In this article, Ian Truscott takes a look at educational content marketing as a strategy and goal, what you can do to engage the big bucket of future buyers and how we measure success.

Class is in session

According to research from LinkedIn, only 5% of the typical B2B business’s target buyers are in the market at any one point. Recent research from 6Sense (that we discussed on the podcast) tells us that this 5% are doing their own research, will self-select a couple of solutions to their problem and will only get in touch with a vendor when they are over two-thirds of the way into a buying process.

All of this suggests that we need to rethink our traditional B2B funnel, as being less funnel-shaped and more of a massive bucket with a tiny pipe poking out of the bottom, and that there is a huge opportunity for brand and content marketing in this bucket, to be in the conversation and their research before they recognise the problem and raise their hand for some help.

The need for early learning

One thing I specifically like about the LinkedIn research is they refer to the 95% as “future buyers”, stating that 95% are “out-market” today but will be “in-market” sometime in the future.

A good strategy for engaging this big bucket of future buyers is to sprinkle in the generous content that educates them. Maybe preparing them to be buyers or influencers when they are ready. Nurturing not just potential buyers but the rather wonderful folks who will share with their peers, “I’m not in the market right now, but this company seems to know their stuff”.

Our methodology at Rockstar CMO starts with understanding the needs of a business and the buyer personas. The discipline of content marketing is about being helpful and addressing those needs, and getting educated on a topic could well be at the top of this list of things to be done for our buyer.

I often share the story that for years, when I switched from being a techie to being a marketer, I thought of Hubspot as a source of marketing education first and a product second; I got so deep into their content back in the day. But, it prepared me for that day when I’d shimmied my way far enough up the greasy pole to influence buying their product.

A helpful curriculum

So we’ve established that there is an audience and we can help them, but how?

Needs Education

Education around the problem or need is especially relevant if you are defining a new category, reframing the category or the market you are in and educating the buyer on the problem. Maybe the problem you solve is somewhat latent in a business.

In the old days of solutions selling, this was called “reengineering the vision” – yes, ick – but the idea is that you are framing the problem in a way that plays to the strengths of your offering.

I just mentioned an often quoted standout example of this in B2B is Hubspot, how they invested years in educating us all about “Inbound Marketing”, and they defined a discipline within marketing and an industry category to serve that need.

Drift (recently acquired by Salesloft) is a “buyer engagement platform”, but in the beginning, their product was basically a website chatbot that lived in a crowded, undifferentiated market. They did a similar thing as Hubspot by defining the category as “conversational marketing”, terminology that was still being used in the acquisition coverage, as they are referred to as a “…a pioneer in Conversational Marketing”.

Of course, Drift did more than rename a Chatbot; this definition of themselves drove their product strategy, but you get the idea.

The results of this “needs education” not only defined a category, creating a need that played to their strengths, expressed a vision and created differentiation, but also gave buyers and influencers a language they could use that expressed the business value of this need that wasn’t deep in the geekery of CRM or chatbots.

Solution Education

You live and breathe your industry, but the buyer does not, and the biggest competitor for most vendors is apathy or “do nothing”. Some of this comes from ignorance; they may not know there is a better way than this ridiculous spreadsheet or endless rounds of emails and that a solution to this problem exists.

I don’t mean education on the solution, as in “buy our product as it has these features and functions”; I mean helpful stuff that will guide them on best practices or education on the market category you sell into. It sits somewhere between educating them on the problem and the product features.

For example, if you sell email marketing solutions or services, the perceived need of the buyer will be open rates. Can you help them with the best practice for improving that, understanding this metric and expressing the value to the boss? If you are a SaaS technology business of any kind, you probably have a goldmine of trend data.

Adjacent Education

What else would our audience find useful? Educational content doesn’t just need to be tied to the category, need or solution: what would build trust and deepen our relationship with them?

An example of this could be the buyer, especially in a large enterprise, does not know how to buy or choose. This is probably the most significant “job to be done” or immediate need the buyer has and a contributor to the “do nothing” competitor I mentioned earlier, as it creates resistance to them engaging in the market. They have to figure out how to buy something.

Back in my pre-sales days, I once worked with a sales guy who worked the government vertical. He was very successful and part of that success was he knew how government procurement worked, he’d done hundreds, whereas this might be a first for the buyer. So he became a trusted guide in the process, not just in offering a solution to the problem they were in the market to solve.

We see similar “how to buy” education examples, like events that have content for potential attendees to use that is “the business case for your boss” or vendors with ROI calculators. But you should also look outside the transaction for adjacent education.

Research is a great way to provide this education. I’ve already referred to a LinkedIn study, a buyers survey by 6Sense and on the podcast this week, we will be discussing a report from analytics vendor Dreamdata, none of these things addresses the direct need of their product or solution, but it does help their buyer.

Getting good grades

As we share often here on Rockstar CMO goals are essential, in our 5 F’in’ Marketing Fundamentals model, they are front and centre in the first fundamental – the Masterplan. In work or life without goals, how can you create a plan?

When creating goals, we advise framing these in the objectives of the business, typically around revenue, growth, increased share price, profitability or making the company attractive for acquisition or investment. Based on these, we create goals (we recommend the OKR model, Objectives and Key Results) around what I refer to as ART: Awareness, Revenue and Trust.

And, of course, in most B2B businesses, the bias is towards revenue, and the marketing goals then key off of this. So we have short-term Revenue goals for demand generation, Awareness goals for brand reach and frequency and Trust goals around subscribers, followers, etc.

Yep… typically, businesses want RAT, not ART 🙂

I’ve summarised wildly here as I could go down a rabbit hole of goal setting and probably will at some point, but the important point is that an educational content marketing strategy needs to fit into this, like any marketing strategy, if we can’t connect it to business goals, well… we know the result.

Education as a goal

Maybe education is just a good way to say “good content marketing”, the generous stuff that doesn’t have an immediate “buy now” CTA or a gated doohickey to harvest an email address. But, whatever we call it, most businesses need educational content marketing.

At the very top level, it builds trust, which, of course, is linked to revenue, as trust is probably the number 1 influencer on buying decisions.

I’ve mentioned in the past on my personal blog that our buyer is battling against FOFU (Fear of F**king Up), and educational content (as well as great case studies) can help them visualise a promised land where that does not happen, and you, as the trusted guide to get them there.

Marking our work

We have a goal, we need a metric, or to use the language of OKR’s, the Key Result.

As we established earlier, the funnel in B2B is now a really big bucket of future buyers. Only 5% of those folks are in the market and researching for themselves and will be deep into the buying process before they appear in a traditional funnel or pipeline, which is where we tend to put our analytical focus.

The goal of educational content is not just to influence those people entering the funnel but potentially all of the personas we’ve identified in our ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) who are merrily swimming around in the big bucket.

I’ve been attracted to the idea of the “number of professionals helped”, in that rather than counting downloads, subscribers, contacts or any number of vanity metrics, we look at our CRM and analytics systems and all of the signals we have and define which of these contacts did we help, or in this case, educate?

Grading the students

How do we measure our success at educating these folks?

  • Number of active subscribers – Subscribing is an act of trust on two counts, the first trust in that giving us their data is safe and we won’t be annoying with it and the second is that they are trusting our future content. That second point contributes to our “professionals helped” score, as we can safely assume that our current content has been helpful, which is why they trust in what we will do next.
  • Engaged Visitors – Calculating this takes some work, people that put their hand up with a subscription or giving their details for a gated download is easy. But there’s a huge audience who will find our content helpful but will be relatively dark, the “lurkers”, as some might describe them, the audience we serve with our un-gated content. Web analytics tools will tell you hits and views, but of course, it would be a stretch to suggest someone visiting a web page even read it, let alone if it helped them. So, we need to develop a metric based on users and their engagement, involving dwell time, return visits, next action, and that sort of thing.
  • Social signals – You could include followers in the same class as subscribers, although I think there is a lower level of friction to following compared to giving an email address. So, as it’s less of a commitment a “follow” is a weaker signal of trust. Therefore, “active” is the keyword here; we need to look for active social signals, those that are sharing and liking.
  • Share of voice – This is the proportion of visibility and exposure we have compared to our competitors. It is typically measured as a percentage, reflecting the brand’s presence in various marketing channels such as advertising, social media, PR, and content creation.
  • Search trends – This is especially relevant if you define a new category, like “inbound marketing” or “conversational marketing”. What’s the trend of your future buyers searching on a specific keyword that your product or service is aligned with?

If ABM is your thing, you might consider a target account-based metric, etc., etc. I risk diving into all of the available marketing metrics here, which is a rabbit hole for another day.

Your School of Rock

This is a fairly long post for us here, but I think we as B2B marketers need to dig into this as a strategy to address the change in buying behaviour, not just as random acts of education that fall off our marketing hamster wheel.

And as Dewey Finn said in School of Rock:

Now you played hard in here, people, and I am proud of every last stinking one of you. So let’s just give thing everything we got. We may fall on our faces, but if we do, we will fall with dignity! With a guitar in our hands, and rock in our hearts! And in the words of AC/DC: “We roll tonight, to the guitar bite, and for those about to rock, I salute you

It’s time to open your school of rock!

Graduation Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

Learn more on the podcast

We chatted about educational content on episode 204 of the podcast, and our resident strategy advisor, Jeff Clark, shared a great perspective from his client’s experiences.

Ready to rock?

Fancy a chat about this? Or maybe we can help with our advisory services or get in touch!


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