In the second part of our Marketing in a Downturn series, we’re examining the importance of content marketing. (Read Part 1: Lead Generation and Nurture.)

As B2B marketing budgets have become strained, many marketers believe they should be doing more with less. But as we demonstrated in our first post, your aim should really be to do better with less. That means creating and repurposing valuable content that reflects what your buyers and prospects are interested in, and guides them through the sales funnel at their own pace.

Here are our top 7 tips for getting the most value from your content marketing during an economic downturn:

1. Know your Audience

In a downturn, more people are involved in approving every B2B purchase, and the buying committee usually includes senior decision-makers who will not understand (or want to understand) the technical nuances of your product or service. Knowing who’s likely to be on the committee will help you to produce content targeted at the right level in the organization.

In general, it’s better to focus on the business benefits your product will deliver, rather than its in-depth functions – that can come later, or even in the eventual discussion with a sales rep.

And don’t assume that every potential buyer has the same challenges, or the same reasons for researching a new product or service. The B2B marketer that takes the time to know and understand the challenges their prospects face has a better chance of creating content that’s relevant. Don’t be afraid to ask prospective customers directly what they’re looking for in a product – social media has made informal market research like this a breeze.

2. Plan your Content

Armed with this knowledge, you can plan and create content that targets prospects at each stage in the buying cycle. In the early stages, prospects may just be researching around a problem or business issue, rather than actively looking for a specific solution. You can capture their attention and goodwill by producing helpful content, sharing some of your expertise in how to approach a relevant problem – but not (yet) trying to sell the idea of buying your product.

Later, when your prospects are better qualified and actively engaged with your organization, you can roll out more targeted content, providing case studies, demonstrations, webinars and other materials that clearly show how your product or service can resolve the business issues you know your prospect has.

If you have well qualified prospects who have the potential to become major customers, you can even think of creating content specifically for that person or organization. That way, you can really show that you understand their unique issues and that you have a solution that will solve them.

3. Re-Use and Re-Purpose

Relevant, high-quality content is key to nurturing cautious buyers through an extended decision-making process, but it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Look for ways you can re-use and repurpose existing content across different channels and platforms, to maximize its reach and make it relevant at different stages in the buying cycle. Some examples of how you might do this are:

  • Trail the results of a research report on your blog, with registration to receive the full report
  • Pull audio from different customer case study videos to create a podcast focusing on a particular business issue
  • Turn your latest white paper into a series of blog posts on a relevant topic, with registration to receive the full white paper
  • Record your organization’s presentations at events and share them via social media
  • If your organization blogs a lot, offer a monthly, subscription-based email digest with links to recent, relevant posts
  • Take interesting data from a research report or white paper, create an insightful infographic, and share it on social media platforms
  • Liveblog your attendance at industry events, giving insights into the buzz and hot topics being discussed

The possibilities are endless, and creative B2B marketers will think of many more. The key is to stop thinking of each piece of content as a discrete project, and start thinking of it as valuable information to be delivered to your audience in whatever way is most convenient and useful to them.

4. Optimize Content for Inbound Marketing

Your prospects are no longer (if they ever were) waiting for you to drop a brochure in the mail or an eblast into their inbox. They’re on Google searching for answers to their questions, they’re reading blog posts, downloading ebooks, clicking on links to interesting things on Twitter, watching videos and asking peers for their opinions.

The good news for B2B marketers in a downturn is that inbound marketing costs far less than traditional outbound marketing, so it pays to make sure your content is optimized to be found by search engines and shared via social media. And if you have useful content locked up behind registration pages and customer login screens, now may be the time to incorporate them into your content marketing mix.

5. Don’t Forget Video

Many cost-conscious marketers shun video because of the perception that it’s expensive. But while a lavish video case study may cost thousands to produce, other forms of video can be just as valuable to your target audience and cost very little, or even nothing but your time.

You could record your internal product experts demonstrating a useful feature of your product, or film your presentation at an event. An informal video interview with one of your senior execs on a hot industry topic can show how your organization understands what’s happening in the market.

Video also offers the chance to get a message across very succinctly. For many audiences, watching a three-minute video can be far more appealing than reading a 25-page white paper.

6. Become a Distributor as well as a Publisher

Good content marketing means becoming a distributor as well as a publisher. It’s no good spending money on creating an ebook or white paper if no one knows it exists. You need to get your content out to all the places where your target audience are likely to see it.

In the old days, that meant expensive email marketing campaigns, expensive tie-ups with third party publishers (remember how much it used to cost to insert a brochure into an industry magazine?) and expensive PR campaigns to promote your latest research report via the mainstream media.

Today, anyone, with any size of budget, can be a distributor, thanks to the ubiquity of social media. Updated your blog? Tweet about it with a brief summary. Created a useful ebook? Link to it in a LinkedIn post, or a Facebook update. Gave a presentation at an event? Share it on Slideshare.

Be careful not to just broadcast – take the time to engage with people, and answer any questions in a timely manner. Make the conversation two-way and use it to build communities of interest that can become advocates for your brand.

Don’t dismiss more traditional distribution methods, though. Properly targeted email marketing campaigns are highly effective, and are now simpler to roll out, much more affordable and easier to monitor and measure.

Which brings us to our final tip:

7. Track Everything – and Change What’s Not Working

It’s never been easier to analyze the success of your marketing initiatives, including concrete ROI based on leads, opportunities and conversions. With the latest marketing ROI analytics, you don’t have to wait for a campaign to finish before you start looking at the results – you can watch its impact in real time. That means if a campaign’s not working, you can kill it and reallocate the budget elsewhere – ensuring you don’t waste any money on tactics that aren’t delivering a tangible return.