The Emperor's new content marketing

 The Emperor's new content marketing

The Emperor's new content marketing

If you spend any time looking at the bit of the internet focused on B2B marketing, you won't be able to escape the hype and froth around content marketing. For many, it's the next big thing. In fact it's the only thing. In fact, if you're not doing content, what are you doing? For others, who've been around for a bit, content marketing is just a new name for some pretty traditional tactics. After all, they've been producing white papers, case studies and newsletters for years. So what's the big deal?

Of course, many of the traditionalists are delighted to now call what they've always been doing content marketing. Why not? There's more interest from management and more budget being assigned to content than ever before. 

For their part, the new B2B content evangelists are happy to ratchet up the noise. Especially as they tend to make their money either teaching people how to do content marketing or selling systems that support the process.

The truth, as is so often the case, is somewhere in between.

Is content marketing old news?

It is absolutely true that a lot of B2B content marketing uses many of the types of content that have been regularly employed over the last couple of decades or so. However, it does so while addressing one of the major issues that generally plagues B2B marketing – value.

All too often, traditional B2B content is (just between us girls) simply commercial messages dressed up in a content wrapper. It's spam in a nice tin. You know the thing. It's the case study that's a thinly-veiled product punt. It's the newsletter that's simply about account wins and new product launches. It's the white paper that's just a long-winded product description in a dull format.

As such, customers (being the smart people they generally are) see through this pretty quickly. Just as quickly (they're busy after all) they move on to something more interesting and useful. 

The real difference in today's B2B content marketing

The real key to the success of content marketing is not about format. You can have the best ebooks, the most sublime videos and the punchiest of case studies and still see crappy results. The reality is that all these will fail unless you shift your focus fairly and squarely onto your customers. Sorry.

B2B content marketing is not primarily about what you want to sell to customers, it's about helping them get things done. This might involve teaching them something new or challenging their thinking or giving them the tools to actually get stuff done. The point is: it's all about the customer first.

But what about making sales?

Now, if you read some of the blogs, you'll be forgiven for thinking that the move to content marketing means never trying to sell anything ever again. They give the impression that sales will somehow magically happen while you're having fun creating your latest groovy infographic. That customers, awed by your magnificent content, will beg you to take their business. This is, of course, utter nonsense. 

Strangely, some of the early blogs for companies who took this line are looking a hell of a lot more sales-focused these days. It's amazing what staring down the pointy end of an empty sales funnel will do for you.

So to be clear: B2B content marketing is 100% there to help you sell stuff. By mapping your content to the various stages of the sales funnel, you should be able to attract more prospects, accelerate their progress and close more deals. However, trying to do it with a tired old white paper that adds zero value to your customers' thinking is going to achieve nothing.

So maybe the Emperor isn't quite so buck naked after all. 

Scream if you want to go faster! The 4 Cs of B2B content marketing.

 The 4 Cs of faster B2B content marketing

The 4 Cs of faster B2B content marketing

So you know that you want to move to a more content-focused approach for your B2B marketing. Actually, chances are you already produce some content but not in a particularly focused way and not tied to the different stages of your sales funnel. But, of course, at first glance content marketing looks like a lot of work and, let's face it, time's ticking, your targets aren't getting any less challenging and you need to get something out the door fast.

All is not lost.

The reality is that not all content needs to be an all-singing, all-dancing Busby Berkeley affair with a cast of thousands and a lead time of months and months. By focusing on delivering a mix of content, you can get up and running relatively quickly and buy yourself some time for more considered pieces. 

We call this the 4 Cs of content marketing.

1. Curated content

The fastest, easiest way to get on the content marketing bus is by curating existing content from other sources.    It's partly why there have been so many posts about curation machines/engines/factories etc. It's also why we're seeing the growth of various tools that promise to do the job for you. And yes, a number of them can do the job for you (if you want the job doing badly that is). 

While content curation is a great way in, doing it well is not a case of set it and forget it. Some superstar bloggers can produce a weekly round-up of links and get lots of traffic. However, they are already getting lots of traffic anyway. The rest of us need to work a little harder. 

Curation is about making sense of a subject for others. So you should look to bring your curated content together around a theme. Critically, you should have an opinion about it: Why did you select it? Do you agree with its viewpoint? What does it mean for your own customers? 

This is where you add value. Too often we see businesses simply scraping the first 10 results from Google and delivering them as a list. What use is that when customers can do exactly the same?

For more on content creation, see our article: Curate content like a pro

2. Commissioned content

A major limit on many companies' ability to take full advantage of a content-led approach is time and resources. Many take a DIY approach where content creation becomes another item on their marketers' and subject matter experts' to-do lists. Thing is, it then faces an almost permanent struggle to get to the top of that list. While some businesses have got very serious about building their content creation team in-house, the vast majority have not. It simply doesn't make sense for their business and they can find it incredibly difficult to attract the talent that they'll need to do an effective job.

The answer is to commission someone else to do it. Typically this will either be a freelance writer or a content marketing agency (or, if you have the budget, potentially an analyst house). Whichever you choose, take the time to find someone who really understands your market and can put your products and services into a wider business context. They should also be able to adapt to your brand's tone of voice and ghostwrite for key individuals. And while this obviously costs money, when you compare it to the costs of doing it yourself (time, quality, missed opportunities etc), it will often be more cost-effective in the long run.

For more on finding good writers, see our article: Why you can't find good B2B writers (and what you can do about it)

3. Re-created content

A bit of a cheat on the whole beginning-with-C thing, but the next least time consuming way to produce a sufficient volume of content within an acceptable time is to look at what you've already got. Most companies already have a lot of content. They'll have existing case studies, old articles, primary research and presentations galore. They may also have access to content from partner companies.  

The first challenge is to track all this content down a get it into one place. After this, you can begin looking across what you've got to explore what you can re-create from it. So, for example, you may have a set of case studies that you've built up over the years – are there some common themes that would enable you to develop a new piece? 

Let's imagine you've done lots of work in the public sector and have the case studies to prove it, you could develop a piece on the key challenges facing the public sector as a whole after a tight spending review and illustrate this with quotes and examples from other material.

Likewise, there may be a number of presentations that could be turned into mini-ebooks or simply tidied up an shared on Slideshare. You get the picture.

4. Created content

So now we've reached the stuff that does take more time – content created from scratch. But with a good base-layer of content from our other 3 Cs, you can now afford to spend the time getting your created content right. This will often be your top-of-funnel thought leadership material, so it pays to spend time (and yes, some money) on doing a great job. 

Ultimately, not every content marketing strategy means trying to boil the ocean or re-create Wikipedia. By focusing on achieving a mix of content types from a variety of sources, you can deliver both volume and momentum.

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Image by turkletom

Fighting the enemy in B2B content marketing

 Does your B2B marketing need an enemy?

Does your B2B marketing need an enemy?

There is a lot of good B2B content marketing out there. (Admittedly, there's even more crappy B2B content marketing but let's skip past that for the purposes of this article.) Good content stands out by being insightful, customer-focused and genuinely useful to its target audiences. Where it is created for a differentiated product or a brand with existing presence and faces relatively little serious competition, it can deliver results like a crazy-mad-results-delivering-thing. But when it's up against more serious competition, it can struggle to get traction.

The bland leading the bland in B2B content

The problem with so much B2B content is that, even when it gets a lot of other stuff right, it still fails to differentiate itself (or the brand it serves). It can quickly take on a worthy, scholarly tone – we will teach and you will learn

Now, while I enjoyed school, I've got no plans to go back anytime soon. And while I want to learn new things about my industry that will make my business more effective and more successful, I don't want to be preached at or talked down to. 

Of course, if I only have access to one useful piece of B2B content, I might suck it up and still plod my way through. But with the explosion in B2B content marketing, chances are that a better alternative is just a quick search away (and will probably be ranking higher anyway).

B2B content needs an enemy

While I don't want to be talked down to, I do want someone to be on my side. I do want someone who sees the world in a similar light. And I do want someone committed to helping me meet and overcome the challenges I face in my business.  

And the best way for B2B marketers to demonstrate this? Find a common enemy.

Now, just to be clear, this shouldn't be a competitor. This will only make you look weak, desperate or a bully. But it can be about a perceived wrong in the market – eg waste, bureaucracy, slowness, complexity, cost. It can be about bigger things – eg IBM's Smarter Planet's enemy is, in many ways, the past. And it can be the status quo – eg Salesforce.com's enemy was, and still is to a degree, installed software.

Once you have this common enemy with your customers, you can attack it with impunity. You can create manifestos calling for its abolition. You can author rants on Slideshare and rail against its injustices. And you can deliver ebooks and other content that contrasts the problem with a far better way. 

The result will be content that has a clear focus and which is more entertaining to consume. You'll produce material that has passion and chutzpah and which is more memorable (not to mention more shareable). And you'll clearly stand out from the competition.

So next time you're creating some B2B content, ask yourself: What are we against?

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Image by US Army