illustration of social media buzz

Content is king. Content is the new creative. Both true, but this is old news. It’s long been common knowledge that in a crowded, advertisement-saturated environment, content marketing gives companies an opportunity to stand out by providing compelling information or entertainment rather than additional clutter. Best-in-class B2C examples include Netflix’s native advertising for the T Brand Studio, Moleskine’s magazine about creativity, and KFC’s branded Spotify playlist.

However, while click-friendly campaigns like the ones above may seem like slam dunks for the consumer market, many marketers struggle to think outside of the box when it comes to B2B content marketing strategies. They worry that their subject matter is just too boring to inspire buzzworthy content or attract viewers. This means that too often, B2B content marketers settle for the expected: uninspiring blog posts and white papers. Producing thought leadership becomes more of checking a box than contributing a resource.

But B2B marketers should resist settling for content that’s simply “good enough.” Weak content marketing strategies aren’t only ineffective; they’re reflections on corporate expertise — as well as a waste of employee time and talent. It might seem like marketers have their work cut out for them, but fortunately, the strategies that make for better B2B content marketing are also the ones that make content creation less overwhelming.

Setting a B2B content marketing agenda

One content marketing stumbling block is trying to tackle too much: too many audiences, issues, and publications. Ambition is admirable, but being focused is more actionable.

1. Determine goals to guide content creation

Instead of rushing to put out a call for “content,” ask what your organization is hoping to accomplish from a content marketing strategy. Since B2B sales cycles are longer, and often depend on relationship building, simple name recognition is not enough. Here are a few common goals:

  • Demonstrate expertise to prospects
  • Add value for clients
  • Show partnership to potential vendors
  • Illustrate a perspective for analysts

Articulating a target audience and their intended takeaways will go a long way toward determining the themes and mediums of an editorial calendar. For example, while prospects might want to read the kind of trends reports that will position your offerings as a valuable purchase to procurement decisionmakers, current clients might benefit more from “how to” guides or news items.

2. Narrow your audience for more valuable engagement

As when building a customer journey map, crafting a B2B content marketing strategy requires narrowly defining a target audience, so you can more precisely meet their needs and desires. No matter what their industry, nothing that is highly relevant to someone’s role will be “boring” to them.

However, it is true that in B2B markets, a precisely defined target audience may represent relatively few people compared to one in a B2C industry. For example: A fast-fashion retailer’s target content marketing audience might be something like “upwardly-mobile women between the ages of 18 and 35 interested in fashion.” That pool of desired readers is still much larger than say, one of COOs of Am100 law firms.

Tailoring your B2B content marketing strategies for a smaller audience pays off by delivering more valuable engagement. While you may think that trying to appeal to, say, every lawyer or tech buyer will result in more clicks, it will probably just mean your content will get lost in a sea of content. What’s more, these clicks will often result in fewer conversions than those offering targeted thought leadership for a small but influential audience. So set your KPIs accordingly, and make sure to capture not only your content’s reach, but also what actions it’s spurred.

Narrowing the audience will also help determine which social media platforms to use, and which print, digital, or broadcast platforms to approach about media opportunities or paid partner placements. The latter is especially important for B2B content marketers with limited budgets. For example, placing a sponsored article in a niche publication is likely to be much less expensive than placing one in Harvard Business Review.

3. Assess your resources to plan efficiently

Think expansively when it comes to what kind of content you could provide. Where do you have talent you can leverage? Often B2B content market strategies rely heavily on employees or contractors with writing, social media, or design skills, but companies can also call on in-house talent in web development, data, presentation design, audio recording, and more. For example, Dropbox Business created an interactive microsite for its Marketing Dynamix campaign, on which prospects could take a “Marketing Personality” test that evaluated their strengths and weaknesses. According to Lane Ellis of Top Rank Marketing, the campaign’s initial ROI was 25:1, as it drove 220% of its lead-generation goal. Let your current mix of talent and resources help determine your future mix of content.

And it’s important to set reasonable goals for the volume and frequency of B2B content marketing posts. Not every company has the capacity to publish new content daily, or even weekly — and that’s okay. Plan a manageable editorial calendar based on existing resources, or to lobby leadership for additional funding or talent. The regularity with which you post will also inform the nature of your content. If you have the bandwidth for frequent publication, you can tackle timely issues. Fewer resources may require a focus on more evergreen pieces.

4. Lean on brand to unite content

B2B content marketing creates a more impactful impression when thought leadership and other resources reflect a common industry outlook. This is where brand can be a major boon for content creators and content strategists. A good brand defines a company’s purpose and personality, which marketers can translate into writing guidelines and campaign themes.

A brand whose “why” is to create connections will have a different editorial perspective than one whose purpose is to care for others. For example, part of the content marketing strategy of a “connections” brand might be to partner with a company from a different field on an insights piece, while a “caregiver” brand would provide tips and tricks for its clients’ everyday jobs.

Executing B2B content marketing strategies

With an editorial agenda finalized — and with the brand as a guide — it’s time to crank up the content engine. Sometimes brand marketers are turned off by the nuts and bolts of content marketing strategies; for example, copywriters once turned up their noses at SEO and SEM. Now, however, there’s no ignoring the more tactical side of content marketing. Read on for some practical tips for executing a B2B content marketing campaign.

1. Commit to keywords

Your content can be revolutionary, ingenious, inspiring, captivating — but if no one can find it, what has it accomplished? Embedding key search terms into your copy and metadata can help you get the exposure that leads to meaningful engagement. While you may choose to work with an SEO or SEM specialist, there are relatively simple tactics to which you can turn to get started.

Be careful, however, not to pour investment into terms that don’t align with your brand or your content market strategies. It’s when these diverge that you get cringeworthy copy that seems forced and unnatural. Instead, narrow in on those queries with the magic combination of brand and industry relevance, volume, and page rank position. When SEO and SEM are executed with brand in mind, they should act as seamless complements to your content.

2. Adopt the “hubs-and-spokes” model of B2B content marketing strategy

If you expect every piece you publish to be a headline story, you’ll overburden your content creators — and yourself. Instead, tackle content marketing more efficiently by using the hubs-and-spokes, or pillar, model. This strategy uses topic clusters to recirculate traffic back to those signature pieces that offer significant ROI.

Hubs and spokes go hand in hand with SEO strategies. Depending on the goals of your B2B content marketing strategy and Search Console analysis, choose high-impact keywords around which to create high-impact content. These publications are the hubs, or pillars. These should receive a significant investment and might take the form of a research study, microsite, branded documentary, or long-form article.

To support these pillar articles, identify related keywords and topics and use them in shorter, lower-stakes content that links back to the longer, signature pieces. These might be blogs, interviews with leadership, or short infographics. Not only does this “spokes” content strengthen keyword reach, but it also works to demonstrate expertise in multiple areas.

B2B Content Marketing case study: “This is Capitalism”

Stephens, a long-time DeSantis Breindel client, is an investment bank headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. The bank’s brand has always been rooted in its independence; it stresses how its privately owned status and location outside of Wall Street allow it to make investment decisions that reflect a total commitment to its clients. Recognizing an opportunity to amplify this message among CEOs, high-net-worth individuals, and up-and-coming entrepreneurs, it came to us for a B2B content marketing campaign strategy.

With input from leadership, we identified that these audiences were interested in promoting the value of capitalism to society. We proposed This is Capitalism, a branded microsite and content series focused on subjects such as historical business-builders, compassionate capitalism, and entrepreneurial innovation. The “hub” content would be a set of high-quality documentary shorts profiling notable capitalists of yesterday and today, such as Madam C.J. Walker, Sam Walton, and Bernie Marcus.

With high-quality production values, including custom illustrations and animations, these videos represented a significant investment from Stephens. However, to leverage the investment and extend their reach, the company also developed related, timely, and highly shareable short articles and a podcast that direct users to its featured pillar content.

With the launch of the campaign and the subsequent releases of additional videos came opportunities for media coverage of the campaign — as well as the company and its leadership. The microsite received positive press from groups such as the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and Investment News, while the films garnered a Telly Award for DeSantis Breindel. It also led to media opportunities for CEO Warren Stephens on local television and in publications such as the Wake Forest Business magazine.

Most importantly, however, it strengthened the bank’s relationships with its content marketing target audiences, as evidenced by the high-profile business leaders who have participated in its CEO Stories podcast or written articles for its microsite. These include Matthew A. Waller, the Dean of the Walton School of Business; CNN commentator Margaret Hoover; and Steve Odland, CEO of the Conference Board. Additionally, the site was mentioned in the Walton College of Business’ rationale for Warren Stephens’ induction into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.

Setting a laser focus on brand-led content marketing goals

For B2B marketers, who often have smaller teams and budgets than their B2C peers, content marketing’s demands may seem daunting. The key to tackling the challenge is breaking it into smaller parts. If you tailor content for highly specific audiences, you’ll find that it’s easier to generate marketing content that is relevant and useful for them. Similarly, when you focus efforts on a narrow group of banner pieces, it will be easier to ideate and assign smaller posts to support them. With this kind of strategic focus, a B2B content marketing strategy is not only manageable, but also highly effective.

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