“Because you can’t eat brand equity, and can’t pay a team with it” – Laura Hanly, Digital Marketing Expert and Author, “Content That Converts: How to Create a Profitable and Predictable B2B Content Marketing Strategy”
When done correctly, content marketing can serve as a powerful arm to your overall marketing strategy – it establishes you as an authority and has the potential to increase your revenue and profit. That’s why CMOs at the largest technology companies report that building out content marketing as an organizational competency is the second most important initiative, only behind measuring ROI.
For those still wrapping their head around the concept, according to Forrester:
“Content marketing is a strategy where brands create interest, relevance, and relationships with customers by producing, curating, and sharing content that addresses specific customer needs and delivers visible value.”
The challenge is figuring out how to do it right. As author Laura Hanly explains in her book, “Content That Converts: How to Create a Profitable and Predictable B2B Content Marketing Strategy,” content is not a magic bullet.
Content marketing will not:
- Turn you into an internet celebrity (at least not overnight)
- Make you rich beyond your wildest dreams
And when done poorly, can:
- Harm your brand
- Put off potential customers
- Never pay off (resulting in wasted time and resources)
Hanly stresses the importance of having a consistent strategy for the content that you’re producing, so that your audience is engaged, comes to know and respect you as an authority, and will buy from you when the time is right (because the ultimate goal is sales, isn’t it?) Every single piece of content needs to end with a call to action that can lead to a sale.
Some questions to ask yourself and your team before committing to a content marketing strategy include:
- What is the purpose of our content marketing?
- Who are we trying to reach?
- What types of content should we produce?
- Do we have someone who can produce the content?
- Do we have good ideas about what our content would be focused on?
- Is our market segment interested in consuming that kind of content?
- How will we measure our success?
There are two main types of content you can use: recurring content, which builds a customer base gradually over time, and content assets (such as a whitepaper, a book, a webinar series or a learning workshop) that can be used as near-term client acquisition tools. Before choosing the route that’s best for your business, there are four things to ask yourself (what Hanly calls the Conversion Quadrant):
What’s the intersection between what your customers want and/or need?
Figure out what your customers really care about. What do they look to your company for insight about? How can your expertise intersect with what your customer wants and needs?
What do you want to be known as an industry authority for?
The simplest way to become an authority on something is to say the same things about that topic over and over again. Don’t just chase the latest trend – find the one thing you can focus on becoming known for that will make it easier to develop, market and sell products that your audience will buy again and again.
What is the format in which you produce your best content?
While most people think that its best to tailor your content to audience preferences, Hanly recommends choosing the format that you most enjoy working in – because if you like it, you’ll enjoy creating it, and your audience will like it too.
What’s your quarterly plan?
Mapping out your content helps you to be strategic about your production. This should include:
- A clear statement of your “one thing” your company will be an authority on
- Four themes you want to rotate through
- Three topics per theme, including key points on each
- Headlines for each topic
- Scheduled date of publication for each topic
Whichever path you decide to take with your content, if you don’t have the resources or bandwidth to do it right – if it feels like a chore every time you go to write – STOP. This will only result in an inconsistent content cycle with content that feels forced, uninspiring and unlikely to resonate with your audience.
The powerful thing about content marketing is that your assets increase in value over time. Whether it’s a blog, a book, a podcast or a whitepaper – you can always update later to improve it, modify key messages and share it with new audiences to see greater returns on early investments of your time and resources.
Remember – every piece of content you put out under your brand needs to be the best possible representation of who you are. Most prospects will have their first interaction with your brand through your content and just like in dating, you get one chance to make a good first impression.
By: Colleen Martin
The last five years have seen a marked changed in the way content is generated online. Instead of relying on a newsroom staffed with journalists, online media platforms are trading on their infinite column length of free content from outside sources. What was first a cost-cutting measure is now a potential money maker has the views generated help bolster advertising revenues at a fraction of the cost of internal writers and editors.
This change has given individuals the ability to publish their work alongside journalists with only small cues to differentiate them to the reader (e.g. Crunch Network on TechCrunch or being labeled Contributor on Forbes instead of Forbes Staff). Becoming a contributor can build personal brands for an executive, but often times the company’s presence is reduced to a line in the author bio.
In parallel, the value of the company internal blog is diminished (setting aside the SEO and long-term thought leadership benefits). There is more reach to be had in writing content for an external platform with vastly greater views and social media presence than a company blog where it can be hard to break out beyond an existing bubble.
In addition to contributing content to online publications, the rise of Medium and LinkedIn Pulse adds another channel for companies and individuals to share their story. These platforms facilitate sharing and “following,” which makes them a stronger blend of social media and publishing than other “unconnected” platforms.
In spite of these new ways to publish content and drive reach, earned media generated by public relations holds onto its value for three key reasons:
While Americans have flagging trust in mass media, the outlets and topics relevant to B2B companies, especially in the technology space, still hold relevancy. If a journalist or blogger who is a respected subject-matter expert writes a positive piece on a company or product, it provides outside validation that cannot be matched by a self-written or self-published article.
Visibility can be twofold when talking about media coverage. First is the impact in the search engines. According to Google, 89% of all B2B buying researchers use the internet as part of their process. Odds are, the weight assigned to a media site by Google outranks most corporate sites, so if a media article hits a powerful keyword phrase that reaches buyers, it creates a new indirect path to a company.
Second is the audience of the publication and writer in terms of daily readers and social media followers. Anecdotally, editorial pieces often receive better placement on websites and more attention on social media. This varies from site to site, but typically when time, effort and cost have been placed into a story, the media promotes it at a higher volume.
Surprisingly, when comparing editorial coverage to self-generated content, companies can see more of their message come across in the pieces they don’t write. That’s because when contributing content, pieces must remain vendor-neutral, and when self-publishing on a blog or social publishing platform, it’s poor form to drop in self-serving superlatives to thought leadership content.
Yet in media coverage, when executives are interviewed for a story, their words are often printed verbatim and can be reinforced by the writer. One company’s talking points can become anchors of a trend story or industry roundup that has broader appeal than a single company profile.
Content marketing has its place in the quiver for B2B companies looking to drive leads, engage audiences and build brands. However, to truly hit the bullseye, classic PR and media relations efforts must remain a constant and core part of the communications strategy.
By: Bob Minkus