Lee Odden

8 Questions About B2B Content Marketing You Really Need the Answers To

Lee Odden     B2B Marketing, Content Marketing

B2B Content MarketingIf you work in the B2B marketing world, content is one of the most important tools you have to create awareness, nurture and convert prospects to customers. For proof, look no further than the recent CMI & MarketingProfs industry survey for 2014 that reports 93% of B2B marketers use content marketing.

Part of gaining confidence in the right direction for your B2B content marketing efforts means asking and answering the right questions. Not just for your potential customers, but internal questions to open doors of consideration for your content marketing strategy.

Here are 5 essential questions many marketers are facing now and my answers to consider. I invite you to think of your own answers and share them in the comments.

What are some common misconceptions about content marketing?

Many companies still think of content marketing solely in terms of creating more content.

In the SEO community, content marketing is a very hot topic, but most SEOs think of it as a link building tactic: Create and promote great content to attract links.

Another limitation people impose on content marketing is to think of it only in terms of content objects, iike webinars, white papers and infographics vs. in terms of outcomes or experiences.

When I’m planning content for a client or for TopRank Online Marketing, not only do I think about the accuracy and compelling aspects of the story, but I also think about how that content can contribute to the overall consumer experience with the brand. How will it make a reader feel? The B’s in BtoB marketing are people too and some types of content are more than appropriate for connecting emotionally with the buyer.

A great example of B2B storytelling that contributes significantly to an experience is GE’s Datalandia

Another is Suitemates from Kinaxis

What kind of resources do you need to build a successful content marketing program?

Many companies considering resources for a content marketing program are not in a position to start hiring dedicated staff, so these suggestions could be considered as additional responsibilities in some cases. Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose cover content marketing organizational structure pretty well in their book, Managing Content Marketing.

Since we’re in the thick of providing content marketing services for mid-market companies like Strongview and LinkedIn as well as large companies like McKesson and Dell, I’ve been able to get a good picture of what the essential resources need to be – for any company size.

Content leadership – A person who will champion the content cause in the organization. Larger companies will need executive sponsorship for the initiative and this role. For mid market and small companies, this role might be an Editor in Chief hired from the publishing industry. Experience with a media publisher and newsroom is essential as is managing or working with a team of writers, creatives and the business side of publishing. This editorial oversight serves as a steward for the voice of the brand

For a small or medium business, a Content Marketing Manager often fills this role with experience in corporate communications, publishing and marketing.

Content creators – From a brand journalist to copywriters, front end web developers/designers and creative design, the production team is the bread and butter for a content marketing effort. Companies large and small are scaling their content creation efforts not by hiring more pro writers beyond a core team, but by tapping into internal subject matter experts.

Additionally, companies that integrate their content marketing and social media community efforts will be able to connect with external resources for content creation as well. Some of these external resources will be fans and advocates and some will be paid writers and contributors that can create high quality content and share it with their own networks.

A great example of the output of this mix of internal and external content creation resources is Dell’s Tech Page One (Disclosure: Dell is a TopRank client)

Dell Tech Page One

Another great example of this is IBM’s Midsize Insider program.

Midsize Insider

Content Promoters – Great content isn’t great unless people can easily find, consume, share and act on it. That means having the people resources to promote the content being created, whether it’s traditional fare like white papers, eBooks and infographics or interactive social media content.

Content Amplification is something that should be factored in at the content planning level. We encourage our content creators to promote the content they’re producing and offer some performance metrics so they can see evidence of their work having impact. This feedback loop is critical for ongoing content performance optimization and can be highly motivating for content producers.

Organic amplification can be accomplished through SEO, social networks, blogger outreach and media relations. Paid amplification can be accomplished through PPC ads, social network ads, sponsored content and native advertising and other paid placement.

Monitoring and Analytics – From social media monitoring to web analytics, the performance of content can’t be left simply to page views and search engine rankings.  While it may make sense for a company to have dedicated analytics and monitoring resources, we believe in cross training content and account staff on these skills. For example, Eliza Steely, Ben Brausen and Steven Zahurones from our team recently become Google Analytics certified. Congratulations!

If you have social media specialists, it only makes sense that they provide reports and recommendations using social media monitoring software. Same for SEO, PPC and other Inbound Marketing specialists to bring web analytics expertise in support of the content marketing effort.

What does it take to build a sustainable content marketing program?

People, process and tools – from planning, to management to measurement that supports a feedback loop so you can optimize performance. Also, and most importantly, a community. When content marketing efforts are integrated with community building and networks, a brand will have a never ending supply of content ideas and amplification resources.

A strong vision for what content marketing is supposed to accomplish for customers and for the brand is also essential for a sustainable program. You have to be able to to show progress towards a goal and contribution to the business besides just being able to create content over a long period of time.

We’ll be celebrating our 10th year of blogging this December, which is a great example of a single content marketing tactic that has sustained and succeeded over a long period of time.

Where do I start if I am starting from zero?

It’s like eating an elephant. One piece at a time. And with a plan. Decide where to start and focus specifically on that area. No one goes from zero to hero by trying to be all things to all people. It’s also important when starting to have a clear idea of what success looks like. More leads? Lower marketing costs? Shorter sales cycles? Retained customers? More referrals? More industry media coverage? Additional monetization channels?

If you start specifically, you can become a really meaningful and important resource on that one thing and then expand into other areas with far more credibility than trying to be all things to all buyers from the start.

For example, when we started working with Marketo before they launched their product, the singular focus for content was around “marketing automation”. From there, it expanded to a wide variety of relevant topics expressed through a variety of content and media types.

Where do you get ideas for your content?

Ideas for content should come from knowing your brand, and customers.

A content marketing strategy that identifies customer segments and their buying journey will reveal many content ideas – basically, the questions that need to be answered in order for your customers to move through the sales cycle.

Think about what your brand stands for and what do your customers care about? Where do those interests intersect? The answer is a gold mine of meaningful content ideas.

Beyond that, the best or more unique ideas often come from community participation, experiences with customers, the industry, and with employees at your company that have regular, direct content with prospects and customers.

You can also get good ideas from answer sites like Quora, mining trending social media topics and the search queries from historical web analytics data or your on-site search engine.

Why do most content marketing programs fail?

Lack of vision, planning, commitment. Unrealistic goals or forecasting of resources. Not being realistic about how competitive an industry is, not tapping into what information buyers want and focusing more on what the brand wants to put out there. Empathy with your community of customers, smart planning, strong vision of success and commitment are the keys to not failing.

What’s the role of search? Does architecting content for SEO play a larger or smaller role than in the past?

Not making it easy for buyers to find your content is a bad user experience.

Ideally, the role of SEO and content should really be aligned with the opportunity for search to drive awareness and attraction for your topics and customer community. Are the topics you want to be known for in demand when it comes to search? Is it achievable for your brand to become the best answer for those topics?

Because of my long experience with search and seeing the impact on client marketing programs, I am biased that search should play an essential role with any kind of content that can be indexed and presented in search results. Achieving search visibility now or in the future means your brand solutions are presented at the exact moment the buyer wants or needs that information.

However, search is just one channel and one touchpoint during a typical B2B buyer experience. It has to fit with the rest of your digital marketing plan.

What’s the next level of content marketing?

Infotainment. More creative, more storytelling.  As brand content marketing initiatives become more sophisticated, they’ll actually become competitive in some ways with industry publications. Also, there is a growing shift from multichannel to omnichannel and content marketing that is better integrated with public relations, social media SEO and other communications channels.

As brands become publishers and more publishers become marketers, I think we’ll see a lot more owned media efforts that look like “in-house earned”.

As an example, think about the disruption of Netflix creating it’s own shows as a way to understand how brands will evolve their content marketing efforts. More earned will become owned and that opens up a whole new world of monetization opportunities and marketing efficiencies.

What about you? What are your answers to some of these critical questions for companies that want to succeed with content marketing? 


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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Good point about content objects/assets vs outcomes and experience. Repeatedly, I’m surprised by how much timeliness and relevance trump quantity and sometimes even quality, as with images. Keeping existing content – including those images – up-to-date and engaging is becoming more and more important.

    If you’re not focused on outcome and experience, it’s easy to count content assets with tally marks.

    • Exactly Matthew. Sometimes organizations get so ingrained with process or disconnected from impact that the real meaning and intent can get lost. White paper? Check. Blog post? Check. Infographic? Check.

  2. Appreciate the insights around ‘Starting from Zero’. Although my company offers a technology specifically aimed at helping content marketers better track the impact of their content, we are not sufficiently staffed to be a content juggernaut ourselves, so the eating an elephant metaphor, paired with the tip to ‘starting specifically’ is much appreciated.

    This prompts the question: When first identifying your specific area of focus and building a following and , what role does quality content curation play compared to content creation?

    Any best practice recommendations out there around how to most effectively leverage other peoples content, that you know will appeal to your target audience?

    • Thanks Steve. I think curation can play a pretty important role for both efficiency and thought leadership for a topic. My experience is that curation flavored with your brand’s perspective as well as original content are the best combination vs. original or curation alone.

      Think of how your share will create value for both your own community s well as the original author.

      • Great point. It is all too easy to simply forward content without adding that personalized perspective. This would clearly help shape our own voice in the market, while simultaneously making the content we do curate more engaging.

        I will certainly keep my eyes peeled for more info from you and your team about the second part creating original content, as that will surely prove to be the toughest part of building an longer term content marketing strategy…

  3. Hi Lee. Great article! I totally agree with you on how to
    get ideas for content. I use BizSugar and Buffer to find information, update
    new trends and brainstorm ideas that I’d like to share with my audience. You
    can use BizSugar to get quality tips based on categories and popularity to see
    what others are sharing or voting to the top. I use Buffer’s “Suggest a post”
    feature to check out tweets, released during top hours. For example, I’m going
    to write about new Direct Message option of Twitter. Through Buffer, I research
    about how people think about this option, how it works for businesses, or how
    it gives negative impacts on businesses.

  4. Nice article. B2B marketing often forgets the role of creative storytelling. Well put on the point about emotionally connecting with the buyer.

  5. Avatar Mario Bonilla says

    Lee, I have been saving this post for just the right time. I believe that this is the year our little brand will belatedly join the fight for world domination! Well…..a little slice of the pie would be nice.
    Like Steve, I too like the elephant concept. Because our business of disaster restoration and janitorial is so far removed from my days at PRWeb that I wonder if anybody cares to even search for what we do.
    But, due to your unwavering optimism we are launching an expedition to Find Them! Wish us luck.

  6. Avatar Sharry Dawson says

    Great article, all questions are very helpful.
    I would almost argue that the last step (to really hit this one out of the park) would be to talk to someone 1-1 to really get the low down. My friend did this with Anthony Macri – who has created international press releases. You can actually chat with him here : https://www.wisewords.co/experiences/1169/