I’m increasingly having conversations with senior executives of a certain age who all want to get started with what falls under the umbrella term of B2B content marketing but which they referred to variously as: thought leadership; communications; article writing; profile raising and customer engagement. I’ve even had one CEO who told me, in a wonderfully vague way, he just wanted to “get our name out there.”
What connects these people is they all work in B2B professional services firms. And all were referrals from others they trust and respect who’ve previously worked with me (thanks Tom, Luke, Nigel, Ute, Crispin, Steve). Another thing they have in common is that they’re arriving quite late to this particular party, having realised they can no longer rely on just doing what they’ve always done before. Still, better late than never.
In each case, their enthusiasm to get started was matched only by their uncertainty about where to start and what to do. That’s why I’m writing this article series.
In this, the first of three posts, I’ll begin with defining and producing the content, and setting internal expectations. In the next two I’ll cover the role of experimentation/testing, and – vitally important – how to promote the content once it’s created. I’ve also created a SlideShare you can use and share with others. You can view and download it below.
Where to begin
My first question for anyone starting out with content marketing is always this: what business goal is this activity supporting? Starting the conversation about the business is often revealing. Invariably the common denominator is a growth plan, as in sales revenue.
There are often others but whatever the business goal, it always pays to begin with the proper level of detail. Armed with the details you start to see a clearer picture, not only of where to focus but also what type of content (or content mix) might be most appropriate, and where and how to use it.
You also need to be clear and realistic about what action your content should provoke. It’s not enough to define what you want people to think – if they don’t take the actions you intended then you’ve only done half the job. Would you rather have 300 LinkedIn post ‘likes’ or one qualified sales enquiry?
Defining and producing the content
What should your content be about? Not you, but them. That’s to say only about 20 percent should be about you, with the remaining 80 percent about your audience – most likely customers. People don’t really care much about you, they mostly care about themselves. So focus on customer education, the problems you solve and the value you provide. Make it a combination of the time-honoured ‘show and tell’.
If you don’t have a crystal clear feel for this, ask a representative subset of customers. Their answers will almost certainly confirm your thoughts but may also throw up some surprises. If you want to get closer to the unvarnished truth, get an outsider to do this research. Customers are more likely to open up to a third party than risk offending you or stroking your ego.
Make dialogue ongoing
Even if you are confident you know what keeps them awake at night and what your value proposition is, it’s a good idea to talk to customers regularly on this subject. Burning issues change, or new ones arise. If you’re lucky, you may spot issues early-enough on the ascendency, which will give you a head start on the competition.
You can also ask what topics they want to hear more or less about. Remember, your ideas for a great read may be quite different to theirs. And the last thing you want is to be the person who adds more mediocre material to the ever increasing deluge of information customers face.
As well as all the above, you can discover more about where people turn for advice:
• which seminars or other events they go to
• what they read, watch or listen to
• which forums or special interest groups they participate in
• if and how they use social media
All of this intelligence will be valuable later on.
Capture first, produce later
Each of us has our preferences for format, but they’re not fixed. Some customers may prefer to watch a 3 minute video interview than read a 3,000 word article. The opposite may apply if they’re hanging around an airport terminal. So be ready to capture the raw content and produce it in different formats.
For example, record a conference speaking opportunity or customer interview in their entirety and in edited highlights for video and audio podcasts. Reproduce the transcript as both long-form and abridged articles. Use soundbites as LinkedIn discussion starters, email shots or Twitter posts.
Production costs are falling all the time, so the budget required for carving up content into different formats might surprise you. You’ll also need to consider ease of viewing, reading or listening on the different devices people now use and prefer: This is likely to be PCs at their desks; smartphones everywhere; tablets at the weekend or on the move.
Internal expectation setting
In my experience, people start off with sky-high expectations for content marketing. They don’t understand that producing a couple of articles and a video or two will not make a big impact on meeting their original goals. It usually takes many months, even years, of patient trial and error to build proper traction. Stamina and persistence will pay off.
Another factor that’s underestimated is the amount of time, thinking and learning that people inside the company must commit to. Good content marketing isn’t something that results from a judicious sprinkling of fairy dust from outsiders.
You’ll certainly find great, creative ideas and knowledge from agency people, but you are the one closest to your customers. You have intimate knowledge of your products and services and the market you operate in. If you don’t, then it’s not content marketing you should be prioritising.
Access is important
You’ll need to commit to providing access to customers and subject matter experts – people who are often in high demand. Also, to giving colleagues the freedom and incentives to work with your agency for the common good of the business. This might be tricky in organisations that reward people on personal targets or those that revere the ‘rain maker’. It could start an uncomfortable-feeling culture change, so prepare for it.
It’s often best to begin modestly with one part of the business, or one particularly enthusiastic subject matter expert or partner (if your goal is to promote individuals). That way, you can position this as a pilot project; one where you test, iterate, revise and measure impact faster before arriving at a clearer picture of what works best. After that, you can roll out more widely in the business with greater confidence – perhaps with a larger budget.
I also mentioned learning above. You need to work with people who recognise their role is to make you increasingly self-sufficient and themselves redundant over time. You ultimately want colleagues who are comfortable creating, collaborating on and seeding their own content, free of dependency. Learning by doing is the way forward.
Thanks for reading this far. Check out the SlideShare presentation below for a summary of this advice. If you’ve found what I’ve written useful, please share it with others. And if you still have unanswered questions, feel free to ask me. I’m more than happy to offer no-strings-attached, informal advice.
You can contact me by email firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on +44 (0)7711 887234
Download the PowerPoint presentation here B2B content marketing for newcomers