7 Pitfalls Where Content Marketing Can Fall Apart for B2B Marketers


Multiple surveys show the majority of businesses say they are doing content marketing. Many say they plan to increase the budget for it.

Generally speaking, I think this all good and smart.

Content marketing isn’t fast, and it’s not magic, but it does work. It also complements so many other aspects of marketing. Robert Rose has likened content marketing to butter: you wouldn’t eat it by the spoon, but it spread it on almost everything else and those things taste better.

Still, there are pitfalls too. Have implemented content marketing programs – both on the in-house side and agency side – I can tell you these pitfalls stem from what people think they know. Too many confuse content marketing with marketing content.

“Marketing has always done content marketing,” they’ll say.

No. No, you haven’t.

You’ve made content and blasted it all over the web hoping for a download and email address. That might work and it can be effective, but it is not content marketing. It’s not the same thing.

Content marketing is publishing content, at the same place, at the same time, consistently over time, in order to build an audience that knows, likes and trusts your company because you help them. Some of them will become customers that stick.

If that sounds like a useful goal for your business, here are seven pitfalls to avoid.

1) You don’t have a subscription mechanism.

To be successful, you must build subscribers. Visitors are a good indication, but email subscribers are best.

Research shows B2B organizations spend an average of $150 for every email address they capture. I have known businesses that spend a lot more than that. Most of them do this with gated content and in a bit of sleight of hand, pass that captured email off to an SDR to follow up.

Given the long sales cycle of B2B, this is what I call going from hello-to-marriage-proposal in a white paper download. They wanted the idea in the white paper; they aren’t interested in the product when they are just getting the idea. Subscriptions are nurture stream – it’s the marketing in the middle between the first touch and last touch attribution.

It’s measurable too. Measurement isn’t on this list, but if you start by counting email subscribers as the key metric, you’ll have the ability to measure value, and the capacity to do it retrospectively. You’ll even be able to see omnichannel touches.

Content marketing is its own channel. You can run a campaign inside a content marketing program, but content marketing is not a campaign.

2) You don’t treat content marketing as its own channel.

For many B2B marketing shops, content marketing just means putting stuff up on a website under the blog section. Next, they are faced with deciding what content they are going to send via email. In other words, they must choose between sending that well-researched blog post to the company email list or that demand generation email.

Guess which one wins?

It doesn’t have to be that way, and it shouldn’t be that way. In recent words of a smart client, content marketing “it’s its own thing.” People subscribe to the content and they get it automatically every time it’s posted.

That’s is the essence of a subscription. That’s why for a hundred years paperboys and papergirls delivered daily newspapers to your doorstep by 6:00 a.m.

It’s also why you need to be deliberate about the content you produce. Instead of passing those email addresses off to an SDR, you should continue to nurture your audience, build trust and weave in well-considered opportunities for an audience member to raise their hand.

Content marketing is its own channel. You can run a campaign inside a content marketing program, but content marketing is not a campaign.

harshahars / Pixabay

3) You have too many lead forms.

The pressure for leads in marketing forces short-sighted goals. This means a B2B marketing shop that starts a new blog, is under immediate pressure to demonstrate lead results.

In response, they fill it up with lead forms. If you’re going to just slap the introduction to a white paper up as a blog post with a lead form, save yourself the effort and forget the blog and just make the lead form.

Look, I understand the pressure marketing shops face to produce leads. It’s an impossible situation when you’re negotiating with a business leader that needs a class to understand the difference between PPC and organic search results. I’ve been there more than once and it’s not fun.

If you’re in that position, I recommend skipping the half-hearted content marketing effort and just focus on getting really good at running campaigns with lead forms, email marketing and PPC.

To be clear, every marketing shop probably needs some manifestation of that campaign-style program, but content marketing isn’t the place for it. Content marketing is a strategic communications program that can produce leads, but how you do that has to be subordinate to the audience building goals if you want the program to be successful.

4) Your content marketing is organized around a product.

Benefits not features, right? That’s what pragmatic marketing taught us and it’s a valid approach, but it doesn’t belong in content marketing.

Too many B2B organizations try to organize content around product benefits and it pigeonholes the content into stuff nobody wants to read. Think about it for a moment: it’s really hard to create a publication around the benefits of a product because you run out of interesting things to say very quickly.

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Instead, take it up a level, think about the things on the minds of your target audience, and then organize your content around those categories. If you look for the questions they have, you’ll wind up with an infinite number of ways to tacitly weave the benefits of your product in a manner that is useful and relevant to your community.

5) You don’t promote your product enough.

What?! I know. You just read 700 words where I’m telling you to go easy on the product plugs, and now it seems like I’m going 180 degrees the other way. I often say there’s a nuance to content marketing that matters, and that’s true here too, so hear me out.

A few months back a relatively mature startup doing some cool things in IoT and corporate real estate approached me for a proposal. The young man leading up content marketing was a former journalist, and the content he had been producing was exceptional with one big glaring omission: relevancy to the product.

The guy was a fantastic writer. His stuff was interesting and well-researched. He published on a deadline and did it consistently. The problem was, most of it wasn’t even remotely related to his product or industry. So, while he’s probably building an audience, it was an audience that had zero potential to become a customer.

I’m a big believer in being agnostic and vender-neutral, but content marketing in B2B isn’t a benevolent exercise in goodwill either. We do this to build an audience of likely customers, and to earn a reputation for a smart, factual, and relevant point of view that customers and prospects find useful.

Your product has a place in the content marketing program but be smart about it.

6) You don’t have the right players involved.

Research shows content marketing is often a responsibility assigned to one person. While those people generally come with a work ethic that exceeds their salary, the chances of success are slim.

Moreover, you need more than just a writer or editor, you need a team with a vested interest in growing this thing. You need digital advertising for PPC and social ads. Remember those emails you’ve been collecting with subscriptions? It’s a treasure trove for remarketing.

You need creatives to bring flair and polish. You need a truly technical SEO (not the snake oil variety that’s rampant in SEO). You need corporate communications, sales operations, product marketers, product managers, and business leaders.

Finally, you need marketing leaders that truly understand content marketing, its value, and are willing to commit to the vision and support the decisions of whoever they’ve assigned to lead the program. Or marketing leaders that admit they don’t, are willing to learn and in the meantime, get out of your way and let you do your job.

meineresterampe / Pixabay

7) You don’t publish content consistently.

You’ve probably heard this one before but for years there’s been a whole pile of research that demonstrates people that are successful with content marketing are consistent. I’m going to try to explain why this matters differently.

If you publish on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, and then skip two weeks and publish four more posts in a row, you are not being consistent. What you are doing is taking a bunch of stutter steps and the data shows your content marketing program will dither along on in mediocrity.

Why is consistency so important? There are two primary reasons.

First, it conditions your marketing organization to establish a tempo that can hit a deadline repeatedly. It’s like taking the whole team to the gym – it’s hard at first and your team tires easily. However, over time, they get stronger and build endurance. Discipline in content marketing will benefit your marketing organization in many more ways than just building an audience.

Second, it conditions your audience to expect the content, and to expect content they can trust and use. There are elements of consistency to any successful relationship, whether it’s personal or professional. It’s true with pets. It’s true with people. And it’s true for organizations.

If your organization truly wants to build relationships with prospects and customers, be consistent with your content marketing.

What about “Good” Content?

Everyone has heard content has to be good to attract an audience and that’s true. What’s also true is that what precisely constitutes good content is highly subjective.

It’s your job to figure out what your audience thinks is good content. This is an exercise that occurs over months and years. It requires the synthesis of data, trends and intuition.

You also have to be careful because tastes change over time. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, it changes.

To me, this is a good argument for producing content at higher volumes. You must experiment and try a lot of different things to find what works. If you don’t publish often, you just don’t have enough tries to make the experiment work.

Note: A version of this post was previously published on Sword and the Script: 7 Reasons Your B2B Content Marketing Program Fails to Deliver that You Probably Haven’t Heard Before

Featured image credit: Pixabay



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