Content Marketing

3 Steps to Better Content Marketing

In their June 19, 2012 blog post the Corporate Executive Board addresses the hot topic of content marketing and specifically lays out what they call “3 Steps to Better Content Marketing”. The first question you might ask is, what is content marketing and how is it different?

Simply put, content marketing is the practice of creating and publishing content that is designed to move prospects (or current customers) through the purchasing funnel by delivering timely “content” that answers the questions they invariably have at different stages of their decision making process. Some of these questions we often hear are:

    • What is the problem I’m having and what is it’s impact to me?
    • How can you help me prevent it with your solution?
    • What are the details of your solution?
    • What are my opportunities to see it in action?

You may be thinking, we already make content and launch programs that answer these questions. Indeed, “content marketing” has been around on as long as people have been telling stories about products, but what is new is that it is now a formal discipline with specific research, tools and best practices to support effective execution.

After learning this your next question will likely be — sounds like a significant investment to create all that content, but what is the ROI? While content marketing has a wide range of benefits, one of the most often quoted is the impact on the cost of leads. The chart below — which is an excerpt from the eBook from Eloqua and Kapost which addresses the ROI of content marketing — shows that companies that employ a content marketing strategy see an 80% reduction in the cost/lead. While this figues are impressive the caveat is that they are focused on the B2C space, but emerging evidence shows that B2B implementations show significant cost reductions as well.

ROI of Content Marketing

Ideally, your interest has been peaked and you want to learn more and specifically, what best practices exist? The aforementioned blog post discusses three:

    1. Get your customers’ permission to speak
    2. Lead back to your unique benefits
    3. Integrate content into your other marketing efforts

Specifically on the last point they write:

“When social media was new, many of our members set up teams to focus on Facebook and other social platforms; we found, though, that social must be integrated with the rest of the company’s marketing efforts and coordinated by a Ringmaster (you can read more about our HBR article here).Just like with the advent of social media, most companies are addressing the growth of content marketing by starting a separate content team that doesn’t always report into Marketing. To develop the most effective content marketing, though, companies should take an integrated approach, like they now do with social media.”

If you what to learn more about content marketing best practices and it’s ROI take a look at the blog post which has some good outbound links on the subject and the eBook Content Marketing ROI (eBook By Kapost and Eloqua)

Inbound Marketing

The End of Solution Sales: What This Means for Marketing

I came across an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that discussed the end of solution sales – The End of Solution Sales – Harvard Business Review – which upon initial review had me more than a little concerned. As you well know one of the most important roles of marketing is to communicate to customers the benefit of our solutions yet, here we have an article from a reputable source saying that way of marketing is on its way out. So I read further to get to their central idea:

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades sales reps have become adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them “solutions”—generally, complex combinations of products and services. This worked because customers didn’t know how to solve their own problems, even though they often had a good understanding of what their problems were. But now, owing to increasingly sophisticated procurement teams and purchasing consultants armed with troves of data, companies can readily define solutions for themselves.”

So that sounds familiar; especially considering how much information is now readily available online, the increase in the number of decision makers that play a role in the purchasing process and the increase in the importance of clearly understanding the economic impact of purchases. So what is a solutions marketer to do? Do we go to ground and retreat back into the features-and-benefits marketing model? The simple answer is — no. This means that we have to do these three things really well:

1) Get out in front an use thought leadership to educate customers about the problems they are aiming to solve
2) Engage customers earlier in their decision making process so we are in their minds early in the information gathering process
3) Provide them with timely content in the places that they frequent to learn about products that will ultimately make up solution they need

Long story short, think of it as the heroes journey narrative — the hero has a problem, they go on a quest at the end of which there will be a great battle, along the way they meet people and collect tools that will help them in the final battle, and it all culminates in the final conflict where the hero emerging victorious. What?! Think of it this way:

How Inbound Marketing Can Keep Solutions Selling Alive [INFOGRAPHIC]

1) We use thought leadership to highlight the challenges they face and the perils they will have to overcome to be successful (the story is told from their perspective)
2) We insert ourselves early into their discovery journey by participating on the channels that they frequent during their decision making process (the heroes journey)
3) We syndicate our content to inform them of the tools we provide that will help them in the final battle (the tools they collect on their way)

The final battle of course is when they put out bids to vendors for instrumentation and ultimately the negotiation table. If we use these methods the customer will believe they have arrived at the decision on their own through their own research but the reality will be that we were with them all the time. So yes, while the idea of a solution sell at the RFP stage is probably going away, the solution sell is not — it just starts earlier.