Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer
You might know me as a writer, coach, content marketer, dog lover, editor, golfer, sales strategist, Diet Coke enthusiast, speaker, Allegheny alum, project manager, feminist, networker, or St. Louis Cardinals fan.
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Much is written about the benefits of content marketing. How it builds trust with your buyers. How it positions you as a thought leader. How it both builds brand awareness and generates demand.
Content marketing does work. That's true.
Not much is written about how difficult content marketing is. How it takes time to see results. How it often frustrates stakeholders, especially those outside of your marketing team. How it typically requires a much larger investment than you initially think. Content marketing is hard. That's also true.
Maybe you've dabbled in content in the past and abandoned it after the ROI just wasn't there. Or maybe you're a B2B marketer who has never "done" content but are now forced to because of trade show cancellations.
Whatever the reason(s) you're working on a content marketing strategy now, you'll want to be honest about some of these potential pitfalls:
There isn't a single cure for each of these content ailments, but there are some practical next steps you can take to alleviate the pain.
Press releases or 400-word blog posts about your services don't count as "content marketing." Nor do overly promotional product pitches with the phrase "case study" in the title. Your buyers will see right through your watered-down content. According to research from LinkedIn and Edelman's "2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study," low-quality content or "poorly executed" content can cause "decision makers to remove a potential vendor or partner from consideration altogether."
Producing too much content without proper quality controls is a common mistake. Many marketers are wired to focus on what can be measured: Opens, clicks, impressions, downloads, website traffic, and followers. Historically, the easiest way to boost those metrics was to "do" more. But with content, less is often more. Sending your sales team five quality interactions – think multiple stakeholders from a buying group viewing and sharing your content and competitor content – is better than 500 views of a white paper link where a buyer only spends a few seconds on the page.
B2B marketers first need to overcome the fear that producing less content equates to less productivity. Compensation plans and processes should be tied to authentic engagement metrics, not old-school vanity metrics. Go through your library of content assets and pick out the best one. Add to it. Do more research around the topic. Present it in multiple formats. Tailor it to the different roles within a buying group. And repeat that process until each piece of content has the depth needed to truly help your buyers.
See what we did there? We told you to worry more about quality and less about quantity. Then we told you it's a problem if you don't have enough content. You do need a lot of good content if you want to be a thought leader (more on that here). One outstanding eBook will not generate a lifetime of content marketing success.
We often see B2B teams sprint to create a large batch. They get excited about the upfront planning involved in content marketing, but then they don't have the discipline to create and refresh content continually. Another obstacle is that marketing teams try to cover too many topics, or service lines, or themes, and spread themselves too thin. You are better off having five truly high-quality pieces of content on two topics than one thin piece of content on 10 topics.
Create an annual road map of what content you need to create, who will create it, and when it will be created. Revisit this plan at least quarterly to adjust to buyer preferences or market trends. Make sure the C-suite knows your investment in content marketing is not a one-time campaign, but rather an ongoing, strategic investment.
Remember that dance lesson scene in the movie Hitch? Kevin James tells Will Smith, "Dancing is the one thing I'm not worried about." But in fact, his dance moves are something to worry about. He can dance, but it's not good dancing.
You might have content, but it might not be good content.
Don't worry, we've all been there. Velocity Partners' now-famous slide share, "Crap: the single biggest threat to B2B content marketing," made it easier for marketers to face this reality. A summary of what kind of content earns that designation includes, "‘Me-too’ blog posts, three-sentence ideas pumped up into 36-page eBooks, video interviews that might as well be subtitled, ‘yadda-yadda-yadda,’ and microsites full of the obvious disguised as the profound.”
How can you really tell if your content is good enough? How do you know if you’re a bad dancer when everyone on your company’s dance floor has the same moves? You need a third-party to intervene – a content evaluator willing to be as candid as Will Smith’s character Alex Hitchens. Ask a trusted existing customer, a media partner, or an industry association to read a piece of content and give you brutally honest feedback. Don’t ask self-affirming questions like, “Do you think this is a good white paper?” Instead, ask, “What information could we add that would make this more valuable to you and your business?” Next, be prepared to share more of your IP than you might be comfortable with. It requires true expertise and a deep understanding of your buyers.
It takes time to be an effective B2B content marketer. It takes time to spot buyer behavior trends and purchase intent. You’ll need a minimum of six months to evaluate the effectiveness of your content investment and possibly more if your sales cycle is especially long or complex. We often see marketing teams set aside enough budget for a quarter or two and then become frustrated by a lack of ROI.
Content marketing can do a lot of things, but it can’t shortcut your sales cycle. Yet some marketers expect to create heavily branded promotional content, get a buyer to click on it, and then quickly convert that click to a sale.
Here’s where marketing needs to do some teaching. Explain this research to your sales and executive teams. According to Selling To The C-Suite: "At any given time only 4 percent of your market is actively buying, 40 percent are ready to start looking at options, and 56 percent aren't ready or don't have a current need." Your content won’t increase that 4 percent, but it can influence the other 96 percent to consider your products/services when they are ready to start a buyer’s journey.
Content marketing is not a field of dreams. There is no such thing as “build a content library and your buyers will come.” Content can play a key role in your demand gen strategy but only if your content is where buyers search for information.
We wrote about this in “So You Want To Be Your Own Publisher…”
The success of a content marketing strategy hinges on having an engaged audience of your buyers to interact with your content.
You can’t build an engaged audience by crafting catchy headlines or hiring an SEO expert.
You might be telling yourself, “We already have an audience. We’ve been around in our market for a long time. We have a massive email database. We’re good, thanks.”
Sorry to disappoint you, but even your homegrown, massive email database isn’t as effective as you think it is for getting buyers to engage with your content. It’s important to understand this about the B2B buyer’s journey: your prospects spend 73 percent of their time doing something other than engaging directly with suppliers (that, according to Gartner).
You might have to * gulp * pay to promote your content. You pay for booth space to be on the same show floor your buyers are walking. Would you set up a booth three miles from the convention center just because it’s free and still expect the same results? The cost to create content should be viewed separately from the cost to promote it.
There is a lot of upfront work required in content marketing. Oftentimes, B2B marketers are burned out by the time they generate leads from content. As a result, they toss those leads over to the sales team and hope for the best. Think of it like reading this rather long article. We’ve already spent 1,000-plus words explaining five other problem areas. Do you really have the stomach to read one more? And even if you do, are you as excited about this topic as you were when you first started reading?
The post-content engagement process covers a wide range of content marketing struggles. Sales follow-up could be an issue (read about four ways sales follow-up falls short here). Your lead scoring or marketing attribution system might lack sophistication. You might not have the proper CRM or automation tools to properly filter data. If you think creating and distributing content takes a lot of work, then you already need to realize that’s just the start of being a successful content marketer.
Marketing should take ownership of the entire lifecycle of a lead. A potential buyer who downloads a case study most likely does not want to set up a meeting to discuss business challenges and how your product/service/solution can help solve those challenges. That’s a tough pill for a sales team to swallow, and it’s also why marketing must continually interject content throughout the entire buyer’s journey.
Now that you’ve been properly warned about how your content marketing strategy can fail, it’s time for some reassurance. Content can work. It can increase your share of voice, help your buyers, and earn thought leadership status. By avoiding these problem areas, you’ll be doing the hard work to build a successful content marketing machine.
We will not be great by what we accomplish, but by what we help others accomplish.How does this apply to your work as a B2B marketer?
Visit our Knowledge Center for helpful resources and guides that support any great content marketing strategy. You'll find tactical articles, customizable exercises, and more.
Learning to follow your buyer is a change in mindset
A transition from selling buyers on what you do to helping them accomplish what they do.