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Avoiding b2b content marketing pitfalls

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed July 2, 2013
Much of the resistance enterprise marketers face comes from being immersed for dangerously long periods in their gobsmackingly wonderful product technology. Here's a take on how to avoid that, backed up by survey data from a new content marketing report.

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Like salespeople jazzed up to win that trip to Maui, B2B content marketing teams desperately want to deliver. They just seem unsure as to how.

According to Better Lead Yield in the Content Marketing Field, a new study produced by the CMO Council and NetLine (free with sign up), B2B marketers come off as more nerved up than spot-on -  despite shelling out more than 25% of their budgets on the creation of content meant to generate new business leads.

Marketers have learned how to say all the right things. They want their content efforts to yield tangible, measurable results. Without fluffy hype - or hypey fluff. They know that brand broadcasting is no longer working – at least not for engaging savvy B2B buyers.

Yet the 11-page ‘Better Yield’ report indicates that many of those same marketers continue to churn out just what they claim to have put behind them – glossed-up promo content that lacks customer-focused themes.  As for keeping track of content that results in measurable leads, marketers seem to be struggling more than you would think, despite advances in marketing automation technology.

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For the study, the CMO Council’s Content ROI Center polled over 400 B2B content seekers to get a better feel for how those folks engaged with digital content and what they found worthwhile. That’s considerably less than a representative sampling of scale, though 50% of those surveyed held titles at the director level or above, adding some gravitas to the relatively small sample size. Roughly 41% worked for organizations with greater than $100 million in annual revenues. Two out of three respondents claimed to have direct influence over purchasing decisions.

Critical report findings include:

  • An eye-catching 87% of those surveyed agree that online content has anywhere from a moderate to a major influence on vendor selection.
  • Equally notable: only 9% of respondents regard content from vendors as 'highly trusted.'
  • 50% cite excessive requirements for downloading content as the characteristic they dislike most; 43% said overly promotional and self-serving content turned them off next. Coming in third on the irritation scale, 34% were critical of content that appeared to lack substance or was uninformed.

If those numbers weren’t enough to get B2B marketers’ collective attention, a few pointed observations from the report should.

Lead generation campaigns, for instance, too often employ ‘poorly conceived content that doesn’t connect with customer needs and concerns.’ Worse, B2B vendor web sites, the very place where customers expect to find information critical to the buying process, are too often clumsy and difficult to navigate.

B2B marketing expert Tony Zambito shared his unflattering conclusions about the report findings:

This report indicates a dismal failure for B2B Marketing thus far… Both you and your organization gets behind door number 1 – understanding buyers.  Or, door number 2 – irrelevant to buyers. This report, reading between the lines, is buyers speaking loudly. I don’t hear a passing grade.

So what should B2B marketers do differently? Zambito argues for deeper investment in understanding buyer personas:

Of the millions spent, how much content has been dragged over to the little trashcan icon on millions of Mac Books and PC’s?  Making the qualitative buyer research investment upfront can prevent this excessive waste.

But what about companies that do share content in line with buyer agendas? The results are far more positive:

Consider these report stats:

  • If they like it, they share it: 28% surveyed reported that they share online content with over 100 colleagues; 59% forward content to at least 25 others.
  • The most valued forms of content: Professional association reports or whitepapers (67%), industry group reports (50%), customer case studies (48%), analyst whitepapers and reports (44%) and product reviews (40%).
  • The sources of B2B content that most influence purchasing decisions are largely peer oriented: Professional associations and online communities (47%), industry organizations (46%), online trade publications (41%), seminars and workshops (41%) and trade shows (35%).

So how do you get away from opt-out and into the elusive realm of trusted content? The CMOs quoted in the report offered winning tactics.

1.  Don’t over-advertise - share expertise. Jamie Mendez, director of channel marketing in charge of IBM’s global partnering infrastructure, PartnerWorld, says: 'As marketers, we have to be very careful that we’re not simply trying to bring new clients in the door by billboarding content with an expectation that it will result in genuine engagement. When I’m trying to understand something, I want to engage with an expert. I don’t want someone sending me a series of billboards.'

2.  Don’t e-blast - invest in relationships and innovate. The switch to new ideas needs to be more than simply throwing money at the problem, according to Laura Breslaw, CMO for global consulting firm Alix Partners. Greater investment in people needs to be combined with an increased focus on buyer research and strategic partnerships. 'You have to address the various audience strategies,' says Breslaw, 'particularly around digital, and build those into your go-to-market plan early on.'

3.  Don’t overload the buffet - serve small plates. Suit the medium to the customer and the customer to the medium, suggests Colleen Albitson, CMO for Deloitte’s Canada division. Easily digestible media like video, motion graphics and infographics can often entice recipients to go ahead and download that beefier report that requires their contact information and download effort.

One more takeaway from the report: keep close tabs on customer wants and expectations when it comes to consumption. In this survey, a significant 41% consume content on their smart phones, with 30% preferring tablets, leading the report to conclude that offering mobile delivery options is now 'critical.'  The end of the report sums it up well:  'Today, it’s about getting specific information to the right decision makers, often on a just-in-time basis.'


None of the data in this report comes as a surprise. Much of the resistance B2B marketers face comes from being immersed for dangerously long periods in the jargon of their gobsmackingly wonderful technology. Another key error comes in misunderstanding what content works in a particular phase of the sales cycle – something this report did not adequately touch on. Even the best vendor content tends to be more appropriate for those actively kicking tires and familiar with product lingo. But how do you pull new buyers in?

The real scarcity is content that is exciting and relevant to buyers who are looking for insight but who are not ready to sign up for product demos. I personally find that smaller companies and startups with fiery leaders are better at creating content that attracts B2B audiences. A willingness to be outspoken and take content risks never hurts. Honest and helpful information wins customers over. Then you build passionate customer communities around that content.

Winning buyer trust is a heck of a lot easier when customers carry your message. Easier said than done. Companies that figure out how to take the discussion one step up from technical solutions and into themes of business and industry transformation have a big advantage.

Larger vendors are more likely to excel at landing page optimization, marketing automation and lead conversion. If only they had the content to attract the beans they are so good at counting. Content can be a budget problem, but you’d be surprised how often it’s not a money issue, but ayou spent the marketing budget on what?’ issue, Money is squandered on pricey social media/PR outfits while digital re-invention gets unwisely postponed.

In digital markets, companies need to become media producers and content publishers. Suffer through those growing pains and the social and PR aspects will (almost) take care of themselves.

Image credit: afraid to fail © tiero - from

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