By John Ozimek, Director, Big Ideas Machine
Strong, compelling content is the cornerstone of any good B2B marketing and PR campaign. If the objective is to develop an effective inbound marketing strategy, it’s essential to have a unique piece of content as the starting point. You’d think this is so obvious as to be common sense; it’s pretty much marketing 101, after all. Unfortunately, clients don’t always see it that way. Because creating content is often perceived as being expensive, it is viewed as a cost rather than an investment – which is a major mistake.
Take a typical 10-page ebook/white paper. To create something that reads well, and looks good requires investment in time and design. This involves an agency creating a detailed brief or outline, sourcing data or insight, hiring a high-quality copywriter, liaising between the client and the copywriter and then having it designed. If you or your agency is using marketing automation, then you’ll also need to develop campaigns around the content such as attractive landing pages and email campaigns.
Many clients who begin working with an agency on a B2B campaign tend to underestimate the level of investment needed to create content that’s going to engage their end users. And by investment, we don’t mean crazy amounts. We’ve created great e-books that have only cost a few hundred pounds, to help win a customer that was potentially worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to the company.
Clients may have the budget, but feel that content is expensive and cannot see the immediate benefit of creating it. The good news is that there is a multitude of advantages for you to build high-quality content that is going to engage your target prospects and help convert them into customers.
1.Great content establishes thought leadership. Bad content undermines it.
Most B2B campaigns aim to establish a company as a thought leader in their field. Thought leadership helps to engender reputational trust and builds the perception of expertise and success. It stands to reason that if you know a lot about your clients’ pain points and how to solve them, you might be the go-to person when they are looking for a solution. The challenge is ensuring that “thought leadership” content is exactly that – there is far too much substandard content published every day claiming to be “thought leadership”.
Omar Akhtar, from business consultancy Prophet, thinks companies make a mistake when they treat this kind of content as something only for the PR team to care about:
“This type of thought leadership is a holdover from the days when content marketing was solely the realm of the PR/communications department, and executives were encouraged to have a voice and presence on earned and owned media. Today, content can do much more than just establish a presence. It’s a driver of business across multiple departments within the company, including marketing, sales, service and product functions. As a result, companies now have to implement a content strategy that serves the goals of the organisation, and not just the marketing or PR department. That’s often where thought leadership falls short.”
Effective thought leadership is established through a wide range of channels, and it’s something that needs to be a thread running throughout your content strategy if it’s to be effective. You can claim to be a “thought leader” all you like – but it’s ultimately your target audience who will prove whether it’s true or not.
For an example of a thought-leadership strategy done well, check out professional services firm JLL. It publishes not one but seven blogs which are all subject-specific, which allows them to segment their audience and ensure the content of the posts is extremely relevant. The authors are all senior staff within the business – meaning that someone reading a post can instantly get in touch with the analyst in question rather than a ghost writer or the marketing team. And posts are not just limited to the blog; there are links to LinkedIn articles, Twitter, and any other channel that each author is active on. The posts all blend opinion with data and insight, regularly backed-up with the firm’s own impressive research papers and surveys.
The investment in such focused and high-quality content was recognised by the Managing Partners’ Forum as the best thought leadership campaign of 2016.
Medium is a great place to find useful articles and opinions about what makes effective thought leadership, as well as some great rants about why bad thought leadership is a waste of time. Here are a few we’ve enjoyed:
Zack Slayback’s article examines the structure of what makes a great piece of thought leadership, including what makes a compelling story to the different kinds of narrative structure that the best thought leadership books use.
Mitch Joel makes the point that poor quality content is pointless – even more so if it’s not part of a considered and measurable content plan.
This is more about content strategies in general, but author and journalist Chris Brogan gives an excellent analysis of why so much B2B content is created without a clear set of objectives in mind. It’s not on Medium, but we included it because Mitch Joel’s Medium article links to it so it sort of counts.
- Quality content is a great door-opener
Eye-catching videos and e-books are fantastic pieces of branded sales collateral, and in our minds beat PowerPoint slides or 1-page ‘sales sheets’ hands-down. Prospects don’t want to be ‘sold to’ in the traditional sense, so If you’ve invested time in creating unique content, it is just the thing to draw people into your sales cycle. Give your prospect a piece of content that identifies their problems and tells them how to solve them, and you’ll immediately engender a much greater sense of trust, as well as establishing a big dose of the kind of thought leadership we’ve just discussed.
The best content marketing can also be creative, innovative, playful and inspiring. Consumer brands have long understood how to engage their audiences – when major brands spend millions to launch their latest campaigns, it signals what a massive deal the Superbowl halftime advertising slot is. That’s not to say that B2B content shouldn’t be creative; in fact, we always push our clients to take inspiration from the B2C world. If all your budget stretches to is an e-book, there’s no reason it can’t be designed beautifully.
This mega-list from Marketing Insider Group shares 167 examples of all different kinds of great content marketing.
And this post from Curata shares some great examples of B2B content marketing, including companies like Salesforce and Hubspot which turn out quality content on an almost daily basis.
As well as some more examples of B2B campaigns, this post on Epictions.com blog shares some data on the kind of content that generates the most inbound engagement. As you can see, all the examples they pick have been well designed, with great visuals to draw you in to click some more.
3 Build your inbound marketing campaigns around great content
Once you’ve got your content, then you’ll want to tell your target prospects about it. The raison d’etre of B2B content is to generate sales leads, so it’s no good just waiting for people to find you – you need to go to them. And if you are baiting your sales hook with content, it’s got to be good enough for someone to trade their contact info for. That’s why so many B2B brands invest in insight and research – it’s the kind of high-value content that professionals find so useful. And once you’ve got someone’s email address, you can develop that relationship and hopefully turn them into a prospect.
Remember what we said earlier about investment? This kind of content is what we mean. Carrying out research isn’t especially cheap, so long-form content such as whitepapers and reports can easily cost thousands to produce. But if you amortise that cost against the potential value of the customers it could win you, it’s a small investment – especially as you can repurpose the content in many different ways across your whole marketing strategy.
Take this example from UK insurance company Simply Business. It’s worth reading this detailed and candid case study of how they developed and executed their content strategy. They developed their own set of principles, ACU (Applicable, Consistent, Useful) to ensure that everything they created was customer-centric. This interactive guide to social media for small businesses is just one of the great pieces of content published using this approach.
- Your competitors are likely to be doing it
Take a look at the websites of your competitors, or even sign up for their newsletter. The chances are that you’ll see a ‘resources’ section linking to reports, webinars, white papers and more. If that’s the case, then you know you’ve got some catching up to do.
As this recent research from The Content Marketing Institute shows, the adoption of content marketing by B2B companies continues to grow. According to their research, almost 90% of the 1,100 respondents said they were already using a content-based marketing approach.
And looking forward, 84% said they expected to spend the same or more of their marketing budgets on content. Putting aside the ‘unsures’, only 2% said they expected to spend less. The chances are, your competitors are going to be part of the 98% that are investing in content marketing to some degree.
We recently started working with a client who wanted to improve its website content with the aim of generating more inbound leads. When we looked at what its competitors were investing, all of them were using their website and multiple digital channels as their primary marketing activity – to the point where some of them had effectively dropped all traditional PR activities (i.e. press releases and media relations). For the client in question, this was not the most comfortable reading, as they had not realised the extent to which their competitors were racing ahead.
The lesson here is that marketing doesn’t sit still. You need to be aware of the competition, as whatever they are doing is likely to affect your marketing strategy.
- Great content is also about great relationships with your customers
Strong content isn’t just about lead generation and new prospects. Sharing your new research or insight with existing clients or even inviting them to a VIP webinar helps to continually underscore the fact that you are a leader in your field and endorses their decision to go with you – the experts. If you’ve created an ebook, why not send them a sneak preview copy ahead of release? Little touches like this can help strengthen existing relationships and not just create new ones.
A fantastic example of a company that has managed to include its customers in its content strategy is App Annie. It had already created a successful marketing strategy based on sharing lots of data and insight from its platform. But it decided to take this to the next level by launching a global series of events called Decode, where audiences around the world could hear directly from brands, app developers and tech companies about key trends and insights in the mobile app world. Crucially, these events gave App Annie the opportunity to get its customers involved from the start – giving them the chance to boost their profiles, while at the same acting as a direct endorsement of App Annie through their participation.
Not only did these events create an opportunity to raise App Annie’s profile within its industry, but they also created a huge amount of great content that is shareable through a dedicated website and its social channels. This in itself led to a massive about of secondary sharing, with attendees and participants also talking about the event and sharing their own experiences.
The value of this kind of exposure and endorsement may be hard to quantify, but it can only be many times the cost of the original events.
- The right content will boost your SEO ranking
If your content is good enough, then people will want to share it. Even better, blogs or even news sites may even want to link to it. The biggest signal that your site can send Google are links from high-quality sources.
This will have a positive effect on your search engine results and where you will rank. If your page is optimised for certain keywords, then Google should index these as well. And assuming your content is good, then other sites will want to link to it as it will help their SEO efforts. If you’ve used specific keywords within your content strategy, these can also help your site rank higher in the SERP (search engine results page).
There should also be a long-tail effect with quality content. This is where people continue to interact with content months or even years after. We’re still seeing form submissions for e-books that we wrote over two years ago. Quality content goes on living and adding value to you and your site for months, even years after it’s published.
This graph from marketing automation company Hubspot shows the number of visitors to its website pages. As you can see, even though the older pages are attracting a lot less traffic than the pages which are actively promoted, this older content still accounts for more than 1,000 inbound visits. The chart is taken from an excellent blog post all about long tail content. Although it’s several years old now, a lot of it still applies – and it’s an excellent explanation of the whole concept of long-tail SEO.
- People like to share great content. Letting them do so will help you market your brand
We all love to show off. Social media has conquered the world based on our innate desire to show our peer groups how talented and cool we are. Outstanding content contributes to its success by using the desire people have to share things that they find interesting. If you’ve created something of real value, then people will naturally want to share it with their network.
Research by the Content Marketing Institute found that amongst B2B marketers, LinkedIn was the social channel they found the most useful. One reason for this is that when you post something to LinkedIn, your network of connections are notified – unlike on Twitter or Facebook, where updates are easy to miss.
This excellent post by social media platform SproutSocial gives a good overview of what tactics are most effective for B2B marketers looking to improve the use of social media. Ultimately, a lot of it comes down to sharing great content on the right channels in the right way. It’s also important to stay focused, as no company we’ve ever worked with has the time or the budgets to engage equally across every possible social channel!
Specifically, with LinkedIn, there are a few different ways to use the platform to build your reputation. Linkedin Pulse is the most obvious – this is effectively a self-contained blogging platform, where people are encouraged to post very high-quality articles. In many ways, it’s similar to self-publishing platforms like Medium.com. But you get the basic network effect of your known business contacts being more likely to see what you post via Pulse.
There is also SlideShare, which LinkedIn acquired a few years ago. It’s a great way to share presentations and reports that might otherwise be too long to turn into a post on Pulse. But it can also add considerable SEO value to your content strategy, as explained in a lot more detail in this post over at Komarketing.com. And to state the obvious, the best SlideShare presentations are designed to be shareable – there’s an excellent post by Kissmetrics that looks into design and content in more detail.
- Turn your content into a multi-channel campaign
When trying to explain how great content is the foundation of effective marketing campaigns, blogger Ken Krogue came up with the concept of ‘Real content / Core content’. Let’s say that you have a piece of excellent primary research into something that’s relevant to your customers and prospects. The research is what we’d call your ‘Real content’. Once you’ve invested in creating that content, then it can be turned into different formats and pushed out through many different channels, turning one piece of significant content into a snowstorm of smaller pieces – thus becoming your ‘core content’. Most crucially, all of the content is aligned with your original message – making it a perfect way to amplify it.
In this way, your upfront investment in content can deliver you a huge chunk of ROI because it can be reused and repurposed for a minimal additional budget. A single piece of research can be adapted into a press release, e-book, blog post, webinar, SlideShare deck and more. Each of these can then be promoted through Linkedin, email blasts, your website, speaking slots at conferences and a whole lot more. Good PR-worthy content can be pitched into the media for coverage. A great single piece of content can then be turned into a spider’s web of formats and channels to make sure that it reaches as many people as possible.