B2B marketers are facing tremendous shifts in the rules of engagement. Buyers are spending more time self-navigating for potential solutions and partnerships, whether it’s online, via mobile or through garnering insights from peers and social circles. As a result, buyers are communicating with sales teams later in the buying cycle, and in turn, deals are taking longer to close.
A new survey from DemandGen Report spotlighted the growing importance of taking a thought leadership approach to lead and demand generation. “The Content Preferences Survey” indicated that 72% of B2B buyers want organizations to “cut the sales speak.” Meaning, companies should provide meaningful solutions and strategies to industry-wide pain points, rather than discussing product features and specs.
Although B2B organizations are building their prospect lists and optimizing lead and demand generation efforts via content, channel players are left pondering content’s role in their marketing strategy, which is primarily flooded with siloed messaging, inefficient collateral delivery and customization process, and overall, poor engagement strategies.
Moreover, OEMs, manufacturers and vendors are wondering the value proposition of content in the channel, especially since most VARs, resellers and distributors do not have the bandwidth, technology or manpower to distribute content.
Data from SiriusDecisions, however, points to the growing prominence of content in the channel, especially in the high-tech sector, which has made a strong shift to rely on third-party sources for solution/hardware information. Most respondents indicated that they searched on the web (51%), while email (21%), events (17%) and direct mail (11%) are notable channels to receive and digest information.
“With the adoption of inbound marketing — and content marketing — channel organizations are starting to understand that buyers not only require attractive, educational and sometimes entertaining content, but also need it instantly delivered to them when and where they’re looking for it,” said Patrick van Boom, Director of Worldwide Marketing and Sales for TIE Kinetix, a content syndication solution provider. “After a manufacturer creates its content, the next step is to activate their indirect channel. In the past, this was a very lengthy process. Manufacturers needed to engage with the partners so they would manually update their web sites, but most VARs, resellers or channel partners don’t have the time or resources to constantly stay up to date.”
Best-in-class organizations, however, are cashing in on the benefits of content collateral by utilizing syndication solutions, which offer a platform that automatically updates and distributes content through numerous portals.
Content is becoming a more valuable asset to building prospect relationships and further educating current customers on high-level market trends and pain points. As a result, it is becoming more imperative for OEMs, vendors and manufacturers to provide seamless access to content, as well as viable opportunity for VARs to personalize collateral based on their specific value propositions. However, this remains a constant struggle among channel players, according to Ken Romley, CEO of Zift Solutions.
“Very few VARs can make a business of just moving product without providing significant value-add,” Romley told Channel Marketer Report. “This means that the content they distribute must talk to what they provide, which is often bringing together sets of products to solve business problems for their clients. Getting content that supports their mission as they go-to market is often difficult.”
This difficulty, according to Romley, is largely due to the fact that many VARs don’t have the technological infrastructure and support to access and share content. “The best results are achieved when marketing automation systems are put in place to provide consistent messaging to prospects, as well as to direct appropriate follow up based on lead scoring,” Romley explained. “Implementing these systems can be expensive and require expertise. Some vendors, such as [Zift Solutions clients] HP and Red Hat help with this by providing syndication platforms that greatly reduce these costs.”
Content syndication solutions are designed to allow OEMs, vendors and manufacturers to develop content such as white papers, E-books and webinars, and leave open sections for VARs to enter specific branding information and logos. Moreover, most offer an open portal for organizations to share new resources with their partner networks as they are released and updated.
A snapshot of content syndication solutions that are currently available and optimized for channel organizations include:
By implementing content syndication solutions, OEMs are now able to empower channel partners with access to resources, and the ability to customize materials and create a “seamless co-branded experience where the partner’s online traffic can easily browse the manufacturer’s content and get the exact information they need,” van Boom reported.
Content syndication solutions also are designed to help manufacturers control content, eliminating branding and messaging silos and creating a more consistent end-user experience. Moreover, VARs are armed with the resources to increase band penetration among customers and prospects.
“Another change manufacturers see after implementing content syndication solutions is related to time savings with distribution and enablement,” van Boom added. “They now have much more time for creative marketing solutions. For example, you’ll not only see manufacturers creating more content, but channel specific, geographically oriented and more personalized content for their partners and end users.”
Implementing Content Development And Sharing Best Practices
B2B marketing gurus have sworn by the motto “Content is king.” But as buyers continue to rely more on outside research to obtain information on potential solutions and partnerships, marketers are changing their approach to content creation and sharing.
DemandGen Report’s “Content Preferences Survey” points to the continual reign of white papers. Over the past year, 88% of B2B buyers consulted a white paper regarding a potential business decision. Other written content, such as case studies (67%), blog posts (63%) and E-books (51%) also were used. However, there is an increased focus on more visual, interactive content, including webinars (73%), videos (44%), infographics (38%) and interactive presentations (28%), which are easier to digest and present a low-hanging fruit opportunity for organizations to better engage with buyers.
According to Tony Serino, Managing Director of Serino Channel Services, a channel marketing consultancy, optimizing content marketing relies on the following factors:
1. Getting the right content. Organizations must understand their target audience, pain points, and general market needs, as well as how they consume content (i.e. via email, web search or social networks).
2. Sharing collateral with the right people. Gravitate to specific marketing and distribution channels, whether it is an email, blog, tweet or LinkedIn post, to promote content collateral. Provide a compelling call-to-action by highlighting the points addressed and the answers provided.
3. Providing content at the right time. By developing a consistent editorial schedule of different content assets, or tapping into data to understand customers’ position in the buying journey, organizations can ensure content is being shared at the right time.
Effective content development also presents an opportunity for channel organizations to extend the life of their content across multiple platforms and formats. Most content syndication solutions offer social sharing services, allowing partners to customize tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn messages, and share content with followers and connections.
“The good news about good content is that it can be used in many places to provide value,” Romley said. “The same piece can often be added to a web site, referenced in blogs, used as an offer in emails, and promoted in social media. Vendors can help in this process by providing infrastructure that automates the inclusion of a piece of content in all these channels.”
As channel marketers continue to weigh out the benefits of content marketing for lead nurturing, as well as building communication and relationships with prospects and customers, organizations are expected to improve efficiencies and implement new technologies to optimize content for demand across the channel, according to van Boom.
“With the popularity of content marketing, syndication and marketing automation in 2012, manufacturers will continue to demand strategies and solutions that help create and distribute engaging content through the channel more effectively,” van Boom said. “The result of these solutions will help manufacturers maintain a firm grip on their partner community and allow them to analyze which solutions and content will net the best ROI. Moreover, as partners and end users interact with these new strategies and delivery methods, their expectations of a quality online experience will continue to shift more toward personalization, customization and instant gratification.”