I’ve seen it happen a million times. I bet you have, too.
You download a white paper or e-book you expect to provide valuable content on a topic you’re interested in learning more about. The first two paragraphs look promising. Maybe they even mention hard data from a reputable source. And then it happens: Paragraph three sheds the thin veil that was used to hide a company’s sales pitch. Instead of learning about the topic you were interested in, you’re now reading a boring sales pitch.
Why is it that so many business-to-business (B2B) marketers confuse product marketing with content marketing?
Because it requires a lot of discipline. That’s why.
B2B marketers who get it right understand the difference between these two fundamentally different types of marketing, what their purposes are and how to use them correctly.
This is the process of creating and distributing content that ultimately has high value to your prospects and little to nothing to do with your product. If your prospects are e-commerce stores, good content marketing could teach them how to increase their sales this holiday period. If your prospects are senior sales leaders, great content marketing could teach them how to build a winning sales team.
The best of content marketing often uses proprietary data or analysis that is exclusive to your company — this could be anything from website traffic figures or an analysis of 10 million sales calls. Offer something exclusive that would be almost impossible for your prospects to get from another source.
You get the formula: Your prospects’ real challenges plus your valuable, exclusive content that helps solve these challenges equals great content marketing.
It’s OK to include a link to your company’s website or a passing mention of your product if the context absolutely begs for it, but that’s it. Great content marketers resist temptation and don’t go on rants listing off their product features, case studies and happy customers.
This is the content and process involved in taking your product to market. It includes everything from core messaging and the product description on your website to your sales decks, product data sheets and customer case studies.
This is precisely where you should go into every relevant benefit and feature of your product, explaining not only what it does similar to other players in your category, but also what differentiates your product from the rest — usually either product capabilities or a lower price point.
For the sake of completeness, I’ll throw in this brief description of the third common type of B2B marketing content: company marketing.
This type of content is often used on a company website’s “About Us” section, and expanded versions of it may be used to raise money or nominate a company for industry awards, and they may even be used for the common company boilerplate. Elements of this content often include details on the company’s leadership team, board of directors, marquee customers, partners and investors, as well as any impressive numbers you are free to mention, like the number of customers, funds raised or revenue.
Sales Funnel: Top Versus Bottom
A good rule of thumb is that content marketing is usually most useful for top-of-the-funnel marketing motions, while product marketing shines most at the bottom of the funnel.
The idea behind this is quite simple: At any given moment, the number of prospects in need of and ready to buy your product is limited. To make the most of your marketing resources, a good approach is to use content marketing that provides value to a broad audience within your target market. That content can be served using any of the channels you find useful for reaching your audience — email, social media, paid advertising, etc.
Once your prospects consume your content marketing and give you permission to continue communicating with them based on the value you’ve already provided (for example, by subscribing to your email list or following your social media page), it is up to you to take your prospects on a journey from the top to the bottom of the sales funnel. This is often called a nurturing campaign, and in simple terms, it means gradually progressing from broad-appeal content to qualified-buyer content around your product and how your other customers are using it.
A good nurturing campaign is part art, part science. When executed successfully, it gracefully guides your prospects through their buying journey, empowering them to feel in control of the buying process and not as if you — the vendor — are forcing them down your selling funnel.
B2B marketers who master these two important types of content — product marketing and content marketing — can have a huge impact on their sales funnel, not only filling it at the top, but also gracefully advancing the prospects through the funnel until they turn into new business at the bottom.
Mature marketing organizations usually have separate teams working on these two different types of content. If you’re at an early stage of your marketing team or you’re even a one-person team, one useful way of getting this right is clearly defining the type of marketing material you’re sitting down to write and how it will be used. Will I be using this for lead generation (top of the funnel), or will a salesperson be using this to close a deal (bottom of the funnel)?
Cutting through the clutter of modern-day B2B marketing is tough on so many levels. Figuring out your content marketing versus product marketing, and getting both of them right, is a crucial stepping stone on your way to success.