In this article, Softchoice, a B2B IT company, offers six content marketing lessons it has learned after placing a stronger focus on content strategy over the last three years. Read on to see why the company puts the customer at the forefront of its content efforts; how it utilizes internal sources to create successful content; and how it measures content's effect.
Edwin Jansen, Director of Marketing, Softchoice, understands the value of a comprehensive content marketing strategy.
Softchoice is a North American IT supplier that helps companies of all sizes select, acquire and manage technology needs by aiding in matching those technologies with the business’ needs and requirements.
About three years ago, Softchoice embarked on what Jansen described as its "content marketing journey."
He provided MarketingSherpa with six lessons learned during that time, including the importance of making the entire strategy very customer-centric, utilizing institutional knowledge to create powerful content pieces, and quantifying content marketing success.
Here is what Jansen and Softchoice’s marketing team has learned over the last three years.
Lesson #1. Put the customer first
Jansen said the "traditional marketing paradigm" of spending money where your customers are, trying to interpret the needs of those customers, and then hopefully effectively selling to them are over.
He explained, "Brands are no longer what they say they are. Brands are now what their customers say they are because (those customers) no longer have to listen to a brand anymore. They can listen to their peers."
Jansen added, "As that power shift happens and customers are in control, I think a shift is required from selling to serving."
By serving, he means serving the needs and wants of the customer, and not using marketing to simply sell to them. He stated the new content marketing paradigm is the story. In a marketing campaign, the pitch can't be about you; it has to be about the customer.
"As soon as you put the focus on the customer -- their needs, their pains, their issues, their questions and their context -- and you create content around that, your expectation is that instead of pushing your message on them you begin pulling them with your value proposition," Jansen said.
He added that a content strategy of pulling customers in instead of pushing a message out can also lead to your content going viral and being spread by your customers through comments and sharing.
Jansen also said this strategy "feels better" for marketers because it can be more meaningful and marketers can spend energy trying to help people instead of just selling to them.
Lesson #2. The customer now drives the brand
Content marketing strategies should put the customer first because the customer now drives the brand, not the other way around as it had been in traditional marketing efforts.
Jansen provided a hypothetical example.
If you travel to New York City and want to find great pizza, are you going to visit different restaurant’s websites? Jansen says no, because most people don’t trust the website and you expect every restaurant to say its pizza is great.
Instead, you will likely visit Yelp, Urban Spoon or another similar site to find out the recommendations of your friends and customers of those restaurants.
Bringing this idea to B2B marketing, Jansen said Softchoice conducted a survey about a year and a half ago with B2B technology managers, IT managers and directors, asking for their most trusted sources of information.
Number one was user groups and peer groups, followed by blogs (possibly amateur opinions of people outside the brand), and third was IT industry analysts (paid objective professionals).
The rest of the list broke down in this order:
- Vendor websites
- IT consulting websites
Because your customer can now filter their information sources about your brand, they effectively have control over your brand. The content marketing challenge is to create content that your customer will find at their preferred source.
Lesson #3. Create a customer-centric content strategy
"We ask ourselves all the time, ‘Is this about us, is this about a product we are selling, or this about the customer?’" said Jansen, discussing content pieces.
He added it’s a day-to-day challenge to make sure the content passes that test because, as marketers, the team had been trained to make content about the company and its products, services and value proposition.
Jansen continued that as reseller of technologies, Softchoice also has to balance working hand-in-hand with its vendor partners to promote the benefits of those products while addressing its customers’ needs and framing the content in the customers’ language.
He said, "The first question for us is ‘What is the customers’ pain, and how can we match this particular product or solution to the customer?’ The second question is, ‘What is the best vehicle to do that?’"
Jansen went on to list a number of content vehicles, including:
- Blog post
- Event series
Softchoice spends the greatest amount of content energy on its blog posts.
Lesson #4. Set content marketing standards
Not surprisingly, Jansen said the number one standard, or litmus test, for any piece of content should be to answer: is it about the customer, is it about us, or is it about something else?
"As far as process is concerned, the one thing that we’ve really realized is that brands are now becoming like publishers, and you need to figure out what your publishing process is going to look like -- the editing process, the approval process, preparing a blog post for SEO, planning an editorial calendar," Jansen explained.
He continued that it’s important to have all the various stakeholders represented in this overall process and that he spends a lot of time refining the entire publishing model at Softchoice.
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