One thing I have quicky learned in my two months at Gartner is that research around a topic will often lead me down an entirely different path. I’ve been working on a note around how marketing is organized and wound up having lengthy conversations about content marketing. Content marketing has become a very hot topic in the Business to Consumer (B2C) world with everyone from recognizable, multinational brands to local lawyers and realtors employing it in various fashions. And Gartner has written a number of notes on the topic. But in the technology world (especially in B2B), the uptake has been significantly more uneven, with some CMOs declaring an almost Ron Burgundy interviewing for ESPN-like negative opinion of its long term prospects.
It is probably time to rethink that position. Look, I understand the hesitation given the competing priorities, the focus on demand generation and the lack of internal skills. But I am now seeing tech companies hire content marketers before other functions like demand generation or product marketing. And the topic comes up in the majority of the inquiries I field from marketing leaders. If you are a technology or service provider, it needs to at least factor in to your 2014 planning.
The beauty of the concept is that the content can be used during all stages of the buying cycle (see my colleague Hank Barnes’ note called “Tech Go-to-Market: The B2B Customer Buying Cycle for Technology Products and Services” (subscription required) for more on this concept), driving thought leadership and awareness early on and then helping to nurture leads once they are in the pipeline. And this dovetails with the changing role of IT sales in a time when many technology buyers prefer to find information on their own. (Hank has a great blog post about this as part of the Future of IT Sales Special Report).
There are a lot of different content types to consider as part of your effort including:
- Blog posts
- White Papers
The content can be both orignial and third-party and placed on your Web site, third-party sites (both free and paid) and social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. White papers and eBooks can broken up into smaller chunks and used for blog posts and tweets. But unlike a lot of traditional content that was produced by tech marketers over the last decade, good content marketing weaves in a very healthy dose of content that is not about the company or its products. This is not to say that there isn’t a place for data sheets and technical product content. But the most effective content positions the company as an expert in the industry by talking about important trends and challenges that are faced by buyer (regulatory, legislative, technical, economic etc…) and offering propscriptive solutions to those problems. As a prospect moves further into the buying cycle, traditional content can be mixed in.
As providers wrap their arms around the strategy, there is a challenge around staffing. I’ll talk about this more in the note, but one option is to hire a managing editor. The person is often a former journalist that is social-media savvy. There is merit to this idea because an ex-journalist is likely skilled in developing an editorial strategy and creating and curating content and would be familiar with how to use various content distribuion platforms. But an effective content marketing effort typically takes multiple people, some with specific subject matter expertise. But you will only get so far with one person. So outsourcing either all or part of the function is becoming more common.
To fill the void, there is a new type of agency that specializes in content marketing for tech companies. These agencies have a combinaton of full-time staff and freelancers, often comprised of former journalists and in-house marketers. They can assist with strategy, creation, curation and distribution. I spoke with Brett Weiner (no relation to Anthony), from Original 9 Media, one such agency, about the evolution of content marketing.
In Weiner’s opinion, a lot of marketing leaders are intrigued by the potential of content marketing, but not sure how best to undertake it, where to place it in their organization (PR, Product Marketing, elsewhere) or how much emphasis to initially place on it. But as a general rule, most are further along than they realize. He used the analogy of stacks of books in a library or archive and said most of his clients find that there is a lot of great content in old white papers and powerpoint decks that can be repurposed for content marketing.
The key to success is to have a well thought out strategy, one that looks at content marketing as a systematic process that plays out over months, not days or weeks. It needs to be coordinated with the demand generation and PR strategies. But the ROI can be pretty high, measured in terms of driving awareness and new leads as well as converting leads to opportunities through the nurture process. And as Weiner noted, if done right, it can really be the front-end for succesful marketing programs.
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