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What is content marketing’s role in the purchasing journey?

Alongside big data, content marketing has been one of the most widely discussed topics in the past couple years. You can look to the explosive development of digital media and technology as some of the most influential ringleaders that made online marketing as accessible and effective as it is today. Yet, we can sometimes get caught up in the excitement and forget what businesses can actually accomplish through the use of strategically targeted content to attract the attention of prospective clients and keep them coming back for more.

Content marketing is dynamic in that it can be applied in a number of ways, especially in business-to-business campaigns where companies are looking to prove their worth to other businesses and establish relationships through multiple channels. Taking full advantage of this brand of marketing requires a well-wrought strategy that takes into account everything from content development to social media management to understanding how your customers will respond through the various channels available to them.

What are B2B marketers excited about?
B2B marketers aren't quite as caught up in the fervor of customer experience as professionals serving other markets. Although it's certainly advisable that businesses reach out to other companies and clients to provide them with exceptional service, making an enterprise-focused commitment, as opposed to a private consumer decision, is done from a different perspective.

When clients opt to work with a particular business, it comes from having conducted thorough research, which is increasingly done through the Web and other digital channels. This is why roughly a quarter of B2B marketers named content marketing as the single most exciting opportunity for their organizations in 2014 (1). Meanwhile, the top three priorities these individuals highlighted were content marketing, content optimization and social media engagement. All three of these objectives are inextricably linked with one another.

Why are marketers excited?
Much of the thrust behind this push is original voice and content. You would be hard-pressed to find a single company that doesn't have to compete with another business for clients' attention in any given industry. While there will always be highly niche organizations that don't have to fight so hard to rise above the noise, it's important for companies to differentiate themselves from others by highlighting their knowledge and expertise through online content like white papers, blog posts, infographics and videos. Another high priority for B2B marketing professionals is automation.

Depending on the stage each prospect or lead is at in the purchasing journey, optimized content can be delivered to them at the appropriate time to lead them to make an informed decision. For instance, if a buyer downloads an infographic that provides general information about the industry a business specializes in, a sales representative can then direct them to a case study that clearly and concisely demonstrates the value the company has provided to existing clients. Using content marketing to automate campaigns can make a company more agile because they're prepared to deliver materials to specific decision-makers at the right time.

How does social media fit into content marketing?
Content marketing thrives when companies use a variety of channels to get their messages out to prospective and existing clients. Social networks are ideal as part of this amplification effort because, generally speaking, the people engaged on the various platforms like to share.

Who shares?
Each business will likely segment their clients according to psychographic information, transactions, digital behavior and various other approaches to get a better idea of how to manage relationships, sales tactics and marketing strategies. However, taking a look at social media users to understand how they consume, interact with and share content is equally important to ensure your content marketing efforts strike the right chord.

Consider social users who are most active on LinkedIn. In broad terms, these individuals are career-focused and are looking for content that provides information they can apply to their work or their business as a whole to pursue effective change. While the majority of Fortune 500 CEOs have a muted presence on social media, 32 percent have a minimum of one profile on a social network, and this figure is expected to rise in the coming years (2).

Why do customers share?
Because of the nature of social media, sharing is almost intuitive. It's simply another form of digital communication, only on a large scale. In 94 percent of cases, people share content due to perceived value and entertainment. Disregarding the thousands cat-themed videos, which may or may not be valuable, good content is shared because the people reading, watching or absorbing it believe others would benefit from being exposed to it as well. Whether it's a particularly eye-opening white paper or an illuminating how-to YouTube video, useful and engaging digital content is fuel for informed decision-making.

1. Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing: 2014 Digital Trends

2. The Psychology of Sharing

Sheila Kloefkorn

With more than 25 years of hands on marketing strategy and operations experience, Sheila Kloefkorn is dedicated to developing marketing strategies and plans that help clients succeed. Some of the world's largest brands have depended on Sheila for marketing programs that delivered tangible and substantial results. Specialties: B2B marketing, lead generation, lead nurturing, sales strategy, marketing strategy, competitive marketing strategy, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), mobile marketing, email marketing, website design, marketing plans.