Today’s article is about earning brand preference by satisfying the information needs of your target customers and prospects.


Marketing leaders make this a reality by planning and executing a content strategy. Recently we interviewed Steve Keifer, the Vice President of Marketing at LeaseAccelerator, a fast-growth SaaS company. Steve’s B2B marketing team has embraced emerging best practices with a practical approach.


In this article we share guidance on how to produce content that earns brand preference. Build content creation as a core capability even if you are running with a lean marketing team. Steve has overcome the most frustrating challenges faced by B2B marketing leaders.


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b2b Content Marketing


Read Steve’s description of a content factory approach where his team starts with interviewing subject matter experts. The SME’s are typically from professional services or product management and depth of knowledge that is valuable to a prospect. After the SME interview is the content marketing team’s engagement of writing the core content and determining the content types. The third and final step is with creative agencies who perform the layout and build-out of the content type.


Steve’s point of view is that you can’t just hire a legacy marketing writer. Content marketing teams are growing their own talent. Another solid approach is to hire a writer with a journalism background. The writer needs to have the skill-set to tell a story and drive action.


Below are Steve’s details responses on how to build brand preference with great content.

What reasons do you have for creating content? I mean, how does it help your business?


Most people would say the number one job of creating content is to fill the top of the funnel with leads. I would argue that it’s more about the entire sales process end to end from lead to opportunity to won deal. Even once you’ve closed a customer, helping grow that account, helping make that account successful.


The content comes in early in the buying cycle. People are on the Web, trying to educate themselves about problems. They do not pick up the phone and call a vendor anymore as their first buying activity. They go out and discover information on their own. If marketing is doing their job right, and we have compelling content that stands out, we’re going to get in early to a sales process than we otherwise would.


Even once the sales rep is engaged, I continue to be amazed at how many sales reps will come to me and say, “I’m in this account and I’ve got a deal. Stop marketing to them. Stop sending them information. I’ll take care of that all on my own.”


Marketing can prospect and communicate on a scale that a sales rep can’t. We can send information out to different people in a company and identify influencers in a deal that the sales rep may not even know about. We can surface problems that might increase the size of a deal. Maybe you ask about a specific problem and all the 10 people in the corporate office you talked to said no, but there’s somebody in Wichita, Kansas that shows up in your website and downloads a white paper about the problem. Suddenly, you have another compelling event and your deal has increased in size.


Even once the deal is closed, people continue to be surprised, about existing customers watching your webinars. Your existing customers, they’ve got to be able to justify the money that you’re spending with them on their subscription every year. They want to be able to show value. They’re just as interested as new buyers in benchmark data and case studies and best practices and what other people are doing. You’re helping them to be successful. You’re helping them to sell up in the value of what you’re doing in the group to grow their account. It’s a lot more than just filling the top of the funnel.


If I handed you a million dollars today, would you spend it on content marketing or would you spend it on something else? If so, why?


I don’t think it’s all about budget these days in marketing. CMOs and VPs of marketing for the past 50 years have measured their success by the size of their budget and the size of their team. Today, I think it’s more about data. If you asked me would you rather have another million dollars in budget or a terabyte of data that provided you insights into behaviors and demographics and demographics. I would take the data because then I don’t need the million dollars. If I know what works, I don’t need to spend as much money on trial and error.


I have a different perspective because I think of content. You can do a lot without having to spend a lot of money.


if I had to spend it anywhere, I would certainly probably spend it on content more so than public relations or some of the other areas. You can always use a few more people to help write content. You can always accelerate a few projects.


Would you spend money on content marketing or advertising?


In terms of advertising, you just don’t get the data and the feedback. On some of the online advertising, you can if it’s pay per click and digital. Certainly, the traditional print and television type of media, it’s difficult to get feedback and data. The content is useful in so many ways throughout the customer life cycle as I talked about in the previous question.


Some of the things that you’re doing at Lease Accelerator indicate to me that you might have a large team. You’ve told me that you have a small company so that’s probably not true. I’m sure people that are listening this late into the podcast are asking themselves: How is he getting all of this done? Please describe the content marketing team. Do you have enough manpower to execute your content marketing strategy?


There’s an assumption in your question that you must have a content marketing team. I think that’s important and 100% agree. A lot of organization rely on the product marketing team to generate content. I haven’t seen good results with that.


This is a very specialized skill. Really when you think about the content marketing that a technology vendor like us is doing, we’re competing with professional media publications. We’re competing with the Gartners and the Foresters of the world because buyers only have so much time. Buyers are only going to do so much research and so much education in their buying cycle. The question is whether they are going to read your content or are they going to read somebody else’s. It’s well worth investing in a team.


I have a small marketing organization. Imagine a content factory with inputs and outputs going from left to right. On the left side, we have subject matter experts who we interview. We generally don’t ask them to write because they don’t have the time and they’re not particularly good writers. It could be people in product management. It could be people in professional services. You ask them about best practices, customer experiences.


In the middle, we have the content marketing team. They think about the content from two ways. They not only write it down, but they also think about sort of the length and the format and the layout of it as well. Is this going to be an animated video? Is it a webinar? Is it a blog post, or an e-book, and approximately how long it should be?


Then on the right side you have outside agencies that we tend to use, or freelancers more likely, that do the actual creative work and the production. If it’s an e-book, laying it out, designing it, putting it into a PDF. If it’s a video, creating the animation, putting it into an MP4 file.


I would like to have one or two more people. Really, the challenge I found here is not so much capacity as it is talent. It’s hard to find people that can build content well. You can’t make assumptions just because someone was in product marketing or they were a writer or they’ve done marketing communications in the past and they’re going to be good at it. You either must grow them or go out and hire, really, a journalist or an analyst or someone that’s done this before.


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