The Concise Guide to B2B Content Marketing

Digital has disrupted B2B sales and marketing completely over the last decade or so. Indeed, the old perception of a distinction between the roles that ‘marketing’ and ‘sales’ play in getting new clients has been completely blurred. Like B2C marketing the old, interruptive ways of reaching new customers are no longer as effective. Whilst there still may be a role for cold calling, trade shows and even show rooms, the web has democratised information and if a potential prospect wants to find out some information about a product or a service the first thing they’ll do is Google it. The benefits of being in mind when someone Google’s a product or service should be obvious. How you achieve this mindshare is a different story. We wanted to share our insight and experience as to how we do it in this ultimate guide to B2B content marketing.

Part 1. You’re the expert… so tell people!

The eminent business executive, author and consultant Steuart Henderson Britt once said: “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but nobody else does.” In a content marketing context, if you’re in business you need to tell people about what you do as well as why and how. There are lots of ways you can do this and here’s what we would recommend as a starter for ten.

I blog, therefore I am

Every WordPress website comes with an easy to use, intuitive blogging feature – use it! The written word is a way for you to tell people exactly what you do and how you do it. It also gives you a chance to show off your credentials.

The importance of having up to date and fresh content on your site has been well documented. You’ll also be surprised at how much of an expert you are and how you can use this content across the web to get those all-important eyeballs on your site.

Case studies

If you’ve completed some work for a client and the methodology you employed to solve that client’s problem really worked, tell people. Expertise and Thought Leadership in an industry are great signals for a potential customer. Being special and different will make you stand out from the crowd and put you in a great position.

The accepted wisdom for a case study format is generally:

  1. The problem or challenge
  2. The solution
  3. The results

Producing case studies will show how you have thought about and solved a problem and made a difference to a client’s business.

White papers

As an extension of the blog theme, white papers really give you the chance to show off your credentials. Whilst a blog post can be more overtly self-promotional, a white paper should be more of a technical and in-depth document and backed up with evidence.

In essence the white paper should pose a problem, explore and potentially solve it. It should have an inherent value to the reader — white papers are classic Thought Leadership pieces and should show your expertise. Given the nature of the medium they are also great lead magnets. In essence, you are offering to exchange your intellectual property for a prospect’s permission to be marketed to. Gathering opt-in email addresses is a great way to get qualified traffic to your website.

Email marketing

Permission based email communication is a great way to keep in touch with your customers and prospects. If you are producing great content, than sending out an email to tell people about it is a great way to syndicate it. The point about permission is a very important one, in light of the impending GDPR legislation – so always get an explicit opt-in. We would also recommend using a good Email Service Provider (ESP) to send these emails so you can manage un-subscribes and segment your lists. Here’s some more tips on effective email marketing.

The end of the start

Content Marketing for B2B businesses is a huge topic and there is admittedly a lot more to consider than the points we have addressed above. We shall be re-visiting this topic in a lot more detail where we shall delve a little deeper into the science behind producing content and the strategies involved in our next post.

Part 2. B2B content Marketing – a deeper dive

In this section, we shall cover in far more detail the points you will need to consider to successfully execute your content marketing strategy. The points we have considered before are more of a manifestation of the strategy and the channels. In this section, we shall discuss in much greater depth how you create the content, which will be distributed via these channels.

Think about what you want to achieve

Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking they should just ‘do’ content marketing without really thinking about why. We are big advocates of creating personas for us and our clients. Addressing the needs of a person, or a business will help you shape your tone of voice and the pain points you can help with.

Let’s create a fictional business to give this some context.

Let’s say Dan is an energy broker. He wants to get business leads, he knows who his sweet-spot audience is by looking at his customer base. Dan can surmise that he wants to deal with a large SME who has 200 staff in one location. He deals, generally, with manufacturing businesses that are energy hungry and are always looking to minimise their costs. Dan also knows that given the size of the business he wants to talk to that they, generally, have an Operations Manager.

He can now create a persona…

Name: Peter Smith, 44

Title: Operations Manager of a £30 million + plastics manufacturer in The North East

Micro concerns: Cost Efficiencies

Macro concerns: How Brexit will affect his and his colleague’s jobs

The manifestation of this exercise is a solid content marketing idea: “How manufacturing businesses can reduce energy costs now, and post BREXIT”

Dan’s secondary market is a care home provider, typically based over multiple locations. Dan knows, from experience, these institutions are also power hungry but most of the gas and electricity usage is in the evenings.

Name: Jocelyn Brown, 55

Title: Joint MD (with her husband)

Micro concerns: Cost Efficiencies

Macro concerns: Reduction in funding from government for social care

Content idea: “Future proofing multiple location energy usage long term”

Where are they in the funnel?

We know decisions in B2B are rarely taken ad-hoc. Often multiple stakeholders are involved in making purchasing decisions and, many decisions need to be backed up with a business case. You can shape your content strategy based on specific stages (gathering information, ready to buy) or all of them, depending on the perceived needs of your specific personas.

This sounds complex, but it isn’t really. If a potential buyer is in the ‘I want to be educated and informed’ stage your content should seek to do just that.

Let’s return to the persona’s we created earlier and the fictional Energy Broker prospect. Peter may not have been asked directly to explore the energy market and the potential impact it could have on his business but the chances are he will find it interesting and relevant if you pose a series of questions and answer them.

If Peter has been asked directly to explore cost efficiencies by changing energy supplier, he is now further down the funnel. In this case, it might make more sense to talk about how frictionless the experience of swapping supplier can be, as well as the long-term benefits of buying in advance etc. to avoid an increase in costs further down the line.

In both the scenarios above specific pieces of content could be produced or could answer both.

marketing funnel

House style and tone of voice

Our biggest of advice here would be, do not let your junior members of staff loose with your brand identity. Everything you put on the web will be judged, and each pair of eyeballs that lands on the content you produce is a potential lead.

Our first step would be to start with a lexicon for your business. These terms can be formed from your keyword research or could be terms, which you believe, set you apart from the crowd. To return to the Energy Broker scenario earlier, Dan might think of himself as an ‘Energy Broker’ but the market and his customers will call him an ‘Energy Consultant’:

It’s easy to fall victim to this mistake. For instance, an ‘Integrated Marketing Agency’ could call themselves that or a ‘Full-Service Agency’ but, in reality, their potential clients could be using terms like ‘Marketing Agency’ or ‘Marketing Consultant’ – a bit of customer research at this point will be invaluable.

In terms of look and feel of the material (like white papers or infographics), you are putting out there you will need to make sure that the obvious brand guidelines for your business have been followed. Remember, PDF’s presented as lead magnets on your website are part of your website and the look and feel should be the same as the rest of the content on your site.

Part 3. Creating a calendar

It’s important to create a calendar and, even if you don’t stick to it, it will help shape your focus. If content is put out ad-hoc it will come across as such, your calendar should take into account of your audience’s potential buying behaviour as well as your internal resources, which will dictate what type of content you should create and syndicate.

For the purposes of creating our calendar, lets put us back in the shoes of Dan, our energy broker:

B2B Content Marketing Calendar

Here, our fictitious energy broker is thinking strategically about how his services can reach people at the right time to make his company be perceived as the expert voice. He is using content he can create easily (energy news round up’s) and that is genuinely interesting to the target personas he has created (ways to save, market size etc.)

Part 4. How to monitor success (or otherwise)

You have now started your content marketing program – great! Now what happens? If you have asked your boss to put the budget into your content marketing project you are going to need to demonstrate some results. We tend to assess the efficacy of our content marketing efforts using the metrics below:

  • Meaningful web traffic – Traffic on its own is a vanity metric. To us, a ‘successful’ visit will be deemed as such if it is a deep and meaningful one. What is a deep? A ‘deep visit’, we consider being someone who has been on our website for three to four minutes or more. A meaningful visit is someone who has come on to our website and consumed one or two pieces of content.
  • More qualified traffic from your chosen vertical targets – IP sniffing technologies, like Leadworx or others, can tell you what businesses have visited your site. If you know that more and more of the types of business you want are consuming relevant content on your site, you’re obviously doing the right thing. Sites like LinkedIn can be used to make educated assumptions about the people within a business that could be consuming the content on your site. These visits could be passed over to a business development manager as a potential business lead. Adding business leads to a sales departments pipeline is always going to be a huge KPI for a B2B marketer.
  • Size of your email database – If your email database is going to get larger (organically) through the interesting content you are creating and syndicating, this is an obvious and tangible metric that can be reported on and should be a key KPI in B2B content marketing.
  • Goal completions in Analytics – This may potentially be more of a vanity metric but if you know your website is leading people from point A, to point B and resulting in C, you know you’re doing the right thing.
  • Social Listening tools – Use social listening tools, like BrandMention, to see how other people are using the content you are producing, then monitor this over time to see how it (hopefully) increases.

The key thing you need to do is always look at the numbers and if the numbers are going in the wrong direction, kill it, fast. Like all digital marketing activity, you need to be highly agile and iterate all the time depending on what is or isn’t working.

So, if you are syndicating content on LinkedIn hoping to reach a certain target persona and it’s resulting in more web visits from your competitors perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board with your personas. Similarly, if you are producing content and distributing via social (maybe on LinkedIn Pulse) and you are not seeing an uptick in web traffic perhaps you are focusing on the wrong channel.

Key takeaways

If you have skipped to the end of this document here are our top five golden rules for a successful B2B content marketing programme:

  1. Create buying personas – Addressing specific pain-points will help your potential customers and make your voice an expert one in a crowded marketplace.
  2. Have a plan – To fail to plan is to plan to fail. Your plan should include your content calendar, where you are now and where you want to be.
  3. Have a content leader – You need to be perceived as an expert voice. Emoji’s and typographic errors are probably not going to paint you as an expert in B2B.
  4. Automate – Use technology to get your content in front of the right people and let other people spread the word for you.
  5. Iterate – Look at the numbers and scale quickly if something is working. And, fail fast if the opposite appears to be the case.

We have kept this guide quite high level, as we know our intended audience is time-poor and likes to read compendiums. We’ve done our research, you see, and wanted to produce a concise guide that could be read within ten minutes and is easily actionable. Of course, if you would like to talk in greater detail about any of these points please get in touch.

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