B2B firms are natural candidates for inbound marketing and content strategy campaigns. Many entrepreneurs believe that effective inbound marketing efforts require tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and at least a year to get traction in the marketplace. However, with content marketing, it’s possible to make a significant impact against specific metrics in a short period of time.
Here’s a plan that’s achievable for any content marketer or entrepreneur at a B2B firm. If you’re strategic, you can plan, develop, launch, and begin to reap the benefits of a content marketing campaign in as little as sixty days. Ready to learn how? Read on.
The Case Study
For purposes of building out this plan, let’s begin with a case study to help focus our strategy. Consider a company that builds specialized software that makes it easier for freelance workers to bill their clients. The business sits squarely in the B2B space. It’s targeting a wide audience that crosses many different markets, from consultants to accountants. The marketing issues that a product like this faces are representative of similar challenges throughout B2B markets.
The First 3 Days: Get Clear On Your Goals
An effective content marketing strategy begins with clear goals. Outlining your highest priorities helps allocate limited human and financial resources, and prioritizes content and dissemination choices. Some common goals for a content market strategy include:
- Raising brand awareness of a product
- Creating brand awareness for a company
- Generating leads
- Nurturing prospects
- Driving conversions
- Making sales
- Shaping the discussion around a particular product, problem, or topic
- Establishing thought leadership and/or demonstrating the business owner’s (or team’s) expertise
- Becoming a trusted expert and voice in the market
- Reaching new verticals with existing products
- Increasing revenues, sales, and profits
For a sixty-day strategy, choose no more than two goals to focus on. For example, consider the software above. The owner of the company may want to raise the profile of the software with a specific group — freelance accountants — and develop a stream of leads from independent accounting firms.
By laser-focusing on these goals, the content marketing campaign will be set up to succeed from the beginning. Smart choices can be made about topics, formats, and dissemination venues that support those outcomes.
Days 4 – 10: Create A Clear & Compelling Audience Profile
The heart of an inbound marketing strategy is developing a clear audience profile. In a B2C situation, profiles typically focus on an individual. For example, let’s say your prospect is a middle-aged, married man living in the Midwest and struggling with his mortgage.
On the B2B side, developing a comprehensive audience profile is more challenging. Buying cycles are complex, and buying decisions are often made by committee. Your B2B audience profile needs to speak to the following factors, which may sometimes diverge and even conflict:
- The type of company, in terms of size, industry focus, who they serve, revenue, employees, and other business demographics
- What urgent, pressing problem they’re facing that you can solve
- How that problem affects their business, and what your solution means for them in terms of benefits (preferably benefits that speak to the bottom line)
- The language and conceptual frameworks that they use to describe these issues
- Who is the person in the decision maker role for this purchase
- How this issue affects her directly, and what factors she’s likely to take into consideration when buying
- The other people at the table influencing the purchase
- What the company’s internal buying cycle looks like (e.g., do major purchases go before the board or does the company issue RFPs)
- The channels they use to get their industry information (e.g., associations, publications, trusted industry experts)
- Who and what they trust, which is particularly helpful in terms of choosing content formats and proof elements
Use the above points to create a framework for understanding who your customers are. This includes both the business you’re serving and the person that’s spearheading that purchase decision within the organization.
B2B purchases are often fraught with internal landmines. They represent major investments for companies. A bad choice could upset their clients and cost business. A bad investment could cost an individual employee her job. The deeper you’re able to dig into the psyches of both the business and the individuals at play, the more effectively your content will anticipate and speak to their needs.
A note on sources: there are a number of ways to gather this information. Start with the data you have on file — your Web analytics, your buying data, previous surveys and customer demographics. Interview your best customers if you can, and get as much information directly from them as possible. Take advantage of the expertise of your sales team and customer service reps. Their day to day interaction with your prospects and customers has uniquely positioned them to speak to what your ideal customer really wants.
Days 11 – 20: Map Your Buying Cycle
Your sales funnel or buying cycle is important for one reason within your B2B content marketing strategy. Prospects and customers at different stages of the buying process are looking for specific silos of information. Someone in the earliest stages may simply be trying to learn more about a class of products. A buyer close to making a decision is looking at differentiating factors between providers or answering specific questions about customer service.
Content strategies directly connect with the buying cycle in three ways:
- Your audience profile has clearly specified the profile and needs of prospects at each stage in the cycle. It has clarified the topics, formats, and channels that matter most.
- Content development efforts focus on creating streams of content that are appropriate for buyers at different phases of the journey.
- In an overarching way, your content strategy also helps guide your prospect from point to point along the journey from discovering your brand to making a purchase.
To map out your sales funnel, it’s helpful to take a step back and analyze how your existing customers have found you. In our software example, the accountant may decide they need a more sophisticated time tracking option. This leads to online research. Once prospects discover our software brand, they typically download a white paper and schedule a demo. At this point, a percentage will convert, download the software and sign up for our service.
Connecting that process to a content strategy might look as follows:
- Accountant in the research phase: Content needs to focus on the benefits of time tracking software for accountants. These could be articles, blog posts, or in-depth white papers. It could also be infographics or videos.
- Accountants learning more about specific brands: Content such as a website, specialized landing pages, case studies, or white papers explain the specific product, in the context of the benefits that matter most to your audience.
- Accountants pre-conversion: Content discusses big business benefits, provides use cases, emphasizes ongoing support, and has clear calls to action to push prospects toward the sale.
Your goal should be to walk out of this phase with a clearly defined buying cycle and general content ideas that support each phase. Begin to tie your strategy together by testing each content type against the audience profile: would these basic ideas speak to your prospect?
Days 21 – 24: Clarify Your Keyword Strategy
An important component of inbound marketing is capturing the benefits of organic SEO. In order to do this, it’s necessary to clarify your keyword strategy. If your organization already has an SEO campaign underway, audit your keywords to determine which terms should be priority focuses for your content strategy.
If your strategy is taking your business into new areas — like in our example where the company is bringing software to a new market — it may be necessary to expand that list. Ultimately, your keyword list will serve as a helpful resource for brainstorming content ideas and for optimizing content for the dissemination phase.
If you need more background on developing a keyword strategy, I recommend the following resources:
- The Definitive Guide to Using Google’s Keyword Planner Tool for Keyword Research
- How to Find LSI (Long-Tail) Keywords Once You’ve Identified Your Primary Keywords
- Why Your Keyword Strategy is Incomplete Without User Intent
Days 25 – 44: Concepts & Content
The conceptualization and content-creation phase is where you bring it all together. Your buying cycle work defines the types of content you need to create. Your audience profile hones in on who you’re creating content for. Your SEO strategy lets you focus on your priority concepts and the keywords that you’re trying to rank for. During this phase, you integrate all the hard work you’ve done; spend a couple days brainstorming topics, and then dive headlong into the creation process.
In developing your concepts, there are a few key aspects to keep in mind:
- Use everything you can as a springboard: your keywords, your most frequently asked questions, all the details you know about your audience. What do they care about the most, and how can your content connect with them?
- Test every idea against your audience profile. Does this resonate with your ideal customer? Have you really nailed the topic or the spin? If it feels like there’s a disconnect, try to reframe your idea with their needs in mind.
- Test every idea against your buying cycle. What level of prospect or lead is this for? At what stage would they find it? What business purpose does it serve, and how will the content move the lead along to the next phase? Get crystal clear on the functional purpose of each piece of content.
- Finally, put every idea through the following filter: is this truly geared toward your prospects? Many of us make the mistake of writing for our peers, and we lose valuable time developing content that doesn’t achieve our business goals.
For more inspiration on developing content marketing ideas, see these articles:
- How to Build a Kickass Content Strategy
- 11 Awesome Places to Find Content Marketing Ideas
- 25 Questions to Ask When Executing B2B Content Marketing Campaigns
The next couple weeks will involve intense writing, recording videos, or subcontracting design work. Put together an executable plan and figure out what needs to happen to get your content creation done. Use your strengths and outsource around your weaknesses. Freelance writers can help create a healthy volume of quality content. Designers can take your ideas into the visual realm. Possibly you’re creative and are able to set aside the time to execute your own content strategy.
The big message here is that there’s no right way to get it done. Your focus should simply be on execution. Identify the most effective way forward for you and your goals at this time, and be relentless about getting your content completed and published so you’re ready to tackle the dissemination phase.
Days 45 – 59: Disseminate, Disseminate, Disseminate
Experts like Derek Halpern suggest that dissemination should take 80% of your content marketing time. The idea here is simple: if you create awesome content that no one ever sees, it’s not helpful. Here’s a simple, step-by-step guide to create some buzz around your content.
- Publish it. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Let go of any fears and get your blog posts, podcasts, ebooks and other content out there to be found. Take the time to be professional, but know when it’s time to let your content fly.
- Optimize it. Make sure that you’ve created a solid SEO framework and foundation to build on with the rest of the activities that we’re going to discuss. You’ll capture organic traffic and make it easier for other tactics to work.
- Socialize it. Share your content on all your social media channels. Take advantage of entrees into broader conversations. For example, if our software company finds out that there’s a hashtag for accounting tech, using it strategically is a great way to instantly broaden their reach on Twitter.
- Make it shareable. Is all your content easily sharable on every major social network with the click of a button? If not, find the right app or plugin to make it happen. It’s free, it’s easy, and it’s critical for getting traction on social media.
- Promote it strategically. Do you share your content on sites like BizSugar.com, StumbleUpon.com, or Reddit.com? If not, now’s the time to start. Always approach this with integrity. Don’t spam — share your content with people who are genuinely interested in the value you’re creating. This is a critical step in getting in front of the right people.
- Connect with influencers. Have you found a way to share your content with people who might be interested? Are there bloggers in your space that should read your post — and potentially share it if they like it? Keeping up to date with the movers and shakers in your space and cultivating relationships with them is an important part of growing your profile.
- Guest blog. Guest blogging is one of the most effective strategies for getting fast results with your content. For my personal guide to guest blogging, check out The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging.
Day 60: Measure Your Success
In reality, measuring isn’t something you’ll do in a single day. Tracking your results throughout your campaign is the best way to know what kind of an effect you’re having and auto-correct for anything that’s not going well. But plan to sit down at the very end of this sixty-day content experiment and see how you did overall.
What you measure will tie back to several factors including the initial campaign goals you established, but here are some of the key analytics that can help you track the outputs and impact of your efforts:
- Pieces published
- Links created to your site
- Non-linked brand mentions
- New readers exposed to your material
- Future publishing opportunities
- Partnerships that developed
- Insights gleaned about your business, brand, or space
- Traffic to your site
- New subscribers to your mailing list
- Leads generated
- Sales made
- Testimonials collected
- Ongoing customer relationships created or deepened
At the end of the day, what matters most is sales and revenue. But it’s important, especially in the complex world of B2B transactions, to development an evaluation system to that takes into account the universe of possible conversions that can impact and have value for a business. Sales and revenue matter most, but there are many other metrics that show you’re making meaningful progress with your business.
Our sixty-day content experiment should do two things: build your confidence that content marketing is something that you can do for your business, and give you proof of concept of the power of inbound marketing. If you’ve followed the plan, you’re in a position to repeat the process to achieve any marketing goal in a methodical way.
Whether you roll out your content marketing strategy to a bigger audience or build on your success for the last two months with a specific product, this plan will set you on your way to some strategic wins in the B2B content marketing space.
What are your best tips for creating short-term wins with B2B content marketing? Let me know in the comments below.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.