By Abby Sorensen, Editor
B2B marketers often divide resources among two distinct categories: building brand awareness or increasing demand generation. The reality of today’s complex purchasing environment is that these two battles – branding and demand gen – are part of the same war. Content can provide ammunition for both.
Content marketing has an established track in the demand gen category – content can help uncover and influence buyers. But too often B2B marketers see content as a separate entity from the activities used to drive brand awareness. Good content* can and does create brand awareness. And in many cases, content is a better vehicle for driving brand awareness than traditional marketing activities.
Connecting Brand Awareness And Demand Gen
In the 2019 B2B Marketing Mix Report, the top two marketing objectives reported were “increasing sales leads” (67 percent) and “increasing brand awareness” (44 percent). Compare that to the B2B Content Marketing 2020: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report, which shows the top marketing goal was “create brand awareness” (86 percent) – a significant difference from the 53 percent of marketers who cited “generate sales/revenue.”
The percentages aren’t the point (after all, marketers can find research to support just about any assumption). The point is that marketers even separate brand awareness and demand gen in the first place. Instead, brand awareness should be inseparably linked to demand gen. Customers can’t buy from you if they don’t know you.
So why, then, are some marketing activities designated only for brand awareness? Why do so many of those brand awareness activities rely on outdated marketing tactics? And why isn’t content marketing always included in both categories?
Brand Awareness Cannot Be Bought
Some B2B marketers are still infatuated with easy-to-measure brand awareness metrics. But metrics like web traffic, banner ad impressions, and number of business cards dropped in a fishbowl at a booth don’t divulge any information about the buyer’s journey. A new logo, a new name, a new ad campaign, a new trade show display, a new website – all in the name of brand awareness – are not enough to impact a B2B buyer’s journey.
Those traditional activities to drive brand awareness are all about you – the seller – whereas good content* is all about your buyers and their business challenges. The strength of your brand on its own can’t help buyers solve their business challenges. But helpful content produced on a consistent basis and distributed via the right channels by your brand can.
Not too long ago, B2B marketers could “increase brand awareness” by “making a big splash” at a trade show or buying every inch of ad space to “take over” a website. Today, though, brand awareness cannot be purchased. That’s because buyers aren’t putting their attention up for sale.
Buyers do most of their research before engaging directly with a supplier. And once they do narrow their options to a finite list of suppliers, most of the purchase decision is made without interacting with a sales rep at those suppliers. Buyers instead spend their time consulting with internal buying groups and researching independently (this, according to Gartner’s research).
Buyers guard their time like the precious resource that it is. Content is your way to share in some of that time. Your buyers will become aware of your brand if you consistently produce content that provides answers, piques curiosity, educates, and builds affinity.
You can start to build brand awareness through content with these three strategies.
1. Content must live and breathe outside of your company’s blog, your newsletter, and your social channels.
Consider this content statistic: “82 percent of branded content is seen by an audience of fewer than 1,000 people.” This will continue to be true until B2B marketers are willing to share content beyond their own channels.
Ask yourself this before turning to web traffic metrics to dispute that finding: do you know how many of the right people are seeing the content on your website? Or is the content living within the confines of your brand, mostly attracting your employees, your competitors, and industry consultants?
Remember, buyers do most of their research without engaging suppliers directly. Content that lives only on the channels you own is more likely to be perceived as a sales pitch – even if it doesn’t require contact information to access and even if it’s the kind of helpful content that focuses on helping instead of selling.
2. Building a brand through content must be a constant, continuous effort.
A content strategy that creates brand awareness takes time. Simply put, content won’t shorten your sales cycle. If it takes nine months for a typical prospect to work through your funnel, don’t expect to close business three months after you start investing heavily in content.
Investing heavily in content doesn’t mean investing when it’s convenient, like when you have leftover budget or are launching a new product/service. That’s because buyer’s journeys are not dictated by your seller’s journey. Buyers operate on their own precious time.
One new hire, the departure of a key stakeholder, or an acquisition can start or stop a buyer’s journey faster than you can edit that next white paper. When one buyer’s journey ends, another one begins, regardless of where your content production stands. Plus, to build brand awareness, your content needs to be in front of buyers even before they start the buyer’s journey.
For more on this concept, check out the article "Who Is Your Marketing Campaign Serving?"
3. Content is a brand equalizer when you invest properly in it.
Traditional “brand awareness” marketing activities are most successful when you can outspend competitors. Look around the trade show floor, and it’s fairly easy to guess which companies are flush with VC cash and which companies are the 10,000-pound gorilla in the market. Content can level the otherwise expensive brand awareness playing field.
Yes, it’s true your competitors might have more resources for content marketing. You can always be outspent on the amount of content produced or the tools used to produce it. But no number of writers and no piece of technology will guarantee that good content* is produced to help your buyers solve their business challenges.
Whether you’re a small company trying to grow in a crowded market, or a middle-of-the-pack company trying to catch up to the key players, content can help your brand look bigger than your marketing budget. And if you are the market leader, you’ll need good content* to keep fast-growing competitors at bay.
Continuously creating good content* and delivering it to the right people via a variety of channels doesn’t mean you need to quadruple your marketing budget. It can be less expensive and more effective to build your brand through content.
*Good content builds trust by truly educating your customers and helping them solve problems/challenges. Good content does not focus on telling the customer about what you do. Writing good content is hard. Writing content that only talks about the features and benefits of your products/services is not-so-hard.