I love those crazy Youtube videos where dozens of (usually nerdy) students have spent weeks crawling around on hands and knees laying out hundreds of thousands of dominoes, all in preparation for the big moment that kicks off one almighty chain reaction. A great B2B content marketing strategy should have exactly this effect on your target audience.

What’s the link?

The role of content is to influence the thoughts, opinions and decisions of your buyers with the ultimate goal of generating more sales. Each piece of content within your content strategy has a role to play, i.e., to change the state of your buyer and move them along their buying journey. Consuming great content should be a transformative experience for your buyer. If done well it means their view of the world – particularly the problems and challenges they face in their work – have been framed by consuming the content your firm has provided.

Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director of MECLABS, parent company of MarketingSherpa, puts it well: “you don’t optimize a landing page or an email. You optimize the thought sequence of the customer.” It is essential your B2B content strategy and design starts with this thought sequence in mind, if you really want your content on have an impact on sales.

Content Strategy as Dominoes

Each piece of content is a domino and represents a “gate” your buyer must pass through before making a purchase decision. As each domino falls, its hits the next domino – the buyer transitions in thinking from one purchasing state to another – a logical sequence of activity is triggered.

Domino 1 – Problem Recognition

To illustrate this further, let’s take a step back and think about the way in which a buyer makes a purchasing decision. In the first stages the buyer isn’t really aware they even have a particular business problem at all, specifically one which your product or service fixes. But an event occurs that triggers action (aka the trigger domino). A sales target is missed, a customer leaves, a product fails or a key staff member quits. Now your buyers’ business pain is real and something must be done.

But what? Buyers seek answers. Initially they seek to educate themselves, understand the problem, seek out others who have experienced similar issues, read articles that discuss the challenge and its implications. In sum, they educate themselves. Increasingly this activity starts online (over 85% of the time according to Forrester). This information is the first domino in your content marketing strategy. Create and promote this domino well, and you are first in the running for better conversions and therefore, sales.

What does this domino look like? And how do you promote it? The aim of domino 1 is to help your buyers define their need. Your content should provide them with answers to help them determine what it is they actually want, in the form of a checklist, an ebook, a video, or all three and more! Getting this domino found requires careful use of keywords, tied closely to what your buyer will be searching at this stage in their journey. For example, the solution to the buyers problem may eventually be inbound marketing, but at this stage, all they know is that they aren’t generating enough leads to grow their business and achieve their business goals. What they type into Google at this stage would therefore be completely different.

The buyer uses this information to help define specifically what they need to solve this problem. They start drawing up a list of potential solutions and then (and only then) do they start considering firms who sell products and services that solve that need. But with a good content marketing strategy and disciplined execution, you will already be on their radar and planning to help them through their next hurdle with Domino 2.

Domino 2, 3, 4 and more: Solution and vendor Selection

Content dominoes 2, 3 and 4 should focus on answering middle of the funnel questions a buyer might have. Here is where you can move from more generic trend based thought leadership pieces to more specific product related education. (But remember it’s still all about the buyer and their challenges, not how awesome you are.) How does the product or service solve my particular need? Does your firm have a track record in my industry? Do you have a good service capability? Will deploying your solution lead to a positive ROI within 12 months?

Assuming the selection process was effective, the business challenge is solved as the selected product and service is consumed. However, it doesn’t end here.

For many firms the initial sale is only the beginning of a long and hopefully fruitful relationship with their new customer. The customer continues to interact with your organisation via your products and services, user groups and forums, customer service reps and so on.

The fly in the ointment

If only B2B buyers followed this nice, clean logical path! The reality is a lot uglier. Budgets get cut, decision makers leave, a “new broom” is appointed who has vowed to shake things up and do it “his way.” All of us have experienced these frustrations when that deal you have been working on for 6 months suddenly goes south.

In the world of B2B, many purchasing decision cycles are long and involve many different stakeholders. Your B2B content strategy must honour both the duration and complexity of the decision process. Your content plan has to allow for buyers getting stuck at a particular buyer stage, even retreating to an earlier buyer stage altogether, and must include content that can be used as a “recycling tactic” to continue to engage with those who have stalled or retreated. This means your content strategy can’t be like this:

Buyers move backwards and forwards in their journey, and have individual ways of thinking, environments they are working in, and bosses to report to. The best content strategies will account for these different journeys and use marketing automation to deliver the most powerful content and the right time, using tools which can interpret the buyers online behaviour and characteristics that they have provided to utilise lead scoring and trigger different campaigns. This kind of marketing is increasingly commonplace now that automation tools are affordable.

Equally importantly, marketing automation can shoulder much of the heavy lifting of content delivery via such capabilities as automated campaigns and lead scoring. Also by tracking your buyer’s behaviour – what content have they been engaging with (and just as importantly what isn’t working), you are able to optimise your buyer’s content experience, delivering the type of content they want in the format and in a timeframe they prefer.

With marketing automation, your content marketing strategy can easily look more like this:

In summary, content marketing isn’t just words and images posted online arbitrarily – it’s a set of relevant experiences that occur often over many months even years. Content should aim to optimise the lifetime of your relationship with each customer.

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Chris Fell is the Managing Director of g2m Solutions, and an accredited align.me Funnel Coach. To read more of his insights, go to the g2M Solutions blog.