Key points from this article:
- B2B marketers responsible for content marketing are struggling. Both from a creativity and productivity standpoint compared to their B2C counterparts.
- Internal planning, focus during ideation, pragmatism, and broad targeting are the first steps to take to start maturing content marketing in B2B.
- We recommend a simple five-step process to kickstart a more structured content engine operating model towards higher impact and efficiency.
Studies show that mastering content marketing in B2B is of the most contributing factors to marketing success.
However, content marketing continues year-on-year to remain as the primary challenge for marketers responsible for marketing operations (MarketingCharts). A struggling reality of working tirelessly with content and not getting the impact you’d expect.
It is understandable. With complex products to communicate and a wide array of buyers from different functions, B2B content marketers find it almost impossible to create resonating content to category buyers efficiently – and get acceptance from colleagues internally who are dependant on their work.
This depressing tendency is also a result of a few things:
- Increasing focus on short-term gains to meet targets and quotas from sales and P&L responsible units.
- Shifting focus from traditional to digital media – inherently accompanied by the rise of performance marketing.
- Increasingly easy to measure superficial metrics but also difficult to measure actual effectiveness, as only 4% of marketers measure campaigns more than six months after launch (source).
And to add insult to injury, B2B marketers themselves claim they spend too much time on content marketing than necessary – across the content lifecycle.
What B2B content marketers are often left with post-distribution is a lot of impressions that don’t surmount to anything – and leads that are either untouched by sales or, at best, disqualified.
Four examples of how the new “content marketing” world is evolving from the old world
Over the years, we have helped big and small clients, and what often emerges as a reason is marketing’s approach when dealing with four issues related to content marketing:
- Dealing with being stuck between “a rock and a hard place”
- Dealing with content ideation
- Dealing with content creation
- Dealing with content distribution
In the following chapters, we’ll go through each and describe why they’re happening and what leading marketers are doing to solve these issues. Let’s go through them one-by-one.
1. Dealing with being stuck between a rock and a hard place
Too often, we’ve seen B2B marketing organizations catering to two audiences, as if they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place that demand their time and resources.
On the one hand, there is the actual target audience. The market, the customers, the buyers. The people marketing want to reach and influence.
That is the ideal job for any marketer to solely focus on. Yet, it is not uncommon for marketers to focus on a completely different target group: Colleagues outside of marketing.
These marketers work as order-takers for the product and sales department. They loop marketers in, in the 11th hour to set up a product launch campaign or generate more SQLs to reach this quarter’s budget.
Marketing is stuck working short-term for its colleagues and long-term with the market – and doesn’t have the bandwidth nor time to focus to make an impact.
Leading marketers, however, work structurally and allocates resources to “do the right thing” while continuing to satisfy their colleagues in sales & product organization.
They inform or even educate their colleagues outside of marketing on the importance of targeting out-of-market buyers. To get the time, space, and resources needed to be a more prominent contributor to growth than simply being a sales supporter.
2. Dealing with content ideation
Based on countless conversations with B2B content teams, we firmly believe that this is the activity where marketers spend too much time and use the wrong source of information – where leaders stick to a “big idea” and utilize different sources of information related to content ideation.
The old world: Many ideas and keyword analysis
Countless brainstorming sessions take up a large share of their work, bringing many ideas to the table. Unfortunately, content marketers are lucky if only a few selected ideas are surmounted to anything tangible during content creation.
Another issue is the sources of information marketers use to ideate. For “digital-first” marketers, keyword analysis is often overused as a source of information on customers’ challenges and needs. The result is generic content found in a sea of sameness, whether it is an ad in the social media news feed or a blog post on a Google list.
The new world: Identify and stick to one idea and involve non-marketing professionals
Peter Weinberg and Jon Lombardo explain it best. The foundation of creative success lies in B2B marketers’ ability to focus and create “big bets”. In other words, big, long-term B2B creative ideas rather than simply producing smaller content pieces. It gives more bang for the buck and has proven to be less risky (source).
Stick to one of the very few ideas and involve sales to get genuine insights into customer trends, challenges, and nuances in their industry.
Because when you focus on just one or a few ideas, you simply have a higher chance of actually creating an impact (and maybe have a chance of becoming a thought leader within the given area, which everyone seems to want to become).
3. Dealing with content creation
It goes without saying that developing strong creative content is a claim only a few leading B2B marketing organizations can make. But beyond the content quality, time spent on creation is often too perfectionistic.
The old world: Prioritize perfection over execution
When it comes to content creation, there is a general tendency to be overly focused on the commas and dots or take 30 min in the team to discuss the subject line of the next newsletter – often at the expense of getting content “out there”.
Usually, this means too much time is spent on details not seen by the target audience, yet slow “time-to-market” for content distribution.
It’s not to suggest content marketers should slack on working with the creative part of your content creation. Absolutely not – there is a significant need to ensure labeling is correct to avoid lawsuits due to wrongful claiming, etc.
But the idea that content marketers need involvement from everyone and get all the small details down to the tiniest detail will hinder their growth if it means they delay the content lifecycle (getting content out to the audience). Start prioritizing execution over perfection.
The new world: Prioritize execution over perfection
Let’s consider why you need to be more pragmatic and care less about the details.
Below is an example of B2B banks in the US:
It shows that the primary reason non-customers are non-customers is not that they consciously say, “I don’t want anything to do with this brand because they are not in line with my values” or something else. But it is because they don’t genuinely consider them for non-rejection reasons!
This could be because they’re unaware (which makes sense because the largest B2B banks have the lowest consideration percentage) or because they don’t consider them vendors in a given buyer situation.
While the difference between rejection and consideration lessens as the brand gets big (which makes sense, as more people know and consider large brands than small ones), the conclusion is the same. Consideration is a more significant reason why non-customers are non-customers than actual brand rejection.
The takeaway is clear: Don’t overcomplicate, and aim for 100% accuracy. Lack of consideration is a bigger barrier to growth than actual brand rejection. Get your content to market and gain the awareness and consideration your brand needs.
4. Dealing with content distribution
The old world: Hyper-targeting
68% of B2B marketers believe hyper-targeting is more effective than broad targeting. The idea of communicating the right message to the right person at the right time sounds like a fantastic idea. The issue is it doesn’t work in B2B.
The reason why is because of several things. Subpar third-party data, superficial metrics, or the pursuit of personalization, etc.
But the two most crucial reasons why narrow targeting is the wrong way to go are:
- Every four years, 40% of B2B employees change company or industry (LinkedIn data)
- On average, B2B employees get promoted every third year (LinkedIn data)
With long sales cycles, you risk your potential customers’ buying group will change from first touch to deal closed at some point. People leave companies, join from another industry, and junior employees who might not be a buying group member may be one later in the sales cycle.
And three years from out-of-market to deal closed is not a long time. 75% of companies buy computers once every four years. 80% of companies change their CRM every five years (Shah, 2016; Lebeau, 2012).
The new world: Broad targeting
Content leaders target much more broadly. In fact, they target all potential category buyers (which, yes, is more expensive but more profitable in the long run).
This is because they acknowledge the ideal way to catch a moving target is to cast a wide net across many seniorities, functions, and industries.
Our advice to B2B content marketers is to accept that hyper-targeting will only make distribution more difficult with less impact – and go broad and reach today- and tomorrow’s category buyers.
Even Gartner predicts that by 2025, marketers will dismiss content personalization entirely.
- Internal: Balance marketing’s engagement towards its internal and external audiences. Set up a planning mechanism with sales and product (such as product launch tiering models and annual sales & marketing planning sessions) to ensure enough time and focus to ideate, create and distribute content to the market.
- Ideation: Get focused. Come up with one or a few ideas – and stick to it/them! Your colleagues in sales and service are your best source of customer information, not just keyword search volume alone.
- Creation: Don’t overcomplicate or aim for 100% accuracy. Lack of consideration is a bigger barrier to growth than rejection in B2B.
- Distribution: Accept the idea that hyper-targeting will make distribution more difficult with less impact – and go broad and reach category buyers.
Bringing it all together: Work with content as an engine, not ad hoc
What we see working is getting and holding on to one big idea, which continues to deliver impact, by optimizing and bite-sizing content efficiently based off of that idea, with the aim to target broadly.
It is a direct counter towards the status quo of developing a new content piece or campaign, shooting it off, and then starting over again on the next idea. An engine-like approach better matches B2B buying cycles, has lower development costs due to its always-on approach – and is much easier to improve over time.
How to setup a content engine for success and longevity
Here is a practical five-step process to design your future content engine for maximum impact and efficiency
- Set up and fill the required roles in the content engine team
- Decide what you must talk about (the big idea)
- Create the long-form content
- Bite-size into different channel-specific formats
- Distribute content on channels where your category buyers are present
Let’s go through each of these steps one by one.
1. Set up and fill the required roles in the content engine team
We start with the team and the team members’ roles & responsibilities because, in steps 2-5, each role is responsible for getting the job done. One person can take up more than one role, and one role can consist of more than one person. It all depends on the scale of the content engine.
- Subject matter expert: To find a good idea, you need someone who knows what’s happening. This is a missing piece on many teams who want to get “thought leadership” up and running. Use guests or interview experts, but you need to have the resource in-house after a while.
- Creator: The person who packages the messaging from the subject matter expert – and creates long-form content that can later be bite-sized by the distributor
- Architect: The person who builds the frameworks and draws up the channels and formats to make content distributable.
- Distributor: Bite-sizes long-form content into smaller pieces and applies content based on the architect’s framework.
2. Decide what you must talk about (the big idea)
Responsible: Subject matter expert
Identify a topic in your customers’ industry that is evergreen and relevant for your customers. Research is feasible, but the subject matter expert should ideally include interactions with sales and customer success to support ideation. Otherwise, the idea will be something that can easily be replicated.
Four requirements for a strong idea:
- A relevant topic for your target personas in your ICP
- A unique idea that isn’t voiced in the same breadth as other topics
- Believable to communicate from the brand (is this something we actually have a voice in?)
- It’s evergreen. You are committed to talk about this for a long time. Don’t select a topic/idea that is currently trending and probably will become irrelevant and fade away soon (remember NFTs?)
3. Create the long-form content
In this stage, the Creator takes a centerpiece as production mode commences. A good idea is nothing if it can’t be well-written. Hence the Creator must be able to receive the idea from the Subject Matter Expert and create meaningful content based on it.
Let’s take an example of an IT company whose “big bet” is cybersecurity.
Here, beyond an introduction to why cybersecurity is imperative to protect and improve their digital business model, the Creator structures the content across the verticals they sell to (financial services, retail, etc.).
Here, each chapter could represent each vertical that has distinct and different needs when it comes to cybersecurity:
- Financial services must protect customers’ personal bank data
- The public sector must protect citizens’ private health data
- Retail must keep payment systems up and running
- Industrial manufacturers must ensure low factory downtime
The creator must wear two hats here during creation:
- Be creative in his/her way of writing to make the “cybersecurity imperative” come to life and resonate with the IT company’s target groups across verticals.
- Write in a structured way to make it easier to distributable in step 4 and 5.
Remember: While creativity is key to making content marketing a success, make sure the Creator doesn’t overcomplicate content creation and set him/herself up for failure with 10 feedback sessions and too many approval rounds.
Lack of consideration is a bigger barrier to growth than actual brand rejection. Get your content out to the market and gain awareness and consideration.
4. Bite-size into different channel-specific formats
This is the stage that injects true productivity into the content lifecycle.
As a result of the creator’s structured work, the architect now has a long-form piece of aligned content for coherent marketing activities across channels.
Regardless of where the architect sees the content living (articles, whitepapers, webinars, social media posts, etc.), it all stems from the same source.
So, what you are left with, is not only a long-form content piece but also 100s of bite-sized content pieces.
Blog posts, webinars, podcasts, verticalized white papers, segmented newsletters, infographics, statistics/models/quotes for SoMe promotion, etc.
All are created based on one good idea, created in a structured way, and ready to be distributed efficiently.
Now, the devil’s advocate would argue that several of the bite-sized content pieces overlap in actual content. In other words, the content of a blog post is identical to the webinar.
But that is not an issue. Buyers don’t consume all content.
Some listen to podcasts and others scroll their news feed and study infographics. It is about creating content revolving around the same topic, but in a different setting and format. Worry more about reaching your target audience – and less about unique channel-specific content.
(We have dared to put our money where our mouth is, as this article covers the same topics covered in this webinar).
5. Distribute content on channels where your category buyers are present
In this last step, the distributor has the content available and “simply” needs to distribute it and make sure to go back to distribution and the discussion about why targeting too narrow is insufficient. A good analogy is to see buyers as fish swimming in the ocean.
Don’t throw a bunch of spears hoping to hit them – instead, use a fishing net, and the bigger net you have, the more fish you are going to catch.
In sum, set up a practical five-step process to design a content engine for maximum impact and efficiency:
- Identify four required content roles: Subject matter expert, architect, creator, and distributor
- Subject matter expert decides what to talk about (the big idea)
- Creator creates the long-form content
- Architect bite-sizes into different channel-specific formats for efficiency gains
- Distributor distributes content on channels where most category buyers are present
Content marketing has been and will always be both a creative and engineer-like discipline.
It requires roles with specialized skills and thoughtful coordination to set up a firm content engine instead of ad hoc content delivery, often triggered by non-marketing professional colleagues with a opinion on “why you create this content piece”, “what to specifically highlight” and “how to do so”, etc.
We all know that it is not the right way to go. Both from an effectiveness and efficiency perspective.
Set up an operating model that follows the five-step process based on the four principles related to ideation, creation, and distribution – to put the content marketing team in a better position to succeed.
At Kvadrant Consulting, we help marketing leaders set up formal processes and responsibilities in content marketing teams to work more effectively and efficiently. Feel free to reach out if the above challenges resemble your reality.