Interactive marketers know since many years that content is crucial. Content is what conversion and conversation with customers and prospects is based on. As been beautifully put to words by management expert Bob Boiko, a website without content is an empty box. Without content there are no emails, no white papers, no landing pages, no blogs, etc. Welcome to content marketing.
Online content comes in all weights and measures. Since a couple of years, content is (finally) getting the attention it deserves. And lately, also non-written forms of online content gain attention. For example, think of online video or slideshare presentations.
But first and foremost, Internet is still a textual medium, especially when it comes to marketing. It’s the words in SEA that generate clicks. An email’s subject line is one of the most important reasons why the mail will be opened. The same goes for the words used in a call-to-action in an ad or on a website. They determine if the beholder decides to respond in the way, that you, the marketer, hoped for.
Those are things that you actually know as an interactive marketer, or at least should know. And it’s not interactive marketing that should be praised for us knowing the importance of quality content and well over-thought words. Long before Internet, we already used direct marketing, in which a decent sales letter needed well chosen words to activate the recipient. And custom publishing.
However, the rise of interactive marketing did increase the awareness on content. Though it was a tough process. There are still companies who spend large amounts on visually appealing websites, but see content as an expense. Content is not king, customer is. But content is important. “Acting like publishers”. But that doesn’t mean being publishers, it’s a different business although there are similarities. A thin line. Content is essential.
Content marketing: the impact of social media and the digital shift of the buying journey
Even in these times of social media, too much people look at technology and media instead of content. Though social media’s success, most of all, relies on content as the start of a story, word-of-mouth and conversations. The right choice of which channels to use, obviously is crucial as well. Moreover, just spreading content is no longer the way to go (and, really never has been). The merit of social media is that companies are now finally obliged to focus on dialogue and therefore also on valuable content and content by others, the so-called “users”.
But that’s not all. Especially when it comes to B2B marketing, a strong focus on content has emerged from the lead management and nurturing perspective. It made content the way to customer acquisition, one-on-one lead management and information supply in function of the purchase cycle of the individual customer and prospect.
That calls for some major automation (marketing automation and lead management technology), as well as the necessity of systems that are able to track and aggregate the digital footprints and historical data of prospects and customers, in order to use these data as defining triggers to supply content (such as web analytics, CRM, etc.).
In B2B , content marketing is playing such a prominent role, that it even sprouted a new ‘discipline’: ‘content marketing’.
So what’s the reason for that increased attention for content in B2B marketing?
- First and foremost, there’s the fact that major parts of the customer’s buying journey happen online (from collecting information on products, services and companies to the point of purchase). People are more informed than ever by making an appeal to relevant content that they find themselves or obtain through people they trust (word-of-mouth).
- Second, people actively seek information these days. They themselves decide where and when they take steps in the purchase cycle, and which are those steps.
- Third, people want to get custom information, personalized in function of their needs, the phase of the customer lifecycle, etc.
- Finally, people use different channels to obtain information, thus content (besides, that’s one of the reasons why, within the domain of content marketing, so much attention is being paid to offering content in different formats such as blogposts, papers, presentations, video’s, etc.)
Summarized, content marketing and the increasing attention paid to it in B2B marketing, is about the changes in the behaviour and wishes of the customers and prospects. Of course, companies wouldn’t get involved if there was no profit to it. A personalized and planned content marketing strategy results in more conversion, better customer relationships, lower cost-per-lead and higher ROI. Period
Content marketing includes all kinds of things such as white papers, webinars and, of course, blogs. When seeing how closely content marketing it is tied to lead management, marketing automation, inbound marketing and different forms of interactive marketing (after all, you also need channels to join a content based dialogue, as there is email, social media, etc.), let’s get a bit deeper into the subject.
The days of one-size-fits-all content are over
One of the most well known names in the niche of ‘content marketing’ is Junta 42’s Joe Pulizzi. In his book “Get Content Get Customers”, which he wrote with Newt Barrett, he explains how content suits B2B marketing strategies. The book explains the importance of relevant and qualitative content, providing a strategy and roadmap. As mentioned, also the channels and media are essential in lead management and marketing. But as well content as channels are function of the customer, his preferences and buying journey. And the modern customer is a cross-channel one…
The social network revolution does not only force content to be ‘good’ or relevant, but also ‘share-worthy’. Sharing content is one of the cornerstones of social media marketing and word-of-mouth marketing. When content becomes a story…
Companies wanting to make a difference today, should provide a large amount of quality content. Why much? Because the days of standardized content are over. You need personalized content in function of the life cycle and individual preferences and characteristics of the different segments you defined and, where possible, of the individual customer and his content interaction, creation and consumption behaviour.
The content marketing BEST formula
Back to Joe Pulizzi’s book. In this book, Joe introduces the so called ‘BEST’ formula. BEST is an acronym of the different aspects to a successful content marketing strategy. I’ll run over them quickly:
- Behavioural: while mapping out a content strategy and producing content, you obviously have a goal set. We want to achieve a goal, which is stimulating the “consumer” of the content to take action. This is surely something to keep in mind, and let’s admit, it often is not the case.
- Essential: the content has to be experienced as essential (read: valuable) by the person you are trying to reach. This sounds obvious, but again it something often forgotten by many marketers. The information sent to your prospects or customers (and nowadays is mainly found) has to gain them something: ranging from the solution to a problem, over tips on how to do better at or achieving something to all kinds of other things that can charm the target group.
- Strategic: I repeat it a lot when writing on subjects such as social media marketing, email marketing, SEO or whatsoever. Every single marketing activity is part of an integrated and holistic marketing strategy. With content marketing it is no different.
- Targeted: I already mentioned this when I was talking about segments and creating ‘lots’ of content. Naturally the content has to be adapted to the needs, the phases in the purchase cycle, the ‘digital signals’ (which you can measure with web analytics for instance) and the formats your customer and prospect prefers.
Do you still need to be convinced about the importance of content in marketing? Then check out this interview with Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute.