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New Guide Explains How to Join the Ranks of Best-in-Class Content Marketers

What sets best-in-class marketers apart from average marketers? For starters, the best content marketers spend more, align with the buying cycle, and secure executive buy-in, according to the B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends report, published by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and MarketingProfs.

Let’s review a few of your options for going from average to marketer par excellence.

Put your money where it counts

The 2012 B2B Content Marketing Study found that best-in-class marketers invest 31 percent of their budgets in content marketing, while the least effective marketers only allocate 18 percent.

This should come as no surprise, since content has largely taken the place of interactions with sales reps early in the buying cycle:

  • Forty-one percent of respondents to the 2011 Inside the Mind of the B2B Buyer survey said they engaged with a sales representative only after their initial research was conducted on various options, and 24 percent said they engaged with sales after a preferred list of vendors was already established.
  • UMB TechWeb’s 2011 Purchase Process Study research found that 70 percent of purchases are at the request-for-proposal (RFP) stage by the time vendors are contacted.

Savvy marketers recognize the shift in how buyers self-educate until they’re ready to talk to a sales rep. As such, they understand the need to spend on content that engages prospects throughout a buying cycle that can last months. After all, providing the information that prospects are seeking is critical to moving them from curious researchers to interested purchasers.

It takes an investment to create this content, but this isn’t about requesting a higher budget — it’s about shifting how marketing money is spent to focus dollars for the highest return. To paraphrase Heidi Cohen in her article on being more efficient in content marketing, prospects are increasingly using web-based information to research purchases and vet suppliers, so allocating money to connect with prospects where they’re spending time is a wise investment.

Figuring out where to prioritize content spend starts with understanding prospect and customer information needs and preferences at each stage of the buying cycle — each buyer concern or question represents an opportunity for content. You can gain this insight by developing buyer personas and mapping your content.

According to Goal Centric, a company that originated the development of buyer personas in 2002:

“Buyer personas are archetypal and fictional representations of your buyers derived from qualitative research…[that] provides powerful insights into buyer goals and motivations…[and] arms selling teams with the information they need to understand how and why buyers buy and to connect with buyers in their own language and terminology.”

In the simplified table below, the marketer has developed buyer personas and charted the prospect’s (and customer’s) concerns by role in the buying cycle. These are then mapped to the types of content the vendor can provide to address the issues. (In a real-world mapping, the content list would include the content titles, not just types.)

Increase your relevancy quotient

According to the B2B Marketing survey, best-in-class marketers are more likely to segment their content based on the buying cycle (45 percent, compared with 39 percent of industry average and 29 percent of laggards). Doing so allows them to deliver the information potential customers need, at the right time, to influence the purchase decision. Achieving that requires marketers to conduct the research and mapping exercise outlined above — and to address audience concerns through the content they provide.

  • Research from and DemandGen Report revealed that almost 95 percent of recent buyers said the solution provider they chose had created ample content to help them navigate through each stage of the buying process.
  • Moreover, 66 percent of respondents said that consistent and relevant communication provided by sales and marketing was key to their choosing a particular company as their solution provider.

Unfortunately, some marketers rely too heavily on the prospect’s title and role as the key means for shaping content. But you can’t consistently deliver relevant content if you segment only by those characteristics. After all, how much do you know about a potential buyer based solely on what’s listed on his or her business card? I like to use the example of three archetypes featured in CIO Magazine’s State of the CIO 2009 report. Each of these CIO types was focused on in different goals. That means if a marketer produced content for CIOs under the assumption that all CIOs are the same, its white papers, reports, case studies, and other content would not be relevant to any of them.

By conducting the mapping exercise noted above, marketers can create content that accompanies buyers along their purchase path from beginning to end, delivering the right information at the right time.

Lead the charge

It’s tough for an initiative or strategy to succeed when it lacks the backing of the company’s top executives and decision makers. According to the B2B Content Marketing survey, “best-in-class” marketers are less likely to lack this executive buy-in for their content marketing efforts than those marketers who self-identified as industry-average or industry laggards.

So how do you gain this buy-in and increase your content’s chance of success? Consider these ideas:

  • Share case studies that highlight the successes that other organizations have realized with content marketing.
  • Evangelize the idea by explaining the benefits you hope to achieve. Check out this article by Rachel Foster, who provides specifics on Sun Life Financial’s marketers achieved buy-in.
  • Audit your content and see how well it addresses prospects’ needs and pain points, and ask your executive team to view the results. (For more on this, see Take the Visual Content Audit.)
  • While you’re at it, audit your competitors’ content to gauge how well they’re satisfying prospects’ information needs and preferences. If they’re doing a good job, your company can’t afford to sit on the sidelines. If they’re failing miserably, it’s a prime opportunity for your organization to take the lead.

Blast past the competition

In the 2012 B2B Marketing report, best-in-class marketers were defined as those that deemed their own content marketing as “effective” or “very effective” compared to that of their competitors. In other words, content marketing helped them stand apart from the competition and achieve their goals, whether that was to boost brand awareness, generate more site traffic and leads, or acquire more customers. Who wouldn’t want to join those ranks?