Building Content Marketing StrategyBy Gerardo Dada

As we look back on 2012, I think the award for biggest buzzword for the year should go to Content Marketing. Not that it is not useful or powerful, on the contrary. However, I think the term has been overused and misunderstood. Plus, content marketing has been around for a long time, especially in B2B high-tech marketing.

In this post I’ll cover why content marketing is so important today and I will provide some practical advice about how to be good at content marketing.

The new buying process

The way customers buy today is very different from how they made purchase decisions 15 years ago, of course. The most important difference is that today customers do most of their buying research on their own, with many sources of information, often in real time. By the time a customer reaches out so a sales person their purchase decision is almost 60% complete, often having already made their mind about what they will buy.

If you were interested in buying a car 15 years ago, you most probably walked into a dealership to learn about the car from the sales person, get a few brochures and take a test drive. Today you probably visit a few car review sites, like Edmunds.com or MSN Autos, check safety and reliability ratings, look at resale value in KBB.com, and then ask a few friends on Facebook.  B2B customers today use an average of 7.6 sources through the purchase funnel  according to Peter Burris from Forrester. (how’s that for an attribution challenge)

In short, customers are more informed, they find information on their own and they mainly use the internet for research. By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, customers hate marketing, they don’t trust the emails we send or the marketingspeak we write on brochures and other materials.

We have evolved from living in an information economy where knowledge is power to  time where information is a commodity. Arguably, Starbucks and the iPhone started the experience economy where UX and UI is power. But that even is giving way to a relationship economy where trust is power. Trust in your values, your ethics, your skills and experience, your ability to deliver, your track record.

10 Steps to a Building a Successful Content Marketing Strategy

  1. Become an Expert. You want customers to listen to you? You want to be a thought leader? Then be an expert at something. You can’t just hire a writer and task him with writing 20 pieces of content. (You can, but it will not work in the long run.). This is not easy or fast, but is a crucial element of content marketing. Be the best at something, then write about it.
  2. Be Helpful – In this age of commodities, people buy from who they trust. Writing educational, helpful content can be useful in building trust. It can also be used to prove your expertise – or ‘thought leadership’ in content marketing lingo.
  3. Step in your customer’s shoes. To help customers, you can’t write about your products. You must write from the customer’s point of view. They don’t care about your products or your features. Make it about the customer, not about you. If you write about your company and your products, then it’s a brochure, not content marketing. Start with the customer’s context, explore their problems and how they can solve them.
  4. Express your values – As Simon Sinek explains brilliantly in this video, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Your content should reflect your values and should express your point of view, what you and your company stand for. You don’t always have to be right. Sometimes it is more important to be different and to embrace values that your customers share.
  5. Make it interesting – Be controversial, explore ways to fascinate customers, be entertaining, provide practical advice.   Use graphics, charts and video. Infographics are easy to consume, but customers will read long articles and white papers as long as they are interesting and helpful.
  6. Be personal. People don’t connect with brand, they connect with other people. A content strategy and a social strategy can work together make personal connections between the people that make your company and your customers. Social media can be used to turn a B2B transaction into a P2P relationship.
  7. Think like a publisher. This means you probably have to start a content calendar, hire an editor-in-chief, build an editorial process and set up an editorial board. This is the new marketing: it’s more about educating than broadcasting.
  8. Go multi-format. Maximize your content: Create good content and turn it into a white paper, then take chunks and make them blog posts. Why not then create a few slides and create a slideshare presentation or a slidecast. A YouTube video and a podcast is not to far out. Tweet about all of it. All content is cross linked and posted on your website. But also on social sites, as long as you do it the right way.
  9. Optimize for SEO Juice. A smart marketer knows his customers and knows what problems they are trying to solve, and what keywords they use in search engines to find the answers. Take advantage of this knowledge when writing content. You don’t have to be an SEO expert, just find someone who is an SEO expert and get some advice.
  10. Make it a priority. Content marketing, like social media, are important marketing activities. They can’t be relegated to ‘whenever you have time’ because we never have extra time. It must be part of the job description or the full time job for someone. If it is important it should be a priority.

Making it all work together

In 2009 most companies where trying to figure out where to start with social media. At the time I was working for the leading content management platform which also sold social media tools. We took this customer need for guidance as an opportunity.

We had good ideas, smart people and a point of view. But we needed credible, interesting data to back it up. So I approached the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) and offered them a partnership: we would work together researching marketing members and then I will do a webinar explaining the results.

I wrote a questionnaire, CEB sent it to their members, we got a couple hundred responses. We had now interesting, statistically-valid insights coming from marketing leaders at large companies.

The webinar was the most successful CEB had ever had in terms of attendance and feedback. I posted the slides on slideshare, where they have been seen over 8,000 times. Derivative presentations have been viewed thousands of times as well. Some of the slides where the basis for my Web 2.0 presentation that same year which was packed.

At the end of the presentation I offered a link to a white paper and a link to register for a free copy of the book Citizen Marketers by Jackie Huba. The marketing team was nervous about posting content online without registration, I had some convincing to do. Some of the stats we produced were later used by Erik Qualman in his super-popular Socialnomics video.

At the end, we were able to reach tens of thousands of customers in a way that positioned us as experts in our field, we helped customers understand social media and get started, and they appreciated. The company had more leads than it can deal with.

You know what? It’s fun and rewarding. So get started with your content strategy. I hope you find this advice helpful.

Bio – Gerardo A. Dada is an experienced technology marketer with over 15 years of driving business strategy and product marketing for leading technology companies including Rackspace, Bazaarvoice and Vignette/OpenText. Before that he was Director for worldwide developer marketing and community at Microsoft and led mobile developer programs and tools marketing at Motorola. His passion is in Product Marketing, online strategies and social media. Gerardo is the author of the blog www.theAdaptiveMarketer.com and is on twitter at @gerardodada

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Head of Strategy for the leading content marketing platform, NewsCred. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

16 Comments

  1. Ray Horan said…

    Solid advice Gerardo. My new year’s resolution is to have our Editorial Calendar planned out at least a month in advance, focused on our customers’ information needs.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      That’s a great idea Ray. I’m hoping to have any editorial calendar! I usually let inspiration strike me but then I stress. The stress helps me to focus. It’s a vicious cycle.

  2. Gina Balarin said…

    Thanks for the helpful, credible and interesting post, Michael. I must confess that I find the word “strategy” a bit daunting. It implies overarching, organisation-wide, visionary insight. But these suggestions seem both practical and surprisingly achievable. Has the definition of strategy mellowed over the years or have I just been imbuing it with connotations of grandeur?

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Great point Gina, I don’t think the word “strategy” has become, well, less strategic. I think the fact is that content is a major asset / expense within any company. And it requires a strategy to effectively deploy those resources for the greatest business benefit. How about that for a load of crap. Too early in 2013? ;-)

  3. One of the things I have always found, with the abundance of information out there on content marketing, is that people find it daunting to implement all of that.

    My biggest addition to this post would be is not to jump into content marketing without a descent idea on what you want to achieve with it. Because creating content without understanding what it should do is useless. It just becomes more noise. The content you build must be build on the business issues and questions of your customers, and must be good enough that people want to respond to it.

    Responding can be :
    – know more, by clicking to more content
    – subscribe to more
    – contact you
    – react with a question
    – share it.

    Next to that, the second biggest thing is to have a plan on how you want to introduce this in your company. Start embryonic, and expand from there, of have it started with a number of key influencers in your company that create content in a structured manner, based on the content needs of your buyers.

    The last addition to this post is: study. And study hard. This is a domain in which you can gain tremendous value for your business, as long as you learn what this is all about. The devil can be in the details, but once you know them, it becomes much easier.

    Thanks for this great post !

    Warm regards,

    Tom De Baere

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Tom and great points. Gina just posed the same concern.

      And I think you are absolutely right. As Joe Pulizzi always says “you have to define your content marketing mission first.”

  4. Jacalyn Holsted said…

    The area of content marketing is crucial. It is easy to get caught up in the tactical plan and online media avenues like Facebook, Instagram, Tadaa, Twitter etc. But defining clearly relevant and current content in the right context to the right audience in the right medium is key. It takes planning, research and thinking time to really define this area. And, I am all for writing this in a plan form, manuscript or slides, or whatever your company accepts. Communicating in written form makes everyone focus on what is being said and also understand to a point where everyone (as much as possible) can be on the same page.

  5. Gerardo A Dada said…

    Ray & Gina, thanks for your comments.

    Tom, I agree with most of your comments, thank you.

    In the first pararaphs I tried to establish the idea that content’s main objective should be to influence buying decisions through customer education. You suggest some very valuable metrics and leading indicators – they should be part of every content marketing plan.

    Your second point is very valid. Although I must say in some cases you may wanto to go big from the beginning, anthough it could be harder. Thinking thorugh what is the right approach is absolutely important.

    With ‘study hard’ I wonder if we mean the same thing I was trying to say in point number 1 ‘be an expert’. Which is really about studying hard to become an expert, so that your content is valuable.

    Thanks again,

    Gerardo

  6. Ben Austin said…

    @Gerardo: Some great ideas here. Reaching out to industry bloggers by mentioning them in your business blogs has often worked for me. It’s a “pay it forward model”, if you talk about them first, they may notice you.

    I think ‘make it interesting’ would be my favorite point in this post. If you really ‘know’ your industry, you can make your content interesting. No-one would bother to read a huge report or a boring blog post unless they are doing their Phd. in the subject. That’s why infographics became so popular last year; they presented complex data and information in easy-to-understand visual format.

  7. Alex Dumpfree said…

    Thank you Michael, this is a super rich article for me. It offered more guidance on value contents making. I really love the #5. Uniqueness attracts. Great post!

  8. Krisz Rokk said…

    Thank you for sharing your valuable insights Gerardo. I love the way you started this blog post – changes in customer buying behavior combined with data from the Harvard Business Review.

    Being and acting like an Expert is where it all starts. You cannot become an expert over night and I’m very glad you mentioned this in your first point. It’s something that takes time and effort.

  9. Kari said…

    Really liked what you had to say in your post, Building Content Marketing Strategy – 10 Steps | B2B Marketing Insider, thanks for the good read!
    — Kari

  10. Ellie Jane said…

    The biggest problem is about not knowing your audience and at the same time trying to be direct with them in terms of communication. We have to understand that there is a gap between B2B and H2H (Human to Human), and that is P2P (Person to Person).

    Emotional side of things have to be taken into account, and that way your sales copy up till your marketing & sales strategy will have more oomph without neglecting the social side of business.

    All of these guidelines in your post makes sense, Gerardo’s comments as well – Great one. Thanks.

Leave a Comment