B2B Content Marketing: From Demand Generation to Value Creation
How content creates value
The primary mission of content marketing needs to be value creation.
- Value creation for your customers: making them better at their jobs, teaching them something they didn’t know, helping them be confident in their decision-making, connecting them with their peers, contributing to their pipelines and sales
- Value creation for you: increasing brand awareness, building credibility and trust, educating audiences, building community, empowering salespeople and yes, influencing your own pipeline and sales
Generating contacts and increasing search engine visibility with content are important but ultimately hollow pursuits without a holistic approach to creating value for every buyer persona, at every buyer stage. Let’s take a closer look, and you’ll see why my initially (overly) simple question can have profound implications.
Spinning on the MQL hamster wheel
This is a post about content, but we’d be remiss not to talk a little math. Because veritas in numeri…
- According to the prevailing estimates by Forrester and Sirius Decisions, two thirds to 90% of the B2B buyer journey is complete before a prospect is ready to engage with your sales team
- Over the course of that journey, including once sales has engaged, Gartner estimates that there will be 20 or more customer interactions; Forrester says 17-27 buying interactions!
- The average B2B buyer will consume 13 pieces of content in the process – eight vendor-created pieces and five from third parties
- But, and it’s a really big BUT, LinkedIn B2B buyer research shows that only 1 in 5 buyers are in active buying mode at any given time
It’s clear you need content to engage with B2B buyers as they independently research issues, discover solutions and shortlist brands they want to consider. But what isn’t apparent to many B2B marketers and their sales teams is that they shouldn’t be actively selling to people who aren’t actively buying. This is how sales and marketing orgs end up on what one of our clients at Park & Battery calls the MQL hamster wheel.
If you follow the trail, how many marketing qualified leads generated actually convert into customers? More often than not, a prospect engages with a piece of content from a brand; let’s say they download a white paper or attend a webinar. Marketing qualifies the lead and hands it off to sales. Sales then contacts the lead, and the opportunity dies on the vine because the buyer wasn’t really ready to buy yet.
Then the finger pointing begins. Sales complains that marketing isn’t providing enough leads. Marketing blames sales for not closing the volume of leads they generated. To every wheel there is a hamster, turn, turn, turn…
The point is, B2B brands need enough content to sustain the entire customer journey, meeting prospects where they are at every stage. They can’t just sell with content. And they can’t assume a one-size-fits all model of thought leadership. They need different topics, different focuses, different formats to make sure they and their prospects don’t end up endlessly running in place. And, they need all of this for all of their different buyer personas; for example, an IT manager and a CIO have very different needs.
Content’s glut punch
Optimistically, B2B brands are recognizing the value of content and the need for publishing great volumes of it. According to HubSpot’s State of Media & Content Planning in 2022 report, almost half (49%) of marketing teams allocate between 30% and 50% of their budget to content. What’s more, two thirds of marketers expect to increase their content marketing budget this year.
Like many digital transformations accelerated by the impact of Covid-19, online content has increased exponentially through the pandemic. Trouble is, the content too often isn’t very good. In a turn of phrase that delights every copywriter bone in my body, Edelman and LinkedIn’s most recent B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study describes, “a pandemic-induced glut of low-quality content diluting the perceived value of thought leadership among B2B decision-makers.”
According to the research, nearly four in ten (38%) final decision-makers say there is more thought leadership content than they can manage or keep up with – and the vast majority of decision makers (71%) say that less than half of the thought leadership they consume gives them valuable insights. Forrester research echoes LinkedIn/Edelman: across all areas, more respondents agreed vendor content has gotten worse, and that the materials did not meet their needs or expectations when compared to the year prior. Specifically, brands are creating content that does not align with buyer stages, is not backed by research or actionable recommendations, and are too focused on selling product.
Again, MQLs don’t mean a thing if they ain’t got that swing. Same goes for B2B marketers’ other favorite three-letter acronym: SEO. Increasing search engine visibility by packing content full of keywords isn’t enough. What good is being discovered if readers find nothing of substance? When a marketer or an agency recommends that you need to “do some SEO content,” alarm bells should sound.
Or worse, if someone says, “SEO optimization,” run. Run fast. It’s search engine optimization. Optimization is in the name. Might as well say welcome to office of redundancy office, enter and come in. Sorry, climbing off my dad joke soapbox now. But this stuff fires me up!
Value begets value
You should be fired up, too. No one wants their time wasted. No one wants to waste someone else’s time. And no one wants to feel sold to. In fact, Demand Gen Report research reveals that two of the top recommendations B2B decision makers would make to improve the quality of content created by B2B vendors are: curb the sales messages (#1) and focus less on product specifics and more on value (#5).
And there’s the critical word: value. The best part? Developing content through the lens of value creation works. Get ready for some more numbers.
When our CMO In Residence, Karyn Scott, and I worked together on the client side, we developed a value-based content model: high-volume content production, catered to each of our customer personas, with assets for every stage of the sales funnel. The more marketing touches and content consumed, the higher the percentage of closing a deal – from 12% with one piece to nearly 32% with six or more.
One of our current clients at Park & Battery has seen similar results:
- When sales perform their own outreach to prospects (cold call), they get a 1% response rate
- When marketing passes leads to sales from a single content engagement, it is 8x more effective than a cold call
- When marketing generates a ‘contact us’ lead via multiple content engagements, it is 46x more effective than a cold call
Shifting the focus of content marketing from demand generation to value creation can have a profound impact. How to do it? That’s the subject of an upcoming eBook from Park & Battery – one that we believe will create value for everyone who reads it. Email us to request an advanced copy.
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