Content marketing, especially in b-to-b, has always been a necessary tactic. But in the days before the Internet, advertising was the driving force in most marketing departments. It was the hook to get prospects to find out more about a company; content, such as that contained in brochures and corporate videos, was secondary.
But the advent of company websites and the rise of search and social media have enabled marketers to move their content to the forefront of the customer acquisition process. Joe Pulizzi, executive director of the Content Marketing Institute, sees many signs that indicate a broad embrace of content marketing within b-to-b. For instance, he said, many companies are creating chief content officer positions.
But while many companies are engaging in content marketing, few do it well, Pulizzi said. “Marketers continue to struggle with it,” he said.
One stumbling block, Pulizzi said, is giving in to the temptation to make the content too marketing-oriented. “You have to separate the brand from the story as much as you can,” he said. “It's hard for b-to-b companies, because they're used to using content to promote their products and services.”
Some of the best content marketers have altered their marketing departments to look more like publishing departments or newsrooms, Pulizzi said. He pointed to Kelly OCG as an example of a b-to-b marketer doing a good job of delivering useful content—not necessarily content specifically promoting the company itself—to customers and prospects.
Wheatland said Kelly OCG has eight former journalists on staff. They write content that resembles news stories more than it does brochure copy. A mainstay for Kelly OCG is research about the outsourcing sector. The company releases this research in large reports several times a year, but it also dices the information into smaller pieces, which are repurposed as content for email newsletters, the company website and for social media sharing.
“Traditionally, we thought of [content marketing] as thought leadership, big stuff,” Wheatland said. “Now, it's much deeper, and broader and granular at the same time. It's more problem- and issue-related. For example, we might cover a topic like talent mobility.”
Wheatland added that content marketing is primarily a database-building effort; but, to make that process effective, the content has to be strong. “Unless you're going out there and investing in good quality content, you will fail,” he said.
How quality content is defined varies by company and industry.
“Our most effective content marketing initiative has been the creation of customer case studies and then making them available on the Web,” said Tom Kennedy, director-marketing and communications at Republic Financial Corp., a holding company whose portfolio includes Al-jon Manufacturing and Nortridge Software Co. “In fact, this strategy has been so successful—resulting in high-quality leads and subsequent sales in distinct vertical markets for an enterprise software company—that we are now focused on converting those written case studies into video items.”
For Syniverse Technologies, which provides technology for the mobile phone industry, mobile content is its most effective content marketing initiative. “In 2011, we launched our website with innovative HTML5, digital content, video, and advanced SEO tagging and analytics to continually measure and optimize our presence online,” said Janet Roberts, Syniverse CMO. “Our analytics show that videos are the most popular content on our website, and that viewers spend more time on pages that contain video. In addition, feedback from our audiences tells us that video is an optimal tool to convey solutions to complex problems.”
Roberts said Syniverse has also found that custom events have worked well as part of its content marketing program. “We have two events a year, one in the U.S. in the spring and one in Europe in the fall,” she said. “We bring in customers—and they spend good, quality time with us for a couple of days—and we share what are the latest product offerings that we have.”
At SAS Institute, a business analytics software provider, blogs are a key focus. Alison Bolen, editor of blogs and social content for SAS, said the company started five years ago with a single blog. Now, it has 25.
Bolen said the blogs provide news, which helps meet SAS' public relations goals. They also provide advice to customers, which fits with the company's marketing goals. And the blogs create an ongoing dialogue with customers, which aligns with customer service goals.
Blogs are a simple way for a business to start a content marketing program, Bolen said. “What's different now is that it's not just a custom content agency that can do that for you,” she said. “Anybody can do this. "Hey, I can make my own blog. I can do this myself'—especially if you're a small-business person.”