Battle Plans: B2B Content Marketing and the Strategy for Success

Jon Nation

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

These time-tested words from Sun Tzu, the Chinese master quoted in more business blogs than Steve Jobs, tell us an awful lot about B2B content marketing strategy in a mere two sentences. Firstly, they remind us what strategy actually is. Strategy isn’t what you physically do to market your business – that’s tactics. Strategy is your objective and your overall plan for getting there. Secondly, they remind us that an ambitious venture without a strategy is sure to fail. And this is coming from a man trusted by leaders ever since The Art of War was first published, a whopping 2,500 years ago.

Planning an effective content marketing strategy? Here are the techniques that have worked for TBT Marketing's clients again and again.

It starts with an objective.

Is it safe to assume your main objective is to engage a defined group of customers, to ultimately increase pipeline and revenue? Then your strategy must also find a way to make your content stand out to that group. As a B2B content marketer, you’re lucky in this regard. Because business customers are already looking for content that solves their business challenges. On Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn, they are actively searching for answers, opinions and education. They’re asking about specific business issues like: “How do I move to cloud computing” and “What is the difference between scale up and scale out”.

This gives you a golden opportunity to create the content that addresses these business concerns and positions your company as the leading authority in the space. And afterwards, they’ll consider you a trusted problem solver.

So, here’s how you set your strategy objectives:

  • Profile your audience – Document important details like their current challenges, social media habits and existing relationships.
  • Listen a while – What are your audience reading, watching, commenting on? Do they prefer video, e-books or articles?
  • Build to make impact –Think about how you can create regular and useful content that addresses the specific needs or pain points of your audience. Remember, it’s not about making a sale.
  • Smart distribution – Knowing your audience lends insight into how they prefer to receive your content, and what would be an appropriate fit. If you’ve got a testimonial video, can you slice it up into bite-sized chunks to share on social media? Or can you push an industry whitepaper through a content syndication program to get maximum long-term exposure?

We’re moving into tactics territory here, but you also need the right approach to creating engaging content. The key is offering something valuable, which your audience can’t find anywhere else. Here’s a fun example from HPE. Their Techsplanation series makes complex IT concepts easy to understand, and it differentiates itself with the vibe of a kids’ science show. HPE’s server products are part of it, but they aren’t in the spotlight.

Apple also uses this kind of strategy. In Summer 2018, during the World Cup, it ran the “How to shoot” campaign, which promised to help you "make the beautiful game even more beautiful" through clever photographic tips and techniques. Although this is a B2C example, it still shows how education and advice can be delivered to position yourself as a trusted advisor.

The devil’s in the details.

A B2B content marketing strategy would be easy if sticking to the high-level topics were enough. However, to stand out from the crowd we need to provide detail, which can mean campaigns become rather sophisticated.

Fortunately, there are some fundamentals that any company can follow.

Roadmap your activity.

Your content strategy might have many components – like videos, blogs, social media and white papers. Writing a roadmap will clarify your plans and help stakeholders understand their roles and how and when they should contribute.

Review, learn and react.

Your past content can help make your next piece better and can also form the basis for your “always available” or “evergreen” content. Which topics have worked best? What did you forget or fail at before, which you can do better this time?

Stick to a schedule.

Create a content calendar that’s managed by one or two people, but shared business-wide. Contributors can plan ahead and won’t be overburdened.

Be agile.

Major industry events cause a rush on social media and you need to be part of the conversation. React fast with genuine insights that refer to your related products.

Choose quality over quantity.

A smaller line-up of excellent content will make more impact than a stack of weaker pieces.

Pick the right team

Ready for a final quote from our ancient friend Sun Tzu?

“Victory usually goes to the army who has better trained officers.”

In other words, you need the right team to shape your content marketing strategy, as well as to deliver your campaigns. Because once you’ve planned your content schedule, you need the resources to meet deadlines with consistency. You need the voices of your subject matter experts, if you want prospects to see you as an expert. And when you involve voices from across your business, including sales and marketing, your content generation activities can even positively change your organisation’s culture.

"So choose your team just as carefully as you design your strategy. Because a sound strategy delivered by a weak team is bound for failure."

That’s one I made up myself. I think Sun Tzu would approve.

For a more detailed look at this topic take a look at the Content Marketing Guide for B2B.

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