Content marketing gained prominence quickly in the B2B and the B2C spaces, and for good reason: it works. Today, most B2B marketers are adept at using it to raise brand awareness or introduce products and services at the beginning of the buyer’s journey. Fewer, however, are confident that their content approach is moving customers smartly toward a purchase.
It seems simple enough: write content your prospective B2B customers will find relevant at each stage of the buyer’s journey, from awareness through consideration, decision and purchase. Understanding how and when to deliver that information and relating it directly to a sale are more difficult. Judging from the B2B Content Marketing 2020 report, so is using it to effectively nurture relationships after the sale.
Goals marketers achieved in the past 12 months:
- 86% creating brand awareness
- 79% educating audiences
- 75% building credibility/trust
- 63% building loyalty with existing clients/customers
- 53% generating sales/revenue
- 45% building subscribed audiences
Here’s a look at some of the things that happen behind the curtains of a solid B2B content marketing plan.
Research—There Really is No Substitute
Creating brand awareness and educating audiences about a company, product or service is the broadest aspect of content marketing, which is probably one reason most B2B marketers are doing pretty well at it. No doubt their surveys are telling them as much.
But “know thy customer” continues to be the Holy Grail of marketing, and once awareness is taken care of, research is where the rubber meets the road.
All effective content marketing begins with a deep understanding of how your customers approach a purchase – their behaviours, their preferences, their sources of information.
Surveys, interviews and focus groups—with acolytes, employees and detractors alike—are essential. So, too, are behavioural cues like website heatmaps, and search behaviours. Only then will you have the quantitative and qualitative data and information you need to understand what types of content should be pushed to customers, where and when.
Make Friends With the Sales Team—They Know Your Customers
The age-old push-pull between marketing and sales is alive and well. Frenemies forever, right?
Not if you make it your mission in life to involve the sales team in your marketing and content planning efforts. The sales team is out there on the front lines day in and day out, personally interacting with customers. No one—except the customers themselves—understands their challenges and needs better, and how to build a solution for them with your products or services.
They can help you ensure your content is relevant at every phase of the B2B buyer’s journey, and they can help you identify the signs or triggers that let you know a customer has moved further toward a purchase. And, if they understand the flow of your content marketing plan, they can help raise awareness of informative content you’re sharing. The sales team also lives and dies by the numbers.
When you understand their sales targets, you can tie marketing dollars to sales results—ROI your leaders will love.
Don’t Guess—Know Exactly When to Share Which Content
This may sound like Content Marketing 101, but it’s a step easily overlooked as the content engine chugs along.
Once you know where your B2B customers prefer to get their information, find out what the best day of the week, time of day and repeat frequency are for your particular type of communication. After all, if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, then no one hears it.
Find out what works, too, in terms of content type. A blog? Video? Image? Infographic? Short post?
All social platforms have a wealth of information to share on best practices for writing and producing content that gets viewed/read. Editorial calendars will tell you when print and online publications plan to cover specific topics your audiences are interested in. Industry events are widely advertised online.
When you know what you want to share when, automate it if you can. Social media automation tools like Buffer, CoSchedule, Hootsuite, Tailwind, Workflow and others make distributing content to your customers easy, and many offer great analytics, too. And when it comes to paid vs. organic, a mix of both is almost mandatory.
Get a Content Marketing Plan in Place—And Refer to It Often
A content marketing plan is an absolute necessity. It ensures you move steadily toward your marketing goals and more importantly, toward your company’s financial and strategic goals, no matter how crazy the days get.
It keeps you focused in the face of potential distractions and the siren call of “I’m bored! Do something new!” At times, you may need to supplement it or set it aside momentarily to create an interim plan that accommodates unforeseen circumstances, such as we are experiencing during the Covid-19 pandemic or, on a more commonplace note, an abrupt change in leadership or a significant shift in corporate strategy.
A quick Google search will turn up how-to’s and best practices from resources like HubSpot, the Content Marketing Institute and others. You can also choose a B2B marketing agency that is well-versed in tying business strategy and KPIs to content marketing to broaden your team’s capabilities.
Be Brief, Be Bright, Be Gone—Most of the Time
A recent study by a team of European scientists found that our collective attention span is narrowing across every type of content, online and offline.
“Content is increasing in volume, which exhausts our attention and our urge for ‘newness’ causes us to collectively switch between topics more rapidly.” says postdoc Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
That said, other researchers beg to differ, pointing out that attention spans vary by task and level of prior knowledge. And there’s ample evidence touting length as a plus for linkbacks, search engine optimisation, and establishing a level of authority on a subject.
So what’s a marketer to do? Be interesting, of course. Capture people’s attention. But above all, know your audience, know what information they need at each stage of the B2B buyer’s journey, and know how they like to receive it. Yep, we’ve come full circle—research, research, research.
Let’s Talk Generalities—Content Appropriate for Each Phase
I say “generalities” because there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the content people will engage with as they move from awareness to purchase. But there is some conventional wisdom based on what they’re likely to be doing during each phase, most of which is based on whether or not a particular content type can accommodate the level of specificity people are looking for.
Less detail in the awareness phase may lend itself better to shorter, punchier content. More detail at the decision point may lend itself to “just the facts, Jack” content like spec sheets.
- Awareness – During the awareness phase, people are gathering high-level information. They’re beginning to read up on a type of product or service in general—composite materials, say, or tax preparation. They want to learn more about what kinds of composite materials are out there. They want to know what to look for in a tax service. They’re not really delving into one brand or provider vs. another just yet. Attention-grabbing content works during this phase: social media and ad campaigns, brochures, podcasts, interactive e-books.
- Consideration – Now they’re beginning to hone in on the differences between each brand’s product or service. Which is better for them? Why? They’re looking for more details about what the product or service offers specifically, whether that suits their needs and how that compares to its competitors. Does the composite material work for their project? How good is the tax preparer’s reputation? Explanatory content fits well during this phase: webinars, infographics, third-party endorsements, content attributed to trusted subject matter experts.
- Decision – At this point a potential buyer has a good grasp of what’s out there and is toggling back and forth between your product/service and a few competitors. Now they’re in the weeds. Content that lends itself to details and specificity is particularly useful: head-to-head comparisons across key benefits, case studies, long-form content such as white papers, spec and price sheets, diagrams, technical videos. And don’t forget event marketing—when it comes to converting B2B leads, nothing works better than good, old-fashioned, face-to-face conversation with a trusted expert.
Yay! You’ve Sold Them Something—Now Comes the Hard Part
Everyone’s heard that the best way to get a customer is to keep a customer. What does that look like in B2B content marketing terms? Let’s turn our attention back to that last stat from the B2B Content Marketing 2020 report: Fewer than half of marketers felt like they achieved their goals of building subscribed audiences—those so dedicated to a brand they want to stay informed about what’s new and what’s next.
The next phase can be summed up as “keep in touch.” Depending on your audience research, there are many ways to do that, from the tried-and-true to edgier creative efforts. From newsletters (bonus—it’s a subscription) to direct mail to personal interaction at events, the options are endless. The goal, however, remains the same—keep your B2B customers interested by giving them information they value and enjoy. The best way to guide that: with a post-sale content marketing plan.
B2B content marketing is one of the most effective ways of attracting new customers, moving them toward a purchase and after the sale, keeping the ones you have already engaged. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and when you can tie your marketing efforts directly to company revenues, it’s quite rewarding.