According to the 2017 benchmarking study from the Content Marketing Institute, 89% of organizations surveyed are using content marketing in some form or fashion, but only 28% would describe their content marketing for Demand Generation strategy as “mature” or “sophisticated.” It’s interesting to note that the definitions of ‘maturity’ seemed to focus on measurement and scale, with limited attribution to strategy which is significant as many perceived strategies are simply focused on organization of content through editorial calendars – a roster of content projects with due dates, content types or publication deadlines.
According to the study, the top content marketing challenge was time dedicated to production of content, followed by what we at ANNUITAS have discovered to be a much more significant obstacle: producing the kind of content that engages. The 2017 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report from Demand Gen Report agrees, as the survey placed significant importance on “increasing relevancy, prioritizing personalization early in the buying journey, and how buying insights fuel better sales conversations.”
This disconnect is representative of the very tactical way B2B marketers are addressing content, losing site of the fact that getting the most from content is not about how much content is able to be produced. It is about developing the right content that aligns to the buyer and their purchase process — and the only way this is possible is by adopting a Strategic Demand Generation mindset and moving away from the tactical editorial calendar.
A true content strategy is about aligning content to the buyer.
This white paper will outline a series of factors that are the backbone of a successful B2B Demand Generation strategy, addressing not only production and buyer personas, but also the creation of trustworthy content designed to Engage, Nurture and Convert the buyer at each point along their purchase journey.
The Need for a Defined Content Strategy
Contrary to the advice of all of the lists and how-to articles, building a B2B content strategy cannot be done in an afternoon, in 5 easy steps or a half-day workshop.
The actual production of content is a problem that can be tackled and overcome, as there are always potential writers on your team that can be persuaded to provide 500 words for a blog or a few dozen slides for a webinar. Outsourcing is also an option, as there are a growing number of content production firms or freelancers currently crowding the marketplace. Production is only part of the equation, however, as the real challenge comes to creating the right content. Where does it fit into the bigger picture — into the holistic Demand Generation Strategy? Are prospects looking to begin the education process with the latest description of the features added to the products or services in the vendors product portfolio? Probably not, as in the early stages they are likely more interested in thought leadership and instructional content that is relevant to their role and to their company’s strategic priorities.
According to the aforementioned CMI study, production is a problem — with 52% of marketers stated their number one challenge was “Not Enough Time Devoted to Content Marketing” and 49% citing general “Content-Creation Challenges.” But then consider Demand Gen Report again, as their survey (which was from the buyer’s perspective) indicated volume was not the problem, and that many buyers actually feel overwhelmed by the amount of content available to them. To these buyers, quality and trust is a bigger concern. According to the study 89% of buyers stated that winning vendors “provided content that made it easier to show ROI and/or build a business case for the purchase.”
As ANNUITAS VP of Strategy Jennifer Harmel wrote in a recent article, “…more often than not a product marketing manager will create a white paper and pass it along to marketing with instructions to promote it or even build a “campaign” around it. The problem with this is the tactic is 100% based on a specific product instead of the pains, issues and possible solutions the buyer is dealing with or looking for.”
Understanding What the Buyer Wants
Creating content that serves the needs of the buyer is a fundamental rule in any good Demand Generation Strategy. Understanding and serving those needs, however, begins with a deep understanding of the buyer and the approach they take to researching and selecting their vendors. Building core buyer personas based on buyer insights and market trends, and understanding the strategic priorities and motivations that trigger their buying journey is foundational to a strategic approach. According to Demand Gen Report, 59% of buyers say they now have “formal buying groups or buying committees in place to review purchases.”
Marketing and sales alignment around these buyer personas is also critical, but it is important to expand the development of personas beyond just marketing and sales. It should also include customer support/service, product marketing, product management and the partner channel. In addition, customers and prospects (as well as third party research) need to be included as resources for gaining key insights into the buyer’s challenges and pain points. At its most basic, an internal team comprised of marketers, salespeople and customer-facing personnel should focus on:
- The “power users” or project managers with whom they interact
- The influencers involved in the buying decisions
- The ultimate decision-makers
The users, influencers and decision-makers all have a stake in the buying process, but often have very different priorities or pains that drive them to make a purchase decisions. Content that is relevant to the power users is often very different than the content targeted at engaging a member of the executive team. One might be interested in time-saving functionality or ‘bells and whistles,’ while the other might be more focused on integration, reporting and driving revenue. All of these personas need to be served with the content that is relevant to them, their interests and strategic priorities. Multiple content marketing tracks should be developed to serve the needs of all of these prospects.
Buyers go through three major stages of a buying process – Engagement, Nurture and Conversion. While moving through these stages, their content interests are going to change and become more specific to their problems, pains and priorities. It will be helpful to think of these stages as the content architecture is defined.
Mapping Content to the Buyer’s Journey
In their recent “State of B2B Demand Generation Study,” Forrester states that only 14% of organizations align their content to the buyer’s journey. Addressing that need is the core of a buyer-driven Demand Generation strategy, as is understanding that those needs may change and evolve at different points along the journey.
The goal of Demand Generation is to both educate and qualify, so it is imperative that B2B marketers produce the kind of content that does just that. Engagement content should typically be focused on educational thought leadership that frames how to deal with certain issues and challenges the buyer is facing. A good guideline is if this content will be interesting to target audiences — regardless to whether they ever become a customer. The goal here is to educate and establish your organization as a trusted leader in the space that prospects can look to for advice, insight and information that will help them perform their roles better.
Nurture content can be more closely related to brand, and can discuss solution categories that would map to addressing the buyers pain points. A buyer that is consuming this kind of content is likely in the purchase process. It should also be noted that Nurturing must be part of the overall Demand Generation approach in order to be effective. Treating the Nurture stage as a separate campaign will cause a gap and limit the ability to have an ongoing dialogue with your buyers.
Conversion content is specifically related to how products or services can help the buyer solve their problems. This content should be a mix of automated and live interactions. The casual “tire-kicker” is not going to spend the time finding this information or filling out these forms, so it would never be offered to someone at the top of the funnel. If they have been consuming content along the way at both the Engage and Nurture stage, however, responses to conversion content it is a good indication that they are qualified and ready to talk with a salesperson.
An oft-overlooked segment in the content universe is the existing customer. Content should also be created to serve the needs of the current customer, as they are just as important (if not more important) than prospects.
It is much more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one, and customers are going to engage with their vendors content just as frequently as prospective buyers.
When developing content for your existing customer base, the same Engage, Nurture and Convert approach should apply, but the goal is to educate them about alternative products or services that might be relevant to them.
Content Consumption Preferences
Part of the development of buyer personas is understanding the content consumption preferences of buyers. While white papers may be a viable option, specific buyers may prefer another medium such as video, eBooks or podcasts. Having a multi-channel approach for content delivery that is tuned to buyer consumption preferences is a better way to make sure the content serves its purpose and is accessed by the buyer.
The most recent Demand Gen Report study did not delve into volume of content consumed, or mix of formats, but according to earlier studies “69.7% of the buyers rely more on content in their purchase process than they did a year ago,” and “buyers are seeking out an increasingly diverse range of content assets….while white papers, webinars and case studies are the most popular options for researching B2B purchases, a majority of respondents have used five different content types…”
While white papers may appeal to the power user, the C-Suite may have different content preferences. Tie content tactics to the personas they serve. Also, select content tactics based on the position of the content in the buyer’s journey as engaged buyers will spend more time reviewing content than passive ones.
Conclusion – Quality over Quantity
Buyers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content that is being pushed their way on a daily basis, but underwhelmed when it comes to quality and trustworthiness.
As stated in the Demand Gen Report study, 75% of buyers said it was “very important that the site presented relevant content that spoke directly to their company” and 66% said it was very important content “spoke directly to the needs of their industry and the solution provider showed expertise in their area.”
A true Demand Generation strategy should involve a two-way conversation between the company and prospective buyers and customers, using content specifically tailored for them by buying stage, based on their level of interest.
Getting the most from content is not about how much content is produced. It is about developing the right content that aligns to the Buyer(s) and their purchase process. The only way this is possible is by moving away from the tactical, volume-based campaigns and into a strategic holistic Demand Generation program that serves the needs of buyer(s) at every stage of their buying process.
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