Ad spend has very little to do with success in b2b content marketing
“How do I generate leads for my B2B tech startup?”
That is the million-dollar question for every tech startup, and I would argue even more so for a B2B tech startup.
However, I would like to modify this question and turn it into a billion-dollar question instead.
“How do I generate qualified leads with minimal ad spend on a sustainable basis?”
Any B2B tech startup that can answer this question has a high chance of succeeding in any market. However, what is the answer to this question?
Answer- This is a complex question that requires a multitude of marketing factors to be done correctly at the right time, promoting to the right people.
While this was probably not the answer you were looking for, an oversimplified answer would be content marketing.
Why Content Marketing Is Important For B2B
As a growth marketer in a B2B tech startup myself, I know exactly what problems B2B tech startups have when it comes to marketing.
Because I have and still face these problems myself.
If you have worked in a B2B tech startup or are currently working in one, I think you will agree with me that these are the main problems you face in marketing
- Lack of (qualified) leads
- Not able to attribute successful lead generation to a specific channel or campaign
- You find it difficult to generate leads once the ad spend runs out
- Not enough brand awareness- Prospects have not heard of you before you reach out to them
- You are not able to explain what differentiates your product from your competitors besides functionality
Sounds familiar? You are not alone!
We live in an online environment where users are bombarded with advertisements and are consuming content at an unprecedented pace
Knowing the right content that will engage users and distributing it to them where they are at remains of the most effective way to market your product. This is where B2B content marketing comes in.
After all, people like to buy, but no one wants to be sold to
What Is B2B Content Marketing For Your Startup Stage
“There is no time like the present” is a cliche that is used often but it still rings true for content marketing
If you run a B2B company, the best time to start is now. Depending on the current growth stage of your startup, you will need to adjust your content strategy for the best results
When first starting out
If you are still building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), documenting the process of building up your company is a great way to start off content marketing
While many of us claim to make decisions based on logic, research has shown that emotions have a 90% impact on us when we make a decision
Documenting your hardships when starting out and how you overcame these obstacles is more likely to engage early-stage investors and your first customers
When you acquired have a few customers
Case studies and product brochures are essential sales and marketing material for any B2B company
Once you managed to find your first few customers, document the entire process- What the customer was looking to solve, how your product solved this problem and what were the results achieved
Instead of a typical case study that only states the facts, repackage it into a story- what are the names of the people involved in this project, what were the specific challenges faced and how did the end results make everyone feel?
By showing both quantitative and qualitative results, executives are more inclined to convince their management that they require your solution
When you are scaling your startup
Positioning is key when accelerating your startup’s growth. Differentiating your brand in the minds of potential customers besides your product’s functions will become an important competitive advantage
Determine what is the core message of your brand and distribute this message across all the touchpoints of your brand
Is your company’s mission to be the “innovative rebel” or the “knowledge hub” of the industry?
No matter your company’s mission, the focus of your content should be on writing thought leadership articles, positioning management as industry experts through interviews, etc
Lastly, do research on the content your competitors’ post and either create content that is more useful or that is unique to your company
Creating content that is suitable to your startup’s stage of development will help you focus on creating the most impactful message at any point of time
Building A B2B Content Strategy
So you now have a general idea of what content you should be posting based on your startup’s current stage of development. That is a great first step!
However, to really scale your content marketing efforts requires much deeper thinking than just that
It requires a clear and actionable content strategy.
In essence, what are the benefits customers have when using your product and how can you communicate this benefit in a way that compels them to take action?
This sounds simple in theory, but believe me, it is difficult to execute successfully.
Understanding your customer
Customer research requires you to go deep when understanding the motivations of your potential customer.
While knowing that potential customers are interested in your solution is a great first step, getting into the psychology of your potential customer is what will differentiate you from the competition
Remember- customers primarily buy your brand, not your product functions (sorry tech guys)
While at the start it may be tempting to want to market your product to a mass-market, that is a mistake
You should market to a specific group of customers whose main pain point can only be solved effectively with your product
To do that, you need to build an audience persona of this customer to craft the most effective content that converts
I cannot stress this enough- knowing your customer is 50% of the work
Start with the data you have
If you already have a website and a few customers, reviewing the data you have will provide you with valuable information
When reviewing your customers, which customer is easy to work with? Which customer is likely to refer you to another company and what is it about your offering that offers the most value to them?
This will give you a good idea of what kind of customer is likely to be converted when marketing to them
Analyze your website traffic by using tools such as Google Analytics and in particular, look for data with regards to
- The demographics of your visitors
- The channels they take to visit your website (direct, organic, referral or through social media)
- What are their affinity categories (interests)
- What search terms does your website visitors use before visiting your website?
Looking at your existing data will give you a good idea of the kind of company that is likely to buy your product. The next step will be to identify the profile of the decision-makers in these companies
Identifying the decision-makers
When it comes to B2B content marketing, there is more than one decision-maker involved in the sales process.
This means that you need to market to different people who are likely to have different KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to meet
Note that the keyword here is people- you are marketing your brand to someone and not to a corporation who only looks at numbers
Who do you usually present a demo to? Is it the head of marketing, head of technology, or the CEO of the company? More importantly, are they able to make the decision themselves or do they require a superior to make the decision for them?
After identifying the job titles of the decision-makers, look for profiles with these job titles on LinkedIn. Look at the achievements these profiles have highlighted and the KPIs that are laid out in the job ads for these roles
This will give you a clearer idea of what kind of results potential customers are looking for. It also makes communicating the benefits of your solution a lot easier
Check out this guide on building a buyer persona for your business
B2B Content Creation
Now that you have a decent understanding of your customer, it is time to create useful and engaging content that establishes your brand as a thought leader. Most importantly, it has to be content that generates leads for you
Finding out the questions your audience asks
We are always looking for information. Whether its to solve a problem at work or to make a purchase, we have relied on Google search to find answers to our questions
So why do our customers need our answers to their questions if we already have a wealth of information out there?
Answer: Not all answers perfectly addresses the customer’s question, especially for specific niche questions. This is where you can provide the most value for the customer
In addition, the perspective you bring is valuable to the customer, since another take (that is substantiated) on the same issue helps everyone make an informed decision
Going through related Quora and Reddit threads is a great first step to finding commonly asked questions. Users tend to appreciate detailed answers that bring a different perspective or information to the question they are asking
After giving a few well thought out answers, users will tend to ask you more questions, giving you a good idea on what kind of information they want more of and what are their consideration factors when looking at you product
Answerthepublic is another great tool to find questions people have been searching for answers to. Simply enter 1–2 words into their search engine and find different questions related to the keyword or variations of the keyword
Creating engaging content
Now that you know what questions your audience wants to ask you, it is time to create content that is engaging.
While “engaging content” may be a subjective term, these 4 different elements are what usually makes a content engaging
- Super useful (how-to guides)
- Emotional content (great storytelling)
- Data-driven (Infographics, e-books etc)
- Entertaining (think Buzzfeed content)
Make no mistake- you don’t have to have a fantastic command of English to write engaging content.
What you do need is to understand what your readers want to know (the previous step) and answer it in a way that provides value to them
Pro-tip: Write content that is evergreen- Content that will continue to be relevant for a long time. While creating content based on trends will give you some traction at the start, this content cannot be repurposed, making it irrelevant in the long run
Getting (the right) visibility for your content
I used to think that creating content should take up 80% of the work and the remaining 20% will go towards distribution. Now I think these numbers should be swapped instead content that is not read has not business value- In fact, the time you put into creating the content is a significant cost
There are a lot of tactics shared online on how to get eyeballs, but I find that focusing on SEO is the best way to gain traction over the long-term
There are a few guaranteed (but time-consuming) methods, but SEO essentially boils down to two things- SEO friendly content on-page and back-link building
First, write content that targets keywords relevant to your product AND which your competitors have not targeted yet
Use keyword research tools such as ahrefs and SEMrush for your keyword research needs and generate content with your keywords in mind
Secondly, write long-form content such that each individual segment can be repurposed into another article by itself
Pitch these articles as guest posts to publications to build your back-links. Publications are usually more willing to add links back to your article with back-links
For example, if you are running a pet shop, your long-form content can be “Everything you need to know about adopting a pet, from A-Z” and post this on your blog
One segment of your blog can be about grooming your pet. You can then expand on this segment and make it into an article to pitch as a guest post to other blogs that write on pets
The guest post can include links to your website, the original blog post it was repurposed from as part of your backlink building efforts. Try keeping it to 1–2 back-links as any more than that is pretty much spam
There are a lot of tactics that you can find covering back-link building that I will cover in a separate post. Stay tuned for that!
Creating relevant and different content on a saturated web
Do you know how many blogs are on the internet as of 2021? Approximately 600 million blogs as of Q1 2021! Assuming 1% of these blogs are for B2B content marketing in the tech space, you are looking at competing with 6 million blogs for attention.
Yikes! No wonder it is so difficult to stand out using content marketing. This is why creating content that is relevant and adds value to the user in a different way is so important.
Fortunately, if you are building a tech product or are marketing an existing tech product, the answer to content differentiation is right before you
Share interesting data from your platform (for free)
When I was working for an AI startup that predicted arrival times of shipping containers, we had a goldmine of shipping information that was useful to our target customers.
From the Suez Canal blockage to Covid outbreaks in various shipping ports, freight forwarders and large shippers like Toyota wanted to know the extent of congestion levels.
Instead of creating a long report and gating this content, we decided to go in the opposite direction. We summarized key data points that we knew our readers will take action on and distributed it in the form of blog posts, newsletters and LinkedIn posts.
The result? We received more inbound leads and newsletter subscriptions than ever before.
By sharing actionable data to your target users, you build the credibility of your brand and product. Indirectly, your target users will recognize the need for your product through digesting the data alone.
Furthermore, this is one way to differentiate your content without putting in resources that are not available to you as a start-up.
The Ultimate B2B Content Marketing Goal
Make no mistake- the aim of content marketing should be to drive revenue for the company
While things like impressions, website visits, duration visitors spend on a post and numbers of shares are good metrics to track, it should still lead to greater revenue
If you run multiple different marketing campaigns at one time, attributing new leads to content marketing is a difficult task
More often than not, a new lead would have engaged with multiple touchpoints of your marketing campaigns
So how do you measure your b2b content marketing efforts using revenue?
There is no simple answer to this question. What you can do is to use a good CRM software such as Hubspot that tracks the source of form submissions
For customers that have converted, get them to do a short survey or even interview them on how they found your company, what were their considerations when comparing you to a competitor
If your content met their informational and consideration needs, then it is a sign that you are moving in the right direction
One Last Point On Content
As the saying (roughly) goes, “good things take time and effort”. This is especially true for b2b content marketing. It may take a few months or even years before you start seeing tangible results from content marketing
Why am I creating content for free, why am I not getting traffic for my content are a few doubts you will find yourself having at the start
If this is you right now, STOP!
Take a step back and review your work. What worked and what didn’t work? Is there something you can change? Or is it a matter of just needing to give it more time and effort?
Because content marketing when done correctly has a compounding effect. Before you know it, you will have a strong audience base who are willing customers, becoming a reliable source for leads
Let’s Keep In Touch!