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Handley: Content marketing requires B2B marketers to alter their mindset

For B2B marketers courting the digital age, finding a way to wed data with original content is more than half the battle, according to Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs. “When those two marry that’s when you can get some really great marketing,” said Handley, co-author (with C.C. Chapman) of “Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business” (Wiley 2010).  “They’re two sides of the same coin. It’s part art, part data and content all the time.” She spoke with BMA Buzz about the current trend lines in content marketing.

BMA Buzz: MarketingProfs and the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) recently released “The 2013 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends.” What do you think is the most salient aspect of the report?

Ann Handley: Looking forward to 2013 we found that B2B marketers are challenged with producing enough content, whereas last year the finding was that they were most challenged with producing engaging content. I guess the way to interpret that is that marketers are realizing that content is not a one-and-done campaign; it’s an ongoing effort. It’s a lot of work to come up with content consistently and to be able to produce it in a way that’s sustainable.

What that finding really says is, it’s a mindset. It’s not a task. It’s not a channel. It’s really wrapping your mind around the idea that you are now a ‘media company.’ And I think that marketers and businesses for a long time have been hearing that and they’ve been kind of parroting it back, but this is the year when the reality of that is finally sinking in.

It’s all of those things that are pored over in the world of journalism, like [having] an editorial calendar and planning out issues, not only for writing and for production and so on, but all way through to then having to amplify those efforts in social channels. It’s a complete shift from the way that marketers have been doing their business forever.

BMA Buzz: B2B marketers are now spending more than a third of their marketing budgets on content marketing, up from 26% last year. What areas of content marketing are commanding the most attention?

Handley:  We’re seeing an uptick in a lot of different kinds of content. There’s an amazing array of content that marketers are producing; things like video and infographics, which are both up in a big way, and, what that says to me, is that we’re increasingly embracing this visual world we’re in.

Things like Instagram and Pinterest are real forces to be reckoned with, or Facebook and Google+, where they are putting a whole lot more effort into showing graphics in a more vibrant way. Marketers have to think visually; content doesn’t equal text anymore.

I actually saw a graphic novel the other day that was put out by a B2B technology company.

Marketers are tasked with trying to break through that clutter. They’re doing it through two ways: one is snapshots of things that can be consumed really easily, like clicking on an Instagram feed and looking at a couple pictures, but also, [B2B marketers] are in a very crowded field, so you need to do things that are fun and interesting, and are going to get you some attention; that’s where you’re seeing the animation, and the comic book I saw.

BMA Buzz: Producing content continues to be a major challenge for many B2B marketers. What are some of the ways that B2B marketers can mitigate the problem?

Handley: Putting someone in charge of content, to start. I’m seeing a lot of companies now looking for people like, Chief Content Officer or Chief Blogging Officer, or somebody who can head up their content marketing efforts. I just got a call from a headhunter the other day looking for a VP of content; a year or two ago that was not a very common job title.

Even companies that have been in content for a while now see the wisdom of putting somebody at the C-level who’s going to have a broader view of, how do we really produce the content? How do we create a sustainable content marketing effort? It really is about staffing up in a big way.

It’s about budget, it’s about putting somebody at the C-level, but it’s also about tapping into people who may not traditionally have been part of a marketing department and those are people like former journalists who do know how to tell a compelling story.