack of trying. They’re pushing every single button: 92 percent cite social media content (other than blogs) as what they most use, followed by newsletters (83 percent), and articles on their website (81 percent). Not far behind in terms of frequency of usage are blogs, case studies, white papers, videos, etc. Marketers reported that they are working on an average of 13 initiatives now — and are planning to begin work on an average of eight more.
If this sounds confusing and haphazard, that’s because it is: Turns out that only 35 percent have a documented content marketing strategy. The others either don’t have a strategy, or haven’t documented it, which is tantamount to not having one. But, nonetheless, they are pressing ahead, undaunted: 70 percent say they are creating more content than they did one year ago.
What are they missing?
It would appear that B2B marketers have completely bought into the prevailing wisdom that, thanks to search engines and social media (where they are influenced by professional peers), customers have usurped the “sales funnel;” that customers now guide themselves through the front-end of the selection process – from identifying the business need, to finding solutions, to testing services and products online.
Convinced that they’ve lost influence at the broad front end, B2B marketers are focusing on narrow end of the sales funnel – conversions to “leads,” defined as behaviors that portend purchase interest. For the most part, B2B marketers have tied their fortunes to delivering leads, as the only measure of marketing ROI.
In doing so, they are shortchanging themselves: A focus solely on delivering leads to the sales department devalues the marketing function to a sales support role.
Social media and search are indeed powerful discovery tools but that doesn’t mean that marketers should abdicate their responsibilities to exert their own influence, early in the cycle.
Yet, abdication is what it looks like from the perspective of how they deploy content. Generally, “editorial” content is presented as subordinate to product information; it is characterized as “product support.” Such content is better used to engage and influence at the start of the process, not when the potential customer is already deep into it. At that point in the customer’s journey such content holds little sway.
The single-minded focus on leads is insidious also because it has diverted attention from what should be marketing’s primary responsibility: “branding” the organization’s values. When I asked a group of marketers why there were no B2B branding campaigns of note, one of them asked, with mock derision, “Branding? That’s so ten years ago.”
That’s because it’s a hard thing to measure. Branding is a long-term process. Its effect on sales is qualitative, if not anecdotal. A branding program is a leap of faith to a large extent. Yet, branding is a precursor to lead generation; a peer recommendation, after all, stems from brand awareness.
But how to do it? To use the language of content marketing, branding starts with a conversation. For effective branding, blogs on web sites, occasional tweets and newsletters are simply not enough. That’s no way to have a conversation.
The good news is that some b2b marketers have taken bold steps, instead of half measures. They’ve decided to create an audience, rather than simply count leads. They’ve become publishers in their own right. As publishers have done for eons, they have identified the universe of potential customer types (they’ve clearly defined “personas”) and created true engagement vehicles (“platforms”) at a slight remove from their marketing preserves. Here are some such “brand publishing” efforts worth noting:
CMO by Adobe: Adobe, which makes and sells digital marketing tools created this platform to get share of mind with the senior-most level—the chief marketing officer level — at strategic customer organizations. This is a vibrant community of “marketing leaders” nurtured with solid, insightful content that is both curated and exclusive.
HSBC Global Connections: HSBC’s stock in trade is international commercial banking and Global Connections is its vehicle for engaging with high-level influences in that arena. Through content aggregation agreements with the likes of The Wall Street Journal, The Economist Group and others, Global Connections has become not just a respected source of information on international trade, but a complete media property: among other things it runs a global competition for most innovative companies and issues authoritative trade forecasts.
Open Forum by American Express bills itself as the new advice-sharing platform for entrepreneurs. It may be the best source for practical, “how-to” advice on the varied aspects of running a small business. As it turns out, it’s also a perfect branding conduit for Amex’s credit cards for small business.
All of these platforms have garnered significant followings. Not surprisingly, they share a number of traits: They’ve defined their target audiences well and, over time, have tuned the content mix for maximum engagement; they aim for the highest levels at customer organizations; they strive to present trusted information, not thinly veiled product pitches; they are clearly identified with their parent brands, but not obtrusively so.
But do they work? Traditional measures of success like web site analytics and various social metrics may, or may not, be relevant in this case. Ultimately, that these platforms are successful may be deduced from the fact that they represent long-standing efforts – in internet years– by the brands behind them: CMO has been around since 2009; Open Forum, even longer. What this longevity demonstrates is the conviction that conversation leads to relationships. That is the essence of an effective content strategy.
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