To say the B2B buying process is complicated is an understatement. If you’re selling a complex B2B solution, you need to cater to six to 10 decision-makers, each of whom is armed with four to five pieces of information they’ve gathered. And that doesn’t even include all the influencers who don’t get to make the final decision but are weighing in with their two cents nonetheless.
In other words, they’re going to consume a whole lot of your content before they sign on the dotted line.
Stellar content marketing is an absolute must-have, but only 29% of B2B marketers say their organization is extremely or very successful with it. At B2B tech startups where the staff tends to be smaller and resources thinner, that stat is likely even lower.
You don’t have to fall into that 29%, though. Follow these six tips and you’ll immediately start turning your content marketing efforts into powerful ROI drivers:
1. Make your business goals your north star
All too often, B2B startups get caught in a cycle of creating the content they think is necessary. They see competitors publishing a ton of blog posts and whitepapers and automatically assume they should be doing the same. Maximum impact doesn’t come from following the crowd; it comes from aligning your content strategy to your organization’s overall business goals.
For example, a company that needs to generate significantly more brand awareness needs a different strategy than a company that needs to develop a stronger stream of higher-quality leads. Or, maybe you’ve got plenty of leads, but you need to significantly shorten your sales cycle. That requires a different strategy than the first two scenarios.
The most sophisticated content marketing strategies create measurable business impact. Great email open rates and landing page conversions may look nice on your monthly or quarterly reporting, but are they helping your organization achieve its biggest goals?
2. Listen to the smooth sounds of engagement data
Great content marketers have to be incredibly creative. Otherwise, nothing they produce is memorable. But they must also combine that creativity with a love for data analysis because the data always tells the real story.
Unfortunately, data analysis is typically the first thing busy teams skip because they think getting new content out the door is a bigger priority. But how effective will that content be if you don’t take the time to learn from your previous content?
Regularly digging into your engagement data will uncover valuable trends, key learnings, and benchmarks. You’ll see how your target audience reacts to different topics, formats, and distribution channels. This data is like a crystal ball for your future efforts. With it, you can predict how it will perform on your owned and paid channels. (Bonus: you have data to justify that prediction to your boss, instead of just gut instinct!)
The more sophisticated your data analysis, the more predictive your content marketing efforts will be — and that’s music to everyone’s ears in a world where there’s never as much time, money, or resources as you’d like.
The key, though, is having a wealth of data. That means tools like your Google Analytics, your CRM, your UTM links, your attribution data, your social media management platform, and your paid Google and LinkedIn analytics must be set up properly.
It also means having some patience if you’re building a content marketing engine from the ground up. Great content strategists know best practices, proven tactics, and industry benchmarks like the back of their hand, but at the end of the day, your very first campaigns will be based on hypotheses. You’ll need a little bit of time to learn what works best for your business. Once that data starts to roll in, though, take it and run with it.
3. Map your existing content assets
I once had a client tell me they had “fantastic content” and they did — it was just all at the top of the funnel. The greatest blog posts in the world don’t move the needle if you don’t have anywhere for people to go after reading them. That’s why mapping your existing content assets is an absolute must.
Take a look at the last six months or even the last year of your content. How many assets are in the top of the funnel? The middle? The bottom? That’s the only way to determine if you really have a full-funnel journey. And if you don’t? It’s easy to see which gaps to fill ASAP.
A major benefit to filling those gaps is having all the assets you need for meaningful email nurture campaigns. After all, organizations that use lead nurturing can generate 50% more sales-ready leads, at 33% lower cost.
4. Deeply understand your target audience — then be relatable
Every target audience has one thing in common: they’re all human. Put yourself in the shoes of their distinct pain points, challenges, responsibilities, and goals. Otherwise, even the greatest of wordsmiths, designers, or video wizards can’t resonate with them.
Once you know everything you need to about your audience, be relatable. You’re not marketing a product; you’re marketing a solution, and solutions come with emotions. For example, your cybersecurity platform has all the bells and whistles, but what you want your target audience to feel while consuming your content is extreme relief. Because of those bells and whistles, a CISO or CTO can sleep better knowing their company’s data has the best possible protection.
5. Grab a flashlight and head into the Dark Funnel
The number of leads sitting in your CRM right now is only a tiny percentage of your total addressable market. Right now, countless people are searching for a solution like yours — and you have no idea who they are. That’s why it’s called the Dark Funnel, because you’re in the dark about which of your content assets they’re consuming or the order in which they’re consuming them.
But they’re consuming a lot of it. The majority of B2B buyers consume three to five pieces of content before engaging with a salesperson, while 30% consume more than five pieces of content. In fact, 83% of the average B2B buying journey consists of consuming content that helps identify and differentiate between potential solutions. Sales only comes into the picture when a buyer is nearly finished with their journey. That means it’s up to Marketing to generate awareness, provide vital consideration data, and convince those Dark Funnel dwellers to unveil their identity.
Your only flashlight in the Dark Funnel is a comprehensive content library paired with strategic distribution. Give Dark Funnel prospects multiple opportunities to see your expertise, evaluate your solution, and consider doing business with you. It’s great for them, and it’s great for your Sales team because they wind up with warmer, more educated prospects.
6. Create a content operations framework that maximizes your time and results
What happens when your boss asks for a status report on your content marketing initiatives? Are you scrambling through a bunch of documents, emails, and Slack messages to get an answer? A content operations framework helps your team work faster, smarter, and with better overall results.
With the right one, you can see:
- What assets are in progress
- What assets, themes, and projects are on deck
- Which stages of the funnel you’re focusing on
- Which personas you’re targeting
- Who on your team owns what
- Which split tests you’ve conducted
- The metrics for published pieces and key learnings from the data
With one hub to house everything (I prefer a multi-tab spreadsheet, but you do you), it’s easy to share updates, show progress, spot where data-driven optimizations are needed, and keep track of your team’s workload. It’s also easy to scale as your team, business, and goals get bigger.
Start actioning on these six tips today and it won’t take long for your content marketing efforts to drive ROI and establish themselves as crucial to your organization’s success.
Nicole Pytel is Vice President of Content Marketing at Firebrand Communications. With 15 years of content marketing and branding experience, she loves combining multimedia creativity with strategic data analysis to help clients reach their biggest goals.