Content Marketing That Actually Works

B2B Purchase Intent by Content Type
You're doing content marketing all wrong. Here's why it's not your fault and what you can do differently to get better results, and track more useful data in the process.

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I recently reviewed the 2022 State of B2B Content Consumption and Demand Report from Netline Corporation. Of the massive amount of insight in the report, one incredible nugget stands out.

It’s Time to ReInvent Content Marketing

B2B Purchase Intent by Content TypeThe nugget of gold is buried in a table on page 23. The table breaks down the buying intent of the people who downloaded marketing content, across all job titles and industries. It clearly shows that…

⅔ of all content downloads come from prospects who are not in the buying cycle. At least, not yet.

That’s right. No matter what format your marketing content takes, most of the people who engage with it aren’t thinking about buying your stuff. They aren’t thinking about buying anyone else’s stuff either!

Access a full size PDF of the chart here.

They are most likely to be:

  • Looking for information.
  • Looking for ideas.
  • Looking for a way to kill time and still feel like they’re productive.
  • Mildly curious about something you said that caught their interest.
  • Looking for stats to support a client’s business case.
  • Suffering from FOMO.
  • Or any of a million other reasons that have nothing at all to do with buying stuff…

Bottom line? The majority of your web leads are nowhere near ready to engage with your sales team.

The Discovery Cycle Comes First

Your prospects need to recognize a problem or an opportunity that you can solve before a buying cycle is even possible. Very often, when they download your latest ebook or register for your latest webinar, they’re not there yet.

The reality is that you’ve been told to do content marketing all wrong. Mislead by the data, you’ve been told to focus on things like pipeline velocity and conversion rates, all the while obsessing of attribution models to define which magical piece of content gets credit for the sale.

This bad advice is causing you to turn off more than 60% of your potential customers because your KPI’s are designed to measure impact on closing the sale, not creating the opportunity.

Great Content Opens the Door to the Buying Cycle

It’s time to bring AIDA back into your content strategy.

  • Attract Attention.
  • Inspire Interest.
  • Drive Desire.
  • Galvanize prospects into Action.

Action is really quite simple in the B2B space – it’s any step (or group of steps) that would indicate a prospect is moving “open-to-buy”. It might be arms length activity, like viewing specific case studies or playing with a calculator or self-assessment. It might be more direct, like a free trial or asking for a call.

Either way, your prospects will enter the buying cycle only after they have decided that:

  1. They have a problem.
  2. They want to solve the problem.
  3. They are open to considering you as a solution to the problem.
  4. The potential payoff of solving the is worth their investment of time and money to find out more.
  5. The potential upside of solving the problem is worth the risk of being shot down by suggesting the thing you’re selling as a solution worth considering.

The Real Purpose of Content Marketing is…

Until you earn a “heck yea!” answer to each of these questions, you’re dead in the water from a sales perspective. And that’s the real purpose of your content – to move a prospect from never heard of you to casually curious, and ultimately to actively interested and ‘open-to-buy’.

This journey is your prospect’s discovery cycle. It’s also the exact opposite of collecting a high volume of email addresses to hand off to the sales team. The last thing your prospects want to do after a download is spend the next 90 days playing hide and seek with your SDR’s.

When you build trust and authority during the discovery cycle, you are positioned to be the preferred vendor from the start of the real buying process. And the hand-off to the sales team will be much more successful.

What You Should Do Differently

  • Change up your KPI’s. Traditional lead metrics are… wait for it… really good at measuring and predicting sales results. They’re really bad at measuring and predicting marketing impact. Choose marketing KPI’s that track progress through the discovery cycle. Ask how you can measure which content influenced the opportunities in your pipeline? Hint: most leads engage with multiple pieces of your content before deciding to engage further.
  • Focus on the long game. Quit trying to putt the ball into the hole before you’re even on the green. Instead, pay attention to content that addresses the key pain points that show up early in your prospect’s discovery cycle.
  • Don’t be so stingy. Make your best content liberally and freely accessible everywhere your prospective customer hangs out. Gated content should be reserved for middle and lower funnel offers.
  • Have a good reason for asking. When you ask for an email address or a phone number, have a better reason than “so we can spam you with sales-y emails begging you to book a call or start a trial”.
  • Say something worth saying. Forget the random collections of data points you use to justify your value or your pricing, presented in a listicle with no real insight or context to shape the narrative. Instead, tell a compelling story and use data only to reinforce or validate your point of view.
  • Remove friction from the buying process. You never know when the fruit is ripe until it falls from the tree. So remember that 15 to 35% of the prospects who engage with and one content piece ARE considering an imminent purchase (less than 1 year). Make it easy and obvious where and how to take the next step.

The Bottom Line?

Your marketing content’s primary purpose is to serve your prospects by helping them achieve their goals. When you do that effectively, you build brand authority, recognition, and appreciation. You automatically create the conditions that trigger the buying cycle. And you’ll waste less of the sales team’s time chasing down leads that don’t want to be found.

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