Do You Really Need to Invest in B2B Content Marketing? [DEMO]

Or can you get the same results without it?

What’s the most useful thing you saw online lately? A YouTube tutorial? A blog post that clearly explained something you’ve been trying to figure out? An inspirational story your friend posted to Facebook?

How did you get to the video and the blog? Odds are, you typed a phrase into Google. Long before that, though, someone put in the work to understand what people were searching for. Then they created the most useful content possible on the topic.

Why did you see the inspirational Facebook post from your friend? Probably because you’ve clicked on, commented on or liked their posts before, so Facebook knows to show you more from this person.

And guess what? It’s all content! Though it might not all be content marketing.

What is content marketing, anyway?

This is my favorite definition:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

Thank you, Content Marketing Institute

Ok, but what does that actually mean? I’m glad you asked.

Imagine the video, blog and Facebook post above are all coming from a single company with one goal in mind: getting their target audience to sign up for a demo of their software.

The company knows who they created the software for. Armed with this information, content strategists get to work. They ask themselves questions like:

  • What information is available about my target audience beyond what I already know?
  • What do they care about?
  • What are their biggest business challenges?
  • How can I help them overcome those challenges?
  • But actually, how can I REALLY help them without just telling them the solution is to buy one or more of our products?

 

Then, they craft an approach that focuses on three things:

  1. Valuable content
  2. Relevant content
  3. Consistent content

 

To stand a chance at getting that audience to sign up for a demo, anything the company creates needs to be valuable and relevant. After all, when’s the last time you read or watched anything that didn’t tick those boxes? Would you watch a movie on Netflix if it didn’t provide some value (like mindless entertainment or being thought-provoking)? Would you watch if it wasn’t relevant to your interests in some way? No.

If you have the most valuable and relevant content on the planet, will the demo requests come pouring in?

Nope, probably not. But the “consistency” part increases your chances a lot.

A sample content strategy that should increase your demo requests if done right:

Remember we’re aiming for value, relevance and consistency.

First, you work with a subject matter expert at your company to write a long-form blog thoroughly addressing a key question or frustration of your target audience. You think strategically about the keywords your audience might be searching for as you build out the blog.

Since your goal is to increase signups for a software demo, you make it painfully easy for the reader to do this if they’re interested. Note: there is a fine line between “easy” and “annoying”.

Next, you draft a range of different social media posts to promote the blog on your company’s channels, not just immediately after publication, but spread out over time. You test out different images, formats and calls to action to see what resonates best.

Then, you take each section of your long-form blog post and repurpose it into five different explainer videos around one-minute each. You publish them to your company’s YouTube, again thinking strategically about what your audience is searching for as you write a title and description.

You make it easy for viewers to sign up for a demo if they’re interested.

You go back and embed your videos into the blog post to reinforce what people are reading (after all, people prefer to process information in different ways).

You share each video to your social media channels, directing viewers to your long-form blog post on the topic to learn more.

You share the content with your PR team as a topic idea. They pitch websites that cover software like yours and offer an interview with the company expert who wrote the blog.

Yay! They published the interview! You take that story and promote it on your social media channels with a link to sign up for a demo.

As budget allows, you launch highly targeted paid social media campaigns for each piece of content to reach new audiences and reinforce your messaging.

Then will the demo requests come flooding in? If you’ve put in the work and got your audience, messaging, platforms and timing right, you’re going to see things moving in the right direction. The people who are most ready to take action will take action. For others, you’re raising awareness for when they are ready. Some won’t ever be interested and that’s fine, too. Content can also be used to disqualify them.

This is a game of quality, not quantity. It’s not about reaching as many people as possible. It’s about reaching the right people.

It’s also a game that never ends.

Content strategists carefully test different messaging, formats, platforms and even who they target in paid campaigns. They measure results so they can see what’s working. And then they refine their approach.

Hold on. Let’s talk about this “quality vs. quantity” thing for a minute

Ah, the struggle of content marketers everywhere.

What if I told you: “why reach 10,000 people when you can reach 100 people?” That sounds ridiculous, right? It’s not. I’m convinced that the fastest way to burn out in content marketing is to fall into the quantity trap. In the world of content, when you keep throwing spaghetti at the wall, nothing ever sticks. You’re not cooking a strategy. You’re just putting noodles into warm water for a minute or two and hoping to make a meal out of it.

Think about it: Would you rather have 50 acquaintances or 5 lifelong friends? A good content strategy involves putting in the work to build relationships that actually mean something. Just like a friendship needs dedication and is built over time. I hope you wouldn’t neglect your lifelong friends for 50 acquaintances, but that’s kind of what it feels like when you’re building out and executing on your content strategy and someone throws a curveball at you in the form of an entirely new audience to reach… and the expectation that results were needed yesterday.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just write about the product itself?

Sometimes you know exactly what you need (a new pair of running shoes, for example). You go to your favorite shoe-shopping websites, browse what’s out there, find the best price, and make your purchase. Maybe you’re already loyal to a brand and just want an upgrade.

Content is at its most useful for those “you don’t know what you don’t know” situations. Problems you didn’t know you had, problems you didn’t know there was a solution to, better alternatives to what you currently have that you didn’t know existed, etc.

Let’s look at how the footwear startup Allbirds describes themselves:

Allbirds is on a mission to prove that comfort, good design, and sustainability don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Now, here’s the description for their Wool Runner sneakers, the first product they launched back in 2016:

Our original everyday sneaker made with cozy merino wool.

Ethically made with ZQ Merino wool, our original sneaker is soft, moisture wicking, and ready for anything.

Which is more memorable? The mission or the product description?

Which can you reinforce again and again in creative ways through videos, social media posts and press coverage without getting really boring, really fast?

Which of these has potential to get people who didn’t know about Allbirds to feel good about their purchase?

It isn’t the product description, is it?

If this is true in the consumer world, it’s especially true in the B2B world. And it’s even more true in the enterprise B2B world.

67% of buyers in the B2B space list “relevant communication” as a top influence for choosing one solution provider over another (Dun & Bradstreet)

How do you scale relevant communication? Content (blogs, press coverage, videos, infographics, etc.)

Companies that take the time to properly engage and nurture leads improve their sales outreach at a rate of 50% while spending 33% less (Forrester Research).

How do you help engage and nurture leads effectively and at scale? Relevant, valuable, consistent content that supports the efforts of your sales team.

You know the saying: “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Well, I have a content version for you: Give a person a product description and you stick in their mind until something more interesting comes along and they forget about you. Help a person meet their needs again and again, and they’ll be a customer for a lifetime.

After all, they’re not just investing in the product, they’re investing in what the product means to them. If it’s an enterprise B2B purchase, they’re probably also investing in the support and education that comes with it. You’re getting them to fundamentally believe in what your company stands for: making customers successful.

But content can’t replace a really skilled salesperson!

Of course not. Just as a really skilled salesperson can’t replace the need for content. And the best content and sales strategy in the world can’t make up for a bad product or one that doesn’t meet a real need.

Sales helps marketing understand what customers care about. Marketing helps sales scale their outreach by producing relevant and valuable content to grab the attention of customers and prospects and encourage them to take action.

It’s a team effort through and through. If you’re great at sales and I’m great at content marketing and we’re both great at collaborating, we stand the best possible chance of reaching the right people and ultimately turning them into customers. Again, provided the product is good and necessary.

What does this sales and marketing dynamic look like in reality? Let’s go back to that definition of content marketing and break it down:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

Content marketing is strategic. Do you know what your ideal customer looks like? And do you know who you’re competing against for their attention?

If your answer is “my competitors,” you’re partially right.

Truth is, you’re also competing with companies in every other product category that might be relevant to their job (and probably their personal life, too, because let’s be honest, the lines are very blurred these days).

You’re competing with emails from their coworkers. You’re competing with a calendar full of meetings.

You’re competing with their work and home to-do list.

You’re competing with that text on their phone.

You may even be competing with their kid or significant other in the next room. Sometimes, my focus competes with the snack drawer in the kitchen and the snack drawer wins.

How will you give yourself the best chance of breaking through all of that? You won’t without a clear strategy. One that’s driven by what they care about, not what you want them to care about.

And then you need to think strategically about how to execute that plan across the right channels in the right way so they keep reading the blog post they opened just before taking the dog for a walk.

How often do you walk away from your computer to get a snack and forget what you were doing? Your content needs to be really good and really thoughtful if you want to compete with snack time.

It’s about creating AND distributing. Especially in the B2B content world, so much has to happen behind the scenes before any content is finalized.

If the goal is profitable action, or really any action at all, a single blog post or social media post or email is never enough.

It’s valuable, relevant and consistent.

Content strategists ask themselves:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • What do they care about?
  • What are their biggest challenges when it comes to color?
  • How can I help them overcome those challenges?
  • But actually, how can I really help them without just telling them the solution is to buy one or more of our products?

Then they talk to the R&D team, they talk to sales, they talk to customers, and even companies that didn’t choose them, if possible. They look at what competitors are saying and think about what information gaps exist or how to write about a similar topic, but even better. They look for clues in what’s worked so far with content to understand what to create in the future.

Slowly, but surely the topics they need to cover become clearer. Then it’s time to ensure there’s a consistent stream of that content for the target audience to consume.

It’s about attracting AND retaining: Content marketers need to think about grabbing the attention of their target audience in the first place, then keeping it. This doesn’t stop when a sale is made. In fact, content focused on customer retention is equally important. You don’t want your competitor to swoop in and win over your customers, right? Well, it’s harder to leave a company if you’ve built a relationship with them and the value of that relationship is clear.

You need a clearly defined audience: Do you know who you’re selling to and what they care about? If you create content and you don’t know who you’re talking to, maybe the right people will find it, but probably not as many as you were hoping for. In the B2B world, we’re often asking a lot of people who don’t know us very well. For starters:

  • A big monetary investment in our technology
  • A big time investment from their employees to get the technology up and running after purchase
  • The trust that they’re making the right decision

Also, when it comes to defining your audience, “I’m talking to everyone” is not an option that will work. I promise.

Ann Handley, founder of MarketingProfs, says it well when talking about her own newsletter for marketing professionals:

“To make your email newsletter more universally appealing, write it with just one person in mind. This is true in email especially, but it’s also true in any content that you are creating: The irony is that the more specific you get in writing to one person, the more universal it can often feel. Because you are being very specific in the advice you’re giving somebody. You’re giving very specific direction. And your tone of voice feels very loose and conversational. So it feels more broadly accessible even though you’re only writing to one person. That’s why I think about one subscriber every week. I think of one person who I’m writing to.”

Your goal is to ULTIMATELY drive profitable business growth: The word “ultimately” is key here. In the B2B world, it’s often a marathon. No one goes on LinkedIn searching for ways to spend $50,000 of company budget. I’m pretty sure no single video or article or conversation 100% convinced someone to spend that amount of money, either. And even if it did, how many purchase decisions of that size can be made by a single person? Convincing one stakeholder isn’t enough.

So, do you actually need to invest in B2B content marketing?

It seems like you can’t afford not to.

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