Business-to-business (B2B) sales and marketing take longer, have more decision-makers and may even have multiple economic buyers and approvers. It follows that content marketing is a larger part of scaling the sales effort, generating a higher number of qualified leads for B2B companies and supporting the sales team with content to build relationships with marketing-qualified leads (MQLs). That’s why the vast majority (89%) of B2B marketers rely on content marketing to attract, educate and persuade prospective customers while educating existing customers and deepening customer relationships. They recognize the strategic value of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract new customers and increase the lifetime value of the hard-won customers they already have.
If you want to make B2B marketing more streamlined and predictable, you need a content marketing strategy that is organized and has a solid framework.
At Tenor we lay out a framework that ensures immediate payoff, mid-range success and long-term return on investment with demonstrable results that can be measured down to the dollar. The benefit of this approach is to turn marketing into the other half of the innovation engine at your company. No doubt you have a great product, suite of products or complement of products and services that truly transform your customers’ business and create massive value for them (once they buy, implement and use them.) To help you out, we’ve provided a content marketing checklist that you’ll need to check off in order to create, implement, and run a successful B2B content marketing plan.
There are three parts to this checklist. The first helps you define and hone your content marketing strategy. The middle portion covers the implementation of your plan, and the last section covers measuring your content marketing activities to determine if they were successful. We use this simple framwork with each of our clients repeatedly, but there are more complex and involved approaches.
If you prefer to go really deep, check out Hubspot’s Checklist. Otherwise let’s get started:
1. Set Big Goals
What are you even planning for? What does your business need to achieve to succeed? You need to have a goal and one so big and so audacious that you’re both a little bit scared but everyone on the team and in the company is excited. Going big with your goal setting can also help you get buy in because it’s rare that people don’t want to exceed expectations.
Being specific in your big goal setting can also help make sure you can quantify, map and measure your contribution to the company. Some marketers like to use the SMART goal setting system: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Timely.
Once your business goals are set and you have a time frame at which you will check your success, it’s time for you to craft the conversation you want to have with prospective customers through your content marketing plan.
2. Pick Your Target Audience
The most effective way to pick your target audience(s) is by creating buyer personas. Having personas provides the opportunity to talk amongst your team about who you’re trying to reach, attract, engage, influence and close. Ultimately, you may build several content marketing campaigns based on your product-market fit and the number of personas based on specific needs, pain points, challenges, behaviors, goals and concerns.
If you serve multiple sizes of companies you may find that the benefits are the same across personas, but that the pain points differ. And you may realize that very large customers have several specific personas involved in the sales process and so you must ensure you are speaking to each and addressing their specific needs.
You can get a better idea of how to create a buyer persona with these free templates from HubSpot.
3. Build From Your Base of Content
Unless you’re launching an entirely new product, in a new category to a new market you’ve never reached, you can build your content marketing strategy from much of the content you already have. We typically walk through an audit where we look at what we have, what we like and what works. Sometimes we’re lucky and there are a few positives in each of those categories. But if not, follow Dorthy Parker’s advice and “kill your darlings” — get rid of content that’s not working even if you really like it. (note: you don’t have to eliminate it forever, just take it off the website and out of your marketing automation flows.)
Typically marketers find they have content on their blog that gets a lot of readers but few if any conversions. Check the CTA: is there one clear “next action?” We often find there are too many or marketers are relying on the footer forms to capture intent from leads.
When conducting our audits we look at: Keywords, Traffic Sources, Unique views, Bounce rate, External and internal links, Consistency of content & Social shares.
If you need help conducting a content audit, let us know.
4. Keyword Research
When marketers begin trying to improve their ranking on search engines they often overemphasize keywords and forget about key phrases. Truth is, over 50% of searches are more than three words long. Over half. If you’re not looking for searches like “how do I improve my SEO” then you are missing out on most of your customers’ web searches and you’re leaving a huge, lower-cost advertising opportunity behind.
Here are some great tools to get you started: the Keywordtool.io uses Google Autocomplete to generate a list of hundreds of relevant long-tail keywords based on any topic.
And of course the Keyword Planner from Google AdWords is a great tool for conducting your keyword research because it gives you advertising costs for promoting your brand with a given keyword or phrase.
5. Targeting Your Content
With your audience defined and your goal in mind, you can begin weaving your keywords and brand and product messaging into content for the right reader at the right time. And timing is important. Not everything you write is the first thing a prospect reads. That should actually take the pressure off. You don’t have to engage, interest, persuade and close each website visitor or email reader the very first time. Nor should you. It is critical to recall each of the different stages of your marketing funnel and create the right type of content to be delivered at each of those stages. There are many flows for the marketing funnel, but the most basic is AIDA.
- Awareness: New leads or visitors that are likely new to your brand, product or service. Content should be easily digested, yet in-depth. And always without barriers to access or consume.
- Interest: At this stage, your lead is becoming a prospect. They know you and what you offer, but need more information to make their decision. More detailed or longer form information can help them at this stage and you can begin to qualify them by “gating” the content or making them give you bits of information to demonstrate how interested they are.
- Decision: In the decision process a qualified lead is almost ready to make the decision (not to become a customer) but that they have learned enough about your offering to take the next step. In some cases, that’s a sale. In others, it’s a recommendation to a larger team or a request for budget or procurement. At this stage a hand-off to inside sales often makes sense, or you may support their decision by offering self-scheduled demos, live ROI calculator consults or other experiences where the prospect asks for help.
- Action: An “action” occurs when the prospect decides to take the action necessary to become a customer. You likely have an onboarding process, a credit check, KYC/AML or other documentation. The initial steps here can be part of your marketing automation process, but in most organizations, a one-to-one relationship has formed with an account manager or other role responsible for customer success.
6. Content Promotion
Finally, one of the 4Ps of traditional marketing! Organic content is great and hugely valuable, but to ensure that your content reaches your entire target audience, you must promote your content. There are a handful of ways to do this cost-effectively.
- Earned Social Media:
Earning social media attention can be a valuable means to reach a wider audience. Most networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn make it super easy to share your blogs, link back to landing pages, and introduce new services and products. There are many tools out there to help automate this once you’ve tested and seen what works, but don’t give up the human touch. Stay timely and aware when self-promotion may not be well received by your audience.
- Email Marketing:
For both lead-generation and customer service and support, it is important to send out regular emails to targeted buyer personas and customer segments. Simply sharing your latest news, blogs, and services is a great way to keep the channels of communication open and nurture or nudge, those that haven’t taken the next step.
- Paid Promotion:
- Influencer Marketing:
Your brand and products can benefit by being associated with and referenced by key influencers and industry leaders. Not only can they help you increase awareness by providing you another outlet for reaching potential customers, but they add a human element and community to your marketing efforts.
7. Content Remarketing
We’ve outlined several steps to creating great content marketing and getting it in front of leads and customers at the right place and time when they need it. And, yes, it’s a meaningful investment of time and resources. So reuse what you use and redo what you do well. If you write a blog about “dogs at work” and it performs well, then write one about puppies, older dogs, multiple dogs, kennels, bowls, toys and training. If a blog performs well, make sure there’s a right-sized and right-timed version for every other marketing channel you’ve invested in: ads, social, email, video, and so on.
A customer joins a webinar, grab their quotes and get approval to use them in written form (better yet, get pre-approval to do so). You publish a report full of data, turn it into an engaging infographic, then chop those up into little images that are easy to share on your socials.
Another approach to repurposing or remarketing content is to rewrite it from another perspective. Play devil’s advocate with yourself. It’s an easy two for one on topics that your target audience are clearly interested in.
8. Analyze and Optimize
In the end, measurement is the method of success. Are you reaching your audience, generating conversions, creating leads, qualifying prospects, and so on. To measure you must set and track key performance indicators (KPIs) for each of your marketing goals.
For this, we turn to Google Analytics – the modern marketers baseline tool for measurement.
We no longer bother much with social media measurement which is mostly vanity metrics. Ultimately, it’s just another source of traffic and if a lead originates from there or reaches MQL status, great. In the end, we put all of this into Hubspot and track lead nurturing metrics including:
- email open rates
- click-through rates
- MQLs (marketing-qualified leads)
- MQLs per channel
- the conversion rate between MQL to SQL (sales-qualified leads)
Sophisticated marketers may take one more measurement step in their content marketing and begin multivariate testing, or trying out different headlines, images or other factors that can incrementally improve conversion. We find this useful in only the most highly trafficked horizontally positioned B2B companies such as accounting software or cloud services.
However, the final measurement step marketing must take is refinement, revision and republishing. Once you know what works, do more of it until it ceases to outperform. If some piece of content, no matter how treasured, is not engaging, qualifying or converting leads, then move it or remove it. In the end, measurement is there to make change. And that makes sense.
B2B Content Marketing Maxim
Business-to-business relationships are complex but long-lasting and valuable. You can’t rush the start of something that must last for a very long time.
Using a checklist to deliberately plan and execute a thorough marketing campaign will yield real results, meaningful revenue, and lasting relationships.