Content marketing isn’t new. Only the term can be considered new.
Creating targeted information – about companies, products, services, and pretty much everything else – has been around for generations … just under different names. Collateral, sales aids, product literature, branding books … all were the previous monikers for what is now grouped under “Contents”.
The seemingly unlimited number of articles, social media and blog posts, podcasts, and god knows what else to say about the supposed nuances of the content marketing discipline shows one thing: a lack of perspective. This is why students learn (or should learn) history in school – to make them feel like there was a world that existed before they were born.
A look back
When I started my marketing career, I might have had an advantage: I had worked as a journalist. I’d done both breaking news and investigative stories. I had to locate facts, background information, and at least three reliable sources to confirm the validity of my publication.
The investigation stories were neither easy nor quick most of the time. Good, informative, and targeted business information is usually not either.
There are reasons for this, starting with the most basic intentions: why is this information being developed, for whom, how is it being offered, and what are the expected results?
This is not a marketing process. It’s not a sales process. It’s a combination of both and it takes a certain (or a lot) of discipline. And collaboration. And an obligation to help each other succeed.
It’s a process
There is definition from above. What is the product – the entire product, including the physical “thing” or service actually provided, along with available support, warranty / guarantee, accessories, etc.? Who is the target market (companies in the B2B area, customer segments in the B2C area)? Who is the target audience … beyond the end user?
Sellers are great at determining who is involved in the purchase decision. Marketers focus on presenting the product / service / brand in the most compelling way possible. Each is only one third of the equation. The other third are the beliefs, expectations, and perceptions of prospects or consumers. (And depending on how what you’re selling is delivered – directly to buyers / consumers or through value-added resellers, distributors, or retailers – the equation can have four components.)
You can’t market or sell something very well if you don’t literally understand everything about it and who is involved in buying and using it.
You also need to know the competition, whether directly or indirectly, and how your offerings are compared.
What’s the strategy next? What role does the information play in educating potential customers and achieving specific goals – for marketing, sales and the entire company?
Is the material – the “content” – used to generate inquiries, fill the pipeline, qualify leads, overcome objections, distinguish your content from “the others” and help with conversion? It could be all of that … but not in one piece.
In the B2B space in particular, purchasing decisions are shared and the roles that people play fall into identifiable categories:
- Initiators – the people who recognize a need and look for a solution
- Researchers – those who do the actual research to identify suitable products and services
- Shortlisters – those who narrow the list of options based on a number of criteria including features, cost, implementation, training, support, etc.
- Evaluators – the skilled employees or consultants who compare the choices on the shortlist
- Recommendations – those who review the reviews and use the criteria set by the company, industry managers, and end users to rate the options
- Decision Makers – the industry managers, finance and operations executives, and hopefully a group of end users who work with the product every day
- Check Signers – the men and women who need to believe they are spending the right amount of money on the best ROI
If there are channel partners or VARs or retailers, there are similar groups that determine whether (a) your products, (b) specific lines or individual products, and (c) how much inventory is in stock … if any .
Each of these groups of people likely have subgroups. This is especially true of the reviewers: whether you’re buying a device that will punch metal plates for cars or software that provides security for mobile transactions, there is sure to be …
- Finances People who want to know what the total cost of ownership is and how long they’ll be running before they need to be replaced
- maintenance People who need to know how easy it is to make repairs or updates
- ITwho want to check how easily it integrates with existing systems
- Industry manager who need to estimate the impact on productivity and the length of the learning curve
- End User that may resist changes that they cannot easily adapt to or that do not make their job easier
Now the hard truth: each group and subgroup needs its own targeted information. Each piece of content / collateral / call-it-what-you-will needs to address their main concerns, inform them how it will benefit them and their business, and make it clear that what you are offering is cost effective. practical and reliable solution to the problem that the company is trying to solve.
“What’s the secret of your suc …” “Timing.” “… stop?”
To do this, add the timing of each element and you need to include other criteria. I once worked with a sales organization that believed in sending potential customers whatever they could get their hands on. It took a while to convince them of the merits of progressive disclosure: providing specific information to specific people on specific concerns at specific times.
It’s easier with marketing automation, but the principle hasn’t changed:
- Give people what they want and they will give it the attention it deserves.
- Give them too much and they will likely ignore everything.
- Follow up with any information they request or related content that extends what they already have and they will be grateful for your help.
It’s part of the nurturing process, whether it’s done by marketing to create awareness and interest, educate, develop acceptance, and generate leads. or it is carried out by sales to support interactions, convince the other people in the buying cycle, overcome objections or clarify advantages.
And that’s just advance booking.
It is not over till it’s over
Once the sale is complete, the real engagement begins. Then communication has to focus on reassuring the customer that they made the right decision.
The seller must express its obligation to ensure the success of the buyers, to provide the components of the “whole product” that have helped differentiate its offer from those of the competitors, to solicit customer feedback and to emphasize the value of this input and to the buyers keep informed about related products and services.
It is a fascinating undertaking because there is always something new to look out for, someone to win over, a competitor who is sure to be a threat. New media is also being used, technology adopted, and processes changed to make sure you give people the information they need in the form they prefer when they want it.
If you do all of that, you can name the damn stuff any name you want. I personally prefer Shirley.
More MarketingProfs resources on content marketing
Five tips for a more individual B2B content strategy in 2021
It’s Time: Six Best Ways to Extract Content from Your SMB
B2B Content Marketing Report: Benchmarks, Budgets, Trends and COVID-19 Response