How a new breed of marketers can master 21st Century content craft and change the face of B2B marketing
Content is not a problem to be solved, but an opportunity to be embraced.
You’d have to be hiding under a rock to not notice the content marketing storm that is currently ravaging the buyer landscape. It is where future B2B battles will be won and lost.
And yet, it’s not new. The storm is, granted, but content marketing itself isn’t. Smart marketers, B2B or otherwise, have been using content-based marketing tactics for years.
But facing unlimited inventory, and ever-limited attention spans, it has rapidly moved up the C suite ranks as a serious investment option. Closely sponsored by digital natives, it’s quickly disrupting the dynamics of the B2B marketing old guard. And with still over half of B2B brands yet to put in place a proper content marketing strategy, there is a long way to go.
According to Forrester, B2B marketers need to adopt a ‘wall street fund manager’ mentality to really maximize their marketing investments. I’d argue much more than that, marketers need to master ‘21st century content marketing craft’ to compete in what is one of the critical battlegrounds for B2B marketing.
Riding the content storm
A cocktail of trends are conspiring to make it harder for B2B marketers; media fragmentation, digital transformation, mobile adoption and the march of marketing automation.
At a micro level changes are equally significant; buyers are increasingly looking for more social proof, search is getting more semantic and business intelligence technology is helping sales teams bring more ‘situational fluency’ to prospect and customer engagement.
Critically, buyers are now expecting a more ‘additive’ experience from vendors. When they are ready to talk there needs to be a real sense of ‘added value’ to start the relationship positively.
Surgically aligning buying journeys with smart content programs is now business critical. A well designed nurturing program with the right content can take control of the 70% of the sales cycle that occurs before personal contact.
Amongst all of this is a permanent state of content shock for brands and buyers. A Tsunami of content is published and shared everyday, with no sign of decreasing.
The noise is winning over the signal.
So with all that noise, why is it so imperative that editorial content is part of the marketing mix?
1. It’s the default currency for digital marketing
2. It can empower your sales people to over-perform
3. You need it for prospect seduction and customer retention
4. It is the best way to demonstrate genuine thought leadership
5. It can tie all your marketing efforts together
The ongoing editorialisation of B2B marketing has created a content beast that needs feeding. But nourished well it can outperform other marketing options. According to General Electric they get an extra 30% of value for every marketing dollar spent on content marketing.
Turning an unforgiving task into an opportunity
The issues within the industry are commonplace; content doesn’t match buying cycles, inconsistent editorial standards, poor governance, bad targeting, too much time spent on creation not enough on distribution and a pervasive sense of ‘publish and hope.’
In some ways the content task for B2B marketers is more comprehensive, complex and unforgiving than their B2C cousins. For B2B marketers there is the sense that you can’t afford to get this wrong. Poor thought-leadership is enough to make or break certain categories.
B2B marketers need to consider what their signature content menu looks like when editorialising their passionate purpose. Which dishes come out for comfort, seduction, bonding, closing and conversation. And what is the order and provenance of those dishes.
Embark with some principles for your content journey
Start with how you intend to continue. Define an approach to your content mandate. What are your guiding principles?
At iris Worldwide we use a planning model called Content that POPS to counsel clients on the growing ecology of content marketing disciplines. If you are going to invest in content for your marketing, then the principles of POPS can help you find your way.
The idea of content popping was pioneered in the golden age of photojournalism. That one image that captures the spirit of the story. That memorable and arresting ‘decisive moment’. The conversion rate for finding images that pop were incredibly low. There was a saying at the time that ‘your first 10,000 photos’ are rubbish. The lesson here is: content takes time to craft.
Yet, brands as genuine content creators are still at basecamp on their journey as publishers. But in an age of ‘digital landfill’ the temptation to expedite progress is too much for some brands. Ultimately, you can’t shortcut the do I care or will I share factor for content.
We have four simple guiding principles for content that POPS.
Purpose. What is your passionate purpose? What is the rallying cause that can be the catalyst for your business? Why will your audience care?
Originality. Is your content really good enough to earn attention? Is it unexpected? Is it born from editorial craftsmanship?
Participation. Can your content inspire genuine involvement? How can you design lean forward and lean back moments of participation?
Storytelling. What are the extraordinary dimensions in which you can tell your story? Does your narrative have the right stamina for discovery?
Feeding the content beast
With recent talk of content storms, it’s easy to get depressed about how noisy and saturated your marketplace has become. For many it will be hard to compete if you don’t have the right level of commitment, investment and content craft.
B2B buyers are searching for authority markers and real stewardship. They want quality. To sustain your content marketing in 2014 you need to really commit and aim for sharpness of signal and avoid the ‘wasteland of the middle’ – that place where content has been compromised and diluted, yet still published with expectations of performance. Here lies the grave of mediocrity.
5 steps to sustain your B2B content marketing strategy
The answer isn’t at all very sexy. It involves designing an operating system fit for purpose: an infrastructure and culture that can cope with the demands of publishing at scale and at speed.
1. Mobilise your experts. Hire smart editorial talent that can transform your marketing department. Empower your sales teams to become thought leaders in their own right. Partner with influencers. Collaborate with advocates. Think about how you can leverage authorship value right across your ecosystem.
2. Bake in better editorial diversity. Ensure there is sufficient editorial diversity to take your brand to new areas of consideration. It’s not enough to just have case studies and white papers. Your editorial approach needs to match your buyer’s emotional states as well as rational needs. Think about your brand as editor, rather than just publisher.
3. Orchestrate ‘stock’ and ‘flow’ content*. Get the right balance of long term stock content (longtail value for search) and short term flow content (snackable value for streams and feeds) will ensure your brand is present at different buyer contexts. Monitor and adjust your content balance according to the content velocity in your market.
4. Design a content supply chain. Having awesome content is not enough. Building a ready supply of it that can be re-packaged, targeted, distributed and promoted is the real task. Seek better ways for your content to surface in the right places at the right time. Incorporate smart recycling programs to maximize your content investments.
5. Organise for a culture of content integration. Your content shouldn’t be a separate marketing tactic. It needs to seamlessly integrate into your marketing strategy and provide the fuel for nurture and customer marketing programs. Designing governance to coordinate technology vendors, authors, partners and agencies will help shape an editorial culture and way of working.
B2B can take the lead in blending automation with authorship
Let’s face it; B2B brands are not natural publishers. There is no press here to transform into a media company button. Like there is no short cut to digital transformation. It requires vision and hard work. It took General Electric the last five years to master their content marketing strategy. And they are still learning.
B2B marketing is faced with a seesaw of options.
Most are technology driven, which can of course drive optimization and results. But optimization is not a strategy, it’s a way of working. Editorial optimization requires innate creativity and a real understanding of why your buyer should care about what you have got to say.
The goal is to deftly combine the smarts of automation and the craftsmanship of trusted brand authorship. This is the white space of growth. This is the bridge into 21st century B2B marketing. Start thinking how you can rewire your operating system to reboot some content brilliance into your brand.
There is no place for ordinary content anymore.
(This was an article I wrote a while back for WARC)
(Image credit: VintageSurfboardCollector)