Today, if you’re not yet on board the content marketing train, you may get run over. It’s that simple. Your customers have changed and you need to adapt the way you’re marketing. If you continue to use the same old ways to communicate with them, you’ll be left in the dust.
Today’s B2B customers tend to ignore pushy messaging and salespeople. They prefer to do product and vendor research on their own, and don’t want to talk to a salesperson until they’re ready to make a purchase. They want to be educated, not sold to.
That’s why content marketing is so powerful today. It starts with a target audience’s needs, and aims to build relationships and trust by providing informative, helpful, useful content.
If you insist on maintaining the status quo, you do so at your own risk. Here’s what’s at stake if you do nothing:
1. Competitors will run you over. What if one of your major competitors launched a well-designed and well-executed content marketing strategy? Let’s say it does a marvelous job of answering the questions and meeting the informational needs of your mutual audience. They’ve become THE trusted source for information on your type of product or service. It will be much harder if not impossible for you to catch up with and surpass them.
2. Flat sales. Your customers have changed how they buy products – but you haven’t changed how you communicate with them. They’re learning to ignore your messages, which are typically all about you, not them. They don’t trust you as much as they once did, because you’re not focused on their needs like your competitor is. That means you sales will probably remain stagnant or slowly decline, as your competitor’s content initiative gains steam. The content marketing train has left the station – and you’re not on it.
3. Commoditization. Your products and services are in danger of becoming commodities because you’ve not the company influencing the way people think and feel in your niche. Becoming the industry expert to your target audience requires a lot of excellent content. But you’ve decided to abdicate that role. Your competitors have filled that void by providing high-quality knowledge and education to your mutual customers. Maybe that’s why prospective customers treat your products like a commodity.
4. Diminished customer loyalty. Like a magnet, customers and prospects tend to gravitate to those suppliers who do the best job of anticipating their information needs – before, during AND after the sale. Today’s customers want to be educated, not just sold to. If you treat them as a single transaction, you’ll miss the opportunity to build deep relationships with them and that will inevitably result with them tossing you on the trash heap.
5. You’ll become invisible. At the very least, your old-fashioned interruptive ads, emails and direct mail campaigns will teach your target audience to ignore you and your brand. At the worst, they will remove you from consideration for upcoming purchases. They may even actively avoid your brand. Once the damage has been done, it’s hard to reverse.
What you need to do now
Don’t panic. You need to create a content marketing strategy now and here are some ways to get started:
- Interview your sales people and key customers. Learn more about their needs, and the ways in which their buying process has evolved.
- Use the information you have gathered to map out the customer journey, from the time a prospect realizes he has a need until he makes a purchase.
- Use what you’ve learned to determine the types of content that are needed at each step of their journey to nurture them toward a sale.
Your focus should be to provide them with the right content, at the right time, in the formats they prefer. Good luck!
Would you stack bagfuls of cash into a crude pyramid, and then set it on fire? Of course not! That would be stupid, and you’re not stupid, so you’re not going to ignore inefficiencies in your content marketing initiative, are you?
Here are five areas that are especially problematic:
1. You’re producing content, but it’s campaign focused
Campaign thinking is deeply embedded in the minds of most marketers, which is why it’s so hard to escape. Campaigns, which can last anywhere from several weeks to several months, tend to confuse today’s buyers. They love the advice you’re giving them on a timely, valuable topic, but then you suddenly move on to something completely different as you transition to the next campaign.
And… you’ve lost them.
2. Failure to cut through the clutter
Your target audience is swamped with messages which all sound the same. “Blah, blah, blah…” (cue eye roll and tune out). Why should they pay attention to yours? To stick out like a sore thumb, your content must have what Joe Pulizzi, author of Content Inc. and the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, calls a content tilt:
“Your content must be different. It must fill a content hole that is not being filled by someone else… Without tilting your content just enough to truly have a different story to tell, you likely will see your content fade into the rest of the clutter and be forgotten,” he explains.
Too often, brands try to target too broad of an audience with content that is too similar to what their competitors are publishing. Generic, derivative, “me-too” content gets ignored today. What’s the solution? Narrow your focus until you can define a subset of your audience that you CAN serve with a unique, valuable content offering.
3. No plan for nurturing prospects
By now, most companies realize that they need to provide gated access to white papers, webinars and other resources as a way to gather email addresses. But then they confuse these interested people with prospects who are ready to buy. They’re not the same!
What’s missing is a nurturing strategy – a sequence of content, resources and emails, delivered over time – that is designed to move them steadily toward a sale. Don’t just focus on the “top of the funnel” (acquiring prospects’ contact information); have a strategy for the rest of their customer journey, too.
4. It’s all about you, you, you
Some marketers still insist on using their blogs to promote themselves and all of the great advantages of their products and services. That’s not what today’s customers want. They want to be educated. They want content that addresses their needs, challenges and aspirations. Instead of telling YOUR story, demonstrate your understanding of THEIR needs by addressing common pain points and providing relief for them.
5. Not building a base of email subscribers
During the last decade, many companies have focused on building their social media followers, while underinvesting in their email lists. There’s only one problem with this approach: You don’t own those social channels. The rules can be changed at any time – and have been doing so with increasing frequency. Frequently, they want you to pay to reach the followers you have painstakingly gathered. Instead, focus your efforts on the digital properties you DO own: your website and your email list. Continue to use social media, but adjust your tactics to always drive your followers back to your website.
Where can you improve?
Invest some time to identify your shortcomings and make plans to correct them. Remember: Every great success isn’t a “one and done” deal. Usually, it involves numerous setbacks and course corrections. Don’t get discouraged. Improve, assess, then improve again. The cumulative effect of this approach will put you miles ahead of your nearest competitor!
A documented strategy is a must if you want to be successful with content marketing.
That’s the conclusion of the first-ever Milwaukee Area B2B Content Marketing survey, conducted by Cultivate. The majority of the marketing managers who responded to this new survey (68%) don’t have one and that limits their ability to be effective with content marketing:
B2B marketers in southeastern Wisconsin are still in the “early adopter” phase of content marketing, based on their responses to a question about their effectiveness with this fast-growing marketing practice: Only 12% rated themselves as “very effective.” Another 65% of respondents believe they’re only “somewhat effective” at it, while 23% classified themselves as “somewhat ineffective” or “very ineffective.”
Content measurement is the number-one challenge that Milwaukee-area content marketers face, according to nearly half (49%) of the respondents. Their number two challenge is producing content consistently (47%). This isn’t surprising. To gain the attention of a target audience and build trust with it, marketers must consistently create and publish valuable content over a long period of time.
Other content marketing challenges cited by survey respondents include producing engaging content, measuring the ROI of content and a lack of a clear content marketing strategy.
The survey also explores what’s behind marketers’ motivations to allocate funds to content marketing and the percentage of their budget they allocate to it.
Get the FREE Survey Report
Lurking in the corner of your office is an unseen threat to the success of your content marketing efforts. It’s the approval monster and his favorite activity is not to dismember, devour and destroy, but rather to plant his fat butt on top of your content, bringing your publishing process to a screeching halt.
No approvals. Not today. Not for a week or two, if you’re lucky!
As you scale your content marketing production, one of the challenges you’re likely to encounter is content approvals. If you don’t have a streamlined process for managing them, they WILL become a bottleneck and compromise your ability to publish content consistently.
Here are some ideas for keeping content flowing smoothly in your organization:
Clearly define your content workflow, and make sure you distribute it to everyone who has a hand in content production, as well as any relevant subject matter experts and stakeholders. Everyone needs to be working from a common set of expectations and roles. This article includes a simple “swim lane” diagram that can help you understand what a typical content process looks like.
Don’t treat all content the same. Certain types of content, such as ebooks and video scripts, deserve a full-blown vetting process. Other types of content, such as social media posts and images for your company’s Facebook page or Instagram feed, should he managed with much less attention and oversight. You should be able to publish them as soon as they’re produced, or on a schedule that you decide. For a valuable perspective on this topic, including an awesome red light/yellow light/green light model, please see Marcia Riefer Johnston’s article on the Content Marketing Institute’s website.
Centralize all of your internally-written and contributed content in Google Docs. This cloud-based word processing tool enables you to collaborate easily with others, track revision history and much more. This article from SmartBlogger explains how to make it the engine of a scalable content production and publishing empire.
Set time limits on content reviews. Let your article sources and department managers know the turn-around time you require. But here’s the important part: Also let them know that if you don’t hear from them by that date, you will assume they are okay with the content as is, and you may proceed with the publishing process.
Identify production bottlenecks and reduce or eliminate them. Diagram your content production process, so you understand who is involved and what the dependencies are at each step. Next, measure and document how long each step takes. Then select a standardized period of time (such as a week) and determine how much content each person could produce within that time frame. Gathering this data will help you identify where the bottleneck is in your process, so you can reduce or eliminate it. For a full explanation of this process, please read this article.
Follow the model publishers use. Publishers don’t have the luxury of having content hung-up in approvals. They operate on a very tight schedule. Accordingly, they take a more streamlined approach to this important part of the publishing process. They establish rules and monitor for editorial compliance once and then enforce them rigorously to all content. This model enables content producers to focus on what they do best – creating high-quality content, – but within an agreed-upon framework. This article contains a deeper explanation of how this works.
What is your approach to content production, reviews and approvals? If you don’t have clearly defined content roles, responsibilities and processes, now is the time to set them up.
One of the biggest roadblocks content marketers face is developing original, relevant and engaging content – content that people actually want to read and most importantly share with associates. Just like song writers, everyone wants their content (song) to be a hit and reach the number one spot on the charts.
According to CMI’s 2015 B2B Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research study, creating engaging content is the number one challenge faced by content marketers (60% of respondents). That’s followed very closely (57%) by producing content consistently. Make it good and do it often is the goal!
Cultivate’s recent Milwaukee Area Content Marketing Survey showed a similar pattern: 52% of respondents say they have trouble producing content consistently, while 45% say producing engaging content is their number two challenge.
Who would have thought!? Creating good content is hard work and most people simply don’t have time between everyday meetings and putting out fires to produce engaging content. People can only stare at a blank computer screen so long in hopes of churning out something alluring to read or view.
“Me-too” content is no longer good enough to command attention and connect with the reader. What’s needed are unique, creative approaches, delivered on a consistent, ongoing basis. Sound impossible? Here are seven brainstorming techniques designed to generate content ideas that will break through the noise and command attention:
1. Create a swipe file of remarkable article and blog post headlines
As you do your daily reading, watch out for eye-catching headlines and story concepts. Make a note of them in a paper or online file. Soon, you’ll have a list of inspiring examples that you can adapt to your needs. Another way you can do this is to visually scan a magazine rack in a bookstore. What headlines jump out at you? Make notes of them, and then brainstorm ways to adapt them to your content needs.
Read The Onion and National Enquirer for headlines, and then tone the theme back to your reality. Headlines that get readers to think “WTF??” can be very effective.
2. Challenge a key assumption in your industry or profession by asking, “What if?”
This simple question helps you to imagine different possibilities that are outside of your habitual ways of thinking and the commonly-accepted industry or professional “rules.” For example:
- “What if our audience viewed us as a trusted publisher, not as a firm that’s always trying to sell them something?”
- “What if we could predict our audience’s needs with a high degree of precision, and then deliver the information they needed, just in time?”
- “What if we could get wild monkeys to fly out of our pockets?”
Start repeating “what if” as you walk around the office and something will come to you.
3. Use the “board of directors” creativity technique
Force yourself to think about your audience’s problems or challenges from unique perspectives. One way to do this is to create an imaginary “board of directors.” These people can be anyone, living or dead, famous or obscure, real or imaginary. Your goal is to leverage their unique thinking styles to help you see things differently.
For example, how would Steve Jobs create amazing content? Richard Branson? Gandhi? Gumby? Captain Kirk? Dilbert? Martin Luther King? Imagine you’re standing in front of them; picture in rich detail the answers they would give you.
3. Do a Google search – but with a twist
As you type your query, watch the suggestions that appear. These are similar queries that other people have already made. Some will be unusual and intriguing. Use them as stepping stones to unique content ideas. By the way, this method really does work, especially after a glass or two of Cabernet.
4. What do you wish your audience knew?
Make a list of the knowledge gaps or incorrect assumptions that your audience seems to have. Remember, not all of them are rocket scientists and look to your content to help them figure things out. What’s routine to you may be amazing to them. Brainstorm ways to help them understand each of these topics correctly and completely.
5. Perform a PEST analysis on your profession or industry
PEST analysis is a valuable tool for understanding the external macro-environment in which your business operates. It can help you better understand the range of trends, influences and forces that may represent either threats or opportunities to your audience.
PEST stands for Political, Economic, Social and Technological. Brainstorm around the mega-trends that are occurring in each area. Explore each one in depth. How can you help your audience capitalize upon these trends in their early stages?
6. Use an online idea generation tool to brainstorm unique content ideas
Our brains are rich “association engines” – they love to connect ideas and concepts together. Brainstorming tools like Free the Genie leverage this capability by presenting you with random stimuli to get your creative juices flowing.
7. Attribute listing
Divide your audience’s problem or challenge into its attributes. Once you’ve done this you can think about each element separately. Think of ways to address each one in the form of content.
It’s time to get creative
If you’re committed to creating original, relevant and engaging content that your target audience finds interesting enough to spend time reading why not give one or more of these techniques a test drive? I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results!
We’re awash in a cesspool of bad content.
Much of it is content that is so self-serving, it makes you cringe. Tired topics that have been covered ad nausem by many other authors – apparently in an attempt to validate the theory that an infinite number of monkeys pounding on an infinite number of typewriters can write a novel. Dense, confusing infographics that look like a unicorn barfed in Photoshop. Topics that the author was obviously passionate about, but don’t connect with any customer need or interest.
Most of the time, you can recognize bad content when you see it.
However, it’s different when you produce content for your company. You’re too close to it to be objective. Plus, you have a deadline looming, so you do the best you can. You churn out one of those ubiquitous “10 ways” list posts. It turned out pretty good. It’s well written. It makes logical sense. But is it actually worth reading?
Here’s the rub: You can’t be the judge of that. It’s up to your customer or stakeholder to decide what rocks and what reeks.
Tips to create content that rocks, not reeks
So how do you turn the odds in your favor? How do you ensure you’re producing content your target audience will actually read, value and benefit from? Here are some tips:
Customer focused: Always start your content creation efforts with a well-defined customer need – no exceptions! Bonus points if you have created a customer persona and a customer journey map for the audience segment to whom you’re writing.
Compelling: Make it a compelling story. Communicating the facts is important, of course. But let’s be honest – it’s often boring. How can you make it more memorable and interesting to your target audience?
Tell a story: Study storytelling techniques, and learn how to incorporate them into your writing process. Why? Because as human beings, we are hard-wired to respond to stories. They engage our mind and emotions like nothing else can. If you can tap into your audiences’ minds at this deep level, you have a much greater chance of engaging them with your content.
Useful: Make your content useful. It’s important to educate your target audience about what they need to know and to answer their deepest questions. But you must also deliver it in an actionable format. Always ask yourself, “How can I help my reader put this information or knowledge to use immediately?”
Valuable: When you’re writing, continually ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” You need to always think in terms of the audience for whom you’re writing: Their needs. Their challenges. Their opportunities. This bit of advice may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how much your voice and point of view try to sneak into your writing. I’m sure you see it all the time – blog posts that provide useful information until the very end, when the author can’t resist to toss in a product or brand mention. Don’t do that. Remember, your goal is to build trust, not sell something.
Differentiated: Always seek to differentiate your content. Not just for the sake of being different, but to gain attention and engagement. Appeal to emotions and issues that your target audience cares about. Think about their typical day. What value can you deliver to them that will make their day, their week, their career better? And remember: You’re not working in isolation: You need to do a better job of this than any of your competitors, who are also trying to influence that same audience.
Where do you stand?
So where do you stand on the continuum from bad to good content? It’s time to move upstream. Your audience will appreciate it. And your boss will, too, because your content will be more effective.