I recently wrote about the two “natures of marketing”, brand awareness and short-term sales activation (or leadgen, as we B2B marketers are used to call it) and the role of content within the overall marketing strategy. The latest seminal research of Les Binet and Peter Field, Effectiveness in Context, analyses hundreds campaigns of the IPA Databank, with a focus on marketing effectiveness, and well clarifies the dual model. Here I want to focus on the role of content strategy within an overarching marketing strategy, and how content will contribute to a common alignment across the different marketing natures.
The last few years have seen short-term sales activation becoming enterprises’ first priority, especially in the B2B domain. Enterprises invested most of the money in short-term, bottom of the funnel, campaigns driven mostly by online paid media programs and related content, in the hope to lift sales for the next few quarters. I had a similar priority when I led marketing for a division of a large enterprise in the field of Energy. Brand was a minor focus. I keep seeing this as a practice in many of the enterprises I consult. Short-term activation campaigns and sales programs were successful in most of the cases. At least, this is what I (and most marketers) thought.
According to Binet and Field, marketing effectiveness is in decline and “short-termism” is, in many ways, the mother of all marketing problem. What exactly happened? As I have mentioned, marketers are increasingly short-term in their focus. They spend money on immediate sales activation rather than longer-term brand building. They opt for bottom-of-the-funnel tactics because in a one-year time period that will pay better in the majority of the cases. But in one of the most important sections of their research, the two authors demonstrate that over the longer term this short-termism will rapidly deteriorate the overall impact of marketing. Too much time spent picking the low-hanging fruit means less time watering the tree. Eventually the tree stops growing.
As a consequence, content creation has focused mainly on bottom-of-the-funnel and product (or service)-focused content to support short-term paid media and sales activation programs. In most of the cases a solid and documented content strategy was even not requested and not in place. You don’t need a content strategy for executing short-term sales activation campaigns.
I have seen this happening with the clients I consult and work with, which are mostly large enterprises in the sectors of tech, finance, energy. While in the past my strategy workshops were mostly attended by brand and content leaders, now a vastly heterogeneous crowd of marketers belonging to different domains shows up. People from performance marketing, but also paid media, social media and PR teams are common audience of my strategy exercises. The main challenge all of them have is alignment across a common audience and buyer journey.
In fact, they share:
- Common business and marketing goals – marketers might have different micro-goals (eg. brand lift or number of leads) but the marketing function always share common macro-goals
- Common audience – they are targeting the same audience, but their approach targets different phases of the buyer journey: brand and content focus mostly on awareness, performance marketing on consideration, decision and buying
- Common buyer journey – again marketers target different stages and they clearly have different needs. Marketers focusing on brand/content need to design a centralised audience-centric content strategy; performance marketers need to understand what resonate with the audience in the decision/purchase phases of the journey, and use good content for their activation campaigns; field marketers need sales enablement content which span across different stages; social media & comms marketers need to secure alignment with the previous functions in order to support with solid content distribution.
- Common strategy – built around audience and buyer journey; top-of-the-funnel content and storytelling will fuel brand awareness and its need to build enduring memories; medium and bottom-of-the-funnel content will feed the immediate need for sales activation programs.
Marketers belonging to different functions within the same organisation share the same need: alignment across a common audience and buyer journey.
The role of content marketing is evolving. From an individual and isolated rebel approach at the times of the first books of Joe Pulizzi ( early 2010s?) to a consolidated mainstream role within the overarching marketing strategy.