September 12, 2012
How To

Marketing Basics: 7 B2B content marketing tactics

SUMMARY: If the MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2012 presenters were correct, content marketing is becoming the focal point around which all other marketing channels orbit. Without quality content, email is less effective, social media would probably be unnecessary, and both lead generation and lead nurturing would be more difficult.

To provide some insight into B2B content marketing, MarketingSherpa reached out to two B2B content marketing consultants for seven tactics for this important marketing channel. Read on to learn more about types of B2B content, how to find content topics, and mapping B2B content to the buying stages of the complex sale.
by David Kirkpatrick, Senior Reporter

According to research from the MarketingSherpa 2012 Lead Generation Benchmark Report, content marketing was one of the top four channels for lead generation budgets for this year. And, as a less quantitative measure of the importance of content marketing, it was featured in almost every presentation at the recent B2B Summit 2012, whether the main focus was lead gen, email, social media or event marketing.

For B2B marketers, content marketing is used for lead generation and lead nurturing, provides the "fuel" that runs inbound marketing strategies, and effectively works across multiple channels. For example, email without valuable content to share with the database is just technology, not marketing.

To provide B2B marketers with a framework of content marketing tactics, MarketingSherpa reached out to two content marketing consultants: Michael Aagaard, self-described online copywriter, and LPO and testing fanatic, Contentverve; and Stephanie Tilton of Ten Ton Marketing.

This article features seven tactics B2B marketers can employ to improve the content marketing channel.

Tactic #1. Understand that content comes in more than one format

The content in content marketing includes much more than text -- blog posts, articles and whitepapers are important, but so are video, podcasts, infographics, webinars and the accompanying slide decks, and even online tools such as calculators.

Aagaard said his content strategy included video, but the central component was his blog because of the format.

"People are used to it, and they are used to turning to blogs to get information," he stated. "And, Google likes blogs."

Tilton pointed out that the format should be dictated by what meets the needs of the target audience.

She said, "The focus should be on the info you convey versus the content type. People get sidetracked trying to figure out the most appropriate content format. The focus should be on answering your prospects’ most pressing questions, delivering information, a perspective and guidance they won’t find anywhere else -- that’s what helps content stand out."

Tilton added content marketers should take into account some people want a brief overview of a topic, while others will want a deeper dive into that topic. To reach each of these target audiences, themes and issues should be explored from many angles, at different depths and in different formats.

She provided an example providing a variety of content on a particular topic:
  • Create multiple variations of a whitepaper to address the concerns of different stakeholders

  • Break those papers into multiple blog posts

  • Tweet points or stats from the posts

  • Create standalone shorter pieces of certain sections, such as "best practices"

  • Develop an accompanying webinar, presentation or podcast that delves into the key issues

  • Post presentations and webinars to online platforms, such as SlideShare and YouTube

  • Summarize stats from the material in an infographic

"The main goal is to develop content that attracts and educates prospective buyers, and moves them along the path until they’re ready to talk to Sales. Because everyone gravitates to different types of content, you should think about all the ways you can present your information," Tilton said.

She continued, "The content should also help spark discussions. For example, encourage your sales reps to start relevant discussions around the paper on LinkedIn, or in the communities where your prospects spend time."

Tactic #2. Find content topics

Tilton explained that content marketing topics are found by understanding your audience -- finding those places where your audiences’ concerns, pain points and needs intersect with your expertise and solutions.

"Each question posed by prospective buyers represents an opportunity for content," she stated.
Effective B2B content marketing answers questions the prospect has at each stage of the buying cycle, and "ideally in a way that sets you apart from your competition," said Tilton.

Aagaard suggested content topics be found by talking to clients and to internal resources in the company, such as the sales team.

"There are a lot of resources within a company that you can go to and ask, ‘So, what are the five most common questions?’" he said. "With those five questions, you have material for the first five articles."

Aagaard explained the value in answering these types of questions is if your company is hearing these questions, most likely prospects are conducting Web searches for those questions as well.

"If you have a match for that exact question, your material is going to pop up and (prospects are) going to find it, and they’re going to read whatever you put out there," he said.

Provide value

It’s also important to provide value with content marketing topics.

"Don’t just write descriptive articles where you are talking about a problem," Aagaard stated. "Don’t just ask questions. Give answers with everything you are doing. Provide solutions for problems. Also, don’t sell."

Tilton said that content developed with customer-facing employees, such as the sales staff, also provides value across the organization.

She stated, "Your content is telling the story you want to convey and everyone in the organization needs to be telling the same story. That means your sales reps, field engineers and other customer-facing staff need to be able pick up the story line where your content leaves off."

Tactic #3. Map content to B2B buying stages

Going beyond content formats and topics, in the complex sale with a potential very long buying cycle, prospects usually look for certain types of content at different stages within the cycle.

To explain this, Tilton said, "The short answer is, ‘content that answers your prospects’ questions at each stage of the buying cycle.’"

She added that research has shown buyers relate to some types of content over others at different stages:
  • "Prospects tend to gravitate to educational content early on, and they often expect that to be in the form of whitepapers, e-books, articles and blog posts."

  • "Later, as they’re looking for proof that a certain approach works, they’ll seek out case studies or relevant analyst reports."

  • "When they are comparing one solution against another, they might look for an ROI calculator or a trial."

"It’s really about the information being conveyed versus the content format. If you publish an article or blog post explaining a customer success, someone looking for proof points is just as likely to read that as a formal case study," Tilton explained. "At that point, it’s about how easy it is for prospective buyers to find the information versus the format in which you deliver it."

Tactic #4. Remember that content marketing is part of an inbound strategy

At its heart, content marketing is a part of an inbound "pull" strategy where quality information that is relevant to your prospective customer draws them to you. In large part, it does this by offering them relevant material that helps create a sense of thought leadership around your brand.

Aagaard said you are still selling with PPC and email, but that the content channel is different.

"The most powerful aspect of content marketing is that what you are doing is you’re creating a method of advertising for yourself. A method of marketing where you don’t really spend any time contacting clients or doing the footwork because you are putting all this content out there, they find it and they come to you," he said.

Aagaard continued, "You’re putting helpful content out there, and then they find that stuff and read what you are putting out there. If it’s helping, and it makes sense to them, then you’re actually building a relationship where they’re thinking, ‘Wow, this guy is actually helping me. This guy is really knowledgeable.’ And then the next time they need a solution, they’re probably going to talk to you."

Tactic #5. Use social media to distribute content

Email is an obvious choice to provide content to a database of prospects, but also take advantage of social media to distribute content to a wide audience.

Aagaard mentioned the usual suspects, Twitter and Facebook, but also offered specific tactics for two other social media platforms:
  • "Get some of your clients to post links to your articles via their LinkedIn profiles."

  • "Post videos to YouTube, but think of SEO. Think of keyphrases and keywords. If you are going for the strategy of answering questions, make sure the title of the video is the question. I think a lot of times we forget how many users on YouTube are using it as a search engine."

Tilton said, "Distribute your content where your prospects and customers spend time, and make sure the content is easy to find, consume and share. Tapping into the power of social sharing helps your content spread farther, faster."

Tactic #6. Think like a publisher -- create a content calendar

Tilton said consistently producing quality content is not a "one and done exercise," and that marketers need to think like a publisher.

She explained that publishers produce content on a consistent basis like "a well-oiled machine," and that by creating an editorial calendar, marketers can use the schedule to match that level of production.

Aagaard said one challenge to keeping a consistent content schedule can occur when the source of the content is coming from internal resources who might have a lot of expertise and experience in a particular topic, but not in putting that material into written form.

He offered an action plan to deal with this possible roadblock:
  1. Plan for blog posts for 10 different employees

  2. Uncover specific subjects they are capable of, or interested in, writing about

  3. Create titles, outlines for general content and the tangible takeaway or payoff for each piece

  4. Get agreement on these elements with each employee creating a content piece

  5. Have them cover the points they want to make in the piece, and reassure them the writing doesn’t have to be perfect

  6. Edit the piece from the expert internal resource to fully craft an article or blog post

  7. Use an editorial plan to set deadlines for each piece that allows the 10 blog posts to provide several months of quality content

Tactic #7. Think beyond "free" with content marketing

"One of the challenges is the whole concept of ‘free,’" Aagaard said. "In classic terms, giving stuff away for free is just not a good business strategy. But, times have changed. Instead of thinking about it as giving something away for free, you’re just spending your marketing budget in a different way."

He explained that looking at content marketing as something that takes a budget line just like outdoor or PPC advertising, paying a retainer to an SEO agency or entertainment expenditures.

"What you are doing with content marketing is also nurturing a lead because you’re building up a relationship where (prospects) trust you," he stated. "They might have their guard up that you’re trying to sell them something, but once they see recurring content that’s actually helpful and that is totally free, now they trust you."

Aagaard shared a conversation he had with an attendee at the MarketingSherpa Optimization Summit 2012 who had recently become a MECLABS (the parent company of MarketingSherpa) Research Partner.

"I asked him how did you come across MarketingExperiments, and how did you start working with them? He said, ‘Well, I’ve been watching the free Web clinics for six years, and I thought it was about time to contact them,’" Aagaard explained.

He continued, "That’s a long time nurturing a lead, but it totally paid off."



Ten Ton Marketing

Related Resources

Content Marketing: 3 tips for how to get started

Content Marketing: Four tactics that led to $2.5 million in annual contracts

Event Recap: Notes from the Optimization Summit 2012 roundtable sessions

Lead Generation: Trends in 2012 marketing budgets

B2B Content Marketing Strategy Checklist – via Velocity Partners UK

Overall Content Marketing Strategy Leads to 2,000% Lift in Blog Traffic, 40% Boost in Revenue

How Content Strategy is Transforming an Entire Marketing and Sales Organization

Event Recap: MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2012

Free excerpt -- MarketingSherpa's 2012 Lead Generation Benchmark Report

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