By Kevin Cain published October 30, 2013

6 Key Elements of an Effective B2B Content Marketing Strategy

hand pointing to core behaviorsAs great as it is to see so many B2B companies jumping onto the content marketing bandwagon, the reality is that many of them will struggle to drive meaningful business results. Why? Because they often overlook a simple reality: To create and deliver content that attracts and retains customers, a haphazard approach just won’t cut it. You need a strategic framework for conceptualizing, designing, and scaling your efforts.

While developing an effective content marketing strategy isn’t easy, becoming familiar with its core components is the first step for moving in the right direction.

At OpenView, for example, we have built our content marketing strategy around six key elements:

1. Well-defined targets

The key to effective content marketing is to be sharply focused. It’s virtually impossible to successfully market to everyone all at once, so instead you may find it easier if you concentrate your efforts where you think you can move the needle most.

Start by focusing your content efforts on just one customer segment at a time — the segment that includes your best customer. This customer should then serve as the model for your target buyer persona.

make best current customer target

2. A deep contextual understanding

Regardless of who your target buyers are, it’s going to be virtually impossible to create content that resonates with them until you understand the unique context of their situation. In addition to knowing who your buyers are, you need to understand what they care about and what their path to making a purchase looks like. You also need to get your head around which points throughout their buyer journey you need to influence to drive conversions and move them through the sales funnel.

To create content that will resonate with your buyers, you first need to learn:

  • Their motivations, pain points, and role in the buying process
  • Where along their buyer journey they are most likely to get stuck
  • What assistance and information you can provide to help get them unstuck and propel them forward

One of the best ways to develop that understanding is by creating buyer personas and taking the time to analyze and understand the buyer journey. It also never hurts to reach out to your target audience directly — interviewing and surveying its members to get a better understanding of their individual concerns. The information you gather can then be used to inform your persona development efforts and give them more context.

3. Clear conversion goals

Once you understand who your target buyers are, what they care about, and the steps they take along their buyer journey, it’s time to figure out what actions you want them to take as result of consuming your content.

Each of those actions is a conversion. As your ultimate marketing goal is to convert your target buyers into paying customers, your content strategy should be centered around a set of smaller conversion goals that will collectively help propel them through the buyer’s journey. In addition to leading prospects toward your desired destination, these smaller goals also serve as benchmarks that can help you track and measure the performance of your content along the way.

When setting your conversion goals, make sure that each is appropriate for the stage of the buyer journey you are targeting. For example, top of the funnel conversion goals might include opening an email or visiting your website, while later in the buyer journey you may want to encourage prospects to download a report or sign up for a free trial.

4. Appropriate points of contact

Another important aspect of content marketing strategy is deciding how you are going to initiate conversations with your target buyers, and get them to be receptive to receiving your content offerings. For example, you can choose to contact them directly through emails, phone calls, text messages, or tweets. Alternately, they might make the first move by reaching out after discovering your business through search engine queries, online forums, or advertisements. Another option is to arrange for prospects to be contacted by third parties — such as their fellow consumers, friends, colleagues, or industry analysts — on your behalf.

When deciding which options to pursue as part of your content marketing strategy, keep these tips in mind:

  • Always consider your buyer and their context when selecting a method of contact.
  • Your method of contact must be effective enough to drive whatever conversion goals you have set.
  • Less expensive forms of contact are often better than more expensive ones.
  • Because your target’s preferred media channels, formats, and communication styles may vary widely, plan on utilizing multiple vehicles, programs, and points of contact in your outreach efforts.
  • The less work you have to do to make contact, the better.

Finding the right ways to make contact with your target buyers is just as important as creating content that reflects your understanding of them.

5. A process for alignment

The next step in developing your content marketing strategy is to figure out how to pull it all together — i.e., how to align your contextual understanding of your buyers and their journey with your conversion goals, the points of contact you are going to use to deliver your content, and the actual content you are going to create. The best way to do that is by creating a matrix that will help you keep track of all these moving parts, such as the one shown below:

matrix for buyers and their journeys

Doing so creates a strategic framework for designing and executing the kinds of campaigns that successfully drive conversions and result in real business impact.

6. The ability to scale

The last major point to consider when developing a content strategy is how to tackle one of the biggest challenges many B2B content marketers say that they face: producing enough content to satisfy their buyers’ appetite. The best way to do so is by building a plan for repurposing, repackaging, and recycling the content you create for ongoing use. Here are three approaches to consider:

  • Repurpose the big stuff: The true value of a large piece of content isn’t just the asset itself, but also all of the smaller pieces of content that you can turn it into. For example, consider repurposing long-form content like eBooks, white papers, and reports into shorter content formats, like articles and blog posts.
  • Repackage the small stuff: The same principle can also be applied in reverse. If your company produces a lot of short-form content, take inventory of it and look for common themes. You may find opportunities to combine those smaller pieces of content into a larger resource.
  • Recycle the evergreen stuff: When you create something remarkable that your audience truly values and shares, don’t stop there. Turn it into a series of evergreen content that can be updated and recycled (i.e., republished) on a regular basis.

If your content marketing strategy contains these six elements, you will be in a much better position to start creating real business value.

Looking for additional insight on creating an effective content marketing strategy? Check out what the experts had to say on the topic at Content Marketing World 2013. Access to a wide range of presentations is still available through our Video on Demand portal.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Kevin Cain

Kevin Cain is a content and communications strategist based in Sydney, Australia, and has more than a decade or experience working in the financial services and consulting industries and helping expansion-stage software companies develop their content strategies. To learn more, follow him on Twitter @kevinrcain or check out his blog on language, content, communication and strategy.

Other posts by Kevin Cain

  • http://www.decisionaire.com/ Jeff Mason

    Nice post! I completely agree with the need to understand prospects and create content that specifically resonates with them – as individuals. The challenge for many is how to do this. This blog discusses the dilemma many businesses face with creating personalized content for the masses http://tinyurl.com/kxkedbm

  • amandabatista

    Great insights here. Solid progression of strategic measures. Without process, the best content is DOA! Thanks for this :)

    • kevincain

      I’m glad you liked the post! I’d make the argument that you need to think of building your content marketing program like building a (content) factory. It requires a plan, the right tools and processes, and disciplined execution. Some people balk at the idea of a content factory, but that’s because they equate it with mass production rather than precision, organization, and structure.

  • Sarah Bauer

    Spot-on. I like to consider the persona-developing phase of the content marketing strategy a collaborative opportunity (when possible) for the company’s customer service reps, designers and content creators to come together, share what they know, and develop a streamlined understanding of the target.

    Cheers,
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  • http://www.globalcopywriting.com/ globalcopywrite

    Hi Kevin,

    I really like what you’re saying about conversion here – that every action is a conversion but the real goal is to convert your target audience into paying customers. It’s an area where content marketers, and B2B businesses often lose site. Individual content shouldn’t bear the burden increased sales but the entire strategy had better do more than create a lot of fans, followers and clicks.

    • kevincain

      Thanks for the comment and for checking out my post, Sarah. I think people need to take a holistic view when creating their content strategy and figure out how a series of little conversions can ultimately lead to something much bigger. No one blog post or article is going to win the day, but collectively a bunch of them might. We talk a lot about this in OpenView’s new eBook on content marketing, which is available here if you haven’t seen it yet:

      http://labs.openviewpartners.com/ebook/content-factory/

  • http://blog.wishpond.com/ Adella @ Wishpond

    Hi Kevin. Great article! To maximize content productivity, marketers need a content calendar, which schedules and plans everything about content such as headlines, types, target audience, the due date, each team member’s role, keywords, channels, etc. For myself, I’m using Buffer to plan out our calendar in advance, which saves me a ton of time. Are you using a productive tool to organize your blog content?

    • kevincain

      We maintain two documents, an editorial calendar and a content creation calendar. The editorial calendar shows what’s going to be published when, the headline, the intended audience, etc., while the content creation calendar tracks logistical details about things like due dates, the status of drafts, next steps, etc. We’re actually fairly old school and track these things in Excel, but then use tools like Spreadfast to organize and facilitate our distribution.

      • http://blog.wishpond.com/ Adella @ Wishpond

        Traditional ways definitely work :) For ourselves, we are using a gigantic white board to brainstorm new ideas and list important projects to keep in mind.

  • http://tectivoo.com/ Josh Trenser

    Kevin, an awesome article full of great tips!!!

    • kevincain

      Thanks, Josh!

  • glenda

    thanks for sharing this great article.

    also check out http://afollow.net

  • http://www.docalytics.com/ Steve Peck

    Appreciate this post a lot. Particularly the foucus on setting a “set of smaller conversion goals”. It is all too easy to simply leapfrog those smaller goals, by putting ‘Conversion to sale’ front and center. A key piece to the long term success of any content marketing strategy is helping management (and yourself) understand that it is not about going from 0 to 60 during the first pass, so by mapping out those smaller milestones early you can build patience into the organization so as to give your efforts a fighting chance to pay off.

    I’d love to hear more about implementing the Matrix process you outlined, as I believe tools like this might be very powerful for our process and helping us take a much more disciplined approach.

    If you (or anyone else) has already elaborated on this topic please direct me there, if not might be food for thought for a future post.

  • Victor Foucault

    The Content Marketing Institute, launched last week “B2B Content Marketing 2014, Benchmark, budgets and Trends in North America”.
    Find here the most interesting data and some recommendations !

    http://www.augure.com/blog/content-marketing-effective-20131106

  • http://www.onfiremediaonline.com/ ‘TC’ Teresa Clark

    Hey Kevin,

    Super article here! I completely agree with you that when creating a successful B2B content strategy we need well defined targets and appropriate points of contact. Here is something that I like to do when creating content for my defined target audience.

    I make content material that comes from the individuals who know the most about why somebody buys, the consumer. Customers are a crucial resource when producing content material to help increase your business’s success. Not only will they discuss stories about their exposure to you, they will also have unique antidotes that will help boost the morale and performance of the company.

    Thanks again for an intuitive article,
    ‘TC’ Teresa Clark

  • http://www.writtent.com/ Alexandra

    Great how-to! Like it because it gives all the helpful tips.

  • guptaabhijit318

    Great post on content marketing. I think all of your advice is really great. Thanks so much for sharing this important research with your audience.

  • Nathan Brook

    A well written post! A complete marketing strategy is key to the success of any business, and in the current economic climate, is perhaps more important than ever.

  • Lilia MacCannell

    Thank you for reasonable points on content marketing! As a founder of startup I think that some part of work in sales and marketing should be outsourced. You can make a smaller investment to building your marketing plan until your growth provides the cash flow needed to hire more permanent staffing. Also, you often need the expertise of more knowledgeable professionals providing strategic growth plans and your budget doesn’t not allow for that level of investment for the long term. I was working Ignite http://ignitecloudware.com It seems to be reliable and competent company.