10 Ways to Improve Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy in 2020
At the start of every new year, goal setting can get complicated for content marketers. You have a million choices for what to improve or how achieve better results: Track better KPIs and prove ROI. Deepen customer relationships with content that goes beyond quick lead gen. Expand your audience insights with new research. Become a better consultative partner to other business units.
For conscientious content marketers, all these options boil down to being more strategic. Seeing the bigger picture. Being proactive, not reactive. Focused, not flying blind.
But where to start with that lofty vision? Right here. We’ve outlined 10 concrete, strategic projects that will help you lay the foundation for smarter, more impactful content marketing in 2020. Learn how to:
- Revisit 2019 goals and KPIs to capture lessons learned.
- Deepen your audience research.
- Create better, more actionable buyer personas.
- Conduct a content audit (not just an inventory).
- Follow your audit with a content gap analysis.
- Add content to your customer journey maps.
- Review your competitors’ content marketing.
- Integrate content marketing strategy into other plans.
- Outline new content programs in an editorial plan.
- Define internal processes across teams.
Follow the Lead of Successful Marketers
The top-dog marketers always prioritize strategy. Nearly 70 percent of the most successful B2B content marketers have a documented content strategy, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report, while only 16 percent of the least successful have a documented strategy.
But even those with a strategy aren’t quite satisfied: Only 9% of content marketers rated their strategy as “excellent” while 38% said it was just “average,” according to SEMrush’s Global State of Content Marketing Report 2019.
Why Good Intentions Fail for Content Marketers
Content marketers who want to focus on foundational or longer-term strategic initiatives often get derailed in one of two ways: 1) They don’t have time or 2) They don’t know where to start.
The scarcity of time can be maddening. Busy marketers vow to carve out time for strategy, but quickly get swept away in a riptide of urgent requests, product launches, and rushed campaigns to generate leads ASAP. They’re barely able to keep their heads above water all year.
“Marketing teams will never have time to focus on strategy at the expense of immediate tasks and deliverables, so they have to do both streams of work simultaneously,” says Ben Tomkins, VP of Content Marketing at Tendo. “You have to build the plane while you’re flying it, and very often, the perfect is the enemy of the good.” His advice: Just get started and be diligent about project management to keep things moving forward. If time is simply not available, then you’ll need to outsource your project. Other marketers may have enough time or budget to improve their strategic focus, but they might not know where to start or which process to follow. That’s where our list of actions can be most helpful. Your team may not have bandwidth to do all 10 of these, but any one of them can help you refine your B2B content marketing strategy in 2020.
#1: Revisit 2019 Goals and KPIs to Capture Lessons Learned
Before you jump into 2020 goal planning, pause for a minute and reflect on 2019. Analyze each KPI you tracked: Did it provide meaningful insights on performance? Did it help you improve your efforts over time? Or was it just a vanity metric? Toss it out if it doesn’t pass the test.
In particular, examine if and how well you’re tracking ROI and attribution. What are the metrics that can help you justify your team’s existence and budget allocation?
Next, review your 2019 goals, whether quarterly, annual, or campaign-based. Where did you fall short, and why? Was it a lack of resources or a goal that was always too ambitious? When you knocked it out of the park, what was the driving force? Did your marketing goals clearly ladder up to business goals?
This exercise is time well spent: Reflecting on past goals will reveal your team’s strengths and weaknesses and help you incorporate lessons learned into 2020 goals.
#2: Deepen Your Audience Research
Understanding your target audience is foundational to content marketing strategy. If you define your audience as “IT professionals” or “enterprise software users” (i.e., too broadly) then you’ve got a lot of work to do. But even if you’ve already collected information about key audiences, 2020 brings a new opportunity to go deeper and discover new insights. This will help you craft content that speaks to your audience’s evolving pain points and needs.
Let’s assume you’ve already got a few audience definitions that cover demographics and other basics. Here are some questions to help you gain deeper insights, setting the stage to create rich buyer personas:
- Who’s missing? Perhaps you’ve defined a key decision maker like a CIO, but what about the other influencers and product users who will play a role in that decision? According to CMI’s 2020 benchmarking report, B2B marketers create content for an average of four audiences.
- Which questions about your audience remain unanswered? As you review existing audience attributes, what do you still need to know about them to craft better content and campaigns? E.g., preferred channels and content formats, decision process, greatest challenges at work, signs of buyer intent, etc.
- Are your audience definitions based mostly on assumptions and instincts, or hard data and primary sources? Question everything and shore up fuzzy statements.
- When was the last time you spoke with an actual customer or prospect? Take every opportunity to gather firsthand information via phone interviews for case studies, customer surveys, or recorded customer support conversations.
- Are you collaborating regularly with sales and customer support teams? Both of them interact with customers every day and can share invaluable insights, including how customer preferences or behaviors are evolving.
- Are you mining every relevant data source? What types of data can provide insights to your unanswered questions? Analyze CRM data, website traffic, and social channel reports.
#3: Create Better, More Actionable Buyer Personas
Target audiences and buyer personas are not the same things. Personas build on the demographic and behavioral information you’ve collected to create a detailed representation of your target customer. Ideally, a robust persona gives you insights into the buyer’s strategic careabouts, buying dynamics (objections, triggering events), and steps in the buyer’s journey.
“You want to build content-actionable personas that help content creators understand what content to develop, and how to match it to your audience’s informational needs,” says Tomkins. “A persona can help you shift your thinking from ‘what we need to tell our audience’ to ‘what they want to hear and know.’”
#4: Conduct a Content Audit (Not Just an Inventory)
A content audit might be the most underrated project on this list. Too few marketers understand its value, and others confuse it with a content inventory, which is merely a list of asset names or types. A true content audit is a quantitative and qualitative analysis of all your digital content, evaluated on criteria such as accuracy, relevance to your target audience, engagement, findability, and conversion.
An audit provides much-needed visibility into what content is working well and which assets or pages are underperforming. It takes time, as you methodically work your way through everything from product pages and blog posts to white papers and videos. Prepare yourself for a few surprises, too: Marketers often discover duplicate content created by siloed teams, or ancient content that long ago needed to be retired. In other cases, they find a poor diversity of content types, or a lack of connection and flow between web pages or assets along the customer journey.
When is the right time to conduct an audit? It depends on the number of assets you have and how much you publish in a given year. But if you haven’t done even a limited audit in the past 24 months—or if your target audience has shifted—consider putting it on your 2020 to-do list.
#5: Follow Your Audit with a Content Gap Analysis
Once you’ve assessed the content you have, a logical next step is to identify the content you don’t have. Make time for a content gap analysis. With this project, you’ll investigate content gaps or shortcomings. For example, do you lack content for a given buyer persona? Do you have a wealth of content at the top of the funnel and too little at the middle and bottom? Does your content miss the mark on your customers’ key questions or informational needs at a given stage of their journey?
A gap analysis will identify the best new content opportunities to add to your editorial plan.
#6: Add Content to Your Customer Journey Maps
With the growing focus on customer experience, customer journey mapping has become a standard practice in many B2B organizations. This visualization allows you to walk a mile in the shoes of a given persona. The map (or infographic) highlights the key stages of the customer journey. It also identifies their motivations, barriers, questions, and sentiments at each step as they progress toward a goal or a purchase.
Content marketers can build on an existing journey map (or create their own in collaboration with a customer experience team) by listing the content that is needed to support each stage of the journey. Determine which content assets are missing to answer their questions at a given stage, or to compel them to move forward toward a purchase decision. Pro tip: Remember that the customer journey doesn’t end with a purchase. Your journey map should detail the ongoing customer relationship and specify post-purchase content to deepen their engagement.
#7: Review Your Competitors’ Content Marketing
A “competitive review” is a misnomer for content marketers. You’re not interested in comparing your products and services to your competitors’. Rather, it’s their approach to content marketing. A better label might be an “industry content marketing review” that assesses the content marketing best practices in your space.
This project can be highly rewarding and doesn’t take a ton of time. In your review, look at which channels and content types your competitors are employing to engage their audiences. What are the hot topics and thought leadership themes? Is your organization part of that conversation? Or, if everybody is talking about the same things, what are your opportunities for differentiation?
Bonus: Look at the content marketing of other companies that target the same audiences, even if they’re not in your industry. How are they engaging decision-makers like CIOs and other executives?
#8: Integrate Content Marketing Strategy into Other Plans
Your organization might not maintain a standalone content marketing plan, and that’s OK. But if content marketing is an important and ongoing part of your larger marketing efforts, pause to consider how well it is represented in these marketing plans and campaign plans. Is there a section that defines content goals, audiences, key messages, and strategies, and how they complement other marketing strategies (demand gen, SEM, etc.)? If you’ve gone to the trouble of developing personas, are they actively referenced in your plans or just collecting proverbial dust?
If you wish to distill your content marketing strategy in its own plan, then consider creating a content marketing framework, which can help you develop the best content programs to meet your goals. Think of it as a more comprehensive content marketing strategy document, which analyzes where you’re at (current state) and maps out where you’re going (goals and strategy) and how to get there (implementation and tactics). This is a major resource that can include many of the other projects in this list, including a content audit, competitive review, KPI development, and editorial calendar.
Bottom line, there is no one-size-fits-all way to lay out your content marketing strategy in a plan. Just make sure it’s included wherever it makes the most sense. Remember that to gain buy-in for content marketing you must articulate a compelling strategy; executives should have a clear sense of the strategic importance of your work.
#9: Detail New Content Programs in an Editorial Plan
If you’ve defined your audiences and developed a strategy, it’s time to get tactical. An editorial plan is where the rubber meets the road. Based on your strategy and findings, you can now develop specific ideas for content programs that will help you achieve your goals. Think of an editorial plan as your operating manual—for specific campaigns and launches or for the next quarter—that lays out what content you’ll produce, as well as how and when.
An editorial plan template is yours to shape, based on your organizational needs. For each asset or content program to be created, you can define:
- Themes, topics, and formats
- KPIs and goals
- Target audiences
- Related campaigns, launches, and events
- Publishing dates
- Authors and reviewers
- Subject matter experts
- Distribution channels
- Related activation or merchandising content
An editorial plan and an editorial calendar go hand in hand, and both can be included within a larger content marketing framework document. Both an editorial plan and calendar should be visible to other involved teams, so that they can see your priorities and flag any duplicative efforts in advance.
#10: Define Internal Processes Across Teams
At some point, every marketing team must codify its internal processes and workflows. This task is imperative at larger organizations with siloed teams. Too often these teams end up duplicating efforts or implementing strategies with the same goals. Or, the content they produce is not consistent in its quality or alignment with brand standards.
If you’ve created an editorial plan, for example, you’ll need to establish workflow processes to bring that content to life in an orderly fashion. While your editorial plan itself may outline some of these processes, you’ll want to establish governance beyond a single plan or campaign.
Create a framework document that establishes a consistent process for content creation, reviews and approvals, publishing, distribution, and related tools and resources. Make sure team roles and responsibilities are clear, and then get buy-in for your process across all teams that generate or touch content (content marketing, product marketing, PR, UX, content strategy, etc.). Don’t expect to get it right the first time: Schedule follow-up meetings to gather feedback and optimize your processes.
Remember that the discipline of content strategy focuses not just on content creation, but on content governance and process. Your ultimate objective is to ensure that content is more deliberate—planned and created in the service of a greater goal.
Talk to Tendo
Content is still king, but the landscape of content marketing is getting more competitive and more saturated. To meet your goals in 2020, take a step back from your day-to-day agenda and allocate time to sharpen your strategy.
Whether you choose to undertake one or more of these 10 strategic projects, consider tapping the support of an agency like Tendo Communications. We’ve implemented all of these projects for world-class B2B brands, and we’ll bring our experience and a fresh perspective to your situation.
Contact us to have a conversation about the challenges you’re facing and how we can help.