Treat content as a branding tactic. Buying intent leads will follow.
Content has long been owned by marketing. So much so that marketers around the world tacked their name on the end. No one knows it as simply content. No, no, no. Even those outside of the marketing industry knows the content by a different name.
Good or bad, right or wrong, we see and refer to content as a marketing tactic. To call it by any other name is considered blasphemy on the highest level. How dare a marketer refer to content as anything else?
Well, I dare. And I’ve said it time and time again on LinkedIn, Twitter, and in the SHFT Insider newsletter.
Content is more of a branding tactic than a marketing tactic.
*cue the gasp heard around the world*
Sure, marketing is often the department that creates content, especially in the B2B world. But the role and purpose of content, done correctly, is a branding tactic – one you’ll surely see soon.
In this essay, we will establish why content is a branding tactic, how B2B marketing has mistreated content (and their ideal customers in the process), and how to create a content branding strategy.
Marketing’s unforgivable mistake
It’s no secret. Most B2B content out there sucks. Big time. You don’t have to look hard to find examples of how bad B2B content has become.
Listicle, keyword-stuffed, bullet-point driven, gated, fluff content that has flooded Google and social media with mindless drivel that no one finds “valuable”. Or, worse yet, posts that focus solely on how great a product or service is. 5 reasons you need our [insert latest product you’re selling]. No one cares, Karen!
How did marketers let content get so bad? And why is it like pulling teeth to try to get them to change their content-killing ways?
Simple. Content is treated as just another marketing tactic.
The goal is to produce MQL’s (marketing qualified leads) at all costs.
Sure, most marketers will say they are trying to educate and entertain their ideal customers in order to attract and delight them. Their actions say something different.
A listicle is not educational. Nor is it entertaining. Unless you’re providing a list of the biggest marketing blunders. Those make me laugh for hours.
See, when the goal of content is to produce leads, every piece of content you produce has a sales bent to it. You can’t just educate your audience about how to do something for themselves. That would never fly with the C-suite and would cost you precious MQLs.
No, lead-focused content HAS to entice the reader to download a guide, sign up for a course, or join an email list. If it doesn’t, you’ve wasted precious time that could have been spent filling the queue for your sales team (or your own queue, if you’re a solopreneur or small business owner). But by doing so, you communicate one simple message to your ideal customer:
We only care about your money.
You aren’t trying to educate or entertain, inform or help your ideal customer. No, when you treat content as just another tactic to generate leads, you’re only helping yourself — and your ideal customer feels that.
Ever wonder why content doesn’t seem to bring in the leads you want?
Your ideal customers aren’t stupid. They can tell your listicle, keyword-stuffed, bullet-point driven, gated, fluff content is just a ruse to get their contact information — and spam them with email after email trying to get them to buy.
Reclaiming content’s power and potential
So how do we fix this mess and reclaim the power and potential that lies within producing great content?
Simple. We treat content as a branding tactic.
Before you label me a blasphemer or heretic, let me clarify. I’m not saying you need to hire a brand department and shuffle all content creation to them. While you should have a brand department, I know most B2B companies aren’t ready to invest in their brand at that level.
Instead, treat content the same way you treat your brand efforts — the goal isn’t to generate leads, but to position your company as the ONLY solution for your ideal customers.
The difference here is huge. Positioning requires a much more strategic approach than, say, running a PPC ad campaign to drive downloads of your ebook. You can’t just throw something together, gate it, and “nurture” those contacts with a series of sales-driven emails.
Or, worse yet, pump out a blog post laden with keywords that reads more like a checklist than a well thought out piece of educational content.
To truly position yourself as the ONLY solution, you must first become a trusted resource — providing expertise, insights, templates, guides, and advice all focused on the same topic and for (dare I say it?) free, with no email required.
People need to see your company as an expert in the problem they are trying to solve if they are going to trust you with their money. Creating content just to create content isn’t enough. You have to be a resource people want to learn from. The only way to do that is to follow the cardinal rule of content:
You MUST know your ideal customer.
Not just the demographic data you have on a buyer persona. No, you need to get into their minds, understand their struggles and aims, know the experience they are after, and what motivates them to stop ignoring the pain and take action. In other words, you need to humanize your ideal customers.
Doing so will improve the quality of content you create ten-fold.
Gone will be the days of pumping out listicles in an effort to rank on Google, creating gated ebooks that provide less value than a tweet, and social media posts that scream buy my product!
Great content serves the needs of your ideal customers, not your need for more MQLs — and in doing so, you’ll experience a positive side-effect: real buying-intent leads. Ideal customers who have learned from you, taken your advice, trust you, are ready to buy, and have no question in their mind who they want to work with.
That’s the power of treating content as a branding tactic — in seeking to help your ideal customers, you become the ONLY choice when they are ready to buy.
Death to the MQL
Reframing content as a branding tactic starts by having some difficult conversations with yourself and with your C-suite.
Most companies not only still view content as a marketing tactic, but they analyze, evaluate, and set budgets for content creation based on one overarching metric: MQLs.
As long as marketing departments are evaluated on the quantity of MQLs they bring in for their sales team, content will never reach its full potential — it will remain the eye-rolling joke of the B2B space.
Content is not a marketing tactic and should not be evaluated the same way as a PPC ad campaign. The strategy, purpose, and consumption of content is drastically different, and requires a different metric.
Rather than judging content on MQLs, you should evaluate content on the revenue it drives.
Let me give you a practical example.
I served as the head of marketing for a B2B food processing equipment manufacturer for over seven years. The industry was dominated by 3-4 major brands that could be found in every food processing plant across the country and the world — brands that had marketing budgets in the millions if not billions. My budget was a few hundred thousand at best.
The strategy I took was different from what most marketers would have done. I chose to double down on brand rather than marketing.
I got to know our ideal customers, built messaging around them, rebuilt the brand image, and started with the one tactic that would turn the company into a globally recognized brand: content.
In the process of getting to know our ideal customers, I found one major characteristic — a majority of the decision makers were not experts in meat science or in finding creative, cost-effective solutions to processing meat. That was our hook.
We began creating content to educate our ideal customers on the fundamentals of meat science and provided extensive how-to information that many printed out and gave to their operators as part of their training efforts.
One of the largest food processors in the world even asked our company to train their smokehouse operators – a service we didn’t provide at that point.
Industry magazines began approaching us asking for insights to include in their articles — articles that were read religiously by our ideal customers. Our experts were even asked to lead sessions at some of the industry’s largest trade shows.
No listicles. No gated content. No keyword-stuffed drivel just to get found on Google. We educated our ideal customers on their pain points for free.
The results spoke for themselves. The company went from $11 million in ARR to over $40 million in ARR, the majority of that change coming directly from our content and marketing efforts.
The difference between what I accomplished there and what many B2B marketers experience with their content efforts boils down to one element: metrics.
My efforts weren’t evaluated by how many leads I generated. That’s a broken metric when it comes to marketing. If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s incredibly easy to generate leads. Buy a list, create an ebook, hound every single person who visits your tradeshow booth. Emails, emails, and more emails.
What many marketers, sales professionals, and C-suite execs are discovering is that those leads rarely have buying-intent. They were emails captured in exchange for something.
Instead of evaluating your content (really, all of your marketing efforts) by MQLs, evaluate it by revenue.
I was able to dump time, effort, and money into content creation for one main reason: the quality of content we created positioned us as the go-to experts in the industry. And that positioning resulted in a happy side-effect: increased revenue.
The choice is up to you
Content is a branding tactic. I may get labeled as a heretic or buffoon for saying that, but I stand by my assertion.
B2B marketers have made a mess when it comes to creating and distributing content. Some of the worst examples of content have come from the B2B space — all in an effort to pad keywords and get the holy grail of page one rankings on Google. In doing so, they have served themselves and their need for MQL’s above their ideal customers. A branding no-no.
It’s long past time for content to regain its power and potential as a branding tactic — positioning your company as the ONLY choice for your ideal customers and producing the side effect we all want: increased revenue.
Now, if this essay were a marketing tactic, I would push you to ask about our content services – and in that moment ruin your perception of my advice. You would no longer see it as an expert sharing his experience to help you grow your business. No, it would be seen as a thinly veiled attempt to rid you of your money.
Thankfully, we don’t treat content as a marketing tactic at SHFT. We’re not trying to gather your email address, generate MQL’s, and pat ourselves on the back that we got 50 new leads from this post.
I would rather you see me, Stephane, and SHFT as a trusted resource for brand and content help. That difference in mindset is why our content produces quality, buying-intent leads every week.
The choice is now in your hands. Will you treat content as a marketing tactic to drive lead generation? Or will you see content’s true power and potential as a branding tactic and use it to position yourself as the ONLY choice for your ideal customers?
Here’s hoping you choose the latter.