By Bernie Thiel published January 2, 2012

How a Portfolio Approach Can Help You Develop Better B2B Content

Companies that target business buyers rely heavily on the white papers, articles, books, and other documents they publish to position their products or services as effective solutions to those critical business problems their customers face.

But in creating this content, B2B companies often face a common, two-fold dilemma: first, determining which topics they should focus their content development efforts on given limited marketing resources, and second, how to stage those topics over time to keep the content pump primed.

Portfolio Framework

A simple framework like the one below (Figure 1) can help companies create a portfolio of short-, medium- and long-term activities to both focus their content development efforts and fill their publication pipeline. This framework enables marketers to understand what they have to work with: Which ideas should be pursued and published right away, which should be developed over time, and which should be left unpublished. Armed with such insights, B2B marketers can create a content development program that supports demand generation not only for the current quarter, but for well over a year or multiple-year period.

This framework consists of two evaluative axes: The maturity of an issue or topic is on the Y axis, and the depth of expertise the firm has with the issue or topic is on the X axis. By comparing potential topics a company could write about along these two axes, B2B marketers can quickly get a picture of where they should be investing their time and money — and how.

Expose

An emerging issue with which the company has much experience would fall in the lower-right quadrant, or “expose.” An “emerging” issue is one that target buyers are just beginning to address — think the early days of social media, when companies were struggling to understand this new medium and how it would affect their business.

With deep knowledge about an emerging issue, a company should look to capitalize on first-mover status and define the market to its advantage through early, insightful publications that clearly position the firm as the leader. In other words, a company should get its insights to market as quickly as possible to capture business opportunities immediately.

Sustain

A mature topic on which a company is well-versed and deeply experienced would land in the upper-right quadrant, or “sustain.” Here, the guiding principle should be ongoing attention. With plenty of experience to draw on, a company should use a steady flow of new publications on the topic to generate as much revenue from the market before the issue is no longer relevant.

For example, customer relationship management is not a new topic. However, consulting firms and CRM software companies with a long track record in helping organizations implement and use CRM principles and technologies can still provide value by adding their latest insights on the issue to the conversation. Conducting content-rich webinars, publishing in-depth case studies on CRM implementations, and writing a comprehensive book on CRM best practices are some of the ways such firms could draw on their extensive experience to educate prospects and clients.

Cultivate

A topic that’s just beginning to get the market’s attention and is also new to a company would fall in the bottom-left quadrant, or “cultivate.” A company should approach such an issue as a long-term bet. Provided the issue represents attractive growth potential and is not progressing so rapidly that it requires urgent attention — and no other company has already staked a solid claim on the topic — a company can take a measured approach to penetrating that market.

One example could be new governmental regulations set to take effect in a particular industry in, say, five to seven years. In this case, a company has time to develop its point of view on how the regulations will affect the industry and what organizations should do to prepare for them. The return on that investment will come down the road, as the deadline approaches and companies get serious about being in compliance.

Ignore

A mature topic on which an organization has little experience would land in the upper-left quadrant, “ignore.” As the quadrant’s label implies, the company should pay little attention to this topic, because it offers scant return on investment. Because it got a late start in the game and the market essentially has already passed it by, a company likely will find it extremely difficult to create content that can attract the attention of business buyers who have, for years, been using established providers that already meet their needs. Thus, developing such content would be a waste of time and money, not to mention an exercise that could damage the company’s brand image.

When following this framework, marketers should take care to avoid putting most of their eggs in any one of the four baskets. For example, focusing too much on the short-term basket can meet immediate market needs but fail to position a company on critical emerging issues that offer significant potential growth. Conversely, emphasizing the medium- and long-term baskets can establish a company’s competency in an up-and-coming market but compromise the ability to capitalize on current opportunities. Short-term ideas must be marketed to keep the inquiry pipeline full while the bigger bets have time to develop.

And whatever the mix, the ideal portfolio must align tightly with the company’s targeted growth areas. In other words, marketers should avoid producing content on topics that are of little strategic concern to the company. This can be a challenge in professional services companies, where a consultant, for instance, may want to produce a white paper or article that boosts his own image but covers a topic that has little relevance to his firm’s business. Such vanity projects waste time and money and dilute a company’s market position.

As the competition for buyers’ attention becomes more intense, a B2B provider that produces great content stands out from the crowd. A portfolio approach can help B2B companies create content that is more relevant to buyers and that positions the company as the provider best suited to solve buyers’ business problems. And it can enable marketers to keep the pipeline full of compelling content when it is needed to help the company capitalize on short-, medium- and long-term growth opportunities.

Author: Bernie Thiel

Bernie Thiel is a partner with Alterra Group, a thought leadership marketing firm in Cleveland. In his consulting role, he helps professional services firms develop compelling, high-quality marketing content, including white papers, books, case studies, bylined articles and research reports. His clients include global and boutique management consulting companies, as well as major IT services and solutions providers.

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  • Brett Danforth

    Bernie, this is a nice added dimension to the traditional “editorial calendar” type content marketing planning. 

    • Bthiel

      Thanks, Brett. Much appreciated.

      Bernie

  • http://www.showyourexpertise.com Carl Friesen

    A good application of the four-part matrix pioneered by the Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s. While BCG guru Bruce Henderson seemed to assume that the world was constant, Bernie assumes motion on his vertical axis, and I like his view better.  Because we do live in a world in motion, it’s important to revisit the four boxes frequently to see if anything’s changed. For example, some companies might want to put CRM into their “ignore” box because of the technology’s maturity. However, the advent of cloud solutions and of highly-resourced hackers pose new opportunities and new threats, perhaps moving CRM for this company into “expose” or “cultivate.”

  • http://twitter.com/dougkessler dougkessler

    Great Matrix!
    I do think content portfolio marketing will be the emerging critical skill and this approach is a great contribution.

  • Bthiel

    Doug and Carl, thanks for your feedback as well.  I’m glad you’ve found the piece useful.

    Bernie

  • http://www.b12leads.com/ Duncan

    Much better approach than a traditional editorial calendar – very useful and something we will add to our mix

    • Bthiel

      Duncan, thank you.  I’d love to hear back from you how it works after you’ve used it.

      Bernie

  • J Geibel

    A useful source for content ideas (and quadrant velocity) is the sales force, especially if the goal is to support revenue. Too often, marketing gets disconnected from sales – and marketing’s view of those four quadrants would be very different than the sales force. Hence the marketing content doesn’t get used in the sales process. For those who might want to explore that, I wrote an article called the Sales Autopsy[sm] which outlines the sales-driven content development process – http://www.geibelmarketing.com/autopsy.htm

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