Driven by the potential of technology, B2B marketers are understandably tempted by the potential to personalise client experiences. But technology should be seen as the enabler for a content marketing strategy, and not the other way around.
Attending the B2B Marketing Summit late last month, I was struck by how the layout of the room provided a perfect metaphor for one of the biggest tensions in B2B marketing today. As Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, came on stage to deliver his keynote address, he was competing with technology both in a physical and conceptual sense.
Physically because the event partners – mostly technology vendors – constituted an audible presence displaying their wares at the back of the same hall in which he was speaking. Conceptually because the arguments he was making about the importance of a content marketing strategy were, implicitly at least, a challenge to those same technology vendors.
The rise of content marketing has been accompanied by the emergence of marketing technology solutions, many of which promise to automate the process of personalisation and generate unprecedented demand along the way. There’s nothing wrong with these technologies in principle but often their deployment is misguided – technology as a panacea rather than technology as an enabler.
I would caution against the hasty use of these tools for two broad reasons.
Reasons to be fearful
Firstly, expensive demand generation software is often not fit for purpose – especially at the beginning of the journey. A fraction of the available functionality is used (or useful) as content marketers attempt to apply sophisticated models at a time when their teams aren’t prepared and resources are limited. As one content marketing practitioner puts it: “Just because technology enables us to create complex matrix diagrams of 48 different user profiles, based on job title, industry and various behavioural statistics, it doesn’t mean we have to.”
Secondly, technology can’t replace the intellectual graft required to establish a connection between you and your client. We call it discovering the ‘sweet spot’, the intersection between your needs and those of your client. In reality this means delivering content that is useful and sometimes surprising. Identifying and delivering on the ‘sweet spot’ takes legwork, subject expertise and marketing know-how.
Pulizzi layers something on top of this that he calls ‘the content tilt’. As he explained at the summit and elsewhere, the tilt is about identifying a unique perspective on the subject in hand. “Without ‘tilting’ your content just enough to tell a truly unique story,” he says, “you risk blending into the rest of the noise and being forgotten.”
A coherent content marketing strategy is built on this kind of thinking. Yet, according to our own research only a third of organisations have a defined content marketing strategy. It’s little wonder therefore, as our survey results also show, that two-thirds of B2B marketers are struggling to produce engaging content.
The platform is not the answer
Technology isn’t going to solve this problem. As the architect Cedric Price wryly observed in a lecture fifty years ago, “Technology is the answer... but what was the question?” Unless you know what you are looking for, who you want to talk to and what you want to say, marketing technology solutions are anything but solutions.
And when someone like Katrina Neal, head of content marketing at one of the world’s biggest technology vendors Cisco, admits that one of the biggest lessons of her content journey was understanding that the platform was not the answer, then it’s a reminder that you need to approach technology with caution.
This is not a Luddite’s charter. Technology is valuable. It helps speed up processes, brings efficiency to repeatable tasks and identifies patterns it would take the human eye too long to spot. When technology can help you do the things you need to do faster and more efficiently, then embrace it. But first ask – what is the question I’m trying to answer?