While B2B companies are investing in content for marketing, making more content is not creating the windfall of leads that many senior business marketing executives had hoped for. The problem? A lack of insight about what makes better content.
I believe that finding a solution to the “more” vs. “better” challenge starts with customer empathy.
As an example, Steve Rayson, director at BuzzSumo and Anders Pink, explained: “The primary motivation of B2B customers is to do their jobs better. Thus, at BuzzSumo we spend a lot of time trying to understand the questions our customers are asking and the issues they are struggling with. We then try to produce helpful content which addresses these concerns.”
Put yourself in the shoes of a business customer: When you need to buy a new phone system for your company, where do you look first? How about when you need to hire a consultant or find a scalable marketing automation system to grow leads and sales, where do you go to find the right solution?
Whether business customers use search, read an industry publication, or respond to an ongoing nurture message delivered by email, the variety of resources that business buyers rely upon for research can vary greatly. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that buyers have questions and business marketers have answers. And B2B marketers are increasingly relying on content marketing to deliver those answers.
In fact, 89% of marketers are now relying on content marketing, according to the “B2B Content Marketing 2017” report from Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. Marketers now spend an average of 29% of their total marketing budgets on content marketing, and 39% plan to increase that spend, according to the study.
With content marketing so popular among brands and content high in demand from customers, why are many B2B marketers so challenged to stand out and be effective? One reason is that the inherent pressure to produce can result in content that does not resonate.
“There is pressure for companies to ensure there is quality content being produced and distributed, yet at the same time, be visible and present,” noted Ketna Mistry, director of social media at S&P Global. “Creating valuable, digestible, and attractive content to a relevant audience quickly enough, so that content opportunities are not missed, often means something is sacrificed.”
The New Paths To Information Discovery
B2B CMOs and senior marketing executives not satisfied with their progress with content investments must understand the effect of major changes in information discovery, consumption, and interaction among business customers.
The way business customers find and interact with information when researching solutions has evolved significantly, with changes that include the ubiquity of internet access, growth of social media, and mobile.
Self-directed business buyers pull themselves through most of the B2B sales cycle with whatever content they can find. At the same time, B2B brands are challenged to stand out among a deluge of competitive content and growing distrust of ads.
The good news is that there is a trend among successful B2B marketing executives that involves taking a more customer-centric and integrated approach to content. By making sure insights from sources such as search, social media, email, and web analytics are integrated into content marketing planning, B2B marketers are making more strategically valuable decisions about their content marketing and how specialty areas of marketing are organized in the company.
“These marketing disciplines used to live in silos, with experts dedicated to each. The new trend is for what I call ‘a hybrid marketer’ to not be one-dimensional, but instead understand how these strategies and tactics all fit together and then embrace technology to bring them together as part of a fully integrated marketing approach,” said Jason Miller, group manager of global content and social media marketing at LinkedIn.
With insight about buyer preferences on where they find solution content and what formats and topics are preferred as well as the triggers that will motivate next steps, B2B brands can become the best answer for buyers wherever they may be looking. Content that is easy to find, relevant, and more useful makes it more effective to attract, engage, and convert more business.
Buyer Behaviors Earn Results
A great example of leveraging buyer insight for content comes from YouEarnedIt, an employee recognition and reward platform that wanted to show how companies can better engage employees. Their approach started with a multi-touch campaign that included several guides, lists, and a conference panel at SXSW.
Amplification of content occurred through a blog, landing pages, social channels, emails, and guest blog posts with calls to action. Buyer insight was used with follow-up content that was automatically delivered based on reader behaviors and segmentation. Results of this multi-channel and multi-content format approach included 270 new sales-qualified leads and an 11% contact to SQL conversion rate.
As marketers, we often overcomplicate solutions because our industry moves so quickly. It’s possible that the strategic answer to dealing with information overload for buyers and limited resources for creating content comes in a much simpler form.
A Best-Answer Approach
A best-answer approach to content marketing sums up the need to empathize with buyers to understand what questions they have. It also reflects the importance of quality and usefulness in content to satisfy customers’ needs while they conduct their research at each stage of the buying journey.
“It’s critical for B2B marketers, in fact for any marketer, to really understand their audience including how, when, and where they consume content. This type of research (which should be ongoing) is likely to highlight the importance of making sure your content is present and fit for purpose across multiple channels, platforms, and devices,” said Simon Morris, director of demand marketing EMEA at Adobe.
Successful marketers are evolving their sophistication at using a customer-centric approach to content planning and, in the case of Zendesk, a phased approach.
Data-Informed Content Speeds Results
To accelerate sales enablement with content, Zendesk’s first phase included research, aligning content, and reviewing sales data. Phase two focused on repurposing content and developing a framework, and phase three involved administering sales enablement training tools and guides.
The result of this data-informed program included a 730% increase in deal closings, with 5,000 companies and a 130% increase quarter over quarter in outbound booking amount. For a round-up of other successful B2B case studies, take a look here.
In order for B2B marketers to put a “best-answer” content marketing strategy into action, there are three essential insights about customers’ search for information that are useful.
1. Discovery: Where does your specific target audience discover solution content? Do they search? What keywords do they use? Do they see ads? Where? Do they subscribe to newsletters or publications? Which ones? Are they influenced by peers and experts? On which social channels or forums?
Understanding the start of a buyer’s journey can help you develop the right marketing strategy for owned, paid, earned, and co-created media.
2. Consumption: What are your buyers’ preferences for content type? Do they prefer a blog post or video, then a webinar or white paper followed by a cost calculator or case study?
Content topic, format, and media type all matter when delivering a best-answer experience because they enable relevance, utility, and engagement.
3. Action: What triggers will motivate your buyer to take the next step? Can they go from awareness direct to inquiry, or do they need to be educated over a period of evaluation along with a buying committee?
Best-answer content empathizes with what a buyer needs to satisfy their process towards collecting the information and confidence necessary to make a decision wherever they may be in the sales process.
Once these customer insights are put in place within a B2B content marketing program, the need to integrate messaging across channels and tactics will also be important as the table below shows.
The best content isn’t really that great unless it can be found, consumed, and acted upon by buyers. That is why an effective content marketing program is customer-centric and incorporates data from SEO, insights about format and topics from social media, topical relevance of content from buyer persona research, and awareness of what effect media and influencers can have on buyers’ research and purchasing decisions.
Ultimately, a best-answer approach to B2B content helps strategic marketers overcome the challenges of standing out with an approach that provides buyers with more relevant content when and where it matters most, and in the formats they prefer.
A European version of this article originally appeared in my column at CMO.com.