7 critical steps to better B2B content marketing

Oh, the pressure.  Now it’s like a drumbeat from all directions.  Everyone from the CEO down wants to know what’s going on with content marketing.  They want to see content and they want to see a lot of it.  Problem is, these people are likely to be big consumers of content … B2C content.  If you’re a B2B marketing professional, you know B2B content marketing is different.  You’d like your organization to put out quality, not just quantity.  Your instincts are right.

Most B2B content is not as powerful as it should be.   Much of it seems rudderless, lacking clear purpose.  It seems too general, tossed out to a wide audience with very little useful information.  It doesn’t seem helpful and feels like a veiled sales pitch.  And, just like the people putting on the pressure, most B2B content is looking for instant response.

Here’s the good news.  You can follow the responsible path and still be responsive.  You can get content out the door as requested by developing a program.  It takes a bit longer, but the steps are interesting and colleagues love to contribute along the way.  In truth, there are probably 20 key success factors, but seven steps stand out as being critical.  Consider these seven and you’re on the road to B2B content marketing success:

What’s the purpose of your B2B content marketing program?  Why are you doing it?  What business goals are linked to this effort?  Are you trying to form deeper relationships with current customers?  Increase overall marketplace awareness?  Drive increased understanding of a product or service?  Position your company as thought leader in a given area?  When we set objectives, then we can set metrics, and then we can measure.  It’s guaranteed we will develop different tactics for different objectives.  Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, suggests writing a content marketing mission statement.  Great idea.

What content do you have … and not have?  Most people think to search high and low for content they can repurpose for their white papers, newsletters and blog posts.  Good thinking, but it’s just the start.  The more important part of a content audit is discovering what you’re missing.  A detailed content audit helps assess the consistency, clarity and effectiveness of your messaging and brand.  We suggest creating a rating scale for key factors, scoring all of your existing content and analyzing the results.  Using an Excel spreadsheet works well to catalogue, describe and score each piece of content.  That sounds fun, right?  Most available advice on content audits relates to analyzing website pages.  For extra fun, check out Single Grain’s take on how specific the website audit process can get.

This may sound touchy-feely after our highly detailed content audit, but it’s a vital step in developing an effective B2B content marketing program.  Why?  Because companies tend to direct B2B content towards a single, broad audience target.  Truth is, various segments have different content needs.  Channel partners, OEMs, large customers, small customers, purchasing departments, product users and so on.  Divide your audience into four representative types, make each into a person with a name and describe the person.  Imagine their demographics, education, buying behavior and what types of content they would value.  Then direct your content to each of them, as appropriate.  Don’t share everything with all of them.  You can devote as little or as much effort to personas as you like.  For more detail than you ever thought possible, i-Scoop has a nice persona development overview for B2C and B2B with lots of links to additional resources.

If content is designed to inform a target audience, when is your information going to help the person who reads it?  It’s easy to forget that not all of your readers are at the same level of understanding about your offerings.  How could they be?  Some are just learning about you for the first time.  Some are assessing proposals.  Some have been customers for years.  Case studies are great for newcomers, while detailed white papers could interest veterans.  Testimonials interest those making decisions, while industry statistics might interest newer customers.  So, will writing for each stage mean creating more content than you imagined?  Eventually, yes.  But you don’t have to create it all at once.  Prioritize based on your audit and on what’s practical.  The folks at Marketing.AI, who make a terrific cloud-based content marketing management tool, encourage authors to consider the 7 stages of the buying cycle

Many content creators do a lot of telling.  Instead, do a lot of teaching.  When you share your expertise, audiences appreciate it.  When people take away practical ideas they can apply to make life easier, they give you credit.  There should be an unselfish spirit about the information you provide.  Especially in B2B content marketing, for every niche industry, there are thousands of hungry specialists starving for very specific insight.  These are willing students absorbing what they can find, where they can find it.  Get on their list.  Earn one of the top spots on their list.  Become their go-to source for what they need.   Better yet, put your teaching to video.  The Content Standard gives some excellent video pointers for optimizing B2B content marketing.

Remember, not all content you share has to be your own.  In fact, it can be just as impressive – or even more so – when you’re passing along something of interest to your target audience.  You’re showing you read, you think, you filter, you think about your audience, and you’re thoughtful enough to bring it to their attention.  Once again, your audience is reminded you’re an expert and you’re there to help.  At some point (you don’t know when) they might be ready to buy something and, most likely, they’ll think of you.  Ever wonder if there are products out there to help gather, organize and disperse information on specified topics?  Wonder no more.   Here’s a surprisingly long list of content curation tools.

Want instant sales results?  Try something other than content marketing.  Want relationship building and engagement that leads not only to sales but also to long-term support and loyalty?  Then we’re on the right track.  Actual revenue generation is not going to happen overnight.  Especially in the B2B world where buying cycles can be months or years, we have to realize content marketing is a long-term investment.  But it is an investment that will pay off when companies follow a thoughtful, consistent program.  You are building an online library that people might visit for years. Michael Boezi has a good blog post on this concept where he refers to good content as useful and durable.  

Final note:  our firm, Dix & Eaton, is sponsoring the B2B presentation track at the upcoming Content Marketing World on September 9-10 in Cleveland.  If you’re planning to attend, please stop to say hello.  If you’re considering attending, please reach out to learn more and to check if our discount code might apply to your organization – we’d be glad to help.  Just email Dave Loomis.

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