Lately every conversation I have with B2B marketers starts with content. From basic sales collateral to case studies to white papers, everyone needs more and better content to engage their prospects and customers. Given the importance of content marketing, I thought I’d share some insights from the new Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs, B2B Content Marketing: 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends–North America.
Write down your content strategy
Nearly everyone (89%) in B2B is using content marketing. But there seem to be varying levels of commitment. Ever hear the phrase, “Hope is not a strategy”? Well, it seems like there’s a lot of wishful thinking out there. While 78% report having a content marketing strategy, only 37% of marketers have documented it. In addition, 62% say they’re very committed to content marketing, and yet only 41% understand the value their program delivers.
Looking at the goals marketers seek to achieve below, it’s easy to see why content marketing is so important–that’s nearly every B2B marketing objective!
So, it’s time to get serious about content marketing strategy and write it down. The core of your content strategy should be tied directly to your value proposition. It should support your differentiated story and your unique point-of-view for your industry. At a minimum, a content strategy should document your target audience, value proposition, your goals, key metrics and an editorial calendar.
Go beyond social media
Social media has been like magic for B2B marketers–bypassing traditional market influencers, industry analysts and trade publications, to directly reach a target audience with measureable engagement…and it’s free! So it’s not surprising that 83% of marketers report using social media. However, most B2B marketers have been burned by thinking that followers and “likes” translate directly into leads. It just doesn’t work out that way.
Ultimately, B2B content marketing has to accomplish one thing: get a buyer to raise their hand. The tactics used to get someone to engage in a sales cycle are varied based on your industry, product maturity and complexity of what you sell. Marketers report using 8 different content marketing tactics on average, and the majority use a mix of social media, in-depth content like ebooks/white papers and high-touch activities like events and webinars.
As you consider what type of content to develop, always seek to use it across multiple campaigns and in every channel. For example, a blog post can be promoted in email newsletters but also split up into snackable social posts. Over-simplified, but you get the point. With content, you should always be thinking re-use and recycle!
Do the hard work
Clearly, content marketing is really important to B2B marketers, so what’s holding people back from success? Marketers who reported increased success in their content marketing program attribute it to Content Creation (85%) and Strategy (72%). Contrast that with marketers who said their success stagnated or decreased and it’s clear that content marketing requires time, strategy and producing high-quality content consistently.
Developing content to support your strategy requires a step-wise approach. To get some quick wins, start with content you already have. For example, if you’ve got an industry expert (CEO or product manager), interview them to create a blog series. Mix short-term opportunities with a more consistent approach for developing quality content. Start with your editorial calendar and anchor that with some substantial content pieces (2-4 per year) that you can use to support tactical communication over time. It may take longer to develop those pieces but in the end, they’ll go farther.
Get them to your website
It sounds obvious but your website is the destination for all of your content marketing strategies because it’s the first place people will go to learn about your products and services. So all of your content distribution channels should be geared to get people back to your website.
As the chart below illustrates, the most important channel for B2B content marketing is email. Unlike all of the other channels, if someone gives you their email address, they’re demonstrating a good level of interest and agreeing to ongoing engagement. LinkedIn is the social network for business, so it’s logical that you should focus your content distribution efforts there as well.
With regards to promoting content through paid channels, 84% of B2B marketers rely on social media. But search engines are the second most used channel–and that’s really important. Both of these channels can help boost your website’s organic search results with high-value inbound links–something we should always strive to accomplish.
When distributing your content, be sure to focus on using a mix of free and paid channels. The mix should be guided by your objectives for each piece of content. You might use paid media for a substantial piece of content versus using free channels for things like blogs. Don’t forget to share it with your sales teams…they’ll love you for it!
Measure for success
Since content is at the heart of your marketing strategy, you have to measure it. Let me start by saying that someone engaging with your content doesn’t necessarily mean they are interested in what you’re selling. Form completions for content are not leads plain and simple. That being said, content marketing is an engagement process that ultimately results in leads. Connecting that engagement to leads is either a manual process or can be tracked using marketing automation software.
Regardless, measurement is important to understand how well your content is engaging your target audience. The challenge of matching content marketing measurement to marketing goals is evident in the chart below. While website traffic is the top metric that marketers rely on, only 42% of them use it. Other top metrics include lead quality (34%) and sales (30%) but again, those require a lot of effort to utilize, which is why the number of marketers using them is so low.
There are a few metrics that should form the basis for measuring your content marketing program. Start with engagement to gauge the interest in your content including website traffic, email clicks, downloads and social media “likes.”
To demonstrate a connection between content marketing and lead generation you can measure lead quantity and quality. If you don’t have a marketing automation platform, you can measure leads by doing a monthly manual reconciliation of email addresses you captured through a content download to those who have filled out an inquiry form or called your sales phone number. If you have a marketing automation platform, you can get much more sophisticated by automating the matching process to track engagement over time. Validate what you're seeing in your metrics with your sales team to get their sense of lead quality.
Start improving your program now
No doubt you’ve got a content marketing program–and now is the time to move it forward. The benchmark report from Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs can give you some insight into what your peers are doing to improve their content marketing. It’s a great report so you should take its key message to heart: Building a strong content marketing strategy is the important first step to success.