Content is the fuel that powers both inbound and outbound marketing efforts. Whatever form it takes—paid ads, video, images, blog posts, social media posts, case studies, webinars, infographics, whitepapers, eBooks…well, you get the picture—its end goal is to drive growth for your business.
But without a thoughtful plan for how to create, manage, track, and optimize content, you’re basically spinning your wheels, contributing to a proliferation of it that only your marketing team bothers to read.
The five biggest problems with content are:
With some planning (and introspection), the above issues can be resolved, but first it’s important to define what content is within the realm of B2B marketing.
Content is any piece of information, regardless of format, developed for the consumption of an audience. In B2B marketing, it is used for a variety of purposes—branding, lead generation, lead nurturing, customer relationship management, and support.
According to The CMI’s Benchmarking 2020 report, the three types of content B2B marketers use most are social media posts, blog posts/short articles, and email newsletters. Other popular B2B formats are in-person events, videos, and case studies.
The following chart represents the top B2B content types used within the last 12 months, per the CMI report (from June 2018 through June 2019):
The CMI report also lists long-form articles of 3000+ words, research reports, print magazines, podcasts, and more.
The text on your website is content, but so are the videos you create for YouTube, the brochures you develop for your sales expo, your product demo, the text ads you need for your Google campaign and on and on.
The fact that it can manifest in so many ways is why it’s so difficult to manage. It is needed for just about every aspect of your business—from marketing, to sales, to operations, to customer experience.
These are separate departments, each with its own focus, goals, and needs, so what tends to happen is that the content you create is not cohesive, leading to a lack of unified messaging.
Addressing the five issues listed above can help resolve most of your content problems.
Nearly 90% of the top performers in the CMI’s survey prioritize their audience’s informational needs over their own organization’s sales and promotional message.
In short, content should not be about what you need to communicate—your sales pitch, your benefits, why you solve a specific problem—unless it serves a purpose for your audience.
The most successful B2B marketers use it to build loyalty with customers, nurture leads and subscribers, generate sales and revenue with it, and build subscribers.
The least successful are much less likely to do any of these things, as demonstrated by the following chart:
Create content that serves your audience. Most companies understand that they’re marketing to a specific audience of prospects.
The average number of audiences that B2B marketers create is 4, though smaller companies have fewer audiences and larger companies have more audiences.
An asset that resonates and engages with your audience is effective, which is why it’s so important to create audience profiles with feedback from every customer touchpoint in your organization (sales, marketing, customer experience, IT, and management).
Once you identify your audiences, you’re in a better position to create an asset that meets their specific needs, but you still need a strategy.
Developing content without a strategy is inefficient and often ineffective. Nearly 70% of the top performing B2B marketers in the CMI survey noted that their organization had a documented marketing strategy compared with just 16% of the least successful marketers.
Likewise, 87% of the top performers indicated their content marketing is sophisticated or mature versus just 8% of poor performers.
An organization whose content marketing is mature or sophisticated and, therefore, more successful is an organization with a documented marketing strategy.
Other key success indicators include having a centralized marketing group that represents the entire organization, using metrics to measure content performance, and assigning KPIs to measure the initiatives and ROI.
Half of CMI’s survey respondents, regardless of the size of their organization, indicated they create content for the top of the buying funnel, with 22% indicating they create it for mid-funnel.
Just 14% of respondents indicated they create late-stage content designed to enable an actual purchase. This is clearly a missed opportunity. When buyers can’t find the information they need to support a large purchase, they tend to move on to a different vendor.
Map your content to the different stages of the buying cycle. Not all types work with all stages of the funnel.
For example, blog posts/articles, social posts, and in-person events perform best for branding, while in-person events, case studies, and webinars/virtual events are more effective for converting leads to sales.
The CMI asked respondents to list the three highest performing types for each stage of the buying cycle. The following graphic illustrates the results:
Results for each type likely vary from company to company, so it’s worthwhile to research what’s worked for you in the past in addition to what works for other B2B marketers. That way you can better plan your content for every stage of the buying cycle.
There are many steps to creating good content , but because so much of the assets that B2B organizations create is organic (meaning, it’s not attached to a paid ad campaign), some of these steps are ignored in favor of more urgent priorities.
For an asset to be successful, it’s important to consistently manage all the steps involved with its execution—from planning, to creating, to launching, to amplifying, to tracking (and optimization)—just as you would with a paid ad campaign.
Technology is the key to effectively help you manage content. There are platforms and applications available that facilitate content creation, management, amplification, and tracking.
The top tools that CMI survey respondents use are web analytics tools and dashboards, email marketing software, social media publishing/analytics platforms, CRMs, and CMS apps (e.g., WordPress).
The top seven tools used by marketers in the CMI study are listed in the following chart:
Keep in mind that tools and technology only go so far in helping you produce meaningful, effective content. As noted above, you need a strategy, a well-defined audience, and a clear purpose for each piece of content.
Yet, even with all the above in place, your great intentions can fall apart without someone to hold it all together. That’s why I saved the worst problem for last.
More than half of the respondents in the CMI survey indicated they had a small marketing team that serves the entire organization.
Even large companies with 1000+ employees generally have content teams of about 2-5 people. With resources tight and staff overwhelmed, content marketing tends to be a low priority.
Make content (officially) someone’s job. Assign a champion (the CMO, a content director, etc.) to ensure that the entire process of content development is consistent over the long term.
If resources are limited, then outsource some tasks, but the champion of your content should (ideally) be an internal employee or a dedicated consultant.
When it comes to creation and management, outsourcing is your best friend. Half of respondents in the CMI survey indicated they outsource at least one content marketing activity, with 84% listing asset creation as the main task that they outsource.
Outsourcing can help keep the flow of it consistent, but only if everything else is aligned.
There’s no denying that there are many moving parts associated with content marketing. It is a time consuming, complex process that touches all sectors of an organization. It’s also incredibly effective.
Nearly 60% of respondents in the CMI survey who measure content marketing ROI indicated their ability to demonstrate ROI was very good or excellent.
It helps marketers create brand awareness, educate audiences, build trust, and generate leads (among other things). But, as with any marketing initiative, it can easily go off the rails without strategy, planning, resources, and follow-up.
The good news is that the main problems that B2B marketers face with content can be addressed, and overcome, with a bit of foresight, research, and intent.
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