The B2B marketing space is high-strung, binge-creating content.
The influx of content online is incredible; over 2 million blog posts are published every day. The prevailing feeling is that many B2B companies are just going through the motions of content creation, without fully understanding what they actually do or why they do it; 90% of marketers are uncertain of how to measure the effectiveness of their content. On the other hand, expectations from content marketing are climbing exponentially; 78% of CMOs see custom content as the future of marketing.
This juxtaposition cannot withstand for much longer.
Marketing departments have a pretty solid idea about the objectives content marketing should achieve:
But does it?
In 1895 John Deere launched The Furrow (a journal for the American farmer) as a way to promote his agricultural business, and, of course, provide information to farmers on how to become more profitable. That was 101 years before the term Content Marketing was coined by John F. Oppedahl, an editor and publisher.
In 1900 Michelin followed in Deere’s footsteps with its guide.
During the 20th century many more magazines were published by commercial brands.
In 2004 Microsoft launched the first major corporate blog, Channel 9. And in 2005 a LiveVault’s video featuring John Cleese went viral, even though it was targeting IT managers. (It was so ahead of its time, you have to see it to believe it.)
In the last decade, a gazillion pieces of B2B content marketing were written.
Is content marketing really all that it can be?
Or to put it differently, does content marketing deliver on the objectives imposed by top-brass marketers?
In order to figure it out, let’s take this very article you are reading right now. It’s, without a doubt, a content marketing endeavour. I approached Ron Sela and pitched him the idea for this article because I know that articles on ronsela.com get social shares by the hundreds and I want some of that juice for myslef, for my company. I’m putting time and effort into researching and writing this article, but:
My company isn’t mentioned at all in this article, nor its product or anything related to its market. There is no link to our website from the article, so even from SEO for B2B perspective there is no benefit for my company by me writing this article.
There’s the author box though, at the very bottom of this article, in it my name and my company’s name plus a link. So, if I’m doing a good enough of a job and folks bear with me till the end of this not-so-short article, they will see it.
Still, that’s a “no” for awareness – this article does not promote brand awareness for my company.
As mentioned, there is a link to my company’s website in the author box. Can we speculate of the volume of traffic that this article will generate to my company’s website? Not really. If anything, we can assume it will be very small, because when you rely on a single link – in a box, at the end of thousands of words – for your traffic, well, you get my drift.
I can also infer from previous articles I’ve published on third-party sites, publications like HubSpot, MarketingProfs and Convince&Convert that got hundreds of social shares each, but very little traffic to our own website.
That’s another “no” – this article will not generate traffic to my company’s website (at least not in any meaningful way.)
As mentioned above in the “awareness” section – no mentions in this article regarding my company or its product.
That’s a third straight “no” – potential customers won’t learn anything about our product that will push them down the funnel.
Three strikes and we’re out.
According to the above parameters, there is absolutely no logic behind my decision to devote the time and effort to write this article, not to mention the waste of company’s money.
But still, I did; I do, and I believe that for a very good set of reasons. But before we get to those, let’s make it even harder:
The 2016 Content Marketing Institute report states that marketers are spending 28% of their overall budget on content marketing and 51% will increase their spending. This strongly supports the opening paragraph of this article, regarding the influx of content. Money fuels creation.
With that, a SeriusDecisions survey states that 60-70% of content created by B2B companies never gets used. This relates to the going-through-the-motions argument. Marketing departments are creating content because it’s important and they get a budget to hire writers or outsource content creation to agencies, but they fall short when it comes to utilizing the content, to making it fulfil its supposed purpose (awareness, traffic, education.)
Are we creating too much content? I’m fairly certain we are. Even without the SeriusDecisions survey, just by scanning the marketing publishing landscape on a daily basis anyone can see that the tremendous amount of content being published is beyond the reading capabilities of its audience. Not only that, but only 2 out of 10 people will read beyond the title. The content marketing universe, specifically, is caught in limbo where the vast majority of content marketing output is articles about content marketing. I’m no different in this regard and this article is no exception – it is about content marketing after all.
Like the U.S. housing bubble of ‘08, or Japan’s asset price bubble of the late 80’s, these things happen because of careless strategizing and over-eagerness. With the content bubble of ‘16, history pretty much repeats itself. The create-first-think-later approach that got us to the point where the majority of content created in the B2B sphere never gets used, is to blame; partly.
Another proponent is the herd mentality, a self-fueling mechanism. All we need is for someone to get the ball rolling, to light the first spark and we are all over it. Nobody wants to get left behind, so when company A starts publishing on its blog every other day, company B takes notice and does the same, only to have company C wanting to outdo both and starts publishing a post every day. And this is, in a nutshell, how a bubble is created – when quantity beats quality in its own game.
When the force that drives creation is quota, it steals the thunder from meaning, and intention, and value and relevancy. Don’t forget – bubbles are empty.
There’s another underlying level to this, the childlike bewilderment and excitement with a new toy. No matter how we look at it, the internet, and self-publishing, is a very new, very exciting toy. If we’ll allow for a moment a tidbit of coffee-shop psychology, the internet has enabled every person to have an audience, something we secretly crave. It’s intoxicating and as intoxicating things are, addictive. Once you start sharing your thoughts, your ideas and knowledge with the world (and get acknowledged for doing it) your main concern is to continue doing that and here it is again folks – quantity over quality.
It stems from good. As the internet made abundantly clear – we love sharing. We share because we think we are awesome and we wish others to think that too, but also because we believe others will benefit from it, which makes us feel even more awesome – we are helping others, improving their life, making them more successful at work.
The best remedy for this is a strict, self-imposed censorship. We should all write and publish only when we have something truly valuable and meaningful – and new! – to say. And no freakin’ way this happens every single day.
And if we’re already pointing fingers, we have to point one at Google’s algorithm. It loves high-velocity sites, sites that publish fresh content frequently and it loves long-form. Since we are so dependent on Google for our online presence we do as we are told will delight the big G in the cloud.
We took quite a detour here, but it was needed. As I am going to argue, content marketing has an illusive nature and to argue for the merits of content marketing you need to step out of your comfort zone of leads and conversion rate.
You can’t fit content marketing into an excel. And even when you do, the numbers don’t add up to your advantage. The SDR’s in my company look down at what they call “content leads”, the leads that converted from articles and blog posts – ungated content. They believe they have a lower chance to evolve to a full-blown SQL; like a damaged chrysalis that most chances won’t mature to a butterfly. So they input them into Sales Force straight as “nurture” and let them percolate.
I know a lot of folks will jump all over me for saying this, but you just cannot ROI content marketing. They’ll talk about “content machines” and how they managed to create the perfect funnel where every lead is accounted for and all that jazz. Well, according to this kind of machine, this article is a big, massive failure: it took me ages to write, and I don’t come cheap; it lacks links and thus will not drive traffic; it doesn’t educate readers about my company, doesn’t even mention it by name. A total waste of time and money. I could have written a white paper, or at least a case study – good-old bottom of the funnel content that sputters SQL’s!
From where I’m sitting, the decision to write this article is a solid one. It’s a fine decision for me as a writer, as a content marketer. Since this is a respectable, serious publication, publishing here will open doors for me in the future. The next time I pitch an even more respectable, more serious publication I’ll use this article; baby steps. Not to mention all the social shares; alas, my name will be carried as a fresh gush of wind.
Is my decision entirely self-centered? If you took the previous paragraph out of context, so yeah. But not really. My company will benefit from my progression up the content ladder, though not directly. Because more doors opening for me, more writing opportunities for me, the repercussions will vibrate to my company. It’s the famous butterfly effect; the faint flapping of the enter key can result in a perfect Twitter storm.
That’s exactly why content marketing cannot be ROI-ed. Once things take off it’s impossible to track down leads or referrals and actually there isn’t really any need to. Top-brass need to treat content marketing in a more holistic way, to accept and embrace its illusive nature because all leads, MQLs and opportunities are, after all, people. And people are sometimes unpredictable, other times it takes them time to digest and reach decisions and as my favorite paid media guy says, “sometimes people are just not in the mood to convert.”
Just because webinar registration produces phone numbers and PPC ads produce nice looking graphs on Google Analytics doesn’t mean they are more effective than an article, especially not in the long run. Content lives forever and a good, solid piece of evergreen content can carry its weight against any paid campaign, any day of the week.
When I started in this content marketing business I kept seeing articles and posts by this skinny bald guy with an awkward smile. So I did a Google search about the guy and this is how I learned about KissMetrics, QuickSprout and CrazyEgg.
I also first knew Larry Kim before learning about WordStream, Lee Oden before TopRank, Jay Baer before Convince&Convert. I can go on, but you get it.
In this personal-brand online world we live in, or work in, a content star is probably the most valuable asset a company can have. These names here above are fine examples to this. I almost want to say that it’s like what Tom Cruise is to Scientology but it doesn’t feel right for some reason. The amount of exposure and traction the content stars generate for their companies is incredible and worth tons of money. Who wouldn’t want to hire the company that Seth Godin (the first content star) works for? (Actually Godin doesn’t work as a marketing consultant any more.) Or who wouldn’t want to be in the room with Gary Vay-ner-chuck?
Nobody watched the first 100 episodes of Vaynerchuck’s Wine Library TV. I’m sure people in his family wine business told him it’s a waste of time and money and that he could do more important tasks with his time. But he didn’t listen, and he did a 1000 episodes, one every day for more than two and half years. Now he runs, he is, an empire. And he still produces more content than most marketing departments.
And can’t mention Vaynerchuck without mentioning his most famous line. As the story goes, Vaynerchuck was “being grilled by a very conservative CMO about the ROI of social media.” That was back in 2011, the first days of Vaynermedia, he was trying to get their Twitter account. Being pushed for metrics, he finally shot at her, “What’s the ROI of your mother?” Although crudely phrased, it is a profound point. As he himself explained, you cannot put a number on the encouragement and care your mother provided you or link it directly to a deal you closed twenty-three years after she consulted you in a critical junction of your childhood that injected you with confidence.
Some things just work, for better or worse.
Content works in mysterious ways. No point in trying to tame it, to contain it, because if you try too hard to rein it in, it will lose that unexplainable quality that makes it shine. Just trust it. Believe in it. Let it lead the way and start looking for your own star.
Without a doubt we are. Content is overvalued, there’s too much of it and nobody really sees the whole picture. There is this wide-eyed admiration and breathless optimism for ‘content marketing’, but most stats tell us that we are still in the hunch phase. But that’s OK. Because once the bubble collapses – and it will – it’ll pave the way to sensible, controlled and grounded content marketing.
A lot of folks will get hurt when the bubble collapses, and that’s unfortunate, but it is an essential step in the way to a realistic and measured content marketing landscape. Only after content marketing falls flat on its face will it be able to mature and become all that it can be. You need to have your heart broken once in order to experience true love.
To wrap up on a more positive note, we should remember that content has shaped the internet. What is the internet if not content? The storytelling of around the bonfire and next to a child’s bed has morphed into a global phenomena of constant content creation. The force of storytelling has been unleashed in all of us, and marketing aside, that’s pretty incredible.
Assaf Dudai is the Head of Content of BrightInfo, a real-time personalization engine that analyzes website visitor behavior and serves relevant content at suitable points within the natural browsing flow.