The New Year is upon us, the marketing statistics are coming out, and the numbers on content marketing remain confusing. As it becomes more pervasive (nine out of 10 b-to-b marketers use content marketing to drive customer engagement), content marketing is also the focus of hand-wringing and skepticism.
In the latest annual survey produced by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 55% of b-to-b marketers said it's unclear what an effective or successful content marketing program looks like, while less than a third reported that their content marketing was effective at all.
What's missing? Maybe marketers are not addressing the true gap that exists in the buyer's journey. Buyers may not even know what the solution to their problem is, much less what the right set of vendors is.
The irony is, if you're selling a b-to-b solution today, your buyer is only getting more engaged, not less so. But buyers don't go from general awareness of having a problem directly to your company. Vendors are typically contacted as late as 75% of the way through the purchase process, because they don't want to be hounded by hungry reps.
Companies already recognize these tendencies in themselves. To quote a client describing the lack of a connection point between brand awareness and sales activities, "We say, 'That was a nice first date. Would you like to plan our wedding now?'"
What buyers want after they've become aware of their true problem is proof that you can have an intelligent conversation about the issues that drive the need for solutions like yours in the first place.
Yet many companies still lack the engagement-layer connection between brand-level messaging and solutions detail. Even brands with content platforms often have outdated content that comes from their own sales and marketing leaders, all of it only weakly supported by paid or organic search.
The first step toward a true content platform is to seek out voices that are passionate about the issues in your market. These are your "Influentials," and they exist both inside and outside your walls.
Inside your company, they could be technology executives, product developers, enterprise architects, emeritus staff, or members of your board. Externally, they could work for partners, customers, academia, analysts, even competitors. What unites them is that they believe in the importance of what companies like yours are doing.
Once you've identified your Influentials, invite them into a group and make it official. We've had success structuring this as an editorial board, where people are valued for their topic expertise and get exposure to peers. And they will tend to make more time for communities that are discussing issues in a more strategic way.
Tonally, content communities work best when your writers sound confident, supportive, and authentic so participants and readers know, like and trust your brand as a sponsor.
A sampling of successful content marketing efforts include the following (full disclosure -- only Red Hat is a client):
HPE Matter: This comprehensive content platform offers a wealth of information on security, cloud and infrastructure, executive insight, and big data, among other topics.
Cisco The Network has evolved to become an all-in newsroom with many content subsets, including an entertaining series of six-second Vine videos that deliver company-specific messages in a humorous way.
CA rewrITe, a digital soapbox for every facet of CA's Application Economy platform: devops, security, and management cloud, among others.
Red Hat Enterprisers Project, which publishes new stories daily on topics of interest to CIOs and is read by nearly 70,000 IT executives and practitioners every month.
Here are a few principles to be mindful of if you'd like to build something similar:
1. Editorial independence. Content should be consistent with what you sell, but not guided by a product or promotional agenda.
2. A peer-driven board. Choose the right experts, make it a good experience for them, and the community will self-perpetuate.
3. Third-party partners. They will lighten the load as sponsors and give the project more credibility.
How does content like this guide engagement-level marketing? As Red Hat CIO Lee Congdon notes, "The world is increasingly social, and increasing numbers of decision-makers are engaging in social dialog where they see value. The Enterpriser's Project enables us to engage in a dialog with IT decision-makers that provides value to them and allows us to grow our relationships with them. This strikes me as the essence of modern marketing."
The modern marketing reality is clear: Customers trust peers far more than they trust the brand selling a solution. Does your marketing plan have a way to connect the two?