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!
In the classic Spanish novel The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a nobleman becomes so enamored with stories of brave knights and ladies fair that his perception of reality becomes warped. At one point, he attacks windmills, convinced that he must bravely vanquish these “ferocious giants.”
All too often, content marketers act like Don Quixote, mistaking content volume for content quality. We churn out copious volumes of “me-too” content, and then wonder why it gets ignored by most of the people we want to influence. We assume we know what our customers’ challenges, needs and aspirations are, but we miss them by a mile. Still, we charge forward like Don Quixote, convinced of the nobility of our quest.
Are you tilting at windmills with your content?
Let’s try an exercise. Open your company’s blog in a browser tab, and those of your competitors in other tabs. Now imagine the company logos and color schemes were scrubbed from each of these web pages. Would you be able to tell them apart?
In most industries, the answer is a resounding NO!
If your company is like most B2B firms, you’re producing blog posts, newsletters and other content that looks and reads remarkably like what your competitors are publishing. But if you can’t tell your content apart from that of your competitors, then neither can your target audience. That’s a big problem!
How to differentiate your content
If you’re frustrated by the state of your content marketing efforts, it may be time for you to “tilt” your perspective so that you are able to tell a unique story – one that cuts through the clutter and that is uniquely focused on the needs of your target audience. One way to do that is to ask smarter, more creative questions:
- What assumptions are you making about your target audience that could be skewing your perceptions of their needs?
- Imagine you have no prior knowledge of your target audience. How would you accurately learn about their needs? In other words, return to a state of “beginner’s mind,” free of any preconceived notions about them and their needs.
What other perspectives should you consider?
- How can you change the conversation in a way that’s so compelling that it will command the attention of your target audience?
Most companies go very broad when defining their target audience; that usually means they have a lot of competition. Instead, think narrow: Is there a sub-niche within your main audience that you ought to learn more about and target with your content? Your goal is to become the recognized expert within that sub-niche.
- Should you create a new product category? It should give you greater visibility than introducing another “me-too product” in an existing category. Bonus: In the short term, your brand will come to be identified with this new product category, which increases your odds of success.
- Take the advice of Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal: “Figure out something that nobody else is doing and look to create a monopoly in some area that’s been underdeveloped. Find a problem nobody else is solving.” That’s often where opportunity hides.
- Which issues and topics are none of your competitors covering in your market niche? What is everyone missing? What do customers and your competitors take for granted? Can you take a stand on one of these issues? Just make sure you’ve got your customers’ best interests in mind when you do so.
- What “jobs to be done” are your customers faced with? What’s inadequate about the existing solutions they’re using? Look for opportunities to educate them about a more effective alternative that will elegantly meet their needs.
Armed with the answers to these questions, you should be able to identify a compelling content tilt that you can use to deliver real value to your target audience and build productive relationships with them. Unlike Don Quixote, you will no longer be tilting at windmills. You’ll be winning the minds and hearts of real customers like never before.
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.