Earlier this year, Forrester Research recently took a look at how well B2B firms were doing in respect to supplying content that actually connected with their audiences, and the results were quite dismal: of 30 companies evaluated, only four companies passed its test. “When marketers don’t recognize that their charter is to produce content buyers want, then content marketing quickly degrades to talking about products, features, and what the company has to offer,” wrote Forrester.
While the study was specifically addressing the B2B market, many of the findings are relevant to B2C marketers where the purchase is complex, there’s an educational component to the content marketing strategy, or the business is a service, which therefore means almost everyone can benefit by reviewing these tips.
Creating content that actually resonates with your target audience isn’t easy. Every business is different and there’s no single template for creating content that moves your audience down the funnel from awareness to action. Still, there are many things that you can do to increase the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts, and they begin with realizing the following three facts:
1. Your prospects expect to get immediately something of value from you. Like it or not, today prospects have been conditioned to expect much more than a flashy display of how great your products and services are. These people wouldn’t be browsing your site or checking out your social channels if they weren’t in a state of pain, and it’s your job to ameliorate it. Ask yourself whether there are resources that you can deploy that can address these immediate needs. By this I mean problem-solving e-books, SlideShare presentations, video how-tos, and other helpful content. Creating these long-form assets is harder than creating a series of blog posts, although as I wrote earlier on ClickZ, it’s possible to repurpose a series of thematically related posts into such an asset at minimal incremental cost. In exchange for reading such content (provided it has real value), your prospects will be typically willing to hand over their email addresses, which gives you some level of permission to follow up with them later. Don’t abuse this privilege by being spammy, but don’t ignore the opportunity it gives you to notify them that you’ve got additional content available that they’d likely be interested in.
2. The best way to find out what resonates is to experiment. Most B2Bs assume that they know what kind of content will be effective with their target audiences, but many of these assumptions may be wrong, and the only way you’ll really know is to create, deploy, and test the results. Here, social media can have enormous value serving as a virtual focus group. On several occasions, my own team has been genuinely surprised by the response of certain kinds of content on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and SlideShare, and this feedback has been of great value in terms of planning additional content that’s better tuned to audience need. If your social media presence is weak, consider allocating some small part of your budget to paid/promotional posts; a small but not insignificant ancillary benefit of doing this is that you will likely grow your list of followers and fans by doing so.
3. Don’t be afraid of showing prospects how you do things. While there are a few businesses out there that might bridle at the prospect of actually showing the public how the solve problems because of the use of trade secrets, most B2Bs are distinguishable because of the quality of their execution, not because of some “secret sauce.” For example, in SEO, most firms use the same toolsets to prepare audits, use the same methods to obtain optimize sites, and use similar approaches to obtain inbound links. What distinguishes one firm from another is the quality of execution, not some mythical patented method, and most prospects know this. So don’t be afraid of showing your prospects how you approach a problem, and don’t be afraid of directing them to helpful resources they can use on their own. While it’s theoretically possible that you’ll lose a sale or two, you’ll more likely gain trust by becoming widely known as a “straight shooter who shares,” and building trust, after all, is what effective content marketing is all about.
Regardless of where the content lives or who created it, make sure that the search team, social team and content team are all aligned on a promotion plan. The better you do at promoting great content, the better that content will rank should you happen to catch Google or Bing’s attention.
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