Many marketing professionals operate under the assumption that their business-to-business (B2B) content marketing practices are up to snuff. But a closer look reveals that these pros often suffer from tunnel vision in that their practices are too narrowly focused on early-stage buyer acquisition and fail to create content that engages buyers over the long term.
Results of a new study by Forrester, the Business Marketing Association, and the Online Marketing Institute show that 51% of B2B marketing executives polled rate their content marketing as "very mature." However, 87% of respondents find producing content that engages buyers to be a major challenge. Additionally, 85% admitted that content marketing is only somewhat effective, somewhat ineffective, or not effective at all; only 14% indicated that their content marketing efforts delivered business value "very effectively."
The study concludes that content marketing today doesn't produce expected results because marketers 1 concentrate too much on producing content simply to fill distribution channels; minimize the importance of content as the primary job of marketing; and struggle to link content activity to business value that generates revenue, retains customers, and earns long-term loyalty from customers.
"Honestly, I'm not surprised that marketers are not feeling all that effective in their content marketing efforts," says Michele Linn, director of the Content Marketing Institute. "We've found the same thing in our 2014 annual content marketing survey, as well, with only 42% of B2B marketers surveyed--up from 36% a year earlier--considering themselves to be effective."
David Erickson, vice president of online marketing for Karwoski & Courage, says he's taken aback by the seemingly incongruous findings of the Forrester report.
"What surprises me the most is that 51% of B2B marketing leaders consider their content marketing programs very mature, which is contradicted by the study's findings that 85% fail to connect business value to those efforts," says Erickson. "These results seem to indicate that a majority of B2B marketers do not have a sound idea of what a mature content marketing program looks like, or they would not have such a hard time attaching business value to those efforts."
Marketers are struggling to connect content activity to business value primarily because they aren't measuring it properly or paying attention to the metrics they have, according to Jerry Rackley, chief analyst for Demand Metric.
"To improve in this area, they need to identify relevant metrics for their content marketing initiatives, perhaps even down to the individual content level, and collect, monitor and analyze the metrics. Then, they need to make good decisions about what to do based on what the data is telling them."
Kurt Andersen, executive vice president of sales enablement and marketing for SAVO, notes that content marketing isn't always the most intuitive solution for B2B marketing. "B2B products haven't traditionally inspired brand fanaticism like Apple, or embedded themselves in life's special moments like Coca-Cola. B2B brands have knowledge to share and stories to tell, but the process for delivering these in a creative, engaging way, while not losing sight of the bottom line, is still under development," says Andersen.
To help, Andersen recommends that marketers should look more to sales reps to get a good read on what content is and isn't working, develop content that directly contributes to their customers' success (such as a handy how-to infographic), and make it easy for customers to receive the content.
"You need to create content that's valuable enough to make people take a second look and ask for more," says Andersen, who suggests drawing customers in with alluring content on your website and allowing them to sign up for a newsletter or receive nurturing collaterals.
Erickson agrees. "By positioning your company as a trusted source of valuable information, even after a prospect has become a customer or client, you're well on your way to maintaining their loyalty and turning them into an advocate and source of referrals," says Erickson.
Lastly, never stop studying your target market. "Their needs and preferences change-sometimes quickly. Know the audience, produce content they value and everyone wins," says Rackley. "Also, you can't do content marketing well without good foundational tools like a CRM system and marketing automation software, which help reps understand what leads in the sales funnel are doing with content and react accordingly."
(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)