B2B Content Marketing for 2017 – Nine Wake-up Calls For Our Industry

The challenges and inspiration content marketers need to take into the coming year

September 13, 2016

This was the fifth year in a row that I’ve been to Content Marketing World – but it was the first time in a while that I haven’t been speaking. It’s a different kind of experience when your head is free to consume all the content marketing ideas out there without thinking too much about what you’re going to present yourself. Now I’m headed back to London, I find musing even more than normal about the present and future of content marketing.

This year’s Content Marketing World provided yet more evidence that B2B content marketing is going mainstream globally. There were 3,500 plus attendees from more than 74 countries, the biggest audience yet. That shows the size of the demand for genuinely useful, applicable content marketing insight. However the last few days also showed that, as B2B content marketers, we still have a lot of work to do.

There are challenges ahead, points still to be proven, cases still to be made. And although there’s an ever growing range of high-profile content marketing success stories out there, we’ve got to think carefully about just how we apply the learnings to our B2B content marketing lives.

Here are nine wake-ups on the state of content marketing that were delivered over the last few days – and which I think any B2B marketer needs to have in mind headed into 2017. I’ve rounded out my list with a gameplan of the top ten principles that I’ll be applying to content marketing in the year to come.

So first up, the nine B2B content marketing wake-ups I think we all need to pay attention to:

B2B Content Marketing Wake-up Call Number 1:

Without commitment (and a strategy) content marketing will fail

Whisper it if you dare – content marketing is not a foolproof strategy (whether in B2B or B2C). This much was pretty clear a mere 30 minutes into Content Marketing World when Joe Pulizzi laid out the latest research from Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs on the state of our industry. He revealed that only 2 out of 10 brands say they are fully committed to a content marketing approach. That is frightening.

It’s especially frightening because, as Joe pointed out, mediocre content that stems from a lack of commitment will hurt your brand far more than doing no content at all. It sounds like plenty of marketers are heading for the content marketing out door without even realising it.

It’s easy to spot the content marketers who have the commitment and the strategy they need. They’re the ones who’ve identified their most important audiences and crafted specific content messages and missions for each of them, telling specific stories consistently over time to build value. This involves big decisions and a big strategic commitment. We’re passing the stage when marketers can dabble in a bit of content here and there and expect it to magically deliver results.

B2B Content Marketing Wake-up Call Number 2:

B2B content marketers need more relevant inspiration than Lego and Red Bull

We love the stories: hugely ambitious content marketing strategies that go where established media companies fear to tread and prove that brands can become global content powerhouses in their own right. But how applicable are the strategies of Lego and Red Bull to the objectives that B2B content marketers have – and the tools they have at their disposal? That’s the thought that hit me whilst listening to Lars Silberbauer – the (very inspiring) head of social strategy at Lego. 

Lars is a brilliant marketer who’s done some remarkable things to transform Lego’s brands, but what works for Lego isn’t going to work for 90% of us. Why do I say that? Let’s take a look at the numbers: 

  • Lego users create 20x more content than Lego itself do themselves, meaning that Lego get to spend a lot of their time orchestrating a genuinely social message rather than just putting their message out there. How many content marketers are in that position? You can count them on the fingers of one hand…
  • 26 years of Lego video is watched every day. How many content marketers have that level of reach and engagement to work with? How many will realistically ever have? That single hand is at work again…
  • Lego is the brand with the highest engagement amongst audiences of all, bar none – which kind of explains the other two numbers.

It’s not that Lego isn’t inspiring. Of course it is! It’s a really sexy story and the results are through the roof, but in reality those results are just unrealistic for the rest of us because the starting point and the community resources available are just fundamentally different. It reminds me of a recent article I read about Gary Vaynerchuk’s strategy for giving advice. You can read that one here, it’s brilliant.

It’s great for B2B content marketers to be ambitious, but unless we find role models and stories that are more applicable to what we’re working with, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and disappointment. That’s not to say creative inspiration isn’t out there. You just need to look in the most relevant places.

B2B Content Marketing Wake-up Call Number 3:

Research and strong opinions are the key to links and shares

What do you do when 75% of content gets no links? Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media has a simple answer: “We should all be focused on strong opinions and original research.”

Research leads to links, strong opinions lead to shares. For research, ask yourself what people in your industry often say but rarely support – then produce the research that produces the substantiation. Do so and you will produce the most popular piece of content. It’s a lot of work, but it pays off in the end. For example, Orbit Media ran a survey that asked ‘How long does it take to write a blog post?’ – the answer to which simply didn’t exist before. The survey garnered 350 plus website links:

When it comes to strong opinions, ask yourself what topics your industry will typically NOT answer or talk about, then go after them. Crestodina cites Mark Schaeffer’s incredibly popular post Content Shock as a great example of a strong opinion piece that did extremely well (it has 529 links and thousands of shares according to Buzz Sumo). Another example is Orbit Media’s own ‘15 things you should remove from your website’ – a great example of sticking your neck out.

Armed with strong opinions and research, your blog becomes your best networking tool. Use Buzzsumo to find relevant influencers, then reach out, collaborate, add them to your tribe. 

An ally in creation is an ally in promotion  - Andy Crestodina

B2B Content Marketing Wake-up Call Number 4:

A 2017 content strategy needs some humour in it

The master of B2B marketing comedy, Tim Washer, is on a mission to kill the traditional corporate talking head video. In his Content Marketing World session “How to use Improv Techniques to Improve Your Storytelling”, Washer shared his experiences on bringing much-needed comic relief to the stuffy world of B2B. It was inspiring stuff – and a session any content marketer should have been compelled to watch.

Tasked with interviewing a series of CIOs Washer wanted to take his interviewees out of the boardroom setting and into a fresh and fun space – to create something that would truly stand out. The result is “Fast Innovation, Slow Waiter”, a remarkable video where he flawlessly blends humor with corporate storytelling. His best advice to B2B content marketers? Go find an improv theater in your city and take a class or hire someone for help. He also recommends finding a good comedy editor because the video cuts are all about timing.

B2B Content Marketing Wake-up Call Number 5:

Without thought leadership, none of this content really matters

Thought leadership doesn't mean it has to be long piece of content. It's about purpose and meaning. Not length – Ardath Albee
  1. Encounter thoughts that go beyond current thinking
  2. Identify new business opportunities
  3. To address existing business problems

When you think about it, it’s a great challenge to apply to any piece of B2B content marketing – and it becomes even more of a challenge when you apply Ardath’s filter of what great thought leadership should be: innovative, Big Picture, transformative and credible.

B2B Content Marketing Wake-up Call Number 6:

‘Make great content and they will come’ is a myth

Content is an indirect acquisition channel. To give your content a fighting chance, you need an engine to drive it – or as Wizard of Moz Rand Fishkin calls it, a flywheel.

Paid can certainly boost your content’s reach – but only so far, since 90% of all social clicks go to organic content and on Google, organic content commands 80% of clicks. For this reason, the key question before creating any piece of content should be: “who will amplify this – and why?” Building a network to amplify your content is the real key to getting more links, growing your authority, and increasing your ability to rank for more competitive terms and phrases.

Rand’s Content Marketing World presentation is well worth digesting on SlideShare to explore in depth what content amplification can and should involve. Here are the two slides perhaps most worth embedding into your strategy for next year:

B2B Content Marketing Wake-up call Number 7:

Content marketers need to slow down in 2017

Marketing is impatient. Everything we do feels like we need to do it faster. in her keynote session at Content Marketing World, Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, argued that this needs to change. In the future, marketers who are able to see the value in slowing down will be the most successful. “We need to be a little more deliberate, and thoughtful,” she said. But we can’t be successful if we’re slow marketers all the time; we must identify the right moments to hit the brakes. You can do so by asking yourself the following three questions:

  1. So what? Ask yourself this question from the perspective of your reader. And answer, “because…” until all of your answers are exhausted. You’ll have found yourself taking a handy shortcut to customer empathy. Seventy-one percent of content marketers are looking to a build long-term content marketing program, and yet we’re not as focused as we should be on our audience. Asking “So what?” will deliver long-term results.
  2. Wait, what? Yep…we’re going to ask it again, because it’s that important to align on the “why” before you get to the “how.” “We’re over-indexing on the hustle and under-indexing on the prep,” explains Handley. “That’s why we need to step back and ask ourselves, ‘Why are we doing this? What’s our long term plan?’”
  3. Does this sustain us? Handley says we need to “opt for sustainability over speed.” You can sustain your brand by putting processes in place to ensure success. You also need to focus on sustaining yourself. Ask yourself, “Are you proud of what you’re creating? Does it feed your soul?”   

Our emphasis on speed erodes our quality of life and productivity. Handley acknowledged that there is such a thing as a bad slow in marketing. But there is a critical need for a good slow in marketing.

B2B Content Marketing Wake-up call Number 8:

Video is hard to begin with. When you add in no ability to edit, no consistency, and a probable lack of strategy, purpose or need, then you’ve got a great recipe for harming your brand. This is why Scott Stratten of UnMarketing has it in for content marketing’s latest shiny object – Live Video. “Content shouldn't be a training bra”, he says of those jumping two-footed without looking first. Instead, B2B content marketers should be creating content in the most professional way that will sustain their business.

Start by asking yourself: Is the delivery mechanism relevant to my audience?  Do they understand the channel? And bear in mind that adding another channel to your content mix moves your audience and scatters them. In the case of live video it probably does so unnecessarily. Instead Stratten suggests: “Be better at 2003: Better emails. Better blogs. Better landing page forms.”

“Get back to your core marketing competencies before you start looking around.” – Scott Stratten

B2B Content Marketing Wake-up call Number 9:

It’s never paid vs organic – it’s always both

I met Chad Pollitt a few years ago at Inbound. This is one smart dude. His Content Marketing World session shone a light on paid and organic strategies that actually work. It was also satisfying to hear as it reinforces many of the things we do on the content and social team here at LinkedIn – in particular these four top tips for combining paid and organic in content marketing strategies:

  • In order to scale native advertising in social, stick with promoting the content that you know is good and already performing well
  • Use social amplification as a PR tool too, targeting influencers and journalists
  • Keep experimenting
  • Pay close attention to creative – and keep testing it

10 B2B Content Marketing principles for 2017:

How do you put those nine wake-up calls into action as a content marketing strategy? Here are the 10 principles that I’m resolving to apply in the year ahead:

  1. Understand how different cultures relate to different types of content (the key to a focused strategy built around specific content missions)
  2. Outrageous constraints can ignite creativity – don’t be intimidated that you aren’t Lego or Red Bull, and value brains over budget
  3. The audience should be centre-stage in your content, not the brand – once you’ve got that formula right, amplify it
  4. Know why you’re using every social channel that you’re using
  5. The pieces that do well with paid are the same pieces that do well organically (which is very convenient when you’re trying to identify where to put your budget)
  6. Canonicalize your posts (i.e. convert them into a standard form) when you are syndicating – to avoid duplicate content penalties
  7. Do smart keyword research – and do it before you create content
  8. Be wary of over-investing in short-term paid, instead of long term organic. You need to do both.
  9. Focus on optimising your core marketing channels (website, blog, apps, email, landing pages etc) before moving onto the shiny objects (like live video).
  10. Slow down and focus on the ‘So What?’ of your content. You’ll be happier. You’ll be more sustainable. You’ll be a lot more effective.

Have a B2B Marketing Principle to add? Tweet us @LinkedInMKtg.