If you’re judging by the title, this could be one heck of a scary article to read. Scary, long, and way too complicated. You don’t have time for this, do you?
I’m going to go ahead and tell you the point of this article, so you know upfront what I’m trying to accomplish, and why you don’t have to worry.
- The problem: Most of us B2B marketers — I’m looking at you — are doing content marketing without a strategy. That’s a problem.
- The solution: We need strategy to guide our B2B content marketing. Strategy is the solution.
- The point: I’m going to tell you how to develop a strategy. It’s not hard.
The sad state of content marketing: Where has the strategy gone?
Today, everyone is doing content marketing. Almost everyone — like 94%.
If you’re not doing content marketing, you’re in an awkward and kind of lonely position.
But it’s not good enough to simply be doing content anymore. If that were the case, then everyone would be succeeding at content marketing. Quite obviously, that’s not happening. In CMI’s 2014 B2B Content Marketing survey, we found out that only 44% of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy.
Something’s wrong here. If these businesses don’t have a “documented content strategy,” then what are they doing? Flying by the seat of their pants? Churning out content with no strategy?
I work with a lot of brands and a lot of marketers, and I see the same thing going on everywhere: Businesses are doing content marketing with absolutely no strategy.
Some have a misguided idea of strategy. Some have a vague and wispy idea of a strategy. Some have a wish for strategy. Some people don’t know what strategy is. The majority are just doing content marketing for the sake of content marketing.
Gosh, what a waste of time and money!
And it’s not slowing down! In the survey, CMI and Marketing Profs discovered that 73% of marketers are now producing more content than they did in the last 12 months.
Some of this content may be necessary and good, but some of it may be simply throwing more mud at the wall.
Hey, more isn’t better!
I agree with Joe Pulizzi: “I’m done with more.”
In fact, we may be reaching a saturation point in content marketing. I have a growing concern that the sheer volume of content may be partly to blame for the decline in the effectiveness of content marketing.
Mark Schaeffer’s mind-blowing article on “content shock” made us aware that there’s a limit to the proliferation and efficacy of content production. Schaeffer’s “inviolable limit” is approaching a plateau that the volume of content has far exceeded. Not only is the content ignored, but it’s economically foolhardy to keep producing it.
Do I agree with Schaeffer’s doomsday jeremiad? It doesn’t matter whether I do or not. Pulizzi’s article is good enough for me. Plus, I think there is a way to cut through the problem — real or perceived — regarding content shock.
What is strategy in B2B content marketing?
What I’m advancing in this article is the concept of doing content marketing with an eye to strategy, and that sounds like a pretty worn-out topic.
At the very least, we all know that we should be strategic in our approach. “Strategic” is one of those business buzzwords that become part of our everyday bizspeak. The problem is that we’ve lost touch with what strategy really is, and what it looks like.
In content marketing, strategy is about going back to the basics while at the same time looking ahead to the ultimate objective of content marketing
We’ve got a pretty good grasp on the big idea of content marketing. What we need more is a way to pull it all together into a cohesive and focused strategy.
What’s in a strategy?
When the self-proclaimed “experts” talk about content marketing strategy, they start throwing around phrases like “content inventory,” “full audit,” “KPI,” “behavioral retargeting,” and “due diligence.” Although it makes them look smart, it can make the rest of us feel pretty incapable.
Strategy doesn’t mean anything really complicated. In fact, the less complicated the better. When you have a simple and uncomplicated strategy, you can execute said strategy much easier and more effectively.
Answer the Big Questions
The section you’re about to read is the most important part of this entire article. What I’m going to do is show you the building blocks to a strategy.
You may be tempted to skip over this section, because heck, you already have the basics figured out.
Ah, but strategy is about going back to the basics, remember? If you jauntily skip over this section, you’re going to miss the entire point of the article. (Plus, all my laborious research and herculean brainstorming will completely go to waste.)
I’ve decided to simplify the first stage of strategy into three really simple questions.
- Who are you?
- Who are you reaching?
- What are you trying to accomplish?
From these questions, you’ll be able to develop a strategy that will get results.
Who are you?
You need to define who you are as a company, not just in terms of tone and approach (that comes later), but in terms of what you’re offering to the world at large.
In reality, you’re several things. A brand. A product. A culture. An idea.
But in content marketing, you need to define one of these identities as foremost. Who you are as a business will inform your approach to content marketing.
Nuance is a company that produces speech and imaging software. Unless you’re privy to the industry, you probably don’t have any idea what that’s all about.
But Nuance understands their identity. That’s why they can hone their identity to a single audience, application, and manifestation in their content:
Perhaps “clinically-focused, closed-loop best practice” doesn’t mean much to you, but to their audience, it clearly encapsulates an interest.
By thoroughly understanding who they are as a company, Nuance can situate their content in best way.
There is more than one possible approach that can emerge from a single business identity. If, however, you’re a novice to the world of content marketing, I recommend choosing a single approach and nailing it. If you can nail it, then you can adopt another approach to reach yet another market segment.
Who are you reaching?
The wheels of strategy really begin to turn when you start to close in on who it is that you’re trying to reach.
I want to keep this basic, so you can focus on the big idea. What you need to do is clearly understand the ideal end user — their interests, their locations, their habits, and their behaviors that touch upon using your product.
General Kinematics, sells vibratory equipment — big machines that cost millions of dollars. They understand their identity as a provider of these solutions, and shape their content in appropriate ways.
Notice how the company’s content strategy can be seen in their blog topic — ”Mining Safety Changes” (lower right corner).
They clearly understand their audience — mining professionals, safety managers, and leaders. These are the people that are looking for that kind of information, and who will engage with that level of content.
What are you trying to accomplish?
The underlying issue in this point is that you want to see your audience’s behavior change.
Content is not merely for consumption. It is for action. Your content should have an intent — the goal of moving the user to action.
This is where many content marketing efforts fall completely flat. They fail to engage with a user’s behavior.
Every piece of content that you produce is not going to be a call to action. But every piece content that you produce should be connected to a call to action.
For example, Hubspot’s article — 5 Essential Components of a Sales Development Process — isn’t an overt call to action to buy the company’s product. If they did that, nobody would read their blog. But what they do have in the middle of this article is a CTA for their free eBook on sales methodologies. Clearly, this offer is ideal for their target audience of sales professionals.
Your content marketing needs to be informed by the desire and objective to change your user’s behavior. There is an end goal, without which you lack a strategy.
When you answer these three questions, strategy begins to naturally emerge.
Answer the Little Questions
There are plenty of little issues that you’ll need to answer, too. I call them “little” questions, because they are much less important than the three questions I outlined above. However, in order to truly succeed with your content marketing strategy, you’ll have to answer these questions.
Here are some of the bigger of the little questions.
What is my audience searching for?
User intent is a crucial part of content marketing. Every search query has an intent. Your goal as a content marketer is to understand that intent and to have your content appear in the search results for the specific queries, depending on that intent.
Where is my audience?
What online spaces does your audience use for collaboration? Some of my clients have discovered that, unfortunately, their audience isn’t a blog-reading, Google-searching audience. So, they’ve turned to profitable clusters of audience who use LinkedIn as the virtual water cooler.
What is the best form for my content?
Don’t assume “whitepaper.” B2Bs are releasing content in a huge variety of ways. The answer to this question goes back to your audience’s needs, gathering places, and desires.
It may be social, it may be infographic, white paper, blog, webinar, or any other one of the myriad content forms.
How can I make this even simpler?
Most of the time, your audience is going to speak the jargon and know the language of the niche.
Just don’t go overboard.
No matter how savvy your audience, you can always make things simpler and clearer. The more simplicity and clarity you achieve, the greater the likelihood of connecting with your audience and achieving your goals.
Strategy. It’s elusive. It’s mysterious. And it’s all but disappeared from many B2B content marketing initiatives.
It’s time to bring strategy back.
Content marketing is all about strategy. Strategy can go beyond the three basic questions. The best content strategies that I’ve seen are those that are innovative, different, and evolving with a shifting audience.
At the very least, I challenge you to create and define a strategy. The current state of content marketing is such that you’re not going to succeed by just doing it. You’re only going to succeed by strategizing.
How do you go about creating a B2B content marketing strategy?
About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.