With content marketing expected to grow into a $400 billion industry over the next two years, now is the perfect time for B2B marketers to start planning their content strategy for 2020.
A strategy covers much more than producing fresh content for your blog or updating your website to improve search rankings. B2B buyers are increasingly researching new suppliers, products, and services on their own before reaching out to sales teams. The content you create should be present on all channels, devices, and platforms used by buyers. It should be easily shareable and tied to a specific goal.
B2B buying groups are growing more complex, with Gartner reporting that a typical buying group includes six to ten decision makers, each armed with multiple pieces of content. In this post, we’ll review the important elements to consider when crafting your content marketing strategy, starting with a close look at the increasingly complex B2B buying journey.
The B2B buying journey: less a funnel, more a maze
B2B buyers want to read about your business. They’re seeking information, but the process of buying a complex solution is not an easy one. In 2019, Gartner chronicled the new B2B buying journey and found that nearly 80% of B2B buyers surveyed indicated that their latest purchase was very complex or difficult.
There are several reasons why the process is not an easy one for buyers. Not all of them are due to a lack of comprehensive content—or poor user experience—from solutions providers.
1. As noted above, the typical B2B buying group consists of 6 to 10 decision makers, each of whom have their own cache of information that they’ve gathered independently from each other.
2. The buying journey is not linear. We often describe the buying journey as a funnel that moves from identification of a problem, to awareness of available solutions, to active intention to purchase and, finally, to the purchase itself. But B2B buying isn’t this straightforward, with steps in the funnel converging, splitting off, and circling back as buyers review information, assess that information, do more research, and ultimately home in on the solution they want.
And here’s an example of Gartner’s nonlinear funnel which illustrates a much less linear path to purchase:
3. Information is fragmented and not always straightforward. The Gartner study advises B2B marketers to provide information specifically designed to help buyers complete their jobs. Take the ego out of the materials you create and instead put yourself into the shoes of a buyer. Where are they conducting research? What kind of information do they need to decide on a solution? Is this information easy to find?
4. Multiple stakeholders are influencing buyers. In the past, selling your solution may have been the focus of your sales team, but marketing, IT, and brand teams are all part of the buying process these days. Make sure your teams are aligned and that they all have input into your content strategy so that you can create comprehensive resources that satisfy the B2B buying team’s needs, such as technical specifications, pricing, product benefits, demo videos and other items.
Map out your buyer persona
Your content strategy should include a buyer persona—or multiple personas—that represent the buyers you’re targeting.
When creating a buyer persona, it can be helpful for marketing, sales, brand, and IT teams to come together and brainstorm the characteristics and needs of existing customers. You’ll probably end up with several different buyer personas that represent different types of customers. The content you end up creating for these personas will be much more targeted and relevant if you go through this. This is not a step to be skipped!
There’s no one way to create a persona, and they can have a variety of info that’s helpful to reach your target buyer. This can include their age, job title, location, marital status, family size, preferred channels and what type of content they may be looking for (e.g., webinars versus infographics). To expand on this example, you could include some of the following elements:
- Background: career goals, hobbies
- Demographics: sex, income
- Identifiers: demeanor
- Goals: What does the buyer want to achieve with your solution or service?
- Challenges: List some buyer pain points that your solution can help resolve
The more detailed you get in creating your buyer persona, the better equipped you’ll be to create content that resonates with them.
Start with the content you already have
Once you’ve created your buyer persona, the next place to focus is auditing the content you already have. You likely have blog posts and existing marketing collateral that are useful, but out of date. Make a list of evergreen content that could use a refresh. It can also be helpful to sunset superfluous or irrelevant content (e.g., don’t be afraid to cull those old social media posts, deleting what’s not relevant or useful).
Your content review should look something like this:
- An updated list of all existing content—make sure to flag outdated or irrelevant content during the review process.
- Identification of content based on type (e.g., webinars, whitepapers, blog posts)
- The goal of each piece of content as it relates to the sales funnel (e.g., awareness, education, purchase)
- A list of content needs that identifies gaps in content or opportunities for new content. You can also flag outdated or irrelevant content
- Strategy: Create a content strategy that considers all the above. Consider your company goals for 2020 and outline KPIs so you can measure the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts.
Once you’ve gone through the process of building a buyer persona and reviewing existing content, you’re ready to create your content plan.
The content plan: putting it all together
The content plan should include a calendar of planned content paired with an editorial planning spreadsheet. There are many different tools available to help you create an editorial calendar from the most basic (e.g., Excel) to more in-depth tools such as CoSchedule or Trello which have a variety of features focused on enabling the process of creating, scheduling, publishing and amplifying content.
The above calendar should be associated with a workflow or process that lists the following elements associated with each piece of content:
- Publication date
- Internal due date
- First draft date
- Final edit date
- Status (e.g., published, approved, first draft)
- Assigned writer/creator
- Working headline/title
- Type of content (blog post, video, etc.)
- Category/Goal (SEO copy, lead gen, education)
The above elements are suggestions based on what’s worked for us, but since everyone’s content needs are unique, you should consider what works best for you.
The final word
You’re not done even after your content is published—the final step for every piece of content is sharing it. This can be done in a variety of ways including social media shares, email, and paid media (in the context of social platforms an example of paid media is the boosted post (on Facebook) or promoted post (on LinkedIn).
It’s important to get your employees involved in social sharing since employees, on average, have social networks that are 10x larger than their employer’s corporate audience and employee content gets 2x the engagement.
With some thought and planning, your B2B content strategy will become a cornerstone of your marketing efforts throughout 2020 and beyond.