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15 Principles for Successful B2B Content Marketing

At the heart of all good B2B digital marketing strategies has to be a B2B content marketing strategy.

If you’re feeling the pressure to deliver, you’re not the only one. Today, every business has a blog and video content is appearing quicker than Usain Bolt hunting chicken nuggets. But a successful strategy is less about grinding out daily content and more about taking a considered approach.

If the word ‘strategy’ makes content marketing seem like a mammoth task, don’t worry. This article breaks down the seemingly impossible into fifteen manageable thought leading principles. So, if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves to create your own content marketing strategy, read on.

1. Before you do anything, understand your audience.

If you’re used to direct marketing with its focus on product benefits, hit re-set. Before you even think about developing a strategy or getting business buy-in, you need to adopt a client-centric mindset.

Because content marketing is all about your audience, it’s paramount that you can clearly identify your mark. This doesn’t mean targeting an elephant because it’s broader and therefore easier to hit than a goat. Try to attract all UK accountants and your strategy will miss the mark. Instead, be laser focussed on who your audience is and know what they want from you and how they want it. Ask yourself:

  • What information do they need that will make their life in the office better?
  • How does my company uniquely meet their needs?
  • Where do they access new information?
  • What are their preferred communications channels?

Narrowing your audience down will enable you to create a strategy that delivers for the client and the business.

2. Think strategically

If you work for someone else and want to introduce, or revise your approach to, content marketing, you’ll need to make a business case. Even if you’re the boss, it’s still worth producing a documented approach. It will act as point of reference and keep you on track.

Your business case doesn’t need to be more than one page and should answer the following questions:

  • Purpose – what business challenges are you trying to resolve? More conversions, improved SEO for your website, developing client trust, improving the value of your product or service in your clients’ eyes?
  • Business fit – how does this strategy fit with wider company goals? Link your strategy to company KPIs and demonstrate wider ROI (such as joining up departments or improving cross-division collaboration).
  • Realistic goals – where do you currently sit in your industry and where do you want to be? Set realistic but stretching goals that provide the business with ROI and give you a good chance of achieving them. Also, consider the speed at which content marketing delivers; whilst effective, it is a slow burner.
  • Worst case scenario – what would give you nightmares and how will you manage risks to ensure this doesn’t happen?
  • Resources – do you have the right skill set and sufficient capacity within the business to deliver your strategy? Do you need to introduce a Head of Content Strategy? Will you restructure existing roles, recruit additional headcount, employ an agency or contract in designers and writers?
  • Tactics – what’s your plan to get you from start to finish? Setting out your high level B2B content marketing tactics provides you with a framework for action. It also gives the business an overview of what you will be doing to calm any jitters.

You can find a good example of a one-page business case for content marketing here.

3. Set relevant content marketing KPIs

Measuring the right indicators for the project, not just the business, is key to knowing whether you are on the right track.

Page views will tell you how many people your content reached whereas tracking the amount of time spent on each page, number of comments, likes and shares will indicate how well people are engaging with each piece of content. Also, identify bounce rates to see where your audience is not engaging.

Get more bang for your buck by analysing the comments you receive to improve audience insights.

Attracting and engaging clients lays the foundations for conversions. Track click-through rates to your website to see how effective content is at moving clients towards your products or services.

Join up with the sales team and their processes to track where their referrals and deals are coming from. You may find clients who have engaged with your company’s content better appreciate the value of your proposition and are more likely to pay full price. Track the rates paid by engaged clients to identify ROI at the bottom line.

4. Ensure you can capture the right data to measure success

Once you have your KPIs, you need to make sure you can measure them. If your current technology only allows you to see when an email has been opened and not what your client does next, it may be worth investing in new technology.

Of course, if you are promoting blog posts on platforms with built-in analytics you can often access this for free. Identify gaps between data capture capability and the KPIs you want to measure, and put something in place for maximum ROI.

5. Deliver content that is valuable to your clients for the best returns

“The fool tells me his reasons. The wise man persuades me with my own.” Aristotle

We’ve already touched on the importance of placing you client at the heart of your B2B content marketing strategy. The same is true when developing content ideas. Use your client knowledge base to come up with subjects that solve their most pressing problems. These topics will interest and engage your audience. Smart Insights’ infographic (below) provides a great approach to planning content by type.

content marketing template
Source: Smart Insights

Review published content to identify any questions your audience has asked or take client stories from colleagues in sales and client services as the basis for further content.

Content can also come from researching your competitors. Find out what content they do well and learn from it; fill in the gaps where they are failing.

However, don’t follow the market blindly. Stand out with a unique take on industry news - a sideways look at something connected to your business. If you can monitor trends to understand what people are looking for early on, you can get useful content out before your competitors.

6. Develop the right tone of voice and apply it consistently

B2B content marketing strategies rightly focus on their audience but the best ones also keep hold of what makes their business special. Whether you’ve decided to write your own content in-house or have it delivered by an outsourced team you need to create a consistent brand voice that is recognisably yours.

If you’re an engineering consultancy selling specialist knowledge and skills, you need to sound professional, knowledgeable and easy to get along with. Strike the right balance of flavours and your clients will get a sense of what it will be like to do business with you.

7. Pick a channel that works for your client

Leading B2B content marketers choose precision over proliferation. Rather than using every medium to promote their content, they pick one or two that make sense for their clients, such as a podcast or video series, a monthly email newsletter or a blog. Being focussed on a smaller number of channels and delivering content that feels authentic to the users of those channels will ensure your content finds the right audience and is meaningful to them.

8. Lay a trail of SEO breadcrumbs to your door

Optimise your content for search engines by including the keywords your audience are looking for. Think of your keywords as SEO breadcrumbs that help the right audience find you. Specific keywords or phrases might not be of interest to everyone but they will attract the right sub-set of people who are more likely to engage with your company. Tools, like Google’s keyword planner, can help you with this. Thankfully, keyword stuffing is a relic of the past. By keeping content friendly and relevant you’ll attract and engage your clients.

9. Proactively promote your content

Don’t post your content somewhere and expect everyone to know it’s there but don’t promote it everywhere to everyone either. Confused? Again, be led by your audience. If you know they only visit Twitter and LinkedIn for business information, don’t bother posting to Instagram and Facebook. More isn’t always better and it is also less efficient. If your audience uses multiple platforms, target the most popular to be most efficient. The Content Marketing Institute has useful information about this.

Existing assets are another way to distribute content – email lists, employees, social networks, vendors and clients can all be leveraged to share your content. Just make sure you ask people to share content that’s relevant to them or their audience. There needs to be a benefit for both parties for this to further, not detract from, your relationship.

The image below is an illustration of how we publish new content across the different social media channels, making sure that the content is used strategically and not to much.

social media publishing

10. Hook your reader with great headlines

If the godfather of advertising, Ogilvy, is right (and who are we to doubt?), five times as many people read the headline as the body copy. Get your headline right to ensure the rest of your hard work is read and not wasted. If you’re struggling, HubSpot’s blog title generator is a go-to resource.

Good headlines arouse curiosity: ask a question the reader wants to know the answer to; use statistics to generate interest; set up ‘how to’ articles; spark interest with a funny or irreverent headline (if this fits your brand); or, link your article to a current news story in an unexpected way. Don’t forget that your content needs to build trust. So, only make a promise in a headline that your body copy delivers on.

great content headlines

One way to do this is to avoid click bait headlines (you know, the ones that promise you won’t believe something until you open it up only to find you do believe it - yawn). These types of headlines might get a lot of page views but they are unlikely to deliver against your engagement KPIs and will only generate a temporary increase in traffic.

And, although we might be in a post-truth society, steer clear of ‘alternative facts’ by fact checking all data and specifics. You don’t want to undermine your hard work and destroy the credibility you’ve built up.

11. Think beyond stock images and consider the context of your content

Articles with images get a much higher click rate than those without, but choosing your images wisely is the key to success. Quality, relevant imagery - that gives more detail, showcases or gives an example of what you are talking about - is best.

And you don’t need to provide all the images yourself. Run a client photo caption competition; overlay quotes on top of product images. Wherever your image comes from, ensure it is suitable for the content and its position in the customer journey.

12. Length matters

300 word posts are so 2012. These days, posts of 1,200, or even up to 6,000, words, have their place. Skyscraper posts identify gaps in already successful content and fills them to create a single, superior, go-to article. They tend to be longer because they pull lots of useful information together in a single place to provide a comprehensive resource. They also generate better search engine rankings. That’s not to say every written post should be long - vary the length of content in line with the breadth of the topic.

13. Regular content beats an unsystematic approach

Good B2B content marketing strategies ensure that content is posted consistently. Posting haphazardly makes it difficult for your audience to know when they can expect to hear from you and undermines confidence in your ability to deliver. Plus, search engines prefer regularity.

To ensure you consistently hit your content production targets, set up an editorial calendar. You can use this to give your team a single place to refer to and clearly communicate which posts are to be produced each week, the deadlines for drafts, submissions, editing, final approval and posting.

Back this up with a content execution workflow so everyone knows who should be involved in producing, editing and approving the content to ensure overall brand voice adherence.

Find processes that work and write them down but don’t get lulled into a false sense of security and follow them blindly if they aren’t working. If you can identify inefficiencies and remove them, not only will your working life be easier, but you will improve efficiency and ROI. In the same way, your editorial calendar should be a dynamic plan that you can rearrange as changes in product, strategy or the industry arise.

14. Monitor, assess and revise your strategy

So, now you’ve got your content production up and running, it’s time to put your feet up right? Think again. Knowing what works and what doesn’t is key to being able to react and adapt effectively. Compare your results to your targets for each KPI and see how you measure up.

Applying your findings to new posts is obvious, but looking back at existing posts and amending titles or tweaking content will also improve your ROI on existing posts.

And, whilst looking back and amending old posts is good, looking forwards with predictive analysis is better. Once you have sufficient data, you can understand and predict customer behaviour such as purchasing trends. This will position you to plan your content creation and promotion more effectively and deliver greater ROI.

15. Embed your content strategy to become business as usual

It’s easy to become outward looking with a client-focussed content strategy to deliver. So, remember to communicate internally as well. Providing feedback on your strategy’s success can build engagement and continue to garner support for your scheme. Raising awareness of content marketing also means employees in other teams can feed into the strategy and make it part of business-as-usual.

There’s no doubt great content can deliver business rewards. Get the strategy, tactics and people in place to start delivering. Then analyse your performance and tweak to continuously improve your ROI.

A leading B2B content marketing strategy puts the client first. Capture their attention and continue to engage them with standout content and, suddenly, your business is in a position of strength. Products and services are re-labelled in the client’s mind as solutions. And, when it comes to closing the sale, you’re more likely to get the full rate. Why? Because your content strategy has illustrated the value, not just the price.

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