Advertisers doubt content marketing's effectiveness, but spend more on it anyhow


If you like the old Saturday Night Live “More Cowbell!” skit, you’ll love what business-to-business advertisers are doing about content marketing. While “b-to-b marketers are still struggling to translate their content-marketing efforts into actual businesses results,” wrote Advertising Age July 16, the vast majority are going ahead and ramping up their spending on it nonetheless.  (“More content marketing!”)

Only 51 percent of B2B marketing leaders responding to a Forrester/Business Marketing Association/Online Marketing Institute survey said that their content marketing efforts during the past 12 months were even “somewhat” effective at delivering business value. “They’re doing a lot of things around content marketing,” Forrester vp Laura Ramos told Ad Age, “but they fully admit they don’t think it’s going that well.”

Yet, in what can variously be described as the triumph of hope over experience and willful disregard of the First Law of Holes (“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”), 75 percent of B2B respondents to an earlier survey said they’d increase their content-marketing spending this year – as if their ineffective content marketing  would work better if only they had more of it.

Talking to itself

The problem with B2B content marketing, however, isn’t quantity, but quality. Much of it, according to Ramos’s findings, makes the amateur mistake of talking to itself instead of its intended audience. “Some of the tools that we use – email marketing and marketing automation tools – give us a lot more power to reach out to customers,” she told Ad Age, “but we have to produce content to feed those tools and we’re not taking the steps to think about if this is the best content we can put out there.”

In other words, it’s not the tools, it’s the workmen – who, it turns out, are all too self-centered.

After reviewing B2B websites, Ramos noted that 80 percent were “primarily focused on themselves,” big on product features but with next to nothing on issues their customers might be facing. “In this mad rush to create all of this content,” she says, “they’re not really thinking about how to make the content better or more compelling or more interesting. They’re just producing” content about what they know and feel comfortable discussing.

As a result, the only ones they end up talking to are themselves.

Behind the times

Over the past 40 years, business-to-business advertising in traditional media has evolved from products shots, feature lists and specs to working like consumer advertising to capture and hold prospects’ interest and relate the advertised products to the audience’s problems. Business-to-business content marketing has yet to do so. It needs to be provocative, intriguing and informational, says Ramos. It also needs to be persuasive and, dare we say it, even a little bit emotional. That way, it can accomplish what Ramos says is its most important mission – being

able to speak in the voice of the customer.

Those organizations who are better adept at understanding their customers, obsessing over them, speaking in their voice and literally doing the kind of content that will help win new customers, serve the customers they have, and retain the customers they have — those will be the ones that stay in business.

The rest will just end up spending more and more money putting out more and more send self-centered messages that fewer and fewer customers will respond to (or even notice).


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