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B2B Content Marketing Secret Sauce

Among professional decision makers, 80 percent prefer to find company information in an article versus an advertisement1. This is the consumer mindset of the digital era: be proactive, be informed, be empowered. This is why you need to practice content marketing.

Content marketing can come in many forms—including blogs, eBooks, webinars, infographics, podcasts, newsletters, case studies, and social media posts. As you can imagine, each form has its own set of best practices. You may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of learning so many different messaging tools.

The solution? Form a plan. Start small. Build momentum every day. Too many businesses are just scrambling to adopt the different strategies and build a massive following without any individualized notion of what success will look like.

So before you aim to tweet your weight in daily missives, or “pin” your office mascot in an array of colorful hats, follow these six guidelines for irresistible (and therefore profitable) B2B content marketing:

1. Trust that Content is King… and give it a respectable court.

No doubt you’ve heard the metaphor: content is king. It’s not going away. On the contrary, it’s becoming more authentic. The days when websites could fool web crawlers with keyword-spun articles and ham-handed links are over. Now, your only prayer for a well-ranked page lies in legitimate, old-fashioned writing. (Well, okay, you still need to write for web conventions.)

The point is that you can’t delegate this work to your summer intern, or even to the SEO gurus who helped you game the old system. You need copy that speaks to human readers and inspires them to share it. You need someone who understands audience, tone, and story arc. Some companies are hiring veteran journalists to do the job. Others are creating positions on par with their C-suite executives (e.g. Chief Content Officer) to reinforce the primacy of this new agenda. For SMB firms, outsourced content marketing agencies often make more sense—especially since they can scale any editorial calendar with topnotch talent on a freelance basis.

2. Start your story like a storyteller.

A recent piece in Ragan's PR Daily offers storytelling rules from Emma Coates, a Pixar story artist. We know that B2C brands have been crafting storylines around their products for years. It makes sense that press releases and other content marketing pieces could be informed by narrative tricks, too.

But the main criteria for effective B2B content marketing is theme—that is, stringing all the pieces together with a few core threads. What’s the underlying current in your message? Is your business a story about growth, loyalty, family tradition? Pull your team together now and decide what your themes will be.  By drafting a content marketing mission statement (a pact recommended by CMI Founder, Joe Pulizzi), you’ll already be miles ahead of your competitors.

3. Borrow tricks from TV ads.

Funny commercials help us to imagine the sponsoring company is equally hilarious and fun-loving. And tangible products—whether they’re sneakers or soft drinks—don’t need a lot of exposition. We can see them hitting the mark without having to be told they are X, Y, and Z [desirable adjectives]. Even though television ads don’t make the list of B2B content marketing tools, they’re worth following. They use humor and visualization to show consumers why their subjects are beneficial or superior.

Your online content can do the same with consistent voice, real-life images (less clichéd stock images), and specific examples. You don’t have to say things like, “we offer best in class, professional, reliable, window cleaning services…” when you could say something more pointed, instead. “We’ll make your windows shine like new pennies. That’s why they love us at Super Well-Known Bank.” [Insert photo of your team cleaning windows at Super Well-Known Bank.]

4. Pay attention to context.

We all know the difference between a personal email and a professional cover letter. B2B content marketing often requires the same range of tone and delivery. Your white papers and data sheets will likely be fact-based and polished. Your tweets and status updates will probably be more casual, interrogative, and hopefully a little irreverent.

Even when you strike the right chord for the right channel, you have to ask yourself if the information you’re offering jibes with your prospects’ behavioral and transactional data. A good CRM tool will help you monitor cues like purchase intent and buying signals, social interactions and communication histories, plus post-purchase attitudes—all of which call for segmented, if not individualized, content creation.

5. Experiment and test.

If you’re starting to think that all these tips sound great in theory, but won’t land well with your client base, well guess what?  You might be right. Maybe your target audience scoffs at sarcasm or eschews the concept of free downloads. Maybe your target audience prefers dancing monkeys over talking lizards.  Maybe they’d rather read twelve paragraphs about your professional, reliable, window cleaning services after all.  The truth is: there is no cookie cutter approach to effective content marketing, and every kind of offering should be tested against the idiosyncrasies of your unique demographics.

Testing is tough, but worth the effort. According to HubSpot’s 2013 State of Inbound Marketing report, “companies who test are 75% more likely to show ROI for inbound marketing than those who fail to test their strategies.” There’s a lot to know about testing different types of content marketing—so much, in fact, we’re going to cover that topic in a later post…

6. Curate.

Finally, much as you love your chosen field, you won’t always have fascinating, original, daily musings to share with prospective customers. (Sixty-four percent of B2B marketers report their biggest content challenge is producing enough2.) Even if you did, your company doesn’t exist inside a vacuum. There are plenty of smart people saying things about your industry and your customers; you shouldn’t be afraid to sometimes let them do the talking.  This is called content curation.

Done correctly, curating can be a bit like research paper writing, where you prove a thesis with quotes and arguments from published experts. Curation for content marketing doesn’t have to be quite so formal. In fact, here’s a quick topical example, where we defer to this post from the brilliant Mark Sherbin at the Content Marketing Institute:

Rather than simply posting content, it’s important to put your own spin on it. That way, you can imprint your brand on an article without claiming full ownership. It also builds reader trust by clearly showing you actually read the article, raising the value of the pick in the eyes of the audience.

Sherbin also shares some additional tips for effective curation:

  • Always give clear credit to the original author and source (with a link to the original site).
  • Make sure you borrow from useful, relevant articles.
  • Borrow copy between 141 and 1,200 characters. This is a sweet spot for engagement rates.

Now… are you ready to get started?  Are you totally overwhelmed?  If you think you may need help launching or expanding your B2B content marketing plan, give us a shout. We almost never recommend the dancing monkeys.

Free Download: 4 Best Practices for Your Content Marketing Program

About the Author

Liz O'Neill
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Liz O'Neill

Content marketing specialist (and current Director of Marketing at C&S Insurance), Liz O'Neill enjoys writing informative, engaging copy about pretty much anything—helping companies and their customers cut through all the digital noise; find each other faster; form deep, abiding relationships; and ride off into the sunset (while Instagramming the entire journey).

 Tags: B2B Marketing Content Marketing

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