How B2B Publishers Can Succeed with Client-Focused Inbound Marketing

competitionThe explosion of inbound content marketing has sparked endless hand wringing among B2B publishers who are already struggling to prove their relevance in a digital-first world. Why? Because publishers who have long survived on traditional advertising don’t like their clients hearing that they should become publishers of their own content.

“As if we didn’t have enough competition,” they cry. “Now you want our advertisers to compete with us?”

But let’s take a breath and look at the opportunity here. As Daniel McCarthy stated on his blog, The Media Transformation: “In the midst of the fervor to transform marketing with content, one brutal truth is too easily overlooked -- content is hard.”

Marketing managers are already stretching to do more with less. They have smaller staffs, shrinking budgets and increasing demands to prove the value of every dollar they spend. They don’t have writing staffs. They don’t have distribution channels, world-class SERPS and site authority, large audiences or experience creating high quality editorial.

Who has these things? B2B publishers.

As publishers, this is what we do. We create and distribute market-specific content to targeted audiences who come to us looking for that content. We provide thought leadership in our industries. We have large audiences of buyers who look to us to guide their purchasing decisions.

Let me say that again: We have large audiences of buyers who look to us to guide their purchasing decisions.

B2B publishing is content marketing

Content marketing is not a threat to B2B publishing. It is the best opportunity in a decade for publishers to reassert their leadership positions in their markets, serve their readers and provide real, measurable value for their advertisers. So let’s look at how B2B publishers can succeed in content marketing.

In the old world of publishing, manufacturers were happy to have us run their press releases and sell them ads. The best B2B publishers have always gone further by providing editorial context and education around those products, serving their readers while also nurturing markets. We cover the issues our readers care about and give them tips on how to improve one of the most important aspects of their lives: their livelihood.

If we have done our jobs and served our audiences well, then we have the most valuable product known to marketing: our readers’ trust and a position of influence in their purchasing decisions. This is why our clients advertise in our publications and digital channels -- to place their marketing messages in front of an interested audience within an editorial context. In short, B2B publishing is content marketing. Always has been. Always will be.

So instead of worrying about our advertisers becoming our competitors, let’s look at how we can succeed by helping them reach their goals. Marketing managers are under pressure to deliver two things: qualified leads and ROI. Inbound marketing is attractive because it promises to deliver both. But we all know there’s a lot that goes into making an inbound campaign successful:

  • A clearly defined target persona
  • A strong offer and CTA
  • Inspiring trigger content to get people to the CTA
  • High-quality, valuable content that’s worth the price of your prospects’ personal information
  • An engaging follow-up nurturing campaign with more great content
  • Detailed lead management and follow through

Your advertisers are probably struggling to perform even the first three items on that list. And you certainly can provide a valuable service by hiring out your creative team to write e-books, checklists and other content for your advertisers.

But using a marketing automation system like HubSpot opens up new revenue channels for B2B publishers. It allows you to execute an entire nurturing program -- from trigger content through lead delivery -- that leverages your valuable content creation, audience engagement, distribution and site authority to exponentially magnify the power of the client’s inbound marketing.

Here are 5 things B2B publishers need to do to thrive in client-focused inbound marketing

1) Stop talking about consultative sales and actually do it

Selling content marketing and audience engagement means truly partnering with your advertisers. Your sales pros need to move beyond brokering ad space and enter the creative process. They need to help their clients define their goals and the personas they’re trying to reach, and they need to be able to communicate that information to your creative and strategic teams.

My job for our biggest advertisers is to understand their goals and use our audience insight and creative capacities to create and execute multi-level content marketing campaigns that identify and deliver real audience engagement that will convert into leads for their products.

2) Sell engagement, not traffic

Standard traffic numbers suck. You and all of your competitors have the same audience and you’re all going into sales meetings trying to explain why your numbers are better than your competitors'. Your advertisers are tired of hearing it, and they know almost as well as you do that broad traffic numbers mean approximately squat in today’s market.

You need to learn how to measure and communicate engagement. It doesn’t matter how many people are visiting your site. What matters is who they are, what they’re reading and what they’re doing after they read it. (Hint: If they’re clicking a CTA to download a client e-book, that’s a good thing.)

3) Build an audience-focused team

Truly knowing your audience is a team sport that involves editorial, sales, audience development, digital development, design and marketing. It’s all too common in publishing that these departments spend more time badmouthing each other than working together.

If you want to succeed in client-focused content marketing and audience engagement, then everyone needs to be aligned in how to best serve the needs of the audience and advertisers. Everyone needs to understand how content drives engagement and how engagement converts to value for advertisers.

4) Co-create with your advertisers

The greatest sin in content marketing is publishing sales brochures as content. This is where your expertise as a publisher truly shines. Work with your advertisers to identify contextual topic -- based on your knowledge of your audience’s consumption patterns -- that will drive engagement for their e-books and other content assets.

Work with them to craft content that provides value for your readers while also sparking interest in the advertiser’s product. Consult with them on how to lead a prospect from inspiration to education to purchase. It is an invaluable opportunity to reeducate our advertisers on the value we bring to bear.

5) Measure and report

Marketers are looking for leads and ROI. If they get those, they get their bonus. Your job is to help them get their bonus. Once a campaign goes live, it is crucial to measure, report, test and improve the campaign to generate optimal results and communicate all of this to your advertiser. This will come as a surprise.

Advertisers are used to paying for ads and then hearing from you the next time you have something to sell. By working with your advertisers on an ongoing basis to ensure their success, you are providing value beyond measure. You are providing partnership and ownership of your client’s goals. 

Content marketing is not a threat to B2B publishing

It is what we have always done. But two things have changed. First, our clients now care about our two greatest assets -- content and audience. Second, we have tools like HubSpot that allow us to foster the relationships between audience and advertiser in dynamic new ways that are rejuvenating our industry.

Content marketing does not make our advertisers our competitors. It makes them our partners. By moving beyond simply brokering space and actually partnering with our advertisers on audience engagement and creative nurturing campaigns, we can better serve our audience and our advertisers and reclaim our leadership position in B2B marketing.

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