How To Improve B2B Content Marketing With Marketing Automation

Random acts of content.

Unused content.

Content that never had a chance at seeing a positive ROI.

We’re on the cusp of 2019, and these things are still happening.

But they are happening a lot less than they used to. As more and more B2B content marketing professionals figure out what it takes to build an effective content machine, we’re all getting a lot more disciplined.

For starters, many of us now have a documented content strategy. That helps to reduce random acts of content, and the even more painful symptom of bad content marketing strategy – content that never even gets used.

Back in 2013, Sirius Decisions said that 60 to 70 percent of B2B content was sitting unused. I haven’t seen an update to that statistic, but I’d bet we’re doing a lot better than we were five years ago.

This is good, but there is still a lot of content out there that doesn’t generate positive ROI. Maybe that’s because it didn’t fit into an intelligent strategy, or it wasn’t targeted to the right persona or audience.

Or maybe it just wasn’t well executed – as “content shock” continues, you just can’t publish crap and expect people to read it. They’ve got other things to do. And better things to read.

Marketing Automation is a Content Machine

Sometimes I think of all the chunks of random content I’ve come across as pieces of machinery on a floor. A bolt here, a blog post there. All those chunks of random content need to be assembled into an engine that purrs. They need to be put together to become a machine that attracts an audience and converts them into loyal customers.

A content marketing machine.

You know what else that machine metaphor reminds me of?

Marketing automation.

Basically, marketing automation brings in the machine-like discipline content marketing has always needed.

Of course, discipline isn’t easy. That’s why so many of us avoid it. Organizing that mess of content chunks on the floor into a purring machine takes work and planning. Which may be why setting up a comprehensive marketing automation program can be so involved.

When most companies sit down to actually build out a marketing automation program, they run into four major hurdles:

That includes old data, data processing, and data collection. The old data is usually bad, or at best unreliable. The data processes may be re-writing data where they shouldn’t be, or not updating other fields at all. And the data inputs need to be cleaned up, too, or you’ll just have a new mess later on.

You can’t avoid any of this with marketing automation. It runs as much on data as it does on content. And as you know (thanks, GDPR!), rehauling your data management is a massive job. But you can’t do effective personalization or segmentation without it.

  • They need to get crystal clear about their target audience/s.

Remember “customer-centric” marketing? It hasn’t gone away. And in a real sense, marketing automation – really good marketing automation – is a form of customer-centric marketing.

We see this in the data: Managing and nurturing leads is in one sense the core function of marketing automation. But we also see customer centricity in content.

As you build a marketing automation system, the content you have almost reshapes itself around the customer. If you want to get and keep their attention, you need to be building content and the content delivery system (aka your marketing automation system) around them. Around who they are and what they need. Around what they want to learn, and which content formats they want to learn it in.

Ends up, marketers who have implemented marketing automation say this type of customer experience mapping is the most effective technique to optimize their automation systems:

The standard way to define these prospects and customers, of course, is personas. Companies who have defined personas (and apply the knowledge) tend to get better results than companies that don’t.

But to just think in terms of job titles and demographics is to short shrift the actual people who are interested in your services. Really good marketing automation is also behavioral marketing. It doesn’t kick out cookie-cutter content. It’s smart enough to know what time of day they’re most likely to open an email.

  • They need to figure out what content they have and where the gaps are.

This is one of the places where marketing automation can remake a content marketing program. Literally.

When you begin building a marketing automation program, all the content you’ve published up to now needs to be evaluated for how it can fit into your new system. Every blog post, social media post, white paper, webinar, video, and infographic needs to be reviewed for how it could be used to create this new automated content delivery system.

In other words, you need to do a content audit.

It’s likely your content audit will reveal some content gaps. These are places in the B2B buyer journey where there isn’t an appropriate piece of content, either for that phase of the journey or for a particular persona.

You’ll also probably find several places where you’ve got content that kind of fits, but it needs to be reworked or updated. And finally, if you’ve got time, you may want to reformat some content … usually into a visual content format like videos, or possibly into an interactive content format like a quiz or an assessment.

  • They need a marketing automation strategy.

This is where it might almost seem like marketing automation and content marketing become one. Both types of marketing need a good strategy. They need a documented, data-driven plan. Without it, there are just too many moving parts to manage.

Most marketers know this all too well. When Ascend2 asked a group of mostly B2B marketers, “What’s your biggest priority for using marketing automation?” More of them checked, “Creating a successful strategy” than any other option.

“Creating a successful strategy” was also among their top three barriers to success. So strategy is both the biggest priority and one of the hardest things to pull off.

While it might be hard to develop a strategy, the rewards are there. The most successful B2B content marketers are 464% more likely to have a documented content marketing strategy than the least successful ones.

Even more interesting, the most successful content marketers are significantly more likely to use marketing automation than the least successful B2B content marketers.

An old study for a new idea

There’s a study from 2013 that shows plainly how content marketers believe marketing automation can improve their content marketing. In fact, they named marketing automation as the best way to drive revenue for a content marketing program.

In 2013, more than 3,000 B2B content marketers were asked, “Which of the following capabilities are most responsible for improving the revenue contribution from your content marketing?”

Respondents were allowed to pick up to three options, and 78 percent of them choose marketing automation. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of them also picked “lead scoring based on content and engagement”, which is now considered to be a core feature of most of the more robust marketing automation systems.

It would be interesting to see what B2B content marketers would say now. But what about you? Do you think the marketing automation you’ve been able to implement so far has improved how you do content marketing?

10 Ways Marketing Automation Makes Content Marketing More Efficient

We’ve touched on all these already, but just to be specific, let’s recap all the ways marketing automation can improve a B2B content marketing program:

  1. Marketing automation requires a good content inventory system.

In many ways, marketing automation runs on content. So, when you sit down to plan out how your marketing automation system will work, and how your prospects and customers will move through that system, you’ll immediately realize that you need to figure out which pieces of content you have, and what content you don’t have. You’re probably going to have to do a content audit, even if it’s “just” a quick one-week content audit.

  1. It forces you to fill in the holes in your content inventory.

As you plan out how people will move through your buyer’s journey, you’ll probably discover a few spots where there isn’t any suitable content. This is what the content audit will show you. After you’ve completed the audit, you’ll have a very specific list of content to create, and you’ll urgently need to create it. You won’t have time for “random acts of content” anymore.

  1. It makes you plan out the buyer’s journey.

Many content marketing strategists talk about “TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU” content (top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, and bottom of the funnel content). That’s a good start, but building a marketing automation system will force you to be far more granular than that.

  1. It forces you to use multi-touch attribution for your content marketing.

Marketing automation could almost be seen as basically a super-sophisticated attribution model. And if you’re doing lead scoring, it only gets more sophisticated. This might be a little intimidating to set up, but it’s ultimately a good thing. B2B content marketers who use marketing automation tend to know exactly which parts of their marketing work, or don’t work. In other words, they can measure ROI.

  1. It forces you to define buyer personas.

Hopefully, it will force you to define personas beyond the usual level of “Staci Stevens, a marketing manager who wants to save time”. In fact, you may find that you have to toss out most of the standard ideas about personas, and focus instead on behavioral data. You could create behavior-based personas.

  1. It will make you think about content re-purposing.

I’m sure you’ve heard about how different content formats tend to work better or worse at different stages of the buyer’s journey. Well, bring that idea into your content planning for marketing automation. Consider converting a couple of blogs posts for end-of-the-funnel prospects into interactive content. If you can get those prospects to fill out a quiz or an assessment, you’ll be able to give Sales some precious information.

  1. It will give you a holistic view of every piece of content you publish.

Ever felt exhausted by pushing out yet another blog post, yet another ebook? All that ends when you’ve got a marketing automation system. You will no longer just be pumping out content for content’s sake. You’ll be building a prospect education machine.

  1. It will force you to add calls to action to your content, or at least to have a “next step” prepared for every piece of content.

Do you have a call-to-action at the close of every blog post? A CTA for every social media post, or triggered emails ready to send after any white paper has been downloaded? Having a marketing automation system means you can automate all those actions. And if you want to move people through the buyer’s journey (which is the whole point), then you’ll get very good at asking “what’s the next step?” for every piece of content you plan.

  1. Marketing automation will make content marketing – and content marketers – more productive.

Marketers often cite “improved productivity” as the biggest benefit of marketing automation. This is certainly something that every content marketer could use more of.

10. You may find you need to create less content than before.

Marketing automation brings in the discipline of planning and strategy. This makes our work more efficient, but it also makes each individual piece of content more efficient, too.

If we can get more results from each piece of content, then we can get more results without having to just keep creating more content for the sake of it. We’re no longer just “publishing three times a week” because that seems like what’s needed to look like we’re doing content marketing.

How else can marketing automation improve a content marketing program? Leave a comment or connect with us on Twitter to tell us what you’ve seen.

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