What 6 content marketing experts want their B2B peers to know

Michael Brenner, Carla Johnson, Todd Wheatland, Carlos Hidalgo, Scott Lum and Christine Nurnberger weigh in

The editorial staff of B2B Marketing asked some of our favorite content marketing experts for the No. 1 piece of advice that they want to share with their business marketing colleagues. We worried we might hear the same answer from everyone. Instead we got a crash course in building a content strategy that is focused on delivering a better customer experience, one that stretches across all touchpoints and has roots in real conversation with customers and prospects. Not, to be clear (and as Todd Wheatland so gracefully put it) the pervasive “beige crap” that if left unchecked can drown out our most meaningful messages.

Scott Lum, content and social media marketing expert and former senior marketing manager at Microsoft

The future of content marketing is in strategic customer experience. It’s not just about your audience’s engagement with marketing, PR or customer support, but the management of experiences across the entire company. A recent Forrester study showed that companies that are focused on customer experience drive higher revenue growth over CX laggards.

Many of the concepts that are critical to a good content marketing strategy are also key components for developing a customer experience program.

Keys for integrating content marketing into customer experience:

Customer-centricity. Content marketing is about creating content your audience values. Customer experience is about delighting customers along all of your touch points.

Creating value along the customer journey. Content marketers understand how to map content along the customer journey to drive revenue. Customer experience expands upon those journeys to reduce friction and optimize every customer touch point.

Lifetime value of the customer. Customer experience success is measured by the lifetime value of the customer. Content marketing is well-positioned to nurture customers after the sale as much as before the sale. It’s also a great way to amplify the voices of our advocates.

For many marketers, it’s difficult to get their execs to buy off on developing a comprehensive customer experience program while they’re challenged with getting support for their content marketing initiatives. Even if you’re in the early stages of content marketing planning, now is the best time to lay the groundwork for customer experience.

Carla Johnson, marketing and customer experience strategist at Type A Communications and co-author of Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing

My top advice to B2B marketers is to think about the content we create as a connected, thoughtful and strategic continuum of experiences. B2B marketers have always created content. But today we’re pumping out a disconnected pile of assets that turn off our customers and prospects. We’re afraid to say “no” internally to requests, and we don’t stop and think about what we’re actually building with content.

A great content-driven experience is something to which people are willing to subscribe. It delivers value that’s different and distinct from the products and services that we sell. We see this with B2B companies Emerson and their #IloveSTEM program and with Lincoln Electric’s Arc Magazine. These brands are building massive audiences because they’re able to create an uber-relevant experience, and people keep coming back for more and more. This audience funnels into prospects and customers.

Take the time to understand the purpose of what we’re creating. How does it accelerate the business? If it doesn’t generate revenue, drive growth or inspire innovation, then it isn’t something we should do. If the idea will move things forward, then it gives focus and priority to our work.

The hardest part about marketing is knowing to what we should say no and sticking with it. We need to ask ourselves: A year from now, what do we want to look back on and see that we’ve built?

Carlos Hidalgo, CEO of Annuitas

It cannot be said enough: Having a deep understanding of your buyers is the No. 1 thing B2B marketers should be looking to do in order to drive effective marketing and demand generation programs. Too many companies develop personas and buying processes using a completely internal system.

This typically includes a review of data for segmentation and then marketing and — sometimes — sales collaborating to define the personas and map out the journey as they see it. The problem here is that it is often not the reality of the customer.

B2B marketing organizations need to take this several steps farther and interview their customers, asking questions about what triggered the buying process. Who was on the buying committee? What content did they consume during this process? What problems and challenges were they looking to address? The same questions need to be asked of those who are not your customers. This gives you a completely unvarnished view apart from your brand.

Lastly, conducting research into the buyer market is key. What trends are happening that could impact a purchase? Has there been any regulation that could impact your buyers?  All of these different sources of information will provide a much more accurate view of your buyers, how they buy and enable firms to develop content to engage, nurture and convert their buyers.

Todd Wheatland, global head of strategy at King Content

The No. 1 thing most brands can do better right now is to invest a lot more into understanding audience. Every year there’s a huge increase in the total amount of content being created. Most of that content is just wallpaper, beige crap that’s not speaking to anyone in particular, or even worse, that sounds like it’s been created by a committee of people trying to avoid sounding human.

Content is marketing if it connects with an audience and leads to a business outcome. Everything starts with the understanding of who it is you're trying to communicate with. Don't even think of spending money on creating content until you know what outcome you're looking for, from whom and what's most likely to make that happen.

Engagement for its own sake is irrelevant. If it's not the outcome of an intentional plan, then you have no idea whether it's reaching the right people or if it's ultimately helping solve a business problem. Don’t get stuck on the content. It's called content marketing for a reason. It only works if the right people engage with it, in the way you want them to.

Christine Nurnberger, CMO of Bottomline Technologies

A successful content strategy needs to be:

  • authoritative. We need to OWN our opinions, execute thought leadership with swagger, and be provocative.
  • aggressive. We need to demonstrate leadership in our markets with quantifiable proof points and leverage customer anecdotes.
  • authentic. We need to be truthful, sincere and maintain a professional tone of voice at all times.
  • awesomely creative. We will only reach our target audience by breaking through the noise.  

Our prospects are bombarded with marketing messages and conditioned to tune them out.  B2B marketing does not have to be boring.  Our discipline is called  business-to-business marketing, but ultimately it is always about connecting with an individual.

Michael Brenner, CEO of Marketing Insider Group and co-author of The Content Formula

My one piece of advice for B2B marketers is to stop focusing on selling products and creating brand awareness, and start focusing on delivering customer value.

Only by focusing on customer value and great content and product experiences can B2B marketers start delivering and measuring business value in the form of leads for sales and the revenue valued by senior company leaders.

Customer value can be delivered in the form of great content that answers top prospect questions. This is why we see such a focus on content marketing.

Customer value can be delivered in the form of amazing products. This is why great product marketers are so hard to find.

But run a CRM report of any B2B marketing campaigns' performance, and you will see a list of tactics that don't deliver any value to the business in the form of leads or sales.

The greatest B2B marketers are so much more than order-takers from execs and sales leaders. Great B2B marketers are delivering value to their customers and building digital assets that have value that executives can understand.

My advice: Stop doing things that don't work, that don't deliver customer value, and start making your business matter to your customers. They will reward you with their trust and their business.

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