Content marketing is delivering significant results for B2B marketers the world over. But the rules are still being written and plenty are getting it wrong, writes Jason Ball, founder of Considered Content. We’re now about a decade in on the latest iteration of content marketing. While in many areas, the discipline has become far more sophisticated, in others, not so much.
We still see plenty of ‘thought leaders’ fitting the facts to what they happen to be selling. Or social media success being pinned on follower counts and likes over tangible leads and income. Or magic formulas that state if you blog X times a week, create headlines connecting your business to something irrelevant but search-worthy and tweet your little heart out, success is a given.
It’s no wonder there’s confusion with so much noise. From those saying content is now the only marketing left (it isn’t) to those claiming it can be a self-operating lead generation machine (it can’t), the hype is in danger of obscuring just what today’s B2B marketers need to do to get value and results.
Three common myths around B2B content marketing that you shouldn’t buy into
Myth 1: It’s all about social media
Many businesses devote a vast amount of time and resources to social. Some build sizeable followings. Some have made catastrophic errors.
But, on the whole, success still tends to be measured in likes, retweets, and comments – ‘engagement’.
Too few businesses use social in a way that’s directly tied to tangible business outcomes. Before throwing any sizeable budget at social media, ask yourself three questions:
1. Are the right people there and in the right context?
2. What do you expect to gain for the business and how will this be evidenced?
3. How much will it cost (in both time and money)?
From here, you can properly begin assessing how much of your effort should be devoted to social channels. You’ll be able to take a real-world view of what’s working (and what’s not). And you’ll be in a better position to invest resources where it counts.
Myth 2: You can’t use content to sell
When did selling become such a dirty word? Somewhere along the line, with the move to a listening-first, inbound-only approach, we seem to have got the idea that content must be a sales-free zone.
Of course, presenting too strong a sales message at too early a stage can be ineffective and even damaging. It will poison your thought leadership, create immediate suspicion and devalue what could otherwise be genuinely useful content for your customers. It’s all a matter of getting the balance and timing right.
Let’s think of this in terms of a classic marketing funnel
At the top, customers are not only broadly unaware of your solution, but they are also unaware they even have a problem.
The question your content needs to answer for them is: Why should they pay attention? Serve them with predominantly business-focused content that’s 90% about the issue and 10% about your product.
Moving down to mid-funnel, customers recognise they have a problem that’s worth their time to try to fix.
So your content must answer the question: How should they begin to address the issue? How have others done it? The split here will be in the range of 80% process and 20% product.
Then we get to the bottom, where leads are traditionally handed off to sales. The customer knows they have a problem, understands the process of fixing it and is now picking a solution.
The question your content must answer is: What do they need to buy? What makes your solutions better than other options? Here, we move into more overtly sales-focused content where the split becomes 60% product and 40% business issue.
Even at the bottom end of the marketing funnel, it is still important that your content adds value to your customers’ business-level thinking. Ultimately, however, content marketing exists to help you sell. Without a tangible bottom-line impact, at best it will be a public service, at worst a money-pit.
Myth 3: It’s all about quantity. It’s all about quality
Time after time, B2B marketers name two content marketing challenges they struggle with on a daily basis:
How can I produce enough content?
How can I produce sufficiently high-quality content?
Now, when it comes to some aspects of inbound activity, quantity or – perhaps more accurately – frequency, matters.
Research from HubSpot has found that businesses with 51 to 100 pages on their site generate 48% more traffic than those with 50 pages or fewer and those that blog just once or twice a month get 70% more leads than those that don’t blog.
All of which shows you have to be in it to win it. Of course, the headlong rush for quantity has led to a lot of utter rubbish flooding the internet. Keyword-stuffed, news-jacked, irrelevant drivel that purports to tell you ‘7 things you can learn about moving to a SaaS ERP from the music of the Grateful Dead’.
Which brings us to quality
In B2B, quality counts. Quality is what customers want from your content. But, let’s face it, real quality is hard to deliver.
It takes time, money and requires access to people who really know their stuff. It’s been suggested that when you create content you should ask yourself: Would a customer actually pay for this? It’s a very high bar.
The answer is to get the balance right, to focus on the right kind of content at the right stage, to be pragmatic and understand what’s achievable within any given timescale. We break content into four main types:
Created content – the high value, highly considered material that forms the basis of your demand generation and content branding efforts
Curated content – adding value to customers’ thinking by finding, assembling and commenting on existing content
Commissioned content – having someone else produce content for you, such as a freelance journalist, guest blogger or researcher, or buying content like analyst reports from third-parties
Re-created content – adapting or reusing content you already have into new formats or extending its use into new areas, like repurposing an internally-focused training guide as an externally-focused how-to
Each type requires a different investment in time and money but, by focusing on getting the right overall mix, you can maximise both quantity and quality.
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