The fastest route to success requires lateral thinking.

1. Most of us understand that the world of marketing has changed—B2B has gone digital. But, it hasn’t happened overnight. For most companies, it likely started with marketing automation software, a website makeover, Search Engine Optimization, Pay-per-click advertising, and Customer Relationship Management software. As marketers tried to get the most out of this new digital world they re-discovered the importance of content. Today, I think so many companies are trying to muscle their way to more productivity with content rather than reimagining how they use it. And that’s what we are going to talk about in this presentation…because you only have so much muscle, right? There are only so many hours in the day, dollars in the budget, and people on your staff, and while there are certainly productivity gains to be had through optimizing digital programs, leapfrogging your competition will require a new approach.

2. Author Shane Snow, co-founder of the content company Contently, wrote a book called Smart Cuts where he discusses the concept of lateral thinking where "…the fastest route to success is never traditional…”. Shane opens with a story… Imagine you are driving in a storm. Between the furor of the windshield wipers, you make out the figures of three people waving you down. You cautiously slow down and realize that one of them is a frail old woman, who looks on the verge of collapse. Another one is a friend who once saved your life. The third is the romantic interest of your dreams, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet him or her. You have only one other seat in the car. You have to choose. It’s a tough one. There is good reason to choose any one of them. So, who do you pick up? The old woman of course. Then give the car keys to your friend and stay behind with the romantic interest to wait for the bus! You see, the solution is almost always right in front of us but we have to think about things differently. Shane goes on to tell a real life story that bring it to life.

3. Shane recounts a story about when he was in college and he watched one of his classmates attempt to set the new world record for super Mario Brothers. The record had been sitting at 33 minutes for many years. But Shane’s classmates didn’t try to break the record the old-fashioned way with muscle. They didn’t sit for hours and hours playing the same way everyone else did only faster. Instead they found a shortcut. You see, there is something like eight worlds with four levels each and the player must successfully navigate each to get to the end. But these “hackers” found a shortcut. A back door. A different path that let them simply skip most of the game and jump to the end and set a new world record of just 6 minutes. That’s more than five times faster! Now, you may say that’s cheating. But is it? These guys didn’t go in and re-write the code, they were simply playing the game as it was, not how the world wanted it to be. So what does this have to do with content marketing?

4. Well, let’s go back in time a bit. Most of us remember a day when sales reps used to be able to generate their own leads. It's not that buyers ever wanted to talk to sales reps, but it was the only way they could learn about best practices and solutions available in the market. And it was Marketing's job to create awareness with one-to-many mediums like trade shows and advertising. But, a well-trained talented sales rep could easily fill her calendar with new opportunities using the phone, knocking on doors, and asking for referrals. But, the world changed and the internet crushed sales ability to generate their own leads.

5. The game has changed. While most of us think we have also changed by going digital and producing lots of content, we may be still trying to solve the problem with muscle alone. As most of you have learned, creating content isn’t cheap or easy. Maybe you’ve produced a white paper or two and generated some good leads, sustaining marketing success in this world requires reimagining how to play the game. Because, if you’re not the market leader, there’s not enough muscle to go around. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with tactical hand to mouth lead-generation with great content. But if you want to become the market leader and dominate your space, you’re going to have to change your approach because there are so only so many emails, tweets, and posts you can do before hitting diminishing returns on each tactic.

6.So how do you go beyond lead generation to domination? You have to be seen as the go-to source for valuable information in your marketplace. That may mean a blog, a magazine, a podcast series, or a YouTube channel, etc. Regardless of the channel and the medium however, you must be the trusted source in your industry where people come to you and keep coming back to you to stay informed and at the top of their game. Let’s do some simple math and see why this is true.

7. Let’s say for example that you sell enterprise software to businesses and because of the large investment, most companies stay with their current vendor least five years before making major changes. That means one in five years, 20%, companies in your space are potentially in the market for new vendor. But the time that they’re actually in the market is shorter. Sure, there are individuals inside the company that may always have an interest in their keeping 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 generally last quarter of the year, that would suggest about 5% of your target market is in the market in any given time. I don’t care if it’s email, social media, cold calling, or direct mail… Any of these methods are going to have relatively low response rates. So, for example, a 1% click through rate on an email campaign multiplied by the 5% of companies shopping in your market give you five 100’ths of a percent chance of catching some in the market with that email blast. That’s not good odds and here in lies the mistake of trying to use more muscle because the tendency is to then send more email, more tweets, and more posts—all resulting in more noise. Sure, you may be generating some leads for your sales team, but unless you’ve developed an audience who relies upon you for information and wants to receive all that information, you are likely fatiguing your market.

8. Lead-gen math 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. Media math is different. 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. Now, I know that I took a pretty hard shot at lead generation on the previous slide but the reality is we all need leads. It’s just that the math is bad. Companies who are successful at reinventing themselves is media companies and staying engaged with their marketplace year-round are in a much better position to be part of the conversation when those prospects are in fact in buying mode. Let’s look at an example we can all relate to.

9. If you’re in the credit card business, what’s the old fashion way to be come a market leader? Know if you’re big enough and have lots of muscle, you can spend millions on TV ads and direct response marketing. By the way, we won’t labor the point, but do the math on sending hundreds of thousands of direct mail pieces saying “you’re pre-approved” and calculate your cost per lead on that! Wow, that takes a lot of muscle to get in front of prospects, most of which are not even in the market.

10. Let’s take a look at what American Express is doing to engage it’s buyers. Or should I say, it’s potential buyers. AMEX has developed the media property called OpenForum which is a CEO Boot Camp designed to help women business owners. This site is a collection of articles, videos, and guides to help women entrepreneurs succeed in their business. You can see this media property clearly markets to a specific persona creating content on specific departmental topics that are tangential but not directly related to the benefits of their products. The content they produce is in multiple formats that can be easily shared so all channel and medium preferences are dressed. Behaving like a media company, AMEX is able to use digital distribution channels like email, social, and search to find and keep women entrepreneurs engaged with their brand so long as their content is good enough to help those women be more successful in their businesses. Now that is a different approach to marketing that has long shelf life and value. Compare that to a direct mail piece that either gets acted upon or thrown in the trash—Much like an email that either generates a response or falls below the fold in the inbox never to be seen again. 

11. And none of this means AMEX doesn’t still monetize the value of this audience by selling cards. They do and will talk about that next.

12. OK so where do we begin? It all starts with your audience.

13. We all know the expression “if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, doesn’t make a sound?” Well you could ask the same of content. Just because you wrote a great white paper or produced a killer video doesn’t mean anybody is going to see it. So the first thing you need to ask yourself is NOT what content should I build and what channels should we use to distribute, but rather you should ask where do my prospects congregate digitally?

14. Once you find where they live digitally, you need to make some decisions about the type of content you’re going to produce and how frequently will publish. For example, I occasionally watch CNBC in the mornings, read the Wall Street Journal, and devour every book Michael Lewis writes. I don’t expect the same level of analysis on high frequency stock trading from Squawk Box on CNBC in the morning as I do the Wall Street Journal. Just as I expected, and got, a much deeper dive in Michael Lewis’ book Flash Boys. I consider all three of these to be great sources of content and each publisher has trained me what to expect form them. Now, I assume most of you aren't considering starting a news channel, a daily paper, or writing a book, but 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 your audience 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.

15. Stay with me for a sec…I know Redbull is a Business to consumer company but I think us B2B marketers can learn a lot from the trends in B2C. Now, this is a screenshot from their homepage. Note that you don’t see a can of Redbull on the homepage and a menu system that leads you to learn about the drinks features and benefits or the different ways you can use the product. Nope, they are clearly focusing on their audience first. In fact, the main menu system is focused on audience in the form of buying personas and each of those pages focus on pretty awesome content those personas like to consume. In the case of Redbull, their audience loves video. Especially extreme video. It’s no accident that they put the audience first on their website and you have to strain your eyes to the upper right corner to get to product information.

16. In fact, Redbull has gone so far as to develop a company called Redbull Media House, and when you take a look at all of the types of content and volume of content they produce for Redbull to build and engage its audience, it’s pretty remarkable. Here’s the punch-line that I hope you take away from this for part of our discussion: Content marketing for lead generation is not an event, it’s a process. It’s a continuous process of finding, engaging, and building an audience that you can later monetize. 

17. Recently, our own Content Strategist Jason Myers interviewed Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as our feature article in the current issue of our online magazine: The B2B Content Enterprise. I think Sree said it best.. “If you’re going to be a media organization, then you have to behave like one,” he explains. “The digital experience must be so good that people want to stay connected to your emails and come to the museum. You have to think like your audience and participate in the conversation—that’s why being social is so important.” Sree believes that many organizations have a false notion that they can simply buy an audience by spending a few hundred dollars for tens of thousands of followers. “The problem [with that approach] is that they’re not real, and they disappear. You have to build your audience one person at a time, and you keep them one person at a time.” He said “I’d gladly trade lots of audience for influence—because that’s what marketing is. I invite each of you to check out the article and watch the interview on our website.

18. OK, so now you’ve built an audience how do you monetize your investment? This is where B2B marketers need to depart slightly from the traditional media company play. Let’s look at a couple examples.

19. First, let’s take a look at HR.com. HR.com is the largest social networking site dedicated to human resources professionals and they offer members access to articles, case studies, newsletters, polls, discussion forums, blogs, webcasts and other features. Interestingly, the majority of their content is community generated—not a bad way to reduce your production costs! Well, as soon as you land on their homepage you’re welcome to do with this grading that tells you right away how successful they’ve been the building and audience of over 1 million HR professionals.

20. And as you drill into their site, you quickly see that their financial model is the same as most other traditional media companies. They build their audience with tons of great content and resources and then monetize that audience with events and advertising.

21. So let’s take a look at a B2B example. Valin Industries is actually a Sales Engine client. While they have not gone as far as Redbull by putting media before product on the homepage, they have a clear focus on generating audience and then monetizing that audience through regeneration. As you can see under their resources menu, they have built an impressive library of content including traditional assets like case studies in white papers but also their own University.

22. They produce multimedia content in the form a blog posts that combine written long-form, visual, and video content. And they promote these posts through search, social, and email as they build a subscriber base just like any online media outlet would do. What makes Valin and other B2B’s different is how they monetize this content investment. Most business-to-business organizations need to feed a sales team with highly qualified prospects. By focusing on great content that is all about the high probability pains their prospects face and not so much about Valin’s products, they’re successful in building audience, and then by offering high-value gated assets, they are able to convert much of this anonymous traffic into qualified leads for the sales team.

23. I’m not bashing traditional content marketing to be used as lead generation… We do it every day there’s nothing wrong with that. But, if you really want to be the market leader and dominate your space you’re going to need a different approach because not everyone in your market 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 become a media company. Once you've chosen the channels and medium your audience prefers, publishing promote great "campaign content" that entertains and engages them year round. Then, high-value “conversion content” like white papers and case studies are great way to convert and monetize that audience.

24. One slide on Sales Engine Media— This is essentially what we do for companies. We develop content for our clients and use inbound and outbound campaigns to build, engage, and grow their audience. If you are a mature digital marketing organization and only need help with developing content assets, we can do that. If you’re like most companies and no you need to do this type of marketing but just don’t have the resources or expertise we can run an end and program. Or, if you really want to dominate your space we could develop a custom on my magazine to present to you is the market leader.

B2B Marketing Zone