In this digital age it is easy to forget content (information) delivery to support sales goes back centuries. With technology evolving at a rapid rate it is important to step back and return to the basics before deciding where to head next.
Where have we come from, what worked, still works and what has fallen by the wayside and why. How has content and delivery methods changed over time and, most important, how will they change in future with the advent of AI and ChatGPT.
Content – Pre internet
So what’s changed? How was awareness of a product or service generated pre-internet? The main tactics were advertising, brand related PR and events. Where events included conferences, exhibitions and speaking engagements. Supporting content included company documentation and brochures.
Leads were generated via sales activity. This included outreach calls (cold and warm), relationship building, account management and opportunity identification.
Marketing provided support via product PR and advertorial, product advertising and direct mail (including newsletters). They delivered sales support information including datasheets and books, technical and quality information, presentation material, customer analysis, market research data and education material for sales intermediaries.
Then Along Came The Internet
Initially the internet was perceived as a cheaper information distribution channel. Taking one example a component manufacturer no longer needed to print datasheets and databooks at considerable cost (and wastage) their website became their databook/brochure.
As time passed the website became the repository for all information to support the sales process. That was fine for sales people, sales intermediaries and existing customers who knew where to find that information, but what about prospects?
Awareness building and lead generation started to move online, because it was (perceived to be) cheaper. Then the concept of inbound marketing arrived on the scene. This suggested prospects seek out information they need (pull) rather than wait for it (pushed). This concept meshed nicely (or not!) with developments in search engine optimisation at the time.
So content was created to drive awareness and generate leads. Some businesses resurrected the long established funnel marketing process and applied it to web marketing. It’s purpose (alledgedly), to deliver different content at different stages of the sales process.
Many businesses used the funnel process to secure an email address so they could bombard (sorry, nurture!) prospects to the point of sale. Other businesses refined the process and targeted specific market sectors/firms/individuals and Account Based Marketing was born. To support the above the amount of content delivered online increased exponentially.
Getting Found Online
Many of the above web based tactics made one significant assumption. They assumed information delivered online could be found by the target audience.
To increase search visibility search engine optimisation activity was required. The relationship between content and SEO we discuss in detail elsewhere but in summary to support SEO you need content.
So now there were at least two classes of content. One (traditional) to support sales activity the other to enable content delivery.
To an extent this is a circular argument. For the marketer trying to get their content to rank their website needs authority and trustworthiness. To drive authority/trustworthiness requires content.
Let’s look at the situation up to and including the late 2010s. To rank in search a webpage needed content and it needed authority (as defined by Google). Then it needed relevance to the searcher, their situation and their intent.
In the early days of search engines backlinks were a key driver of authority. SEO consultants, agencies and in house SEO’s obsessed over link building. When it became clear over time that backlinks were less important to an authority weighting that obsession continued.
So let’s run with the assumption you need backlinks to make your content rank. How do you persuade someone to link to you? Simple (in theory), you deliver something they consider of value to them and their readers.
There are many ways to build backlinks but to consistently generate links requires content. Here’s the issue: the content that persuades someone to deliver a backlink is often not the content that provides value to your prospects.
To explain, someone reads your content and finds it useful. Who is that someone? Hopefully, it is a customer or a prospect. Or it could be one of your suppliers or distributors?
Let’s look at these specific individuals. Do they have a web presence they can access to insert a link to your website? We suggest not. Linking is purposeful, it is not trivial. In most cases, whoever does link to you has their own agenda.
Generally, those prepared to link out know the types of content the search engines tend to surface. That is why there are specific types of content focused on links. These include:
- Product/service reviews.
- Comparison blogs.
- Resource roundups, and more
Read a sample of that content and you will find it is superficial at best. Their primary purpose is not to generate traffic (although it is a nice added extra), it is not to inform or educate, it is to generate links.
If someone is to link to your in-depth, authoritative content on your Blog or elsewhere it needs a push by some third party. This is especially true if you have failed to build significant authority. There are a range of tactics involved in this process including PR (online and offline). Without that push It will take content with a unique viewpoint delivered consistently over a long period of time (years) to make any impact on authority on its own.
So Where Next?
The fundamental issue is a business needs to deliver information in some way to existing customers and a target audience. Assuming the business concentrates their delivery efforts online then the target audience needs to find that information (content). Given the changes in search over time, content shock and the level of competition delivering content is more and more difficult.
As a result many businesses have abandoned inbound to a large extent and strayed back into push. Not convinced? Then take a look at much of the current LinkedIn InMail and Email marketing. It is cold calling (warm at best) by another name.
So we currently have two types of content. The first type is useful but is increasingly difficult to deliver to an audience. The second type plays a supporting role but is less and less effective. Now there is a further problem, the rise of AI driven Apps and ChatGPT.
As we discuss elsewhere this (we believe) will drive a move to closed content silos like communities and knowledgebases in B2B markets. To gain access to those silos will require new content strategies.
To learn more download our free B2B Marketing A Different Approach guide.