A Quick Look at Content Marketing

Content marketing is the talk of marketing.  But outside of the flurry to develop content, there appears to be a whole lot less clarity about what content marketing is than one might think – particularly in B2B circles.

This is for good reason, as content marketing is still relatively nascent and is a rapidly evolving discipline. Of those companies with content marketing programs, the Content Marketing Institute reports that only 8% are “sophisticated” while 11% have “first steps” programs.  The remaining 81% fall somewhere in the middle with the highest percentage of companies (29%) claiming to have “adolescent” programs.  What’s more, these statistics do not account for the vast number of companies that haven’t embarked on a content marketing program at all.

So here’s a brief primer on content marketing and what it means for you:

The Definition.  Content marketing is a form of soft-selling that provides your customers with smart insights and helpful information to position your company as a credible and leading resource.  The goal is to enhance loyalty, influence buying decisions and drive lead generation – all in sharp contrast to advertising and sales materials, which typically hard-sell your products and services.

Why it’s Valuable.  The simple answer:  content marketing helps to shorten the sales cycle because it provides customers with information they are looking for before engaging with a company or sales rep.  This is a customer preference clearly identified in a recent Corporate Executive Board study from the Harvard Business Review, which found that among B2B consumers,  60% of a purchasing decision occurs before an actual communication with a supplier takes place.

Additional research further supports the value of content marketing in the sales process.  Consider these statistics: 75% of B2B buyers rely more on content than research when making B2B purchasing decisions (DemandGen); 90% of customers engage with 11.4 pieces of content before making a B2B purchase (Forrester); and 80% of decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement, with a full 60% of those business managers believing that a company’s content helped them to make better product decisions (Roper Affairs).

What does a Content Marketing Program Include?  Clearly, content marketing starts with content, explaining the flurry to develop just that.  But successful programs that drive lead generation are guided by a content strategy that emphasizes a clear editorial POV.  Design and distribution strategies then determine the optimal content forms, e.g. white papers, infographics, blogs, etc. and how best to leverage this content across a bandwidth of channels in reaching target audiences, with the most mature programs offering automated responses based on customer preferences.  And last, there is the importance of including metrics – from simple to complex – that should be in place to measure a program’s efficacy and demonstrate ROI.

How does Content Marketing Ft in the overall Marketing Mix? 
The statistics on including content marketing in the overall marketing mix speak to its growing prominence.  In a recent survey from the Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs on B2B marketing trends, the average proportion of total B2B marketing budget allocated to content marketing last year was 28%, with more than half (52%) of B2B marketers planning to increase their budgets over the next 12 months.  Since 76% of these same B2B marketers say they plan to produce more content than before, increasing budget allocations becomes a must!

Who is Committed to Content Marketing? 
Content marketing is very democratic, cutting across all industries, but no doubt, usage varies.  Again, in the same Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs survey on B2B trends, the technology industry is reported to be the leading user of content marketing, followed by advertising/marketing, with manufacturing ranking third.  However, the publishing, financial and healthcare/pharmaceuticals rank far behind with a low percentage of companies managing content marketing programs.  This creates a great opportunity for players in these sectors to get ahead of the pack with differentiating content marketing efforts.

Who should be running content marketing programs?  YOU.  Content marketing has emerged as the cornerstone of B2B marketing programs and if you’re not in the game, it’s time to start playing.