In B2B content marketing, make sure form follows function

Recently, I was talking with a client about content formats, and we agreed that content must be tailored to the channels in which it’s distributed. A one-size-fits-all approach rarely, if ever, proves effective. Anyone who’s come across an interminably long blog post or a 25-page white paper without a summary understands the critical relationship between content strategy, content formats, and distribution channels. Readers are still interested in the insights—just not consuming them that way.

These examples represent a broader issue in content marketing. Too often, companies charge into developing content without asking some basic questions: how does this content support my overall strategy? Where does my target audience go for new insights? How does social media figure into my plans? Skipping these questions can lead to the ultimate drag: wasted time and money.

To get a sense of how B2B companies are approaching content, I revisited the Content Marketing Institute’s annual survey on B2B trends in North America. The top-line finding is that nearly two-thirds of companies are extremely or very committed to content marketing. The good news is that they have been more successful in this area compared with the previous year. The survey also found that nearly 4 in 10 companies plan to increase their investment in content marketing in the coming year.

While many trends have remained consistent, content marketing is evolving rapidly enough that some contradictions have crept into the survey results. For example, when respondents were asked about the usage of specific content marketing tactics, social media content and blogs rose to the top. The rest of the favored tactics, all traditional pillars of relationship-based marketing, followed: e-newsletters, white papers, infographics, and webinars.

Notably, email is still the preferred mode of content distribution, with LinkedIn and other social media channels just behind. Moreover, 76 percent of respondents indicated that they use Facebook to distribute B2B content.

This result is curious. We’ve noted on this blog before that Facebook is not an effective channel for B2B content. The vast majority of Facebook users are there for social reasons, not business. And while B2C companies can share product promotions all day, I’d bet that few B2B companies are getting qualified sales leads from Facebook.

My musing is reinforced later in the survey. When asked how important each distribution channel is to overall content marketing success, just 38 percent of respondents cited Facebook.

One possibility: while companies broadly recognize the importance and value of content marketing and are committed to increasing levels of activity, they aren’t effectively translating their content marketing strategy—including formats and distribution channels—to tactics that support their business goals.

Several guidelines can help B2B marketers and communications professionals ensure alignment between strategy and tactics:

Don’t spread yourself too thin. Establishing a presence on a social media channel requires sustained activity. The more channels, the greater the commitment of time and resources. Since effective content marketing takes time—there are no shortcuts—make sure that you select the right social-media channel and then devote yourself to a robust offering that positions you as a go-to resource.

Know where your audience gets content. As we’ve noted before, LinkedIn is an ideal content-distribution channel because users are businesspeople looking to build their network. Similarly, Twitter has become an invaluable tool to amplify content. On the flip side, resist the temptation to dive into Facebook or Instagram. Total registered users doesn’t necessarily equal the total addressable opportunity.

Embrace your B2B roots. B2B companies rely on relationship-based selling, and any constructive business relationship is based on trust, credibility, and expertise. Select formats that showcase your expertise and authority on a given topic and share it with your audience in proven ways—email, newsletters, and other channels.

Content marketing will remain a moving target: new channels will emerge, your target audience’s tastes will change, and innovative modes of storytelling will keep things interesting. B2B marketers and communications professionals should resist the urge to chase the new shiny format or distribution channel and instead stay true to the fundamentals. Doing so will ensure investments in content reap the greatest returns.

For more on making content work for B2B companies, including processes, formats, distribution, and measurement, check out our guide.

Scott Leff

Scott is the founder of Leff. He's spent his career helping executives and subject matter experts tell their story in a compelling way. In the process, he's had the opportunity to work with C-suite executives, politicians, academics, and Olympians, not to mention dozens of talented writers, editors, and designers in the business world. Scott developed the concept of "lean content creation" as a cost-effective way to support comprehensive, integrated communication strategies.

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