For about five years now I’ve been talking to clients about content, as well as delivering courses on the subject for the IDM – two factors that suggest to me that content marketing is reaching a state of maturity. So how can it still be that only 35% of marketers have a documented content strategy – and only 21% believe they are successful at tracking content ROI?

The fact is that content marketing can be notoriously hard to measure and to evaluate. That’s why I’m giving you the opportunity right now to take ten deep breaths and one big step back to consider how happy you are with your content marketing – i.e. how content are you with your content?

Making an impact
In today’s content-heavy environment, with its organic reach-restricting algorithms, how can you make a huge impact for your business through the content you are creating? Well, in my view you can choose one of two ways.

1. Produce, publish and promote enough content so that you dominate content market share for your industry. So much that your audience can’t hit a web page or visit a social network without seeing you.

The problem with this is you’ll need more budget and resource than you can shake a stick at and you risk boring your audience with content fatigue. But in all honesty, your chances of making a huge impact on the marketplace are pretty slim, especially if you are creating “business-as-usual” content

2. Alternatively, you could create something so mind-bendingly disruptive that your audience can’t help but sit up, take note and tell others about it.

But the issue with this option is that you’ll need to start thinking completely differently and, quite possibly, it’s going to look exactly the opposite to business as usual.

The challenge
The challenge is about being brave. We all talk about innovation and digital disruption in our respective industries, but while we have seen it from a new product or new solution perspective (e.g. Eloqua in marketing automation or Radian6 in social listening), we rarely see it from a marketing and messaging perspective. Thinking differently ain’t easy — but it’s completely necessary.

As you’d expect in B2B, marketers place  a huge focus on the back end of the buyer journey. We provide our prospective buyers with gated content, case studies, product and data sheets, webinars and events, to give them the ammunition they need to make a decision in our favour. Much less focus, however, is placed on the start of the journey, where prospects find out about your brand and where preferences start to form.

Preferences are becoming more and more important in the buying process. A recent study from Google has shown that on a typical B2B buying journey, a prospect performs an average of 12 searches. But only two of the searches include a brand name. This would suggest that, if prospects have no awareness of you at the outset, your brand has very little chance of being shortlisted. So in my view, we have to go back to being disruptive, getting our brands talked about and brand experience shared – which you would have thought in today’s network economy would be easier than ever. It’s not!

So how can you start to do this through content?

Business as usual?
The first step is to consider what business as usual looks like: What are you and your competitors doing? Optimising for maximum efficiency? Posting regularly across your social channels? Focusing on gated content and events to nurture your key decision makers? Now…  what might be the complete opposite of that?

Rather than setting objectives for incremental improvements on all of the above, why not try something different? Even something extreme. Then run A/B tests to see what works best? Instead of posting three to five times a day on your social channels, for example, make your Twitter handle private and post just once a week — make it so engaging and exclusive that people are hanging on for your very next tweet. Set your content free, let people have it — they will contact you when they are ready. Target influencers rather than final decision makers. Never recycle a piece of content again — everything you produce should be original or it’s not worth talking about. Entertain rather than educate your audience so they build positive points of reference about your brand…

… Or you could just do what everyone else is doing.

Assuming you don’t want to do what everyone else is doing, two really great examples of disruption in B2B marketing stick out for me:

Adobe Marketing Cloud – “Metrics, not Myths”
This campaign drove ten times the predicted volume of leads on launch day and, while you can’t see the exact effect that it’s having on Adobe’s bottom line, you can get a good idea that the company is making waves in the marketplace The campaign generated 3,620,593 visits, 628,894 actions and 177,151 enquiries.

Volvo Trucks – “Epic Split”

Possibly one of the most-shared videos in B2B. Volvo Trucks went to a B2C agency to drive awareness and brand consideration before launching further marketing in 140 local markets. Their Live Test films generated over 100 million YouTube views and were shared nearly 8 million times. In a recent survey of 2,200 owners of different truck brands, almost half of those who had seen the films said they are now more likely to choose Volvo next time they buy. Now that’s brand preference.

While these two examples had big production and media budgets behind them and brands willing to think differently, the core of these ideas was the creativity and desire to stand out from the crowd. These principles can be applied to any budget.

Remember — B2B doesn’t stand for Boring-to-Boring
A version of this article was originally published in the IDM’s  Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice vol 16 July 2015) 16.

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