Content marketing has become mission critical for any B2B business that hopes to survive, let alone grow.
That’s a bold statement but not a flippant one. With B2B buyers increasingly researching, evaluating, and purchasing solutions online—often without speaking to a single vendor—content marketing is the only way to reach prospects and guide them toward your offerings.
Against that backdrop, it’s important to understand why some B2B content marketing efforts succeed and others fail.
That understanding will help you avoid the pitfalls and implement an effective content marketing strategy that yields business growth.
Here are six of the most insidious reasons why B2B content marketing fails to deliver as promised, and some tips on how to avoid them.
My philosophy on content marketing starts with three words: Always be helping.
It’s the 2020s replacement for the 1990s catchphrase “always be closing”, popularized by Alec Baldwin and Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).
Before the internet knew everything, B2B salespeople held all the cards. They knew what solutions were available, how to pick the right one to meet a prospect’s needs, and what sort of deal the prospect had to cut to get the best price.
Whether they were entirely forthcoming with that information and how great a deal the buyer really got depended on the relationship between buyer and seller.
In-person relationship building—also known as schmoozing and boondoggles—was where the two sides got to know one another, laying the table for deals to be negotiated later.
After that, the salesperson’s mantra was to do whatever it took to get to a deal. Always be closing.
Today, B2B buyers hold most of the cards.
They use the internet to discover solutions, peer networks and third-party websites for advice on how to compare them and pick the right one, and ecommerce (and more peer feedback) for settling on a deal.
It’s widely known that customers’ least favorite activity is dealing with salespeople, closely followed by being sold to by a salesperson. Their preference is for a seamless, end-to-end digital buying process.
Companies wanting to attract and engage a prospect’s attention while they are in stealth mode must publish content that identifies the company as a source of relevant, helpful information.
Notice the words relevant and helpful.
That does not mean publishing page after page of product specifications and hyperbole about the company, its employees, and its products.
Content marketing should be relevant and helpful to the buyer at whatever stage they find themselves in their buyer’s journey.
To produce such content requires understanding that journey from the buyer’s point of view.
Only then can you publish content that a prospect might find relevant and helpful.
A lack of customer understanding results in dissonant content that the prospect finds irrelevant, unhelpful, and off-putting.
In a worst-case scenario, poorly conceived content can turn a potentially high-value deal into a deal end.
Digging deeper into relevant and helpful content, we trip over the next landmine for ill-conceived content marketing strategies: Logic versus emotion.
Many B2B businesses are built on foundations of logic. Their founders and key employees are highly technical, so everything they do revolves around decisions based on data.
The same cannot be said for B2B buyers.
They are human beings first and buyers second, which means emotions play a much bigger role in their decision-making processes than many vendors realize.
According to research, B2B buying decisions are made 90 percent based on emotion and only 10 percent based on logic.
Storytelling, authenticity, and content that forges an emotional connection with the prospect are much more impactful than sales material rich in features and benefits.
Is it possible to turn ruthlessly logical engineers into emotive content writers?
From personal experience, I’d say yes. I started out life as the former and feel increasingly comfortable being the latter. There’s a human inside every engineer, as far as I can tell.
Once again, it’s key to understand the buyer’s journey from the prospect’s point of view—in this case, focusing on the emotions they experience as they progress.
Some of the emotions are negative and may cause them to stall or give up. Others are positive and will motivate them to press ahead.
You can create powerful content by demonstrating your appreciation for these emotions, stoking the positive and assuaging the negative.
Content that fails to evoke an emotional response is likely to fail.
The adage “fake it ‘til you make it” might hold true in certain circumstances but B2B content marketing isn’t one of them.
Authenticity is key to establishing trust with your prospects and winning mind share, which ultimately leads to market share.
As I wrote in my recent post on B2B content marketing myths (under myth number four) and in last week’s post on increasing authenticity in your B2B content, humans are adept at telling authentic content apart from the rest.
If you make stuff up, they’ll sniff it out.
The most authentic content is either organic, meaning you don’t pay to have it shown widely, or user generated.
User-generated content (UGC), such as reviews, social media posts, and customer feedback, is considered trustworthy provided you include the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Anything that smacks of filtering will also fail the sniff test.
Finally, don’t be tempted to make claims you can’t substantiate. This goes for product development, product performance, people you’ve hired, and all manner of other ways in which it’s tempting to stretch the truth.
The internet knows. Buyers will soon figure out if your story doesn’t add up.
Content that is relevant, helpful, authentic, and accurate outperforms content that is questionable, exaggerated, or flat-out fabricated.
It takes a village to raise a child, as the saying goes. The same is true for an effective content marketing strategy.
Even the world’s most competent CMO can’t do this by themselves.
For your content marketing strategy to succeed, you must consistently publish relevant, helpful content on the channels that your prospects frequent.
Let’s break that into two key parts: Consistency and channels.
Search and social media algorithms recognize and reward contributors who consistently publish fresh, informative content.
Simply re-posting the same thing every Tuesday isn’t going to cut it. To get noticed, you must show up on a regular basis with original content.
How regularly? That depends on the channel.
Social media channels favor those who post at least 2-3 times per week. Check sites like Sprout Social for the latest insights on when and how frequently to publish.
For a blog or similar long-form content, weekly or fortnightly is usually good enough—monthly, not so much.
And don’t overlook refreshing the content on your website. Search engine algorithms crawl your site periodically to see what’s new. If the answer is nothing, your page will slowly slip down the search engine rankings.
Sites like First Page Sage publish regularly on how much content is beneficial from an SEO perspective.
Why am I sharing all this? Because this requirement for regular content production means you’ll need some helping hands to make it happen.
Whether you have enough in-house resources or choose to outsource some of the heavy lifting to a ghostwriter, it’s essential to have a team in place who will show up when needed.
Erratic publication or a sudden flurry of activity followed by a long period of silence will cause both human and AI readers to disengage.
Both types of audience like to know they can come back regularly and find new content waiting.
They don’t always have to find it relevant—not everything you publish will apply to every visitor’s specific needs—but they must see that you’ve made the effort and can be counted on for more great content in the future.
Companies that fail to understand how much effort content marketing is going to take end up with disappointing results and often give up completely.
Those that “borrow” resources from other departments and treat content marketing as a limited time initiative, run into problems when the borrower doesn’t return the resources and keeps asking to borrow them again.
Successful content marketing happens when a realistic resource assessment is conducted, and permanent arrangements are made to produce content on a consistent and ongoing basis.
Building on my previous point, it’s best to start out with modest content marketing aspirations.
Sprinting out of the gate can leave your team winded and depleted. That’s not a recipe for content marketing success.
Taking a break—the hare napping under a tree—is bad for content performance because both humans and algorithms will disengage and go looking for content elsewhere.
Meanwhile, companies that follow the tortoise’s example establish a steady production pace that they can keep up for years and end up winning the content race.
This is trickier than it sounds, especially if you’re firing up content marketing for the first time and everyone is anxious to see results.
Why wouldn’t you build your content marketing strategy like a hare and try to reach the lead generating finish line as quickly as possible?
Hopefully you can guess the punch line: There is no content marketing finish line.
Teams that start out like hares end up needing a nap and get overtaken by teams that design their content marketing strategy to be a slow-but-steady tortoise.
This isn’t so much an explanation of why some content marketing strategies fail as a challenge to the overall premise.
I’ve worked for several clients who claimed that content marketing had “never worked for them.” But, after I dug a little deeper, I discovered that they had killed their content marketing initiatives before they ever had a chance to bear fruit.
This stems from some fundamental misunderstandings, including the belief that content marketing is easy and can deliver results in a matter of weeks.
Content marketing is anything but easy. It requires research, planning, experimentation, and continuous optimization.
Consequently, content marketing usually isn’t quick to deliver results.
Building an audience, establishing credibility, earning trust, and engaging prospects all take time—often months rather than weeks.
I caution clients to expect anywhere from 6 to 12 months before they will see the true impact of their content marketing initiatives—even longer if they’re starting from scratch.
Don’t hold a progress review after 3 months and then kill the program because it hasn’t opened the floodgates to hundreds of qualified leads.
That’s not a content marketing failure, it’s a failure to set realistic expectations.
Companies that commit to content marketing for the long haul—at a minimum, one year—are much more likely to succeed than those expecting results in six months or less.
Here’s a quick recap of the B2B content marketing pitfalls I’ve covered and some tips on how to avoid them.
Build a solid understanding of the buyer’s journey as seen from your prospects’ point of view and write content that is relevant and helpful to them. A lack of customer understanding will result in dissonant content that your prospects find irrelevant, unhelpful, and off-putting, causing your content marketing strategy to underperform.
Recognize that B2B buying decisions are based 90 percent on emotion and only 10 percent on logic. Content that fails to evoke an emotional response is likely to fail. Write content that demonstrates your appreciation for the emotions your prospect is experiencing and that either stokes positive emotions or assuages the negative ones.
Write content that is relevant, helpful, authentic, and accurate because it will outperform content that is questionable, exaggerated, or flat-out fabricated. Don’t be tempted to fake it until you make it.
Perform a realistic resource assessment and figure out where to get the help you’ll need to produce high-quality content on a consistent and ongoing basis. Companies that fail to understand how much effort content marketing will take end up with disappointing results and often give up completely. Don’t be tempted to “borrow” resources in the belief that you’ll make alternative arrangements down the line.
Design your content marketing strategy to be a slow-but-steady tortoise because there is no content marketing finish line. Teams that start out like hares end up needing a nap and get overtaken by teams that keep up a steady content production cadence. You can always increase your pace later once your team has found its rhythm.
Set realistic expectations for when your B2B content marketing will deliver results. Don’t expect to see hundreds of new leads flowing in after only a few weeks. Commit to your content marketing strategy for the long haul—one year, at least—before deciding whether it is successful or not.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock