A 6-Step Guide to B2B Content Marketing That Works

March 30, 2016

B2B content marketers, it’s time to take a stand.

It’s time to show that quality content isn’t a fuzzy, fluffy nice-to-have that only pays off in intangibles like “affinity” and “engagement.”

It’s time to take some cues from our B2C colleagues and produce amazing content. It’s time to beat our B2C colleagues by proving ROI in terms the C-suite can respect.

And it’s well past time to stop producing ever-growing mountains of content without strategic, measurable goals.

B2B marketers have been churning out content at an alarming rate. In fact, 70% plan to produce even more this year than the last. At the same time, only 30% rate their efforts as “effective” or “very effective.” That means a lot of us still struggle with the marketing aspect of content marketing.

Earlier this year, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions published the Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing. We aimed to create a comprehensive guide to the art and science of content marketing. The full eBook is over 100 pages of in-depth instruction, complete with advice from some of the smartest marketers I know.

This post is the Cliffs Notes version of our big guide, focused on what’s most relevant to B2B content marketing. Read on for a step-by-step overview of a content marketing strategy that gets results.

1. Create a Mission Statement & Develop Your Strategy

“Anyone, anywhere, with any budget can develop a valuable audience over time and make an impact. In other words, there are no excuses for not doing this well, as long as you have a plan and execute against that plan.” – Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Content Marketing Institute

Imagine you’re baking a cake. You mix all the ingredients, put it in the oven, and realize you forgot the eggs. So once the cake is fully cooked, you crack two eggs over it. Problem solved, right?

That’s a surefire way to ruin a birthday party. But too many marketers take a similar approach to B2B content marketing. They start with the content, then add strategy when it’s too late. So it’s no surprise that 60-70% of B2B content goes unread.

Before you write one word of content, define your goals and establish measurable objectives. Start with a mission statement. Orbit Media Co-Founder Andy Crestodina recommends using the following template:

Use your mission statement as a guide for the kind of content you will create, where it will be published, and what business goals it is meant to drive.

Content at different stages of the funnel will have different objectives, so each stage will have its own subset of key performance metrics. Here are a few examples of measurable metrics for upper and lower funnel content:     

2. Identify Your Buyer(s)

“Content that understands its audience will be good content. Content that doesn’t can’t be.” – Doug Kessler, Creative Director & Co-Founder, Velocity Partners Ltd

The best content comes from a place of empathy with the target audience. Most of the top marketers we interviewed for the Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing said empathy was the most important trait they were looking for in a content marketer.

For B2B content marketing, it makes sense to start at the company level. First identify your ideal company, then map the stakeholders you need to target. Most B2B purchasing decisions involve multiple stakeholders at different levels in the organization.

To really identify your buyers, you will need to ask:

●      Who is in the buying committee?

●      What motivates each member?

●      How do they interact with each other?

●      How does each member consume content?

For example, software decisions usually involve the ultimate decision-maker in the C-suite, their direct report manager, and the IT staff who will actually use the solution. The executive might be concerned more with cost and reluctance to change, the direct report with increasing efficiency, and the IT staff with making their day-to-day easier.

Once you have mapped the buying committee, you can begin to build personas for each member. Personas are an abstraction meant to represent your “typical” buyer, but they should be based on real information from potential and current customers.

Get the info you need to build personas by:

●      Asking the sales team who their prospects and customers are

●      Using LinkedIn to explore roles and hierarchy within an ideal company

●      Asking existing customers directly through surveys and email

It’s important to make sure your personas actually inform your content marketing approach. You don’t need to know what car your persona drives, how many kids they have, or whether they’re dog or cat people. Stick to the info that will shape your content.

3. Identify Topics

“Start by thinking like the target audience, quantifying the questions they ask…understanding the categories and structure of the content that gets ranked and shared. Then you have to build a content marketing destination that is best structured to answer those questions.” – Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group

With a clear picture of your target audience(s) in mind, you can begin to research potential topics. As TopRank CEO Lee Odden says, the goal is to “be the best answer” for the questions your audience is asking. Keep the entire funnel in mind while you research. What does your audience search for at each stage of the funnel? What topics are they researching, and what words and phrases do they use to find information?

Find the questions your content can answer by:

●      Asking the sales staff for prospect FAQs

●      Asking customer service to CC you when they answer questions in email

●      Interviewing existing and potential customers

●      Using tools like BuzzSumo, UberSuggest, and Google Keyword Tool.

Your topical research will identify the burning questions your potential buyers have that align with your organization’s expertise and solution. It’s important to include competitor research when you are choosing topics as well. Identify what they’re doing that you can do better, and find gaps in the conversation that your content can fill.

4. Create Content

Once you have identified your audience and topic, you can make strategic choices about what kind of content you will create and how it will be published.

Use an editorial calendar to guide your planning. It will help ensure you address the most crucial topics, have a good mix of upper and lower funnel content, and create a variety of content types (infographics, videos, blog posts, etc).

At LinkedIn Marketing, we use the Blogging Food Groups to maximize reader engagement. Your blog should include:

●      Main courses: Meaty, deep-dive posts including research and analysis

●      Vegetables: Good-for-you posts that highlight thought leadership

●      Grains: Filling how-to and influencer posts

●      Spices: Bold statements to spice up the conversation

●      Desserts: Light-hearted content that’s imminently sharable

Here’s how a week’s worth of blog posts look, mapped to the Blogging Food Groups:

The Big Rock model is one easy way to fill out an editorial calendar. A Big Rock is an SEO-friendly, conversation-owning piece of content with endless repurposing opportunities across the blogging food groups.

As you create content, make sure each piece serves one or more of the following functions:

●      Supports a purchase decision with data

●      Solves a problem or answers a question

●      Offers a fresh perspective on a hot topic or industry norm

●      Provides SEO value

5. Amplify Your Content

“Given that content marketing isn't just about producing content, but about earning traffic to it as well, SEO should be a cornerstone of any content marketer's repertoire.” – Rand Fishkin, Wizard of Moz

The next step in creating stellar content marketing is making sure people see the content you so carefully crafted. Here are a few ways you can promote your content, both organically and with paid promotion:

SEO: Since you created quality content based on your buyers’ burning questions, your content has SEO built in already. As people like and share your content based on its quality, your search engine rankings will rise. Add these features for even more SEO boost:

●      Keywords in your title tag and meta description

●      Keywords in your content, including header tags

●      Crosslinks to and from the post and your other content

●      Schema markup to help search engines understand your content

Targeted Updates: When you publish on LinkedIn, you can select a targeted audience for each post. This free feature lets you focus updates for each of your audience segments.

Influencer Promotion: Influencer marketing gives content baked-in amplification potential. Realize this potential by making it easy for your influencers to share:

●      Send the content for their review before it publishes

●      Let them know in advance when it will publish

●      Send a reminder on the publication date

●      Include social messaging templates they can copy and paste

Employee Promotion: Employees are an often-overlooked, but powerful means of amplifying content. Make sure to keep them in the loop when you publish content, and give them template social messages and incentive for sharing. You can also involve employees early in the content creation process. Treat them like influencers (they are), or even encourage them to create their own content for publication on your Company Page.

Native Advertising: Native ads are a paid solution that places your content in the context of what your audience is already consuming. Relevant, highly-targeted content performs well in native ads, because it feels like a natural extension of the reader’s feed. Here’s how b2b brands use Sponsored Content, one of LinkedIn’s native ad formats, to get results.

6. Analyze and Improve

“Most marketers have no idea that there are problems that cause visitors to leave. Instead, they spend their time trying to get more visitors. The bucket is leaking and they keep running to fetch more water.” – Andy Crestodina

Iteration is the most crucial part of content marketing strategy. You began the process with measurable goals and what metrics you would use to evaluate them. Now it’s time to assess how your content performed.

Make sure to use the right metrics for assessment. For example, if your goal was to generate leads, a post with a lot of traffic but low lead capture didn’t meet its purpose, even though it had high views. In that case, you would identify why the post was popular to use for future content, but also examine why the CTA failed to convert.

Use the results of your analysis to adjust your strategy, always aiming for improvement over time. The Sophisticated Marketer’s Crash Course in Metrics & Analytics can help choose the right metrics and perform careful analysis.

Turn Your Content into Content Marketing

Any organization with a copywriter and a website can publish content (and most do). But content marketing is more than just content. It is content strategically created to address buyers’ needs while serving a measurable business objective. Use the tips in this guide to start turning random acts of content into intentional, results-driven content marketing.

For more in-depth tips, strategy, and advice, download the Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing.

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