Today’s business marketers and their prospects are engaged in a frustrating content “dating” game. To get the content they want – and avoid the inevitable follow-up sales call or nurturing emails – more and more buyers are populating your gating forms with false, incomplete, or non-business information. They get the whitepaper, but all you get is another useless “lead.”
To assess the current state of content gating and uncover innovative solutions to this problem, we reviewed 35 B2B websites and interviewed 15 B2B marketing practitioners across four industries, the results of which are available in my latest report, entitled Unlock Content Gates To Support Self-Educating Buyers. Here are a few of the high points:
Gating practices vary across industries, but the pendulum is clearly swinging back to more open access. The early adopters of content marketing have learned the hard way that too many forms too early in the buyer’s journey do more harm than good.
Business marketers have reached a consensus on what content to gate and not gate. The dividing line is determined by the buyer’s need and purpose, whether they are in education mode or seriously evaluating your offering.
To improve the buyer’s experience, innovative marketers are experimenting with progressive profiling, personalizing content based on form data, augmenting minimalist forms with third-party data, and even profiling anonymous site visitors before they fill out a form.
GoPro’s like the preternaturally gifted kid at Content Marketing High. Its community of content creators churn out viral video clips like butter, and its online audiences are second only to Red Bull’s. The product’s actually a viral video machine, giving it this absurd business, marketing and content strategy alignment:
But all is not well with the valedictorian of Content Marketing High. Its market value has been decimated in the last half year, as its stock crumbled to less than 25% of its former self.
Given that this brand is such a content marketing wunderkind, anyone interested in content marketing has to ask himself: Is this a demonstration of content marketing’s impotence? I’ve asked another content marketing influencer, who wouldn’t really answer the question.*
My colleague, Ted Schadler, has the consumer electronics savoir-faire to diagnose GoPro’s real problem: The product has not become a mass market product; it’s been embraced almost exclusively by extreme sports stars and wanna-be’s.**
Powerful consumer electronics brands cannot
grow on snowboarders and skydivers alone.
GoPro’s success documenting inhuman feats by death-defying daredevils has come at the expense of documenting the content that real people might want to create from a first-person camera.
The brand is adjusting to the market headwinds by investing in its software, making it easier for anyone to upload and edit video footage. Democratizing its storytelling to appeal to everyman should get as much focus.
I just published this case study about All Things Hair. If you haven’t heard or come across ATH before, it’s a series of YouTube channels initiated by Unilever’s hair care products division. On each national channel (they’re in about a dozen countries now), a half-dozen teenage and twenty-something video bloggers describe how you can get some really important look or style going.*
There are a lot of interesting things going on in this ATH thing that I’m not really going to focus on here, such as predictive search, marketing innovation, influencers, video marketing, product positioning, brand measurement, ecommerce links, audience targeting and paid content promotion. This was Unilever working with Razorfish, so you knew it wasn’t going to be “How VO5 got better email open rates”.
No, what interests me most is how this whole ATH burrito here represents a new way of building brands based on how customers work and think today. Unilever’s not the first to do this, by any means, but – given the fact that they have a little bit of experience thinking about brand-building – they seemed to have done it with their “eyes wide open” if you will. They knew they were reengineering how they built brand value, and proceeded methodically from that standpoint.
So what did this awareness mean when push came to shove?
“Once you scale beyond a couple contributors and teams, it gets messy.”
– Content marketing leader at Intel
That’s as succinct a summary as you’ll get for the pains of contemporary content marketing. Even as marketers flock to it, experienced practitioners know of content marketing’s side effect: An unmitigated mess, with lots of people producing piles of content all at the same time, all over the world.
Cue the Content Marketing Platform, or CMP. CMPs emerged to bring order to this cross-channel, cross-organizational, cross-brand, cross-geography, cross-everything content mess, by putting all the people working on content in to a common and shared space.
[Editorial note: Forrester publishes approx. 50-60 wave reports per year, or about one per week on average. Of those, only about a dozen each year are entirely new. This is one of the latter.]
The CMPs assessed in this report – Contently, DivvyHQ, Kapost, NewsCred, Oracle, Percolate, PublishThis, RebelMouse, and Skyword – can cite content marketing giants as part of their client list like: GE, Pepsi, Marriott, BlackRock, IBM, Dell, Diageo, Unilever, MasterCard, and Colgate-Palmolive. And they are picking up new ones relentlessly; as a group, they’re doubling software revenue year after year.
To pin down exactly what CMPs do, here is Forrester’s definition:
“Business buyers don’t buy your product; they buy into your approach to solving their problems.”
Most B2B marketers need to position their firms as thought leaders on the issues their buyers face. This is easier said than done, because marketing mindsets focused primarily on brands, products, and offerings makes it difficult for marketers to develop interesting content that captures their buyers’ attention.
A lack of skills and experience in developing customer-focused content make it difficult to produce engaging content. Our benchmark study showed 87% of marketers struggle to produce engaging content. (subscription required) And most firms don’t have a process or framework for managing thought leadership marketing initiatives, so they push out product brochures and white papers thinly disguised as thought leadership content.
As a result, buyers don’t find B2B content engaging because the digital world gives them more power to form buying decisions alone. To intercept these buyers when they begin to discover issues and start to explore options; marketing and sales teams need to put your firm’s points of view out there for prospects and customers to see. Really provocative or forward-leaning points of view help to not only attract an audience, but build interactions. Doing this is thought leadership marketing.
Today I heard an agency describe the content strategy that it was working for a client. At the end of the description (which revolved around how the client saw itself, and what it wanted to talk about), I said: “That sounds like an ad pitch.” Awkward silence.
Right now, in meeting rooms around the world, bad ideas for content strategies are being hatched. And it’s no fault of the idea-hatchers.
Sitting in a meeting room.
Thinking about the company’s (or client’s) management or board.
Needing to sell an idea in to sceptical constituents.
Knowing, no matter what they hatch, it’ll get enough paid air cover to make it look a winner.
So they lay an almighty egg of a content strategy. An egg that, within the hothouse confines of the group that hatched it, meets only reaffirmation. But the content strategy doesn’t serve customers. Not at all. And it doesn’t serve the real strategic goals of the company behind it.
How do you get around this natural tendency of organizations to lay eggs?
You need a very strong counterweight to the natural tendency towards basic self-interestedness from the parties involved (client approval for the agency, peer approval for the marketer, and self-serving messages for the internal stakeholders).
Audience-centric design is the response. Taking its cues from the user-centric design discipline, audience-centric design relies on rich and direct audience observation – both their attitudes and behaviors – in order to inspire value in the eyes of the audience.
The problems of content marketing apply to you as a marketer whether you’re actually practicing “content marketing” or not.
In any enterprise, there’s a New York Times-scale amount of content getting produced.[i] And your customers are hoovering up content (from a brand or otherwise, in many channels, interchangably) and making decisions based upon it.[ii]
That means you’re in the content business. And the more customers control the purchase path, the more marketers find themselves in the content marketing business.
Which means you will be dealing with the problems content marketing creates. Two of these problems are particular to marketing teams and governance. These are best explained with analogies:
The Menu Problem – How content gets conceived and planned
The Sausage Problem – How content gets made and delivered
The Menu Problem
Marketers don’t have much experience running editorial organizations. This is best reflected in the low percentage of marketers who report that they follow a content marketing strategy.[iii]
A strategy is necessary.[iv] And no one is taking the responsibility to make one.
It's the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US tomorrow. Soon we will gather around the table with family and friends to feast and give thanks for our many blessings and the things we most appreciate in life. If your home is anything like mine, it's also a time when we get together to share stories, both past and present.
What is it about stories that makes them so compelling?
Advertising as we’ve always known it, online or off, worked a bit like this:
Here, advertising content had no life independent of its placement. Print ads, TV ads and radio ads lived only on the servers of the ad companies who created them, and then the media who carried them, for however long they carried them.
Now, a new kind of advertising has emerged:
Here it’s a question of identifying content for promotion that’s already in the wild, on a blog, in a discussion forum, uploaded to YouTube, and then paying to drive more eyeballs to it, because it supports your brand, or it converts interested communities into customers.
It’s particularly attractive for two very good reasons:
It’s already published, and has often already shown potential to create results for the business (in the form of awareness, leads or even sales), and
You can often dial up the eyeballs that go to it, or dial them down, as you see fit, based on performance.
At the root of human behavior is the impulse for connection. History is our witness: As times change, certain trends emerge that anchor shared experiences, around which people collectively rally. Today, with social media acting as a platform for ubiquitous connections, diverse consumers build solidarity around digital experiences. Beyond simply looking for deals and discounts, individuals who “friend,” “follow,” and “like” brands seek closer brand relationships.
However, while consumers around the world want to be part of a brand community, some cultures are more enthusiastic than others. Forrester's Consumer Technographics® data shows that Latin American online adults are more passionate about engaging with brands for affective reasons than their European and Japanese counterparts:
This variation roughly parallels Hofstede’s dimensions of culture, which suggests that the differences are partially a reflection of cultural nuances: Those populations that are most motivated to share in the brand community are all-around collectivist rather than individualist.