How to Create B2B Content Marketing That Sells

The Secret to B2B Content Marketing Success [Research]

Content marketing is on the rise for more than four out five B2B marketers, according to a recent 2012 B2B content marketing survey of LinkedIn members by by Holger Schulze.

By providing useful information to answer a wide range of prospect and customer questions, in a variety of formats, content marketing supports the complex, multi-level, expensive sale.

Content marketing goals

Lead generation (68% in 2012 up from 62% in 2011),  thought leadership (50% in 2012 up from 37% in 2011) and brand awareness (39% in 2012 up from 34% in 2011) are the top three business goals for content marketing. Interestingly, lead nurturing, customer acquisition and sales, all of which are related to lead generation, are the next three business goals. By contrast, customer loyalty/retention was the goal of just over 20% of respondents. (Here’s how to make the case for content marketing.)

Content marketing formats

Case studies (62%), white papers and their newer, sexier e-book incarnation (61%), press releases (58%), email newsletters and blogs, were the top content marketing formats. As a marketer, these options make sense for the following reasons.

  • Case studies show prospective customers how others have used the product and, more importantly, they show its effectiveness in business terms. High price tags require financial justification.
  • White papers (and e-books) provide a variety of information that answers prospects’ questions, shows relevant research and teaches how to use the product effectively. In the process, this high value content provides companies with a hook to gather qualified leads.
  • Press releases are dense forms of content that distribute search optimized product and company information, including links and other content such as images and videos. In many business information environments, press releases substitute for press mentions and articles.
  • Email newsletters are an on-going communications conduit enabling marketers to better qualify prospects if used with appropriate content sequencing and targeting.
  • Blogging provides another continual source of content that supports the sales process, answers customer questions and provides thought leadership. In addition to acting as a CMS (or content management system) blogs allow for social sharing, RSS and email distribution, and conversation via comments.

Interestingly, with the exponential growth of images in 2012, the use of infographics increased significantly among B2B marketers from 28% in 2011 to 43% in 2012. This makes sense because infographics are social media bait and more visually enticing than explanatory text.

The secret to B2B content marketing success

The major ingredient for B2B content marketing success for more than four out of five marketers is storytelling. This point is at the heart of Dan and Chip Heath’s classic, Made to Stick. People understand and remember stories. Other elements of content success are originality (52%), custom content (50%) and professional writing (39%) [BTW, I help firms with their content marketing strategy and creation.]

7 Ways to tell your B2B story

Since stories rock for B2B content marketing, here are seven ways to tell your organization’s stories.

  1. Take the Show and tell approach. Use text, images or video to show your product in all its splendor. Actionable Marketing Tip: Demonstrate what makes your product special. Focus on the beauty in details. (Here’s how to use Instagram with business examples.)
  2. Become a teacher. Offer your prospects training by providing them with information that will persuade them to buy your product or use it more effectively. Make your how-to information into a tale just like your parents did when you were small. Actionable Marketing Tip: Spend some time viewing Khan’s Academy, a not-for-profit free educational information service, to see how it’s done well.
  3. Answer my questions (please!) Gather your customers’ most common questions from your sales force, customer service and other customer facing areas. Actionable Marketing Tip: Include related stories to answer these common questions where applicable. This will give your responses more life than just a set of facts. (BTW, Marcus Sheridan used this approach to develop his pool company’s blog and ebook.)
  4. Interview your staff across product lines and other functions. Gather information from the members of your team who know the most about your products. These employees understand how to talk to their peers in ways that can be useful during the sales process. Above all, remember that you’re looking for their personal experiences. Let them tell prospects about your firm from their point of view. Actionable Marketing Tip: Bear in mind that non-communications professionals are often reticent to contribute information in written format. Remove the fear of writing by asking them questions they can answer and edit their answers to fit within your guidelines.
  5. Let customers narrate their experience. Spend some time with a few willing clients and get their perspective on what they like (and dislike) about your products. Let your current buyers become your advocates by relating their stories since prospects can smell a sales pitch or promotion a mile away. Actionable Marketing Tip: Give your customers leeway in the interview to tell you what they really think. This can help you uncover unexpected content marketing gold in the form of unique stories that relate to your product. If you turn up issues, use them as an opportunity to fix a problem and deepen your relationship.
  6. Offer insights into your category. Let your senior executives or experts discuss what’s happening in your niche. Have them put this information into the context of vignettes about prospects and customers. Use emailings, blogs, video, audio and/or live events to promote this content. Actionable Marketing Tip: Plan ahead to extend the useful life of your content across a variety of formats and social media platforms.
  7. Tell your firm’s history. Examine your company’s history to determine where there you have untold stories. Think in terms of products, location and employees. Remember they don’t all have to be serious. Actionable Marketing Tip: Look at the issues around you and consider how these relate to your organization.

Content marketing is becoming a more critical element in the B2B marketer’s toolbox. Use a variety of formats to engage your prospects. But most importantly, integrate a relevant story to help your target audience remember your product.

What secrets can you share for creating B2B content marketing with a stories at the core?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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