The 5 essential fundamentals of B2B content marketing
I recently attended the B2B Marketing Expo 2016 in London.
This annual event, held across two days alongside the Sales Innovation Expo, is an interactive exhibition and conference designed for marketing and agency professionals.
Hosted by the Institute of Direct Marketing (IDM), the IDM Training Academy (#IDMAcademy) stage proved to be a lively hub of good quality speakers and debate.
Can content marketing live up to the hype?
This was the question posed IDM trainer and Content Marketing Association consultant Tim Tucker (@ttucker23 on Twitter) in his session of the same title, which promised to “help anyone thinking about content marketing to reduce costs, increase ROI, streamline processes and engage customers in real time.”
Clients now frequently ask us for content marketing advice, support and campaigns. Increasingly, we’re working with organisations to not only build their websites, but to provide coordinated digital, social media and content marketing campaigns to support their launch. At the heart of these campaigns is the generation and targeted distribution of great content. Post-launch, this content is often triggered to be sent at key points in the sales funnel.
I was therefore interested to hear what Tim had to say on the topic, particularly as the conference brochure blurb for his talk said “what sits behind the hype often seems objectiveless and self-indulgent.”
I wanted to pick up some of the key points in Tim’s talk and explore them in more detail, to think about how the themes can be applied in different content marketing campaigns.
— Helen Robinson (@_HelenRobinson) May 12, 2016
What is content marketing?
Before we start, let’s confirm exactly what we mean by content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute definition of content marketing is:
“A strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Note that content marketing is not about when you create content for others outlets, it’s about generating and distributing your own content for your own purposes.
So PR editorial and blogger outreach, which are influenced by the needs of the publication or website’s own audiences and schedules, would not fall under this category. Content marketing refers to self-generated content and the integrated campaigns you run through your own website (or management system like Hubspot), onsite blog, social media pages, email campaigns and white papers etc, which you have complete control over.
Now let’s consider some of the points Tim made in his talk, and how I think they set the scene as fundamentals for B2B content marketing best practice.
— Helen Robinson (@_HelenRobinson) May 12, 2016
(1) The value of keywords
We all know keywords play a crucial role in content generation, but we shouldn’t let this familiarity mean they simply become a box to tick. Keyword research can influence content in a number of powerful ways.
Using Amazon keywords to generate online video titles
For example, in naming online videos. If you’re wondering how to create a “clickable” video title for YouTube, you have probably done some Google and YouTube research around this. But what about using Amazon ebooks to do similar research? The ebooks market has become very sophisticated, and authors have learnt how to write the best titles for ebooks – the ones that are most searchable, most clickable, and ultimately most likely to sell. So you can learn a lot from them about the best titles for online videos too.
Using long tail keyword searches to plan your website layout
Another example is using keywords to plan your website layout. Sage produces management and accounting software for businesses. Wanting to target SMEs, Sage undertook extensive keyword research before designing a new website advice section.
Rather than focusing on advice around their core business goals product and services areas, Sage researched what SMEs were searching for online. As expected, it encompassed a whole range of business start-up advice.
Sage narrowed the search down to a handful of main keywords search terms:
- Start your business
- Grow your business
- Manage cash flow
- Work life balance
- Employing people
- Beating business fears
Using these terms as section headings, they published a range of advice articles to answer questions and solve problems commonly encountered by SMEs.
The online content campaign had 130 million impressions, with readers directed to subscribe to the content and engage further. Great for SEO, but also highly targeted and based around potential client needs. This campaigns therefore positioned Sage as helpful and knowledgeable in the minds of SME business owners – a perfect fit for their brand and marketing strategy.
The website design has evolved slightly since then, but you can still read Sage business advice here.
Creating content that isn’t about your core business or products can feel a bit counterintuitive to some companies, but it’s vital for engagement and storytelling.
(2) The importance of story telling
Tim believes that content marketing fall into three categories in terms of its style, approach and delivery:
- Content aware – The first stage is about building reader awareness of your content, becoming an active participant and beginning to put content out that readers can engage with.
- Thought leader (most relevant to B2B content marketers) – The next stage is reached when you begin to establish yourself as a knowledgeable expert in your chosen area, through the distribution of regular, quality content that people begin to associate with you and your field of expertise.
- Storyteller – The final stage Tim identifies is when content marketers are established thought leaders but have gone beyond simply sharing topic related content, and have moved into being storytellers. People love stories. People share stories. A story doesn’t just inform a reader – it really connects with them. People identify with stories on a deeper, more emotional level. This level isn’t about consumption of content – it can change a viewpoint, cause an emotional (and thus memorable) response. The most engaging content is told as a story and the best content marketers are storytellers.
I began reflecting on content I have written, asking ‘could I have been a better storyteller?’ and thinking about times I have used stories to put across a point.
One example that springs to mind is this post about a personal experience with a pet insurance company. The post sparked lots of engagement and was widely shared online. I think because people identified with the emotional journey, much more so than the points about coordinated internal communications.
The companies behind these popular multimedia marketing campaigns understand the value of a great story and an emotional connection too.
(3) What makes great content
Keywords and stories are a good place to start. But content needs to have a business benefit too. Tim picked out these business objectives for content marketing:
- Useful and useable
- Supports and furthers your business goals
- Meets user needs
Whereas advertising is business focused, content marketing is audience focused. But if there’s no ROI, there’s no point. So the sweet spot of content marketing is where it both contributes to your business goals AND meets your audience needs.
Good examples of B2B content marketing
Who is doing content marketing well? Check out Cisco and IBM. Both are great at storytelling. They also do well at creating evangelists – people who love what they do and act as brand ambassadors on their behalf – empowering them to create their own user generated content. This is the holy grail of content marketing: when other people love you so much, they want to do the work on your behalf!
Examples of this include these articles: Cisco’s innovative approach to online content marketing and 6 content marketing ideas every marketer should steal from IBM.
(4) The kinds of content that work
Tim highlighted the distinction between stock and flow content.
Stock content is longer, weighty, high quality content that is great for search engine optimisation (SEO). Included in this are online guides, ebooks and white papers. Top tip here is to publish this type of content as a download (ideally with data capture forms to access it). Downloads are perceived as higher value than on-page content, as readers feel like they are getting a product, so they assign more value to it.
Flow content is the constant stream of regular daily content, such as social media posts, that you can feed readers to act as a reminder that you are there.
Your content marketing strategy should plan for providing a good mix of both stock and flow content. Stock content fuels flow content. You can plan ahead for this with a good editorial calendar.
Panning the AIDA funnel
Marketers and comms professionals will be familiar with the “AIDA” funnel, which describes the process you need to take a potential buyer through before they convert:
- A = (grab their) Attention
- I = (spark their) Interest
- D = (create a) Desire
- A = (then promote a buyer to take) Action – ie to buy from you
While some might say AIDA is an out-dated model in the digital age (which is much more about “moments” and taking instant action), AIDA is still a useful concept for content planning. Think about your potential customer or client’s thought process and needs at each stage of AIDA, and plan your content and content schedule around this.
(5) Where to post content online
Look at where your target market is, and go to them. Thinking about some of the main social platforms now:
- LinkedIn, Twitter and (sometimes) Facebook seem to be default for B2B marketers, but you should try some of the others too
- Instagram gained 100m users last year. Lots of B2B companies are now using Instagram (14% of accounts)
The move towards more visual content
The big story of the last five years is how much we’ve moved much towards more visual content. While some bemoan that all social sites are becoming more like Facebook, Tim sees this move as a good thing (and I agree), as visual content gets more engagement.
- Tweets with images receive 150% more engagement that those that don’t
- Online video now accounts for 50% of online mobile traffic
- Periscope (now owned by Twitter) does live video. Just this week, the highly-anticipated Periscope live streaming button was launched by Twitter, so everyone with a smartphone can now access this function
- You can also now livestream videos on Facebook And as the average organic reach for video on Facebook is now higher than for any other kind of content, this is a smart content marketing move. Particularly after the recently reported drop in Facebook pages reach:
So, in summary…
Keywords may be old news, but using them in new ways can inspire some great content marketing campaigns. Brilliant content ideas can come from lots of places, but the best place of all is from your own readers, customers or clients. So try and become the kind of company that everyone wants to talk about! Plan a good mix of long and short content, and post it across multiple platforms for best results. Get involved in video – and live stream it!
But most important of all, tell a good story. The best content marketers are brilliant storytellers, and the best content marketing is a story you could tell all your friends down the pub tonight.
Good luck on your content journey – enjoy!
And if you need some help along the way, you know where we are.
Blog post by Helen Robinson, Head of Marketing at jrc.agency.