The content marketing road is becoming a longer road to travel. In June 2000, there were fewer than 8 million websites. Today that number is greater than 750 million, according to Netcraft.com. The volume of content on websites-from white papers, blog posts, and eBooks to videos and webcasts-is strewn across each side of the road like flashing signs alerting us to important traffic information ahead or, in some cases, backfires.
"With the flood of content continuing to increase, there is no longer scarcity around information," says Brian Vellmure, who helps B2B and B2C organizations across a variety of industries and sizes accelerate growth through customer-focused transformation initiatives. "This abundance has ironically created scarcity of value. What this means is, in this hyper-competitive landscape of attention scarcity, It's actually become harder for vendors to create and distribute content that resonates, and for buyers to find truly meaningful content that helps them accomplish what they're trying to get done."
The content marketing road is only going to get narrower. While 58 percent of businesses plan to increase their content marketing budget (Content Marketing Institute) in 2014, 93 percent of B2B organizations rely on it for brand building and demand generation.
"As more organizations increase investment in the creation and distribution of compelling content, it is becoming harder to create content that is valuable and truly differentiated for each specific audience," Vellmure says. "The value sweet spot is seems to be perpetually distributed farther out on the long tail.
So now the road to content marketing is not just about giving it a test drive, but also about developing a strategy and roadmap to navigate it. We all must take this roadif we want our business to place at all in the race for consumer business. But the rubber hits the road with the execution of one-of-a-kind, quality content and measurement of marketing results. It has gone from a one-way road to two-way-and the customers have taken over the wheel.
Here's how you can avoid being a backseat driver and ride shotgun to the customer:
Listen for the Customer Sirens
"B2B buyers spend a significant amount of time doing research across a wide array of channels, seeking analysis and opinion from industry leaders, analysts, and trusted advisors within their own network(s), often before spending much time interacting with potential vendors," Vellmure says.
Research from Google and CEB, The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, found customers are nearly 60 percent through the sales process before contacting a sales rep, regardless of cost.
Modern companies are slowing down and getting behind customers in their lane, on their social media channels. They listen and watch for the customer's needs, likes, and dislikes in their Facebook questions, Twitter posts, or LinkedIn comments. While the customer does all the talking...er...tweeting and posting...the smart brand takes note. These notes help businesses create the relevant, useful, and in-depth content that can answer customers' questions and provide a lifeline while they're out on the web going about their research business alone. Organizations that understand this are at the other end of the lifeline, ready to tow in the customer when they're ready.
According to an April 2013 CMO Council and NetLine survey of B2B decision-makers worldwide, 60 percent of respondents said online content had a "moderate effect" on what vendors they chose to work with. Another 27% said that it had a "major impact" on what they decided to buy. Only 13% were indifferent.
The book, "Brands in Glass Houses," reveals how the paper converter company, Oren International, transformed its "falling asleep at the wheel" content. The book also shines headlights on many more businesses that are revealing themselves authentically, not just as a marketing tactic, but also as a way of doing business. But as the survey suggests, expect a plethora of content emerging from reputable, expert sources within the brand. But don't expect traffic, unless you are also willing to take a few roads not traveled.
Open the Car Door for Your Customers
Once your content marketing road signs lead a prospect into your car, you can get them where they want to go. You're halfway there since they followed your initial signs. This 10-point checklist for content marketing is your navigator for getting them where they want to go. And if you follow the road rules well, they'll invite you in when you get there.
Sandy Carter is a recognized leader in social business, a best selling author, and one of the most influential women in Web 2.0 technology. As IBM Vice President, Social Business Evangelism and Sales, she explains in this Social Media Today webinar that there's a need for a much bolder approach by big businesses in adopting transparent social practices and identities.
"I believe we're in the social era," Carter says. "It has completely changed the way we do business. You can't opt out of it. You can choose not to engage in a conversation, but the conversation will continue with or without you."
Don't make it an awkwardly silent road trip with your prospects. Ask about your customer. Let them know where you're going, and turn on some good music (e.g. humorous and entertaining content). This also means going where your customer is, and that may not be your own website, no matter how stuffed with content you've made it. Consider syndication (placing content on other sites), especially on niche publishing sites where your customers land frequently and around independent blog posts that are taking off elsewhere in the universal conversation.
Steps One and Two on the Road to Success
You may be close to your destination with the customer. But how do you truly know? You'll have to track the path your customers have traveled. Search is still critically important, and any plan to connect to customers should first involve asking the search questions that your customers themselves ask. Here are three ways to do so, along with a map (i.e., infographic).
Next, involve the stakeholders who are answering those questions inside and outside the company. An influencer strategy is the next step to sustaining a conversation with original content, which feeds our search results and is highly measurable in the most granular sense. More on that at a later date.
"For B2B companies, it's important to understand typical customer journeys and behaviors, the nexus of decision making, amongst stakeholders, and where and how touch-point intersections occur," says Vellmure. "Once understood, aligning the right piece of content with the right audience for the appropriate stage in the buying cycle is key."
Vellmure recommends B2B marketers produce a library of content that helps each stakeholder in the buying process understand, engage, and proceed to the next stage of the buying cycle, ideally in partnership with their sales counterparts. This excellent SlideShare helps map your content to buyer needs throughout the buying process.
Out of all organizations leveraging content marketing programs, 48 percent say their efforts are resulting in engagement with customers and prospective clients, and 41 percent are seeing an increase in brand awareness. (Marketing Land). It's going to be a very crowded road ahead, but good forward planning, awareness of potholes and bit of creativity should get you where you need to go. (And that's my last road metaphor for the day, folks, I promise.)
(Content marketing journey / shutterstock)