Cultivating a successful content marketing strategy means moving beyond standard self-promotion and instead speaking to potential customers in a hyper-relevant manner. Easier said than done when the objectives remain generating demand, driving leads and of course, closing the sale, as is often the case in the world of B2B marketing.
The key, reports Dominic Pontrelli, Sr. VP of Marketing at Ricoh America, is to develop highly tailored stories in the format that resonates most with each specific audience. Dominic and I had a great conversation about all this in preparation for our upcoming panel on content marketing at The CMO Club Summit.
I suspect you will find our Q&A especially illuminating. If nothing else, it adds to the growing base of evidence that content is indeed king; especially in B2B land.
Neisser: What role does content marketing play in Ricoh's overall marketing mix?
Pontrelli: Content marketing is the compass in the customer's journey to discovering a trusted provider of information. Content is king. We've always known that, but today it's more important than ever for marketers to live by this phrase as the balance of power shifts from promotion to information.
At Ricoh, we have a regular cadence with our customers via our customer touch strategies; it keeps our customer and non-customers aware of Ricoh offerings, services, and business-relevant thought leadership topics they may not be familiar with. We are very sensitive to making sure we connect the messaging and content based upon what our audience is interested in.
And that's exactly why consistent content marketing tactics need to be taken seriously. With customers in such control, we can't give them a reason to look in another direction. At Ricoh, we leverage our vertical insights, predictive analytics and our customer successes to deliver highly tailored stories - not just marketing messages - that speak directly to the customer in the format that resonates most with them - print, email or social.
Neisser: Are you increasing your investment in content? If so, why?
Pontrelli: Most certainly. Without relevant content, how will our customers trust that we know how to solve their issues? They won't and we know that. As marketers, we must facilitate discussions that add value and build trust over time. This is why we've made changes within our marketing organization to ensure customer-driven content creation and management is at the forefront of everything we do.
We apply our "first touch" revenue methodology to how we build our customer prospect pipeline via our touch strategies. By identifying customers that we pull into a sales opportunity cycle via influential content, we are better able to identify the value of this content. In addition, it truly assists us with identifying how influential marketing is at building our prospect pipeline.
The landscape is competitive and companies today must find new, creative ways to stay ahead of the curve. Take our vertical approach to solving business issues as an example. We will fail if we communicate to a legal firm in the same way we do the federal government. The pain points are different. Our content must demonstrate that we know your unique needs, and we can fix your problems. I'm proud to say that Ricoh is doing that today.
Neisser: What kinds of content are you creating and are you finding some more effective than others?
Pontrelli: To be honest, I'm finding that from a communications perspective, surveys are quite effective. With them, we have the opportunity to entice both media AND customers. Take our recent mobile workers survey for example- we saw media coverage ranging from Reuters to The Today Show and at the same time, traffic to our web site and social properties increased.
Content that involves numbers will always have power. I think this is because each of us, at the basic level, is curious about opinions in aggregate - what the masses think. And when we hear it, we then think about why we agree or disagree with the result. Numbers spur conversations, and conversations related to mobile workers and helping businesses enable information mobility are conversations Ricoh wants to be a part of.
The additional opportunity is developing further content pieces out of the surveys. White papers, e-books, viral video pieces, customer case studies all grow out of well developed surveys. We find our customers and prospects find this type of content very compelling.
Neisser: What metrics do you use to evaluate the effectiveness of your content and how to you rank them in terms of importance?
Pontrelli: As I mentioned earlier, we leverage a "first touch" revenue methodology to how we build our customer prospect pipeline via our touch strategies. Many studies have shown around 57% of the purchase decision-making process is determined online before a customer ever reaches out to a company. So by designing compelling content that draws followers to Ricoh, and identify these prospects as they come into the sales pipeline, this activity is directly related to marketing and the compelling content we create. Then with the direct connection to our CRM systems we can associate those contacts with opportunities that then lead to revenue.
Neisser: With content, is it as simple as build it and they will come or do you need to "market the marketing?"
Pontrelli: In marketing, it's never as simple as "build it and they will come." We deploy nurture tracks that are educational efforts that assist taking our customers down through the buying cycle. Each track is dedicated to various vertical or business object targets. The targeted content is all created to speak directly to the business demands of the target audience. Leveraging our marketing automation with well-managed content is essentially a great way to "market the marketing" as you refer to it.
Neisser: What recommendations do you have for other CMOs when approaching a content marketing program?
Pontrelli: As marketers, we have to change our perception of how content affects a communications channel. What works for one area will not have the same results in another. So, while content is king, I'd say that content in the right context is really king. It's import to make sure you maximize your investment in content development and create elements based upon your communications channel.
Also, realize the limits of your knowledge of content marketing - that's extremely important. This is becoming a growing area of expertise, and you need people to specialize in this. Finally, there are many content marketing experts out there such as the Content Marketing Institute who can help educate marketing organizations on best practices. There's a marketing shift under way and in order to capitalize on it, we must embrace it.