Content, my passion, has for many years been treated as the ugly duckling and neglected child of the (online) marketing universe. Today, this clearly has changed. Or better, from the European perspective I maybe should say “it starts to change”. Content marketing is getting on the priority list of marketers in several European countries.

Previously exchanging ideas and thoughts on content marketing with some European friends, including Ingrid Archer and AJ Huisman, content marketing evangelist Joe Pulizzi, Bob Gilbreath (formerly an agency exec and brand marketer) and David Sable (Global CEO of Y&R) in Belgium, confirmed a lot of viewpoints and resulted in new ideas and views. Those who provide pertinent content in a creative way and in function of the customer or prospect, his preferences and the touchpoints across his buying journey have an enormous, competitive advantage.

Moreover, those who allow the channel-agnostic customer himself to determine the combination of channels, timing and frequency have an additional advantage.

Content marketing in B2B and B2C: it’s all just business-to-people or is it?

Bob Gilbreath at the content marketing roundtable
Bob Gilbreath at the content marketing roundtable

And it’s not only in B2B marketing, the area where Joe Pulizzi believed content marketing would have most success (who could have predicted what happened since then?): the same content marketing principles are being increasingly applied in B2C marketing as well, as Bob Gilbreath (also the author of “The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connect with Your Customers by Marketing with Meaning“) said during the round table we organized.

Or as David Sable said; it’s B2P: business-to-people (and it has always been), illustrating it with a few nice personal experiences.

Content is finally receiving the attention it deserves and the old adage “content is king” is still used everywhere. However, content is not the only “king” or not king at all, it’s time we drop that message that made sense many years ago when no one really cared about content, especially on the Web. There is also, and first of all, the context within which content resides: the customer, prospect or, simply said, people we would like to reach, attract, engage, persuade or just interact with, and their individual information and communication needs, their intent, their preferences and emotional triggers/values, our business goals, the buying journey, etc. Again: both in B2B and B2C. It’s like David Sable also said: “the person playing a game on Xbox Live can be the CEO of a major corporation“. Context matters and context changes. The customer is king, business goals queen and content a noble servant. Or whatever other comparison you can come up with.

Joe Pulizzi: “Content marketing is not a short-term strategy and truly does require thinking like a publisher” (Joe Pulizzi at the content marketing roundtable).

When talking about content marketing and content in a digital context, we were initially mostly talking about inbound marketing, (including) social, demand generation and lead management (and marketing automation). Other “tactics” have joined the ranks and the brand dimension, as well as the overall customer experience and customer life cycle, are getting increasingly important.

A brand is determined by a variety of factors. Some positioning, of course the people who represent the brand (in particular those who come into contact with the customer and who doesn’t in this connected day and age?) and the ecosystem surrounding the brand: media, partners and increasingly the “people”, with the (pardon the term) “empowered” customer at the forefront.

Content Marketing Conference speakers AJ Huisman and Ingrid Archer with Joe Pulizzi at our roundtable
Content Marketing Conference speakers AJ Huisman and Ingrid Archer with Joe Pulizzi at our roundtable

A brand is however also a matter of emotion, trust, credibility, connection and perception. Is there a difference between emotion, brand perception and customer experience? Is there much difference between the decision to click or download and the decision to “follow” or like a brand? Isn’t it all about emotions? And isn’t buying a very emotional process as well (even if we like to “explain” why we buy something)? Finally, is there much difference between B2B and B2C in a connected world where it’s really all about people-centricity, experience, customer satisfaction and stories?

A brand is a promise, a story that takes on its own life and the sum of customer experiences, perceived relevance and cross-channel touchpoints. There are different ways to take the brand story, shape it and flesh it out. But no matter how you look at it: ultimately, the content is a key initiator and enabler. The start and backbone of many great stories, brands and relationships. The latter are the goal, in B2B and B2C: no context = no customers = no retention. And then the words of Joseph Jaffe come to mind: retention is the new acquisition. So, no content, context and cross-channel personal stories means much less sales and much more effort. And soon no sales at all. In fact: we already sell less, people buy.

Content marketing in context and connections: it’s about people, touchpoints and goals

A goal of content marketing is to generate value and emotional connections for people through all the touchpoints with the brand or the company. Another goal is to create an environment where stories are born and nurtured. Stories that define the brand and immerse the clients in them using the storytelling techniques we have known since so long.

If you reflect over this you will notice that both goals really are one and the same. Every touchpoint between the customer, prospect or simply a “person” without labels ( a human being), and a company contributes to the shape the story takes: customer experiences, relevant marketing dialogues etc.

In order to tell a story and to spread it, content must be more than just relevant. It has to provide a strong emotional connection between brand and company. Or as Jay Baer says, it’s about Youtility: usefulness and true customer value. It’s about help and not hype.

Content is more than how we traditionally look at it (texts, videos, presentations, papers, etc.). It also includes the images and experiences surrounding our brand. And even the ads that people are confronted with are content and part of the story.

Many purists draw a line between ‘content’ and ‘advertising’. Such a demarkation is maybe not really necessary in the future. We are talking about emotions, stories and brands. We are talking about relevance and experiences.

Simply said: we are talking about people, intent, goals, value chains and relationships.

An increasing number of marketers fortunately has understood how “users”, “prospects”, “leads”, “recipients”, “suspects”, “relations” or simply people and their emotional and individual needs, digital signals, social information-gathering processes and buying journeys define what works and what doesn’t. Content is part of all these needs and processes.

Content, conversations, language, conversion and stories are all part of the same equation with the people behind the customer data, email addresses and social connections in the middle where meaning is born.