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Five tips to rev up your content marketing program

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There's little doubt that 2012 has been b-to-b's year of content marketing. Two recent reports, one from Optify Inc. and the other by Econsultancy, found that 84% of b-to-b marketers plan to increase their investments in content marketing over the next 12 months, while 90% of all marketers believe content will grow in importance during the next year. Yet the same studies revealed that only a minority of in-house marketers have a defined content marketing strategy in place. With that in mind, here are five basic practices you should master before spending your first dime on a program.
  1. Know what motivates your audience. If you ask many b-to-b marketers to describe their customers, they'll give you chapter and verse about buying power, title and company size. This is good information for understanding your market, but not for understanding your customer. To do that, you need to go a level deeper. Think psychographics. What are the hopes, anxieties and dreams that motivate your audience? What do they worry about during the morning commute? What would make them heroes in the eyes of their co-workers? How can they get that raise or promotion? What makes their job rewarding or frustrating? By understanding these basic needs, you can grab their attention with content that hits them in the gut, not just in the spreadsheet.
  2. Think in terms of usefulness. Funny videos and catchy slogans are great, but the bottom line for a b-to-b audience is usefulness. If your content doesn't provide actionable information, then it won't merit the attention of busy customers. Whenever you survey your customers, ask them what information and content vehicles (blog posts, podcasts or videos, for example) have the greatest utility. Remember that the goal of a content marketing program is to empower as much as it is to sell.
  3. Map content to the sales funnel. Create a grid showing the key stages of the sales funnel (for example, awareness, research, consideration, purchase, loyal customer and at-risk customer), and match content to each category. You often can adapt content to multiple stages of the funnel by choosing a different angle. Let's take the example of a commercial printer. A white paper targeted at the awareness stage might focus on the “magic of the print experience.” For the consideration stage, a different asset might be a checklist for selecting a commercial printer. For loyal customers, choose content that helps them get more mileage out of their investment in you. Knowing which stage of the funnel to address helps you to better focus content at the outset and avoid duplication or information gaps.
  4. Build an editorial calendar. Create a master schedule of the topics you'll cover during the year and the delivery vehicles for each. Start by placing major events, such as trade shows, holidays and customer events, at the top. Map content to important milestones, such as the annual budgeting process. Take regional issues into account; you don't want to drop a big new promotion on a European audience in August. Be sure every major topic has a place on the calendar and that you plan for a good mix of such content vehicles as blogs, webcasts and email newsletters. If you need to repeat a topic, use a different vehicle for delivery.
  5. Have a keyword strategy and communicate it. Research the keywords customers use to find your content, understanding that they aren't always the terms you want them to use. Boil this down to a manageable list and communicate it to all your contributors. Provide guidance on optimal frequency and placement, as well as any special instructions related to language or stages of the sales funnel.
The key to getting the most mileage out of your content marketing investment is to understand what content is useful to your customers and prospects, how they discover it and how they prefer to consume it. Start there and you'll minimize waste and confusion in the process. Paul Gillin is an Internet marketing consultant and the author of three books about social media. He also writes the New Channels column in BtoB. He can be reached at paul@gillin.com.
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