B2B marketers in great numbers have jumped on the content marketing bandwagon and embraced the idea that marketing needs to be more like media. We have to focus on providing "readers" and "viewers" (i.e., customers, prospects, and other stakeholders) with interesting and useful material on a regular basis as the starting point for creating and sustaining interest in our products and solutions.
The big problem, of course, is actually doing it: consistently producing material that our hoped-for audiences actually care about enough to read, listen, view, and, ideally, comment upon and share more widely.
As documented in last year's MarketingProfs and Junta42 study, "producing engaging content" tops the list of challenges for content marketing; "producing enough content" is second. Despite the onslaught of "four simple ways" for this and "12 surefire tips" for that, it's just not that easy!
There is no end of advice around content marketing and marketing as media, but much of it seems simply to highlight general direction and attributes: Be helpful, solve problems, use a human voice, tell stories, re-purpose or "re-imagine" existing content, and so on.
This is all well and good, but it doesn't get you very far in terms of what to do tomorrow and next week and throughout the year. What kinds of content should you actually create? How can you become one of those few trusted sources that your customers rely on amid their ridiculously busy schedules? How can you truly think and produce like an editor of a must-read publication?
(Bob Shier is right: It's not about thinking like a publisher. Publishers focus on the business side of media; editors are the ones that worry every day about content, tone, and reader/listener/viewer engagement.)
From an editorial perspective, let me suggest six specific types of content that your customers will indeed want to read, listen to, and view.
I know the six types of content here don't fall neatly into lead generation campaigns or phases of the buying cycle. That type of mapping is certainly important, but the first challenge is simply getting your intended customers to pay attention and gain trust that you're a useful source of industry information. If you can get this done, everything else becomes a whole lot easier.
Do you agree? How are you thinking like an editor? What types of content work best in your world?
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The always interesting TED announced the winners in an intriguing new competition the other day: Ads Worth Spreading. Building on the nonprofit's overall mission, Ideas Worth Spreading, TED decided to try and make a virtue of necessity. Advertising supports the free site; why not challenge advertisers to create ads compelling enough that people actually want to watch them and tell their friends to watch them, too.
It wasn't an original idea. Super Bowl marketers, among others, have always tried to get people to seek out and pass along their creative flourishes (Apple's 1984 Macintosh ad is still my personal favorite). BMW made a huge splash in the ad world in 2001 by commissioning top Hollywood directors to create short, high production value films promoting the ultimate driving machines. More than 2 million people registered on the BMW film site, and an incredible 94% of them recommended the films to others. Most agencies today at least hope their productions will catch the popular imagination and go viral.
So what's the B2B connection? For more and more B2B firms, thought leadership and educational content are the new advertisements. We're cutting back on traditional ads and shifting resources to content marketing (white papers, expert video interviews, ebooks, blogs, and the like) in hopes of getting our customers to pay more attention, raise their hands as "interested," and accept entry into our shiny new lead nurturing systems.
But here's the question: Are these "ads" really worth spreading? If you pulled together a group of your customers and asked them to review your thought leadership content side-by-side with that of all your competitors, would they pick yours among the winners? Would they rush to their email, Twitter, and Facebook accounts to tell their friends and colleagues that they simply must check out your new white paper or ebook?
Am I setting the bar too high? Perhaps, but consider how often you spread the good word about ads that cross your laptop or iPhone. Not very often, right? If your educational content is not good enough for you to pass along, why should it be for your customers? And if it isn't, how are they going to convince the myriad other people in their firm that ultimately need to agree that your solution is worth the investment?
Do you agree? Is your thought leadership worth spreading?
Consistently creating engaging content is one of those programmatic challenges that strikes fear in the hearts of many B2B marketers looking to take more advantage of social media.
It shows up regularly in surveys on the obstacles to social media success; it came up repeatedly in the group of manufacturing and distribution company marketers I had the privilege of working with last week in ISBM's workshop on B2B social media.
As Chris Iafella reminded us in a post on content curation for pharma the other day, though, creating fresh original content is not the only way to provide value to the customers and others with whom you're trying to connect.
Indeed, there are four levels of content sharing that B2B marketers should include in their social media mix.
Sharing content is far from the only element of a successful social media program. Listening, building networks, and convening stakeholders in forums and communities are just as important. But content remains an essential component, and it continues to bedevil even the best B2B marketers. Building an integrated approach that complements your own publications with additional avenues for sharing can ease the publication burden at least a bit and while adding new value and connections along the way.
Do you agree? What's your content sharing strategy?
Michael Shrage’s recent Harvard Business Review post, Great Customers Inspire Great Innovations, got me thinking:
Why, amid so much evidence of the power of customer-centric business, are so many companies still mired in inside-out operations? Why do we hear so much talk but see so little action?
Shrage’s post reminds us that behind most great innovations lie customers and clients that made those innovations possible. "Busicom, a scientific calculator company, for example, commissioned Intel [in 1969] to design a chipset for its new programmable calculators. That led directly to Intel’s breakthrough creation of the microprocessor." On a much broader scale, "Wal-Mart’s incessant and relentless demands for ‘everyday low prices’ transformed every supplier it touched."
Shrage’s post also reminded me of an essential book from way back in 2003 by IT industry analyst David Moschella, Customer-Driven IT. Taking off from the familiar point that the tech industry was always led by vendor-based innovation, Moschella outlined the fundamental shift underway in the early 2000s toward customer-driven innovation in industries ranging from media and financial services to health care and education.
Ranjay Gulati’s more recent Reorganize for Resilence provides similar testimony, evidence, and examples of the power of customer centricity for solutions development, marketing, and sales (you can watch my partner Steve Hurley’s interview with Ranjay on our new YouTube channel).
Shrage, Moschelle, and Gulati are actually making a critical point beyond the normal blah-blah about listening to customers and strengthening relationships. As Shrage notes, even this approach (which is typically more talk than action) is not enough. Rather:
"The essential question is who are the customers that come with the problem sets and parameters that push you to rethink, or redefine, your business? Which customers and clients does your firm celebrate as innovation partners -- and why?"
What amazes me, though, is why B2B marketers aren’t investing more in serious programs to build key customer relationships, generate deeper customer insight, and build stronger customer collaboration at least as a foundation to help drive that necessary innovation.
After all, it’s not just academics and pundits like Shrage, Moschella, and Gulati pounding their fists. IBM’s latest survey of more than 1,500 large enterprise CEOs around the world showed that 95% of top performing organizations identified getting closer to customers as their most important strategic initiative over the next five years.
It is happening to some extent, of course. In B2B technology, where I spend most of my time, a number of companies are putting some real money where their mouths are. For example:
More often, however, I see situations where the rhetoric far outpaces the reality:
Needless to say, all three of these companies, like most of their peers, prattle on endlessly that "we're all about the customer."
For B2B marketers interested in moving beyond the rhetoric, there are some obvious next steps:
If all this investment means cutting back in other areas, well, that's the price of truly changing strategy and priorities.
As always, though, it's the mindset that matters most.
I was reminded of this for the umpteenth time last week while pulling together some research around customer reference programs for a client. Most tech companies have a reference program, but far too many are focused transactionally on getting customer testimonials and promoting success stories. There's relatively little attention to actually learning more about customer needs, strengthening relationships, and building collaborative innovation (with some notable exceptions, of course).
These are your best customers, folks! If you're stuck in selfish transaction mode with them, there's a long way go to in getting to customer centricity.
Am I right to be so critical? What's working for customer-centricity on your end?
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I've just had the privilege of helping judge ITSMA's Marketing Excellence Awards, and was impressed in particular with the submissions in the Thought Leadership Marketing category.
As recently as five years ago, thought leadership marketing was mainly the province of the top consulting firms. Few other B2B firms took it seriously. Boy, has that changed! The submissions in this year's awards program reflect a substantial increase not only in spending but, more important, in the programmatic discipline that is necessary to make a serious impact with customers and market influencers.
I can't name names yet because ITSMA is still selecting finalists and then the ultimate winners. It's clear from the submissions, however, along with working with many of these companies over the years, that there are five important ways in which the best of the best stand apart from the crowd:
What's missing from my list? What works best for you?
He's a bit like a kid in a candy store: he's got budget to spend, executive support for a more ambitious marketing program, and a relatively clean slate upon which to draw the new strategy.
The existing program has been pretty traditional, focusing mostly on collateral, events, advertising, and direct support for the sales team. He knows that's not enough, and is definitely interested in doing more with thought leadership and social media, but how best to reshape the overall strategy is not entirely clear.
Asked for some advice, I agreed with a stronger emphasis on thought leadership and social media (which I think are appropriate for all B2B firms), and I questioned the value of putting so much energy into advertising and collateral.
More generally, though, I suggested that the strategy focus on the four marketing engines that I think all B2B firms need to have running smoothly to ensure business success.
Four Engines for B2B Marketing Success
As the need for more and better content continues to grow, marketing leaders have realized that they need an integrated "content engine" that consistently produces compelling content for every stage of the buying cycle. This includes thought leadership content to help build reputation and interest, educational content to support lead generation and nurturing, solutions and customer success content to support sales conversations, and, of course, social media content to support ongoing connections with customers and others.
B2B marketing rises and falls on the strength of the company's relationships with customers, prospects, partners, and market influencers. For many marketing organizations, though, the objective of building, strengthening, and sustaining key relationships has no clear owner or strategy. A "relationship engine" may sound awkward but the idea is to ensure a comprehensive, consistent, and focused approach to strengthening critical stakeholder connections to increase sales, loyalty, and market insight. This should work across such areas as events, customer councils, account management, references, and social media.
Lead Development Engine:
The increasingly long and convoluted purchase processes that B2B marketers face puts a premium on well organized systems for lead nurturing and management. No longer can we focus on just the early stages of generating leads and then throw them over the wall to sales. More and more, we need to stay in the game with longer term programs to develop and sustain opportunities in close coordination with sales. Content and relationship programs contribute substantially to this effort but someone also needs to own the overall system for lead development, including qualification, scoring, nurturing, and assessment.
Solutions Development Engine:
Like many B2B companies, my friend's firm has a long history of successful products, satisfied customers, and productive partners. At the same time, also like many B2B companies, his firm is feeling the heat from increasing competition, margin squeeze on products, and buying decisions moving higher up in their customers' organizations. The result is a need for higher value solutions that respond more specifically to individual customer needs. Doing this efficiently and effectively means moving past the one-off approach based solely in the field. Instead, marketing needs to guide and support the field in determining top priorities for new offer development, crafting the right value propositions, and routinizing the process with the right stage gates and metrics.
The four engines don't cover every last aspect of B2B marketing, but they come pretty close and they provide a clear framework for building a comprehensive strategy that balances short- and longer-term success. Get each of the engines humming smoothly and results are sure to follow.
What do you think? Am I missing something important? Are all of your engines in good working order?
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Posted at 01:14 PM in Advertising, Campaigns, Creating Demand, Leadership, Marketing, Organization, Relationships, Revenue, Sales, Social Media, Strategy, Thought Leadership | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
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Actually, I think Eloqua's new Content Grid is fabulous: it crams a complex story and a lot of information into an easy to understand infographic on a critical topic for B2B and solutions marketing. Nice job, folks!
My small beef is with the definition of "content marketing" that underlies the grid. Don't get me wrong: I'm a huge proponent of companies and marketing organizations getting much more serious about creating and executing integrated content strategies to support marketing and sales. Indeed, I make a decent part of my living these days helping companies make this happen.
What I don't agree with, though, is the equation of content marketing with inbound marketing. Perhaps I'm nitpicking at a casual line in Eloqua's blog post introducing the Content Grid, which explains the grid as "a simple framework for content -- or 'inbound' -- marketing." But the grid itself reinforces that equation with its presentation of relevant content types. It's all the fun thought leadership and social media stuff. What's missing are the nitty gritty product and service and solution descriptions and related (horror of horrors!) "promotional" material that, at the end of the day, are still necessary to help make the sale regardless of how effective your inbound marketing is.
Yes, inbound marketing is critical, content marketing is critical, and we all need to keep shifting budgets away from the old push promotion stuff that doesn't work toward educational pull materials and conversations with which our customers and prospects might actually engage. It's just that few of us can yet do away with collateral and promotion entirely -- especially when we're selling complex B2B solutions that require extensive purchase consideration, due diligence, and committee decision making.
I'm not sure Eloqua is even arguing that we should eliminate that stuff entirely, but I think it's a mistake to leave that still-important content out of the grid and the definition. If new directors of content marketing (another trend I support enthusiastically) just manage all the inbound stuff, we're likely to fall short in revamping and refreshing the basic product promotion material that still helps to seal our deal. The last thing we want to create is a great system of thought leadership-driven inbound marketing that collapses in the final phase when prospective buyers see disconnected and inconsistent product and service material.
So, two cheers for the Content Grid and the great intent behind it. Now if we can just broaden its scope a bit more.
What do you think? Do you have a content director? If yes, what's the scope of responsibility?
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We all know that social media is increasingly central to how we get our news and information. The main finding in this new report is that Americans use different media for different types of information.
Analyzing a year of data on the top news stories discussed, linked to, and viewed on blogs, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media, the Project found that, "the stories and issues that gain traction in social media differ substantially from those that lead in the mainstream press. But they also differ greatly from each other."
Topically, for example, there is much greater focus on technology-related news with social media. Further, Twitter has emerged as a key source for breaking news. YouTube is more about serendipitous surfing for randomly interesting content. Blogs tend toward more emotional stories and stronger partisan orientations (on all sides).
So what's the B2B marketing connection?
Several months ago, I wrote about Marketing as media: Are you in the top five? My suggestion then was that given the incredible time constraints under which our customers and prospects operate, we need to think about being a "top five" information source. They don't have time to pay attention to much more than that. So you're really competing for attention with sources like The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek along with leading trade publications, blogs, and social networks, regardless of what particular market niche we're in.
I still think this is true, but today's research makes me think more about how you carve out the right position in the broader business media landscape.
Of course you need to focus on the issues where you have expertise and the markets you serve. Of course you need to provide useful and interesting information. Those are table stakes. But beyond that, where do you fit more specifically for your customers? What do they expect from you? Most important, why do they need your information?
This is not a question about using different media channels for different types of information, although that's indeed important. And it's not about which format is best (white papers vs. videos vs. blog posts, etc.). It's really a question of editorial strategy.
I'm not suggesting that it's all or nothing, that you have to pick one thing. But trying to be all things to all customers is not likely a good route to success. Thinking more about the "why us?" question can only help in developing a more effective editorial strategy.
What do you think? What's your editorial strategy?
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An article in MediaWeek on content mills like Demand Media and Seed.com got me thinking about the dangerous lure of cheap content in B2B marketing. The goal of the content mills is to crank out a huge volume of search-oriented content for the web as cheaply as possible and sell advertising against it. Large consumer brands including AT&T, Proctor and Gamble, and General Motors have taken the bait and the model seems to be working. Critics bemoan the implications on multiple levels, including the crowding out of quality editorial and the low wages paid to the freelancers who fill the mills.
The mills themselves are mainly a B2C issue (at least for now!). But the underlying idea of maximizing content with minimum investment is all too common in B2B as well, especially as business marketers scramble to keep up with the accelerating demands of content creation for lead nurturing and social media.
With B2B, the problem is actually two-fold: insufficient investment of time as well as money in the creation of quality content. The money issues are pretty straightforward:
The time issues may be even more pernicious:
The irony of cheap content, of course, is the high cost in damaged reputation and lost opportunities: "Thought leadership" content that is neither thoughtful nor leading; jargon-filled collateral that fails to connect; customer case studies that read like warmed-over brochures. Or, perhaps most common of all, marketing content that is simply ignored by sales before it even has a chance to reach customers and prospects.
Resisting the lure of cheap content is not easy when budgets are tight and time is even tighter. It means taking more time up front to understand customer needs, map out editorial strategy, and think through the true value in each piece of content. It means saying No when colleagues push for sign-off on poorly written and designed drafts. And it may mean sacrificing quantity for quality -- although investing the time to build more compelling Points of View now will actually make it easier to produce both more and better content down the road.
We all know that competition keeps growing, buyer patience keeps shrinking, and the margin for error is almost zero. In this context, can we really afford cheap content?
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