You've likely heard it a thousand times: Customer experience is the new battleground in business. As early as 2014, Gartner predicted 50% of product investments would be "redirected to customer experience innovations" by 2017.
In an era where artificial intelligence is no longer Hollywood fantasy and customer behaviors are evolving rapidly, creating relevant content experiences has never been more important.
So how do B2B content marketers stack up?
According to MarketingProfs & CMI's 2016 annual research, a full 62% of B2B marketers report their organization is more successful in their overall content marketing approach, compared with the previous year year.
That's good news.
But just 37% report having a documented content marketing strategy. Oops. That's not good.
And, a full 70% say they'll produce more content in the current year than the previous year.
Hold up. Let's do some math.
The vast majority of B2B marketers plan to create more content, but most don't have a documented strategy? And they somehow expect it to be the right content experience for their audience?
It doesn't add up. I can say from experience that if marketers don't plan for content greatness, it simply won't happen on accident.
Drawing inspiration from some of the brightest B2B content marketers, here are five methods for solving this problem and elevating your content experience to meet growing audience expectations.
1. Build a bolder vision
"We've seen so many big and wonderful ideas get trapped in the context of a whitepaper or infographic simply because that was the way someone thought to publish it. Think story and content vision first, and then plan all the wonderful things that can get expressed out of the vision." —Robert Rose, chief strategy adviser, Content Marketing Institute; member, board of directors, DivvyHQ
Robert brings a crucial fact to our attention: What worked yesterday won't work tomorrow. And there's no shortcut, hack, or secret WordPress plugin for getting your audience's attention.
Far too many content marketers are still thinking tactically, creating content in reaction to (perceived) immediate need: The director of marketing needs an e-book pronto, sales needs 10 case studies before the quarter ends, and where did that intern go? Didn't we tell him to tweet memes?! Memes are like totally in, right?
Ready, set, facepalm.
To deliver an unprecedented content experience, we must stop reacting. We must build a bold, long-term vision rooted in specific audience needs and channel objectives.
Doing so might even require us to stop producing content for a month (gasp) while we have collaborative discussions about how all the content is correlated, what it's building toward, and how it will ultimately attract and retain an audience for your organization.
And don't forget to take notes. The smartest content folks document their strategy.
If you have 45 minutes to spare, Robert offers more amazing advice in the following talk:
2. Slow down
"The smartest companies sometimes take a slow marketing approach that ironically delivers faster results long-term. Slow is more sustainable: for programs, for companies, for people." —Ann Handley, chief content officer, MarketingProfs
For the past 20 years, we have been focused on going faster. At this point, it's fair to say we've reached peak speed. We have all the technology we need, there's an overage of content, and frankly the results are not getting any better.
As Ann points out, it's time to slow down. The breakneck pace of change has left people distracted, process scattered, and forced content professionals to move so fast that they're barely planning at all.
If we want to create amazing B2B content experiences, we must take our foot off the pedal and take a look at the horizon.
Publishing the right, the most impactful content will get us much closer to our goals than simply churning out more and more stuff.
Here's Ann with more:
3. Embrace emotion
"Brands can be funny, but they often don't perceive their brand as funny. In that case, they just aren't looking at things the right way." —Tim Washer, creative director, Cisco
B2B doesn't stand for BeTooBoring.
But many B2B brands still shy away from humor and emotionally charged marketing, fearing these "risky" campaigns will fall flat or upset leadership. Better to play it safe.
Sadly, many B2B marketers consider humor, or even creativity, a roller coaster ride reserved for B2C brands. B2B is serious business, or so the thinking goes. But embracing emotion in marketing translates to greater customer empathy. And empathetic marketing is less likely to be brand-centric—and therefore more likely to resonate with your audience.
If you're wondering whether you can use humor, entertainment, or emotion in your B2B marketing, simply ask yourself one question: Are there human beings on the other side of your content?
Yes? Great news, you're in!
Keep in mind that humor and emotion require a deep knowledge of your audience. What you find entertaining and hilarious may not be so funny to your reader. To avoid a misplaced joke (or three), know your audience before diving into their emotional landscape.
Still not convinced? Here's a video from Tim Washer's team that might change your mind:
4. Strive for relevance
"It's no longer a game of numbers; it's a game of relevance. And the winner of that game will be the ones that can get to pure relevance with their prospects and customers." —Jason A. Miller, group manager, Global Content & Social Media Marketing, LinkedIn
Many content marketers develop keyword research, get obsessed with analytics, and even keep tabs on social trends. Still, they struggle to gain an audience. So, what does it really mean to create relevant content? In truth, it's not about trends, numbers, word count, or any of that mumbo-jumbo. It's about knowing your audience. If you don't know what's relevant to your audience, you're better off not publishing any content.
Without a solid handle on what your audience needs, you're more likely to drive them away by publishing "shot in the dark" content. Even if you start with a handful of prospects or customers, get to know them deeply and strive to create highly relevant content.
Here's an episode from Jason Miller's podcast episode about relevance, resilience, and creativity:
5. Ask "why," "what if," and "what's next"
"Only now are we able to glimpse how 'publishing' can empower marketing and marketers in more fundamental, important ways—beyond checking the box on a bunch of tactics. It can take us deeper into unmapped territory, to help us to flush out the richer story of our businesses, our purpose, our Why." —Ann Handley, chief content officer, MarketingProfs
Great artists, writers, marketers, entrepreneurs, and B2B luminaries have something in common: They're curious. They don't just want to know what happened; they want to know why it happened. And when they get answers, they use them to offer customers a better experience.
Creating better B2B content experiences requires all of us to perform the same ritual. We must answer the tough questions, pull at the seams of our strategies, and seek out challenges instead of avoiding them altogether.
So, ask yourself questions from the following three categories:
- Why did a piece of content perform well?
- Why do you like, hate, love, believe in something?
- Why do they prefer your competitors, or other brands?
- What would happen if you delivered a different piece of content?
- What if your content didn't exist? Would your audience miss it?
- What if you could only give your audience a single piece of content? What would it be?
- Having answered the above, what's next?
- What content types will you focus on next?
- What channels matter most next?
If you can ask yourself the tough questions, you can develop the content to satisfy hard-to-reach audiences.
Here's Ann Handley talking about how to raise the bar:
We must refine B2B content culture
At DivvyHQ, we hear from hundreds of marketers about their content challenges. At the top of their list is creating more impactful content. To create greater value for customers and deliver relevant experiences, we must evolve our process and planning.
As content marketing grows, teams must be more collaborative, tightly integrated, and strategic. We must adapt to new media, and focus on creating content that satisfies our audience, instead of simply the enterprise team.
At it's core, this is all about building a foundational content culture that can withstand whatever the future holds, whether that's virtual reality, artificial intelligence, or a new social network.
So how are you raising the bar on your B2B content?