content marketing strategyThe media habits of today’s B2B buyer have changed dramatically in just the past few years, and yet B2B Marketing departments are struggling to keep up. Pull back the covers of most B2B Marketing plans and you’ll find a significant amount of outbound activity working harder and harder to achieve decreasing results.

Today’s buyers are clearly in charge. They are responding at rapidly decreasing rates to marketing messages and consuming more and more content on their own terms. They want content created for their needs. And they want it when they want it, delivered in newer, more and different platforms than anyone could have ever imagined.

All this is putting a strain on existing marketing organizations who are setup to support more traditional outbound campaign tactics. These are the very activities that are experiencing falling response rates, contact rates and open rates.

What can save marketing? For many organizations, the answer lies in a content strategy…

Why Do We Need Content Strategy?

No matter what business you are in, buyers are constantly seeking information to either grow their revenue, reduce their costs or eliminate risks. They are not waiting for just the right campaign to come along and solve all their problems with “an offer they can’t refuse.”

A content strategy flips the tables on traditional, linear marketing by defining the process and then securing the right resources for producing a consistent stream of content mapped to buyer needs across all phases of the buying cycle. This is done for each buyer type or “buyer persona” that is involved in the B2B decision-making process.

It starts with what Tony Zambito (@TonyZambito), calls understanding buyers in today’s social world. And then defines the distribution of content to all the channels where today’s buyers are interacting.

The main goal is to drive deeper customer engagement, and to do so earlier in the buying process. In a flash of unique creativity and perspective, Eric Wittlake (@wittlake) recently referred to this as “Stage Zero” content.

(Still wondering if you need a content strategy, check out Barbra Gago‘s 5 compelling reasons why you need one today.)

The biggest challenge in Content Strategy?

As Pam Didner (@pdidner) from Intel recently told B2B Magazine, the main challenge is not in creating the content but is in “the mentality shift in the marketing organization. Marketing execs are always in the mindset of selling products; but, in a way, we need to think and act like magazine editors.” In other words, we need to avoid the biggest mistake B2B marketers make and put our customers first.

In the same article, Mark Wilson, senior VP-corporate marketing and field marketing at Sybase said “I think marketers are being forced to think like publishers. Social media is forcing marketers to create more content in order to participate in conversations and drive conversations.” (Disclosure: Sybase is a subsidiary of my employer SAP.)

In other words, we need to create compelling stories that resonate with each of our customers. We need to solve their biggest pain points, problems and challenges. And our organizations need to change, in some cases drastically, to reflect this growing market need.

How To Get Started In Content Strategy?

  1. It starts by educating and evangelizing the need across our business to become customer-first marketers and employees. As SAP’s own Marcus Starke (@marstarke) said in a recent blog, “today every employee is in media.”
  2. Next, we need to hire and empower a leader of Content Strategy. Here is a Chief Content Officer job description from the founder of Junta42 and the Content Marketing Institute‘s Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe). It might list the ideal state but acts as a helpful starting point for any organization just getting started.
  3. Next, we need to define the vision for content strategy. Luckily, Joe Chernov (@jchernov), VP of Content Marketing at Eloqua and partner JESS3 have already produced the Content Grid infographic that neatly outlines what Joe calls the three main components of content types, channels and objectives.
  4. I think it’s also a good idea to see what others are doing with content strategy to get inspired. These 13 examples from Michele Linn (@michelelinn) is a good start.
  5. Ready to get practical? Barbra Gago (@BarbraGago) shared these content marketing templates for mapping B2B content to buyer needs, conducting a content audit, defining personas and how to build out your own content matrix.
  6. And finally, just about anything from B2B Marketing Strategist Ardath Albee (@ardath421) can help but her latest post on the importance of Creating Content With Context is an insightful reminder that we need to understand why we are producing content and where it gets distributed as we build our content strategy.

I believe that a continued and relentless emphasis on meeting customer needs through an effective content marketing strategy can help save marketing from declining response rates, unsatisfied customers and disenfranchised employees.

But now it’s your turn. What do you think?

I would be honored if you follow along on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog.

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

25 Comments

  1. Carmen Hill said…

    Michael, I LOVE this post (disclaimer: preaching to the choir)! You summed up the case for customer-centric content strategy in a very concise and compelling way with links to some excellent resources–truly a who’s who of smart content marketing minds. I have Eloqua’s Content Grid taped above my desk for easy reference and am excited to check out @BarbaraGago’s templates. Clipping for my keeper file…

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Wow Carmen, I so rarely ever get an all caps “LOVE”. In fact you might be the first! So for that I am forever grateful! And of course I am really thrilled that you found the information helpful. Barbra has lots of great information. Her posts on CMI as well as her blog are really worth following. Thanks again and have a great day!

      Best, Michael

  2. Tony Zambito said…

    Hi Michael,

    Another excellent article. Thank you for the mention. It does all start with understanding the new social buyer persona in the social age. Whereby developing a sound content strategy to meet the needs and goals of the social buyer become a necessary component of marketing today.

    Thanks!
    Tony

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Tony,

      You know I’m one of your biggest fans ;-) for spreading the good word on the need to understand the new social buyer. I think this is so important so we can help drive the transformation our companies need to become truly enaged and engaging social businesses. So please keep sharing your excellent tips!

      Best, Michael

  3. Jeff Ogden said…

    Great article, Michael. And a terrific job of aggregating content from top minds like Barbra Gago, Joe Pulizzi and Ardath Albee.

    I believe the key to great content starts with buyer persons. Unless you deeply understand your buyers, you will not know how to talk them in an engaging manner.

    Jeff Ogden, Find New Customers
    http://www.findnewcustomers.com

  4. Eric Wittlake said…

    Michael, wow, thanks for the kind words about my Stage Zero Content post, I really appreciate it. There are a few new articles and sources you list here I will definitely check out.

    You make a great case here. Reading this, what strikes me is how far ahead B2B is when it comes to content marketing, and more importantly really delivering value through marketing. Yes, we have a long ways to go, but B2C, with a few exceptions, is just getting started.

    From yesterday’s reading, I think this helps illustrate some of the differences, and is worth a read with a B2B eye: Digital ads need to get more creative to win market share: Yahoo EVP

    – @wittlake

  5. kenny said…

    Great stuff as usual.

    Here is a great discussion from IT buyers and their thoughts on banner ads and social media engagement.

    http://community.spiceworks.com/topic/135352-let-s-talk-about-banner-ads

    I do think content marketing is a great approach but i do fear B2B IT Marketers are focusing on creating content instead of the buyer.

    I have seen several examples over the last week of IT buyers complaining they wanted to purchase a product/solution from X IT vendor and NO ONE is getting back to them.

    One may have a beautiful video, ad agency designed website but if your not getting back to people who want to buy your stuff what’s the point.?

  6. Eric Wittlake said…

    Kenny, that’s a great point. The reason content marketing is important is because it meets an audience need. When the focus shifts from serving the audience, overall, to producing and sharing content, we have forgotten that it is only one piece of a much larger pie.

    Great point all marketers should strive to remember.

    – @wittlake

    • Michael Brenner said…

      @Eric: Thanks again. I think you make an interesting point on B2C. While I agree B2B may be ahead in our view of traditional value-added content, I think B2C is well ahead in the understanding that there is a great desire by our customers to be entertained with content. So i think we could learn from each other.

      @Kenny: I think that great content’s sole purpose is the focus on the buyer and this mind shift is what is most needed for that to happen. But I agree it’s important to remember that responding directly to customer inquiries is the lowest hangng fruit!

  7. Cindy Lavoie said…

    Your article is a terrific example of Content Curation — doing the research and providing generous links to a valuable collection of posts on a key topic. You demonstrate that individual bloggers don’t need to write entirely original content — aggregating content from others provides great value to a well-targeted audience.

    Thanks for all the valuable links and for packaging it up so well!

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks Cindy, I also made some great connections in researching the article from a number of the folks mentioned. So hopefully everybody wins. Thanks for the support and encouragement! Best, Michael

  8. Matt James said…

    Great post. Too many b2b marketers focus on the vehicles for distributing content (email, social media, search) and disregard the importance of the content itself. Its a drum that I bang constantly with clients. I also wrote a blog post about it recently: http://bit.ly/kEggQx

    • Michael Brenner said…

      That’s right Matt. I think classic IMC started as a way to focus on customers and manage multi-channel marketing that is traditionally silo’d in many companies. So that is a good objective. But in today’s handheld-driven and social-connected world, content is becoming just as if not more important.

  9. b2b said…

    This is the future; this is the realization of the internet as a powerful force. You ignore your B2B on line presence at your own peril. The winners are the folks running HARD right now

  10. John said…

    Great article. B2B is a growing industry however if these companies don’t properly align their strategy with growing trends and most importantly their customers needs then these companies won’t be here to stay.

  11. Erin said…

    Great article. The biggest problem is that marketing departments aren’t evolving enough to understand the intensive need for content management. I’ve got the skills and the experience — but the jobs are still scarce.

    It seems they would rather invest in PPC and eNews marketing (yuck!)

  12. Chris Clarke said…

    Michael-

    I read this post with a big smile on my face because it’s always great to know that one’s own semi-addled thoughts on integrated marketing and content strategy, that get often get scribbled hastily and privately on a white board in my office, are shared by so many.

    Creating an audience intelligence discipline and several buyer’s journey projects to guide content development discipline was our first step but I now see that morphing into social intelligence as we better understand the evolving social dynamic of our customer interaction model. And to pick up on what Marcus Starke has said, there’s no better place to start than with our own employees not only as a medium and multiplier but also as an input source.

    Great stuff. Thanks for sharing

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Hi Chris,

      You got it quite right! I think in it’s simplest form, a Content Strategy is about having the content people want in their buyer journey and in the places where they look for it. With the right content in the right places, you can achieve the inbound links into the marketing funnel as well as an improved customer experience. This forces the company to think less like a marketer and more like a publisher. The customer wins. The company wins. And “marketing” takes on a larger meaning for the organization.

      Thanks for the support!

  13. RMSorg said…

    I have to say I agree 100% with Carmen!! I found this blog inspiring and so full of insightful content and resources! Will definitely follow Barbara Gago from now on!

    Thanks Michael!

    RMSorg
    WallStreetBranding

  14. John Rose said…

    First and foremost. GREAT/AMAZING article! Thank you for the resource links and comments from some industry experts. But here is my issue; why is this all mind blowing stuff? What happened to “The customer is always right”? Doesn’t that mean that you should always cater to the customer? Now granted, i got to marketing/advertising party late. Gone the days of no spam filters, banners were awesome, link farms were the norm, and AOL was king. You could get anyone to click, open, and sign up for ANYTHING. But I remember one day I saw a landing page. It was a new thing. I got this link via an email. I saw and recognized the rabbit hole and said I could do it better. I will focus on the customer and what they need. Personable content. It was a natural though process. Why are people needing this kick in the pants if that’s the way marketing and advertisement is SUPPOSED to be. When did we lose our touch? I’ll tell ya when; when we let a guy with an MBA in the finance department dictate what marketing does.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Thanks John. I am so with you. I was on a panel recently about how to create the customer-centric organization. I had to say out loud that the question itself is ironic. Our businesses exist to serve customers. We would not exist if we didn’t. So how is it even a question. And yet, here we are!

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