With more eyes on screens, marketers are looking toward content marketing to stay connected with customers especially in dire circumstances. The unpredictability of the situation is the main reason good content is going to be your most valuable marketing asset right now. Even if consumers may not necessarily be purchasing from you right now, it is the time that relationships are built between brands and customers and they could even be looking to brands for information and entertainment.
Evolution of Content Experiences after COVID-19
When Bill Gates published an essay in 1996 called Content is King, he made scarily accurate predictions about the modern state of content consumption. The broad opportunities he envisioned for companies has only grown exponentially into the marketing monster it is today.
We’ve watched as Content Marketing has gone from this “nice-to-have” addition to demand generation and SEO, to a must-have, strategic function for adding overall value to the business. In other words, we’ve watched content marketing go from marketing tactic to business strategy.
Robert Rose, Founder & Chief Strategy Officer – The Content Advisory
Recent surveys have found that 69% of B2B marketers plan to increase digital advertising budgets in 2021 and if they do, brands will have to level up their approach to creating content in terms of quality and strategy to stand out from the crowded digital landscape. The first half of the year 2020 had abundant surprises in store for the world and the marketing universe has seen its fair share of cuts in advertising and reduced budgets because of decreases in revenue. Restrictions on attending physical events had a drastic impact on B2B content consumption too, forcing marketers to find innovative approaches to fill their marketing funnel.
Uncertainty is the order of the day and this applies to B2B practices as well. Many CMOs have become all too familiar with budget cuts during the COVID-19 outbreak but the general trend has been to shift focus from acquiring customers to retaining customers.
An Overview of Modern B2B Content Marketing
Traditional marketing techniques for B2B marketing have proven to be not as effective as inbound marketing because of the nature of the message. Interrupting your audience is a key characteristic of outbound marketing while inbound marketing aims to solve a challenge or pain point that the customer is facing exactly when they are looking for the solution. When your prospect heads online looking for a solution it is the ideal opportunity to improve brand awareness and boost conversions.
Some of the goals of B2B content marketing are to let your target audience know about your brand, develop the information they have about the brand, and allow the consumer to see the benefits of using your product or service. Over time, the goal changes to drive leads to your business and convert a prospective customer into a qualified lead. What sets B2B content apart from B2C is that it has to have some form of use to the reader. If the reader is unable to apply what they have learned, then B2B content has not achieved its goal. There are exceptions to this rule but the main aim is to be viewed as a resource for other professionals in your target industry.
Incremental Value Addition Is Vital
The first time I meet a customer I deliver a little bit of value. The second time, I deliver a little more value. The third time, a little more value. Eventually, I’m delivering enough value through the experience that the customer wants to pay for what comes next and – if designed well – that next experience is the product/service I have in the market place.
Robert Rose, Founder & Chief Strategy Officer – The Content Advisory
In the modern scenario, it has become more important to communicate responsibly to your customers, focus on educating them, and build trust and credibility. This, in turn, will affect sales and revenue generation and will help build loyalty with your existing customers. The quality of value your content asset adds to a prospect has to increase over time to convert them into a paying customer. Similarly, an existing customer will look for a different kind of value addition progressively. The daily challenges of the modern customer have changed drastically and your content needs to convey how your brand is going to help them in these new circumstances. Your ability to adapt is going to shape the potential impact your content can have on your bottom line. While it is important to set realistic goals for 2020 it is also time to scale up content to counter any foreseeable loss in revenue from existing customers.
Customizing Content to Your Buyer's Journey
Mapping what you make to the buyer’s journey is vital to its ability to help convert a prospect into a customer. Once you’ve created a detailed buyer persona, segment your buyers based on the stage they are in their journey to being a purchasing customer. Traditionally, a content marketing campaign has a wide top funnel and this is where your customer experience begins. Right from awareness to purchase, the experience needs to be a pleasant one that leaves them wanting more.
The core stages that a typical buyer goes through are:
As marketers, we need to take our buyers on a journey using content. We need to be able to get a buyer from one piece of content to the next—think of a nice hiking trail through the woods.
Randy Frisch, CMO – Uberflip
The B2B buyer journey usually includes more than one person. Even if it begins with one person, as they progress through the journey the individual grows into a committee and the buying decision requires a consensus. The B2B journey also does not necessarily need to be linear depending on your buyer’s organizational structure.
Baby Steps - Awareness and Interest Content
Initially, the buyer has not heard of your business so your content should be designed to arouse their curiosity. They are not inclined to join your list of newsletter subscribers or email list—they only know about you because of the quality content you created. Creating great content is the first step before you start adding value to your customer. If your business is showing up in Google’s featured snippet or is among the first few search results in any search engine for your target keyword, you’ve already got an advantage on the competition. This is where your content marketing strategy can help immensely. From the moment the potential customer clicks on your website link, they should be continually impressed so that you build a reputation of providing helpful content.
Optimizing your SEO, branding, and thought leadership blog content is only a part of this process. Without a unified approach to your digital marketing strategies, there will be inevitable breaks in the buyer’s journey resulting in a fragmented view of your company’s services. Identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) and measuring return on investment is essential at this stage to focus your effort on the content that is getting you more clicks and reduced bounce rates. The goal is to measure your wins and losses so that you can alter your content marketing strategy accordingly.
Half-way There - Consideration, Intent, and Evaluation Content
Once you have piqued their interest, whenever someone sees your brand they will associate it with an idea of reliability and consider your content a source of helpful information and sometimes even a source of entertainment. Social media content has proven to be an effective tactic for B2B marketing. The idea is to be less salesy and more informative on social media platforms while strengthening your brand awareness. If the number of returning visitors to your website is increasing and some are even signing up for your newsletters, then you’re going in the right direction.
Newsletters are a great way to keep the conversation going with an interested customer. Use this to your benefit and change your content strategy to suit the needs of the buyer at this stage of the journey. Your SEO strategy will also need to be updated at this stage. This is when long-tail keywords will play a more crucial role. In the beginning, your customer was only curious about your product, now they have gathered some knowledge and they want a solution that is more specific to their needs.
Use analytics to pay attention to how many website visitors are filling up your lead generation forms and downloading your whitepapers, reports, and e-books. Use email marketing to sell the idea of your resources to potential customers. Deck 7 has used these methods effectively in the B2B travel industry even though it has been one of the hardest-hit industries in 2020. These resources will help you build a relationship with your buyer and earn their trust in your business. The intention of your buyer becomes clearer at this stage and they are evaluating the proficiency of your business and its ability to serve their needs.
The Final Leap - Conversion Content
This is the point where the marketing team passes the baton to the sales team. Every content marketer’s favorite part is when they were able to create a customer out of a passive observer of their content. You have crafted a smooth journey for your buyers and they trust you enough to begin an active conversation with your business at this stage. Your marketing qualified leads have been generated and it’s decision time for the buyer. Your buyer most likely has a list of your competitors, with you included, and is trying to decide which solution works best for them. Carefully worded CTAs and well-designed landing pages are imperative at this stage. Here’s a simple test to check the effectiveness of your landing page – ask someone to view your landing page for five seconds, and tell you what the business is offering. If they weren’t able to figure it out you might need to simplify your language and design. Offering a free demo of your product or service is also a great way to give the buyer a practical example of how your solution can fix their business challenge.
Don’t Stop Here - the Buyer Journey Ends and the Customer Journey Begins
If you’ve brought buyers so far, you might think you can breathe a sigh of relief but a content marketer’s job is not complete yet. There is a golden opportunity for your business to use your content marketing to build loyalty, reinforce the value of your business, and provide personalized content to the customer. Capitalize on the great service your business provided to the customer and garner testimonials that advocate the real-world advantages of your business to others.
Adapting Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy to the 21st Century
A documented content marketing plan is always better than an ad hoc approach. 41% of the top B2B performers have a documented strategy in place for 2020. From those who have a documented plan, 69% have been the most successful in their efforts and this number has been increasing over the years. When it comes to digital content it’s important to get your basics right—before you start your content creation process, make sure you are following SEO best practices. Search engine algorithms are updated regularly to give people more accurate results and taking care of this overarching aspect of all your content ensures that your content is successful online by design. Your content strategy is going to work well online only after the SEO process is inculcated into every content format you create. Social media algorithms tend to favor visual content, use that to promote your content better. Good strategies have common characteristics like those described below.
Who Are You Talking To?
The first step to formulating a strategy is figuring out who will find your product or service the most useful. It is not as simple as saying that you are targeting a particular industry. A detailed persona needs to be created with a background, likes, interests, life goals, and annual income. Remember that a buyer persona is different from a target audience in that it goes into a detailed profile of the ideal customer from your larger target audience. You can go a step further and split this persona into various buyer types. Just like the B2B buyer journey is not always linear, the B2B customer base is often diverse. From here you can narrow down your persona and identify which one can help your business grow best and target each one sequentially.
Define Your Goals
To create a comprehensive B2B content strategy, you can’t just identify one final goal. Each stage of the buyer journey will have a particular goal that needs to be achieved and stage-specific KPIs. This is especially important when creating content for the intent stage of the buyer journey. When a prospective customer enters a search term into Google, they want a precise answer. Sometimes they are looking for a website, sometimes it’s purely informational, and the intention can also be to purchase something. Instead of trying to figure out the search term they are using, try to understand why finding the answer to it is important to their business. Ensure that there is no speculation involved in this process and sometimes you can understand this by simply asking your audience through a poll or survey. Getting first-hand information from your audience can have a significant impact on creating accurate KPIs. It also helps in developing the apt brand voice that will resonate with your audience and helps you create truly engaging content.
Learn from Your Peers
We often copy our competitors or look for best practices. There are many ways we can relate to a target account by showing them what their peers are saying. It could be finding a tweet from someone they respect speaking about the value of your platform.
Randy Frisch, CMO – Uberflip
The content marketing landscape has become such a crowded space that there are more than enough mistakes to learn from if you keep your eyes open. There are also a large number of successful content marketing campaigns that have used unique approaches to reach customers. Watching competitors does not mean that you need to imitate their approach. You can use it as an opportunity to set yourself apart. Assess the maturity level of your content marketing effort—whether it’s in the nascent stages of becoming a process, measuring success metrics is progressively becoming sophisticated, or if it is a full-fledged business strategy that is scalable.
Use Apt Distribution Channels
Ensure that the medium you use to convey your brand’s messaging aligns with your brand image and voice. Marshall McLuhan was a communication theorist who said that the medium is the message and this still holds true today.
When marketers were distributing content, we weren’t distributing it in ways that led to profitable customer action. We were sending people into dark scary forests full of content (sometimes that of our competitors). And we never got them back.
Randy Frisch, CMO – Uberflip
The distribution channel you choose to communicate to customers affects how the message is received. Being present on various platforms is a good idea but choose wisely when, where, and how you choose to interact with customers on these platforms. The messaging needs to be consistent so that customers associate a sense of reliability with your brand. This strategy can also have a positive effect on the lifetime value of each customer.
B2B User-generated Content
The current times might be the best time to experiment with user-generated content (UGC) in your business. Most social interaction is happening via technology so the potential is high. There are excellent content marketing examples like how IBM made it work for them so why can’t you?
I believe the best UGC for ABM (acronym overload!) is the reviews from customers.
Randy Frisch, CMO – Uberflip
Promoting Content That Adds Value
LinkedIn is without doubt the prime location to promote B2B content. It remains at the top of the list as the preferred social media channel. Using their sponsored posts feature with a native advertising approach can do wonders for your business if targeted at the right stakeholders. However, as a marketer, you can use social media experimentally as well.
Social Media Content Validation
Digital content marketing involves multiple platforms and when used appropriately you can use social platforms to assess the efficacy of your content. Ever since it became nearly impossible to get views for your social media content organically on Facebook, Twitter gives the modern marketer the chance to check if a certain topic has the potential to interest the target audience through social media engagement metrics.
Instagram for Previews
You can even use Instagram to reveal new content to your following through a story. Because of the placement of this feature on the app, your content gets assured visibility. The underlying principle of any B2B content you share is that it needs to be useful to the viewer and Instagram Stories can help you assess that usefulness. Instagram is also a viable platform to get personal with your audience via ask me anything (AMA) experiences. If you’re getting an adequate amount of engagement for your latest whitepaper or blog post, chances are high that an AMA on the subject will help you generate more leads for your business.
Content Syndication as a Strategy
Once you’ve created all this valuable content, syndication is an effective way to get more views for your blog post. In addition to expanding your reach, you get the by-products of spreading brand awareness and driving more sales leads into your funnel. If you begin a regular content syndication process you can create a steady online presence on platforms other than your website and social channels. You can, in turn, drive traffic to your website by using CTAs fittingly, creating a strategic loop.
High-performing Content Formats
Focus on the experience, not the asset. No matter where you are on your journey, stop producing assets – and start producing a “center of gravity” of content.
Robert Rose, Founder & Chief Strategy Officer – The Content Advisory
There are four types of content:
Within each content type, certain formats work well with B2B audiences. Quality content incorporates a few elements of each format into the other to bring out the best of the topic covered, merging visual content with text for a better experience. B2B marketing involves social media content on LinkedIn and Facebook the most with blog post and newsletter formats following closely.
Video Has B2B Potential
The next favorite format of delivering content was through in-person events but with that on the back-burner videos are a marketer’s best ally. Video marketing is growing at a rapid rate and giving 41% of bloggers successful results. Videos give customers a chance to see human faces, giving it a personal connection, has high recall value, it’s extremely visual content, and there’s a certain level of transparency attached to this format because you see it and so you believe it.
Webinar Is the New Conference
To offset the setback of canceled or reduced physical conferences and seminars, webinars have emerged as a great way to connect with your audience and network. Although they were eighth in the list of content formats used by B2B businesses until recently, they have become the best replacement for in-person events. Deck 7 has successfully run successful email marketing campaigns promoting webinars for industry leaders in computer hardware, SaaS companies, and webcasting platforms to reach audiences globally.
Email Newsletters to Share
Sending your latest content or topical content via an email newsletter to your subscribers is a great way to showcase various content formats you created for your business. Whether it’s a whitepaper or your latest podcast, your newsletter can get the content you created closest to an interested customer.
At the end of all this make sure that you have a way of contacting your webinar attendee or website visitor. If your sales and marketing teams are working in tandem, then you would have figured out a way to get the potential customer’s email address before they leave your website. Your ultimate goal is to get your content to have an impact on your bottom line, not just gain readers and followers.
Predicted Content Marketing Trends
The future of marketing has been drastically affected by the global sanitary crisis but it also brings hope for innovation and new ways to use existing platforms to achieve your business goals. Here are the trends Deck 7 forecasted earlier this year.
Although much hasn’t changed, the pivot to adaptive and resiliency planning that was delayed during better days is inevitable. Some of the highlights of various surveys from Gartner, Forrester, and Content Marketing Institute are discussed below.
Invest in Videos
41% of B2B marketing folk are curious about incorporating video formats into their sales and marketing strategies for the year 2020. Online video consumption is set to increase more than ever with predictions of people spending almost 7% of their day watching videos online in 2021, that’s 100 minutes spent every day dedicated to watching whatever you have to offer.
Offline Media Will Take a Back Seat
With fewer people commuting, above the line marketing like billboards will add lesser brand authority. Out-of-home advertising will carry lesser importance while digital displays that give brands flexibility are the favored choice so that messaging can be altered appropriately. However, it is an apt time to bridge offline to online conversions to create an integrated and omnichannel ecosystem for your business.
Marketing Technology Gains Precedence
Heavy dependence on marketing automation will emerge especially in measuring the efficacy of messages in various markets. As manually doing tasks doesn’t offer the same reliability it used to, crucial communication and revised health protocols will be delivered through automation.
Optimize Content for Voice Search
Almost 50% of future online searches are predicted to be via voice and images especially after Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant have entered the market. With AI software now being optimized for various accents, the global popularity of voice search is set to increase. Keep this in mind when creating content so that your content is tailored for voice searches.
Qualitative over Quantitative Data in KPIs
KPIs have shifted and qualitative measures of engagement, especially on social media like Facebook, can help your business change strategies on the fly and adjust the tone of messaging appropriately. Brand messaging needs to find a fine balance between sensitivity and optimism and this can be like walking a tightrope initially.
Estimates state that a recovery period will emerge most likely in the middle of 2021 changing the content marketing ecosystem as you know it. There are studies conducted by various management consulting firms like McKinsey and Bain as well as other reputable sources like Harvard Business Review and McGraw Hill Research that show that finding equilibrium between investing in future opportunities and cost-cutting is the key to surviving the test of time.
There are many free and paid content marketing tools at your disposal to help you navigate uncertainties so there’s help available if you need it. If you’re unsure about where your business stands in terms of content marketing or you’re running out of content ideas, hire a content marketing agency like Deck 7 to conduct a content audit and run your next successful campaign. A whopping 84% of B2B marketers outsource their content creation process and it seems to work for them. Contact Deck 7 today to try it out for yourself.