Even though word-of-mouth referrals are still the best way to get new business in the B2B world, potential clients in even the most traditional industries have learned to look online first when they need someone to help them. Buyers of B2B services care most about your expertise when deciding if you’re a good fit for their needs, and digital channels make it easy for them to see what you know. Our own research backs this up. They do this by creating useful, educational content.
Why is content so important? Isn’t there already enough noise when every company has a blog and posts on social media? We can fake a lot of things in the digital world, but it’s hard to fake expertise. You can give it a shot. But having a blog doesn’t mean it’s full of useful information. Here are the main things that can go wrong with B2B content marketing strategies.
What is a strategy for marketing content to businesses?
Before I talk about those reasons, let me explain what I’m talking about. A B2B content marketing strategy is an online plan that raises a company’s thought leadership, which is how its expertise is written down, by regularly publishing free, useful, educational content. Then, this kind of educational content is used to bring in new leads, keep in touch with existing leads, and make people like the company more.
But content marketing is only useful if it’s about things that are important to the clients a business wants to attract. When a company creates content that speaks to what people are having the most trouble with, content that is closely related to the problem that woke up the target decision maker at 4 a.m., it does three things:
- shows that it knows a lot about the things that matter to its customers.
- Engages its audience
- creates trust
The more relevant content a company puts out, the more engagement it gets and the more people trust it. Leads that are taken care of through content marketing often become “converts” to a company’s way of doing things or thinking. Sometimes, they’ll hire a company they’ve been watching without asking for bids from other companies.
In the end, the new currency of the professional services market is educational content. Content marketing is the way to make money off of that content.
If content marketing doesn’t work
If content marketing is linked to all the good things—profitable, results-driven marketing that requires less work than some traditional marketing, customer loyalty, and so on—why aren’t more companies using it? Because it’s also linked to a high rate of failure, which leads to a lot of doubt about whether or not investing in content marketing is a good idea.
Now, I’d like to talk about the top 8 reasons why B2B content marketing plans fail.
Content that isn’t relevant to the audience you’re trying to reach
The main reason why content doesn’t work is because it isn’t important or relevant to the audience. When you only write about what you know and what’s important to you, your content won’t work the way I said it would. Relevant content can only be made when it combines what you know with the most important things for your clients.
Discipline is the second rule of thumb for making relevant content. You can’t just write about everything you know either. Instead, put yourself in the shoes of your audience. They want to find out what you know a lot about. When you list 20 services and even more sub-services in your website’s navigation, it makes the user experience less than ideal and confusing. When you write thought leadership about everything under the sun that has anything to do with those multiple services, it makes potential clients wonder, “What does this firm really do?”
Instead, keep a picture like the one below in your mind. Think about the few services that are really important to the growth of your business and how they fit with the challenges and problems that your potential clients are facing. This exercise will help you find a small set of issues that you can build your thought leadership around.
Here are some things to think about when picking your topics:
- How relevant your services are to your customers
- Look for problems where people don’t agree on how to solve them.
- Write about things that are likely to be around for a while.
- Avoid issues that another company already “owns.”
Content that is more about advertising than it is about teaching
How many times have you gone to a company’s blog only to find posts about the office move, new hires, or direct plugs for their services? All of that advertising content does have a place and a time. But people who want to buy professional services don’t want to be sold or marketed to until they’re ready. If that’s all they can see when they first come across your firm, they probably won’t contact you again. On the other hand, if you make a great first impression by showing them that you know how to solve their problems, it changes the game.
A content marketing strategy isn’t really a strategy if it doesn’t include educational, relevant thought leadership. Instead, it’s just a big promotional brochure. By making a content strategy that focuses on sharing expertise instead of selling products, you encourage potential clients to enter your sales and business development (BD) funnel, where you can continue to share expertise and build trust until you have enough clients.
Content that doesn’t take into account how your customers want to learn.
When it comes to getting new business, it’s all about giving potential clients a path to follow as they learn about your company. Marketers have to try to figure out where potential clients are on their journey. There is no one way in, and there is no one path that works for all of your potential clients.
This is why content strategies that work well are so valuable: they are the atomic particles of all your digital marketing efforts. Check out the funnel down below. Thought leadership in education flows into, out of, and through the whole sales funnel. It’s the shiny rock that gets people’s attention who have never heard of you, and the glue that keeps them with you, making them think you’re the answer to their problems.
Does your referral programme get you the leads you need?
Research is a very important part of your content marketing strategy. It is well known that research can help marketing, business development, and senior management teams make better plans and strategies. It can also be used as the basis for many premium pieces of content to get more visibility, trust, engagement, and, best of all, leads. You can use custom, commissioned, or licenced research studies and data from other groups all along your sales and marketing funnel. One research study can be broken up into many different parts that can be shared with almost any other message you send out as part of your strategy.
Information that can only be found on your website.
You need to do more than just put your content on your website if you want your content marketing plan to work. At the very least, your articles and blogs should live on social media sites where your audience is networking. This is important because our research shows that your buyers look you up on social media to see if you are a good fit for their company. The more you share your content on social media, the more potential clients and sources of referrals will see it. Over time, they will come to know your company for its good content and expertise.
You should also think about trying to get your work published in digital magazines that your audience reads or where your competitors are. Having someone else back up your expertise goes a long way towards convincing your audience that you are worth their time. Backlinks from published articles are also a great way to boost the domain authority of your website.
Content that is hard for customers to find.
Even the best content written and made with a lot of thought will fail if potential clients can’t find it. So, before you write the actual content, you should do some research to find out which keyword phrases match the searches your audience makes. If you use those keywords in the headlines and body copy of your content, it will show up higher in their searches.
When choosing which keyword phrases to use, keep in mind that you should use ones that are related to the topic and that your organisation can rank for. (You might want to read this article if you don’t know much about how and why to choose keyword phrases.)
Content that isn’t planned or thought out.
One of the worst things about a B2B content marketing strategy is when content is written without any plan. To paraphrase my first reason, you shouldn’t fill your content funnel with everything you know or even everything you love. Even if Tom is really interested in topic X, he shouldn’t spend company time writing about it unless it fits in with your audience’s interests and your organization’s goals for growth.
Building an editorial or content marketing calendar is a very useful way to keep your strategy on track. Even though this step seems easy, not everyone does it. Organize your thought leadership titles around the limited number of topics you want to be known for (again, think about the Venn diagram above), and use well-researched keywords that will help people find you. By making a content calendar and sticking to it, you can help your content writers focus their efforts in a smart way.
Content that doesn’t make sense.
Credibility depends on consistency, so make sure to come up with content standards and styles that you can live with, and then make sure that everyone in your organisation follows them when they make new content. The content calendar I just talked about is a big part of how your company can avoid “set it and forget it.”
People often ask us how much content needs to be made. The right rhythm and cadence for your business will depend on how much money you have and how quickly you need to grow and get more attention. If you’re just getting started, twice a month isn’t too bad. On the other hand, you’ll need to make content more often if your competition is tough or if you’re desperately trying to get your business out from behind a veil of anonymity. There’s no special number. The last point I’ll make about consistently measuring and tracking will help you understand how your audience is getting your content, which will help you figure out the right cadence.
Content that isn’t being tracked.
Lastly, content marketing strategies are more likely to fail when companies can’t measure how well they work. The image below shows the positive cycle of content marketing, where you keep testing your content, measure how well it’s doing, learn from what works, and then use what you’ve learned in your next set of content.
A continuous improvement model for content creation
One problem that people often face is not knowing which metrics to track. We suggest that you keep an eye on a number of different metrics.
Visibility metrics will help you figure out how well known you are among your target audience. Common measures of visibility include total website traffic (website traffic goes up as visibility goes up), traffic on social media, and attendance at events.
Expertise metrics tell you if your audience is exposed to your thought leadership content, or if you are successfully showing your expertise. Common expertise metrics include the number of views on your blog, the number of downloads of your premium content, the number of guest posts, webinar attendees, and speaking event attendees.
Impact metrics can include raw (not yet qualified) leads or inquiries, opportunities that are “sales-ready,” and real proposals that have been sent. Your company may talk about these stages in a different way. It doesn’t matter how you define your lead stages, as long as you are consistent and cover the whole new-business cycle. You’ll also want to keep track of wins, losses, and even higher-level metrics like monthly revenue so that you can see how your content strategy is (or isn’t) helping the bottom line.
What kind of content should be in my B2B content marketing strategy?
We’ve found that the best way to market content is to give away a lot of it for free, with no commitment, no registration, and no cost. The majority of this content will be short, like blog posts and articles.
So, where do you start? What sorts of things can you make?
Most businesses find that blogging is the best and easiest way to get started. Blog posts can be made quickly because they can be any length and don’t have to be as polished as, say, a magazine article. If comments are turned on, blog posts are also a great way to talk to your readers.
But blogs don’t go very deep. As you change your marketing plan, here are some other important content marketing tools to think about:
Webinars. Webinars are a good way to show off your company’s expertise, educate your audience, and find leads who are interested in what you have to offer. If you record your webinars, you can add them to your content library so that people can watch them whenever they want.
White papers and articles. These are probably the most common type of thought leadership, but they are still valuable. They have a bad reputation for being dry, though. So try to make them easy to understand.
Social media. Social media, especially LinkedIn and Twitter, can be important ways to talk directly to your audience, answer questions, and promote your educational materials.
E-newsletters. Many people like to get educational information by email. In exchange, you get their email address and can send them more of your expert information.
Ebooks. For the biggest boost to your credibility, publish a deep study on a subject. Most of the time, you would want to hide something this important behind a short registration form.
Kits and directions. These are great offers for your website, your pay-per-click ads, and your email marketing campaigns. Put them behind a sign-up form so you can gather leads.
You can package information in a lot of different ways, but these are some of the most common and useful ones.
Every client, potential client, and referral source is interested in and wants to know more about certain things. As they look for answers, they also try to find reliable, easy-to-find sources of those answers. This need can be met by making relevant content, which can also help clients check you out as a possible vendor. Still not sure what valuable content is for? Even if a potential client knows about a company, our research shows that 23.5% of them won’t work with them just because the content isn’t good.
And if you avoid these common mistakes when making your content marketing strategy, your business will be better able to meet the needs of potential clients for information on important topics. You will also show that you are knowledgeable and easy to reach, which will make them want to do business with you again. Best wishes on your trip!