The 7 steps to building a B2B content machine
In a world where every brand has a digital soapbox, it’s what you say that draws a crowd. But filling a digital content pipeline is a big shift for marketers more used to finessing brand campaigns. That’s why the challenges most frequently cited by B2B marketers using content channels like blogs and YouTube are ‘producing enough content’ and ‘producing engaging content’.
B2B marketers need more brand stories, ideas, research, analysis and case studies, and they need to share them with more audiences in more ways. In short, they need ‘an insight creation and delivery machine’.
Here are seven steps B2B marketers can take to get their ‘insight machines’ up and running, and keep them running smoothly:
1. Start with clearly defined audiences and objectives
Content marketing is a long-term proposition. It’s difficult to sustain content initiatives if you can’t measure progress towards objectives. By getting senior-level agreement on what you will achieve, you’re more likely to get buy-in for most complex initiatives such as ebooks that can deliver significant long-term value.
Unlike paid advertising, there is no ‘guaranteed’ audience for your own content. Before commencing any content marketing program, consider how you will attract and retain your target audiences, and make sure your tactics align with audience preferences.
2. Think about what your audiences are searching for
Your ‘insight machine’ needs to be highly tuned to audience interests, since you want them to find your content even if they’re not searching for you. What influences their success? What problems are they trying to solve?
At DT/Ogilvy, our data team works with clients to do ‘consumer intent modelling’. Using a range of data, from internal site searches to social media trends, they identify key customer interests. It’s big data thinking on a manageable scale.
B2B content marketers also need to spend time talking to team members in sales, customer service and product development. Create customer personas and use them in content brainstorm sessions. It’s good to put a face on your target audiences when you’re judging whether ideas will be relevant to them.
What’s more, the more you understand your audiences, the more you can customise their experiences. Content marketing and content management are rapidly merging. You’re not building websites anymore. You’re building the right experience for the right person at the right time.
3. Identify and recognise your organisation’s content heroes
Every company is full of great content ideas, but you only need a small group of people to make them happen. As a B2B content marketer, it’s up to you to find and nurture your content champions. These are the people who are naturally inclined to take on content development tasks and can commit to writing blog articles, appearing in videos, creating case studies, etc.
Your core team of content developers should reflect your full organisation’s expertise. You may find the best content ideas originate from product teams. Look for writers and social media enthusiasts, and team members with expertise in photography and video.
Work with managers to include content development in these team members’ job descriptions. Give your ‘content heroes’ access to support from your marketing team, as well as from your advertising and digital agency partners. Clearly define responsibilities and commitments as part of your content marketing calendar. Celebrate their achievements in annual reviews and staff meetings. Their successes will attract up-and-coming contributors, and build content marketing enthusiasm company-wide.
4. Give content marketers the freedom to fail
David Ogilvy famously said, “You can’t bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them into it.” When you ask a team of content marketers to ‘produce engaging content’ you may get some ideas from left field. Embrace them. Some of the best ideas I’ve seen started as jokes. No one took them seriously, until we agreed, ‘Hey, why not?’
Even for the most conservative B2B companies, being boring is never ‘on brand’. Be willing to walk away from ideas that aren’t working, but be fun and courageous. Let your content marketing objectives be what defines success.
5. Get top people involved from day one
Your company’s leaders are likely to be your best salespeople. When you take away all the marketing filters, their insights are content gold. No one can write or speak about your products and services more authoritatively, and they get a lot of practice doing it. They’re already giving presentations, fronting the media and telling the story of your company, and its products and services. Find out when the presentation is happening and have a camera in the back of the room. Ask them to turn their last company-wide email into a blog post. Repurposing is essential when executive time is scarce.
When an organisation’s leaders create a culture of transparency, they’ll be building the most important foundation for content marketing initiatives. Their active participation will create a virtuous circle of customer and internal engagement that drives and maintains the momentum of content marketing success.
6. Court external influencers
Content marketing depends on social amplification: its impact grows exponentially when influencers from outside your organisation are involved.
Leslie Reiser, IBM’s program director for digital marketing worldwide, describes this as a highlight of IBM’s content marketing approach: “Instead of working within a siloed, pure marketing discipline area, we have amassed a group of influencers. They include our business partners, IT analysts and independent bloggers, many of whom are compensated for their unique point of view and perspective on a particular area. We work in concert across all these various constituencies in IBM to form (essentially) a very robust influencer ecosystem.”
Reiser’s approach is moving content marketing in new directions that blend earned and paid media, as well as public relations. By giving influential content developers privileged access to your company’s people, information and events, you can massively increase your ‘content machine’s’ reach. In B2B content marketing, where audiences are often smaller and more time-pressed, external influencers are likely to drive your greatest reach.
7. Continually measure results – and build quickly on successes
B2B content marketers need to not only be more entrepreneurial with planning, development and distribution, they also need to be more rigorous with measurement. When a content marketing tactic works well, the results appear quickly in your analytics data. As any Hollywood producer will tell you, your ‘hits’ won’t happen often, so when you have one, run with it. Turn a single content initiative into a series. Create a video interview based on a successful blog article. Turn a one-page report into a white paper or an ebook. Prime your ‘insight creation and distribution machine’ with your successes to build a critical mass of influencers, subscribers, fans and followers.
In B2B content marketing, customer engagement is the primary driver of ROI, so you’ve got to listen to them closely. Make customer insight the ultimate driver of your content marketing ‘insight machine’.