When you see the phrase content marketing, what comes to mind?
For many people, it’s blog articles and social media posts that explain some aspect of the author’s target market or a challenge their solution addresses.
This leads to a misconception that content marketing is solely designed to attract new customers.
In practice, content marketing can do a lot more for your B2B business. Let’s explore some possibilities.
To immediately dispel the myth that content marketing is all about creating sales opportunities, let’s talk about recruiting.
How do today’s job seekers decide whether your company is a place they might like to work?
Like almost every other aspect of their life, they turn to digital media.
Your website and social media channels are the first port of call for potential employees
Your website and social media channels are the first port of call for potential employees, which means the impression you create there counts for a lot.
Consider the sort of questions an applicant might ask, then visit your company’s digital properties to see whether they would find relevant, helpful information there.
If not, you’re losing prime talent to the competition.
Don’t overlook traditional media, either. If you’re sponsoring or exhibiting at trade events, your logo, banners, exhibit graphics, sales collateral, and branded promotional goods will be noticed by job seekers.
Across all channels, quality and consistency are key.
A disconnected experience can have a serious negative impact on a prospective employee’s impression of your company—for example, if they see a clean, modern website but visit an out-of-date, clunky exhibit.
The effectiveness of your content is inextricably tied to it being noticed at the right time by members of your target audience.
This is a two part problem: getting the content in front of audience members, and getting them to notice it.
The first part can be tackled with detailed customer research—such as customer journey mapping—to identify what information your target audience is looking for and where they spend their time searching.
If you consistently publish relevant, helpful information on the channels that your target audience frequents, you’ll gradually build an engaged audience.
It takes several encounters with your brand before it will lodge in a prospect’s brain
Why gradually? Because it takes several encounters with your brand—commonly known as ‘touch points’—before it will lodge in a prospect’s brain.
An engaged audience member is one who actively reads your content, sees value in what you are publishing, and comes back for more (or signs up to receive updates whenever you publish something new).
It’s important to realize that social media followers aren’t necessarily engaged audience members.
Email subscribers are a better indicator of engagement, but you should still track additional metrics, such as how frequently they open your messages and, better yet, how often they click on your calls to action.
A step beyond engaging audience members is being recognized—by humans and algorithms alike—as a producer of authoritative content.
This is where great, human-produced content distinguishes itself from the increasingly comprehensive summaries generated by artificial intelligence (AI) tools.
ChatGPT and its cousins are effective at gathering and parsing information in response to a prompt.
This allows non-experts to produce content that sounds like it’s coming from someone with extensive domain knowledge, which creates issues for both experts and information seekers.
How does an expert demonstrate their worth?
How does someone with questions know they are receiving legitimate advice?
The answer lies in producing content that goes beyond summarizing other people’s work.
Add color to your content by augmenting it with novel examples, controversial opinions, and proprietary data and research
Add color to your content by augmenting it with novel examples, controversial opinions, and proprietary data and research.
It might sound like a contradiction but be sure to cite the sources of any third-party information you include. This is something that AI tools currently struggle to do, creating a tell-tale sign that content might be AI-generated.
In the realm of search engine optimization (SEO), domain authority is something the algorithms calculate based on how frequently visitors link to your content or cite it in their work.
The latest Google Search algorithm places significant emphasis on EAT—expertise, authority, and trust—as it tries to promote content that is original over regurgitated snippets compiled by uninformed publishers.
If resources are tight, this means it is more valuable to produce less but higher quality, original content than more, unoriginal pieces.
To take things to an even higher level, publish content that establishes someone at your company as a thought leader.
This means more than just showcasing knowledge about your sector. Thought leadership is about taking the conversation in a whole new direction.
It requires vision, creating new interpretations of the market landscape and expressing them in ways that separate you from the status quo.
It requires having a unique point of view and sharing it in ways that people will find controversial—either choosing to support it or object to it.
This part can be scary.
By their very nature, unique and controversial points of view will alienate some members of your audience. Won’t that cost your company business?
Done badly, it certainly can!
I’m sure you can think of a few high-profile CEOs whose views were a tad too controversial for their customers’ (and shareholders’) liking.
Thought leadership requires both original ideas and judgement
Thought leadership requires both original ideas and judgement.
Done well, it will set your company apart from the competition and put you in a strong position to capture new business from the audience members who support your new ideas and approaches.
Over time—assuming your ideas are worthwhile and bring value to supportive customers—others will jump on the bandwagon. This will include some buyers who were indifferent or negative toward your ideas when they first heard them.
Be innovative, provocative, and persistent.
Not every piece of content is relevant to every prospect or customer every time.
It simply isn’t possible or practical to target your content that precisely.
However, this doesn’t mean your content is wasted on those for whom it isn’t of immediate use.
The characteristics of your content still matter.
An important factor that determines whether an audience member will come back to you in the future is whether they trust you as a source of helpful information and solutions.
Who do you turn to when you need advice? Trusted friends and family.
In the same way, buyers turn to trusted sources for information and solutions.
Be consistently honest, factually correct, and authentic
To earn audience members’ trust, your content must be consistently honest, factually correct, and authentic.
While it’s easy to ensure your content is honest and accurate, making content authentic requires constant attention.
Authenticity comes from both the style and substance of the content your produce.
It needs to sound like it was written by the same person every time, even if you have a team of in-house writers or work with external content producers.
Alright, I’ll drop the most obvious purpose in next: grabbing the attention of people who might be customers for your solution.
This is the objective we intuitively assume content must have, and you could argue that it is the ultimate effect of several items on this list.
Since this post is focused on tasks that aren’t about sales, I won’t write more about it here.
Sadly, many prospects get abandoned shortly after being attracted.
It’s as if companies think they’ve locked them in as soon as they’ve grabbed their attention.
Conversely, prospects’ brains have short attention and retention spans. If you don’t nurture the attraction, it quickly fades.
Nurturing a prospect can include:
· Keeping them engaged until they are ready to purchase a solution.
· Helping them gather additional information to convince themselves and other members of their buying committee that your solution is right for them.
· Showing them different information from that which originally attracted them until you eventually uncover a challenge that you can help them solve.
· Establishing a trust relationship—potentially including domain authority and/or thought leadership—that inspires them to introduce your company to a third party.
Each of these nurturing pathways requires a slightly different mix of content and can take more or less time to bear fruit.
How do you know which pathway to go down with a particular prospect? By discovering their role, the challenges they are tasked with solving, the reasons they find your content engaging, and the reasons they might or might not be in the market for one of your solutions.
A customer relationship management (CRM) system is essential for this to work properly, coupled with marketing automation tools to send the right content to the right people at the right time.
Incredibly, many companies perform little or no lead nurturing, despite abundant research showing that it increases conversion rates, deal sizes, and customer loyalty.
While sales growth usually means you are capturing market share, there’s another angle that I want to explore.
Content can help expand your market reach in three ways:
1. Selling to more customers by attracting and engaging new prospects.
2. Selling more things to existing customers by helping them uncover additional challenges that your solutions can address.
3. Sell to new customers by having existing customers advocate for your company and its solutions to their peers.
Once again, this emphasizes that content marketing isn’t just about showcasing how you can help new prospects solve their problems (although that’s certainly part of its role).
Explore challenges that prospects and existing customers might not have thought about
Growing an engaged audience allows you to explain and explore other challenges that prospects and existing customers might not have thought about.
And, appropriately written content enables and incentivizes customer advocacy.
Make your existing customer a hero in the eyes of her peers by giving her the information she needs to help her peers solve problems.
Advocacy marketing is a gift that keeps on giving. The more your customers tell other people to buy your product, the less you need worry about attracting and engaging them.
Even better, people who hear about your solution from a trusted peer are much more likely to become a customer than a cold prospect identified through advertising or inbound marketing.
When a customer purchases your solution, they have an expectation about the value it is going to deliver.
If the solution works as advertised, they will be satisfied, having realized the expected value.
If it doesn’t, they will obviously be dissatisfied and unlikely to come back for more. This is a situation worth avoiding.
Content that helps purchasers install and use your solution is an essential section of your content library
Content that helps purchasers install and use your solution—whether it’s a piece of hardware, software, or a service—is an essential section of your content library.
This can range from a frequently asked questions (FAQ) list on your website to a searchable knowledge base to a collection of how-to videos on YouTube.
It also includes any material that your customer success team sends out (or refers to) when addressing requests for help.
The more effective this collection of content, the more frequently customers will be satisfied by the value they realize from their purchase.
Ideally, you want customers to realize more value than they anticipated, which typically leads to high levels of customer satisfaction.
This can be achieved by making the same customer support and how-to materials available to everyone, irrespective of whether they’ve logged a request for help.
For example, you can share how-to videos in regular newsletters or social media posts that help customers get the most value out of your solutions.
This is particularly effective with software solutions, where showcasing underutilized features can be a quick way to boost users’ value creation and satisfaction, but it also applies to hardware and other solutions.
Repeat customers are the cheapest business to acquire, hence most companies’ acute focus on keeping them happy and minimizing churn.
The material we’ve just covered on selling more things to existing customers by helping them uncover additional challenges and on helping customers get the most value out of their purchases is obviously important here.
But content marketing can accomplish even more.
One of the best ways to retain a customer is to make them feel valued
One of the best ways to retain a customer is to make them feel valued.
This can be achieved in several ways including:
· Producing dedicated content for your most important customers (e.g. quarterly VIP bulletin)
· Showcasing customer achievements (e.g. case histories, customer spotlights, guest posts)
· Involving loyal customers in product development discussions and new product previews (e.g. user conferences, advisory committees)
· Inviting priority customers to participate in your events (e.g. webinars, panels, trade show booth events).
Whichever of these approaches you take, be sure to make them exclusive. Only your very best customers should benefit from them.
This makes those customers feel extra special and incentivizes newer, smaller customers to become larger, repeat buyers so that they also qualify for VIP treatment.
I decided to break this task out from the lifetime customer value discussion because customer loyalty is bigger than just customer retention.
While some buyers will entrust their entire supply of a particular good or service to one vendor, larger entities usually maintain multiple sources for their needs.
In other words, you will seldom be competing in a winner-takes-all situation.
Consequently, customer loyalty means both keeping you on their list of qualified suppliers and purchasing the same or more from you each time they buy.
Naturally, each of the competing suppliers will be angling for a bigger slice of the pie.
So, part of your content marketing effort should be directed toward promoting reasons why buyers should remain loyal to your brand and give you the lion’s share of their business.
A word of warning: this can easily deteriorate into a mud-slinging match between rival vendors—something you must avoid if you want to retain trust and remain authentic (unless your brand identity is that of a street fighter!)
Create honest, transparent content that showcases the long-term value of your products and those of your competitors.
This makes it easy for buyers to justify purchasing more of your value-adding solution than other, potentially lower-cost, alternatives.
And there you have it. An extensive—though certainly not all-inclusive—list of many ways that content marketing can help your B2B business grow beyond just attracting new prospects into your sales pipeline.
As you design your content strategy and populate your content production calendar, consider which of these objectives each new piece supports and try to achieve a balance across the different objectives throughout the year.
If I’ve listed something that you hadn’t considered before, decide what sort of content your company might produce to target that objective, and give it a try.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock