B2B marketers in great numbers have jumped on the content marketing bandwagon and embraced the idea that marketing needs to be more like media. We have to focus on providing "readers" and "viewers" (i.e., customers, prospects, and other stakeholders) with interesting and useful material on a regular basis as the starting point for creating and sustaining interest in our products and solutions.
The big problem, of course, is actually doing it: consistently producing material that our hoped-for audiences actually care about enough to read, listen, view, and, ideally, comment upon and share more widely.
As documented in last year's MarketingProfs and Junta42 study, "producing engaging content" tops the list of challenges for content marketing; "producing enough content" is second. Despite the onslaught of "four simple ways" for this and "12 surefire tips" for that, it's just not that easy!
There is no end of advice around content marketing and marketing as media, but much of it seems simply to highlight general direction and attributes: Be helpful, solve problems, use a human voice, tell stories, re-purpose or "re-imagine" existing content, and so on.
This is all well and good, but it doesn't get you very far in terms of what to do tomorrow and next week and throughout the year. What kinds of content should you actually create? How can you become one of those few trusted sources that your customers rely on amid their ridiculously busy schedules? How can you truly think and produce like an editor of a must-read publication?
(Bob Shier is right: It's not about thinking like a publisher. Publishers focus on the business side of media; editors are the ones that worry every day about content, tone, and reader/listener/viewer engagement.)
From an editorial perspective, let me suggest six specific types of content that your customers will indeed want to read, listen to, and view.
- What's New (otherwise known as… News!). What's actually going on in your industry, market, company, etc.? Trade and general business media used to serve this function for most of our customers, but we all know what's happening to them. Why not hire a real reporter and actually publish and/or aggregate industry news? Eloqua hired Jessie Noyes as a corporate reporter a few months ago to "cover" the marketing industry; I'd love to see more companies take a similar step.
- Who's In, Who's Out. People always want to know about the comings and goings of their peers, competitors, industry leaders, and the like. Who got promoted? Who jumped ship? Associations and communities have often done this; Jeremiah Owyang does a nice job tracking People on the Move in social media. Why not define a relevant segment for your community and do the same? LinkedIn makes it much easier to track, and you probably want to keep on top of who's hot and who's not yourself anyway.
- Who's Right? Debates are a great way to dig into issues and get people thinking. The Economist Debates have been extremely successful; BusinessWeek's DebateRoom and The New York Times' Room for Debateare doing it too. But you can organize more focused debates than they can for your specific issues and markets, right?
- How Does It Work? Tutorials are booming online, with endless videos on everything from tying ties to… creating how-to videos. MarketingProfs has an enormous following based on its constant stream of how-to articles, webinars, and tools. Your product management and customer support people have great wisdom and experience in how things actually work. Forget the puff promos about features and functions and dig into the nuts and bolts of how things really work in practice, warts and all. The executives you're trying to reach may not care, but the direct users sure will.
- What's REALLY Going On? Microsoft and uber-blogger Robert Scoble made an early splash in social media with Channel 9, a behind-the-scenes forum for developers to share their work as it was happening. You're probably not going to share the real inside dope on corporate strategy debates (which your customers would love, of course) but it's well worth considering what you can make more transparent. Getting behind the scenes in the industry at large may be an even greater opportunity. You've got people as smart as the analysts, right?
- What's Next? We're all suckers for speculation on the next big thing. Personally, I get tired of all the year-end predictions real fast, and I think most of the instant analysis of what some new thing means are a waste of time (e.g., all the blathering about Google's +1 last week). But if you have some genuinely interesting ideas or perspective or, especially, research that looks ahead in areas of real concern, this can be a magnet for customer attention. Check out Deloitte's Center for the Edge, for example.
I know the six types of content here don't fall neatly into lead generation campaigns or phases of the buying cycle. That type of mapping is certainly important, but the first challenge is simply getting your intended customers to pay attention and gain trust that you're a useful source of industry information. If you can get this done, everything else becomes a whole lot easier.
Do you agree? How are you thinking like an editor? What types of content work best in your world?
A veteran marketing strategist, Rob Leavitt specializes in issues- and content-based marketing, helping companies create distinction in the marketplace and have strategic conversations with clients, prospects, and market influencers. Rob is a Principal at Solutions Insights, a B2B consulting and training firm, and a Senior Associate of the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), where he served as Vice President of Marketing and Member Advocacy from 2000-2007. He also works closely with the Bloom Group, specialists in thought leadership marketing for professional services.
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