Content Marketing continues to be a driving force behind meaningful B2B marketing that powers marketing and business growth. According to research by HubSpot, 70% of marketers actively investing in content marketing and there’s no sign of a slowdown, especially as SEMrush research has found, marketers are focused on using content to generate more quality leads (75%), attract more traffic to their website (71%), improve brand reputation (56%), and improve customer engagement and loyalty (45%).
The problem is, many of those marketers are not creating best answer content experiences. Creating useful content by itself is not an effective strategy in a world of brand distrust, content attention deficit and the distractions brought by a global pandemic. Being the best answer for your customers means being found and also delivering on expectations. Creating findable, credible content that is also useful and experiential is at the center of what being the best answer means for marketers.
Content is the common denominator between the building blocks of creating best answer experiences including SEO and social for findability as well as influencer marketing and earned media for credibility. Video and audio driven content formats and even interactive are what help deliver on experiences. Unfortunately, many B2B marketers don’t have the resources or insight to bring these essential elements together for their content marketing strategy.
To help create the foundation for providing customers with best answer content experiences, here are 5 steps for developing a more powerful content marketing strategy:
Step 1: Ideal Customer Profiles
Content Marketing is essentially connecting customers with relevant information in a way that provides mutual value for both customers and brands. While content informs, it also influences readers to the logical conclusion to buy – directly or indirectly.
The most effective content marketing efforts are thoughtful about understanding the people the brand is trying to engage. To do that, there are a few key questions that should be answered:
- What are your customers’ content preferences?
- How do they discover, consume & share content?
- Who are they influenced by?
- What questions do they need answered during the buying cycle?
- What content formats are most compelling (audio, video, text, long/short form, interactive)?
The answers to questions like these can help B2B marketers make important decisions about their content marketing strategy, social media channels of focus and measurement via social monitoring and web analytics.
Documenting ideal customer archetypes involves collecting data, aggregating and analyzing it into profiles to help marketers understand expectations, goals, problems and solutions that can be addressed through experiential content.
The first step is to collect data you already have on existing customers that exemplify ideal characteristics such as profitability, low support costs, referrals and retention. Additional internal sources include web analytics data from brand websites to identify KPIs that lead to ideal customer acquisition. Social media monitoring and analytics data can also provide insight into ideal customer behaviors. Influencer Marketing platforms can help identify the key voices that have the attention of customers on the topics relevant for the brand solution.
Additional tools include competitive search and social media research services, social media monitoring tools and keyword research tools. You can also survey your customers to identify what social media and content sites they prefer, who they are influenced by and the types of content that is most valuable to them.
Step 2: Topics of Influence, Search and Social
Driven by a desire to connect customers with the information they need to make B2B buying decisions, content marketers dedicate substantial resources to creating information and media that engage. Understanding target customer interests and the language they use to think about the problem/solution involved with your offering are an important step in optimizing content for discovery through search, social media and influencers.
With the pandemic driving virtually all B2B activities online, many buyers discover new services through search engines. They also look for recommendations from influencers and discuss what they find via search on social networks, forums and blogs. Search engine optimization best practices call for topic research so that content can be optimized for what’s relevant to customers and the language they actually use when searching for solutions.
Because B2B buyers are active and influenced by social content, it’s important for B2B marketers to understand social topics as well as search keywords. What buyers search on Google and what they discuss on social networking or Q/A sites like Quora are not always the same.
SEO focused topics help inspire creation and optimization of content for discovery via search engines. Social media focused topics help guide the content and messaging approach on relevant social channels. Topics of influence help marketers identify the people that are most trusted and therefore can be engaged to co-create and promote content to audiences that are interested. This way, when B2B buyers search a category for solutions, they see “Brand 123” in a prominent position. When that buyer looks at social content like blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn or video for the topic, Brand 123 appears there as well. When B2B buyers see their search and social findings match with what they see trusted industry experts advocating and what is covered in industry publications, it creates and incredibly powerful combination.
Step 3: Editorial Plan & Content Mapping
The implementation of a content strategy, ideal customer profile and search/social/influencer topics is through the Editorial plan. Most B2B marketers engaging in content marketing have adopted the same best practices used by publishers to create engaging information and media for a specific type of audience.
The Editorial plan covers any kind of content that tells the brand story to the customer segments being targeted. Such content plans factor in original website and blog content, curated content from other sources, influencer contributions, repurposed content from inside the organization and content published on other websites or other brand web properties.
The editorial plan also influences the content created for social media specific purposes such as blog posts, Tweets, Facebook Status updates, LinkedIn forum posts, YouTube videos, and influencer activations on social channels.
In order to coordinate the connection between the ideal customer profile guided Editorial Plan and the actual content, it should be mapped. Many SEO practitioners already do this with keywords and associate target keyword phrases with specific web pages or categories of pages. This is useful for making sure all target concepts are accounted for with on-page optimization and can be modified as content or target keywords change. If there is no content for a target keyword to be mapped to, then it’s added to the content creation plan.
Mapping content according to the ideal customer profile is very similar. Existing content is audited for its ability to address the information needs of target customers across the buying cycle. If there are gaps, then new content is created to address those needs. In a coordinated Social, SEO Influencer Marketing effort, the Editorial Plan and Content Mapping process occurs first, then the SEO audit.
Step 4: Content Promotion
“Build it and they will come”. It’s a well-known and often over-used quote used to describe the fallacy of great content as a marketing tool. Content isn’t great until someone shares it. And they share it, and so on and so on.
With B2B content marketing, great content is the beginning not the end objective. An effective Content Marketing strategy includes information about the customer, search and social topics as well as topics of influence, editorial plan and a plan for promoting all the high quality content being created. With content attention deficit and information overload experienced by so many, buyers can easily be distracted. It’s important for B2B brands to stand out and stay connected with findable, credible content that delivers and experience.
Here are four basic reasons for promoting great content as well as making it findable:
- Many B2B buyers still rely on information to be pushed to them because finding and trusting new sources on an ongoing basis isn’t practical.
- Promoting content through channels where a social network has been developed can lead to exposure, traffic and links.
- Content promotion can inspire syndication and citations from other blogs and online media.
- Brand trust is an issue, so when credible experts share and advocate, customers listen.
A particularly effective model for coordinated Social, SEO, Influencer and Content promotion is a Hub and Spoke. Depending on your content strategy and target audience, the hub might be a resource center, a blog, Facebook Fan Page, YouTube Channel or a Website. The spokes are distribution and promotion channels leading to off-site networks or communities.
Understanding the communities and influencers and involving them in both content development and promotion keeps topics fresh, relevant and trusted as well as interesting for the community to promote to others.
Step 5: Mining Search, Social & Influencer Analytics
As B2B marketers implement a coordinated Best Answer Content Experience effort, there’s a cyclical publishing, promotion, analysis and improvement process that can boost effectiveness: Marketing Optimization.
It starts by co-creating topic specific content with influencers, optimizing it for search and promoting it to relevant social channels. As the brand content gets noticed, it is shared and engaged with creating more awareness of the brand as a source of useful information on the desired topics. At the same time, a persistent effort is made to grow social network connections and relationships with relevant influencers. Increased exposure of brand-authored content will attract more subscribers, followers, mentions and citations of brand messages. Increased links & social exposure by influencers and social networks will attract even more search, link & social traffic. Increased web traffic & community engagement actions will provide the brand with data that can be used to research, develop & further grow social networks for content, SEO and expand influencer relationships. With the information gained from community data, editorial optimization plans can be refined for more effective content creation, influencer activation, search optimization and content promotion.
While these 5 steps are relatively basic for more advanced B2B marketers, hopefully the model will provide you inspiration or fuel to start intentionally and consistently incorporating Influencers, Social Media and SEO in your B2B content marketing. You’ll reach more customers where they’re looking with experiences that will inspire more effective engagement, revenue and retention outcomes.