The surveys have started. There are several industry organizations that field annual surveys about content marketing and they are gearing up.
Last year, the data overwhelmingly found every business says they are doing content marketing. This year, I predict satisfaction with content marketing will slide and many won’t understand why.
There are a lot of reasons why, but in some way, shape or form, it probably can be traced to the fact many marketing shops don’t see a distinction between content marketing and producing content.
In my experience doing this, and I’ve done it for a long time in many different B2B environments, here’s where things usually fall apart.
1) You don’t have a subscription mechanism.
To be successful, you must build subscribers. Visitors are a good indication, but email subscribers are best.
Research shows B2B organizations spend an average of $150 for every email address they capture. Most of them do this with gated content and in a bit of sleight of hand, pass that captured email off to an SDR to follow up.
This is what I call going from hello-to-marriage-proposal in a white paper download. They wanted the idea in the white paper; they aren’t interested in the product when they are just getting the idea. It’s a fruitless exercise for all involved, which brings us to the next point.
2) You don’t treat content marketing as its own channel.
For many B2B marketing shops, content marketing just means putting stuff up on a website under the blog section. Next, they are faced with deciding what content they are going to send via email. In other words, they must choose between sending that well-researched blog post to the company email list or that demand generation email.
Guess which one wins?
It doesn’t have to be that way, and it shouldn’t be that way. In recent words of a smart client, content marketing “it’s its own thing.” People subscribe to the content and they get it automatically every time it’s posted. That’s is the essence of a subscription.
It’s also why you need to be deliberate about the content you produce. Instead of passing those email addresses off to an SDR, you should continue to nurture your audience, build trust and weave in well-considered opportunities for an audience member to raise their hand for more information.
Content marketing is its own channel. That’s why you can run a campaign inside a content marketing program but not the other way around.
3) You have too many lead forms.
The pressure for leads in marketing forces short-sighted goals. This means a B2B marketing shop that starts a new blog, is under immediate pressure to demonstrate lead results. In response, they fill it up with lead forms. If you’re going to just slap the introduction to a white paper up as a blog post with a lead form, save yourself the effort and forget the blog and just make the lead form.
Look, I spent 10 years in-house – at a startup, then the mid-market, and finally a division within a global company – and I understand the pressure marketing shops face to produce leads. It’s an impossible situation when you’re negotiating with a business leader that hasn’t picked up a marketing book in the 20 years since college. If you’re in that position, I recommend skipping the half-hearted content marketing effort and just focus on getting really good at running campaigns with lead forms, email marketing and PPC.
To be clear, every marketing shop probably needs some manifestation of that campaign-style program, but content marketing isn’t the place for it. Content marketing is a strategic communications program that can produce leads, but how you do that has to be subordinate to the audience building goals if you want the program to be successful.
4) Your content marketing is organized around a product.
Benefits not features, right? That’s what pragmatic marketing taught us and it’s a valid approach, but it doesn’t belong in content marketing.
Too many B2B organizations try to organize content around product benefits and it pigeonholes the content into stuff nobody wants to read. Think about it for a moment: it’s really hard to create a publication around the benefits of a product because you run out of interesting things to say very quickly.
Instead, take it up a level, think about the things on the minds of your target audience, and then organize your content around those categories. You’ll wind up with an infinite number of ways to tacitly weave the benefits of your product in a manner that is useful and relevant to your community.
See these related posts:
The PR Opportunity for Brands as Publishers Tinker with Journalism
This is How the Sorry State of Media Relations Ends
The Aesthetics of Text: Writing Readable Blog Posts
5) You don’t promote your product enough.
What?! I know. You just read 700 words where I’m telling you to go easy on the product plugs, and now it seems like I’m going 180 degrees the other way. I often say there’s nuance to content marketing that matters, and that’s true here too so hear me out.
A few months back a relatively mature startup doing some cool things in IoT and corporate real estate approached me for a proposal. The young man leading up content marketing was a former journalist, and the content he had been producing was exceptional with one big glaring omission: relevancy to the product.
The guy was a fantastic writer. His stuff was interesting and well-researched. He published on a deadline and did it consistently. The problem was, most of it wasn’t even remotely related to his product or industry. So, while he’s probably building an audience, it was an audience that had zero potential to become a customer.
Content marketing in B2B isn’t a benevolent exercise in goodwill. We do this to build an audience of likely customers, and to earn a reputation for a smart, factual, and relevant point of view – thought leadership – that customers and prospects find useful. Your product has a place in the content marketing program but be smart about it.
6) You don’t have the right players involved.
Research shows content marketing is often a responsibility assigned to one person. While those people generally come with a work ethic that exceeds their salary, the chances of success are slim.
Moreover, you need more than just a writer or editor, you need a team with a vested interest in growing this thing. You need digital advertising for PPC and social ads. Remember those emails you’ve been collecting with subscriptions? It’s a treasure trove for remarketing.
You need creatives to bring flair and polish.
You need a technical SEO – the sort that enjoys listening to those marathon webcam-call-thing-ies John Mueller produces.
You need internal communications, sales operations, and business leaders that share internally and get the whole team interested (there’s an inherent internal communications benefit to content marketing).
You need marketing leaders that truly understand content marketing, its value, and are willing to commit to the vision and support the decisions of whoever they’ve assigned to lead the program.
7) You don’t publish content consistently.
You’ve probably heard this one before but for years there’s been a whole pile of research that demonstrates people that are successful with content marketing are consistent. I’m going to try to explain why this matters differently.
Consistency means publishing useful and relevant content on the same platform at the same time interval consistently over time.
Anything less than that is not consistent. If you publish on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, and then skip two weeks and publish four more posts in a row, you are not being consistent. What you are doing is taking a bunch of stutter steps and the data shows your content marketing program will dither along on in mediocrity.
Why is consistency so important? I see two primary reasons.
First, it conditions your marketing organization to establish a tempo that can hit a deadline repeatedly. It’s like taking the whole team to the gym – it’s hard at first and your team tires easily. However, over time, they get stronger and build endurance. Discipline in content marketing will benefit your marketing organization in many more ways than just building an audience.
Second, it conditions your audience to expect the content, and to expect content they can trust and use. There are elements of consistency to any successful relationship, whether it’s personal or professional. It’s true with pets. It’s true with people. And it’s true for organizations.
If your organization truly wants to build relationships with prospects and customers, be consistent with your content marketing.
What about “Good” Content?
Everyone has heard content has to be good to attract an audience and that’s true. What’s also true is that what precisely constitutes good content is highly subjective.
It’s your job to figure out what your audience thinks is good content. This is an exercise that occurs over months and years. You also have to be careful because tastes change over time. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, it changes.
To me, this is a good argument for producing content at higher volumes. You must experiment and try a lot of different things to find what works if you don’t publish often, you just don’t have enough tries to make the experiment work.
This post assumes you’ve figured that out. If you haven’t, I’d be glad to help you.
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