Not even four out of 10 marketers think their content marketing is effective. Yet, 86% of B2B marketers use content to attract and retain customers. Those are the results from CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends.
What are the 38% of marketers who say they are effective doing differently from the rest of us?
I asked some successful B2B content marketers how they make the most of their content investments. Here are 10 habits that help them stay on top:
1. Document and review your content marketing strategy.
Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute
Our B2B content marketing research revealed that successful B2B content marketers have two critical habits. First, they document their content marketing strategy. They get the strategy out of their head and into action.
Second, they review the strategy on an ongoing basis, especially with their team. Neither of these habits is rocket science, but they are musts for highly effective content marketers.
2. Get your advocates involved with your content marketing.
Cassandra Jowett, Content Marketing Manager, Influitive
Invite your company’s advocates – customers, partners, and employees – to get involved at every stage of your content process through an advocate marketing program. Your advocates can generate ideas, participate in content creation, provide feedback, and share your content with their social networks. They can have a tremendous impact on the quality, volume, and results of your content marketing.
This type of strategy also strengthens your relationship with your advocates. As content marketers, we don’t always have a direct line to our customers or partners. Advocate marketing programs connect us with their ideas, success stories, insights, and feedback in real time.
3. Tell compelling stories.
Matthew Royse, Senior Communications Manager and Knowledge Enthusiast, Forsythe Technology
The most effective content marketers are turning their brands into media companies. They understand how to apply the key elements of journalism and storytelling to their content. For example:
- Draw in your audience with compelling stories. Focus your stories on your audience’s key pains and opportunities – not your products or services.
- Combine words and visuals to paint a picture. Use strong visuals to help illustrate the emotion in your story.
- Create editorial guidelines and share them with your content team. This helps maintain a consistent voice throughout your content. It also helps your contributors comply with your brand and quality standards.
When you bring these key elements into your content, you can connect with members of your audience and motivate them to take action.
4. Plan your week in advance.
Pam Didner, Author, Global Content Marketing
What works for me is to plan out my week on Sunday nights. I’ll sit with a cup of tea and a small plate of dessert and review (aka, stare at) the next two weeks in my calendar. I fill time slots by identifying key tasks that I want to accomplish and set aside time to prepare for upcoming meetings.
Proper planning doesn’t guarantee that I get everything done. Like everyone else, I still procrastinate. However, planning helps me clarify my priorities and hold myself accountable for key deliverables.
5. Use Trello to manage your content development.
Camille Ricketts, Editor, First Round Capital
I’m a Trello power user. There’s no tool more helpful for organizing content and keeping an eye on your progress.
I work with a few writers at a time to curate The First Round Review, as well as several photographers, graphic artists, and illustrators. I feature interviews with the most talented people in tech, and every article moves through the same phases: initial contact, kick-off call to hone in on a topic, interview, transcription, writing, and approval by the interview subject.
The only way I can keep track of hundreds of moving pieces is by updating my Trello board every day. Each article gets its own card that I move from bucket to bucket as I make progress on the story until it’s done.
One of Trello’s best features is that you can attach files and images to every card. This allows me to keep transcripts, multiple drafts, and photography in one place for every article. I also can start a commenting thread on each card, which allows me to stay up-to-date and in constant communication with the other writers on my team.
The only way a systematic tracking tool works is if you update it constantly, but it’s well worth it.
6. Read. Create value.
Michelle Killebrew, Program Director, Strategy & Solutions – Social Business, IBM
Read. I read a lot. I read headlines, industry publications, trade publications, consumer trends, tech trends, fiction, and non-fiction. The best way to understand which content trends are engaging is by engaging with them.
The biggest misconception that I see with both marketing and content strategy is that they can be encapsulated into something finite. There are so many different types of content marketing: written, visual, video, etc. You need to think through your objectives and put yourself in your audience’s shoes
You also must create (and co-create) value for your audience in a way that is unique, captivating, and interactive. It’s so simple, yet so difficult.
My five tips for making B2B content more valuable:
- Be intriguing.
- Use action words.
- Leverage visual content.
- Re-post content over time – but not verbatim.
- Respond to inbound communication; be personable and friendly, while also professional (i.e., human).
7. Answer the prospects’ top three questions.
Tom Pisello, Chairman and Founder, Alinean
Design content that creates aha moments to help facilitate the buyer’s journey. Proactively answer your prospects’ three key questions – they’re almost always the same no matter the product or service – as they progress through their decision-making process:
- Why change? Your prospects often are unaware that they should consider a different product, service, or vendor. Most are so busy keeping the lights on that they haven’t paid attention to how bad the status quo has become.
In this phase, don’t talk about your solution or its benefits. Instead, generate an aha moment around their pain – get them to recognize that an issue exists. Share industry insights that help your prospects realize that their peers are experiencing similar costly issues with a business-as-usual approach. These insights can help prospects diagnose their own organization and challenges.
- Why now? Make their newly discovered issue stand tall above all the other challenges with which they deal. Help the prospect realize that the status quo isn’t just an issue but a real cost and business risk. Provide content that helps them quantify the cost of doing nothing. Give prospects an aha moment about how much the issue costs them each day it goes unsolved.
- Why you? Each solution has unique advantages, but buyers often don’t notice the subtle differences among competitors. Today’s buyers are drawn to price and value as evaluating criteria. Communicate and quantify how your solution can deliver better business value (e.g., drive cost savings, improve productivity, lower risks, etc.).
Show that you have a lower total cost of ownership over the solution’s useful life cycle. Stop trying to differentiate by features and instead create aha moments around superior ROI, faster payback, and lower cost of ownership.
8. Put your internal experts front and center.
Carlos Abler, Leader: Online Content Strategy, 3M
A key habit for B2B content marketers is to manage internal experts as corporate assets. Your experts are treasure troves of knowledge and potential content. When you amplify their knowledge, they will not only be recognized as thought leaders but also as life savers by your customers.
You must have processes for managing internal subject matter expertise. For example, capture the answers to questions that customers ask your experts. Then, repurpose these answers as a Q&A on your website to your knowledge base or as blog posts. Additionally, internal experts are often unaware of the opportunities that they have to nurture leads and may let customer relations sift through their fingers – along with your opportunity to create valuable content assets. Your experts also may be timid introverts so you’ll have to help them become content rock stars.
When you properly manage your internal experts, you bridge the gap between content and customer relations – which are inseparable.
In addition, you must transform your organization’s culture to build the bridge. This approach often brings up legal concerns and old-school protectionist fears (e.g., “These are our secrets and our people.
9. Relentlessly pursue your story.
Hana Abaza, Director of Marketing, Uberflip
More than ever before, you must create connections, nurture relationships, and perpetuate a dialogue with your audience, prospects, and customers. And you must do this while telling a compelling story and keeping tabs on what is and isn’t working from a business perspective.
As a result, the ideal portrait of today’s content marketer is someone with a diverse skill set who has developed a few key habits for success. These individuals:
- Relentlessly pursue the story – In many industries, people often write about the same thing. Look for the right story within a topic and approach it from a fresh angle that will distinguish your content as great.
- Consistently review and revise – Good content marketers are always striving to make their content better. Hone your skills – whether it’s writing long-form content, creating video content, or keeping up with the latest trends in your industry. Aim to make every subsequent piece of content better than the last.
- Always listen – The best content marketers I know consume far more content than they create – blog posts, social media, and even (dare I say it) books and magazines with words printed on actual paper. Keeping an eye on the content created inside and outside your industry can be a great source of ideas and inspiration
10. Learn something new every day.
Alan Porter, Content Marketing Manager, Caterpillar, Inc.
I dedicate time each day to stay fresh and keep learning. I arrive at the office early – usually around 7 a.m. – grab a coffee and spend my first 30 minutes checking out the latest industry websites, blogs, and social media feeds. From these, I formulate a Content Marketing Tip of the Day.
Do not open your email first. Instead, spend dedicated time to keep up with the latest trends and innovation. Then, you can dive into the minutiae of your workday.
It takes time, patience, and persistence to develop a new habit. Ask yourself which of these content marketing habits would benefit you the most. Then, schedule time in your calendar to make it happen.
Continuing to educate themselves is a key habit of successful content marketers. Get started learning more about content marketing best practices in two free e-courses – part of CMI’s comprehensive Online Training & Certification Program delivered by leading experts. Sign up now.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute