Part 2: How to Leverage the Top 18 2015 B2B Content Marketing Trends to Work for You in Q4

2nd in a series on content marketing trends for 2015

In this second part of our series on 2015’s Top B2B Content Marketing Trends, we take a look at social content, budgets, buyer personas, thought leadership and more. You can read the first part here.MESH_Blog-Post-Image-Final_102915

Social Content

The Prediction:

“Social media is becoming the de facto content sharing/distribution platform. As we move into 2015, we expect video to continue to increase its higher rate of growth over written or image-based content. You can convey a message faster in a short video than a 1,200 word blog post. We’ll also see brands responding faster with Real Time Social Media marketing.

The ability to generate a branded on-message image “in the moment” on Twitter is the stuff of legend—just ask Oreo what the Super Bowl outage did for them. The takeaway for 2015 is that we need to be prepared to churn out high quality social content, with a stress on image and video content, while being ready to post something topical, should the opportunity present itself.”

The Source:

Social Media Today’s “7 Social Media Trends for 2015” and Business 2 Community’s Infographic “10 Social Media Marketing Trends to Watch Out for in 2015 (Infographic)

Outcome:
  • Posts with photos saw the most engagement—accounting for 87% of total interactions
  • 39% of B2B buyers share infographics on social media frequently 
  • The top 3 content formats that B2B buyers seek during a purchase decision include: Whitepapers (78%), Case Studies (73%), and Webinars (67%)

What we’ve found this year is that visual content still rules. When looking at social posts (tweets) that were text-based, compared to those that included a visual image, we would see as much as a ~50% lift in engagement (retweets/favorites). Even when dealing with data points, you should consider making the data visual.

How can you create truly Social Content?

Cross boundaries – Truly social content transcends boundaries. And we’re not talking about auto tweeting every LinkedIn or Facebook post. We’re talking about content that has a shareable home (think YouTube videos—which are easily sharable—as opposed to videos embedded in a proprietary, non-sharable platform).

Why? On a mass level, you don’t really know where your next key influencer or customer has the largest audience or spends most of their time. By creating a variety of social content types, across different and open platforms, you maximize your network’s ability to consume that content—and share it with their audience.

Make it visual – This is pretty much a given at this point.
The statistics are in:

If you want to be heard, you need to be seen.

Make it useful – Folks on social media are dying for fresh, new and useful content to share with their followers. In fact, content curation services like Scoop.It, Feedly, and Swayy have all emerged based on the need for social marketers to quickly find and share relevant content. By creating content that is intrinsically valuable to your audience, not only does it increase the chance that it will be shared, but it increases the potential for it to show up in a content curation service—and exponentially spread.

Make it fun – Trust me, unless you’re blogging for cracked.com, almost everyone thinks that their subject matter is dry, boring and not worth talking about. Frankly, you can make practically anything—in any industry—seem more fun and engaging than you think it already is.

Hubspot has a great list of ways to make your content more fun. My favorite three are:

  • Tell a story
  • Hijack a meme
  • Hide easter eggs

No matter what your approach, you have to make sure that the level of fun is appropriate for your audience. While references to Homer Simpson resonate with 3D CAD engineers, it may not make sense if you’re appealing to lawyers.

Make it interactive – We recently wrote a post on interactive content marketing. The idea is that, while everyone and their mother is creating content now, you need to find ways for your content to add value and stand out from the herd. By using polls, interactive infographics and videos, and sharable content, you provide your audience with tools that truly interact with them, making them more compelling. Have you ever filled out a short survey on which GoT character you are on Facebook? That’s what we’re talking about.

Increased Budgets

The Prediction:

“As offline (print) spending declines, and the increased reach and sophistication of analytics, true multi-channel experience, and attribution improves, digital can expect to see continued significant increases.

As budgets improve, marketers aren’t looking to do more of the same (especially as channels like search and social continue to crowd out competition), but they are looking to “the next new thing”. Interactive video, customer-generated content, and augmented reality are high on the list in 2015.”

The Source:

Quicksprout’s “10 Marketing Predictions You Should Prepare for in 2015

Outcome:

What we’ve found for 2015 is that purse strings have loosened and budgets have increased, but for some very specific areas. Marketers have become more savvy, and are able to tackle a majority of the work needed to leverage content marketing. So where are they spending? Key areas that we’re seeing an uptick include:

  • Paid content promotion: as part of the distribution of content that’s created, paying to get it out there has become a critical component.
  • Video: most marketers are writing short-form blogs and some are even creating infographics and slide decks for slide shares. Fewer are creating videos, but understand the role they play in a strategic content marketing program. We’ve seen about 5 – 7% of content marketing budgets spent on video creation.
  • Long-form content: with everyone blogging short-form (sub-1,000 word posts), length has become one of the measures for Google on how relevant/level of quality of content. That might change, but for now, on average, the top ten results for any search in the B2B space contain more than 2,000 words. To crack that nut, marketers are investing in long-form content creation.
How can you maximize your content marketing budget?

Ranking for a 300 word blog post is nearly impossible these days. Rather than spend more money on creating a lot of short-form content (think 300 – 500 word posts 3 – 5x a week), focus on long-form content with less frequency (1 – 2x/week) that will actually rank. We’ve seen nearly every 1,000+ word post we’ve ghost written for international technology companies rank on the first page of Google within 2 weeks over the last 6 months. Quality and long-tail keyword focus is key.

Storymonials Emerge

The Prediction:

“Testimonials have long been a lynchpin of a good marketing program. When we focus on the customer story in a testimonial, we create a more compelling memory, engage prospects, and build trust.

Storymonials are different than testimonials because—rather than just focus on the work done by a company, they tell a story that builds a connection and brand loyalty. It’s important that there’s no branding in the story—your customer is sharing an open and honest experience they had.”

The Source:

Inc’s “10 Content Marketing Trends Every Leader Needs to Know for 2015

Outcome:
  • Testimonials have the highest effectiveness rating for all types of content marketing, with a rating of 89%
  • 68% of business owners believe outside reviews (done by some person or entity not related to the company) are the most important indicator of whether or not they can trust a new B2B vendor
  • Videos on landing pages increase conversions by 86%

Clients have had a tough time wrapping their head around storymonials—just as they did a few years ago when content marketing was starting to take hold. The idea of creating content that does not specifically focus on products, services or features, is still extremely foreign—and scary—to many companies.

How can you use Storymonials in your content marketing strategy?

Storymonials—while hard to accomplish—are valuable because they take social validation to a whole new level. An ecstatic client who is sharing their challenges, journey and success (with a nod to your brand) is more believable and accessible than a talking head who focuses solely on telling the story of your solution.

What are your buyers trying to accomplish? They’re trying to solve a problem. And when your storymonial video shows in search results, ideally it will educate your buyer by teaching them how one of your clients solved a similar problem—from start to finish—with you as the hero, swooping in at the eleventh hour—to save the day.

Buyer Personas

The Prediction:

“We’ve all developed buyer personas for our inbound marketing programs. What we haven’t all done, is break down buyer personas into two groups: the buyers and the audience.

The differences will be important in 2015 as right-sized, right time marketing becomes more critical than ever. Buyer personas take action, and are decision makers. Audience personas influence the purchasing decision, and may be considering a purchase.”

The Source:

Skyword’s “Are Buyer Personas and Audience Personas the Same?

Outcome:

Audience personas do not show intent to buy. Developing buyer personas—and actively leveraging them—makes marketing (and sales) more effective.

  • Using buyer personas in an email campaign improved open rate by 2x and click through rate by 5x
  • Marketers who use personas and map content to the buyer’s journey enjoy 73 percent higher conversions
  • Only 28% stated they were using personas for assessing market challenges

What we’ve found is that by leveraging personas for both sales and marketing, you can quickly find out what your buyers’ challenges and pain points are. In fact, by leveraging buyer personas for 4 new content marketing clients, we were able to improve both qualified leads and traffic within the first 8 weeks.

How can you use Personas to improve your content marketing?

One of the hot topics around content marketing focuses on the hotly contested SEO space. Who owns SEO? An SEO consultant (do they still make those)? Or your copywriter? Or your content marketing generalist? We believe (along with a whole slew of real experts) that SEO is now part of content marketing. Quality SEO will be deeply embedded in all the content you produce—from topic generation, to copywriting, through distribution: SEO and content marketing are now inseparable.

What does this have to do with personas? How do you figure out what to write about? By guessing? A good (and adaptive) buyer persona will help your marketing team understand:

  • What your buyers’ challengers are
  • What they search for
  • What they hope to accomplish
  • Where they spend their time online
  • What their aspirations are
  • What content to produce, and where
  • What keywords they use in describing their problems, and in turn use to search
  • What types of content to create
  • and more

Marketers can then use this insight to help support the sales process, while sales can take lessons learned from speaking with clients to help inform these same elements. Which brings us to sales and marketing working more closely together, or…

Smarketing

The Prediction:

“The relationship between sales and marketing historically has been somewhat contentious. In 2015, we will begin to see an alignment of the teams as B2B buyer behaviors have changed forcing them to seamlessly collaborate. It will be crucial for sales and marketing (smarketing) to align personas, goals and technology to provide closed loop communication and reporting.”

The Source:

Marketing Land’s “What Does The Future Hold For Marketers? 16 CMOs Share Their Predictions For 2015

Outcome:
  • Companies leveraging smarketing practices generate 208% more revenue from marketing efforts
  • “Today’s B2B buyers simply don’t need the assistance of a salesperson in the same way they did a decade ago. Instead, they rely on thought-leadership content, product reviews, case studies and peer recommendations that marketing teams develop to nurture prospects.”
    Entrepreneur
  • Up to 90% of decision making is completed by the time the B2B buyer creates their shortlist of vendors
  • Salespeople lose an average of ~17% of their valuable selling time looking for and modifying marketing content
  • By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship without talking to a human.
    Gartner Research

It really is hard to believe that in 2015, Sales and Marketing are still at odds. But think about it. With your buyer more educated than ever, when they finally do sit down with a sales rep, the expectations of what role marketing and sales are both playing change. Sales is on the hook for educating, nurturing and closing the deal, but marketing is also increasingly on the hook for educating, nurturing and—whoa—closing deals. While many organizations are struggling with bringing these two areas together—it almost seems that the two roles are close to merging. In fact, many times, we are being engaged—as an agency—by sales teams, as opposed to marketing groups.

How can you truly integrate your sales and content marketing initiatives?

This year we need to move past the “sales people are lazy” and “these leads suck” conversation—and mentality. Take a page from Salesforce’s book, and integrate your two teams (Think Salesforce and Pardot).

The first step you can take is to clearly define your ideal customer. Why start here? Isn’t everything you do focused on the customer? Why not use that as the impetus for bringing together the two teams (that should be partnered at the hip), that are focused on attracting, engaging, capturing and retaining on that very thing your company most desperately needs?

Additionally, in developing truly adaptive buyer personas collaboratively, both groups will have stake—and buy in—with the engagement from the get go. As sales has more meetings and learns more about how to interact and educate the customer, marketing can develop insights, educational tools, and develop marketing channels that support lead generation and customer education. This can all become a feedback loop that further elaborates on your personas, making your marketing, sales and customer insight programs more successful.

Thought Leadership

The Prediction:

“Thought leadership has long been the holy grail of marketing. Over the last 10 years, if you wanted to be considered credible, you needed to position yourself as an expert in your field. You really needed to be someone who was a resource within your community. In addition, businesses get a brand and credibility lift from employing thought leaders.

One path to thought leadership is through content creation. Just remember to make your content credible, intelligent, and emotional.”

The Source:

Forbes’ “5 Trends Your Marketing Team Should Budget For In 2015

Outcome:
  • 43% of companies have an executive in their organization who is directly responsible for an overall content marketing strategy
  • Thought leadership and content marketing programs cost 62% less than traditional marketing and generate three times as many leads
  • Who’s accountable for content marketing? Owner/C-Level (23%); Product Marketing (19%); Demand Gen Marketing (18%); PR/Corporate Communications (15%)

It’s funny to me that there isn’t a slice of this pie that’s for Engineers. Frankly, these are the folks that really know their stuff, and these are the folks from which other people want to learn. I was ghost writing a blog the other day on a new technology I (and soon hopefully the world) am just learning about. Of course I’m not expected to understand all of the technical nuances, but I do get about 90% of what’s going on. But that’s the thing—it’s that final 10% where the magic happens. That’s the stuff that your buyers really want to know. What’s unique, personal—what’s really important to them.

In our case, we don’t see a lot of Owners/C-level or even the technical people getting involved. Our clients are in-house marketers who have to make heads-or-tails of the technology, marketing tactics, and buyers.

How can you leverage thought leadership in your organization?

This is one of the secrets of creating really great, unique and compelling content. Imagine this scenario:

You work for one of the most brilliant engineers on the planet. You KNOW that if you can just get her to channel her inner Pulizzi, then your content marketing program will be unstoppable. But that’s the thing: she’s unstoppable. She’s in meetings. She’s negotiating deals. She’s developing the next generation of devices. She doesn’t have 8 hours to write a 2,500 blog post on the future of M2M that will position your organization as THE future.

But you do.

And that’s the trick: YOU know enough to write 80 – 90% of the content. You know your buyer. You know what they want to learn about. Start writing smart, but softball posts. Don’t leave out important data—that’s what buyers want—but get it close enough. In some cases you can even get it a little wrong! I wouldn’t do that a lot though.

Here’s the deal: people don’t have the time to write. But they will take the time to edit and tweak if:

a) You’ve taken a first—really good—stab at it

b) They know you’re going to publish it

Does it seem a little manipulative? Perhaps. A little. But you know just how hard it is to get that key player to sit down, and write something that someone wants to read. It’s nearly impossible. And if it were possible, you and I wouldn’t have jobs.

So try it today. Write a 2,500 word blog post (no 300 word posts here, thank you), and save a few small areas (250 words isn’t THAT bad), for the engineer. Shoot it over. Tell them you had 2 or 3 quick questions and if they could read it and fill in the gaps, it would be a huge help. Don’t let their techie-speak scare you. Trust me on this one. They actually really enjoy educating their marketing and sales teams, especially when you tell them you are looking for their HELP.

It usually takes 2 – 3 days to get back—so plan on that—but it really works. Oh, and when you do, let me know how it goes!