Most posts about B2B content marketing strategy start by trying to make the case for content marketing itself. I’m not going to do that, because I figure that if you are looking for information on B2B content marketing strategy you don’t need that kind of convincing. You already know how content marketing can increase conversions, improve brand awareness, and positively impact brand loyalty. You probably also already know that:
- Seventy-one percent of B2B buyers read a blog during some point in the buying process. (LinkedIn)
- Forty-seven percent of buyers engage with three to five pieces of content before connecting with sales. (Hubspot)
- Sixty-four percent of consumers say watching a marketing video on Facebook has influenced a buying decision. (Siege Media)
What you need help with are the hows and whats of a B2B content marketing strategy. There’s so much content produced by so many companies that it can feel like there’s no room for anything new. But there is—as long as you start by doing your homework and give yourself a base to work from.
LAYING THE GROUNDWORK
Buyer Personas: Who is your audience?
If B2B content marketing is about reaching the right people with the right content at the right time, then knowing your buyer is where you have to start. Unfortunately, too many companies have already spent a year or more (and untold dollars) on content before they ever ask this question.
You are cranking out ebooks, white papers, blog posts, and videos and then wondering why you can’t seem to find traction with your buyers. You wonder where all your downloads and clicks are. You wonder why you haven’t seen any leads. And the answer is you aren’t getting clicks on your content because you’re essentially shouting into a void.
Without putting time into getting to know your buyer, understanding about their specific challenges, and knowing how they go about finding information to solve those challenges, you’re wandering the content marketing desert without a map.
Buyer personas are your map.
This post isn’t going to be all about buyer personas—we’ll save the nitty gritty for its own post—but a quick note is in order: To create buyer personas properly and to get the most value out of the exercise, you need to be talking to real buyers. Grab them from your CRM—both wins and losses—and ask them what prompted them to call you. Ask how they found out about you. Ask why they ultimately chose you. Or why they didn’t.
Your sales team, and maybe even marketing, will say that it already has a good handle on who your buyers are and why they chose you, and that’s fine. They might be right. But we’ve found that even if customer interviews only serve to confirm what your team says it already knows, you’re still going to learn something that you didn’t know before. And that something will help you make your content marketing more effective.
Messaging: What will you say?
What you say and how you say it comes down to messaging. As with buyer personas, messaging is too involved a topic to talk about in a space this short, so here are the highlights.
Proper messaging starts with your buyers. What are they struggling with? What questions do they have? Start planning your content around those topics. After that, you spin your topics out broader to the things your buyers should be thinking about for the future, those problems they don’t have now but they will if they don’t start addressing things. That’s base-level content. It’s where content creation should start.
Sounds easy, but there’s a catch. Any content you create needs to feel authentic, so make sure that what you say is something that would naturally come from your brand. That means it needs to match with your expertise and your experience.
What is your expertise? These are the problems you solve for clients. Better, this is the change you deliver. These are the things you can talk about with confidence because you do them.
What is your experience? This is where you look at the resumes of your company SMEs. What professional experience do they have that would make them an expert on a topic? All too often companies look to marketing or communication leaders as the public faces of their businesses on blogs or in bylines. Naturally, though, those aren’t the people who should be talking about the topics that are the subject of the pieces they are being credited with. Look for people inside your organization who have the experience that matches with your expertise. By letting those people be the face of your business, you will eliminate the risk of your content coming across as inauthentic.
The thing that you need to keep at the front of your mind when you’re creating messaging is that, in addition to being authentic, it needs to be unique to you. If you’re in a crowded market, this may be tough. Don’t rush the process. Study what’s being said in your market. Find a place in that conversation where you can be a leader. Find places in that conversation where you can be a contributor.
Goals: What do you want your content to do for you?
Marketing needs to be measurable. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to answer that inevitable question of “What’s the ROI?” So let’s make your content marketing measurable by putting some goals around it.
So, what kind of goals should you give your content? Maybe you take this with a grain of salt because I’m a content director, but there aren’t that many goals that content can’t help you reach.
- Want to increase site traffic? Then you’ll want an SEO-based content program that will help you show up more prominently in organic search results.
- Want to improve your share of voice among your competitors? Then look to a byline program that will place the smart things your executives say in trade media.
- Want to improve your SMEs’ reputations within your industry? A thought leadership program that’s communicating smart, unique points of view will help.
- Want more qualified leads? Content is at the heart of every inbound campaign. You have to have something with which to nurture those leads.
The effectiveness of each of those kinds of content programs can be measured with specific metrics, but first you have to know broadly what you are wanting to accomplish. That’s because it’s hard for one piece of content to serve multiple masters. There will be decisions you have to make in the creation of the content that should be guided by the goals you have for your program.
Content Types: What kind of content are you going to create?
Only a few years ago this wasn’t even a question worth asking. The answer was obvious. No matter the goals, many people relied on the same kinds of content. They’d create blogs and ebooks and white papers and case studies.
But content doesn’t work like that any more. For one thing, there’s just so much content out there that those old methods have lost their impact. That’s not to say that content isn’t still effective. It totally is. But those older forms of content now have to be integrated with newer formats, like video, digital interactives, podcasts, and so on.
But trying to do every form of content at once is time consuming. If your staff is small (or your budget with your agency is limited), you can spend all of your time creating content instead of devoting some of those hours to optimizing how you use it.
Hello again, buyer personas.
One of the things you need to determine when you’re talking with buyers are the kinds of content types they prefer. Are they video people? Do they like a good blog post? Or do they want something they can click around on? Their answers are your answer to this bigger question. Whatever they say, that’s the kind of content you should be creating.
That said, it shouldn’t be the only content you are creating; you do need a mix. But that will give you a place where you can put your focus.
Content Platforms: Where will the content live?
Dumb question, right? At least it can feel like one. But it’s not. Content broadly falls into three different buckets: Searchable, Shareable, and Sendable. And it’s the bucket that often determines where a piece of content will live.
Searchable content is content that’s primarily intended to be found by the search engines. It’s doing everything it can to get Google’s attention. And since that’s the goal, this content should live on your site. It’ll be on a blog, in some kind of long-form downloadable, or on a specific web page.
Shareable content is content that’s meant to be shared through social media. This is thought leadership content. The focus isn’t as much about hitting certain keywords as about sharing specific ideas. This content can live on your site—and there are definite reasons why it should. But it will also need a presence of some kind on social media, and there are solid reasons to make it native to those platforms. It should also live in trade media or on third-party sites where your audience visits.
Sendable content is content that’s meant to be part of a nurturing campaign. It will most likely live in an email or on a landing page somewhere.
What’s all this mean? You need to think as much about where the content will live as what it will say, as well as what the experience of consuming it will be like.
Content Promotion: How will people know this content exists?
A few years ago, posting content to your site was good enough. There was so little of it out there to answer potential buyers’ questions that simply having content was enough to earn you visibility. That’s not the case anymore. Organic visibility on basic keywords is all but gone. It’s still possible to earn organic visibility for long-tail keyword phrases, and for B2B tech companies this is actually a solid strategy. But for the most part, if you want your targeted audience to see your content, you’re going to need some kind of paid strategy for getting it in front of them. This means either social advertising on the platforms your audience prefers or a pay-per-click programmatic ad campaign. Which strategy you choose depends on a lot of factors, but the thing to focus on here is the fact that you can target your audience. While you can’t do anything to make someone read your content, with proper targeting and solid headlines you can definitely increase the chances the right people will see it.
Summary: The elements of an effective B2B content marketing strategy
So there you have it, the basic elements of a B2B content strategy:
- Buyer Personas
- Content Goals
- Content Types
- Content Platforms
- Content Promotion
While content marketing has changed—it’s much more sophisticated now than when the concept was first introduced as are the potential customers that consume it—the backbone of the practice is still very much the same. Everything starts with a strategy built on a firm foundation, focused on your buyers and the message they tell you they want to hear. Once you know your buyers and know your message, you can build a program that reaches those buyers and gives you the foundation to move quickly once new opportunities present themselves.