The dream of content marketing is that it will be a magical funnel dripping money into the bank account. Its lure is that it will create an inbound sales machine.

Here’s the prescribed formula:

  • First, create amazing content and promote it everywhere.
  • Second, people will consume your wonderful content creations, thus building trust between your audience and brand.
  • Third, an increasing flow of demand for your products and services will have you swimming in quality leads and flywheel revenue.

For many marketers, though, it doesn’t work like that. In fact, less than 50 percent of North American B2B marketers report their content marketing as successful.

More, year-over-year unique visitor growth should be 780 percent higher for the best content marketers.

Not only that, these same rock-star marketers achieve 600 percent greater revenue yields from their content.

Pesky reality brings many marketers crashing back to earth.

According to a study, the three biggest problems content marketers cite are: lack of time, producing content, and an inability to engage an audience.

If you touch any marketing activity at all, you’re probably nodding your head. Here’s how marketing leaders and their teams can solve them with three of the principles from my content marketing formula.

1. Lack of Time

Ideas aren’t the problem. Marketers have plenty. Time to execute them? Not so much.

So, how can you empower your team to be more productive with the precious time they do have?

Most B2B marketers are too busy to go all the way with content marketing, with 69 percent citing lack of time. To win back time and decrease risk of large scale failure, harness the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) methodology.

Startups use MVPs as a way of quickly validating business ideas by building the minimum number of features to satisfy early customer or audience needs.

The MVP process decreases risk by testing assumptions against reality. Launching projects or campaigns based on untested assumptions inevitably wastes time and money.

To start, ask: “What content or project can my team ship in less than a week?”

Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of building out an entire online course, ship a blog post with the first “lesson” to gauge your audience’s interest.
  • Post a snippet from an upcoming blog post on social media for early feedback and a quick win.
  • Turn your content into a series that you can either drop, or extend, depending on audience interest.

2. Producing Enough Content

Unsurprisingly, content marketing requires lots of content — but 55 percent of B2B marketers report they don’t have enough of it.

If you aren’t producing enough content, it’s probably time to refresh your topics list.

The best way to do so is with a framework I call your content core.

Your content core connects the dots between what your target customers care about and what business value you have to offer them.

Avoid Parallel Topics

Content core helps you avoid the trap of creating content that drives traffic but fails to create customers. This kind of content centers on what I call “parallel topics.”

Parallel content looks good on the surface. It’s stuff that’s related to your core business and that your audience is interested in. But it converts poorly because it lacks strong, clear CTAs to become a paying customer.

Find your content angle

It runs parallel to your core business, but doesn’t intersect with opportunities to increase revenue. And content that does not deliver business value is wasted effort.

Contrast parallel topics with content core topics.

These are topics your audience is interested that also intersect with your core business. Here, you’re identifying the perfect angles, or points of intersection, between the two.

This approach will drive traffic and grow your company’s revenue by converting your audience into customers.

Brainstorm Content Core Topics

To generate content core topics, it’s helpful to imagine (or draw) two overlapping circles.

What your audience cares about + The value your business provides

The left circle represents the content your audience cares about.

The right circle represents the value your business provides.

Where the circles overlap is the sweet spot.

Start by listing the value propositions of your products or services. Then, connect each to the wants, needs and pains your audience has.

Ask these questions to start defining your content core:

  • What pain do my readers have related to my products or services?
  • How do my products or services solve this pain?
  • What content angles intersect with what my target audience wants and what value my products and services provide?

As you define these intersections, topics will quickly take shape (almost like magic). This clarity will then guide all future content creation. Never return to parallel topics again.

Put Your Content Core Into Action

To put your content core into action, outline your pieces so they add as much value as possible to your audience.

A great way to gauge this is to measure your content against this question: “If my readers do exactly what I show them in this piece of content, will they gain the same or a similar benefit to buying my products?”

The goal is for your content to provide real value to your audience without requiring them to buy your products. But, as you weave calls-to-action to buy throughout your content, you can position your products as the proverbial easy-button.

Your content will show them how to get the promised results all on their own. But your products are there to make their lives so much easier.

Many marketers are hesitant to give so much value away. After all, you’re providing them a path to get results without you.

This seems counterproductive to the entire premise of the content core.

Here’s the little-known truth: if you teach people to be successful without you, they’ll be dying to be successful with you.

3. Inability to Engage Audience

Everyone wants to create viral content. But beyond likes, clicks, and shares, you need people to buy your products and services as a direct result of each marketing channel.

However, 47 percent of B2B marketers cite that they struggle to produce content that engages their audience.

If this is you, the path to engagement is simpler than you think (though it’s certainly not easy).

In the book Blue Ocean Strategy, authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne explain how there are two different oceans in business: a red ocean and a blue ocean.

The red ocean is bloody with competition. In these waters, you’re competing with many companies for the same customers via the same methods.

Contrast that picture of the red ocean with a blue ocean.

These are clear, competition-free waters. It’s a place where unique approaches stand out because no one else can compete.

Red Ocean Blogs vs Blue Ocean Blogs

Finding the blue ocean renders competition irrelevant.

The extreme upside is that you can capture new demand by doing your best work because you swim in your own waters.

In content marketing, I call this finding your competition-free content niche.

One of my favorite real-world examples of this is a technical helpdesk software company called GrooveHQ.

When they first launched their blog, it wasn’t doing so well. This became especially critical, because at the time, they were running out of money and had yet to find traction.

That’s when their CEO — Alex Turnbull — sent out an email that read simply, “Our blog sucks. Let’s discuss.”

After meeting, the team decided it was time to take a risk, shut down their blog, and re-imagine it. Over the next few months, they developed a fresh vision for their blog: “A Startup’s Journey to $100,000 in Monthly Revenue.”

It would chronicle their successes and failures on the path to $1.2 million in recurring revenue — complete with numbers, warts and shining victories.

The tagline at the bottom of every post read: “From A-ha to Oh Shit, we’re sharing everything we learn on our journey from 0 to $100,000 in monthly revenue. We’re learning a lot, and so will you.”

The results were spectacular.

They got more than 5,000 subscribers and 535 trial signups in just five weeks, which generated $3,425 in revenue.

They struck a chord with their target audience. This radical transparency meant they were talking about content wildly interesting to their target audience in a way absolutely no other company could.

This is a competition-free content niche at its finest. Take these three steps to find your competition-free content niche just like GrooveHQ did:

  1. Look: First, observe your competitors and dissect what kind of content they’re creating. Look critically at the market and diagnose their strategies and tactics like a scientist. Then ask: “What content resonates most, and least, with our ideal customers?”
  2. Research: Second, dig into the actual content your competitors are producing. What is consistent about it? What most prominently stands out? Look for patterns like how long their articles are, what kind of visuals they use, and whether they use strong CTAs.
  3. Strategize: Third, realize competition-free content isn’t simply creating content that’s different—it’s about creating content that’s different and that your team can execute well. Ask questions like: “What is our team really good at creating? What are our competitors doing that’s similar so we can disrupt them (or avoid the red ocean)? What’s the true value in our content for our customers?”

Bringing it All Together

Stop getting stuck in the slog of misspent time, lack of quality content, and dismal engagement.

Fix these issues by bringing together MVPs, content core, and competition-free content.

As you put these frameworks into practice, you’ll forge a path to real business results — also known as content marketing success.