Instant Coffee, White Elephants, And The Dilemma Of Content Marketing

The results of a recent survey by industry organization HIMSS indicate that 74% of health-care B2B tech marketers plan to increase content creation. However, only 4% said their content is very effective.

These results line up with the Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) survey of 2016 trends in B2B content marketing, which said 76% of B2B marketers are planning to increase content creation this year. The CMI survey provides additional detail:

Only a third (32%) said their content marketing is sophisticated or mature.
The percentage of B2B marketers who said they think they are effective at content marketing is down from 38% last year to 30% this year, even though they are allocating the same amount (28%) of their budgets to content marketing.

The half-full view of this would be that content marketing is in its early stages, and there is tremendous headroom for growth. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that no one is cutting back on content marketing budgets. Not only that, the least effective content marketers plan to produce even more content than the average for the survey pool.

Has Anything Changed Since Last Year?

In an earlier column on CMO.com, I had discussed why B2B tech firms struggle with content marketing. I decided to revisit my observations in light of the new survey findings and also my own company’s experiences in helping several enterprises with their content marketing strategies.

The one thing that has not changed is the single-minded focus on lead generation as the primary objective for B2B marketers. Fifty-eight percent of the HIMSS survey respondents stated that lead generation was the most important goal for content marketing, with thought leadership a close second.

However, the bad news is that content is expected to be like instant coffee: There is little patience for the coffee to drip down a filter. (As an aside, I come from south India, a land where the average “Tamilian” is devoted to the elaborate daily ritual of brewing “filter coffee” in the morning and disdains anything that comes in a sealed packet.)

Here are a couple of significant developments:

We see a growing awareness that content marketing is an essential item in a B2B tech marketer’s toolkit. Recent acquisitions of digital strategy and marketing firms across the globe by technology consulting firms such as Accenture and Cognizant point to the growing importance these businesses are attaching to building these capabilities. These very same firms are also best in class when it comes to their own digital and content marketing strategies, and content marketing is now beginning to separate the leaders from the laggards in the pack.

Content marketing is getting an infusion of science. The focus on lead generation means that technology has to catch up to make content marketing use more science. New content management platforms that sit upstream from CRM systems and marketing automation systems say they deliver qualified leads by providing visibility into how lead generation tracks content performance.

White (Paper) Elephants In Content Marketing

It’s not hard to see why B2B marketers want to produce more content. After all, it’s what B2B buyers want. Numerous studies point to B2B buyers engaging actively with content until well into the vendor evaluation process before making contact with a sales person. The HIMSS survey identified the single biggest cause for the vast chasm that exists today between content marketing goals and the poor results: producing content consistently.

In the mad scramble to get in front of buying cycles, well-meaning content marketers are putting out well-meaning sludge and hoping that buyers will buy. The most egregious form of this effort is in white paper development. I call these content pieces “white paper elephants.”

A white elephant is a useless and burdensome possession, and there’s nothing worse than taking the effort to write content that makes no impact. In my experience, B2B tech firms run the gamut of quality regarding white papers. At one end, they are thoughtful, well-researched content assets that become reference material for industry analysts and have an indefinite shelf life. At the other end, which is where the problem lies, is poorly written sales collateral that masquerades as “thought leadership.”

At the same time, B2B marketers have to resist pressure from sales leaders who think that a single piece of good content will deliver results by itself. Content marketing requires a steady stream of content with consistent quality on a sustained basis. Corporate branding, content distribution, amplification, and a whole host of other things matter as well.

Content is one element in the content marketing mix, not the whole formula. However, it is the active ingredient. After all, if there is no Coca, there is no Coca-Cola, no matter how hard you market it.

Originally published on CMO.com