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Content acts as a connector between the brand and its customers. It is a great tool for building relationships, and if done right, provides tons of insights for identifying prospects and nurturing them to conversion. For B-to-B clients , generating high value, gated content helps in getting valuable prospect information that informs campaign and media optimizations. IBM, with its big data content marketing is a great example of this approach. It directs consumers to short (ungated) articles to pique their interest in a specific topic, and then encourages them to attend their (gated) webinars.
Below are some ways by which B-to-B marketers can gain an edge over competition with their content:
1. Alignment to Customer Journeys & Personas
Both customer journeys and personas provide great insights on our customers/ prospects. They provide a clear direction on what content topics/ formats B-to-B prospects prefer at specific stages, and help determine content tone and depth. In short, it aligns content to target audiences and segments.
In addition, alignment to personas and journeys help marketers identify the prospect’s journey stage. Based on content engagement, marketers can accelerate a prospect’s journey by giving them access to more advanced content, setting up sales meetings, and pushing high value tactics (including offline) towards them.
In practical terms, it may not be feasible to create content for each stage of the buyer journey, persona, or topic, due to resource and budget constraints. However, it is important for all stakeholders/ partners to align to a common goal, and keep working towards it.
2. Analyze GapsBefore creating new content, it is essential that B-to-B marketers take a step back and do a comprehensive audit of all their existing assets. It will determine how much content exists, and how much more is needed. It helps set priorities for new content creation. Social listening tools and search intent analysis provide insights on what topics prospects care about. Analytical insights help determine what content has been performing best, so more of such content can be produced. An audit also uncovers gaps in content formats, verticals, personas, journey stages, and media channel coverage.
3. The role of Technology
Technology has the ability to identify prospects based on content engagement. It ensures prospects get the right message at the right time. For this to happen, the marketing automation platform (MAP), content management system (CMS), and content management platform (CMP) need to work in sync. MAP helps to design, execute, and measure campaigns. CMS ensures that relevant content is served to the right audience segment on the web. CMPs feed the CMS, and help with development, delivery, and analysis of content. It is worth noting that the CMPs go beyond feeding a CMS alone. They have the capability to interact with an ecosystem of marketing teams, technologies, and processes.
Before B-to-B marketers make an investment in technology, it is important to have established numbers 1 and 2 above, and then program technology to leverage it by mapping it to the prospect’s engagement behavior. All components of the marketing tech stack need to work in sync to learn and optimize in (near) real time.
Content marketing requires patience. It is not a direct sales strategy. It is part of a slower moving process (especially in B-to-B) during which brands try to win customers’ trust while bringing them closer to conversion. And different stakeholders will need different metrics in the content marketing process. For example, the content creator needs to know the reporting metrics for the success of each content pieces by looking at CTRs, views, downloads and more. A marketing professional, on the other hand, needs to have information about the number and quality of leads generated, cost per lead, opt-in rates etc. Ultimately, leadership needs to know the impact of content on revenue, costs, ROI, and customer lifetime value (LTV).
As content marketing continues to establish its importance for the marketer, the focus will need to shift to a method of measurement that is easily traceable to bottom-line revenue. Today, marketers look at the performance of each content piece individually. This approach fails when marketers need to tie the actual sale back to content. Marketers never know for sure which content piece along the customer journey had more weight in influencing the final decision. They usually attribute it to the last piece of content that the customer engaged with. This approach is flawed.
At Merkle, we believe it is important for marketers to build a robust measurement framework behind their content marketing strategy. A customer-centric system set up to assign weights to a combination of content and channels, and track a customer’s engagement in the buying process, will enable marketers to give credit where it’s due. It is not easy, but definitely possible with the right partners.