I was speaking to a team of marketers recently about their content marketing approach and their successes (an in some instances the lack thereof), when one of the individuals on the phone said in frustration, “we have all kinds of content and are creating more. We have thrown everything at our buyers and customers we can think of, but they are not responding to anything.”
This sums up what many content marketers are experiencing in their attempts to connect with their customers and buyers. In the most recent Content Marketing Institute webinar, research indicates only 22% (See Image 1) of respondents stated they are successful with their content marketing. This is a decrease of 18% over the last four years, which is surely an indication that something is drastically wrong.
When year over year we are seeing a decline in success despite an increase in spending on content creation and an increase in the sheer volume of content created, one has to take a step back and ask “what is wrong with this picture?” While unique challenges may exist from organization to organization, I believe part of the problem B2B organizations are having with content marketing is the sheer enormity of content marketing all together. Meaning, rather than getting specific with content marketing, organizations are stating, “we are doing content marketing,” without really having any specificity around it and therefore are creating content as a catch-all which is leading to failure.
With this premise in mind, here are a few things to think about when developing a content strategy that leads to the production of effective content.
- You Need Different Personas
After the meeting with the marketing team that I mentioned previously, I spoke with one of the directors in the organization on another call where he informed me that the organization had personas developed that they were using for their campaigns. The only catch was these personas were developed by the product management organization. While the core of the persona was the same across product management and demand generation, there were some glaring omissions that would limit the usefulness for demand generation. More specifically, when I had the chance to review I found the following information missing:
- Personas roles in the buying process and buying committee
- Key pain points and challenges they were looking to solve
- Content consumption patterns and preferences
- Who was this person’s customer?
- Was this role more tactical or strategic in terms of the purchase?
While these criteria are not necessary for product management (they will want to have criteria that perhaps focuses on product use, ownership, etc.) they are necessary for any team that is producing content for demand generation.
This is one of the reasons organizations are struggling to succeed with their content: they are using global personas across various marketing disciplines and it simply cannot work this way. As seen from the example above, what product management needs is vastly different than what demand generation needs. There will also be subtle nuances needed for brand, customer/advocacy marketing and other potential areas.
In order for an organization to succeed with content marketing, they need to understand that the personas and insight they derive on their buyers will service specific needs, and having only one persona to inform all the various areas of marketing will not suffice.
- It’s Not One Size Fits All
Much like organizations that use one defined persona across all of the marketing disciplines, many are trying to use content much the same way. At this time I will forgo explaining the differences needed between product, brand and demand generation content (which are similar to the reasons for different personas mentioned previously). However, there needs to be different content created that speaks to multiple personas, who play different roles through a buying process and have their own biases to different purchases, solutions and brands. Yet, many organizations are not making this all too important distinction.
In the 2016 B2B Enterprise Demand Generation Study conducted by my firm, 62% of demand generation marketers stated that they did not create content that speaks to every member of the buying committee. Additionally, only a little more than half of these same respondents stated they create unique content for the nurture stage of their demand generation programs that is different than early-stage and late-stage content.
This failure to differentiate is truly impairing content marketing success with many organizations. When you think about the various functions that make up a buying committee (the latest research from CEB states that there are up to 6.8 people involved in the typical B2B buying process), it is not reasonable to think that the same content will apply to all. Furthermore, you must consider the various stages of a buying process and the need to build a relationship and confidence with a prospect during the early stages of the buying process and then nurture the relationship (middle stages of the buying process) before handing off to sales. This makes the need for differing content very apparent and this is what will better engage buyers, thus breeding success.
Without content that speaks to the various buying stakeholders individually and aligns to their buying cycle, it will most likely just be more noise that is not deemed relevant to your buyers and therefore will lack any value.
- Be Aware of Who is Creating Your Content
As I’ve stated, it is essential to have tailored content, but perhaps the reason for this not being done is that the responsibility for creating the content lies with the wrong teams.
Pointing back to the demand generation survey that my firm conducted, when asked who was responsible for creating the content to be used in their demand generation programs (a question that allowed for multiple responses), 60% stated it was the responsibility of product marketing and less than 45% stated it was the role of the demand generation team. How does that work?!? As the need for specialized content and personas has been established, how is it that two-thirds of organizations are relying on their product marketing teams to create demand generation content? I don’t believe that if the roles were reversed that product marketing would want their demand generation program teams creating product marketing content.
Creating relevant and engaging content that speaks to buyers and customers individually and aligns to their role and place in the buyer journey is necessary in order for organizations to be successful. This means organizations must employ the skills needed, and cannot expect one specific department to create content to be used across various disciplines.
- You Have to Document Your Strategy
According to the Content Marketing Institute, only 35% of organizations have a documented content strategy. It is no wonder then that so few organizations are finding success with their content marketing approach.
In order for an organization to have success with their content marketing, there must be a defined strategy across all of the disciplines (brand marketing, product marketing, demand generation, customer marketing) and with each of these the buyer must be the focal point.
The problem that exists when companies do not have a defined buyer-centric strategy is they become content producers at a mass scale, but rarely are they true content marketers that are producing content that is meaningful to their buyers or customers.
In order to develop content that resonates with your buyer, you have to know your buyer and this means going far beyond marketing and sales’ perspective on buyers, which is strictly internal. What this calls for is for content marketers to get outside and look at devising a content strategy from the outside, in i.e. written from the buyer’s perspective. In order to do this, content teams need to go and speak to their buyers. Ask questions that will provide insight into what kind of content do they want? What challenges they are facing? What they want from a vendor? Once that is complete, take it a step further and conduct research into the industry or verticals of your buyers to understand the business landscape that may be impacting the purchase process or even triggering one.
As this information is collected, the understanding and image of your buyer begins to take shape and a strategy can then be defined and documented that will guide and direct the creation of specific content.
Over the last number of years, the amount of content and the money spent to create content has continued to rise and 2017 shows no signs of slowing down. However, the overall effectiveness continues its sharp decline. The realities of inefficiency and increased spending only exist in the world of government, and it is truly time for content teams to take a hard look at their approach and reverse this downward trend. Little argument can be made that there are issues with content marketing. While it is all the rage, we have to understand that we need to stop creating more content and need to create better content. Our buyers and our bosses are demanding it.
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