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Management / Best practice for B2B content marketing

Best practice for B2B content marketing

Content marketing: what is the best way of delivering an effective campaign? And how can you be sure you have succeeded?

Over breakfast at the Langham Hotel in central London, 16 senior Business to Business (B2B) marketers gathered to discuss how content marketing can best be added to the marketing mix. The meeting, sponsored by Drive Content Marketing, came up with some excellent ideas for best practice in this difficult area of marketing.

What is content marketing?

What exactly is content marketing? That wasn’t a bad starting point for this discussion. Around the table, everyone agreed that content marketing (CM) is an integral part of marketing and is always worth considering. But there were differences when it came to defining precisely how CM and marketing relate to each other.

There are a number of definitions of content marketing that you can use, and which one you decide to use is very much up to you and your organisation. Several definitions were offered:

  • CM is just another way of talking about marketing generally – which itself always depends on content (from catalogues, advertisements and call scripts to whitepapers and social media posts)
  • CM is a specialist form of marketing that involves the creation of content assets that mimic editorial as a way of generating credibility in the minds of the audience
  • CM is a specialist form of marketing that aims in particular to position an organisation as thought leaders who are providing value to their audience in the form of insights about a particular subject area; for instance this could be a blog post that says “we really understand this subject”; CM is the creation of a body of knowledge that builds brand equity
  • CM is a form of marketing that uses content to provide value to the audience (content that is clever, funny or engaging); the content doesn’t have to mimic editorial and can include case studies, endorsements and free trials of technology

Whatever the definition, it was agreed that CM is about the creation of marketing assets (whether these are events, articles or videos) that demonstrate that the organisation:

  1. has a unique point of view, or
  2. is providing knowledge that adds to existing knowledge (because there is rarely such a thing as a new area of knowledge – inevitably we are “standing on the shoulders of giants”).

The nature of content assets

On the whole these content assets need to be substantial assets, assets that have some longevity, assets that can be repurposed in various ways for instance as social media posts, using different channels and even different tones of voice.

They need to be assets that have some real value for the target audience, ideally assets that will entice them into being open to a closer relationship with the organisation (for instance, by purchasing something).

And importantly these assets also need to be designed to lead into “another step” such as a new interaction with a member of the target audience. There is no point in content that is not seen; there is no point in content that doesn’t change people’s behaviour in a desired way.

Why use content marketing as part of the marketing mix?

CM is a flexible tactic that can be used in a number of different ways, and at different stages of the conversion funnel:

  • To build brand or product awareness
  • To build leads (but rarely sales) by initiating a conversation with a client or prospect
  • To drive loyalty and repeat purchase or brand advocacy
  • To generate insight into the needs and pain points of the organisation’s target audience

Most people feel that CM is best used to feed the content funnel, finding people to “put in the top”, people who can then be further worked on as we lead them towards conversion.

That’s true of a lot of content marketing. But it’s important to remember that the technique can be used in most parts of the conversion funnel, except perhaps at the very bottom when you are trying to convert a sale.

What content works?

There are no hard and fast rules for content marketing but there are certainly some best practice guidelines that will make your content more effective. Our marketing experts came up with a number of excellent tips for achieving effective campaigns. These included:

  • Content must be easy to use. No one reads a 40 page report! It should look attractive and be easy to understand. Assume that people will be reading it in a difficult environment like a bus on a bumpy road and on a small smartphone screen – design for them and most people will be able to read your content easily
  • Content must be easy to access: easy to find and easy to open (don’t put it behind a data wall!) You should work on the basis that people are very busy and won’t have time or energy to spend getting to your content
  • Content should be easy to understand without needing people to concentrate. Could you turn your content into a cartoon? If you can’t perhaps it’s too complicated…
  • Content should a story rather than just sharing information
  • Content has to be relevant to the target audience, capable of enticing them to take a desired action or mind state e.g. a desire to know more
  • Content should be focussed on the different audiences: all influencers in the marketing ecosystem should be considered, not just (say) client procurement officers. A good way of doing this is to work with sales people who are often in conversation with your audience but all too frequently don’t get the chance to contribute their insights to marketing activities
  • Content should be aligned with user behaviour. For instance if people buy pizza on a Saturday night but think about what pizza they will choose on a Thursday night, then it might be appropriate to use CM on Thursday night and some form of sales promotion (rather than CM) on a Saturday night
  • Irrespective of where a content asset lies within the conversion funnel you should always include a call to action and/or contact information.

It is important to accept that the content assets have to be distributed effectively: content and marketing are intertwined. Without marketing to a target audience, content assets are pointless.

B2B2C content marketing

Not all Business to Business (B2B) marketers just talk to their clients. Some talk to the end consumer as well. This interesting form of content marketing is what we might call “B2B2C” marketing.

When a B2B content marketer targets the end consumer with their content marketing activities it can be highly effective. Not only can it drive sales, by providing the end consumer with value, the B2B marketer is supporting their middleman clients. This can result in those clients being very favourably impressed: “You make me look great” they might say. But of course the content you provide for end consumers is likely to be very different from that which you provide for your B2B clients.

This approach can create a real point of difference. It is however a lot of hard work and not for the faint hearted!

Managing your marketing colleagues

One point not to forget is how you manage the people who are working with content marketing. You can do this be providing them with soft (qualitative) as well as hard (quantitative) targets and measuring their progress against these objectives.

When doing this it is important to address cultural problems such as an over reliance on automated reports or a reluctance to analyse data or question it if it looks unusual (“I believe the data god in the sky implicitly”).

Reporting is also something that needs to be managed carefully. Avoid drowning people in data: only give them relevant metrics and as few of these as possible.

Measuring the effects

Understanding the ROI of content marketing is crucial. You can’t manage campaigns, or improve your activities, without collecting and analysing appropriate metrics.

These metrics must mean something, they must help you take decisions in the future. They could give you, the marketer, insight into your campaign or your market. They could provide your sales colleagues with real leads. Or they could give someone else in the organisation, such as the CEO, useful information about the business.

The effect of content marketing can be difficult to measure. But a number of metrics were proposed including:

  • Social media analytics such as engagement (shares etc): these can be useful metrics although they can be difficult to link to sales
  • Awareness –useful but again, awareness doesn’t deliver immediate results and so is hard to link to sales
  • The number of two-way conversations that are initiated with members of the target audience, or people who might influence them; ideally these will be conversations that send comments back to the organisation but also valid would be conversations between members of the target audience
  • Soft measures such as NPS, number of endorsements
  • Revenue –if this can be credibly linked to a particular content marketing campaign

ROI and the sales funnel

There is often a conflict between people who only value leads and people who understand the value of awareness and other brand measures. CM can help with the sales funnel, often “pushing people in at the top”, i.e. starting the process towards a dialogue with leads. At the early stages though it will be hard to match CM activity with sales which is why brand measures, and importantly the ability to look at trends, are important.

The place you are in the sales funnel will affect the metrics you use. At the “top” of the sales funnel, you may necessarily have to use softer measures such as NPS or “conversion” from one set of content to another set. Further towards the sale you can look at measures that are more associated with lead generation.

Metrics are often focussed on acquisitions. But there is also a need to consider how CM affects the retention of existing clients. The effect on loyalty should be measured if possible, perhaps by looking at measures such as basket value, frequency of purchase or softer measures such as number of endorsements, NPS etc.

Many marketers use dashboards to help them visualise data. But there is a big difference between seeing and sharing a prettily formatted statistic with helping people understand what they should be doing next. It is important to avoid becoming over-reliant on data for data’s sake. Numbers on their own don’t really mean anything: you need to be able to deduce appropriate actions from them.

In addition there is a need to differentiate between micro-data (“this email did this”) with macro-data (“this campaign did this”). Both forms of data are valuable but should be treated differently. For instance microdata should probably not influence campaign strategy but could result in a call for the use of A/B testing.

Learnings from the breakfast

At the end of this fascinating discussion we went around the table asking for people to give their top tips. We had some excellent insight:

  • Integrate: Content creation needs to be integrated with marketing and content marketing needs to be integrated with wider marketing activities. Content marketing should not be an afterthought.
  • Understand: Understand what your audience wants. Develop personas that will help you identify what information people want and how they will use it; talk to your sales team because they are constantly in touch with your customers and can tell you about the pain points your customers have.
  • Target: Create for your audience, not for yourself: use personas for your content to help you adapt it for difference audiences; make sure it is accessible (remember that some of your readers will be reading it on a mobile device on a train) and easy to read (a “reading age” of 7 or 8 is a good one to aim for); and make the content aesthetically pleasing.
  • Analyse: Analysis is crucial. Don’t do everything by hand: look for automated short cuts. But do ensure that any analysis you deliver is relevant for your audience: no one wants a load of data dumped on them – they want to know what the data means for them and what they should do.
  • Amplify: Help your content assets work harder. Reach out to influencers or customer advocates and ask for their comments. Think about how you can re-purpose and reuse your content assets to make them reach further.

A fascinating discussion. And one where everyone came away with several new ideas and some excellent tips for creating effective content marketing campaigns.


About Drive Content Marketing

Drive Content Marketing is a full service content marketing  agency, providing services that include the creation of content marketing assets (events, video, audio, graphics, text, social media and websites) and their distribution via owned and paid media.

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