Most of the attention given to content marketing in the B2B space has focused on its role in lead generation and lead nurturing. In reality, companies are using content marketing to support several objectives. The table below shows how B2B and B2C marketers ranked their objectives for content marketing in the latest content marketing survey conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs.
As its popularity and use have grown, we have started to view content marketing as a distinct marketing discipline with its own set of principles and best practices. Overall, this is good because it has allowed us to create a body of knowledge about how to do content marketing effectively. The downside is that this approach can lead us to view content marketing as an end unto itself, rather than as a means to achieve other important business/marketing objectives.
It its definition of content marketing, the Content Marketing Institute says that the objective of content marketing is to drive "profitable customer action." I don't disagree with the general sentiment, but this definition doesn't reveal how content marketing relates to specific marketing objectives.
Content marketing should be viewed as a "new" mechanism for achieving objectives that have been essential to revenue generation and growth for a long time. As the diagram below illustrates, content marketing supports every major customer-facing component of a B2B demand generation system.
For most small and mid-size B2B companies, content marketing has become the most effective way to build the brand (what I call reputation building in the diagram). The role of content marketing in lead generation and lead nurturing has been widely discussed, and it's now recognized that content marketing is an indispensable component of lead generation and lead nurturing.
A growing number of companies are placing increased emphasis on sales enablement programs to boost the effectiveness of their sales reps, and the right content resources are pivotal for successful sales enablement. Finally, many companies recognize the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with existing customers, and providing customers the right kind of content is critical to achieving this objective.
At the highest level, the core principles of effective content marketing are the same, but your content marketing tactics must be based on the specific marketing objective you are trying to achieve. Therefore, the content marketing program you use for reputation building won't be identical to the program you use for lead generation.
Recognizing that content marketing is implemented through multiple programs that support multiple objectives also makes it possible to measure the value of content marketing more accurately. A content marketing program that supports reputation building should have different performance metrics than a program that supports customer retention and expansion. By measuring these programs separately and differently, you will get a more accurate picture of the value that content marketing provides.