The media habits of today’s B2B buyer have changed dramatically in just the past few years, and yet B2B Marketing departments are struggling to keep up. Pull back the covers of most B2B Marketing plans and you’ll find a significant amount of outbound activity working harder and harder to achieve decreasing results.
Today’s buyers are clearly in charge. They are responding at rapidly decreasing rates to marketing messages and consuming more and more content on their own terms. They want content created for their needs. And they want it when they want it, delivered in newer, more and different platforms than anyone could have ever imagined.
All this is putting a strain on existing marketing organizations who are setup to support more traditional outbound campaign tactics. These are the very activities that are experiencing falling response rates, contact rates and open rates.
What can save marketing? For many organizations, the answer lies in a content strategy…
Why Do We Need Content Strategy?
No matter what business you are in, buyers are constantly seeking information to either grow their revenue, reduce their costs or eliminate risks. They are not waiting for just the right campaign to come along and solve all their problems with “an offer they can’t refuse.”
A content strategy flips the tables on traditional, linear marketing by defining the process and then securing the right resources for producing a consistent stream of content mapped to buyer needs across all phases of the buying cycle. This is done for each buyer type or “buyer persona” that is involved in the B2B decision-making process.
It starts with what Tony Zambito (@TonyZambito), calls understanding buyers in today’s social world. And then defines the distribution of content to all the channels where today’s buyers are interacting.
The main goal is to drive deeper customer engagement, and to do so earlier in the buying process. In a flash of unique creativity and perspective, Eric Wittlake (@wittlake) recently referred to this as “Stage Zero” content.
(Still wondering if you need a content strategy, check out Barbra Gago‘s 5 compelling reasons why you need one today.)
The biggest challenge in Content Strategy?
As Pam Didner (@pdidner) from Intel recently told B2B Magazine, the main challenge is not in creating the content but is in “the mentality shift in the marketing organization. Marketing execs are always in the mindset of selling products; but, in a way, we need to think and act like magazine editors.” In other words, we need to avoid the biggest mistake B2B marketers make and put our customers first.
In the same article, Mark Wilson, senior VP-corporate marketing and field marketing at Sybase said “I think marketers are being forced to think like publishers. Social media is forcing marketers to create more content in order to participate in conversations and drive conversations.” (Disclosure: Sybase is a subsidiary of my employer SAP.)
In other words, we need to create compelling stories that resonate with each of our customers. We need to solve their biggest pain points, problems and challenges. And our organizations need to change, in some cases drastically, to reflect this growing market need.
How To Get Started In Content Strategy?
- It starts by educating and evangelizing the need across our business to become customer-first marketers and employees. As SAP’s own Marcus Starke (@marstarke) said in a recent blog, “today every employee is in media.”
- Next, we need to hire and empower a leader of Content Strategy. Here is a Chief Content Officer job description from the founder of Junta42 and the Content Marketing Institute‘s Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe). It might list the ideal state but acts as a helpful starting point for any organization just getting started.
- Next, we need to define the vision for content strategy. Luckily, Joe Chernov (@jchernov), VP of Content Marketing at Eloqua and partner JESS3 have already produced the Content Grid infographic that neatly outlines what Joe calls the three main components of content types, channels and objectives.
- I think it’s also a good idea to see what others are doing with content strategy to get inspired. These 13 examples from Michele Linn (@michelelinn) is a good start.
- Ready to get practical? Barbra Gago (@BarbraGago) shared these content marketing templates for mapping B2B content to buyer needs, conducting a content audit, defining personas and how to build out your own content matrix.
- And finally, just about anything from B2B Marketing Strategist Ardath Albee (@ardath421) can help but her latest post on the importance of Creating Content With Context is an insightful reminder that we need to understand why we are producing content and where it gets distributed as we build our content strategy.
I believe that a continued and relentless emphasis on meeting customer needs through an effective content marketing strategy can help save marketing from declining response rates, unsatisfied customers and disenfranchised employees.
But now it’s your turn. What do you think?