5th February 2017
In 1967, an early episode of the original Star Trek television series featured an adorably furry little creature called a Tribble that made a comforting cooing/purring sound when happy (and a horrifying shriek when upset!). One is brought aboard the Enterprise and before they know it, this Tribble has multiplied and multiplied until there are so many of them that they are popping out of storage bins and overflowing into the corridors. The trouble with Tribbles is that although the crew become enamoured of the sweet little fur balls, they reproduce to the point where they become unmanageable and overwhelming, much like the explosion of data we in B2B marketing experience every day.
OK, perhaps I’m pushing the analogy a little (or a lot!), but the point I want to make is that the data we rely on to inform our marketing efforts has grown to the point where we’re becoming overwhelmed by it all. And often without even intending to, we use it to validate what we think we already know, or to prove a particular point of view. Furthermore, with the over-abundance of B2B marketing surveys done every year on practically every subject we might be interested in, we have a tendency to accept the high-level statements for the findings and not do our own due diligence with the data.
We’ve all done it, and that’s all right…to a point. The problems begin when we become so fixated on our own point of view or accept as true the conclusions of the surveys that we ignore what the rest of the data may really be telling us.
Last month I finally took a look at the third and final instalment of the Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) annual look into the state of B2B marketing, the 2017 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarking Report for Australia. The CMI concludes that ‘as Australian marketers continue to grow in experience and content marketing maturity, so too does their overall success with the approach’.
I can’t really argue with this conclusion. Most of us get better at just about everything as we gain more experience. Yet I have trouble with the fact that the data is actually telling a far different story.
For those of you who may have missed my posts (Is content marketing failing us? and Committed to content marketing?), the CMI found that although the ‘tide had turned’ for content marketing, B2B marketers in both the US and the UK still weren’t doing it right. For North America, it’s a lack of strategy that’s inhibiting B2B content marketing success and for the UK, it’s a lack of commitment.
For Australia, it would appear to be lack of experience. And the findings are meant to encourage marketers to keep following the CMI route to content marketing success:
And of course, as they found with the US and UK surveys: have a strategy for and a commitment to content marketing.
This advice is neither wholly right nor entirely wrong; it only becomes an issue when there remains an insistence that content marketing is the be-all and end-all for marketing, instead of one tactic among many in the B2B marketing mix.
Before I address this further, let’s take a look at the overall CMI findings for the Australian survey:
What is this chart telling us? Let’s look more closely at the data:
Of particular interest is that in 2016 lead generation, as measured by sales lead quality, was the top goal for B2B marketers, as opposed to 2017’s goal of engagement as measured by website traffic.
How does experience impact these findings?
While it’s noteworthy that those who are more sophisticated marketers have higher percentages of overall success within every category surveyed, there are some telling data-points:
My conclusion? As with the US and UK surveys, it’s pretty clear to me that not much, if anything, has changed for Australian content marketing year-on-year. We still don’t understand what’s working and what’s not, and we’re still unable to measure it.
So, what do we do?
The real challenge we’ve faced as B2B marketers with content marketing is looking at it as our marketing approach, instead of simply one tactic among many.
While I don’t like the term itself, I’m fine with it being used to describe an online asset where we create content that is not about what we sell, but is about our customers’ issues and challenges. And this can be – and is – good marketing. The CMI just happens to call it ‘content marketing’ and describes it as: one type of content, on one main platform, delivered consistently and over time in order ‘ultimately, to drive profitable customer action’.
But let’s be very clear, this is not a marketing strategy, this is a tactic – a good one when done well, to be sure, but not an entire marketing approach. A single approach is simply not good marketing. Our customers move across multiple channels and platforms, they engage with us when and where they choose, and we can’t capture our customers’ time and attention by driving them to a single asset where we expect them to read our content…and then do what?
The trouble with Tribbles
In the Star Trek episode, the solution for the avalanche of Tribbles was to beam them to a Klingon ship. We have no such easy answer to the explosion of both data and content in B2B marketing, but I do have a few suggestions:
We really need to understand for ourselves what’s working, what’s not and why or why not. And not kid ourselves about what we’re finding. Otherwise we’ll just end up with an awful lot of cute, fuzzy Tribbles and no credibility at all.
Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.