Effective content marketing can mean increased web traffic, better leads and bigger deals. That’s the good news. The bad news is that only 30 percent of B2B marketers feel that their company has an effective content marketing program. Okay, there’s actually more good news. The other good news is that of the marketers who know what content marketing success looks like, 55 percent consider their organization effective.
55 percent still isn’t great, and it shows that just knowing what works (or thinking you know what works) doesn’t correlate to a great content marketing strategy––but it sets you on the right path. If you’re having trouble finding the commonalities between great content marketing, why not start with the traits of bad content marketing? Let’s save the good for another day—take a look at the bad and the ugly, and see how you can keep them far, far away from your company’s content.
1. Me, Me, Me, Me, Me, Me
Nobody likes a narcissist (except, of course, narcissists). There’s a time and a place to talk about yourself, and that’s when a prospect wants to know more about you. Even then, it really shouldn’t be about you, necessarily—it should be about how you can help them. People aren’t downloading your eBook to read a dissertation on why you have such a great product. Take a look at the titles of some of HubSpot’s eBooks:
- How to be More Productive
- The Marketing Skills Handbook
- How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign
When you download an eBook like How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign, what you’re looking to find out is right there in the title. If it’s two pages of that, and then 38 pages outlining HubSpot’s features, you’ll feel, rightly, that you were swindled. Content marketing is still marketing, so that eBook is filled with tips on inbound marketing that HubSpot happens to automate really well. But the advice applies whether you’re using HubSpot or another solution. They’re establishing that they’re the inbound experts, and when you’re ready to buy, whether it’s next week or next year, they’re going to be on your list of solutions.
The same principle applies to how you distribute your content on social. For an established brand with a big following, a big library of content and an established expertise, you can afford to just post your own content, but when you’re just getting going, you need to provide value with curated content. How much? The 80/20 rule, applicable in nearly every part of business, is applicable here: talk 20 percent about yourself and 80 about others.
2. Being Too Stuffy
One of the things that B2B brands need to learn from B2C is how to be human. Hopefully it comes naturally, but when you’re selling to big corporations, you could get into a rut where you sound like a scientific paper all the time. Look at the two sentences and tell me there isn’t a difference:
Content marketing presents a substantial challenge for those of us who conflate a large vocabulary and robotic formalism with professionalism.
Content marketing is harder when we think big words and no contractions mean professionalism.
You’re selling to a business, but the people deciding on who to listen to (and eventually buy from) are flesh and blood. Here are some things you can do so you won’t lose them:
- Contractions everywhere! Who’s instead of who is. They’re and we’re instead of they are and we are. If you’re writing a white paper, it might be appropriate to be more formal, so use your own judgment, but it’s a good rule of thumb for most of your content.
- The right word, not the one with the most syllables. If you’re looking for a synonym, do it because you can’t think of the perfect word, not because yours isn’t “smart” enough.
- Short and to the point. One thing you can say about the people behind those businesses is that they’re busy. Get to your point, get there quick, and don’t linger.
3. Trying too Hard
We all know when a business tries too hard. Maybe they’re trying to be really funny and throw out a joke every other sentence. Maybe they’re trying to be really up-to-date and hijack every hashtag in sight. Maybe they’re trying to incorporate what they think is cool and use “on fleek” or “low-key” in a case study. People want to know that you’re awake, that you have a pulse, that you have a sense of humor, but that’s not why they’re reading your content. If that is why they’re reading your content (and you aren’t selling a humor-focused product), you have to think about where your priorities lie and if your content is leading people down the funnel to buying your product.
Having trouble finding the right balance in your content? Check out MailChimp’s Style Guide, which has a great section on voice and tone. You don’t have to have the same tone in an email, a blog or a case study; you just need to find your voice. What’s the difference? “Think of it this way,” MailChimp says. “You have the same voice all the time, but your tone changes. You might use one tone when you’re out to dinner with your closest friends, and a different tone when you’re in a meeting with your boss.”
4. Being Lazy
Some businesses struggle when it comes to satisfying the demand for content that B2B buyers have. They’ll look for case studies; they’ll browse your videos, your blogs, and anything they can get their hands on. If someone is serious about buying, they might visit every corner of a vendor’s website. To fill their fix, content marketers can take some shortcuts to getting enough content out. Avoid:
- Pumping out content for that sweet, sweet SEO: Don’t just grab a keyword and start stuffing it up and down your content because you’ll rank. Google’s smarter than that, and even if you do manage to rank, what’s your plan then? Your bounce rate will negate any positives from a higher ranking on Google.
- Copy-pasting: There’s a lot of opportunity to recycle and reuse content, but don’t get in the habit of copy-pasting content when it’s the same format. For example, you can take a series of blog posts and package them up as part of an eBook. You can update the content and date of an older blog post (with an editor’s note). You can use older content as inspiration for newer content. But don’t keep using paragraphs verbatim in blogs over and over or have two eBooks with different names and the same contents inside.
5. Tunnel Vision
You should know the value of personas in B2B. If you don’t, read this guide first and come back. When you’re making content, it can get easy to start rolling with a persona and keep writing for them. When you’re putting together your next piece of content, write down the associated persona. If your personas are different job roles or industries, and one piece of content was successful, you can write on a similar topic from a different perspective. For example, Mediafly talked about how marketers can impact sales meetings, and thought it would only be fair if we talked about how salespeople can impact marketing content.
Another form of tunnel vision content marketers need to avoid is fixating on only one part of the funnel. You don’t necessarily need to have an equal amount of content at the bottom, middle, and top, but you should have content throughout. Content marketing is all about moving the prospect down, so you need something they can hold onto, and something that salespeople can use in those later stages when someone is closer to purchase.
6. Not Measuring Everything
If you’ve got some content out there already, you should have some idea of what success looks like, or at the very least, relative success. Your website traffic, your marketing automation, your social analytics, even your sales enablement software tell you exactly what content people engage with. These numbers can be misleading. You could have an incredibly popular eBook that doesn’t lead to a single closed deal or any qualified leads.
That’s what I mean by everything. You need to measure how content plays with different groups, at different stages, in different contexts. A white paper might not play well on your website, but you could find prospects are reading a large chunk of it when sent by one of your sales reps. One possibility is to start with that bottom-of-the-funnel, late stage content and see what performs best with prospects who become customers. Work backward, and see what elements of that content can be used in putting together some top- and middle-of-the-funnel content.
7. Lacking Specific Goals
It doesn’t matter what the purpose is, but every piece of content should serve a specific one. Specific can mean introducing an audience to a problem they don’t know they have. It can be showing how you solved a challenge they know they have. It can be downloading a piece of content, which will then introduce the problem. The steps can be small; you just need to make sure you’re always taking them.
You can do this by simply asking “Why?” for every piece of content. If you can’t answer the question, you already know the answer.