B2B web content used to serve a simple purpose – to tell potential customers what a company offers and provide contact details or a means for them to get in touch. Users would more often than not arrive at a site by typing in the domain from some form of print marketing collateral that arrived on their office desk or was picked up at a trade show, or by searching for a product or service online. Content was as simple and direct as possible and many marketers considered a short visit to be a good thing, as customers were obviously finding what they were looking for.
With the proliferation of digital technologies in the last decade, B2B buying behaviour has changed just as much as consumer behaviour. We now see B2B customers using the web to form opinions, educate themselves about products and services and inform every stage of the decision-making process – providing a great opportunity for companies to make sure their content influences this decision-making journey.
This is exactly why I find it quite surprising that according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2014 B2B Content Marketing research, only 35% of B2B marketers had a documented content strategy last year.
Perhaps one of the symptoms of this is that, although there seems to be a clear understanding of how effective content can be used to increase reach and drive traffic to a website, B2B marketers often neglect to put enough thought into where these potential customers go from there. After all, content (when it’s done well) plays a critical role not only in attracting attention, but in building trust, nurturing leads and converting them into customers.
Why a long journey isn’t always a bad thing
We recently developed and implemented an integrated communications project for a client in cloud-based services, who was keen to attract, identify and secure leads in this increasingly competitive market. Key to effectively taking the client’s proposition to market was a new website and content strategy, integrated with a marketing automation solution that encompasses behavioural tracking and scoring of potential leads, as well as email marketing and lead nurturing (more on marketing automation and lead scoring ). The client’s telemarketing partner was also able to view and share potential leads, allowing for more integrated and informed campaigning.
During one of our regular catch ups, a review of website user stats revealed an interesting phenomenon. Not only was average time on site gradually increasing, but lead tracking data showed that people made validating visits during sales calls from the telemarketing partner to find out more about the company. Actually, these visits were 3 or 4 times longer in duration than the actual sales call and often resulted in these leads returning to the website or contacting the company directly within a fortnight of this activity. Although the context is obviously a little different (!), J. R. R. Tolkien’s words resonate with me:
“Not all those who wander are lost”.
In actuality, many of these people were following pre-defined journeys, supported by content that was created specifically to engage with them at each stage of their relationship with the company and encourage conversion.
So what does this tell us? Well, it clearly demonstrates how relevant content can be an extremely powerful tool for holding the attention of a lead and also building the trust they need in order to progress their relationship with a company to the next stage.
The basics of effective content for lead nurturing
Get it right and content can be one of the most effective ways to build meaningful relationships with your leads and turn them into customers. In order to retain engagement and build trust, there are a number of basic attributes to consider.
Each piece of content should:
1. Serve a purpose (based on clear and established objectives)
2. Be relevant and offer value, based on a comprehensive understanding of the interests, needs and aspirations of your target audience
3. Be true to the nature of the company itself, by highlighting expertise and communicating differentiators
4. Be engaging and user friendly, so that it retains the user’s attention and can be easily consumed
6. Include clear signposting to encourage continuation of the journey (related content, call to actions, incentives)
However, it isn’t quite as easy as building your content and waiting for your leads to come knocking. This initial set up is only the first step…
Content that converts takes long-term commitment
Great content doesn’t just happen overnight. As well as being carefully planned, it needs to be constantly monitored and evaluated – and redeveloped on a regular basis – driven by behavioural analysis and improved target audience intelligence. It should evolve in parallel with the wants and needs of your potential customers. This is where getting to know your target audience even better is essential and there are three great ways to do this:
1. Analyse their behaviour
Leverage a combination of the analytics provided by marketing automation and Google to map how your leads interact with you across email, web and social. This allows you to assess how well your pre-defined customer journeys are working, as well as learning more about the kind of content they are most engaged with. Then you can optimise your content accordingly.
2. Provide incentives or rewards
One of the best ways to identify anonymous website users is to offer them an incentive in return for supplying you with their basic data. If a piece of content such as a white paper or guide is perceived as valuable enough to a potential customer, they will often happily fill in a short form in order to access it. As long as you make it clear to your potential customer what you are going to do with the data you acquire there’s nothing wrong with “gating” content in this way – it’s mutually beneficial for both parties.
3. Simply ask
We all know that the more data you can get, the more targeted and relevant your content can be, but there’s no need for data acquisition to be a covert operation. If you already have basic contact data on a potential customer, why not simply ask them to tell you more about their interests? Sometimes the only incentive they need in order to provide you with more data is the promise of more relevant content or promotions.
So as B2B buyers become increasingly demanding content consumers, it takes a lot more than a catchy blog headline or a fancy infographic to turn a prospect into a customer. Effective B2B content is a long-term commitment, but it is definitely worth the investment.
After all, what do you value more – views and shares, or conversion and sales?