“Got traffic?” The lament of the B2B content marketer

Drumming for traffic won’t help

B2B brands are embracing content marketing ever more avidly. It’s a natural fit: In B2B, where relationships have to be nurtured and a few buy for the many, content marketing, through technical documents, white papers, influential publications, case studies and reviews, is a valuable tool.

That “content creates customers” is received wisdom today among B2B marketers is reflected in increasing content budgets. In the Electronics OEM (EOEM) community, I reckon there’s just as much content being purchased and commissioned by brands as by the industry publishers. Some far-sighted marketers are striving to position themselves as knowledge hubs, publishers in their own right

But posting content on a brand site is — obviously — only a first step. To become publishers in their own right, B2B brands have to worry about the three things publishers worry about most: traffic, traffic and traffic; getting new readers and getting them to come back.

Know this: Organic visibility is great, but not enough. The point is that you’ve got to actively drive new traffic — some of which you may have to buy — to your content.

Luckily, at this phase of the ongoing disruption of the publishing industry, there happens to be an ever-growing number of channels for going to market with content.

Buying banners on industry publications is NOT one of them. Banners are simply not cost effective. At a CPM of $80 to $120 (in the EOEM business) and a click through rate of 0.1 %, a single click to your site could easily cost $100.

Instead, it is possible to assemble what could be called “an on-demand audience” to whom branded content could be introduced; an audience that is finely targeted for the particular content asset being promoted; an audience that is cost effective.

There are several channels for aggregating an on-demand audience range — from “high touch” to highly automated (or “programmatic” if you like).

Social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn can be called programmatic; for sponsored posts they offer highly granular targeting by reader interest and behavior and require bidding on the cost of defined actions (“conversions”). Ad manager interfaces can define targets and accept bids on actions. Facebook also offers a facility to “re-target” messages to Facebook users who have visited a site, but haven’t performed the desired action.

(At this juncture it’s worth pointing out that if you think Social media aren’t for B2B, you’re dangerously behind the times)

Sponsored posts on content discovery platforms like Outbrain and Taboola can also provide both context-sensitive and out-of-context exposure to your content.

Publishing platforms are the newest way to expose branded content. To use such platforms effectively marketers must abandon the idea of the corporate website as the only publishing location for content. Two biggies have recently entered this space; Facebook, through Instant Articles, an invitation-only publishing platform that will be thrown open to all publishers this week, and Apple News. They’re both touting speedy, reliable exposure to their built -in audiences, within their respective ecosystems. Meanwhile, early platforms like Medium, Tumblr and others of their ilk are generating vast repositories of organized and searchable content. Platforms spawn cross postings and reblogging, and a further layer, “content aggregators,” (Flipboard, for example) skim the best of the platforms. All of this creates a potentially virtuous circle of exposure for your content.

Sparking community discussions around your content is an example of a very “high-touch” outreach technique, but done with integrity, can create high quality traffic to branded content. Participation on user content recommendation sites, or Q&A sites, needs technically savvy representatives who can engage authentically on the subject at hand. Active EOEM communities can be found at Hackaday, Hacker news, Slashdot, Quora, Reddit (Ask Engineers), Electronics Stack, EE Web, and a host of other blogs. All of these can drive traffic to brand site or shopping cart.

Email marketing to publisher lists is a traditional way of reaching out to new readers, but publisher-owned audiences are suspect, in my view. Publisher lists fall into “first party data” category, but audience qualification information is generally not very current. B2B Publishers have not, for the most part, invested in dynamic qualification of user interests and behaviors, as have the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn and Google. The better strategy for marketers is using their own customer lists for email alerts to new content postings.

On the other hand, “earned media” at the right publications and blogs can be a very good source of highly (self-) qualified traffic for quality content.

Clearly, active outreach to readers can be a complex creative process that requires some experimentation for optimal results. It’s further complicated by the fact that the message has to be tuned to the medium; the original content has to be atomized, distilled and versioned to fit the constraints of the channel.

But it can be done. An “on-demand audience” strategy can create high impact exposure to large numbers of new readers. It’s not simple and it’s not mechanical. But it’s a better alternative to waiting for the world to beat a path to your door.

Girish Mhatre is principal at ContentWalla Systems, a marketing consultancy specializing in full-spectrum marketing strategies for technology companies.