The Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs publish a yearly study on benchmarks, budgets, and trends for North American B2B companies using content marketing. In October, they released their fifth annual B2B content marketing study for 2015 – a must-read if you’re in charge of content marketing for your organization.
And what consistently shows up every year is the large percentage of firms that don’t feel their content marketing efforts are effective. This year, only 38% of B2B companies surveyed felt their efforts were effective – a drop from 42% in last year’s study.
If you’re among the 62% who don’t rate their efforts as effective, you probably want to know how to get into the 38%. CMI Founder Joe Pulizzi says the answer is to document your content marketing strategy: “B2B marketers who have a documented strategy are more effective and less challenged with every aspect of content marketing when compared with their peers who only have a verbal strategy or no strategy at all.” (Emphasis is mine.)
Of course, it’s better to have a documented strategy. Writing your strategy gets everybody on the same page, leaving no doubt about what you should be doing, when you should be doing it, how to do it, and how often.
But what else should you be doing? What can you do to generate leads, help close sales, promote your brand, delight your customers, and become a content marketing leader in your industry?
How do you get into the 38%? I suggest the following 10 best practices.
1. Promote your content
Chad Pollitt, Co-founder of Relevance, recently said he found that the content marketing efforts of top B2B brands are becoming progressively less effective. One firm in particular embarked on an expensive content marketing engagement, but after six months and hundreds of fresh, well-written articles, its “blog was, and still is, a ghost town.”
The problem? Content saturation. Companies are producing content in massive quantities, creating a mountain of material that doesn’t get read because nobody knows about it.
That’s why Pollitt wrote The Content Promotion Manifesto, a blueprint for promoting your content so it gets noticed and consumed by your target audience, driving the business results you sought in the first place.
Pollitt recommends making content promotion a central part of your content marketing strategy, even if it means de-emphasizing content frequency in favor of promoting the content you already have.
2. Create a content marketing mission statement
Company mission statements have been a mainstay in business for decades, giving your organization a purpose and getting everybody rowing in the same direction. But you should also adopt a content marketing mission statement.
Joe says the purpose of a content marketing mission statement is to define:
- Your core target audience
- What kind of content you’ll deliver to your audience
- The outcome you hope to achieve for your audience
A content marketing mission statement will help you differentiate your content, giving it a unique voice that provides your target audience with a reason to consume your content instead of somebody else’s.
3. Create a content marketing shiny object
The term “shiny object,” as it relates to content, was coined by inbound marketing expert Amanda McGuckin Hager of PeopleAdmin. It refers to “something of value people want, like a white paper, piece of collateral, or how-to document.”
But the content must be newsworthy, such as an original piece of research, the overarching guide to whatever topic you want to own in your space, or a unique perspective on a topic that represents a fresh approach. In other words, the content provides real information that people find valuable. I mean really valuable.
Doug Kessler from Velocity Partners calls this “home-run content.” To learn more about it, check out his presentation called Hitting Home Runs in the Age of Crap.
4. Cascade your content
As a content marketer, time is not on your side. Content marketing is pretty labor intensive. But content marketers typically have not had the budget to hire the staff they need to do everything (that’s changing, however). So the embattled content marketer is doing five jobs at once.
The solution? Cascade your content.
Conversion scientist Brian Massey coined the term the “content cascade,” which involves repurposing your content into many formats for distribution on several channels. The cascade starts with a webinar, which he recommends you record and upload to YouTube or Vimeo. Then post the slides to SlideShare, get the audio transcribed, and turn it into an eBook or white paper, several blog posts, and dozens of social media shares. Finally, create an infographic with images from your slide deck and share it on your social media channels and your blog.
5. Document your strategy
Let’s talk about Joe’s original solution for getting into the 38%: documenting your content strategy. How do you do that?
The Content Marketing Institute has written THE eBook on the topic. You can download it here. Boiling it down to its essential elements, you need to document the answers to these questions:
- What’s your business plan for innovation?
- What’s your business case for content marketing?
- Who are your personas and how does your content map to them?
- What’s your brand story?
- What’s your channel plan?
By answering the questions detailed in the eBook you can achieve peace of mind, knowing you finally have a strategy document that can keep your content marketing on track.
6. Adopt the lean content approach when you’re starting out
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries took the start-up world by storm when it was first published. It taught start-ups how to test the market and “fail fast” before investing resources producing a product that won’t sell.
Content marketer Arabella Santiago applies this concept to content marketing: Use content to gauge whether you’re on the right track, then go back to the drawing board if you must.
A variation of this, as conceived by Brian Clark of Copyblogger, is to build a minimum viable audience to learn what content your readers really want, what they want to buy, and how to sell it to them.
7. Measure, measure, measure
Content marketing is all about storytelling, right? But even a story has to resonate with an audience and generate results (go ask a Hollywood movie executive). To learn what works (what sells) and what doesn’t, content marketers must become adept at measuring their content because, as my old boss said, “what gets measured improves.”
For a crash course on how to become a content measurement guru, I recommend reading Taylor Cimala’s super valuable post in Andy Crestodina’s blog of Orbit Media Studios: 8 Ways to Use Google Analytics to Measure the Success of Your Content Marketing.
8. Create a buyer legend
By now every content marketer knows how important creating audience personas is. If you don’t know to whom you’re writing and if you can’t picture their wants, needs, idiosyncrasies, tastes, and vocabulary, you might as well be shouting into the wind. A persona profile can solve that problem by giving you a specific focus for your writing so your content resonates and creates an emotional connection with your readers.
But a buyer legend is even more powerful than your run-of-the-mill persona description. Conversion marketing experts Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg recently published a book on creating Buyer Legends (a must-read). A buyer legend is your persona at the moment when a person decides he or she needs your product or service. It’s the story of how your target personas find you, how they interact with your website, what could possibly turn them off, what you might publish that can turn them around, and what you can ultimately do to turn them into customers.
The Eisenberg brothers said that buyer legends are the one tool that, if their customers did nothing else, has had the most impact on their marketing. Buy the book. Trust me.
9. Implement an automation system
2015 is the year of the automation system. Marketing automation tools such as HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, Infusionsoft, and Eloqua have enabled you to create “if/then” sequences to guide your prospects to content that’s appropriate for where they are in your sales funnel. But these tools have traditionally been pricey.
Email marketing tools such as AWeber, MailChimp, Doppler, and many others have added automation capabilities to their traditional enewsletter capabilities in the lower end of the price spectrum, but they lack the sophistication of the traditional players.
Now a new crop of automation systems has hit the market, offering more sophistication and better graphical user interface so you can set up the “if/then” decision trees without programming experience.
10. Adopt the content strategy discipline
I’m not referring to content marketing strategy, I mean content strategy as a discrete discipline. The foundational book on the topic, Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, lays out the basic tenets of content strategy.
And in 2015, content strategy is all about adaptive content: How to create a structured content ecosystem so your content is smart and can adapt perfectly to the right people, devices, and context.
I recommend this overview of adaptive content from Melissa Breker and Jenny Magic’s Content Marketing World presentation: Getting Started with Adaptive Content.
Content marketing has reached a crossroads of sorts. Seventy percent of content marketers are producing more or significantly more content this year than last year, but more than half of them feel their content marketing is ineffective. And as Michael Brenner of B2B Marketing Insider succinctly suggested, “…content marketing is the top priority for many CMOs and yet most have no idea what to do about it.”
If you want to get into the 38% who are actually experiencing success, it’s time to get serious about your efforts, and this list can help you know what to do about it.
Cover image by Desi Mendoza, Unsplash, via pixabay.com