In the B2B world where the buying process stretches over months, marketers are well aware of the need to create compelling content to keep potential buyers interested until they are ready to buy.
The good news is that social media is making it easier than ever to create and share content. Nowadays, anyone with a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or YouTube account has become a de facto publisher. But this doesn’t mean that producing engaging content to effectively generate leads is any easier, on the contrary.
Adopting a more strategic approach has therefore become indispensable for those who want their content marketing to have more impact on their bottom line. Hopefully, the following guidelines for success will help you get more out of the content you create.
Step 1 – Establish content objectives that align with your business goals
A recent B2B Content marketing study1 from MarketingProfs and Junta42 reported that content marketing typically supports multiple business goals, including, in order of preference:
- Brand awareness
- Customer retention/loyalty
- Lead generation
- Lead nurturing
To give you an idea of how it works, let’s see how creating content for the purpose of generating leads differs from creating content for the purpose of lead nurturing.
Generating leads means creating interest. This is usually done by promoting some kind of offer such as a research study or white paper that respondents can access in exchange for their basic contact information. So, in this case, your content objective could be to obtain 150 visitors to your site or landing page and 50 completed online forms.
Lead nurturing is slightly different in that the prospect has already expressed her interest (i.e., she has already filled out the form, but she was not a sales-ready lead at the time). In other words, this is not the first date, but you want to make sure you’ll get the opportunity to talk about marriage and kids (in time!), so you need to sustain the initial expression of interest by offering a series of offers that will help this person progress through the stages of the buying process. Different companies use different definitions, but let’s assume that the primary stages in your clients’ buying process are: prospect, leads, opportunity, and customer. Your content marketing efforts should therefore aim at accelerating the conversion from one stage to the next.
For example, a content marketer may have the following content objectives: initiate a 5% response rate, convert 30% of the prospects into leads, 20% of the leads into opportunities, 50% of the opportunities into customers, and 80% of the customers into repeat customers. As a result, the organization will need to create content for each phase of the buying cycle and track its conversion ratios.
Step 2 – Use personas to create the right kind of content
Now that you know what you are trying to accomplish, you need to determine key themes and messages.
A great way to start is to actually define your buyer personas, if you have not already done so. Personas are “user profiles” that represent a typical view of your customers. In a way, personas are just a different form of segmentation, except that they are defined from the buyer’s perspective and include things like role, motivations and attitudes. For example, Microsoft used personas in the form of cartoon ads for the launch of Microsoft Dynamics GP 2010, thereby helping people to identify with Susan, the cool HR Director, and Robert, the numbers-obsessed CFO, and how they use business management software differently.
The great thing about personas is that they help you focus on the subjects and topics that your target audience is interested in. But first, you need to come up with a list of questions your personas might actually ask at each stage of the buying cycle. This can easily be done if you interview a few existing customers or talk to your sales or customer service representatives.
From there, you will probably come up with lots of content ideas, but as enthusiastic as you may be, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel if you can avoid it. This is a good time to assess the content you already have, both online and offline. Is there anything you can use or simply adapt to address your personas most pressing issues? Summarize your findings in a spreadsheet and try to map each content piece to your prospects’ buying phases. Identify gaps, eliminate anything that is outdated or does not meet your quality standards. The result should be a content strategy, such as the one presented in figure 1.
Step 3 – Identify roles & responsibilities
According to content expert, Kristina Halvorson, you should consider the following key roles:
- Creating the content (writing, filming, recording?)
- Editing the content
- Distributing the content (blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, trade shows, newsletters, etc.)
- Monitoring the conversation – especially for content that is being distributed via social media
In small- and medium-sized organizations, it is not rare for one person to wear more than one hat, or to hire an agency or freelance professional to handle the copywriting or video recording. It all depends on your skill set and the availability of your in-house resources. Just do what works for you.
Step 4 – Aim for multi-channel distribution
More often than not, it is the format of your content that will determine your content distribution strategy. For example, your blog post will of course be on your blog, your video is more likely to be shared if it is posted on YouTube, etc.
That said, if you want to get the most out of your content, you should try whenever possible to repurpose it for multi-channel publishing. For example, you can combine different blog posts into an eBook, record your seminars and offer the video part on YouTube, but also offer the audio part as a downloadable podcast, and even post your PowerPoint presentation in SlideShare on LinkedIn.
Naturally, your content plays a big role in your search engine ranking. It is therefore important to optimize your content and HTML tags by placing your selected keywords in strategic positions such as headlines, subheadlines, hyperlinks, etc. But again, the extent of time and effort you spend on optimizing content for SEO depends on your content objectives. If one of your key goals is to rank higher in Google, you really need to ensure that the copy includes the right keyphrases and that you ask for links from partners and related high-ranking sites. If your goal is not necessarily more traffic but more conversion from visitors, your time may be better spent on testing different Calls To Action.
Step 5 – Develop your own editorial plan
We all know how easy it is to get caught up in all the things we have to do. That is why having an editorial calendar is a great way to stay focused and committed. Besides, it will allow you to develop a clear picture of possible conflicting events and the resources you have or don’t have.
Step 6 – Marketing budget
According to the study from MarketingProfs and Junta42, securing a budget to produce content is still one of the top three challenges B2B marketers face. But the good news is that once you have a content strategy, you can show how your different content pieces work together and how they support your business objectives.
And if you still wonder how much budget you should spend on content marketing, you can always use the benchmark provided in the study, which is that, on average, best-in-class content marketers allocate 30% of their marketing budget to content marketing, compared to 18% for less effective marketers.
Step 7 – Measure and adapt
Measuring how your audience interacts with your content is not always easy, but analytics tools and marketing automation software can help you track what people click on, what they share on social networks and where they go afterwards. It may not be an exact science to determine the ROI of your content marketing strategy, but it is at least a good indication of what content your target audience finds engaging.
There you are, seven steps to generate more leads with the right content strategy. At first, it might be hard, but if you consider that 51% of B2B marketers report they plan to increase their spending on content marketing over the next 12 months,2 what other choices do you have? If you don’t invest in content marketing, your competitors will. So, you might as well start on the right path.
|Goal||Increase awareness||Present alternatives||Demonstrate unique value proposition||Renewal|
|Content objective (conversion)||5%||20%||50%||80%|
|Persona: Susan the cool HR director|
|FAQ||What are the best-in-class companies doing?||Should I focus on workflow automation or system integration?||How much efficiency gains can I expect?||What is the next step?|
|Preferred theme||Productivity||Workflow automation, system integration||Efficiency gains||Getting more of what you already have|
|Content piece||Survey results||How-to article||Case study||Online Training|
|Content audit||To be compiled||Expand blog post||To create||Record next session.|
|Persona: Robert, the numbers obsessed CFO|
|FAQ||What is the economic outlook in my industry?||What are my options?||Why should I trust you?||What is the most cost-efficient service plan?|
|Preferred theme||Profitability||Increase revenue or decrease costs||ROI||Getting more of what you already have|
|Content piece||3rd party research||White paper||Video testimonial||Presentation at exclusive customer event|
|Content audit||Check distribution rights||To create||To create||Incorporate into event planning|
1 Handley, A., Linn, M., McDermott, C., Pulizzi, J., Young, R. B2B Content Marketing: 2010 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, viewed September 20, 2011.
2 Handley, A., Linn, M., McDermott, C., Pulizzi, J., Young, R. B2B Content Marketing: 2010 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends, viewed September 20, 2011.