Seventy percent of B2B marketers are creating more content than they did in 2014, but a new study indicates their bosses aren’t too happy about the results.
A recent survey conducted by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and NetLine Corporation found that only 12 percent of marketers feel their organization’s content keeps specific audiences, industries, and targets top of mind—a critical practice for connecting with readers and generating qualified leads. Among the more than 200 senior marketing leaders polled, 90 percent said they have a content strategy, yet a mere 2 percent consider their existing approach to demand generation highly effective.
The report isn’t all doom and gloom, but it’s clear that many marketing executives aren’t confident in their team’s ability to produce content that translates into business results. So what can CMOs do to reverse course and find real return on content? These three strategies will help.
Elena Sukacheva, managing director of the global content solutions unit and events at The Economist Group, says that in spite of the new data, this conversation is old hat. In her role developing content campaigns for clients that target thought leaders and business decision makers around the world, she has seen many marketers ask for content that will both build their brand and generate sales leads. In fact, B2B marketers named brand awareness and lead generation as their top two content marketing goals when surveyed by the Content Marketing Institute last year.
More often than not, Sukacheva recommends that companies adopt a laser focus. “We try to expand a narrow interest to a broader one, or advise our clients to make a choice about what’s most valuable to them,” she said. “You need to understand what your audience wants and needs, and how content can help them in their day to day jobs.”
If the content is broad enough in scope and clearly delineated, however, brands can sometimes kill two birds with one stone. In January, The Economist Group launched a microsite and social outreach campaign for NEC, a Japanese information technology company with city infrastructure services. Safe Cities ranked 50 cities worldwide on their health security, digital security, personal safety, and infrastructure safety. The content appealed to anyone who calls these cities home, and well-crafted videos and infographics made the information easily digestible.
The campaign also targeted a more niche audience of government officials with email-gated research information and data. As a result of this dual strategy, Safe Cities generated over 250 business leads for NEC in the first month.
When CMOs invest in sponsorships or native ads like this one, it’s best to put the story front and center. “Marketers want to link their content directly to their product or service, but audiences turn it down if it sounds like a sales pitch,” Sukacheva said. “There’s a disconnect there, and that can have the effect of creating a counter lead generation program.”
We know by now that thought leadership stories must deliver tangible value to readers, but less than 40 percent of marketers consider their organizations to be effective content developers. To bridge the gap between knowledge and success, CMOs must produce content that’s both unique and in high-demand.
Consider the strategy employed by integrated marketing agency r2i. Every year, the firm releases a web content management (WCM) systems report. Its goal is always to provide value to its clients, and the report—which assesses the feature sets and capabilities of the leading open source and architected platforms—helps them navigate tough tech decisions. R2i’s WCM Comparison has become one of the agency’s most successful lead generation assets.
“Our deep relationships with our clients and knowledge about their markets and customers allow us to understand the type of content they consume in their own buying cycle when looking for an agency,” said Dan Williams, SVP Business Development at r2i. He adds that segmenting for each audience group makes the agency’s content even more effective.
In the B2B space in particular, utility content can be very persuasive. To create content that’s at once useful, serves a purpose, increases engagement, and drives demand, Seattle-based design and technology company WINTR creates content like “How Would Russell Do It,” a gamified interactive experience and educational tool for financial services client Russell Investments. “We try to avoid producing digital experiences that feel like clutter and don’t improve the life of the user in any way,” said WINTR founder Ben Winters. By offering content that customers want and need, CMOs and their teams can increase their perceived value and build affinity that lasts.
Content created in tandem with a publisher, like NEC’s Safe Cities, comes with the added benefit of a strategy for reaching the client’s prospects. But when companies create content internally, devising that distribution strategy falls to them. Jeff Winsper, president of sales and marketing analytics platform Black Ink, and his team spent years experimenting with ways to turn content into leads. Six months ago the team had a breakthrough: Black Ink found that the best way to reach the large, global enterprises it serves is a four-step process that includes describing prospects as specifically as possible, compiling a list of organizations that fit this criteria, identifying the key decision makers at each one, and—most importantly—getting personal.
With list in hand, Black Ink sent out personalized invitations offering one-on-one time with Winsper himself, during which he would walk the potential client through a case study relevant to their business. “We shared that the case study was a manufacturer with a very unique problem—one that we’d already identified as a problem for the prospect, too—and invited them to hear how we solved this dilemma,” Winsper said. A week later, Winsper followed up with a second personal email to obtain feedback about the content and his company’s services.
For Black Ink, this highly personalized content distribution strategy delivered an “overwhelming” response; the company has since secured 20 appointments with organizations that boast revenues over $1 billion. Said Winsper, “This one email has been filling our pipeline more than we ever dreamed.” He adds that the use of language like “personal” and “invite-only” emphasized the fact that Black Ink was offering exclusive access to valuable content.
Says WINTR’s Ben Winters of producing B2B content that delivers on the investment: “If customers aren’t engaged and experiencing your product properly, you will lose them. Engagement has become so much more important than just getting eyeballs on the screen.” Adds Sukacheva, “CMOs are absolutely right to be dissatisfied with the quality of their content, but they can solve that by being very open with their partners.”
If CMOs couple this strategy with value-driven content and a targeted, personalized distribution approach, they might be singing a different tune about their content next year.