It’s interesting to see how people need for something to die in order to come up with the next new thing. But that’s actually only a partial view of reality. Nothing ever completely dies, at least not in marketing.
The golden age of advertising ‘à la Don Draper’ might be gone and brands now mostly try to meet their audiences online, but renowned brands still make TV ads. Large corporations still spend millions to win the funniest superbowl ad. I started my marketing career in what we lovingly call ‘below the line’ marketing – making direct mail pieces to bring brand experiences to the customer’s mailbox. As email inboxes become more and more crowded, direct mail seems to be making a comeback. The old tactics coexist with the new. Inbound marketing still needs outbound. Brands need to pull and push in their never-ending attempt to get in front of their customers, stand out from competitors, engage, educate, and entertain in order to sell their products.
The evolution of content marketing
Over the past decade, we’ve seen a lot of hype around content marketing, especially in B2B. Not that it’s a new thing – John Deere launched a customer magazine in 1895 and Michelin started its famous guides in 1900 – but in recent years, with the emergence of marketing automation, many – if not all – B2B companies have fully embraced the practice, making content a corner-stone of their marketing strategies.
In B2B, 70% to 90% of the decision-making process is already concluded before anyone even talks to sales, and 47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep. (Demand Gen Report, 2016)
So, it would be foolish for companies to not put delicious content out there if they want their audiences to find them before their sales reps start tracking them down. With marketing automation, the pressure on marketers to deliver leads for their sales teams has forced marketing departments to multiply their efforts in creating more and more content – articles for blogs to drive SEO, boost your ranking, generate traffic, videos and social media posts to promote ‘how to’ guides and ebooks to attract top of the funnel audiences and progressively push them down the funnel. Gated white papers are designed to convert and fuel the database, with more content to nurture those leads until finally they become customers. Today, on top of content for the masses, marketers also try to create ultra-targeted content – specific to one industry or even just for their most valuable targeted accounts (ABM).
Content marketing has become a proven marketing tactic, both to position a company as a knowledgeable, educative thought-leader in its industry and to deliver leads.
So, what’s the problem? Have we reached content saturation?
According to Venture Beat, “blog output by brands has increased over 800% in the past five years but organic social share of blogs has decreased by 89%, with only 5% of content getting 90% of engagement. An estimated 70% of the content generated by Marketing is never used by Sales reps and a similar percentage of the leads generated disappear into a ‘sales lead black hole’.”
As marketers, we have embraced the production of content to the point of saturation. We are producing so much content that we have forgotten why we started to create content in the first place. We’ve started to gate all the content we are producing in order to produce more and more leads for our sales teams. We forgot that a lead is a human being, a potential customer and not just a click, a number, or an email address. We’ve fallen for content marketing 100% while our role should be to embrace Trust Marketing.
What to do?
Let’s kill the overload of mediocre content!
Can we reconcile the need for companies to be seen, to be found by their audiences, with the clear decrease in the tactic’s efficiency, especially when it comes to generating leads?
I think yes. But it has to start by marketers’ capacity and desire to pause the machine for a second, to stop running around like headless chickens and stop the constant flow of bad content. According to Marketing Profs 2019 Content Marketing Benchmark North America, 60% of B2B companies create content without a documented content strategy and 23% have no strategy at all. How crazy is that?
Quality over quantity. Start with a content strategy, defining your content and editorial objectives and follow these 6 tips:
- Know your Audience
You don’t need to produce content for everybody.
Your content strategy starts by understanding who you are talking to.
Define your audience: create personas to clearly identity who you are talking to, uncover their needs and their pain points. How? Talk to your sales team and your customers.
Have you talked to your sales team to get a clear picture of who they talk to and who they sell to? Have you ever asked your customers what they care about? What questions they would like answered? If they read content? What content they read? Where they found it?
Always ask yourself ‘who am I writing this for?’.
- Have more empathy and bring value
Stop producing mediocre content for the sake of it. Make content for human beings.
It starts by knowing what value you bring to their lives. It’s not about selling your products and technology features and explaining how great you are. It’s also not about keywords or ranking (SEO is not a goal, it’s a tactic). It’s not about you, it’s about them. It’s about being helpful and relevant to someone. Your content can (and should) be bigger than your products. You should use your knowledge and expertise to solve your audience’s problems and address their pain points.
Bring solutions, give answers. Engage. Create an emotional connection.
Always ask yourself what people will gain from reading your content.
- Know who you are
Before making your content bigger than your products, you have to understand how your company, your brand, is larger than your products. Your products bring a solution to a day-to-day issue but your company vision and your brand purpose goes beyond the technical features you’re trying to sell. Define your business positioning as well as your brand promise.
That’s about knowing who you are as a company, as a brand. Not just the products you sell but the value you bring to the world. Can you create unique content? Content that your competitors couldn’t claim?
Define your purpose, your personality, and your brand voice.
- Get personal
Even if we’re talking about B2B, it’s important to make a human-to-human connection – not just a business-to-business one. Use your happy customers to advocate for you, influencers to promote you. But also use your experts, your spoke-persons, your sales team to carry the voice and personality of the company. Authenticity increases trust. By using your fanbase to advocate for your company, it makes your content feel more real and less ‘sales-y’.
And it’s a two-way dialogue – don’t treat your audiences like leads or numbers, talk to them as human beings. Your content should feel like the advice of an expert friend, not like a manual produced by corporate marketing.
It’s time to make your B2B marketing more human to human.
- Create a community
You goal is to create content that people want to read – just like that John Deere magazine or the Michelin guides. You want people to want your content. Because it’s good. Because it sparks joy (let’s ‘Marie Kondo’ content marketing lol). Because it brings them value. Think of your content as more than a sales brochure. Think of your content as a way to create an emotional connection with your audience. Think outside the box, challenge best practices, create more engaging content and bring creativity into your content creation. Are you sure you need another boring white-paper that maybe 20 people will read? Sure, we’ll want to cover the basics and make sure you have case studies and engaging blog posts. But how about a podcast? A video series? A movie? An illustrated book? The goal is to build more than content, it’s to build a community of fans and followers.
Ask yourself how you could challenge the conventions and make content people want to actually read.
- Stop using content as lead bait
What if you stop thinking of content marketing as a trap to get an email address?
It can be so much more. And if you follow the first 5 steps, your audience will want to subscribe to your content. You will get that email and actually a much better one: not just an empty email but the name of a human being ready to engage with your brand, to be part of your community. Let your audience really come to you. So what if like Drift or Path Factory, you decided to open up your content? Can it push you at creating better content?
Really ask yourself if your new content should be gated or not.
Content marketing has existed for decades and it keeps evolving. Content for the sake of it will soon become completely irrelevant unless we as marketers start thinking more about the quality and the reasons for this content to exist in the first place. Sure, the transition to creating genuinely interesting, educative, and valuable content is going to take some serious time and effort – but the potential is huge. The potential to create a community of fans and followers who believe not just in your products, but in you.
Content marketing is dead. Long live Trust Marketing!