There has been a lot of buzz recently in the B2B marketing world about the power and purpose of content marketing as an important business and customer engagement tool. The communication of relevant messaging to your current and future customers is also integral to building your business brand. Content marketing is not a new idea: companies have been developing information about their products and services for years as a way to support the sales process. However, what is new is that buyer behaviour has changed and moreover their information needs have shifted.
All buyers today, whether in the B2B or B2C context, are demanding more and better digital content and information about those products and services so that they can self-select and self-educate online before they contact a company. According to Gartner Group research, 32% of buyers will never contact a sales person before deciding to make a purchase decision.
Every business today, no matter how big or small needs to step up their content strategy because buyers are insisting.
But what is a content strategy?
“The mission of content is to create an emotional bridge between business and customers.”
Baer goes on to note; “we don’t need more content marketing, we need people in content marketing who are willing to have a passion for making a connection with people”. Content is what bridges that gap in today’s modern world.
So if every business today needs a content marketing strategy in order to make an emotional connection with customers, where do you start?
You start with why?
- Why does your company matter to customers?
- Why do customers choose you over many other choices?
- Why do you have a website?
- Why do you do email marketing?
- Why do you have social media accounts?
They may seem like simple questions, but you would be surprised by the number of business leaders who do not have good answers to these questions. And in the absence of why, we are left answering the what and the how without purpose. And this is why so much content on the web today falls flat and does not make an emotional connection. In other words, relevancy is the key to connecting with your customers and potential customers.
A content marketing strategy helps you rally your company around the most compelling question you need to start with…
Why are we doing this in the first place?
A content marketing strategy for a business helps frame the creation, delivery and governance of usable content you are distributing in order to help a customer choose you. Strategy is a decision to a take a path and this means saying no to certain things.
And yes, a series of tactics will make up your strategy but you must focus on the outcomes of the tactics, not the tactics themselves. And there are only two outcomes that matter:
- Business outcomes
- Customer satisfaction
If you are going to tackle a content marketing strategy for your company, here are the Coles Notes (do students even use these anymore?) of how to build your strategy:
You must align your content marketing team and the leadership team of your company on business outcomes and customer needs. To do this you can assess internal and external ecosystems and include things like technology skill sets that your company has, internal politics, ability to get content developed, etc.
Identify key opportunities for your content, core challenges and assumptions and risks. And as you rally around business outcomes and customer satisfaction, make sure you discuss more than eyeballs and clicks. What are the most valuable outcomes you seek to achieve (loyalty versus volume, quality leads versus quantity, etc)
2. Guiding Principles
To establish a content marketing strategy, you need guiding principles so start with your success metrics. The two cornerstones of success metrics for any B2B company should be:
- Customer satisfaction
Within your guiding principles, document who your audience is and why, your brand values and the purpose and format of each channel you choose for content. Too often we see companies throwing up social media accounts because they think they “have to be there”. We see too many companies with Facebook accounts as an example with a lack of focus, content and followers. If you don’t have a solid answer about why you are there that maps back to customer satisfaction or business outcomes, don’t be there!
3. Coherent set of actions
Look at the things you need to improve, redesign or shut down within your current website, content tools or social media accounts. What is working and why? More importantly, what is not?
Resist the urge to use the word “increase”. Every CEO I have ever worked with wants more – more followers, more names on a list, more leads, but if the content on your website is not helping customers in the buying process, then why would you want more traffic to your website? To put off even more prospects? Before you use the word “increase” in your set of actions, make sure you have used the word “improve“.
Strategy is hard.
Marketers are by nature curious, creative, action oriented people. We want to say YES to every new idea, opportunity or option we have today as modern marketers. But in reality, we need to be saying NO. We need to focus on the things that matter and are relevant to our customers.
And to be fair, as marketers today, we have a lot to do. We are always trying to catch up. We have so many options with respect to infrastructure, technology, people, strategy, etc.
So how can we make our lives better as marketers and the lives of our customers easier?
By having a content marketing strategy that bridges the emotional gap between business and customers with good content that is focused on how you can help someone do something better. If your current content sucks, is poorly written, off task and off topic, fix that now before it’s too late.
And if you are still one of those business leaders who thinks you don’t need to pay attention to this, you are wrong. Like it or not, the internet has forced us for the first time to be accountable for:
So get going with your content marketing strategy and help yourself answer the right questions about what your content should be. Say no to things that make no sense with respect to business outcomes or customer satisfaction.
Content marketing is about making great choices, not being everywhere.
Our Expert Panel of CMA members weigh in with these comments:
Michael Turney, VP, Marketing, Cisco Systems Canada:
We have seen an increased focus on content marketing - including creation, curation and collaboration. We now have an active editorial calendar in-place and regular “newsroom” meetings to review the plan and make sure our content is still relevant. We use content throughout the buyer’s journey from thought-leadership pieces through to our nurturing programs.
Our advice to other companies starting their content marketing journey is to: Start simple! Look to your partner community and ecosystem for possible contributors. And, once you’ve determined the Why’s - map the right content (and format) to the appropriate buyers’ stage in their journey – What? How? Who?
Stacey Cummings, Director Agency & Tradeshow, Canada Post:
Content marketing has become particularly prevalent for us over the last 10 years. We’ve seen a shift from talking about products and services to producing original research (based on questions from our clients), creating case studies, compiling global best practices in our industry, hosting events featuring industry thought leaders, creating awards for great examples of work done in the industries relevant to our business and participating as speakers on topics that are relevant to our audience. That all feeds our social and digital strategy as well.
We are always asking how we can illustrate the story our customers want to hear instead of figuring out how we can tell them about our products. It’s definitely a journey! We started small and now it’s a big part of all of our marketing efforts. Ensure your team knows and understands what are you trying to accomplish and who is the audience. Educate from the inside out – internally you need to embrace the story before you can tell it to others.
John Bardawill, Managing Director, TMG International Inc.:
As a consultancy, we have been using a content strategy for a number of years. However our approach has been to take relevant subjects, conduct research on them and then publish them on our website, Linkedin, third party content organizations and blogs. It is a challenge to keep up as a small business as it is time consuming. We have hired a writer to support our content initiatives. We have chosen topics and then worked on them to make sure they are relevant to our clients and market place. My advice is to dedicate resources, make sure the content is relevant to a target audience, provide content that sparks discussion and is not one sided, and recognize that the information is in a competitive space and must be short, sweet, and easy to read and absorb.
Kimberley Behnan, Senior Marketing Manager, Cisco Systems Canada:
We have absolutely seen a focus on content marketing, especially in the last 12 months, to the point that we in Americas Field Marketing at Cisco had some outside consultation about it. Less is more. Relevance is key – know your audience so you can capture their attention and provide them with a good customer experience.