The purpose of content marketing is twofold: to build your brand by engaging your target audience, and to capture their contact information so you can sell to them later on.
While the types of content used to do this are varied, the most common and easiest way to start a lead generation initiative is with editorial content. Here I present strategy for editorial creation and distribution designed to build a mailing list and build brand equity.
It can be as simple as publishing a blog article on your company’s website. At its most sophisticated, it can be a print publication like a magazine or quarterly journal. Whatever the medium, the fundamental concept underlying this process of content creation and distribution is that if you publish high quality content, your target audience will give you their contact details (and potentially other information) in order to access it. And if you have their details, you can build a mailing list, and if you have mailing list, then you can sell your product or service effectively.
TYPES OF EDITORIAL CONTENT
Editorial content serves to inform, educate or entertain. Crucially, it doesn’t attempt to sell anything, at least not directly. If we can create excellent content that informs, educates or entertains our target clientele, we build brand equity and trust, so when it comes to selling to our audience, we have an excellent opportunity to convert them into customers.
GETTING PEOPLE’S CONTACT DETAILS
The details we want, at a minimum, are name and email address. Ideally, we also want phone numbers (because SMS marketing is becoming important) and for B2B, we want their job title and the company they work for.
Newsletter signup: If you have a blog, you typically collect people’s details via a newsletter sign up form.
Research report/white paper: If you have research report, you can make it a gated download on your site whereby your user enters details into a form and then they receive an email with the PDF report or it downloads automatically.
Site registration: If you have, for example, a content library with different kinds of useful resources like templates, forums, guides, webinars, eLearning modules etc., you can gate all this behind a membership wall. When they register, you collect their contact information. For high quality content offerings like this you can ask for more details than just name and email, like phone number, physical address, company, job title etc. This is end game for content marketing because the engagement level is very high, and you can collect more information about your prospects which means targeted more marketing.
THE THREE TYPES OF CONTENT MARKETING FOR B2B
Broadly, there are three approaches to publishing content for B2B lead generation:
1 – Create a LinkedIn article or posting on social media: You gain visibility and credibility in your network and gain low-level engagement through likes and comments. This is an ideal way to start a content marketing initiative and build a brand with no marketing budget but the return on this is limited. You’re not directly converting anybody and you’re not getting any active opt-in leads for your mailing list, although you can export the emails of your connections into your mailing list.
2 – Publishing on a website and promoting on social media: Here we publish an article on our site and promote on social media channels. We get people to click the article link on the post and click through to read it on our site. This is far superior to option 1 because they’re being exposed to the branding of our site and if the quality is high, we are building brand equity. We can capture leads through newsletter sign up forms or gated content and start building our mailing list.
3 – Private networks: These are members only areas like forums and subscription services where people have to register to access whatever resources lie behind the registration wall. This is the best way to earn brand equity and generate high quality leads.
As content marketers we should all aim for option 2, creating content and distributing via social media and getting people onto our site. But we should, in time, go beyond this by providing more ways for our target audience to find out content. We can do this via:
- Paid ads like Google ads
- Content syndication
SEO: Assuming you’ve shared your content on social media, the first and most straightforward way to expand your content’s reach is to optimize your content for search engines. This requires implementing on-page SE0 which is simply indexing the page by having your keywords in your headings, the body text, meta description etc. You also need to do some keyword research using tools like Keyword Keg or SEMrush to know what keywords your audience is searching for and to identify keywords with low keyword difficulty (these are keywords not overly targeted by your competitors). If you make on-page SEO part of your publishing process and publish content that people are searching for, you have a good chance of driving organic traffic which means more people to sign up to your newsletter.
Content syndication: The next step is syndication, where your article appears on syndicated network of third-party websites to people who have indicated an interest in your subject matter. This is a good way to get your content in front of people not known to you on social media platforms and who are not finding you through Google. The downside is that it is expensive. The biggest content syndication platforms are Taboola and Outbrain.
Google ads: We typically think of Google Ads pointing to a landing page where we want the customer to convert right there and then, or if not, shortly afterwards. In B2B, of course, this doesn’t happen. What we can do is, instead of advertising our actual product or service, is advertise a high-quality piece of content like a research report. The Google user clicks the ad, arrives at a gated landing page, they input their details, and they get the download. That lead can then be nurtured with more content, phone calls etc.
You don’t need to do all of these – in fact it’ll be a challenge to manage all these different channels. I suggest focusing on building networks on social media and implementing best practices for on-page SEO first. You may find this all you need to start generating leads.
EVERY COMPANY NEEDS TO BE A PUBLISHER
Everybody in marketing has heard this maxim but few people seem to understand what it really means to be a publisher and how to go about it. When companies create and promote content we are publishing much in the same way news outlets like CNN and The Wall Street Journal and countless niche publications do. Why then don’t we seek to replicate these high-quality publications? For this we need to commit to quality content creation for the sake quality content – not just seeing it as means to get leads.
Of course, you’re probably not going to create the next Washington Post, but you can create a serious, well-regarded publication with high quality content that meets the needs of your target clientele. This allows us to go from pointing people on social media to our site to people accessing the site directly because they know you’re a provider of excellent content.
This means that wherever you publish your content has to look and feel like a real publication, not just some articles hosted on your site on a www.mysite.com/blog url. It needs its own name and identity and its own domain to separate it from your main, commercial site. That’s not to say you can’t have your branding on the site (you should) or that you can’t promote your product or service on the site (you can), but we must understand that you will never succeed in building a genuine editorial audience if the vehicle publishing it is seen as a commercial entity. An independent site separated from your commercial site that delivers high quality content and captures leads via newsletter sign ups and gated content is a recipe for success. It builds credibility for your brand and can be a real lead generation machine. This is a great opportunity that is missed by so many B2B companies.
CREATING CONTENT YOUR AUDIENCE WANTS
Effective content marketing requires knowing what problems your target clients want to solve and this can vary enormously according to the field you’re in. For example, I lead marketing at a provider of training, certification and consultancy in the supply chain management space. Our target clients are companies looking to train their staff and get help improving their supply chains. These people want to know how to do their jobs better with best practices; they want to know what developments are happening in their field; and they want to know how to succeed in their career.
We decided that a website dedicated to educational content about supply chain processes and methodologies would work well. They could use this practical information in their organizations and do their jobs better. In order to understand the topics to publish, I spent time on LinkedIn groups looking at what people are talking about. I did keyword research to see what they’re searching for, and I spoke to people in the field and asked what kind of content they wanted but couldn’t find. I also completed my company’s own certification to get an understanding of what people do in their jobs. By publishing just one article a week, we were able to generate 300 newsletter signups a month.
THE POWER OF PRINT
If credibility is key to building brand equity, then nothing beats a print publication. After the mass culling of print publications as publishers went online, there lies an excellent opportunity in creating print publications targeting your desired clientele.
Whether it’s an industry magazine or trade journal, the most passionate people in your niche will lap it up. Here we can exploit a sense of tribalism; people want to be part of a club and a subscription-based publication (even a free one) is a great way to tap into that sentiment. A high-quality print publication creates an aura of prestige around your company and establishes it as a leader in the field.
At the core of these initiatives lies a purely commercial motive: getting leads to sell a product or service. But we must commit to the process of creating genuinely valuable content and if you’re content marketer, you need to be comfortable having one foot in the editorial world and one foot in the digital marketing world.
By publishing high quality content and finding an audience for it across different channels, we not only generate leads effectively, we can do wonders for our brand which makes it a lot easier for our colleagues in sales to convert them from a reader to a customer. There is no greater sales tool than an excellent brand.