According to a just-released report from B2B Marketing Zone, How B2B Marketing is Changing in 2018, the answer to all of the questions above is “content marketing.”
Even more interestingly, it was also cited as the biggest area of challenge. More than half of all respondents in the study cited some aspect of content ideation or creation among their top challenges for the coming year. So how do you make your content marketing more effective?
With 93 percent of B2B companies now using content marketing, the volume of online content is exploding. Every minute there are:
- 72 hours of new video uploaded to YouTube;
- 1,400 blog posts published;
- 456,000 tweets posted on Twitter and 293,000 status updates on Facebook; and
- 156 million emails sent.
How can you come up with anything resembling an original idea and create content that will stand out in the midst of this deluge?
Here are six insights—three on the ideation side, and three related to content development—that can help make your content marketing more effective in an increasingly crowded online space.
Get Real with Personas
The first key to make your content marketing more effective is to understand who you are writing for. The more focused your subject matter is on solving specific problems for specific buyers, the more relevant and effective it will be.
This is hardly an original insight. Most marketers now use personas to help understand buyer goals and intent, as Tony Zambito has explained. However, more than half of marketers aren’t confident they are using personas effectively.
Personas based on superficial knowledge, assumptions, or stereotypes aren’t particularly useful. Instead, test and improve your personas using:
Customer interviews: No information source is more valuable than primary research among your actual buyers. What pain was it that convinced them to change from the status quo? How did they go about searching for a solution? Why did they choose you?
Interviews with sales and customer service personnel: The next best thing to talking to your customers is talking to the people in your organization who most frequently talk to your customers. This information is second-hand and may be affected by unconscious biases or assumptions, but it can still be very helpful.
Website analytics: Use tools like Google Analytics, Alexa, and LinkedIn Website Demographics to learn more about who is actually visiting your site. You may not be attracting the right crowd. Or you may discover you are reaching an audience different than expected but still potentially lucrative.
Map Content to the Sales Funnel
It’s easy to get stuck at the top of the funnel, writing for strangers. That’s where “thought leadership” content is produced: blog posts, white papers, explainer videos, and the like.
But conceptualizing and producing content to pull buyers through the funnel is just as important as pulling them into it—and this is key to make your content marketing more effective. As they get closer to making a decision, prospective buyers will seek information like pricing and how you compare to competitors.
That would be terrible information to lead with in a new sales cycle, of course, but it becomes vital in the consideration phase. Prospects will find information to compare you to others somewhere online; it may as well be on your website (supported by third-party data of course, if at all possible).
And they need to know about pricing. Complex B2B products are often configured, so you can’t slap a price sticker on them like a package of strawberries in a grocery store. But you can give buyers an idea what to expect.
For example, if you sell a sophisticated product to large organizations, a statement along the lines of “We well enterprise-grade systems that typically support thousands of users” will be sufficient to let a 20-person company with a few million per year in revenue know they probably can’t afford your offering.
At the bottom of the funnel (post-sale) it’s still important to envision and produce great content if you want to make your content marketing more effective: clear, accurate how-to documentation and guides to help users be successful with your product. Well thought-out and crafted customer-focused content can help turn your users into brand advocates.
Use Ideation Tools
With overall plans in place to make your content marketing more effective, you can fine-tune efforts with the help of content ideation tools. These include tools to explore what kinds of questions your prospects are asking (Quora), identify emerging trends (TrendSpottr), collaborate on and map out ideas as a team (XMind), and create compelling headlines for your best topics (Tweak Your Biz Title Generator).
Once you’ve nailed down your specific topics, you can use a variety of tools to help with your research including Wolfram|Alpha for calculations, HARO for primary research, and Google Trends for spotting emerging search topics.
While none of these tools can replace your team’s knowledge and creativity, they can helpfully supplement those.
Personas, funnel mapping, and tools can all help your team brainstorm targeted, compelling content topic ideas. The next three ideas can help you produce that content more efficiently.
Repurposing content in different formats is hardly a novel idea, but it still often an under-utilized strategy. Why? Marketers are instinctively attracted to new ideas and new creations. That’s generally a positive attribute, but not when it causes inefficiencies from discounting the value of “old” content.
Repurposing isn’t only about reducing costs, though. It maximizes the value from original content creation efforts. Marketers see the results of their own work every day, and itch to move on to something new. But repurposing serves the information needs of prospects because:
- Different people absorb information best in different formats (written text, visuals, video, audio, etc.).
- Repetition works. Recent research suggests the classic “rule of seven” in marketing (that buyers need to see or hear you message seven times before they will take action) is actually more like the rule of anywhere from six to 20.
- Repetition works. (See what we did there?)
- Not every prospect sees every message, in every format—even those on your opt-in email list.
Case studies, an established staple of B2B marketing content, are a great example. Of course they can be mined for brief testimonial statements and promoted in blog posts and emails. But they can also be converted to video, used in live or online presentations, and—once you have a library of them built up—used as a source of statistics to design infographics. This is a great strategy to make your content marketing more effective.
Another method for maximizing the value of existing content is refreshing it. Scour your old blog posts for opportunities to update facts, statistics, or guidance, and re-publish them as revised posts.
A more challenging but also potentially more rewarding strategy when trying to make your content marketing more effective is to develop evergreen cornerstone content. Marketo, for example, produces a series of Definitive Guides (to social media marketing, lead nurturing, and other tactics) which it updates periodically as practices change.
Scott Brinker has published an updated version of his MarketingTechnology Landscape Supergraphic every year since 2011.
And perhaps the best example is Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends Report. It’s an incredibly powerful, frequently quoted, widely cited work of research she has published yearly since 1995.
Much of your most useful content will likely come from your own subject matter experts, whether in marketing or other functional groups.
But you don’t have to write or produce everything yourself, using only internal resources. Methods for generating content through outside sources include:
- Curate content: Top post roundups like this one on online marketing or this one on healthcare technology are an easy way to create shareworthy content that can also help build relationships with influencers.
- Feature others: Use expert roundups, interviews, and invited guest bloggers to supplement your content production while also reaching new audiences and building industry relationships.
- Outsource production: Extend your staff by hiring agencies or freelancers to product relevant content, through outside research or interviewing your experts. Outside talent can increase your capacity to produce video, visual, and all types of written content, from blog posts and case studies to ebooks and white papers.
When using outside resources, particularly for writing, it’s best to establish a long-term relationship with an individual or team who can get to really know your company, industry, and influencer ecosystem. And though cost is always a factor, this is not an area to shop on price: when you are relying on a consultant or agency to reflect your brand voice, quality is critical.
Devising and developing impactful content will continue to challenge marketers as the volume of online information continues to expand and the bar for creating stand-out content continues to be raised. But the six ideas detailed above can help you make your content more effective, without excessive increases in budget or staffing.