Content marketing is a major channel, especially so in the B2B complex sale world. It is as much about building awareness about your brand and providing your audience with information, as it is about bringing in leads to help drive sales.
But what is the best way to create useful content and measure its worth? David B. Thomas, senior director at Leadspace, a company that works to help marketers determine which sales leads to prioritize, offered some insight into how content marketing can help meet B2B marketing goals.
Marketing Dive: What sort of questions impact a content marketing strategy?
David Thomas: What are the top goals your business needs to grow, or survive? Are you starved for leads? Are you trying to break through the noise in a crowded market? Are you having a hard time attracting and retaining top talent? Pick the most important business goals–the ones everyone already agrees are important–and prioritize them realistically in order of the ones you can influence with a content marketing strategy.
MD: Are different content marketing tactics more applicable to different business goals?
DT: Content marketing may be a relatively new term, but it’s still marketing. No doubt the launch of the first marketing website was closely followed by the first meeting about driving more web traffic. Content marketing is a different method of meeting the same goals we’ve always had. Instead of paying for banner ads and hoping people will click on them, publish useful and interesting content to boost your search engine ranking so that people will find your content when searching for answers.
MD: What are some of KPIs B2B marketers should be tracking with content marketing? What metrics apply to different overall business goals?
DT: Again, it goes back to the goals you established at the start. The ultimate goal I want to achieve is to be able to tell my boss how much traffic our content drove to leadspace.com, how many of those visitors downloaded an e-book, watched a demo or requested more information, how many of them became qualified leads, then opportunities, and then customers. If they did become customers, what was the dollar value to the business of that customer?
If I have all that information, I can see what kinds of content drive which actions among our audience and most effectively supports the bottom line. If I know how much we spent on creating and promoting content, we can come up with an actual ROI figure and compare that against other marketing methods. The ultimate goal is to be able to say, “Put a dollar in the front of the content marketing machine and get X dollars in sales out the back.” And then you can also reasonably create a predictable content-driven lead funnel with realistic sales projections.
That, of course, is the idealized view. Not every company has the right tools, the right tracking methodologies set up, or the time and expertise to do the analysis. More established companies are often hampered by having multiple tools as part of their marketing stack that don’t communicate with each other, lots of different campaigns and channels active at the same time, and multiple “touches” to take into account. But if you have the vision, you can work toward it.
MD: How can marketers ensure they are able to track the metrics they deem most important? Are some metrics easier to measure than others?
DT: In my experience, the easiest metrics to get are the least valuable. Any blogging platform will tell you how many people looked at a post. If the number of visitors to your blog is continually growing, that’s a valuable metric. But it’s a lot better to be able to see how your content is influencing buyers, moving them through the funnel and turning into customers. That takes the work described above.
If you build a content marketing program on, for instance, a self-hosted Wordpress blog, share your content via LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook, create landing pages and campaigns in a marketing automation tool like Marketo or Eloqua, use Google Analytics to analyze your web traffic, and basically use the best and/or most commonly-used tools, you’ll be able to set up tracking to get real metrics.
But by all means, start out tracking whatever metrics you can get your hands on, and build a plan to get more and better ones. Just be aware that a smart CMO is not going to be impressed when you tell her, with no other context, that your blog had 84% more visitors than this quarter last year.
In other words, keep asking yourself, “So what?” until you have an answer that will satisfy your harshest critic.
MD: How should B2B marketers create buyer personas, and then apply personas to their content marketing strategy?
DT: Start by defining an ideal customer profile. Who do you most want to meet? Who would you most want to come to your booth at the next trade show you attend? Unless you work for a huge company with lots of use cases for your product, you probably have a good idea.
If you have more than one ideal customer profile, prioritize them. For instance, I would love to have CMOs reading Leadspace content, but it’s just as important, if not more so, for me to reach directors and managers with words like “lead generation” or “demand generation” in their titles. They’re the people who are most often driving the buying discussions we want to be in.
Once you know who they are, figure out what they care about. Then think about all the different ways that ideal customer might be described. The head of HR might be called Director of Human Resources in one company and Chief People Officer in another. That’s just one of the semantic pitfalls B2B marketers face.
B2B marketers are finding that predictive analytics platforms give them much better context for creating content marketing campaigns. It’s great to know your prospects’ titles and email addresses, but it’s much better to be able to pull an up-to-date list of prospects actively looking for what you’re selling, who have the responsibility to make the purchase decision and the budget to pay for it.
MD: What is the big picture takeaway for B2B marketers looking to improve a content strategy?
DT: These days it seems like everyone is simultaneously trying to create content while complaining they are inundated by content. There are more channels to share content than ever, and more people wanting to read it, but also more content competing for your buyers’ attention.
The long game is to regularly publish useful, interesting content aimed squarely at your ideal customer that addresses their needs and doesn’t pitch your product. That approach has been proven to work time and time again. There’s no substitute for providing real value, but you can jumpstart the process and build your audience faster with predictive analytics tools to help you find your ideal customers and reach out to them, in addition to giving them reasons to come to you.