B2B Marketing: 9 Ideas for Solving Your Biggest Content Challenges

Today we have a guest post from Michele Linn the Content Development Director of the Content Marketing Institute and a B2B content marketing consultant who has a passion for helping companies use content to connect with their ideal buyers. You can read the original post here.

Last week, when we published findings from our study, B2B Small Business Content Marketing: 2013 Benchmarks, Budget, and Trends – North America (sponsored by Outbrain), reader Andy Detweiler posed a great question in our comments section:

“Any insight on how small B2B companies plan on solving the problems listed? Would be curious to understand what they see as potential solutions versus a larger enterprise.”

Andy’s question inspired us to take a closer look at some of the content marketing challenges faced by North American B2B marketers who work at small businesses (companies with 10 – 99 employees), as compared to their peers at enterprise organizations (companies with more than 1,000 employees). We’ll also share some insights on ways content marketers can address these issues — regardless of the size of the organization they work for.

1. Engagement

b2b content-engagement

In general, both groups are similarly challenged with producing the kind of content that engages — and it is the top challenge for enterprise companies. In a way, I think it’s encouraging to see this as a top challenge, as it shows that marketers are focusing on the value of quality over quantity. And, there is good reason why engaging content matters: Customers and prospects who engage with content are more likely to reach out or initiate a relationship with your organization.

Ideas: Engaging content means different things to different people, so you’ll need to start out by determining your organization’s definition of “engagement” — and what metric(s) you can use to measure it. For instance, as Joe Pulizzi discussed in his recent post on the building blocks of content marketing strategy, we at CMI know our email subscribers are more likely than our other readers to sign up for our events, so “email subscriptions” is an engagement metric we focus on.

(For more on how to define, produce, and measure engaging content, check out our eBook, “Your Kick-Start Guide to Engaging Content.”)

2. Quantity

b2b content-producing enough

While small businesses cite producing enough content as their top challenge, it’s an issue that concerns the majority of content marketers across all business types that we’ve researched.

Idea: One solution is to simply realize that more is not better. This applies to small and large businesses, alike. That said, if you really do need to produce more content, here are three ideas our CMI consultants suggested in a video roundtable on challenges facing B2B marketers:

  • Reuse content at the beginning and end of the sales funnel: This suggestion applies to any businesses that have a long sales cycle.
  • Curate content: Instead of producing new content, share existing content — created by your organization or by others in your industry. This strategy can be used by businesses of any size.
  • Produce evergreen content: I love Ardath Albee‘s quote from the video above: “I think the reasons that we change subject matters and create new content is because we as marketers get bored. We’ve said it; we’ve heard this before: ‘Let’s create something new.’ We don’t need to.” Again, instead of focusing on pumping out more new content, create a body of evergreen content that you can update, as needed. As a bonus, you may be able to curate content in a way that makes it more useful/gives it new life.

3. Integration

b2b content-integration

Not surprisingly, enterprise organizations are far more challenged with lack of integration across marketing than their small-business counterparts. As more people, products, and geographies become involved — producing integrated content can get pretty complicated.

Ideas: Large organizations like SAP, SAS, Kelly Services, and Intel have complex B2B marketing programs. At last year’s Content Marketing World, we had the pleasure of sitting down with key individuals from these teams to talk about how they manage the process of content marketing. There aren’t any shortcuts — and it involves a lot of work — but there are ways to create efficiencies to minimize the burdens.

While the following ideas will be most useful for enterprise organizations, smaller businesses can also use some of these approaches:

  • Elizabeth Gaines from SAP talked about how her company has content account managers who are plugged into all of the field marketing teams and geographies.
  • Pam Didner talked about Intel’s editorial planning process. Her team has an editorial calendar that they create a year in advance, and adjust throughout the year, as necessary. She then presents it to the various stakeholders across her organization (even though for her that means presenting that calendar 30 times).
  • Kelly LeVoyer and Waynette Tubbs shared that everyone at SAS contributes to one large plan. They also make sure everyone knows the roles assigned to each team — and what KPIs they are being measured on — which, they have found, helps the content marketing plan come together much more cohesively.
  • Michael Kirsten from Kelly Services says that he spends at least 30 percent of his time on intra- and inter-organizational communication.

4. Budget

b2b content-budget

It may seem surprising that enterprise marketers are more challenged with lack of budget than small businesses are, as they likely have more to spend overall. But, enterprise marketers also likely need to go through more internal channels to get budget approval, which may explain why a larger percentage of them feel this is an issue.

Another possible explanation is that lack of budget is just a perceived issue with some enterprise marketers who wished they had more money to work with. In contrast, small business marketers may be more accustomed to having to be resourceful in their content efforts.

Ideas: The root cause of budget issues could be lack of buy-in (see point #5, below): If management has not yet bought into the value provided by content marketing, it will be all the more difficult to get the necessary budgetary support. If this is the case, presenting information on return on investment can help justify the costs.

Kapost and Eloqua developed an eBook, Content Marketing ROI, that compares the cost of content marketing to PPC; it’s a great read if you are struggling with this issue. The eBook breaks costs down for both midsize and large companies.

5. Buy-in

b2b content-buy-in

This is an interesting challenge, as more enterprise marketers find themselves contending with a lack of executive buy-in, yet more small business marketers consider it to be their primary challenge.

Ideas: If you are struggling with getting buy-in, there are two posts I suggest you read: 2 Foolproof Methods for Getting Content Marketing Buy-In and Getting Buy-In for Your Content Marketing: A 3-Point Process. There is some overlap in the ideas, but here are the highlights:

  • Really understand – and be able to articulate – the value of content marketing.
  • Do a pilot program and report on key metrics, such as immediate gains (e.g. social followers), social rankings, back-links and leads/sales.
  • Play on fear. What is the competition doing that you are not? What does your management care about most?

6. Variety

b2b content-variety

While a good portion of both small and enterprise marketers are challenged with producing a variety of content, not many consider this to be their biggest challenge. I personally consider this to be a good sign, as marketers should be focusing more of their efforts on producing content that engages, and on achieving measurable results, than on the formats their content is delivered on.

Ideas: That said, producing original content takes time, so there is no reason not to create efficiencies by repurposing the content you already have. Check out 5 Great Starting Points for a Content Recycling Program and 23 Ways to Leverage a Blog Post for Content Marketing Success to get more specific ideas on how to reimagine your content across a variety of formats.

7. Measurement

b2b content-measurement

Our research is conducted annually, and this year is the first time we asked if content marketing measurement was a challenge. Truthfully, we expected this number to be higher, but, as Jay Baer aptly surmised in our B2B measurement roundtable:

“If you, as an organization, are measuring the effectiveness of your content marketing with something so rudimentary as website traffic, then I guess in your own land you are measuring content. Is website traffic the optimal way to measure the effectiveness of content? No, absolutely not. I think there’s a delta between what people think they should be measuring and what they actually should be measuring.”

Ideas: If you are struggling with measurement, take a look at our online how-to guide that walks you through fundamentals and provides specific suggestions on what you should measure. But if you only have time to view one resource, make it the eBook, A Field Guide to the Four Types of Content Marketing Metrics, in which you’ll learn about the best metrics to monitor for consumption, sharing, lead generation, and sales.

8. Training

b2b content-training

Approximately one-third of both small-business and enterprise marketers feel they lack the appropriate knowledge, training, and resources to execute content marketing well. Considering that this field is quickly evolving, and there is no silver bullet, this is not surprising.

Ideas: I know this is a shameless plug, but if you are in need of training, there is no better event than Content Marketing World, which will be taking place in Cleveland from September 9 – 11. CMI’s entire mission is to provide training and education (through our blog posts, magazine, webinars, and more), so if you have a question about content marketing, I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments, and I’ll see what I can do to help and/or we’ll cover it in a future blog post.

9. Professionals

b2b content-professionals

While finding trained content marketing professionals is not a key challenge for many marketers, it is still a concern — particularly for enterprise companies.

Ideas: Another shameless plug (sorry!) but CMI has a fantastic group of consultants led by Robert Rose that help companies with their content marketing programs. If you are a large organization, you may also want to consider hiring a content marketing agency. If so, see what Joe Pulizzi had to say as he explained the 4 Truths About Content Marketing Agencies, and take a look at Doug Kessler’s advice on how to get the best results with your agency in his post, 4 Truths About Content Marketing Clients. If you have a smaller budget, or are only looking for a single writer for your content, consider hiring a journalist.

Are there other content marketing challenges you are facing? Or do you have other suggestions for those facing these issues? Let me know in the comments.

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Social Media: Don’t Forget the Human Side

Social media is about engaging with other people. In order for it to be successful, we need to move that engagement beyond the posts of Facebook or your blog. Yes, it’s understood that there are people behind the words, but  unless you just want to be pen pals, you need to nurture them.

Once someone knows, likes and trusts you, you can go from engagement to a relationship. I know it may sound silly, but you’d be surprised how many social media folks would be happy to sit in front of a computer screen all day and engage people on social but are afraid to take it to the next level. A relationship by definition is an emotional or other connection between people.

Here are some suggestions to help you take that relationship to the next level (I sound like a dating coach):

  • If someone responds to you and you start going back and forth with them, suggest an offline phone call to discuss in more detail.
  • If you belong to a group or association and you plan on going to a trade show or a local meeting, let your audience know your plans, and maybe you could hook up. (People buy from people.)
  • Social Sites – instead of using your logo, put up a team photo. On the about us pages, include the names of employees representing your brand. Put up profiles of team members.
  • Encourage networking – if you have all this info about employees on your sites, then suggest that they promote the brand on their Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.

These are some of my ideas. I’d like to hear what you’re doing to make it more “human.”


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How is Social Media Impacting Your Brand

I’m sure management has been asking the 64 million dollar question: How is social media helping our business? As marketers, we need to define those base line objectives to get answers to these kinds of questions.

More importantly, is Facebook getting us more action or is it YouTube? If we know where our successes are, then we can spend more time cultivating them.

I recently read a great article from Nichole Kelly in Social Media Examiner, 4 Ways to Measure Social Media and its Impact on Your Brand. I’d like to share some highlights:

You need to build a strategy to measure your goals. We need to agree on terms like brand awareness is a measure of how recognizable your brand is to your target audiences.

Three key areas to evaluate are exposure, influence and engagement. Nichole points out in her article there are many tools (some free, some you have to pay for) that can help you sort out the numbers.

  • Exposure – track growth rate as a percentage of the aggregate totals (eliminate duplicates)
  • Engagement – how many people took some kind of action based on your message (most important)
  • Influence – what was the outcome of the engagement (was it positive, negative or neutral)?

Those are my thoughts. What tools are you using to measure social?


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Why Should You Ask Professional Tradesmen Questions?

QuestionMarksA professional tradesman worth his salt, whether he’s an electrician, plumber, HVAC technician or a MRO specialist,  doesn’t have a million answers on how to solve problems.

Why not ask the right questions and get engaged in a conversation?

After all, isn’t that what social media is all about — ENGAGEMENT!

One of the biggest benefits of social media is the ability to put something out there (the universe) and let those to whom it applies to identify themselves as users. Where could you corral that much experience in one place and then get input from them (it’s like shooting fish in a barrel).

This beats traditional focus groups hands down. You get a quick, more honest feedback from a broader section of your target audience.

Here are 5 reasons to ask Tradesmen questions:

  1. New application– You may have a new tool or application that you want to get feed back on.
  2. New product- what better place to do some real beta testing  to see if you’re hitting all the right points with the user.
  3. Quick tips– ask for theirs and you will be inundated with ideas.
  4. Identify new uses for products– it would sometime amaze you how these guys are using your product(not according to instruction manual).
  5. Market research. use polls and surveys to collect valuable marketing info  on the product,its applications and the competitors!

When was the last time you talked to a tradesman who didn’t want to tell you about something? Why not ask?


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3 Ways Viral Marketing Can Help Reach the Professional Tradesman

global_network_viral_marketingIt used to be that marketers counted on “word of mouth” to help spread their message to the tradesmen and maintenance professionals. Today, social media takes this to the next level and does it quicker and better.

Since you already know who you’re focusing on by using viral marketing, you can make it easier for your message to be passed on. Viral marketing has gained popularity because it produces results that are measurable while increasing your brand awareness. A recent post by Chase McMichael, The 3 pillars of viral marketing, outlines ways you can put viral marketing on steroids. Here’s an overview of how using these techniques can help you reach the professional tradesman:

  1. Target your audience. Social media makes it easier and faster to reach your target. More people are posting their personal profiles on social networks allowing you to data mine them and identify and rank affinities within specific communities like HVAC -TALK.
  2. Reach your audience. Once you’ve identified your user, you can quickly pinpoint influencers and begin enticing them to become brand ambassadors.
  3. Create the right call to action. If you’re doing your homework by monitoring these communities, you will soon identify the issues that need to be addressed and the appropriate call to action. It might be good to join a great online community that you have or sign up for the latest performance charts of a specific tool or application,

Conclusion: Messages that connect with you target can drive a high degree of brand awareness and acceptance. Practical and simple to access technologies help drive engagement and participation.


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