B2B Content Marketing Execution: We’re Not as Mature as We Think

July 16, 2014

B2B Content Marketing Execution: We’re Not as Mature as We Think
Today, the Business Marketing Association (BMA), Forrester and the Online Marketing Institute released the results of a survey about the maturity of content marketing practices in business-to-business (B2B) organizations. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I serve as the Vice President of Thought Leadership for BMA and collaborated with the direction of this survey with Forrester.)

The report, Compare Your B2B Content Marketing Maturity¸(download) points out that while B2B marketers have wised up to the value of content marketing, they’re still preforming sadly when it comes to execution. While 51% of B2B marketing leaders rate their content marketing practices as very mature, an overwhelming 85% fail to connect content activity to business value. Because of this, they fail to retain customers or win their long-term loyalty. In fact, when asked to look back at the past 12 months and rate the effectiveness of content marketing efforts, only 14% of those surveyed gave their content practices high marks for delivering value back to the business.

What’s happening here?

The report points out a couple of reasons, primarily that most B2B content marketers are still, what Forrester calls, “aspiring editors” rather than “content masters.”

A majority of B2B marketers suveyed are really just aspiring editors, not content masters.

If customers are 70% of the way through the buying before they engage with a sales person (SiriusDecisions) and yet 60% of those situations end up with the customer staying with the status quo (Corporate Visions), then it’s clear that the content that B2B marketers are producing completely misses the mark – they haven’t mastered the practice of content marketing.

Creating content that engages buyers is hard, but it’s definitely fixable. Part of the reason that B2B is still in the early stages of sophisticated execution is because they don’t have a clear understanding of how to connect the dots and create back-and-forth conversations that lead prospects (they’re not customers yet…) through their decision-making journey.

A 2010 study of B2B buyers found that 95% of buyers chose a solution provider that “provided them with ample content to help navigate through each stage of the buying process.” In order to help them navigate the buying process, you have to understand their pain, their drivers, and who’s involved in making decisions so you can guide them through solving their problems. It’s like what Forrester Analyst Jeff Ernst says: “People don’t buy your products, they buy your approach to solving their problems.”

To create content that attracts and builds customer relationships throughout the customer life cycle, B2B marketers must make a fundamental shift from focusing on features and benefits to delivering valuable information that drives business results. (See this Harvard Business Review article about Rethinking the 4 Ps.)

Are We Our Own Worst Enemy?
Another part of the problem, and this pains me to say, is that too many marketers downplay the importance of content as marketing’s main job. The Forrester report noted that a startling 72% of surveyed marketers say less than half of their marketing staff plays a primary role in content marketing today — leaving content to quickly degrade to talk of products, features, and what the company has to offer, rather than cleverly packaged bits of the interesting insights that buyers crave.

I give a lot of training to B2B marketers on how to integrate a new mindset about the work that we do, and the impact we need to have on the overall business performance of companies. It’s eye-opening – and downright terrifying – for them when they realize that the outcome of all this talk about “someone” owning the customer now points the finger to them. But unless we understand the broader role, responsibility and, especially, accountability that we need to take on in the complex B2B customer journey, we’ll never grow up to become content masters.

About Carla Johnson

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Carla Johnson is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author.

Over the last two decades, Carla has helped architects and actuaries, executives and volunteers, innovators and visionaries leverage the art of storytelling to inspire action. Her work with Fortune 500 brands has served as the foundation for many of her books.

In her latest project, Fast Forward Files, she contributes to a larger collection of thoughts by some of the world’s greatest minds -  Shazam co-founder Dhiraj Mukherjee, activist and entrepreneur Heather Mills and behavioral designer, technologist and mental-health champion Peter Trainor. Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. 

Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.