Back to the Future for B2B Content Marketing
The recent Content2Conversion Conference hosted by Demand Gen Report in Scottsdale, AZ delivered a great forum on the intersection of strategic demand generation and content marketing for B2B marketers. But amid the flurry of trends and insights, an interesting theme emerged: have we gone overboard on B2B content marketing?
B2B marketers have been revving up the content engine for some time, with no end in sight. 70% of B2B marketers are creating more content than they did a year ago. 2013-4 content output per brand increased by 78%2. With the explosion of new marketing platforms and tools to manage and deliver content (see ChiefMartec’s Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic), marketers are constantly working to “feed the beast.”
Higher volume does not equate with more engaging or valuable content, however. It is simple economics when supply outstrips demand, and B2B executives are tuning out the noise:
- Customer engagement with content actually decreased by 60% in 2014.
- 90% of B2B executives feel “overwhelmed” by the amount of content available.
- 60-70% of B2B content goes unread.
But hope is not lost! Three opportunities to combat this trend of content overload surfaced at the C2C conference:
More focus on content “stock,” less on “flow”
Stock and flow (standard accounting terms) are useful for thinking about content strategy. Stock can be thought of as the core thought leadership (topics, themes and messaging) that a marketer wants to convey, while flow is the posts, links, retweets and other interactions with the content once it is published. While very important to drive reach and amplification, the flow is only as good as the stock going in. SiriusDecisions emphasized this point in their conference keynote which advocated that companies should focus more on the core proof (key customer and commercial insights) and intent (intellectual and emotive frame), and less on the asset (packaging form factor) and delivery (consumption channel). They presented a messaging methodology to help companies develop the proof and intent for specific audiences.
Several speakers also highlighted the importance of building a compelling audience narrative. The buyer’s journey is never linear. Yes, we want content assets tailored to the stage of the buyer’s journey, but even more impactful is ensuring your messaging has a clear narrative structure and addresses the critical questions a buyer has as they move through their journey, at whatever pace and direction they pursue. That narrative must address the biggest question every buyer has: Why change?
Innovating the content model
Once they have their story straight, companies are also innovating the content development and delivery model. Examples cited include SAP’s “Social Newsroom” which monitors relevant topics via social listening tools but also employs ex-journalists to be able to weave together relevant headlines and stories for target audiences. This migration of journalists from traditional media to “brand journalism” is on the rise across B2B companies.
Another area of innovation is around influencer marketing, a rapidly expanding lever in the content marketer toolkit. Platforms abound for identifying relevant external influencers for your target audience, and then working with them directly to co-create content that is more authentic, trusted and relevant.
Finally, Optum (a healthcare solution provider) and OnBase (Enterprise content management solution) presented case studies of the change management efforts they led toward “modern marketing”, with a focus on keys for driving alignment with Sales: using a couple of sales-oriented KPIs (e.g., Sales Qualified Leads or Pipeline Acceleration) as “true north” for their content marketing teams, or creating sales liaison roles accountable to the sales account teams.
Technologies to improve prospect targeting and content interaction
Of the many technology vendors that displayed their wares at the conference, two categories in particular can help to address the content “noise.”
- Platforms that help you identify and engage the most relevant and valuable buyer. Examples include 6sense, which uses predictive analytics and advanced algorithms to identify your next customer when they are entering a buying frame, or DemandBase which helps with targeting for Enterprise accounts to enable account-based marketing.
- Technologies that enable more interactive content, such as SnapApp or LookBook. Tools like these deliver “stickier” engagements with prospects, in turn collecting more insights and creating a virtuous cycle of increasingly relevant and personalized content throughout the journey.
The good news then is that despite the tidal wave of content awash in the B2B marketplace, it still comes down to the basics of having a relevant and valuable story for the right target audience. Leading companies that are focusing on their core message and narrative, innovating their content models and making smart technology investments are finding a way to cut through the noise. In return, they are seeing much higher conversions and return on their content investment.