The Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs recently released their 2013 benchmarks on B2B content marketing. Reading it, you will be struck by two realizations:

  1. Content marketing is huge
  2. Content marketing desperately needs conversion optimization

The “huge” part you probably already suspected from the deluge of blog posts out there on the subject.

However, this report quantifies that scale, and it is impressive. Of the B2B marketers in North America who participated in this benchmark (N = 1,416), 91% of them now use content marketing; 54% of them plan to increase content marketing or significantly increase their spending on it over the next 12 months.

On average, 33% of the marketing budget will be spent on B2B content marketing.

Content Marketing Budgets

That is huge. And at that scale, it’s clearly an executive-level priority. The CMO, himself or herself, is making a big bet on content marketing.

The Performance Side Of Content Marketing

What should be more interesting to the readers of this column, however, is what these marketers expect content marketing to deliver. The top three goals for content marketing in this benchmark were:

  1. Brand awareness (79%)
  2. Customer acquisition (74%)
  3. Lead generation (71%)

Okay, brand awareness is obvious — it’s exactly the kind of thought leadership that is popularly associated with content marketing.

But most companies investing in content marketing are not satisfied with the amorphous benefits of brand building. After all, we live in an age where marketing is becoming performance-driven and accountable. They want to acquire customers and generate leads.

“Show me the money.” (Or at least the leads.)

Content Marketing Goals

In fact, these goals are being evaluated by concrete measurement criteria. Three of the top five metrics for content marketing include: sales lead quality, sales lead quantity and direct sales. (Web traffic and social media sharing are the other two.)

Phrased another way, these top goals are conversion rate, conversion quality, and revenue lift.

How Does Content Acquire A Customer Or A Lead?

Just to make sure we’re on the same page — a landing page, actually — how exactly does content acquire customers or generate leads in a measurable way?

First, we must recognize that the “content” deployed in content marketing is quite diverse. It’s not just blog posts. Content marketing employs a plethora of tactics such as webinars, white papers, research reports, infographics, in-person events, e-newsletters, videos, virtual conferences, podcasts, microsites, mobile apps, and more.

Content Marketing Tactics

On average, content marketers use 12 different tactics. Many of these can be considered “premium content” that has more value in the eyes of prospects.

So, one way to generate leads is to trade content for contact information. For example, to gain access to a piece of premium content, the visitor fills out a short form with their contact information. This is classic permission marketing — the marketer is asking permission to share other relevant content with the respondent in the future.

This is what landing pages are typically used for, although you can certainly be more creative in the way you present such lead-for-content offers!

Another way is to connect a clear “next step” with the content. In this scenario, the visitor can freely consume the content right there at the moment of click through: watch a video, engage with an interactive app, or browse through a detailed microsite.

But, unlike a read-and-move-on blog post, there’s a compelling call-to-action that is directly associated with the content. It’s an invitation to subscribe, sign-up, get a free sample, take advantage of a special promotion, etc.

Active Content Marketing & Framing Core Content

We can call these kinds of content marketing delivery vehicles “active content marketing” because the content is presented in a way that actively moves prospects forward in the sales and marketing funnel.

This is in contrast to passive (“publish-and-pray”) content marketing tactics, like blog posts, where there isn’t a directly attached call-to-action.

With active content marketing, the marketer is concerned not only with the core piece of content, but also the “framing” of that core content.

Framing is everything in the Web or mobile experience that surrounds that core content, convincing people it’s worth filling out a form to access it or encouraging them to take the next step after they consume it. It connects the content to the buyer’s journey — without having to compromise the integrity of the core content itself, which usually resonates best when it’s not overtly salesy.

Clearly, framing can have a significant impact on the performance of active content marketing.

Of course, marketers should deploy different framing for different contexts — message match with the source from which the visitor clicked. This lets them reuse the same piece of core content, which is usually expensive to produce, to engage with a number of different audience segments.

And of course, marketers should test different ways of framing their content to see which generates the most leads and customers.

In other words, framing in active content marketing is really the practice of conversion optimization.

Active Content Marketing: A Call To Action

If you’re a content marketer, embracing the practice of conversion optimization may be one of the most productive investments you can make in the success of your programs in the year ahead.

If you’re a conversion optimization professional, I’d strongly encourage you to seek out and engage with senior marketers on the performance goals of their content marketing. By framing (no pun intended) your capabilities in the context of active content marketing, you can deliver enormous value to the biggest marketing mission of 2013.

After all, these active content marketing tactics are already proven — you’ve been doing this with amazing results for your respective organizations and clients for years.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Search & Conversion

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About The Author: is the president and CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of landing page management and conversion optimization software. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist. Follow him on twitter via @chiefmartec.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter



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  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I think it’s important to have a mix of free and “locked” content. If you lock too much of your content behind a registration or lead form you risk not getting it into as many hands as possible. I think you can gate more advanced content, like white paper or webinars, but use free content like blog posts and articles to convince people that locked content is worth going after.

  • http://twitter.com/chiefmartec Scott Brinker

    Agreed, Nick.

    What I’m proposing above as a framework for “active content marketing” doesn’t just mean putting lead forms in front of content. In many cases, the best approach is to simply frame the content with relevant “next steps,” so that AFTER someone consumes the content, they have a clear — but optional — path forward to engage with the company in the context of that piece.

  • Micah Abraham

    I’ve worked with many clients that prefer the passive marketing approach, and I have mixed feelings. One reality, however, is that when you’re not “selling” something your content is more likely to read well, in a way that could conceivably improve rank by a minute margin.

    Still, it’s unlikely to change much. The question is whether the smallest blurb, such as “contact us today to learn more” is enough for content to be considered “active.” Often that’s not enough to provide much of a sell, but at the same time it does provide the call to action that ensures each reader isn’t immediately assuming their next step is to leave the site.

  • Micah Abraham

    To elaborate, I do think the passive marketing approach has its place for simply building content depth or becoming an authority on a topic, but I wonder if adding “contact us today” or the like would be enough to turn it into more active content.

  • http://twitter.com/chiefmartec Scott Brinker

    I agree that there is definitely still a place for passive content marketing. My personal opinion is that it’s particularly effective at maintaining a broad set of relationships with customers and influencers in one’s market.

    I guess the “contact us today” link could be considered the simplest “next step” to offer someone. But it’s pretty generic, and where that contact leads — particularly in larger companies — may lose the context in which the customer is interested.

    To me, active content marketing means there’s enough meat in the “framing” around the core content that you can tailor it to the right context, meaningful test different alternatives, and present a richer, compelling “next step” message in the space that surrounds the content. The flow of where that prospect goes next is also designed to maintain the right context for them down the line.

  • http://twitter.com/CrowdbaitHQ Crowdbait HQ

    After reading this I think that it is important to understand exactly WHY content marketing works the way it does. If you don’t understand this then you will never fully have an understanding of how to better your efforts and increase the successfulness of a Content Marketing campaign. Sure the marketing needs to be “more active” but why does it work, if it is more active? At Crowdbait, we wrote an article that incorporated 3 posts from separate writers and I think I may use this article in my next post to add clarity to the discussion. Feel free to check out the article for this week explaining WHY content marketing works the way it does.

    http://crowdbait.co.uk/news/content-marketing-we-all-know-how-it-works-but-do-we-really-know-why-it-works-1329/

  • Kid World Citizen World Citize

    This is interesting- I’d like to know how content marketing can help, and how it differs depending on the product.

  • http://twitter.com/Cadence9 Cadence9

    Google is getting more sophisticated with how it ranks websites. Stuffing content with a bunch of keywords and links just does not cut it for SEO anymore. It takes
    frequent and original well written content that speaks to a target audience. The
    content needs to address wants, concerns and questions potential customers are
    facing. Talk about these issues and then also conjure up a solution for their question/problem to be most effective.

    On the front page of BtoB Magazine in the September 17, 2012 issue, one of the key topics captioned is, “Content Marketing Comes of Age.” The article points out that 34% of those participating in the study stated that they are “fully” or “very” engaged in content marketing compared with only 18% last year. Another 66% said that they will be “fully” or “very” engaged in 2013

    Franchises need to get on the boat with expanding their digital fingerprint. They need of a solution that encompasses the entire content marketing lifecycle from beginning to end. Some of the things that should be included are the abilities to facilitate goals, plan with an editorial calendar, publish to a limitless number of social media channels
    or custom blogs, engage with those who comment/like/share your content and then
    measure your ROI.

    After doing some research, here are a few companies that focus on content marketing:

    Involver by Oracle
    Shoutlet
    Cadence9
    Buddy Media
    Context Optional (Adobe
    Social)
    Skyword

 

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