Content Marketing Institute’s 2017 report stated that over 60% of B2B marketers saw more success from their content marketing efforts this past year. What does this mean? It means – as so many of us have stated before – Content is King. When it comes to digital marketing, there is truly no better way to convey value and transparent authority to your users.
However, even if the majority of B2B search marketers are reporting strong growth stats, there is still a large discrepancy between how content performs in theory and how it performs in reality. Ironically, content marketing is also reported as a leading pain point from over 60% of B2B as well.
Especially in the B2B space, keeping campaigns cost-effective and efficient is a serious priority. And when it comes to seeing direct returns from campaigns, content can be a bit of a stickler.
In this post, I’ll cover a few ways in which ordinary content marketing fails to hit the bar. I’ll then cover how Account-Based Content (ABC) is the future solution for B2B content marketing.
3 Ways Ordinary Content Marketing “Misses the Boat”
Content marketing is great for improving your organic rankings and growing the visibility of your brand. But seeing a direct return from your publications can be difficult. That can be discouraging – especially if you have a fairly robust content campaign in place.
Most B2B content marketers are publishing content more than once a week (but less than daily). That means you’ll have to either invest in content all-out if you want to stay competitive or cut and run.
As Joe Pulizzi says:
Make #contentmarketing a priority or focus your efforts elsewhere
Investing in a robust content marketing campaign can be daunting if you haven’t previously seen any strong returns. So let’s take a look at a few reasons most content campaigns miss the mark.
#1: Writing for Google, Not Users
Most content marketers know that trying to rank blog posts for primary keywords like “B2B PPC Agency” isn’t always realistic. So, instead, they target long-tail variations of these keywords with less competition.
Theoretically, these long-tail keywords also represent more qualified search intent. That means creating content around “PPC Agency Pricing Models” should place your brand in front of more qualified users than “PPC Agency” might.
It’s true that ranking for these long-tail variants should publicize your brand to a more relevant audience. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pushing your content to your end customers. In my experience, I’ve found that publishing countless “how-to” posts on long-tail keywords tends to improve brand awareness and authority with your competitors more than it does with your clientele.
But why? Because B2B decision makers like VPs of Marketing and CMOs aren’t reading long-tail “how-to” posts. The marketing managers at the agencies you compete with do.
This is what I like to call the “long-tail rabbit hole.” While the overall goal of your B2B content campaign is to grow your brand’s visibility, you want to make sure you grow in front of the right people.
Often, you see B2B companies publishing endless amounts of long-tail content. New clients love to brag about how many long-tail keywords they were able to rank for without any agency help.
That’s great. But Google isn’t the one paying you. You need to spend more time impressing your end customer than you do trying to impress Google.
#2: Optimizing Vague Engagement Metrics
Another huge pain point that B2B content marketers deal with is vague reporting metrics. Other digital marketing strategies are built for more granular tracking. But when it comes to someone reading, enjoying, and valuing a blog post – it’s not so win/lose.
Most content marketers report on social metrics like shares and likes. Some writers like to take it one step further and use heat maps on their posts to see average read time, etc. But just as when writers chase the “long-tail rabbit,” over-optimizing toward these metrics isn’t necessarily going to generate legitimate improvement/growth. But, again though, why?
Primarily for two reasons:
- Over 59% of social shares occur without reading the post
- Over 43% of users admit to skimming posts, even when they do click through to read them
This doesn’t mean that tracking engagement for your blog posts is a waste of time. But it does eliminate engagements as your content campaign’s North Star Metric – which may irk many a content marketer reading this post. But over-optimizing for these metrics is most likely why over 55% of B2B marketers complain that “success” in content marketing is unclear. This is going to make ROI calculation tough.
#3: Generating Demand Without Generating Leads
The last issue that plagues ordinary content marketing is that it focuses too much on the top of the funnel. Some would even argue that the traditional sales funnel as a whole is broken and not as linear as we all like to believe.
But even if you are targeting bottom-funnel long-tail keywords to target more qualified searchers, there is still no clear lead-gen aspect to blog posts.
Most of the time, content marketing campaigns handle the initial demand generation. They usually need help from PPC ads or gated content to capitalize on that demand and convert leads. For example, while most content ranks for long-tail keywords and works to develop brand awareness, later on down the funnel, paid ads on more qualified searchers can focus on actual conversions.
Content ends up doing the initial leg work but never actually goes for direct wins/conversions. Even if you’re covering the basics and incorporating a “Subscribe to Our Blog” CTA at the bottom of your posts, this is passive lead generation at best.
Without a take-home asset or a value transaction (beyond the promise of more blog posts), leads aren’t going to convert en masse, which is going to hamper your revenue, and thus your ROI. And that is going to make re-investing in content to keep your production rate up very hard.
The Solution: Account-Based Content (ABC)
The Account-Based Content (ABC) approach is meant to solve B2B content marketing pain points. Constantly guest blogging on the top industry blogs and ranking on page 1 for multiple long-tail keywords doesn’t always increase your pipeline. Even if you can generate serious social engagement from your publications, there is still an indirect connection between your content and your sales wins.
I’ve noticed that this is because most content marketers (myself included) end up falling into the three common pitfalls that I outlined above. We often publish content that is more impressive to Google and our competitors than it is to our customers. So we need to revamp how we approach B2B content marketing.
Account-Based Content (ABC) is designed to directly impact your pipeline. By creating take-home content on your target accounts, about your target accounts, and promoting directly to your target accounts, the goal is to directly incorporate lead generation into your B2B content campaigns. Here’s the three-step process for how to do it:
1. Research: The Data Report
As usual, quality content comes from quality research. However, this one may throw you for a loop:
You don’t have to pick your account-based content topics based on keywords.
That’s right. As opposed to just picking the next long-tail variant in a long list from your content calendar, your ABC topics will require more brainstorming. Keyword research can still help inform what topics you target, but you aren’t going to be optimizing these posts for ranking or anything.
Instead, you should be creating topics around what you’ve identified as your end customers’ leading pain points and biggest optimization opportunities. Here are a few potential ABC topics for you to consider:
- Account(s): B2B computer hardware companies
- Example: StarTech, ColorSpan, Opticon North America
- Data Report: Grading site speed
- Value: 1-second delay in site speed can cost 7-9% drop in conversions
- Analysis: blog post covers different grades and how to fix them
- Account(s): B2B software companies with a DA over 50
- Example: MapBox, Tripwire, Laserfiche
- Data Report: Psychoanalyzing calls-to-action
- Value: CRO fixes like targeting your CTA can boost conversions 12%
- Analysis: blog grades the CTAs on offer, copy, placement, friction, etc.
Average PPC Budget for Every B2B Service Industry
- Account(s): B2B sub-industries: Construction, Manufacturing, SaaS, etc.
- Example: Liaison, eSUB Construction, SentinelOne
- Data Report: Average ad spend in AdWords by industry
- Value: knowing the level of entry for ad spend and where to cap it
- Analysis: breaks down industries to focus on smaller groups for competitive analysis
But just because you have your topic doesn’t mean you can start writing. Before you even start your blog post, you have to create the data report asset around which you will build your ABC campaign. This spreadsheet will serve as the take-home asset for your ABC campaign, as readers can download it before reading the blog. Here is an example of an ABC spreadsheet for the second topic suggested above:
Downloadable asset for the readers of Psychoanalyzing the CTAs of the Top 100 SaaS Landing Pages (the second ABC content example above)
Each of the companies listed on the left is a target account in the B2B SaaS space. The data sheet is easily read and has plenty of useful information on both their own landing page, as well as their competitors’. The post goes in-depth and lays out which suggested fixes should yield the highest returns for these companies.
42% of marketers report a lack of quality data as their biggest barrier to lead-gen, so giving a massive data report to your leads should get them very excited, especially when they see that the sample set of the audience is made up entirely of themselves and their competitors.
This spreadsheet will also help keep you informed. Gaining more information on your target account and how they can improve their campaigns will only give you more ammunition in the meeting once they convert.
It’s key here that I take a moment to clarify that collecting all this data is going to take time and resources. Having your marketing manager prospect account data for three days isn’t cost-efficient. Outsourcing your data mining to a virtual assistant (VA) who will collect the data on your target accounts, as well as contact information for you to use in promotion later on, might make more financial sense.
2. Creation: Not Your Everyday Blog Post
So you now have a massive spreadsheet containing all “x data” on your sample set. For example, you could have a spreadsheet containing the post-rate of B2B companies’ social media profiles.
We all know that social media is a must for B2B demand generation. So this is a great way to show your readers how up-to-snuff their own social campaigns are. More important, you can show them how they stack up next to their competitors.
Now, in your blog post explaining that spreadsheet, you can speak to the importance of a strong social media presence and ways to improve it. But keep in mind, you aren’t writing a how-to guide anymore. These posts are data-driven analytical pieces on your target accounts. You’ll focus far more on the “why” than the “how.”
Essentially you are giving away a tiny piece of a preliminary audit in these ABC posts. Why? To educate your target accounts on the need for your service instead of how to do it without you.
Think about it. The vast majority of blog posts focus on how-to tactics because they feel these most strongly engage with readers. That might be true. But it isn’t necessarily engaging users who are interested in giving you business. In fact, many of these B2B companies don’t even realize they need help with their digital marketing. This is where ABC comes in – you’ll be educating them on their need for your service.
For example, your blog posts will focus more on “the lead generation power of split testing your dedicated landing page CTAs” as opposed to “how to optimize your calls-to-action.” The second option is a great how-to piece for your fellow marketers. But the first piece will truly generate demand and intrigue for your service, especially if you have the case studies/stats to back it.
The data report and blog post are meant to generate the demand for your service straight from your target accounts. Part 3 – the promotional aspect of ABC – is where you incorporate your lead generation to capitalize on this demand.
3. Promotion: Incorporating Lead Generation into ABC
The 80-20 rule states that 20% of your efforts should drive 80% of your results. In terms of content marketing, this is a fancy way of saying that your work hasn’t begun until you start promoting the piece.
When speaking about content promotion, my boss always likes to say this to me:
Content only goes as far as you throw it – unless your promotion gives it wings to fly
You’re probably tired of hearing this, but success in the B2B space is all about keeping your campaigns cost-efficient. That means you need to make the most of each post you publish. We kept the “account-based” theme through the entire process – including promotion – to make sure we fully integrate content with our pipeline.
Don’t just run your ABC posts through your usual content syndication process. Take it one step further. On top of the usual reposting and social promotion, have your VA scrape the personal emails for three points of contact at each of your target accounts in the data report. This way, you can send this new ABC post directly to their inboxes with a personalized message:
What’s key here (beyond the direct email promotion of ABC) is that you CC your sales reps on these emails to help schedule meetings. Now you have a lead generation component added onto your ABC promotion. That, with this data asset, should help schedule some meetings for your sales team to start closing.
The end goal of implementing an ABC system is two-fold. The first: to streamline your content to be more successful by aligning all resources toward providing more valuable, relevant content to only valuable, relevant readers. The second: to improve your content campaign’s ROI by integrating your content straight into your sales pipeline to generate actual revenue.
As opposed to publishing and mass-promoting blog posts targeted toward a single industry, ABC does the opposite. Normal content marketing hopes that these generalized promotion tactics eventually encourage your reader to reach out to your sales team. ABC goes straight to the beginning and starts every conversation off in a 1:1 ratio to really start the sales process. That’s what the emails above are for.
But keep in mind that email probably isn’t going to be enough. You’ll probably have to follow up with your prospective leads – especially on social. This is where I first started seeing responses. Double touches like the one below should start to fill your pipeline with leads directly from your ABC content.
And what exactly were the results? Well, without giving away too many cookies and too much client info, let’s take a look.
Before implementing The ABC strategy, Directive Consulting’s content campaign looked like this:
- Publishing 3 new Directive blog posts per week
- Converting 3-5 leads per week
- 1 or so of those conversions transition to opportunities for sales
Directive was treading water like this for some time. And even after initially launching their ABC strategy, it still took some time to see the results. But, in the past month, they’ve closed four new accounts – each of which was targeted in one of the ABC pieces. And the stats moving forward are as follows:
- Publishing 1 ABC Directive piece per week
- Converting 6-9 leads per week
- 3-5 of these leads turn into opportunities for sales
The stats speak for themselves; a single ABC piece goes further than most content.
B2B Content Marketing: a Multi-Pronged Approach
Now, ABC isn’t necessarily the only type of content out there that you need to be writing. You can’t just throw away your keyword list and start spamming your accounts with endless data reports. In fact, there are at least four different types of blog content that a healthy B2B campaign requires:
- Keyword blogging (rankings, visibility, demand generation)
- ABC blogging (targeting, lead generation)
- Guest blogging (rankings, authority, demand generation)
- “Other” blogging (branding, social proof, social marketing)
Here’s a hint: you need a strong combination of each of these to truly amass market share and brand awareness that will grow your B2B business. But in the end, regardless of which type of content marketing you endorse – providing value to your readers is the key.
About the Author: Sean Thomas Martin is the Marketing Manager at Directive Consulting. We specialize in comprehensive B2B search marketing campaigns for industry leading companies. For a discovery meeting on how to increase your ROI and MQLs, feel free to get in touch!