Recently, it was in the news that a Russian telescope had detected an unusual radio signal coming from somewhere in space, about 100 light years away. So far, scientists at the SETI Institute don’t know what to make of the signal, nor have they detected any more messages. Presumably, if the signal has a sender, they’re similarly in the dark, wondering if anyone is listening.
Content marketing has become a lot like sending signals into space. Marketers send out a continuous stream of messages, hoping that those signals will eventually be detected, interpreted as they intend (and not as an invitation to drop by and annihilate us!) by lifeforms that are developed enough to have the capability to respond. That’s leaving a lot to chance.
As a B2B marketer, you do have it a little easier than SETI. At least, your targets are our fellow Earthlings. You also have tools and surface metrics that let you know whether your message has been detected (Did they click? Success!). And you know your audience is capable of responding. In fact, you are counting on them to fill out those forms you love so much! However, you are still leaving to chance a large span of time in between the ‘send’ and the return ping.
Even if you do get a ping, what happens after someone clicks can be a black hole: Did the person read your content or is it languishing in their download folder? You might say that, today, most marketers’ telescopes only see so far, and this might account for why only 42% of B2B marketers reported that they were effective in their content marketing.
To better understand what’s happening with your content while it’s in the ether, you need to break your content marketing down into more bits and pieces to find areas where you can improve. If not, you may be leaving a lot of engagement – and business! – out there floating around. Here are three ways to optimize your content marketing to get your message across more effectively.
1. Feed Prospects the Right Food (for Thought)
A prospect at the beginning of the B2B buying journey needs different information than a prospect that is further along the path to becoming a customer. So if, for example, you serve up a diet of meaty white papers, data sheets and product-specific content too soon, that may be too much food for a prospective buyer just starting out. Similarly, infographics and cute explainer videos may not be filling enough to satisfy and sustain a prospect who is closing in on becoming a customer.
Ensure that you have a variety of content that is appropriate for each stage, otherwise you may be sending prospects off course, or leaving them stuck at a particular spot in their buying journey when you want them to progress to the next stage.
If that means you have a bunch of similar (but a little bit different!) versions of the same content, that’s ok (repurposing is good!). Don't assume that you can create one magical piece of content that resonates with everyone. Only cat videos can do that – even extraterrestrials like those!
How to: Map your content to stages of the funnel. A manageable starting point is to classify your content for Top, Middle and Bottom of the funnel, then tailor your message for each stage. The more stages you define, and the better you know your ideal buyer, the more effective your content will be.
2. Get a Quick Win
B2B companies spend $5.2B a year on content production – for companies with >250 employees, that’s 55% of their marketing budget. Developing great content is hard, costly and time-consuming, so creating even more of it to cater to every stage of the funnel, as well as all of your personas and market segments, can seem overwhelming.
But we're optimizing here, so the goal is not simply to have more, but to have more effective. Start small and choose one funnel stage to focus on first. Take a look at how your existing content is performing at this stage. Is there one thing that appears to be working better than the rest? Is there something that is not working at all?
Once you find a winner, leverage it. Hard. Promote it widely and often. As marketers, we often get tired of our own content too quickly. You have to remember that for new prospects who are just beginning their research, it’s all new and what was useful several months ago is still useful today.
How to: You spend too much on content not to measure its effectiveness and tweak for optimal results. When optimizing top-of-funnel content, resist the sales pitch. At this stage, your buyer wants to learn, not be sold.
3. Stop Living by Clicks and Downloads Alone
Find other ways to gauge whether your content is effectively communicating with your audience. We all love clicks, downloads and form fills because they are concrete evidence that a prospect did something, and the numbers look nice in reports and PowerPoint decks. The thing with numbers is that they can be misleading. Not all clicks are created equal, and they don’t give you a sense of whether or not a quality information exchange occurred: Did the person actually read the thing they clicked on or not?
Tools like Google Analytics can give you insight into time spent on pages and navigation paths. Other tools can tell you where people tended to click and scroll on your pages. Still other tools are available that tell you how much time visitors spent with each piece of content after they clicked.
How to: Add a metric for content engagement time to your arsenal of content marketing KPIs. Tweak or replace low performers with content that people want to spend time with!
The SETI scientists don’t have enough evidence (yet!) to identify the source of that mysterious signal and they won’t go so far as to suggest it was little green men and women. The mystery highlights the difficulty of interpreting signals. It’s a challenge marketers are very familiar with when they try to decode B2B buyers’ digital body language. Understanding how your prospects are consuming content and how much time and attention they’re spending with your various assets provides deeper insight into lead qualification and sales-readiness. While a click is a weak ping, time spent with your content sends a strong signal (one that’s easier to understand than a deep space message!) that someone out there is seriously paying attention.
Tara Cotter is a Customer Success Manager at LookBookHQ, drawing on her extensive experience as a B2B marketer to help her clients make marketing magic. An undergraduate elective in astronomy left Tara with more than a passing interest in the universe and the beings that may or may not inhabit it with us.