As a director of content marketing for a digital agency, I’ve noticed a pattern as we bring on new clients: Their brands aren’t as strong or as differentiated as they should be. In addition, most of them do traditional product-centric versus customer-centric communication. Their customers have changed, but they haven’t.
As I noticed this pattern, I wondered: What would leading content marketing professionals recommend to help B2B firms strengthen the value of their brands? I asked 14 content marketers representing companies large and small, plus several agencies. Here’s what they had to say:
Deliver value — as defined by your customers
Practitioners must have a deep understanding of what matters most to the target audience — their problems, challenges, and aspirations. Admittedly, this sounds a lot like content marketing 101 — creating customer personas, understanding the buyer’s journey and how their information needs to evolve along it, and proactively answering their most important questions. Yet, according to CMI’s latest research, many B2B marketers still aren’t doing these basics.
As Jillian Hillard, director of brand marketing, small appliances, at Electrolux says: “For brands, it’s no longer a question of how you can use content to enhance the consumer’s perception of the brand, it’s a necessity. Content is the gateway into a brand’s soul, and when done right, it provides insights into the customer’s wants. It’s a brand’s job to understand the emotional needs of their customers and provide solutions that enhance their lives — not just sell them products.”#Content is the gateway into a brand's soul says @JillianHillard via @chuckfrey. Click To Tweet
Matt Heinz, president of Heinz Marketing, explains: “Your brand needs to stand for something beyond your product or service. So what is that for your brand? How can you reinforce it with expertise, opinions and more through various forms of content?”
Type A Communications’ Carla Johnson says the best way to enhance your customers’ perception is to deliver value with your content marketing. “Think of what your customer wants to accomplish. What jobs do they want to get done? And then use content marketing to help them do so.”
Arnie Kuenn, CEO of Vertical Measures, recommends creating a mental picture of how you want others to perceive the brand. He says, “How will you set your brand apart in the industry? How will your content be more useful and tell a better story than anyone else in your space?”
Give value to get value
Before you can expect to get value from your customers, you first must give value. In other words, to have a roaring fireplace, you add wood and kindling first. It’s up to you to supply the “spark” that starts the fire, figuratively speaking:
“First and foremost, you have to BE valuable. Create content that gets your prospects to think, ‘I can’t believe that was free.’ Secondly, you need the credibility that comes from people outside of your marketing department, most specifically, your customers, says Feldman Creative’s Barry Feldman. “Your brand will be perceived as valuable when customers share their experiences. Word of mouth marketing has and always will be the big dinger.”Your brand will be perceived as valuable when customers share their experiences says @FeldmanCreative. Click To Tweet
CMI’s Chief Content Adviser Robert Rose says, “If we’re truly focused on delivering value through content — value that is separate and distinct from our product or service — then the experience becomes ‘enhanced.’ This enhancement is what will be additive to the customer’s perception of what that brand provides.”
Velocity Partners’ Doug Kessler says it’s a simple formula. “Before you can expect to get value from your prospects (in terms of time, attention, consideration, etc.), you must first give value (useful, smart, entertaining content that helps them do their jobs or live their lives) to them. It’s a win-win scenario.”
Deliver to existing customers
Often, B2B marketers become obsessed with generating new sales leads and increasing conversions of them. In all the excitement, they don’t invest as much time providing deep value to their best existing customers. If you do that consistently, they’ll reward you with exceptional word of mouth and compelling case histories that demonstrate the value you offer to prospective customers:
Monumental Shift founder Andrew Davis advises: “Set an appointment with your loyalty loop — the customers and clients you already serve. At the same time every week, send them valuable insight designed specifically to foster their aspirations. Before long they’ll think of you as a trusted partner for their long-term success.”
TechSmith’s Rachael Parker says her company develops content to empower its customers to solve their challenges. “But we don’t stop there,” she says. “We view all of our customer-facing teams as a channel within our content marketing strategy. We believe that if we can walk customers through what they are trying to accomplish at any step of the process that will build trust and loyalty with our brand, as well as increase word of mouth about our company.”Develop #content to empower customers to solve their challenges says @DJRachael. Click To Tweet
Convince & Convert President Jay Baer says, “Many current customers must re-ratify their decision to buy from us every day, week, month, quarter, or year. Spend time talking with them to better understand their needs. Perhaps new product use cases? Maybe a spotlight feature on innovative customers? Maybe tips and tricks for advanced customers? All of these are viable, and they enhance brand perception among a key audience: people who have already given you money.”
Craig Coffey, U.S. marketing communications manager for Lincoln Electric, believes content marketing establishes customers’ perception of the brand. “Willingness to step outside of the transactional relationship and connect our subject matter experts with the people who are trying to become better welders has been foundational to our company’s success,” he says. “It started with our welding school, continued with our first magazine, the Stabilizer, and continues today with ARC Magazine. Our customers reward us for our content by being brand loyal, and forgive us for marketing to them because we provide them with useful content.”
Why Inbound Marketing Should Take a Back Seat to Current Customers
Don’t think mediocre content cuts it
There’s no question about it: We’re in the middle of a content arms race. As more B2B marketers adopt best practices, buyer expectations continue to rise. They demand greater insights and information tailored to their deepest needs, not generic one-size-fits-all platitudes. That means you need to bring your A game.
Tim Riesterer, chief strategy officer for Corporate Visions, says, “For your content to flourish and enhance your brand value in this environment, you need to take edgier, more counterintuitive positions that challenge conventional wisdom and run against the grain of popular assumptions. And most importantly, you need to back your boldest claims with original, tested and proven research.”For your content to flourish you need to challenge conventional wisdom says @TRiesterer via @ChuckFrey. Click To Tweet
As Marketing Insider Group CEO Michael Brenner says, “Just the act of committing to content marketing proves to your audience that you care more about THEM than you do about selling more stuff.”
Resist the temptation to backslide
“The problem is that it’s a lot easier said than done; after a while, most brands find their own needs sneaking back in to take over the spotlight, says Jesper Laursen, founder and CEO of Native Advertising Institute and Brand Movers. “The key to avoid this is to build a solid content brand with a clearly defined editorial mission that is aligned with but different than your business. Appoint an editor with one simple task to do: improve the lives of your customers.”Build a solid content brand w/ a clearly defined editorial mission says @jesperlaursen via @chuckfrey. Click To Tweet
The common thread of the advice of these 14 content marketing leaders is quite clear: With the proper planning and execution, content marketing can definitely influence the brand perceptions of customers. That’s not to say it’s an easy task. Like any other aspect of marketing, brand enhancement requires you to make a long-term commitment to it — to go “all in,” as Joe Pulizzi has been telling us lately.
Changing brand perception demands extraordinary consistency in all parts of your company’s go-to-market strategy — not only in the content you produce and distribute, but also in the ways in which you convey a unified set of values and experiences in all of your touchpoints with your target audience, including sales and product support.
See how more of the best brands on earth are conquering their content marketing challenges. Download our e-book: Get Inspired: 75 (More) Content Marketing Examples.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute