There’s been a content explosion. A change in the landscape of B2B marketing that is affecting all of us.
This post is based on our B2B Marketing Expo 2018 seminar
If you’ve yet to feel its effects in your particular industry, you likely will soon. According to the Content Marketing Institute 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing as a foundational piece of their strategy. Why is that?
It’s fundamentally because of a change in customer behaviour. It’s been discussed at great length elsewhere that B2B decision makers are spending more time researching before they contact a sales team from any given vendor.
This change in behaviour means that marketers are producing content to try and get in front of these professionals when they’re researching. This in turn has created an expectation that these professionals should be able to find the information they need, when they want it.
This has led to a Content Arms Race, as companies compete for attention from their prospects via ever more content.
- 72% produce more content than last year.
- 81% don’t think they’re doing enough, and are going to increase the amount they create.
- Over half create at least one new piece of content every day.
Every day. Breakfast, brush teeth, blog post. It’s becoming a content habit that we can’t kick.
When business decision makers are considering a purchasing decision, they are wading through more and more content trying to find what they need; working out who to trust is becoming harder, not easier.
We’re not the only ones talking about this, of course. Probably the first person to call this out as a problem was Mark Schaefer in his article ‘Content Shock’.
He points out that with exponentially increasing volumes of content, and a static human capacity to consume it, we will hit a wall. Most of us won’t get the attention we want from this tactic.
Dan Brotzel points out the staggering amount of content that is being produced – across all formats and channels. And in his slide deck called the ‘Content Deluge’, Doug Kessler points out that all this content competition means that we’ll start to see diminishing returns.
All this content makes NOISE. Your customers are confronted with too much content to ever read everything. Each piece of content having its own angle, its own facts and figures, ultimately selling its own solution.
You have to cut through all that noise to succeed in engaging your prospects. Those that manage to secure the attention of their potential customers, and start the sales process, will be the ones to succeed.
We have many clients in the HR software industry, so I’ll use that as an example of this noise.
An HR Professional searching for information on best practice talent management is confronted with just under 9 million search results. Even content aimed further down the funnel – for example a query about which solution to buy – has nearly 8 million results.
That is far more than they will ever consume, so it becomes a melee to get on the front page of search. The battle becomes focused on being one of the first ten results, and 4 of those are ads.
And this battle for attention isn’t just happening in the preliminary research phase – up at the top of the funnel. At every point of the purchase journey it is expected that you will have content to answer questions and keep drawing that prospect further towards the sale.
Most of the time you will be competing with your competitors – as they try to drag the prospect into their own content funnel.
The Perils of Inbound Marketing
Inbound journey normally looks like…
- Your audience is Searching / hovering on Social Media
- You spend a lot of time Blogging hoping to reach them
- Subscribe them to a list once they’re on your website
- Email them and try and get their attention
- Hope they become a lead on your landing page
- See if they are at all relevant or qualified
- Convert some customers?
Creating a content marketing programme for generating inbound leads is certainly a valid tactic, but there are a few things to consider. When you write web content to attract the attention of prospects who are searching, or spending time on social media, you are relying on existing demand to make your prospects seek information. There may be unreliable spikes and dips in the number of people searching for the answers you provide.
You have a bit of control through keywords… but you can’t really decide who is searching for you and coming through your landing pages. This can dilute the quality of leads matching your ideal criteria.
Also, a lot of your effort is spent at the top of the funnel attempting to generate awareness for your brand content. You spend your time creating, publishing and posting, building your audience slowly, so that over time you will earn their attention. In some cases, this cuts down on the amount of time you can spend optimising your marketing & sales alignment, and mapping the path from lead generation to conversion.
So, what can we do to survive this explosion in B2B content?
All of the following survival tactics fit into the following three categories.
- Better Content
- Better Targeting
- Better Reach (cutting through the noise)
Create Relevant Content
To write great content you need to write it for the contacts in a company that will make a decision about buying your product. According to CEB on average 5.4 people are now involved in each B2B purchase decision. Who are they?
Finding out this information quickly normally requires in talking to sales, or your customers, and determining who is part of the decision-making process. Another way to do this as part of your campaigns is to ask questions on the landing page along the lines of: “what is your role in the decision-making process for [your solution]”.
Use this to construct personas of who you are targeting. A simple but effective format we use is:
- Role in purchase
- Role in Company
- Pain point
- Personal motivator
Here’s a couple of examples that might be familiar…
Eddie the Enthusiastic Exec – your champion to push for change and influence the decisions. He wants to read content that shows the latest techniques and technologies to improve his industry.
Barbra the thrifty Budget Holder – needs convincing of the return on investment as she’s interested in hard facts and figures. More removed from the use of the system, she wants to know if buying this is a must.
Let’s run through how to apply these personas – E.g. You are a finance SaaS provider.
What do finance managers in mid-size companies have as a challenge?
Maybe moving from a paper filing to paperless accounting is a headache, or having to manage expenses of a growing workforce manually is becoming time consuming. What might the productivity or financial costs be for trying to muddle through with the existing system?
Create content that addresses that problem and helps them identify the need to do something about it. This generates demand. Similarly, create content that helps them do their job better, or in an easier way. This creates brand loyalty.
Last thing on better content – Stand out, and wherever possible don’t be boring.
Have a clear value proposition for what they will learn by reading the content. Here is an example of a white paper we created with Citrix GoToMeeting. This was an asset designed to generate top of the funnel interest and leads.
This covers top tips from Sir Richard Branson – then tells them how to apply it to managing remote teams (sometimes with video conferencing).
Use reliable, popular formats to help structure complex business problems in a digestible way. Some quick, go to formats include:
- Top 10 tips (all lists)
- How to’s
- Myth busters / avoiding pitfalls
- Hidden costs of X
- When in doubt, give it a theme.
Better B2B Targeting
Now onto targeting.
Company size is a great starting point, but if you want to get a little more granular you can combine strategy and data to select your lead criteria.
Look at CRM data (if you have it) to identify factors like:
- Most profit
- Largest order values / deal sizes
- Most consistent loyalty / multiple purchases
- Quickest sale cycles – from open call to closed deal
- Or even pick an emerging market
Identify commonalities across these to pick out a profile of the perfect client – and build your lead gen criteria around this.
Line up your product set & content with the type of companies that you want to target. This aligns the solutions you sell to the problems your customers face. You can summarise this into a simple qualification criteria by ballparking the company size – for example ‘Company must have more than 500 employees’.
If you go through this process to identify your criteria you will naturally exclude prospects, this is good. However – don’t limit yourself to prospects that are juuuuust right. I call this Goldilocks syndrome and it can severely limit your ability to scale your lead generation from content marketing. If every lead is a case of ‘Not too big, but not too small…’ you will limit your available quantity of leads and struggle to find enough people to pitch.
You should be careful not to fall prey to being too niche with your targeting. Your sales team might want to pitch only CTOs in companies with between 2000 and 3000 employees, however there are naturally going to be less of these opportunities available.
So, you have market leading content, that’s relevant to your carefully selected audience. Don’t just chuck it in your resources section of the website, or post it a couple of times on social.
You need to cut through the noise.
Better Reach makes for Better Leads
When some content marketing advocates talk about promotion of content or outbound marketing they refer to it as ‘interruptive’. We think there is an important distinction here – interruption is not bad IF you are being helpful.
If you have followed the steps above, and your content and targeting are relevant; this means your content has the best possible chance of being useful to your target market – so don’t be shy. Cut through the noise and get it in front of the right people.
Howard Sewell is president of Spear Marketing Group. He makes a good point about the role of inbound. “We often refer to inbound marketing programs as “air cover” – they run 24/7 and provide a consistent stream of leads…while the company pursues more targeted, tactical campaigns against specific accounts or market segments.”
You need to soak up the demand for your product that is out there – but you can more effectively generate quality leads with proactive campaigns.
Intent Targeted Campaigns
So what does a more targeted campaign look like? Well every B2B marketer probably has different processes and software, but I’m going to take you through the underlying concepts about relevance and targeting that we use across the Insights for Professionals community.
Right, back to our content funnel, but now we’re looking at what type of content consumption is happening and what we can do to personalise that buyer’s journey.
In the awareness phase we want to present the market with outstanding content on subjects that align with what we have the authority to speak about. Now remember, this content is aimed at engaging the maximum number of relevant prospects.
Then, at the interest stage, you want to start capturing contact information through lead capture, and build a profile of that individual within your marketing process. The information you gather here should be used to start that prospect on a path of lead nurturing by providing them with content that is relevant to their needs.
When you’ve nurtured that lead enough to build up a score against them – specific to one of the solutions you sell – then it’s time to pass them through to the sales team to follow up. Align your sales enablement content (case studies, webinars, business cases, FAQs) with the topic they’ve scored the highest for to ensure maximum results.
As you can imagine, all of that intent targeting requires data. You have to be aware of your audiences’ preferences and bend your distribution of content to match. So let’s start by answering a simple question.
What should they be interested in?
I find it helps to make simple personalisation decisions based on what we know for sure about our audience. I’ve used level of purchasing authority and specialist job responsibility for this example but you can split by any two factors.
If you’re capturing job title information on the leads you generate then you might already have a picture of what they are responsible for. For example by personalising your campaign by authority and specialism you’ll end up with 12 segments.
Now, if we get clever we can base this optimisation on the prospects’ behaviour to see what they are actually interested in.
Say I’ve categorised the content I produce within B2B Marketing. Then within that content there were all sorts of topics and keywords being discussed. I can map the preferences of my audience across those topics and start building segments based on what they’ve clicked on, downloaded, and spent time reading.
As they express interest by consuming content, we want to capture that and feed them more content on the same, or similar, subjects. Building this content habit around relevance moves prospects further along their buying journey.
But how do we define relevance in a way that we can scale? Well, once we know what our ideal prospects are interested in, we can use it to look for audiences of their peers that might also be relevant.
Remember all that data we used for content creation? Now you can leverage it again to make predictive marketing decisions. Then use these to identify patterns, and look for the people that you haven’t yet reached, but look like your target prospect.
Define and profile your audience into features, be it:
- Their role, job title, demographic
- Their intent, or the topics that they are interested in
- The channels by which they consume content e.g. web, email, mobile etc.
See if you can identify new audiences based on 4 out of 5 of those matching features.
This is how emerging technologies like AI and machine learning power their recommendation engines – but can be done manually with enough effort and a bit of tactical thinking.
Surviving the content explosion
You’ll never outrun the content explosion in B2B marketing. We’ve reached the tipping point. Your audience has to contend with more content than ever before.
But by understanding what they care about, and being truly relevant, you can thrive in the changing B2B marketing landscape.