Content marketing can influence SEO, increase social engagement and position a brand as an industry thought leader. However, a recent study reports that only 41 percent of B2B marketers think content marketing is effective in generating leads and revenue.

In a way, marketers are being asked to serve two masters. First is the knowledge that to “win” mind share, they must create, publish and optimize significant amounts of content. The second is the “encouragement” (a euphemism, to be sure) from management to justify ROI on every marketing spend.

The Role of Recommendations

To leverage the investment in content marketing and use it to increase overall key metrics, like conversions and revenue, an explicit link needs to be made between the content and products. As you read that, you may be thinking “Absolutely not. The point of content marketing is not to ‘hard sell’ our products.” You’re correct. The way to establish this relationship is not to include products in the content itself, but instead, use recommendations to make the connection.

In other words, in a way that complements and does not intrude on the online research or shopping experience, recommend relevant content on product pages and recommend relevant products on content pages.

How is That Done?

e-Commerce teams, and all online shoppers for that matter, are familiar with the “People who Bought this Item also Bought” or “Other Products you Might Like” sections throughout most e-Commerce sites. These recommendations serve the purpose of cross and upselling products or encouraging customers to go deeper in the product catalog, with the overarching goal of increasing order values.

These recommendations are either manually programmed by internal teams based on merchandising strategies or they are powered by sophisticated software programs that observe customer behavior on the site and deliver personalized recommendations based on the customer's implied intent and preference.

The same strategy is applied to the content/product recommendations relationship. On product pages, some site real estate is dedicated to recommending content from your “vault” that, even tangentially, relates to the product. Recommending content in this way not only gets more eyes on all of the assets you’ve invested in creating, it might even encourage the purchase of that product. It gives the shopper confidence in your brand and positions your organization as more of a “solution seller” (as over-used as that term may be).

Likewise, on a content page, products are recommended that relate, even tangentially, to the content. Along the right-hand side of the page or vertically along the bottom, products are featured under a header like, “Products Related to This Article.”

Here is how the strategy might play on a B2B site:

One of the largest publishers of children’s books has published hundreds of articles for teachers and school administrators by experts in childhood development. If a teacher is browsing books on the publisher’s e-Commerce site around a topic like bullying, for example, content on the subject of bullying will be recommended alongside the products. If a teacher enters through a content search and is researching the topic of bullying, books on the subject will be recommended unobtrusively on the page.

The Winner is ...

It’s a win-win. Content gets more play. Products get related to content in more of a “helpful advisor” than “pushy salesperson” kind of way. The customer is more informed about the industry and your offerings.

These types of content and product recommendations can be done by internal teams, but often the time commitment to orchestrate the process and keep it current bars organization for undertaking the effort.

Fortunately, the technology that powers automated product recommendations can also power content recommendations. Back-end algorithms expertly match content themes to product attributes creating a seamless process for e-Commerce and marketing teams and a positive user experience for the customer.

Pairing content and product recommendations takes what marketing teams know they should be doing to win search, be social and improve the overall value of the brand and ties it into the bottom line KPI’s that cannot be ignored.

It’s content marketing 2.0.