What I learned about content strategy at B2B Marketing Expo 2017

Published on March 30, 2017 by Lorraine Chandler

So B2B Marketing Expo is all about reaching and convincing prospects that you can help them improve their businesses. That’s why I headed there to see what I could find out about getting the most out of our content at Magnolia. It seemed like a good place to do it, with around 100 speakers, 200 exhibitors and 5,000 attendees. It’s a free event, but that has its ups and downs, as some talks were completely oversubscribed, and attendees needed to squeeze into very small areas.

So what did I learn at B2B Marketing Expo? Well, I had to make some hard choices as to which talks to attend, but as a content strategist, that was what I focused on. Content marketers, strategists, call us what you will, but often we end up being hacks, churning out material without really measuring its effectiveness. It seems that everyone from sales to management wants more content. Like anyone else in the industry, I’ve had my doubts about producing more and more, but attending this event has given me a renewed resolve to write less and measure more. Now I just have to convince everyone else in the company, especially sales...

Wasted content

Over 5 billion dollars are spent on content every year, according to Stefan Bartsch of Showpad, who gave a talk about aligning conent to revenue. That’s a big number, but we could live with it, except for the fact that 70% of it is wasted. This huge waste of time and energy is one of the biggest issues facing marketing departments today. Just imagine if we could cut that out, and use the time to create content that actually helps generate sales.

Content may have been crowned King by Bill Gates in 1997, but it’s having a hard time ruling its kingdom, and it’s hard to judge exactly what sort of job it’s doing. The issues are many. The rapid decrease in effectiveness of outbound marketing has led companies to turn to inbound marketing with hope in their hearts. However, only a handful of companies have learned to align their content marketing effectively with their revenue generation.

One of the key issues is that content is being churned out in a scattergun approach that could never have happened with ‘traditional’ advertising, because of the external costs involved. Another one is that companies are failing to identify their audiences and their key pain points. As a result, they’re producing irrelevant content or, perhaps even worse, creating great content but not getting it to the right people when it could make a difference.


image: courtesy B2B Marketing Expo, photographer: Gabriella Karney

Content is not just about creation

For many content planners, like myself, there’s always pressure to create something. It might be collateral for an event or website or to support a launch, or it might be to support key messages. So we spend most of our time creating, and very little of it actually planning out the objectives, never mind measuring the results.

At one of the Sleeping Giant Media masterclasses, I heard about the different stages in content engagement:

  • Identify: research on audiences, topics, keywords and influencers
  • Create: copy, images, videos
  • Share: reaching out to influencers, and publishing on owned, shared and earned channels
  • Evaluate: tracking and using analytics to measure the impact of your content.

Logically, content creation is only a quarter of the process, and yet it receives the most focus. As soon as one piece of content is finished, we move on to the next item on the list.


We need less content, not more

Wait a minute, this is really going to scare your sales departments, but it seems that we need less content, not more. This was one of the key messages from Jason Miller of LinkedIn, who pointed out that 50% of articles have less than 8 shares.

The talk was packed, as hungry marketers tried to learn from LinkedIn’s content marketing success. People were so busy taking notes that they had no time to laugh at his many jokes and rock allusions. He cried out, “You guys are killing me! I haven’t even got a courtesy chuckle.”

Jason pointed out the Wait But Why blog as an example of getting it really right, with 87 million page views from only 80 articles in a year. So it’s better to post less, but with something substantial that gives value to readers. Longer-form content has more success, with high levels of sharing, when it adds real value.


Know your prospects and give them what they need

The argument kept coming back to knowing your audience and their pain points. Verity Dearsley of B2B Marketing Lab said that companies should consider the cocktail party rule when they’re creating content. Communication shouldn’t only be one way. You can talk about yourself, but a large proportion of your content should be about the prospect, not about you.

Mike O’Brien of IDM pointed out that we need to create content for all the different people involved in the decision making unit, from the initiator and influencer to the decision-maker and purchaser. For each of those, content producers need to map out their background, demographics and pain points. Too many content producers are pitching their content at the wrong level, and failing as a result.

Danny Blackburn of Stickyeyes emphasised how content needs to offer genuine value to customers. Content producers need to create different content formats for different stages of the buying process, and the decision to gate them should be based on the value they offer.

Content strategy for the full funnel

Websites need to provide material for all the stages from awareness through to consideration and decision. One of the key takeaways from the B2B Marketing Lab talk was the importance of auditing your own content to check that you have materials for each persona for different stages of the buyer journey. Once you map it out, you’ll see the gaps that need to be filled.

B2B Marketing Lab’s Verity Dearsley talked about the buyer journey. It turns out that since things have gone digital, 50% of the cycle is already over before prospects are ready to talk.


Different content for different stages of the buyer journey

There were various different interpretations of the buyer journey, but one of the clearest was from Giant on leveraging content across digital channels. “See, Think, Do” is a clear way of thinking about different stages of the buying process, as buyers move from awareness to considering which product to use, to the decision.


Amplify your content

One of the reasons that content doesn’t succeed is because there’s too much focus on creating individual pieces of content, and not enough focus on promoting it.

Jason Miller suggested creating one big piece of content every quarter, what he called the “Big Rock”. He compared the launch of a major piece of content to a product launch, adding that LinkedIn has created over 100 pieces of content to support one big piece of content.  

It could be a written guide or white paper or video. You should then build a content strategy around it, with different types of content for different stages of the sales funnel, as well as different job responsibilities. There should be non-gated ‘turkey slices’ to entice people in who are at the earlier stages of the funnel, with more substantial pieces of content behind forms for those who are closer to purchasing.


Measuring the effectiveness of your content

Measuring the effectiveness of content is the number one concern for most content professionals. Otherwise, what’s the point of it all? I’d hoped to get some insights from Jeremy Thompson’s talk about how technology will impact the future of PR and communications, but unfortunately, it was more about his company, Cision, than anything else.

Content measurement was an issue that cropped up in a lot of the seminars. Tuesday’s panel discussion on the future of B2B content marketing touched on the topic. Russ Lidstone pointed out that companies sometimes focus on what they can measure (page views, likes) rather than on what should actually be important to the client. Sam Gallagher suggested that content journeys should be mapped alongside conversion rates.

While many of the vendors suggested that their tool would magically be able to measure content effectiveness, some of the speakers, like Mike O’Brien, were ready to admit that the effectiveness of a piece of content was difficult to measure, as it also formed part of a bigger picture of awareness. He suggested that one way of measuring it would be to drop it in and out of campaigns to see how that affects results. However, I don’t think that anyone is ready to risk losing out in this way.


Content in the future

As more tools become involved in the creation, targeting and measurement of content, we content marketers could worry that machines will soon be doing our jobs. But, as Karl Walsh of Hubspot pointed out, ‘it turns out you can’t automate shitty marketing’.


Content lives on

As a content producer, it was discouraging, if not entirely surprising, to hear just how much content is wasted. However, there were also some inspirational moments about the value of content. Karl Walsh of Hubspot, the poster child company of inbound marketing, pointed out that 70% of Hubspot’s monthly blog leads result from articles over three months old. And even more surprising, 56% of their leads come from campaigns more than one year old. So good content does bring results, but it takes time. This is something that many companies fail to realize. Advertising campaigns bring immediate results, but once you stop paying the money, the traffic dries up.


My key takeaways

It was a busy two days, but I did have some light relief, including a chat with Cision’s Cyril robot - with a surprisingly English accent despite telling me he was from a different planet. I also enjoyed the comedian who told us that comedians and marketers had a lot in common, but at least no one told us to get the #### off the stage! And I was also entertained, if a little bemused by the transvestite talk from corporate drag queen, Nicci Take, who claimed that sales and marketing is really all about getting your audience’s attention  

What will I be doing with all my new knowledge? I can’t promise that I’m going to carry out a full content audit yet, but I’m going to be finding out more about Magnolia customers and what their pain points are, whether they’re business or technical users. I’m also going to look at the type of content we have and see what sort of gaps there are. What’s more, I’m going to think more carefully about any new content that our team creates, as well as exactly how we promote it.

I’d love to know if you have any similar issues, or if you feel that there’s some content that you’d like to see from Magnolia. Let us know in the comments below.


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About the author Lorraine Chandler

Lorraine Chandler is a Content Strategist. She also writes a wide range of materials - opinion articles, case studies, web copy, and last but not least, blog posts. When she’s not being a wordsmith, she's busy nagging her kids to be perfect.

See all posts on Lorraine Chandler