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Content marketing for B2B brands

For most business marketers, an effective social media strategy will involve some form of content marketing. This is driven by one basic principle: that creating and sharing useful content will attract attention, drive qualified leads and increase customer loyalty. A good content marketing plan isn’t about sales materials, however; it’s about adding value in order to benefit in a number of different ways:

  • Creating a strong relationship with your community;
  • Demonstrating thought leadership in your area of expertise;
  • Improving your search engine rankings and driving traffic to your website;
  • Increasing consideration for your products and services by educating customers;
  • More opportunities to engage with prospects looking to buy.

Knowing what content to create, for whom and in what format are the three most important determinants of a successful content marketing strategy.

Who are you creating for?

It’s assumed that you already have a good idea of who your target audience is and their pain points, so this is the best place to start. In How to craft a successful social media content marketing plan, social media monitoring company Radian6 (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) suggests using personas to represent the individuals you’ll create content for. Armed with information about their demographics, lifestyles, interests, geographic locations, education levels and values, the following questions can then be addressed:

  • How do they seek information?
  • How do they use social media and which social networks do they prefer?
  • What are their job responsibilities and what decisions can they make?
  • What challenges or problems are they trying to solve?
  • What could stop them doing business with you?
  • How do they measure success?
  • What are they reading, watching or hearing already?

What are they interested in?

Personas can help build up a tangible picture of the people you are trying to reach, but insight about what they are interested in – and therefore the content and themes around which you may be able to engage them – can come from other sources too.

Ask your existing customers. Formal and informal research into what existing customers worry about, what sources of information they turn to and which – if any – social media channels they use can provide much-needed guidance.

Ask your sales team. Your salespeople probably spend a lot of time talking to prospective customers. They’ll know what kind of information gets asked for most often, and what competitors are doing right. They may also be able to tell you what kind of content would help build a better relationship, and this should form part of your content marketing plan.

Ask your customer service team. Like the sales team, your customer service agents are also talking to customers on a regular basis. They’ll have a handle on the common problems and issues being faced, and will know the most frequently asked questions. These provide perfect content marketing material.

Listen to customers on social platforms. Many of your existing customers may already be using social networks to engage in discussion with peers about products and services. They may be sharing content from other companies and sources. Look at what they’re saying and sharing for clues as to content your company could contribute.

Join online industry communities. Professional social networks are also good sources of content inspiration. Search for groups, discussions and questions being created on LinkedIn, for example, relevant to your industry and note what kind of content is getting shared and discussed.

Follow industry news sources. There’s a good chance you do this already, but think of them in the context of your own content marketing plan rather than just news. They may reflect issues important to customers in your industry and, with an increasing number of online news sources encouraging comment and sharing, you can see what themes are getting discussed and shared by customers.

Use search to your advantage. Chances are the success of your web presence depends a lot on search engines. Research shows that most online experiences still begin with a search, and industry benchmarks suggest that search engines refer the majority of web traffic. If you don’t already, make sure you know what people are searching for in order to reach your website and use this data to inform your content marketing.

Monitor others. It’s quick and easy – and often free – to get alerts when an industry term, service area or even company gets mentioned online. Look at how often people are talking about these issues, what terms and phrases they are using (they may not be the same as your own marketing ‘speak’) and ensure your content is optimised to reflect this.

Armed with this information, it’s a straightforward process to identify the kinds of content the audience would respond positively to, and develop a content marketing strategy following a simple five-stage cycle:

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From Thought Leadership to Knowledge Marketing

Having spent over 10 years in the professional services industry, both client facing and in-house, I’ve seen my fair share of ‘thought leadership’ initiatives. “Our aim is to be seen as the thought leader in the atrial fibrillation sphere” goes the brief – but it’s not just limited to internal documents. Some companies quite openly use the term ‘thought leader’ in their marketing and positioning (see this examples from Xerox – I dare you not to cringe whilst watching the cheesy videos!).

But in the new collaborative, digital economy I wonder if the traditional approach to thought leadership – which seems to consist of constantly telling customers and consumers that your company is expert a certain field – holds water.

It’s something I wrestled with in my last permanent role at Hill & Knowlton (now H+K Strategies). Like any professional services and many other businesses, we had spent years trying to find new ways of telling prospective clients that our consultants were some of the leading thinkers in their fields, with the best knowledge, insight and experience. Most of the time they believed us. We were story tellers and we told our story convincingly – but we didn’t have much to demonstrate it beyond sanitised biographies and case studies.

Blogs as thought leadership

Then social media came along in the form of blogs (remember those – a bit like Twitter but for people who could string more than one sentence together 😉 ). What better way to bring this knowledge, insight and experience to life. And so, in August 2005, Collective Conversation was born (it’s still live – as is my original blog – if a little unkempt) .

Between then and my departure in 2011, it was attracting over five times the traffic of our corporate website (having spent a lot less than a fifth of that budget on it), was leading the search engine rankings for the topics we wanted to be thought leaders about, brought about speaking gigs, media opportunities and book deals, and even got us on pitch shortlists and won (and lost, I might add – there is no policy that can stop someone doing something stupid) us business.

It was this experience that brought about the concept of knowledge marketing – the idea that knowledge wasn’t just something to be managed internally, but to be marketed externally, not only to provide ‘no strings attached’ insight that might just be of value to someone and that someone might just find it valuable enough to remember us and come back for more one day, hopefully on a more commercial basis.

Content marketing vs knowledge marketing

Fast forward eight years and there are more opportunities than just blogs to bring your employees’ knowledge to life. From professional social networks like LinkedIn to social knowledge networks like Quora, there are a multitude of channels available to the knowledge marketer.

Some might say this is just content marketing, but I respectfully disagree. The Content Marketing Institute describes content marketing as “the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling”. So basically, use content as a way to market your messages. I think knowledge marketing is different – for me, it’s about using knowledge as a way to market your expertise. So, whilst it may often look the same (eBooks, white papers, etc.) the principles – and more importantly the people who originate it – are fundamentally different.

It’s something I’m keen to look at afresh, so please get in touch if you have come across any good examples of knowledge marketing.