If you wish to be a thought leader in your sector, you’ll need to think strategically about content marketing.

Consider this: Most B2B buyers conduct their own research before engaging with a select set of potential vendors. Moreover, it’s rare for a major B2B purchase to be decided upon by an individual buyer; instead, these purchases are often driven by consensus amongst members of a buying committee. Combined, these factors translate into a two-fold challenge for vendors:

  • Getting on the radar of potential buyers as they are creating a short list
  • Convincing and converting all those involved in the purchase process

From a survey of more than 6,000 B2B buyers, marketers and salespeople worldwide, LinkedIn found that “Buyers desire more expertise and consultation about the factors transforming their industries. Because making buying decisions is a team game involving many parts of the organization, vendors need to deliver the knowledge the buyers crave throughout the organizations they’re targeting.” In fact, the report suggests that “buyers value vendors who are subject matter experts and provide valuable consulting, education and tools to customers along the way.”Thought Leadership EngineLet Content Be Your Foot in the Door

Authoritative and insightful content is now critical to your demand gen and sales enablement efforts. In fact, the 2015 TechTarget Media Consumption Report found that members of B2B buying teams end up consuming multiple assets from the vendor they ultimately select.Thought Leadership Buying Team

Indeed, compelling content can help an organization:

  • Fuel marketing efforts by driving demand and generating leads
  • Build credibility in the marketplace that sets the stage for high-impact sales conversations
  • Close more, higher-value deals by establishing the firm as a market leader

But content for content’s sake won’t do the job. At the heart of content that delivers these results is a thought-leadership platform. This platform encompasses three key components:

  • Content development
  • Asset development
  • Audience development

 

Content Development: Putting the Foundation in Place

This component covers the various elements of content production . It encompasses the creation of raw material in the form of editorial and visual content. Content development  starts with documenting perspectives and  expertise, versioning and refinement, and designing templates for various content formats. It also includes the identification of relevant keywords, and designing campaigns and landing pages to promote the content.

As you can see from the various elements or modules that make up this stage, you’ll need to call upon people from across – and perhaps even outside – your organization to pull this off.

Asset Development: Packaging Your Content

At this stage, you package your content so it can be presented in various formats across multiple channels. These assets can and should include a combination of copy, audio, visuals, and interactive elements to appeal to all content preferences.

Whatever form the content takes, it should all be crafted and designed for uniformity and to express your brand’s identity. Make no mistake: a striking design is a powerful aspect of effective content. Simply put, design can impact the consumption of and response to your content.

When it comes to copy, effective layout and typography can increase the understanding of information. Images can reinforce key messages and elicit emotion, actually helping readers remember the content.

Consider what advertising legend David Ogilvy found when he commissioned research into the use of images: on average, headlines below an image are read by 10% more people than headlines above. And image captions get read 300% more on average than the body copy itself.

Moreover, a consistent design across content types helps establish or expand your company’s visual identity within the marketplace. Plus, studies have shown that as many as 65% of people are visual learners.

To that end, your organization will need to decide your content’s design orientation. Will visuals be realistic or abstract? Will you use photos, illustrations, or cartoons? Will you use still or animated images?

Audience Development: Getting Content into Buyers’ Hands

Companies are investing more than ever in content development.  But they often then make the mistake of simply posting these assets in their online resource library and hoping they will be found and consumed.

When buyers are searching online for information that speaks to their issues and concerns, they might not come across your content unless it’s well promoted and appears in the various channels that attract your prospects. Here are proven ways to achieve that goal:

  • Put a team behind this effort, everyone from those in charge of demand generation, public relations, and social media to your internal and external sales force and partners. Pick their brains to pinpoint the most effective channels for disseminating your content and getting seen by both prospective buyers and third-party media, analysts, and other influencers who can amplify your reach.
  • Resist the temptation to jump on every social media channel; instead, focus on those where you see your target audience spending the most time.
  • Promote your content using tried-and-true email, direct mail, and whatever methods have worked effectively for your organization.
  • Share your content assets with the sales team – including indirect sales reps – and equip them with how and when to make the best use of it.

 

 Ground Your Initiative in Strategy

Like any strategic initiative, you can’t be sure you’re successful unless you’re measuring the results of your efforts. Yet, according to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 55% of B2B marketers are unclear what an effective or successful content marketing program looks like.

Add to that findings from a survey by Forbes Insight and PWC of over 350 senior-level executives at large companies around the world: many of the companies surveyed are lacking a content strategy. Forbes Insight and PwC underscored the implication that these organizations do not align content with business priorities and goals.

That’s where a strategy comes into play. In fact, CMI highlights that the most-effective marketers are more likely than less-effective marketers to document their content marketing strategy.

So, while addressing Content Development, Asset Development and Audience Development will put you on the right track, it’s best to do so based on a solid strategy..

One caveat: do not over-complicate your strategy. Remember, a strategy is simply a statement of clarifying choices that sets a direction and makes your objectives achievable. In other words, a strategy must be identified, revealed, documented, and communicated so everyone rallies behind it. And it must clarify priorities so everyone is clear on what the organization will and will not do as it pursues the strategy.

Your strategy also outlines where the organization should end up by pursuing this path – and keeps everyone on the same track toward reaching that goal. With that in mind, it’s critical to define the business objectives the strategy is meant to help achieve.

The main point is to document a plan for addressing your content, your assets and your audience. To that end, we recommend you take the following steps:

  1. Identify core content themes aligning to company goals for the upcoming year
  2. Develop an editorial calendar that drives all content, asset, and audience development
  3. Clarify content goals (ideally tied to meaningful and measurable business goals) and means of measuring content impact (such as securing appointments, building pipeline, and closing deals)

Real world thought leadership is demanding. It involves investment and commitment. Recognizing the necessity to build a solid platform and underlying engine is just the first step to enduring success. But your investments in thought leadership pay off by setting your company apart, driving demand, and increasing deal value and volume. You’ll sell with authority – and that’s how you’ll win.

Want to learn more? Contact Visible Impact and a client strategist can provide a complimentary briefing – sharing insights, perspectives, and winning practices based on VI’s experience designing thought leadership programs for top brands.