I have done a whole bunch of interviews in the last few weeks on content marketing questions.
And since I believe one of the best content marketing hacks is to turn your most frequently asked questions into helpful pieces of information for your audience, I am going to try and demonstrate that approach in this next series of posts.
Here are my best answers to 16 content marketing questions I received from a partner. I hope this helps answer one of yours, or your bosses.
How and when did you get started with content marketing?
I think I was doing content marketing before we were using the term. After a 10-year stint with The Nielsen Company in sales and marketing roles, I became head of marketing for two consecutive startups. I had very little budget and no team. So how do you create a marketing strategy with no budget? Content marketing. [Click to Tweet]
I researched keywords, I interviewed customers, analysts and influencers in our space and basically created a corporate website that looked more like a blog. We led with customer questions and our best answers. I didn’t know at the time this was what we now call “content marketing” but I know it worked!
What’s the simplest way you can explain content marketing?
Content marketing is the gap between what brands produce and their audience actually wants. Content marketing is the commitment to become the leading destination of helpful insights for your audience by answering their top questions.
Is content marketing for everyone?
I think if I were a direct response marketer, I maybe don’t need content marketing as much as products where customers do a lot of research. That’s why financial service firms were early in content marketing: there’s a huge need for information in the customer journey. But even for direct response businesses, I would think you would want to educate your consumers early in the buying journey.
What’s the difference between B to B and B to C Content Marketing?
There is no difference really. We’re all people. Buildings don’t buy stuff. People do. The obvious difference is in the amount of complexity and information required and people involved in B2B. But the process to deliver that information in the form of content marketing is generally the same.
How would you recommend B to C brands commence their content marketing journey?
Start with asking why your business exists. For example, food companies exist to feed people. Start with that basic purpose and then build your content marketing efforts from there.
Is content marketing a big name brand game exclusively? Can the small business with minimal budget play?
Content marketing might be even more important for small businesses. As I mentioned in my own career, when you have a small budget and a marketing department of one, you aren’t going to buy TV ads. You do content marketing. You become a source of information in your category and you can gain your fair share of the market.
Do you believe there are certain product categories that benefit more from content marketing?
Yes, some product categories require more information. Technology, healthcare, financial services. Maybe even travel, automotive and others. We only buy these things after doing a lot of research. Content marketing can really help the brands in these categories.
What does a basic content marketing strategy include?
A basic content marketing strategy includes a gap analysis (where you are vs where you want to be), a mission statement or objective, an editorial strategy, budget allocation against technology, content and distribution, a team accountable to getting it done, and a measurement framework.
How can publishers help marketers plan and execute their content marketing strategy?
Publishers know how to create great content. Brands should be partnering with their top media partners to sponsor and syndicate high quality publisher content and then using the publisher to help distribute high-quality, brand-produced content.
I’m not talking about ads. I’m talking about the brand and the publisher co-creating journalistic quality content that meets the needs of the reader. [Tweet This!] And then properly disclosing who paid to create it.
Who’s the best consumer content marketer out there and why? What can we learn from them?
It’s tough to say. There are some great examples from Disney, LEGO, and RedBull. What we can learn from them is that they have dedicated content marketing teams. And huge investments in content marketing.
They do this because it is more effective than direct advertising. RedBulletin is a publication worthy or even better than any publisher magazine. They are selling ads to others. They have setup an entire studio to create content with money that would normally be invested in ads nobody wants to see. And the brand benefits.
If you had to choose one, which do you consider is the best content marketing metric?
Subscriptions. If people love your content so much that they chose to subscribe to it, then you are doing a great job.
What is the value of a long-term content strategy compared to a “traditional” campaign by campaign approach?
Based on my definition, content marketing is content the audience wants and campaigns include promotion that no one wants and that we try to avoid.
So in the long term, content marketing is building more and more reach, engagement and trust that allows more people to interact with your brand, and ultimately to buy from you. Content marketing is an asset that delivers increasing return over time. Campaigns go out, produce some short term bump and then you have to start all over again.
Why is content marketing effective?
Content marketing is effective because it delivers what your customers want. That, in turn, drives trust in your brand. And that, in turn, delivers business value.
With more and more companies buying into content marketing, will there be a point where saturation will start negatively affecting Content Marketing’s purpose and ability to reach people?
There will always be an opportunity for brands to join the conversation around a topic that they are connected to.
If you are a technology company, you likely have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of employees and customers who can join the conversation in a way that provides value to the brand.
So no, we are not at the saturation point and I don’t see us ever reaching it.
Let me put it another way. There is so much bad content that is never used or seen by customers and there is so much wasted spend inside companies that it will be a long time before we can optimize it to driving customer and business value.
Factoring time as a resource, is Content Marketing truly as efficient as advertised?
I have seen on average across many customers who were able to achieve 3-5 X the brand engagement / lift / conversions / sales (whatever you want to measure) from content marketing than they received from advertising.
It’s not really an apples to apples comparison because advertising is a media buy (paid media). There are people and agencies and internal procurement procedures for advertising as well. I have seen many brands (GE famously claims they have 2-4 people doing all of their content) execute effective content marketing with 1 / 10th of the people and cost they have associated with advertising and still gain that 3, 4 or even 5x higher return.
To me the bigger question is why is anyone still spending the money we are seeing pouring into advertising. To me the answer is simple: executives like to see their logo plastered and painted in as many places as possible, whether it is effective or not.
What tendencies or trends will be affecting Content Marketing in the near future?
The biggest trend in content marketing right now is visual content. We have pretty much figured out how to turn brands into online publishers with high quality blogs that scale. Now we are seeing more brands get into visual content production because, as a society, we are consuming more.
We like videos and slideshares and vines and emojis. But this content is hard to get right and more expensive. And not everyone can be RedBull, Disney or GE.
Next, we are seeing content marketing moving away from vanity metrics like pageviews, social shares and bounce rates to targeted communication. It’s not just about what you are producing, it is really all about whether you are reaching and engaging the right people.
2 thoughts on “Content Marketing Questions — How To Do Marketing With No Budget?”
Michael, thanks for an interesting article. You provide many useful ideas and opinions. I agree with most of what you say. I especially like your comments about the value of content marketing over advertising.
Even so, I’m eager to share a different perspective on one point you made. You say that content marketing is essentially the same for B2B and B2C. You acknowledge that B2B marketing goes into more detail, but you point to no other differences.
Your statement reinforces a common misperception. And a lot of smart people agree with you. Recently I’ve seen a disturbing number of blog posts that make similar statements.
Your post and the others disturb me because they can be dangerously misleading. Your comment could (inadvertently) lead some readers astray by overlooking a perspective that’s crucial for many B2B companies.
B2B companies tend to operate in either of two distinct categories of business. The first category is the simple sale. In simple sales, one person makes the buying decision. Most B2C sales and some B2B sales are simple.
For simple sales, you’re correct that B2B and B2C content marketing are often much alike.
The second category of B2B sales is the complex sale, where more than one person makes the buying decision. Many others may influence it.
Complex sales may include a broad range of purchase processes. At the simpler end of the scale are medium-scrutiny decisions (for sales up of a few hundred dollars). Toward the middle of the range, you have high-scrutiny decisions (for sales of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars). At the far end are extreme-scrutiny decisions (for sales of hundreds of thousands to billions of dollars).
To suggest that content marketing is the same for simple sales and for high- or extreme-scrutiny complex sales would be a serious misstatement. You and others haven’t said this. But your comments overlook the important distinction.
High-scrutiny and extreme-scrutiny sales involve entirely different buying processes. They also involve very different buyer behavior and psychology.
Do you agree that a company’s content strategy should support its customers’ buying process? If so, it follows that the content strategy for a high-scrutiny or an extreme-scrutiny sale must be very different from the content strategy for a low-scrutiny, simple sale.
I’m passionately interested in this topic because I spent 25 years in complex software sales. During most of that time, I was disappointed by the almost useless marketing support I received to help me achieve my sales quotas.
In my experience, B2B marketers were inappropriately obsessed with branding and “raising awareness.” I wish they had been more focused on helping to generate revenue.
It was as true when I worked at SAP in 2005 as it was when I worked at several startups before and after.
Now that I’ve returned to marketing, it’s my goal to help change this situation.
If marketing continues to disappoint salespeople who engage in complex sales, it’s probably for one or both of two reasons:
1. Marketers don’t get much help in understanding the nuances of the complex sale, so they can’t support it properly.
2. Top executives don’t insist that marketers do a better job of supporting the complex sales process.
Both are more likely to occur when executives don’t understand how much more marketing can contribute toward closing complex sales.
If executives don’t understand the many important differences between simple and complex B2B sales, they’re likely to accept the wrong advice. They may hire the wrong consultants, the wrong agencies, the wrong freelancers, and the wrong marketing employees to help them establish and execute their content strategy. Their marketing teams will receive the wrong training and support.
These sad mistakes occur all the time.
It’s like a hiring a riverboat captain who understands how to navigate a pontoon boat on a lake, but not a paddlewheel on the Mississippi. The captain may do the simple job well, but he’s a bad fit for the much more complex one. The people who hire him must understand this.
More than likely, this captain will run aground on a sandbar or a shoal. I wouldn’t want my family aboard his riverboat, and I wouldn’t want to own shares in it.
For a big company that engages in complex B2B sales and doesn’t understand the crucial differences, business performance is likely to be disappointing.
But the results could be disastrous for smaller B2B companies with limited time to gain market share and revenue before their money runs out. Or before their investors lose patience.
So it pains me to see anyone reinforce, even passively, the common misperception that B2B and B2C content marketing are more similar than different.
To return to the point you made, I believe B2B companies that engage in complex sales must be careful about adopting content marketing strategies that work well in simple sales.
More important, executives in B2B companies must recognize that they need a different set of skills and strategies than they can borrow from simple sales.
I’d like to enlist your help. As a B2B thought leader, you have influence. Please be careful to make the important distinction between B2B simple sales and complex sales.
I’m working on an ebook on this topic, to be available soon. It will contain a list of the many differences and their implications for content marketing.
Thanks again for an otherwise great post.
Dave, thank you so much for your detailed and thoughtful response. And I tend to agree with every point you made. I did not intend to support this common misperception. And I’ll take your request to help clarify the differences between simple and more complex sales and the content marketing programs to support them as being very different.
So first, let me clarify. When I talk about content marketing, or content marketing strategy in particular, I am talking about an approach to meeting customer needs. What I am NOT talking about when I use the term “content marketing” is the content or even the programs necessarily. What I mean by this is that many people think an ebook is content marketing. It is most definitely not. An ebook should be one piece in the continuous approach by a brand to understand the content needs of its target audience. The ebook itself should answer one question, it should be a desired type of content, and it should be well done and distributed in the channels the buyer uses.
For me, content marketing and the strategy behind it, includes the process of identifying ALL the buyers’ / customers’ information needs, all the types of content they read and share, all the channels and influencers they trust. And then seek to engage the buyer / consumer in those ways – to create the kind of content that potential customers want and need, in all they places they consume and share it.
So what I meant, was that the process of identifying this for complex sales and for packs of gum, are essentially the same. The thing itself (the content) and the programs that result from this strategy and approach will be VERY different.
So maybe this is just a semantic difference that when I say content marketing, I include the approach that seeks to answer customer questions. And for complex sales there are vastly more questions that need answering and vastly more people involved and vastly longer periods of time required to make an impact. And for simpler sales, there are much fewer touch points, typically only one person, and often a much more emotional or even subtle appeal.
Having said that, I totally get your point. While I believe the approach is common, the output is so different, that I am potentially misleading readers to say that B2B and B2C content marketing is the same. And I will try to help make that differentiation.
Part of the reason that I make this point, is the most common mistake I see all brands make, is that they make it all about the brand, about themselves, about what they are selling. So I am trying to make the point that it is simply about seeking to answer customer questions, to be a destination of learning and maybe even entertainment. And that it is this culture that drives success.
But I get your point. I will try and make this distinction more clear.
Thanks so much again for the comment and for extending this conversation!
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