B2B marketing has changed for good. B2Bs need to think, act and communicate from the buyers perspective. With loose promises, swirling service descriptions and so-called unique selling points, the information hunger of business decision-makers can no longer be set. Those who wish to build a good relationship in an early stage of the buyer journey will have to focus on the buyer’s context. Transparency, knowledge sharing and authenticity have become conditions for success.
B2Bs are turning to blogs, social media, animations, webinars, e-books and white papers, hoping to generate qualified sales leads. But how can you set up an effective strategy? How do you attract, engage and convert your audience? And how can you effectively use marketing technology?
Offering relevant and appealing content via the right channels is key. Increasingly, brands are starting to resemble publishers. Publishers, like no one else, know how to understand and penetrate a target group. By bringing the wishes, dreams and needs of a particular target audience into their vision and anticipating interactions through highly relevant, in-depth or entertaining content, they forge a connection and reach that can be capitalized through advertising. In increasing measures, companies are looking to establish this connection and reach themselves and capitalize on it by selling their products and services.
The relationship between content marketing and media companies becomes clear in the definition laid out by the Content Marketing Institute:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Although the goal of marketing is, ultimately, to increase profit and turnover, it needn’t be the primary objective for each marketing initiative. Content marketing also contributes to secondary objectives, such as raising brand awareness, brand engagement and achieving recognized thought leadership.
7 Step Framework
To get started, my company, marketing technology start-up Manceppo, identifies a proven 7 step approach to implement content marketing:
- Step 1: Setting Strategy
- Step 2: Planning Content Marketing
- Step 3: Creating Highly Relevant Content
- Step 4: Attract Your Audience
- Step 5: Converting Leads
- Step 6: Organizing Content Marketing
- Step 7: Using Marketing Technology
The marketing strategy must be an extension of the strategy of the organization. In content marketing, helpfulness comes first in the entire process. That can be a good start before any solutions are considered. Direct communications concerning products or services are not necessarily useful in an early stage. Instead, this discovery stage involves pointing toward developments, trends and business issues that are related to the organization’s portfolio. You can help customers form their ideas, thereby coming into direct contact with possible future customers at an early stage. In this marketing process, the development of a good first contact is hugely important. The development of relationships only works based on authenticity. This can be warranted when the communication is aligned with the vision and the core values of the organization.
When an organization makes the decision to strategically implement content marketing, it’s important to realize that content marketing is a process, not a campaign. Traditionally, marketing divisions have always thought in terms of campaigns aimed at direct sales. If sales revenue falls behind, a campaign is set up to generate new leads. Content marketing has a long-term nature. It is about anticipating actions at an early stage of the buying process, which eventually leads to more customers and increased turnover. Suspects aren’t converted into hot prospects overnight. Throughout the various buying stages, potential affiliates require different types of content. The alignment of content with the different buying stages through lead nurturing demands a process-oriented approach.
When you have a clear business strategy in place, the initial step in the continuous content marketing process involves the development of communications concepts for the various product-market combinations around which the organization focuses. At this stage, starting points must be established as to what type of content is shared, with whom, by what methods and via which media. The most important step here is to formulate answers to the following set of questions:
- Who is your target audience (or, better yet, who are your buyer personas)?
- What are their challenges, fears and dreams relating to your offering (or, better yet, what’s their buyer journey)?
- What messages are then most effective to share with them?
- What formats are the best fit (blogs, social media, papers, video, etc.)?
- What channels will be most effective (search, email, social, native ads, etc.)?
When it comes to business-related buying decisions, there will always be multiple decision-makers involved in the process. These decision-makers and influencers have different roles and priorities in terms of the decision to buy. The need for information of these decision-making unit (DMU) members also changes during the buying process. The initial information requirement will involve forming ideas, whereas in the latter stages it will be aimed at orientation.
Once you formulated an answer to the set of questions in the previous step, the necessary content and assets must be produced. For maximum effect, different content formats can be linked. For example, a white paper can be linked to various blogs for websites and infographics for interaction on social media. Fundamentally, content involves the use and the conception of different content formats, their interrelation and the optimization of each channel.
Content is effective and relevant but only when it is consumed, valued and shared by the right audience. The next step in the content marketing process is communications. What will be your media mix? The basic layout for communications is a combination of owned, earned and paid media, which are defined as follows:
- Owned media includes your own channels, such as your website, social media and email newsletters.
- Earned media includes all unpaid, third-party media.
- Paid media is all media that has been bought, such as traditional advertising, advertorials, Google AdWords, sponsored emails, banner networks, sponsored social media messages and in-video advertising.
In content marketing, the attention shifts from paid media to owned and earned media. But to get started and accelerate a campaign, paid media is normally part of the plan.
In the end, the returns on marketing are in the conversion from an unfamiliar visitor to a loyal customer. In between that there is a broad spectrum of stages or steps – from likes to subscriptions, followers, leads and prospects. To measure the performance of content marketing, key performance indicators (KPIs) are important. By monitoring and interpreting KPIs, decisions can be made to improve performance, such as optimizing titles and user interfaces, aligning better with your target audience, optimizing per device and making better use of visuals.
Step 6: Organization
Content marketing sounds appealing and logical, but it’s hard work. Research shows that in content marketing, the production of both sufficient and appealing content is the biggest challenge. Additionally, the best content is in the heads of different employees, and not everyone is keen to start writing blogs, participating in webinars and being active on social media. Hence, facilitating your organization is critically important. And when the decision is made to outsource the creation of content, the message and tone of voice need to be on target.
The production of content and the management of a content marketing process requires new skills and competencies in the organization. The content marketing process shares parallels with the process of publishing companies, but most organizations are not (yet) publishers. The different skills are contained in organizational silos. As such, different people or departments are responsible for SEO, PR, social media, product marketing and the customer magazine. The challenge here is how multidisciplinary teams can work together to create and maintain the most effective and efficient process.
Although content marketing concept is centuries-old, recent technological developments are what is driving the recent popularity of the field. The final building block involves technology and different software tools that are required to organize an efficient, effective content marketing process. Think of content management systems, marketing automation, email marketing software and lead management.
My company, Manceppo, just launched a new e-book presenting the proven seven-step approach as a guide to success. It can also be downloaded for free on the Manceppo website.