Friday, November 06, 2009

B2B Marketing University Part 2: Marketing Content Has to Work Harder

Summary: As marketers add more content to meet needs throughout the purchase cycle, they must work harder to ensure prospects actually read it.

One of the emergent themes at Tuesday’s session of the B2B Marketing University was the growing importance of marketing “content”. The general logic was that marketers increasingly interact with prospects throughout different stages of the sales cycle, and each stage needs different materials. The materials also need to be tailored to different types of buyers – or “personas” if you want to get fancy – so you need even more variety.

Of course, buying stages and buyer types have always existed. But much of the information now delivered through Web interactions was previously delivered in person by salespeople, who could just talk or write an email. Since Web interactions require formally prepared “content”, the need for content has grown.

There’s no arguing with that, and as someone who is paid to write the occasional white paper, I'm glad to hear it. But, still, as I listened to people talking about needing to build more and more content, this little voice in my head kept reminding me of another grand theme of the conference, which is the increasing range of information that prospects already have available. Odd, my little voice said: We’re being told to generate more content even though buyers have less time to read it.

This isn’t really a contradiction. The greater competition for buyers’ attention actually means we have to build content they find more useful than anyone else’s. Creating a wide variety of items does this by letting us offer buyers something that precisely matches their needs of the moment.

The little voice went away after that. (It helped that the bar had opened.) But this perspective also offers some additional guidance. Recognizing that buyers are extremely time-constrained, marketers should:

- create small, bite-sized pieces of content rather than huge chunks of it. (Yes, this implies fewer, shorter white papers. **sigh** But there are still situations where old-style, long white papers are appropriate.) The good news here is this should help to keep content creation costs down.

- put additional energy into mechanisms that make it easier for prospects to find the content they want. This means bulking up on-site search engines and carefully monitoring the queries people submit. It also means better navigation tools to expose what’s available so people can find it quickly. As a side benefit, letting people specify exactly what they want to know also lets you store that information and use it to better target your future treatments.

- ruthlessly evaluate the utilization of the content we do provide, to ensure we don’t create more than necessary and to identify topics that may need additional coverage.

- incorporate feedback mechanisms so that prospects can rate the content we’ve sent them, again to foster continuous improvement.

- make the content easily available to salespeople so they can use it themselves. This saves them the time spent crafting emails that convey pretty much the same information.

In sum, as marketers increase their investment in content, they also need to manage that investment more carefully. This may mean shifting funds from content creation to content distribution and evaluation. Bad news for marketing creators, perhaps, but good news for marketing performance.

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