message in a bottle
PHOTO: Susanne Nilsson

Content marketing is saturated. We’re all on the hamster wheel busy creating blogs, podcasts, white papers, what have you for our B2B brands.

Unfortunately, if you are like most B2B brands, it’s likely a big chunk of this content is not being consumed (up to 60-70% is the often quoted stat from Sirius Decisions). And if it Is being consumed, the numbers are so low it’s probably not providing a return on its investment.

If a White Paper Falls in a Forest and Nobody Reads It …

Of course, it depends on how you define success. I am not a fan of vanity metrics — if three decision makers read your content and it pushes them over the edge to buy, then all is well in the garden of content.

However, we often use content marketing not just as sales tool, but to build credibility and trust. We often look to alter the vision of the market, change minds, challenge the status quo, define a category and change the way people think about the solution to their problem through thought leadership.

If backlinks to content are a measure of its importance to its intended audience, then the alarming stat that 93% of B2B content gets zero external links from other websites would suggest nobody really cares.

If your mission is to evangelize your way of thinking, your redefinition of a market, to change minds — this apathy is a problem.

Related Article: 5 Ways to Stand Out in a Sea of Content

Why Are People Ignoring My Content?

Yes, a lot of terrible content is being cranked out: it’s inside-out focused and provides no value for the buyer. But for most B2B brands, the content isn’t the problem. The problem is the lack of trust and credibility.

The truth is as soon as you publish content as a representative of a B2B company, your content is treated with the same kind of cynicism as your sales deck, marketing collateral or sales guy. It becomes part of the sales Jedi mind trick hoodwinking the hapless buyer into buying or doing something they didn’t want to do.

Unless you are the very coolest brand in your category or it’s an OUTSTANDING piece of content, it is very unlikely that anyone outside your bubble of staff and partners will share or link to this content. This is especially true of the influencers in you market category who want to appear vendor neutral, however much they love your content. Would you share this if it was in the IBM or Oracle blog?

I have seen this firsthand. My blog writing career (if you can call it that) has had me write personally, as a marketer representing various vendors, as a consultant and as an industry analyst. I recall the crushing realization when moving from an analyst role back into a vendor that suddenly my content — the same stuff I would have written a few weeks earlier — was far less valued and shared.

There are of course exceptions, Hubspot, Contently, The Content Advisory or even the Content Marketing Institute are all commercial B2B marketing organizations of one kind or another yet their content gets freely shared. But these are the exception.

Related Article: Joe Pulizzi Shares His 7 Laws of Content Marketing at CMWorld 2019

What’s the Solution?

I recommend creating a content hub buffer zone, a place where you can publish content that your audience will feel safe to share from without feeling like a vendor shill.

For the purposes of this article, I use the term “content hub” as a collection of content, but the essential part is it’s a useful, off-brand (or low brand) digital publication. Think (yes, I’m going to say it) The Furrow by John Deere or CMO.com before it was quite so Adobe-fied.

The fact that you tone down the brand, remove the sales talk, lean into the usefulness and curate a magazine-like content experience, even though it’s clear it’s sponsored, removes the resistance to engagement.

The Multiple Benefits of Creating Your Own Content Hub

I’ve created several of these platforms throughout my career (the latest being Rockstar CMO – currently without a sponsor). While we start with the challenge of getting our fabulous thought leadership content read and shared more, creating an off-brand content hub gives us scope to do more:

  • A hub for influencer marketing — Not just the big names, you can buy Gartner reports and subscriptions, but the smaller influencers and independent rock stars in your industry. You know who they are. As a B2B marketer, imagine asking one of them to write for your company’s blog — not going to happen. But write for this crazy cool new industry publication? Sure!
  • Build a qualified audience — This publication will focused on your niche, therefore the people who engage with it are going be super interested in that thing and a qualified audience finds you. You may not need the big vanity numbers here; this is you giving something useful to your kind of people.
  • An owned paid media platform — Of course this hub will need to provide a return, and it becomes a paid media platform that you own.

That last point will be a challenge. It won’t be long before someone in another department wants you to promote their event, a new product or some news on the platform. Doing this, of course, would break the platform's thin veil of independence that makes it so safe.

I encourage organizations to advertise on the platform, rather than using it to promote their products, services or events overtly in the copy. When visitors click through on an ad and end up in the branded marketing experience of a landing page or the main vendor website, they recognize the clear delineation from the digital publication and the marketing experience.

It also allows you to keep your publication subscriber database separate from your marketing database, which is incredibly important for data privacy, but also for maintaining trust and credibility. By guiding the interested visitor to a branded landing page, you keep these things technically separate and the experience reinforces this with the visitor.

One last thing: as this visitor is clearly engaged with your way of thinking in your niche, the result is often a much better conversion rate, as they have effectively pre-qualified themselves.

Related Article: Think You Aren't a Content Marketer? Think Again

Final Question: Build, Sponsor or Buy?

The natural thought is to build it, that way you craft it in any way you like. The downside is you are building everything — including the audience — from scratch. You are at the start of a longer-term commitment, so know it may take a year or more to see a return. However, what you will have in the end is a fantastic audience and content asset.

You could also simply sponsor a publication, with an agreement to provide sponsored content or as an exclusive sponsorship of the whole publication. This has the advantage of tapping into an existing audience, a content machine already in operation, without the long-term commitment to getting results.

A third way, which I think is surprising we don’t see more of, is buying an existing influential publication or blog. This article by Joe Pulizzi explains the benefits of this approach:

The first is the capability to tell stories. They have the people and processes to churn out amazing content on a consistent basis. The second, and maybe more important, is that blogs and media sites come with built-in audiences.

A Win-Win for You and the Audience

My experience is B2B marketing, so I can only talk from this perspective, but it probably holds true for any marketer. A digital publication or content hub is a great place to share your story and meet an audience, without the friction of them feeling like they are being marketed at or sold to. The only decision is do you build, sponsor or buy?