My job as Senior Advisor to Forrester’s Marketing Leadership Council, a global peer group for senior marketers in B2B and B2C firms, gives me lots of insight into what’s really happening at the coal face of marketing. One of the hot topics among this group is content marketing. B2B firms are trying to figure out how to use content to generate and nurture leads, while B2C brands are seeking to use content as a means of deepening engagement with their customers.
The difficulty that both face is zeroing in on what content customers really want to consume. After all, no matter how much you invest in content marketing, if it’s not interesting or useful for your target audience, it’s going to be largely ignored. Then, the best you can hope for is some uplift for your search engine optimisation. That’s all very well, but hardly effective for enriching the connections between your brand and consumers, or getting prospects to believe that you appreciate the business problem they’re trying to solve.
The real challenge that marketers face is achieving a meaningful understanding of their customers. This can be much harder that it might sound. I remember a story told to me by one of the Council members. His firm had sold a communications system to a logistics company that enabled their truck drivers to communicate much more easily. One of the key benefits for the company was a reduction in employee turnover; the communications system made it easier for drivers to stay in touch with their families. The member admitted that this wasn’t something that would have occurred to them when planning messages for content marketing and sales enablement.
Do you know what your products and services – and your brand – really mean to your customers? Figuring it out can require major leaps of lateral thinking… or simply time spent in conversation with them so there’s an opportunity to understand their world. Herein are the seeds of your successful content marketing programme.
Of course, nothing in marketing is that simple. The more you learn about your customers, the more you’ll realise how little you actually know. Those nice audience segmentations start to look shaky and the task ahead begins to look too piecemeal to ever be effective. Council members that report success have often done so by starting small. They find a niche topic that seems to interest a particular cohort of customers and they experiment with developing content for this group. Investment is low, so if it fails it’s no big deal. But if it hits the sweet spot, that investment can pay back many times over.
So, before you build your content marketing programme, look beyond surveys and data insights, and spend time talking to your customers. Find out what they care about and use that lateral thinking to develop creative ideas that provide entertainment, utility, or both.
James Ollerenshaw, Senior Advisor to the Marketing Leadership Council at Forrester Research