In their most recent report, CMI shared that 77% of marketers reported their organization has a content marketing strategy.
That sounds nice and all but here’s the truth: What many marketers are calling a “content marketing strategy” is merely a collection of topics and a list of random acts of content stored on a page. That is not a content marketing strategy!
If 77% have a strategy, most of them aren’t very good and today I’m going to tell you exactly why. Most content marketing strategies aren’t up to snuff, but yours doesn’t have to be one of them.
The overwhelming majority of content is so poorly constructed that it’s simply bad and therefore accomplishes nothing—for you or your audience.
Not All Content Marketing Strategies Are Created Equal
Marcus Sheridan has long discussed his They Ask, You Answer philosophy to Marketing.
The premise is beyond simple, as it’s spelled out right there in the title of his book. Inside its pages, you come to realize that, ultimately, what buyers want is information on seven types of questions:
Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, and How Much?
These seven questions are the things your content needs to be addressing at each and every turn. The brands doing it most successfully are not only dominating search rankings but likely experiencing the fruits of their labor.
Discovering What Makes Your Audience Tick
Productive content strategies are data-driven strategies. But simply relying on our own historical data sets us up to fail in the future. What was true yesterday may be true tomorrow, but for how long?
To truly find what your audience and prospects need, you need to combine your own data (ICP, CRM, and other audience data) with valid, third-party sources that leverage first-party buyer behaviors. Doing so allows you to compare and contrast how your audience differs from larger pockets of users.
Here are a few ways you can use buyer-level insights and your own audience data to build a dynamite content strategy.
How Real-Time Consumption Insights Reveal Actionable Behaviors
Accomplishing all of this requires quite a bit of information, both from a historical and an active perspective. Ideally, you’d be able to leverage your own customer and legacy data to find many of these answers to help set the table but you won’t be able to find everything.
Since Amazon doesn’t sell a Marketing Crystal Ball, we have to be strategic in how we go about filling in the gaps…however, there is a tool called Audience Explorer.
NetLine’s Audience Explorer tool is powered by millions of first-party registrations from across the web. The site shows what users are and have requested in real-time over a rolling 180-day average. Essentially, if a B2B audience exists on the web, Audience Explorer will have information on what a given group is searching for.
For our purposes, we’re going to focus on B2B professionals working in a Marketing job area—specifically content marketers across a wide swath of industries.
Setting the Table
Audience Explorer allows you to filter consumption with five sub-categories. For the Marketing Job Area consumptions, here’s how we’ve filtered to best reflect the Convince & Convert audience:
- Job Function: Content Marketing
- Job Level: C-Level, Managers, Sr. Managers, Directors, Sr. Directors, Owners
- Region: United States
- Employee Size: N/A
- Industry: N/A
I chose to leave the Employee Size and Industry filters untouched considering the myriad of folks who use Convince and Convert.
What you’ll see now is a Total Buyer Content Recommendations count of 49,244 – meaning that in the last six months, NetLine has suggested nearly 50,000 assets to B2B users. While this is a good number to understand, it’s not the juicy bit marketers can sink their teeth into.
Who’s Most Active
The first thing that should pop out to you is just how active Content Managers, Directors, and Senior Managers are when it comes to content consumption. In this grouping, they account for 93.3% of all requests (Directors and Managers represent 81.6%), with C-Level professionals making up less than 1% of registrations.
Takeaway: No matter which industry you reside in, mid-level employees are the best group to target with your content. Yes, you need to make sure you have something for each Job Level, but these professionals are the bell cow in every business you’re trying to gain influence in.
Topic Level Interests
The next slice of information worth noting is the Top 10 Trending Topics; an aggregate accumulation of the most popular topics from the past 180 days. The first two are Marketing and Marketing Strategy; a pretty predictable outcome given this Job Area. Healthcare Services in third also aligns given the nearly 12% audience share from professionals in the healthcare space (6% – Biotech and Pharmaceuticals, 5.7% – Healthcare/Medical). The one I’ll focus on, however, is B2B Marketing in the fourth spot.
Since the start of the pandemic, interest in B2B Marketing has grown steadily; Google Trends confirms this, as well, with search volume peaking twice in the past year. While conferences and in-person events have returned, B2B Marketers have realized they can get a sizable ROI for their hybrid or strictly digital efforts.
Takeaway: B2B Marketers are constantly looking to educate themselves, especially on the basics. Six of the top seven trending topics are related to foundational pieces of building a strategy—a sign that everyone simply wants to better themselves and/or their employer.
Most Consumed Content Formats
In NetLine’s annual Content Consumption Report, we shared that eBooks were the dominant content format, accounting for 43.3% of all registrations. Here, we see a similar outcome, albeit not as drastic. eBooks represented 31.6% of consumption with Guides trailing at 23.06%. What we also shared in our annual report was that eBooks were uber popular, Report, White Paper, and Webinar registrations all indicated greater purchase intent.
Takeaway: While the majority of this group of B2B Marketers are browsing at the top of the funnel, nearly half of them (45.3%) are beginning to invest significant time in formats that would signal their intent to make a purchase decision. Considering that NetLine expects roughly 31% of B2B buyers to be in market over the next 12 months, the behavior of these B2B Marketers could mean investment is coming.
Getting More Granular
Understanding what’s happening at a macro level can be quite helpful when shaping the direction of your content calendar. But of course, you’re going to eventually need to come back to the audience that butter’s your bread.
To highlight just how specific and relevant Audience Explorer can be when it comes to informing your content marketing strategy, let’s switch and focus on the Advertising/Marketing industry rather than the Marketing job area. Again, we’ve filtered to best reflect a segment of the Convince & Convert audience:
- Sub-Industry: Advertising Agencies, Advertising/Marketing (General), Marketing Services
- Job Area: Marketing
- Job Level: Managers, Directors
- Region: United States
- Employee Size: 5,000 – 9,999; 10,000 – 19,999; 20,000 – 49,999; 50,000+
There’s a greater number of filters in play here, which will naturally shrink the size of the audience analyzed. The big benefit here, however, is how much more accurate and impactful these findings will likely be.
Our learnings from the Job Area analysis showed us that Directors and Managers were the pros most likely to seek out content. In this cohort, Directors (84.2%) requested far more content than their Managerial peers (15.8%). Because their interest was so much greater, we’ll lean further into their consumption habits and remove Managers from the Job Level filters. The Buyer Research Stream also tells a similar story, with five of the eight examples focusing on some variant of Marketing Strategy with each user being a Marketing Director.
Takeaway: Marketing Directors are often responsible for setting, executing, and overseeing content strategies. If your solution is helpful in assisting content marketers achieving their goals, be sure to start by addressing the needs of the Marketing Director first; content for other Job Areas, Levels, and Functions can follow.
In looking at the Sub-Industries, nearly 66% of consumption came via professionals working in Advertising/Marketing (General). Since this is such a generalized group, let’s get more niche and dive into the habits of professionals working inside Advertising Agencies and Marketing Services.
Just as we saw with the Marketing Job Area, Marketing Strategy and Marketing are the top two topics, only they’ve swapped places. Healthcare Services also remains in the three-hole with Pharmaceuticals in 4th and Biotech in 10th. Given that Ashfield Health was the most active in-market company in this cohort (and by a wide margin), there’s a sizable influence from the healthcare field here.
Hiring Strategies and Performance Management are also quite popular in this audience. It’s long been established that vendors are held to lofty standards by their clients, especially at the start of a relationship. Therefore, it’s natural for agencies and service providers to hone in on finding and getting the most out of their talent.
Takeaway: The best insights are always the ones that exist below the surface. Sure, it might be easier to find the patterns at the top, but the ones that are “buried”? Those are the money beets.
The Most Consumed Content Formats pie chart also tells an interesting story. 63.6% of all registrations came from White Papers, Webinars, and Reports—formats that signal impending purchase decisions. It would be fascinating to see the break out between the types of content being consumed in each format but alas, Audience Explorer doesn’t provide this.
Takeaway: Professionals working for agencies and service-oriented businesses are constantly on the hunt for the next big solution. While buyer-level intent data might suggest these registrations should send up the Batsignal of impending purchase decisions, take a moment to pause and remember that these pros must keep tabs on everything occurring in the market. Best to keep context in all situations as the data can’t know everything.
Honestly, there’s enough here to keep going, but let’s frame these findings into how they can best inform your content marketing strategy and propel it forward.
Using Buyer-Level Insights to Your Advantage
Combining first-party behavioral data with your own audience and client data is a recipe for success. By simply mixing these two elements together, here’s what you can begin to piece together.
Addressing the 7 Key Questions
Starting with Google Analytics (or whatever site traffic tool you’re using), you can begin to see what your audience has been glombing onto in recent days, weeks, and months. To make sure you’re not missing anything. Leveraging resources like the Top 10 Trending Topics and Buyer Research Streams are excellent ways to see what the larger market or, better yet, your own niche, is investigating.
Once you know the kinds of information your audiences are seeking inside and outside your world, the easier it will be to answer who is asking questions, what they need to know, how they trying to get it, and when they might be looking to buy.
A Different Kind of Content Gap Analysis
Traditionally, a content gap analysis surveys where you’re missing out on key search keywords, phrases, and topics. In using tools like Audience Explorer and Google Trends in tandem, you can see the kind of macro- and micro-trends occurring within your spheres of relevance.
Anything on strategy will likely be an evergreen topic. But information about performance management in the healthcare field specific to Marketing Directors working inside of companies employing less than 10,000? That’s something SEO tools will never surface.
Uncovering Potential Purchase Intent
eBooks, Guides, and Cheats Sheets are three of the most popular content types on the web currently. It’s crucial to remember, however, that these kinds of registrations are associated with top-of-funnel behavior.
If you’re noticing that your segmented audiences are consuming Webinars and White Papers elsewhere but you’re only offering a blog and a few PDFs, you could be missing out on some important lead gen opportunities and foregoing some high quality intent signals.
Put Audience Explorer to the Test
The audiences we dove into today are just a teeny, tiny taste of what this tool has inside. With access to more than 300 unique industries and sub-industries, this tool has millions of different audiences to analyze. Hopefully, this tool can give you visibility into consumption behaviors that make your marketing strategy work smarter.