There's more to B2B content marketing than just publishing a white paper and watching the sales leads roll in.  

At Econsultancy's recent Digital Outlook 2015 event in Singapore two industry experts - Anol Bhattacharya, CEO of GetIT Comms and Vaasu S. Gavarasana, Head of Digital Marketing at AXA - offered some great insight into how B2B companies can improve their content marketing.

Content is the linchpin

The first key point that both Anol and Vaasu brought up is that content is the linchpin of B2B marketing. 

That is, if you are going to use marketing tactics to grab attention, then you need to have quality content available once you get it.

The content can then be used for many things like lead nurturing, marketing automation, and sales intelligence. And the analytics on the engagement – clicks, likes, shares, and viewing time – can also let you know what you should do more of.

Finally, Anol added, 80% of the buying decision is now made before the customer contacts you – so good content will deliver better results.

But how do you get consistently good content? By doing 'real' content marketing.

But what is content marketing?

Vaasu, who is also a co-founder of the Asia Content Marketing Association, offered this definition:

Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action.

And Vaasu also gave some great advice about why and how to build a content marketing program:

  • Customers are always online, brands are not - that's why you need content marketing.
  • Brands need a philosophy to get followers - not their product's USP.
  • And content marketing departments need journalists, not copywriters.

Producing content

When asked about the best practices for building up your content, Anol described what he calls a 'hub and spoke model' of content production.

He said that you should first produce content for your own site. Make sure it has a home which you are in total control of. Your 'hub'.

Once your content is up on your website, then use the social channels to distribute it - Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.  They serve as the 'spokes' which bring readers from the channels back to your 'hub'.

Many content producers in the past have used the distribution channels to build a presence. They've worked extensively on Facebook Pages or Twitter accounts – and then something changed and they had to start all over again.

So, always make sure you serve your own digital property first and only use the channels for distribution.

Nurturing and lead scoring

We all know that we should nurture leads. But even with good content and marketing automation, it's very hard work. Shouldn't we focus our efforts on conversions instead?

According to Anol that would be shortsighted. His view is that at least 50% of your target market will be right prospect, right target – but you will get their attention at the wrong time. So you must nurture to keep them warm.

And then to see when they are ready to be contacted by sales, you need to 'lead score' them. But how?  

To start, you should analyze a few key factors of their content consumption and determine a weight for each of them.

  • Match / fit: Have they identified themselves as the 'right' person to buy your product?
  • Completion: Are they watching the whole video? Filling out the forms?
  • Engagement: Are they consistently engaging with you?

Now it's difficult to be too prescriptive about when exactly people move from being a marketing target to a sales target, but over time and with some practice you can develop a 'lead score' which can help both you and your sales team use your time more effectively.

Trends

So what does the future hold for B2B and content marketing?  What are the trends?

Anol identified three:

  • Long form content is becoming more popular.
  • Need to aim content at a particular part of the sales lifecycle.
  • Interactivity is key. So create something which fully engages your potential customer - a survey, for example - and provide value for them once they do what you ask. For a survey, give them aggregated results for example.

Ideal vs. Current State

Vaasu then gave some great insight about the ideal state of content marketing vs. the current state:

 

Ideal State

Current State

Integration Search, content, social, and ecommerce all working together Siloed approaches to each
Philosophy Brands as publishers with journalist principles Content driven by the product USP, monologue
Content Creation Objective to create and connect with followers  Objective to sell USP
Industry Both B2B and B2C  Heavy B2B skew
Agency Ecosystem Proliferation of content marketing agencies  Very few real content marketing agencies
Distribution Paid, Owned, and Earned Media (POEM) should work well together  Disconnect between traffic drivers on social media and content
Outlook Head of Content Marketing to help drive marketing funnel  No budget, no stakeholders

Memorable Quotes

Vaasu

  • "Hire a journalist and give them an orientation to your brand and philosophy."
  • "Learn lessons from the publishing world. You can see the same story in the Economist and Fortune but the differences will reflect the values of the publication."
  • "Focus on UE - utility and entertainment - and not USP. The more utilitarian and entertaining you are, more you will be shared."

Anol

  • "B2B marketers are behind on mobile, but we are seeing more content download conversions on mobile now."
  • "To start lead scoring (with marketing automation), first sit down with sales. Then you can learn what is really important."
Jeff Rajeck

Published 19 January, 2015 by Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck is the APAC Research Analyst for Econsultancy . You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.  

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Len Diamond, Principal / Writer at Len Diamond Technical/Marketing Communications

It's stylish to denigrate the presentation of USPs and, by implication, product benefits, in talking to prospects, but it makes no sense if you want them to buy something.
As for content" and "engagement," I believe the commercial newsletter was developed in the late 19th Century and has been used ever since. This site uses a newsletter. So what's new?

over 3 years ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

I don't want to speak too much for the presenters, but I think their point was that the market is flooded with content trying to deliver product information.

So, instead of adding to the deluge, they suggested that you try producing something that the reader is interested in already (i.e. not your product) and communicate your brand's value through that content.

It's not a new strategy - as you rightly point out - but it's certainly not overdone and it may be a way to get heard above the din!

over 3 years ago

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Katriina Maanoja, Product and services marketing at -

The key is to step into customers' shoes and think how you can help them. What are you (your product, your service) doing to do to solve their problem? I hope no marketer rides solely on USP's any longer. Understanding and interacting with your customer is essential whether we are doing content marketing or something else.

over 3 years ago

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Len Diamond, Principal / Writer at Len Diamond Technical/Marketing Communications

I don't disagree with you; I just have a slightly different take on it.
What I'm doing to solve their problems is providing a product that fills a need. After that, what matters is less what I do and more what the product does. So instead of "engaging" them with "content" and "storytelling," I show them how using the product will improve their productivity/ quality / bottom line or whatever -- the above-mentioned "product benefits."
If we can agree that the prerequisite in any case is getting in front of the right audience -- it seems reasonable (to me) that the product will be of interest, and I can't see the objection to presenting its benefits and including a call to action and maybe even asking for the order (not everyone in b2b is selling million-dollar systems) on the chance they might be getting serious around the time they read about the benefits the sixth time.
I'm not advocating stuffing a spec sheet into an envelope and sending it to a prospect. I just don't think a technique at the opposite end of the spectrum -- romancing an audience at length and sorta pretending as how you're just being friendly and not selling anything -- is a good replacement. I think there should be an element of "sell" in whatever you're putting out there if it's in fact aimed at selling something.

over 3 years ago

Anol Bhattacharya

Anol Bhattacharya, CEO at GetIT Pte Ltd

Len, I completely agree with you on 'content marketing' is nothing new, John Deere, Johnson & Johnson and almost all airlines were doing the same thing with different mediums for a long time.

Regarding using product information as content, rather than the product neutral, 'agnostic' content, which is relevant to the prospects and target audience, I'll beg to differ a bit. First, a marketer has to promote their product directly at some point of time during the procurement journey, no doubt about that. Mapping the business context is a better way to convey the message than directly talking about the product features, but still that's not the exactly the same type of agnostic content I presented during the seminar. The idea, I presented, is about the 'demand generation' content, to build a relevant audience, before the conventional funnel starts.

For example, When Dimension Data is trying to market their enterprise grade hybrid cloud solutions; in my opinion, it's better to start with content like '10-point checklist to select an enterprise cloud provider'. Rather than '10 reason you should choose Dimension Data...'.

Why? Because no one cares about your product, all your prospects want to do is solving their problems.

I'll also challenge your assumption that, content marketing is only for companies selling million dollar B2B solutions. Case in point - Basecamp.

Thanks for igniting the great conversation!

Thanks, Jeff for the great summary.

over 3 years ago

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Len Diamond, Principal / Writer at Len Diamond Technical/Marketing Communications

Well, we have two schools of thought here. I'm of the old one, obviously.

Two side notes: (1)about building a relevant audience: the media used to do that for you. We advertised to maintenance chiefs in maintenance publications. Is that not the case any more? (That's an honest question; I'm really not sure. Maybe digital marketing has changed that.)
(2) "...better way to convey the message than directly talking about the product features." Agreed. I don't advocate talking about features, I say we should talk about benefits.

To the main point, however: as I see it, when you talk about advertising, you're still thinking "content" -- "10 reasons you should choose..." I'm thinking "selling" -- "This product can increase your profit." If I'm lucky enough to have some stats it would be "This product can increase your profit by X percent." If I'm even luckier and have some case histories, it could be "This product can increase your profit by X percent in Y weeks." I would not write the ad, "10 reasons you should choose..."
You're contrasting "content" with "advertising," but you're using examples of bad advertising.

Someone else in a pro-content-marketing blog elsewhere (I can't remember who it was) called traditional advertising "yelling at the customers." If only David Ogilvy were still alive...

(Minor clarification: I was trying to convey that there are some products even in b2b that don't require multiple stages of decision-making, and that you could ask for the order directly as you might for a consumer product . Didn't make my point, I guess)

over 3 years ago

Anol Bhattacharya

Anol Bhattacharya, CEO at GetIT Pte Ltd

Great points Len.

First of all, the greatest problem I have with almost every marketing gurus is the notion of 'you have to...'

You have to be on social media because everyone else is there...
You have to dabble with content marketing because all others are doing so...

Personally I don't prescribe to that mindset. Every company and product / solutions are unique; hence, the marketing communications mix should be unique too. And digital didn't change the whole game but made the eco-system muddier. Proliferation of advertisement is reaching a saturation point. Every day, through multiple mediums, we are getting exposed to brand messages and advertisements million times per day. So much overexposure is causing us to create a subconscious immune - I call it emotional un-subscription. Content marketing is coming from a different, agnostic perspective and fit into the end to end of consumer's procurement life cycle - at every stage, especially in the case of complex sales cycles.

Your point is completely valid for straightforward, commodity level, single touch point base B2B sales. But where sales cycles are longer, complex and buyer's personas are diverse, the methodology is changing rapidly. Just an advert, however, brilliant it is, might not be able to make a desirable impact on the revenue funnel.

With the abundance of information readily available on the net, trade publications are losing the ground rapidly, apart from few niche industries. At the same time, b2b buyers are making 60 to 80% of the procurement decisions before meeting a sales representative. The question is how can we impact that huge part of the decision-making process. In my opinion content is a better fit for the job than advertisement.

Thanks again for the lovely discussion.

over 3 years ago

Anol Bhattacharya

Anol Bhattacharya, CEO at GetIT Pte Ltd

Great points Len.

First of all, the greatest problem I have with almost every marketing gurus is the notion of 'you have to...'

You have to be on social media because everyone else is there...
You have to dabble with content marketing because all others are doing so...

Personally I don't prescribe to that mindset. Every company and product / solutions are unique; hence, the marketing communications mix should be unique too. And digital didn't change the whole game but made the eco-system muddier. Proliferation of advertisement is reaching a saturation point. Every day, through multiple mediums, we are getting exposed to brand messages and advertisements million times per day. So much overexposure is causing us to create a subconscious immune - I call it emotional un-subscription. Content marketing is coming from a different, agnostic perspective and fit into the end to end of consumer's procurement life cycle - at every stage, especially in the case of complex sales cycles.

Your point is completely valid for straightforward, commodity level, single touch point base B2B sales. But where sales cycles are longer, complex and buyer's personas are diverse, the methodology is changing rapidly. Just an advert, however, brilliant it is, might not be able to make a desirable impact on the revenue funnel.

With the abundance of information readily available on the net, trade publications are losing the ground rapidly, apart from few niche industries. At the same time, b2b buyers are making 60 to 80% of the procurement decisions before meeting a sales representative. The question is how can we impact that huge part of the decision-making process. In my opinion content is a better fit for the job than advertisement.

Thanks again for the lovely discussion.

over 3 years ago

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Len Diamond, Principal / Writer at Len Diamond Technical/Marketing Communications

Good discussion, I agree. It's clarified the issue: it's that "agnostic" part that's confusing me.
If 60 to 80 percent of buying decisions are made on agnostic information, they must be agnostic decisions: "We should buy one of them widgets." If you haven't convinced the prospect of the benefits of buying YOUR widget, how have you advanced your sale process? If there's a need for widgets, why would you not want to sell prospective buyers on yours at the start? (while all those other guys are putting up their agnostic content)?

over 3 years ago

Anol Bhattacharya

Anol Bhattacharya, CEO at GetIT Pte Ltd

Len, as I mentioned in my comment before, in case of complex B2B procurement process, sales cycles are long, not based on an impulse decision (I have to get some of those widgets). When a company is publishing utilitarian content (ROI calculator, Roadmap Infographics, eBook with Tips) they are positioning themselves in their target prospects mind as 'thought leader' and 'trusted advisors'.

Also, think about content for top of the funnel conversion content or Gated Content (where you have to fill up a form to download the content from a landing page). What kind of content will entice you to fill up the form? Would you fill up a form to download an advertisement? May be you will, if you are way far in your procurement decision funnel. But, in most of the cases you'll only download if there is an agnostic utilitarian content behind the form.

Sorry for the late reply. Well, Econsultancy now can create a complete blogpost just based on our conversation!

over 3 years ago

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Len Diamond, Principal / Writer at Len Diamond Technical/Marketing Communications

Respectfully disagree. (Not about the blogpost.)
I'm not positing "We should buy one of them widgets" as the final decision; it's the initial decision. Your "agnostic content" has convinced him he needs a widget. But it's an agnostic decision -- he needs a generic widget, not a Bhattacharya widget. Wouldn't you rather have him think of you rather than a whole industry?
Ninety-nine percent of my experience has been with complex B2B marketing (e.g., multi-million-dollar engine retrofits for corporate jets, requiring decisions influenced by CEOs, chief pilots, and maintenance chiefs). I suppose we could have put out an agnostic "Three Reasons Why You Should Retrofit the Engines on Your Corporate Jet," but frankly, we never considered doing that.
What we did was, we advertised to the CEOs that we could save them time and money, and make their cabins luxurious; we advertised increased range and reduced fuel burn to the chief pilots (and the bells and whistles they could have in the cockpit if the CEO would spring for the full refurb program); and advertised the new engines' technical specs to the maintenance chiefs.
What "content" could have been more utilitarian than what we put in our advertising? We weren't trying to come across as "thought leaders"; we were the people who could give them greater range, fuel savings, and compliance with the new noise regulations and, if they wanted to buy the whole package, a refurbished cabin and a glass cockpit as well -- all at a fraction of the cost of buying a new airplane for those features.
"Would you fill out a form to download an advertisement?" is the wrong question.
Would you fill out a form to get the details IN RESPONSE TO an advertisement that intrigued you? (excuse the caps; I don't see a way to do italics here).

over 3 years ago

Anol Bhattacharya

Anol Bhattacharya, CEO at GetIT Pte Ltd

As I mentioned before Len, I don't believe in the theory that 'you have to...' If advertisements are working well for you - keep doing that. My experience is different, so...

This conversation of 'advertisement' vs 'content marketing' is going in circles now. I'll have to stop now.

over 3 years ago

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Len Diamond, Principal / Writer at Len Diamond Technical/Marketing Communications

I apologize for assuming you're ideologically wedded to your position as some other people are. I had seen one CM guru post "Traditional advertising is dead."
You're not that dogmatic, and I was wrong to group you with the deniers.
Our exchange pushed me into organizing some occasional thoughts into the beginnings of a coherent argument, something I think I'll have more occasion to use. So -- many thanks for the discussion.

over 3 years ago

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