B2B content marketing success is hard to define, especially when your boss is looking for answers.
It’s 9:30 AM on a Monday.
Like most weeks, you clutch your Starbucks Americano in one hand and last month’s content performance report in the other. You settle into the slightly squeaky chair that always seems to be the only one available when you arrive. It feels like another typical status meeting.
Your marketing manager seems more distracted though. She quickly gets to this morning’s curve ball. The CEO wants to sit in the meeting and talk about the content plan.
Normally this is an easy conversation. Talk about SnapChat, influencer marketing, and the latest blog post subscription numbers. You expect a stale joke about why being 30-something is critical for understanding the “social stuff” and it will be over.
You’ve got this.
The CEO arrives with the CFO who has a P&L printout in hand. The SVP Marketing arrives a moment later, sliding into a chair flanking the CEO. The expression on your bosses faces hints that chit chat is not on the menu, but you begin to wonder if your butt will be.
The CEO turns to you and asks…
“We’ve increased your content marketing budget by 50% this year. We’ve taken money from important areas to make this happen.” You catch the shadow of a smirk from the sales manager as the CEO moves to the question.
“We’ve reached the end of Q2, is the money we’ve spent been put to good use? Can you tell me if your content marketing strategy is working?”
Vanity metrics and $10 words won’t cut it today. You need to know what content marketing success looks like and most importantly – are you headed in the right direction.
That’s what we’ll discuss today.
How A Well Oiled Content Marketing Strategy Performs
It’s helpful to examine what works rather than get tangled in the weeds of dissecting your strategy. We rely on a concept called “First Principles” to clarify the factors that drive a content strategy.
First Principles are basic facts that underpin a complex system. In your case a content strategy works if it does three things well: attracts traffic, converts traffic into visitors, and turns visitors into leads for sales follow-up. Other factors, while important, are secondary to the first principles.
Let’s examine how to use these first principles to evaluate your content strategies performance.
Unorthodox Traffic Acquisition
Are you efficiently attracting quality traffic from a diverse set of channels?
Traffic is the fuel for your content marketing funnel. Effective strategies strive to attract traffic that is both efficient (cheap) and effective (quality). Generally, Google will be your top traffic source making SEO an important ongoing tactic for ongoing traffic growth. Social network traffic rounds out the lead generation portfolio. Most will stop there relying on flogging Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook for incremental traffic. This is a mistake.
B2B companies need to outhustle their competitors by finding new (or revitalizing old) traffic sources. While the common traffic sources still work, competition and costs are continuing to increase. To survive you’ll need to get creative.
For example, we’ve seen results with:
- Free photo sites: This is clever. Bench Accounting, an online bookkeeping service, has uploaded original photography to Unsplash, a popular royalty-free stock photography site. Why? Unsplash is used by content creators who are often the founder, owner, or marketing lead at a company. These people often influence key decisions, such as what online bookkeeping service to try.
- Post Syndication: Niche industry content sites aggregate articles on one topic. They rely on their community to share high-quality articles. Take a look at Medium.com, Inbound.org, and Zest.is to get a feel for how these sites operate. We’ve helped clients republish/syndicate their most popular articles to these sites and have seen great results.
- Apparel: Yes, t-shirts, mugs, baseball caps, and hoodies are excellent traffic generators for certain types of businesses. We often use apparel to generate traffic for locally-based companies. We send a t-shirt or 3/4 zip sweatshirt to top clients as appreciation “surprise and delight” gifts. These clients wear their casual gear to soccer practices, BBQs, and errands, silently advertising the company name.
These examples are unorthodox. That is why they work. These tactics grab new visitors from sources that are overlooked or ignored.
Turning strangers into visitors
Can you reliably turn a portion of your traffic into repeat visitors?
First-time web visitors will not become a lead unless you earn their trust.
Trust is built by acting with integrity, demonstrating your competence, and showing that your information is relevant to them.
It’s easy to focus on converting strangers into leads and overlook this important trust-building step.
You can measure performance by evaluating the following leading metrics:
- Return Visits: This metric shows that your audience enjoys your content and return to your site for more. You can view this metric by visiting Google Analytics -> Audience -> Behavior -> New vs. Returning. Set the date range for the last 6 months and compare it with the previous 6 months. This range will show if your content is attracting more repeat visitors.
- Blog Update Subscriptions: People guard their email inboxes like a pit bull guarding a bone. Getting permission to send an email alert is a clear indicator that your content is worth reading.
Systematically converting web visitors into marketing qualified leads
Do you have a system in place to turn visitors into leads ready for sales follow-up?
Once you’ve educated your visitors and earned their trust its time make an offer for problem-solving content in exchange for their contact information. At this point, your visitor is a lead that can potentially turn into a sales prospect.
You will need to create what HubSpot calls “Evaluation Stage” content that helps visitors with a specific problem. Your goal is to demonstrate that you have unique information that can make your leads life easier.
The easiest way to track leads is by creating a landing page that offers the content Heres an example of a landing page for our free B2B business blogging special report.
Next, create a thank you page that is shown to leads after submitting their contact information. This page instructs the lead on how to access your content.
Use the URL of the thank you page to setup a goal in Google Analytics by visiting your Google Analytics profile then navigating to Admin -> View -> Goals -> New Goal. Click the graduate cap icon to get instructions on how to set up your goals.
Once set-up, review your lead performance weekly. Be careful, these leads may not be ready to hand over to the inside or direct sales team. These leads are potential prospects. You may need to collect additional information such as title, phone number, decision time frame, and company size to qualify these leads for sales
Content Marketing Strategy Disaster Check
Your Content Marketing Strategy is underperforming if:
- You can’t prove that content is contributing to revenue growth. Frankly, it’s difficult to attribute content campaigns to closed deals.However, you should be able to track a person’s interaction with your content. Conversion-focused CRM platforms like HubSpot makes it relatively simple to do this.
- Activity and content marketing costs increase without a proportional increase in marketing qualified leads, earned media (i.e. public relations), or website traffic and/or engagement.
Rising content costs may be attributed to higher creation fees associated with writers, graphic designers, and other content production resources. These costs make sense only if the content is working, meaning you are seeing web traffic, content engagement and lead generation increase.
- The sales team will not use your content during the sales process. They feel that the content isn’t relevant to their target prospect. Sales professionals are a pragmatic bunch. They will only use what works. They can’t be bothered with spending time and energy distributing content that hinders their success. Ask your sales team to give you honest feedback on your content’s effectiveness. Listen and adapt the content based on what you hear. This process will increase your content’s effectiveness and win advocates among the sales team.
3-Steps For Getting Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy On Track
Step 1: Focus on generating qualified leads
Our definition of content marketing is storytelling that sells. At the end of the day, your content must move the revenue needle for your organization.
Start with your sales team and work backward. Get a clear picture of your buyers by creating buyer persona. Unearth the terms your customers use to learn about their problem and identify solutions. Develop content that educates first, informs second, and after trust is built, closes the deal.
Step 2: Get sales feedback on topics
In our experience, we find that the #1 problem for most content strategies can be traced to poorly defined content topics.
As marketers, we tend to dream up an editorial calendar without input from critical teams. Save yourself the hassle of learning the hard way and run your editorial calendar by your sales team, product development team, and if appropriate your customer service group. These folks will help you keep your topics focused on the customer.
Step 3: Align content performance and sales metrics
We will beat this point like a Cherokee drum – you must get real about performance and fall in love with analyzing your numbers. Link content performance with sales metrics and you’ll earn the sales team’s respect, your leadership teams appreciation and create a defensible position of authority in your industry. The numbers will get your content strategy on track if you work hard to find and learn from them.
The good news is that any content strategy can be refined and recalibrated for success. The tough part is frankly assessing your strategy’s strengths and weak points and moving decisively to correct any problems. Time is on your side if you act now.