Enterprise content marketing fails

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed May 22, 2013
When marketing departments tried out the “content marketing” phrase on me a year ago, I was briefly encouraged. I assumed companies would now step back from polluting the tweetstream with compulsive retweets and hashtag pimping in favor of original content. It didn't happen. There has to be a better way.

Man legs in the office
When marketing departments tried out the 'content marketing' phrase on me a year ago, I was briefly encouraged.

I assumed companies would step back from polluting the Tweetstream with compulsive retweets and hashtag pimping in favor of original content. Perhaps content marketing would compel them to slash their PR budgets, fire their social media ninjas/consultants and hire talented, under-employed writers to tell their stories. Even better: hire an equally talented, equally under-employed editor to coach subject matter experts into blogging.

That didn’t happen. But all was not lost – we got a pile of content marketing infographics for our trouble. Oh, and we got a spiffy new phrase, thought leadership marketing, which I dare you to say in front of a real customer.

The headline for enterprise vendors? Customers don’t really want your thought leadership. What they want is to sit around a table and solve problems. If you have a demonstrated expertise for solving those problems, you get a seat at the table. I’m not sure what you call that, but it isn’t content marketing.

In content marketing circles, firms trot out pyramids or hierarchies to help those who have given up on pummeling mass markets into submission to figure out where to invest their resources. Full disclosure: I did a content hierarchy also, though I never turned it into an infographic. My bad.

Forrester put out a pyramid that positioned traditional brand advertising at the base, followed by product collateral, then case studies, then true thought leadership at the top. According to Forrester’s research, thought leader content has far more impact on potential buyers than pushing your logo. That’s a fair point.

Another take on the content marketing pyramid puts curated content on the bottom, then blogs, infographics, webinars, white papers and books on the top. When was the last time you read a 20 page vendor white paper? This pyramid already seems dated, but there’s a takeway: the more you put into content, the more you tend to get out.

So why does content marketing tend to fail? Usually because the definitions are too simplistic. Here’s how I see it:

  1. Content hierarchies ignore the realities of the enterprise sales cycle. When it comes to engaging new prospects, blog posts are most certainly NOT at the bottom of the content pyramid. When prospects are kicking tires on your products, case studies and on-demand demos are suddenly the most valuable content you can have.
  2. Hierarchies fail to address the need for opt-in information and how you get that opt-in. One of the delicate (some would say ugly) aspects of content creation is that your sales team expects demographic information like job titles from your visitors. Meanwhile your marketing manager wants to count subscribers. That means getting consumers to opt-in.
  3. Email newsletters are vastly underrated, however bland-sounding. Email is far from dead; those readers who let you into their priority inbox are far more valuable than those who click on your Facebook link and never look back. The sophisticated frontier is opt-in email that sends your readers/prospects exactly the information they asked for, exactly when they need it. Check your inbox – I’ll bet there isn’t a single vendor doing that effectively for you right now.
  4. Culture eats content for lunch. Opt-in is just the beginning. The real achievement is building culture around your brand that turns customers into advocates, singing your praises without prompting. Blogging about their great experience is a good sign. But the best stuff happens behind closed doors (and in private forums), when peers pitch your company to peers. It’s tough for B2B companies to inspire the same kind of brand love as B2Cs like Apple and Harley Davidson. When a CxO tattoos your brand on their arm, you get a week off. Maybe two.
  5. Don’t repurpose, go multi-media. Offering people video, audio, and text is not just good for search, it’s good for whatever device they prefer. But repurposing everything can lead you to syndication, where the same content gets plastered all over creation. That’s bad for search and worse for credibility. At diginomica we strive for as close to 100 percent original content as we can get. We don’t syndicate. The challenge is to build a great destination while also going where the conversations are. Do both.
  6. The best content strategies combine creation, measurement, and automation. It’s tough to create what I call soulful content on the one hand, and measure the results of that content on the other. Both are needed. Marketing automation gets a bad rap, but that’s essential for how prospects become sales. Properly used, these technologies get you into your prospects’ home office or airport lounge right when decisions are being made. Ironically, the firms which excel at content creation tend to be the worst at marketing automation, and vice versa.
  7. Conversation forces transparency, and transparency is a beast. Content sparks conversation, which is far more of double-edged sword than companies initially realize. Gleeful surprise at proliferating blog comments turns to despair when controversial feedback is deleted and the community revolts. Today’s enterprise customer doesn’t have the time for  'productive interactions' or 'good feedback sessions.' They want issues resolved from that conversation. Companies should stay off social channels if social means faux engagement and soliciting input that goes nowhere. Paying community managers what they deserve for crafting fair policies and putting out fires is a good step – if you want to build culture out of content.
  8. Content marketing should be vertical. This automotive content marketing post points to the enterprise content  future: specialized content by specialists - for demanding and industry-focused readers.

At the risk of appearing too self serving we’re doing something different at diginomica by including our partners in these enterprise conversations. We’ve asked them to craft content that builds on what our five co-founders are writing. That means talking about shared business problems, not technical specifications. That means tearing down the walls between customers, partners and experts so we all have a seat at the table, setting projects on the right track. Buzzwords aside, that’s where everyone becomes a winner.

Photo credit: © iceteaimages - Fotalio.com

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