On the delivery side of B2B content marketing, few recent developments have had quite the effect of the rise of marketing automation. At least, of the promise it offers. Today, B2B marketers have a wider choice of platforms than ever – from Eloqua and Marketo at the top end through Silverpop and Pardot and on to the lower cost, but still perfectly capable, Hubspot.
The appeal is clear. The ability to have a single platform to deal with virtually all interactions over an extended B2B sales cycle is incredibly seductive. The chance to serve up different experiences based on customer behaviour should make our content more engaging and effective. And the opportunity to virtually set-and-forget whole campaigns should make everyone's lives easier.
Of course, back in the real world, all too often things aren't working out that way.
Just like email (but more expensive)
Over the last couple of years I've had numerous meetings with B2B marketers who have bought into the dream without really understanding what it will mean on a day-to-day level. They find themselves in charge of a incredibly powerful toolkit but then struggle to make anything with it.
The result is that, for all the talk of self-running marketing machines, more often than not marketers end up doing little more than running the same kinds of basic email campaigns that they did before with broadly the same results (except that it's cost them more money).
Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of marketing automation. For B2B marketing it is almost certainly the way forward. Where we are now is simply the pregnant pause before the main event.
So what are some of the main considerations you should factor in as you move ahead with marketing automation? There are many, but here are three for starters:
You're going to need way more content
It's no surprise that the rise of marketing automation is happening at the same time as the rise and rise of content marketing. While content doesn't require marketing automation, marketing automation certainly needs content if it's to deliver on its promise. This is clearly evidenced by the sheer volume of content (much of it very good) that the automation vendors put out on a regular basis. Importantly, you'll need content at each stage of the buying cycle as well as for each major segment you target.
You'll need to get serious about buyer personas
Who are you really selling to? By this I don't just mean 'IT managers in mid-market companies across the UK, France, Germany and Spain'. What are they like as people? What is motivating their current actions? What behaviour do we want to see from them? What's stopping them behaving this way? While it's important not to get silly about segmentation, being able to talk to key groups differently and meaningfully will be critical to the success of your marketing automation efforts.
You'll need to think about both calendars and triggers
While there is still a lot of one-off content marketing happening, most B2B marketers are realising that over their extended sales cycles, they're going to need a more consistent on-going programme of activity. This is leading to the more widespread adoption of editorial and activity calendars to give more structure to a brand's communications and messaging over time. Of course, a marketing automation system also gives you the opportunity to deploy triggered activity (if a customer does X, they then get Y). This means you can more accurately identify where a prospect is in the sales cycle and deliver active content that leads customers and prospects to the next target action. While a calendared campaign can often be re-used as the basis for a triggered approach, both need planning in advance.
Marketing automation is, of course, a huge topic – one we're certain to return to many times. It is set to become the default for how B2B marketers deploy more relevant, compelling and effective campaigns. The challenge is to go into adopting the technology with eyes wide open.
Image by Klearchos Kapoutsis