Graeme Somerville-Ryan
Jul 10, 2014

Content marketing and sales: The simple guide to what, why, and who

Before we all scramble headlong into content marketing (too late!), perhaps we should define what it is, understand why we should use it, and identify who should champion it.

Somerville-Ryan: "Well-developed content marketing should be used to position companies and their staff as experts in a defined area"

First up, I don’t think good and strategically well-developed content marketing is simple. Few businesses, even those claiming to do content marketing, can easily explain their content marketing strategy and just where it fits into an overarching marketing and sales plan.  Let’s not forget—marketing, ultimately, needs to support sales.

However, I promised you a guide and content marketing is all about delivering. So…

What is content marketing?

Content marketing suffers from an identity crisis. The marketing community, unsurprisingly, has yet to properly define what is, and is not, content marketing. Marketers have touted product placements, direct (e) mail, advertisements posing as Greek epics, celebrity endorsements, infomercials, self-published articles, and industry surveys as examples of content marketing.

Content marketing is popular right now, and everyone wants in on the act. I guess, given the choice, when you’re trying to chat up a junior account executive, it’s far cooler to say “I’m heading up our content marketing division” than “Yeah, I made the steak knives infomercial.” Maybe it’s for the best that marketing types have nothing to do with what goes into a dictionary of business terminology.  However, for both clients and marketing professionals, content marketing needs to be better defined. The value of a well-defined product or service is easier to explain and sell, and this is important when you are trying to make a living as a content marketer.

So what is content marketing? For the purpose of this article, I am going to define B2B content marketing as expert opinion placed into a well-defined market, which is further distributed by third parties. This could take the form of an externally (ghost) written article about a particular industry issue being placed into an independent publication. Typically this sort of article is written by a PR professional, but is published under someone else’s name (such as a company’s CEO).  White papers and industry surveys are further examples, and are especially effective when they inspire journalists, commentators, and members of a particular industry to distribute, quote, reference, and debate the content.

Content, as described above, does not have to be dry and technical—quite the opposite, as distribution and take-up is a key measure of success. Professional expertise can be delivered in an informative, emotional, honest, amusing, opinion-based, and compelling manner. Depending on your audience, it may also rhyme. Content marketing ‘best-practice’ should entertain and add value to a reader’s professional life.

Why businesses and individuals should do content marketing

Well-developed content marketing should be used to position companies and their staff as experts in a defined area. As an expert, your views are respected and sought after; your ideas are considered and discussed by your targeted community. This discussion lets you further understand their real needs and concerns. You have influence.

Having influence allows you to highlight the problems, issues, and needs of your target audience. Subtlety, it also allows you to suggest solutions. Solutions are sales. Trust has already been built; after all…you’re the expert and you have professional status.

That is why we do content marketing.

Who should do content marketing?

Almost any business can, and should, have content marketing as part of their overall marketing strategy. But, the commercial sector you are involved in, the type of company you have, and your company culture should all play a part in defining how much content marketing you do. Of equal importance are your target audience, and your ability to reach them (but more about that in Part 2).

Some business sectors are better suited for content marketing than others. It’s an unfortunate fact of human nature that we find some topics far more interesting than others. Clever writing and content production can, of course, get around this. A good marketing partner should discuss with a client (internal or external) what the barriers will be to successful content marketing, and how much content you can realistically develop and distribute. For better or worse, this is where you need to trust your marketing team.

Company culture will, to a large degree, determine how good your content will be. Ego, lack of campaign stamina (a campaign could last for years), and low levels of commitment and buy-in will doom a content marketing campaign before it starts. The more people involved, and the more credit shared around an organisation, the better the result will be. Unfortunately businesses neglect to link content marketing to the sales process. If your content is not understood internally, and is not developed in conjunction with the sales team, they will not use it. If they don’t use it, its value will decrease.

From my experience, senior managers have a tendency to take control of, and credit for, all content produced. The best results I have seen are where senior management show the way and then encourage the sales teams to replicate their efforts. This takes a bit more effort, but it does mean the sales team, who are client-facing (and are meant to be the ‘problem solvers’), are also seen as experts with value to add. Everyone walks away happy: the CEO gets time in the spotlight; the sales team gets credit for also being experts; and the client feels like everyone they are dealing with knows what they are doing.

By defining content marketing, understanding why we should use it, and identifying who should champion it, marketing professionals can assess if content marketing is actually right for a business.

Of course, all this is just outlining an integrated marketing and sales strategy.

Perhaps it’s simple after all. 

Graeme Somerville-Ryan is the marketing and business development director (Asia) for the international law firm Wikborg Rein. He has more than 10 years’ experience in public relations, communications, international marketing, and brand development. He has also consulted on marketing projects in the oil and gas, shipping, ICT, export education, tourism, and insurance sectors. 

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