Brawn vs. Brains: Shifting Your Content Strategy for a Noisy World

If you’re like me, I’m sure you get more than your share of daily emails, articles, webinar invites, and more from lists that you’ve subscribed to (and some that you haven’t).

I like the content from these companies, but there’s just no way that I can read that much stuff. So I end up scanning the headlines, reading only what’s highly appropriate—and I delete the rest.

Kevin Anderson at the Media Briefing refers to this overload as Peak Content. Right in his introduction, he lays out that:

“For a long time, we’ve been creating too much content, so much so that I think that we’ve already reached Peak Content, the point at which this glut of things to read, watch and listen to becomes completely unsustainable.”

To say that we’re operating in a noisy environment is an understatement. Even though this article talks mostly about media companies, the same can be applied to B2B content marketers: We’re simply putting out too much content for our prospects to consume—and the more we produce, the less engagement we actually have.

Of course, this phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by the giants in content marketing, as this recent research by Moz indicates. They recently set up an experiment where they adjusted their publishing volumes by half the amount of content and then doubled it, both for a two-week period against their normal benchmark, to see what would happen to engagement and lead generation. Here are my biggest take aways:

  1. Doubling the publishing volume did, on average, absolutely nothing to the number of unique page views.
  2. Engagement thins as volume grows. In other words, the more they published, the pickier their audience became regarding the posts that they read

It sounds like a strong argument for quality over quantity, right? 

Unfortunately it’s not that simple, either. Just because you wrote a great white paper or produced a killer video doesn’t mean anybody is going to see it: “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” 

Is Quality Versus Quantity the Wrong Question to Be Asking?

Here’s what I know for sure: every time I put out the basic how-to articles and listicle articles, I generate some leads for our sales team. This used to work more effectively when there was less noise, but because it still works, we’ll keep doing it. 

But given our limited resources, I simply can’t put out as much content as my competitors.

I believe the answer lies in understanding the difference between “lead-generation math” and “media math.”

Lead-generation looks at how many times you must interrupt your prospects in the hope of making a connection with those few who are actually in the market. 

In other words, when I send out a campaign, how many leads did it generate? How many leads come through organic search, pay-per-click, etc.? 

Most B2B marketers understand how this is calculated, but the problem is that the odds of you catching a prospect at the right time as they happen to be shopping for a solution are poor. Very poor—like 0.05%.

Of course, marketers love to use other metrics, such as increase traffic and page views, because they look a lot better on paper—but if they aren’t converting into leads, they’re not helping to increase revenue. 

To illustrate what I mean, let’s say that you sell an enterprise software solution to businesses. It’s a large investment, and because of that, the companies in your space tend to stay with their current vendor for at least five years before making a major change.

That means that in any given year, one in five (20%) of the target companies in your space are potentially in the market for a new vendor. 

However, the time that they’re in the market is actually shorter. Sure, there are individuals inside the company that may always have an interest in keeping themselves informed about the market, but the real due diligence of an evaluation may only take about 90 days, or one quarter of the year.

So, if companies are in the market one in five years, but evaluations only last one quarter of the year, that would suggest only 5% of your target market is in the market at any given time. 

Regardless of whether you’re using email, social media, cold calling, or direct mail, all of these communication methods are going to have relatively low response rates. 

So if you expect a 1% click-through rate on an email campaign, when multiplied by the 5% of companies shopping in your market, that yields you a five 100ths of a percent chance of catching someone in the market with that email blast. 

Even worse—the odds are decreasing as our already noisy environment gets even noisier. 

Sure, you may be generating some leads for your sales team, but unless you’ve developed an audience who relies on you for information and wants to receive all that information, you are likely fatiguing your market.

It’s All About Your Audience

Earlier this month, we published an article about Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, called: “What Can a B2B Marketer Learn From a 150-Year-Old Museum?”

Sreenivasan instructs B2B companies that, regardless of size and resources, it all comes down to building an engaged audience and reaching the influencers within it. 

He further notes that most companies have run into problems when they buy audiences because:

"They’re not real, and they’ll disappear. You have to build your audience one person at a time, and you keep them one person at a time. I’d gladly trade lots of audience for influence—because that’s what marketing is. It’s not that you are just trying to get a thousand people to read your email. It is rather trying to get 30 [of the right] people to read your email. The digital experience must be so good that people want to stay connected to your content."

So the first thing you need to ask yourself is NOT what content should I build and what channels should we use to distribute? Instead, ask:

  • Where do my prospects congregate digitally?
  • What issues do they really care about and how can we generate media that engages them?
  • Who are your influencers and how can we generate content that is so good that they will want to forward it?

Use Media Math to Calculate Results

Assuming that most of you aren't considering starting a news channel, a daily paper, or writing a book, the message is the same to B2B marketers: Focus on developing an audience and give them the type of content they want, at the frequency they want, on the platform or channel they want, and you can train them on what to expect from you. 

A 24-hour news program likely has more resources to produce more content that will develop a larger audience—but in B2B, you likely don’t need to generate an audience of millions. You probably need only a few thousand (or even just a few hundred) of “the right prospects” engaged with your brand.

So if you’ve been producing content in the form of blogs, white papers, and infographics, it’s a fairly easy transition to take some cues from the basic structure of a business magazine.

A typical business magazine is going to contain feature articles with in-depth commentary and department articles that serve as the how-tos and listicles, so it serves both masters. The difference is in the packaging; with an elevated level of content in the feature articles, you’ll engage with new audiences over time.

Companies that are successful in reinventing their content marketing as media companies are staying engaged with their marketplace year-round because they’re putting the audience first. They provide content that acquires new audiences, keeps them engaged and coming back for more, and they’re in a much better position to be part of the conversation when those prospects are in buying mode. 

In media math, 100% of the companies in your market are either in buying mode or they’re not. 100% of those companies have goals and challenges that must be met, and 100% of those companies have employees trying to achieve those goals, trying to solve those challenges, and acting in their own self-interest trying to advance their own careers. 

Let’s look at an example we can all relate to.

For years, the credit card industry has spent a lot of money on direct mail and advertising. I’m sure you get the pre-approved letters all the time—I certainly do. 

Using lead-generation math, try calculating a cost per lead on sending hundreds of thousands of direct mail pieces saying “You’re pre-approved!” 

That takes a lot of muscle to get in front of prospects, most of whom are not even in the market.

Conversely, look at what American Express has done to engage its buyers (or potential buyers). 

AMEX developed a media property called Open Forum, which is a CEO Boot Camp designed to help business owners. This site is a collection of articles, videos, and guides to help entrepreneurs succeed in their business. 

You can see that this media property clearly markets to a specific persona, creating content on specific departmental topics that are tangential to the benefits of their products. 

The content they produce is in multiple formats that can easily be shared, so all channel and medium preferences are dressed. 

Because they’re behaving like a media company, AMEX is able to use digital distribution channels like email, social, and search to find and keep entrepreneurs engaged with their brand so long as their content is good enough to help those women be more successful in their businesses. 

This is a whole different approach to marketing that has a long shelf life and adds value at every turn. Compare that to a direct mail piece that either gets acted upon or thrown in the trash (much like our email campaigns that either generate a response or not) and you can clearly see the difference between lead-generation math and media math. 

It doesn’t mean that AMEX doesn’t monetize the value of this audience by selling cards. Of course they do—through advertising and high-value gated content that converts.

I’m not bashing traditional content marketing to be used as lead generation. We do it every day and there’s nothing wrong with it, except that the returns are going to continue to diminish because of the sheer volume of noise being created, coupled with the fact that not everyone in your market is shopping right now. 

If you really want to be the market leader, you will need to find a way to engage all prospects before, during, and after the sales process. In short, you need to behave like a media company by choosing the channels and medium your audience prefers, publishing and promoting content that entertains and engages with them year-round. 

Then, by offering high-value “conversion content” like white papers and case studies, you can monetize your audience in the form of sales conversations.

B2B Marketing Zone