A Top LinkedIn Exec On Why Content Marketing Matters More Than Ever

Today the brand “voice” takes a front seat, while the hard sell takes a step back, and artfully communicating to your audience is critical in a feed-based advertising landscape that is here to stay.

In the past few years, there’s been a real transformation in the way people consume information and communicate. Fueled by the mass adoption of social platforms, this transformation in consumer behavior demands that the ways we market also evolve. This is especially true in business-to-business where brands compete in a content-flooded environment with countless information sources to capture buyers' attention.

We’ve gone from a world where a handful of publishers control the flow of most information, to one where anyone with an Internet connection can have a voice. While this has created new opportunities, it also makes it more difficult to hear and be heard. With consumers more sophisticated and the landscape more crowded, connecting with your audience is more complex than ever before. Buyers are not persuaded by advertising alone. They’re using the web, search, social networks, and more to educate themselves on potential purchases. Research shows consumers are 60% through the buyer’s journey before reaching out to brands for help on available options.

This is where content marketing comes into play.

While a clear brand strategy is vital in any content marketing effort, it takes a great deal of momentum to drive discovery and engagement. Relying on the old model of periodic campaigns is no longer enough. Today the brand “voice” takes a front seat, while the hard sell takes a step back, and artfully communicating to your audience is critical in a feed-based advertising landscape that is here to stay.

In 2012, content marketing was the leading tactic for 18.9% of marketers worldwide. In 2013, that percentage has grown to 34.8%. I’m seeing this trend in action with more and more of my clients balancing out their traditional marketing efforts with content marketing campaigns.

They do this by building custom communities on the LinkedIn platform like Citi’s Connect: Professional Women’s Network, or through targeted sponsored updates currently being tested by GE and Xerox. They spend their time on our platform creating and feeding content which will resonate with their base, and in turn, build committed followers from which they can glean insight.

Methods for achieving success through a content marketing effort can vary, but here are a few suggestions for best practices to help advertisers kick-start their programs:

Don’t Just Sell, Add Value
Offer useful content that will earn you credibility with your desired audience. Give them information that will make them smarter, more productive, more successful or the first in the know. Helping them shine will work in your favor in the long run.

Ask Them What They Want to Hear
There are a myriad of ways to gain greater understanding of your audience, but there’s no better barometer than the conversations you hear on the platforms where you have a constant stream of information. This isn’t to say you should put all your eggs in the content marketing basket, but it’s not something you can afford to ignore.

If done right, a winning content marketing strategy will enhance consideration of your brand and generate leads. It’s an opportunity to engage through authentic conversations at scale, and capture metrics that can be used to develop content that will work. Having clear targeted messaging will foster invaluable relationships, leaving a lasting impression and goodwill.

Experiment and learn from your hand-raisers and fine-tune your campaigns as you go along. Keep track of the metrics that really encourage your audience to engage or inspires them to share. These will be important so you can quickly adjust your plans without losing sight of your goals.

Be Human
Find ways to incentivize without blatant self-promotion and don’t shy away from humor. Its appeal is universal and a bit of lighthearted banter can go a long way. Doing so shows that your brand is invested in more than the sale, making you a trusted source when purchase decisions are made.

In time you’ll find real value in your investment through the engagement you see, the relationships you built, the amplification of your messages and ultimately, the impact on your revenue.

--Jonathan Lister oversees the North America advertising sales and operations organization for LinkedIn, working with brands and advertising agencies to help them connect with LinkedIn’s audience.

[Image: Flickr user Ryan Berry]

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15 Comments

  • Darius

    LinkedIn needs to engage more with subscribers who are just srarting out in their careers. This group will need help in making the right kind of connections that will help them succeed. Engage with them on networking skills. What product and personal branding means. This group is your future.

  • Dan

    What an excellent article. A company like The Mad Video has a good idea of this problem and is specifically addressing it with their meta-tagging. 

  • Mike Hensgen

    Agree with Jim below, haven't see the real "connects the dots" proof yet, but maybe some day. I personally believe the BRAND is everything, and for the most part in B2B efforts, it's ill served and weakly presented. Maybe that will ultimately change in a big way, but for now I will view social media's effectiveness as a bit overhyped by its practitioners.

  • Jim

    Recoveringhipster, no way! I absolutely believe there is a direct connection between consumer engagement/experience and consumption.  What I am waiting to see, however, is a case study (or two or three) that doesn't just tell me about how clever or cool a digital or social media campaign was, but actually connects the dots to consumption (with an acceptable ROI).  I can assume all day long that bad customer experiences lead to reduced consumption.  I can also assume that good customer experiences (including engagement) lead to increased consumption.  But until I can prove it, it is just an assumption.  To move from Clara Peller to Jerry Maguire, "show me the money." I am just putting out the challenge to our industry:  Prove yourself.

  • Charlene

    Mr. Lister needs to go back to operations and leave the blog entries to people who have real content to share and not warmed over marketing pablum. FAIL

  • Jim

    To quote Clara Peller, "where's the beef?"  The Connect:  Professional Women's Network is an awesome example of social media happening and working; more than 120,000 followers engaging one village at a time about a variety of issues and topics.  But is there any proof... any evidence that this category of content results in sales?  These are marketing dollars earmarked for content, and these marketing dollars are supposed to create awareness, build brand, create engagement for the purpose of driving sales.  That is the black and white truth that is so conveniently overlooked by so many.  Social media experts love to separate themselves from sales as if it were a filthy, dirty thing, but it is THE only reason you exist. Citi doesn't care about communities unless those communities are using its banking and financial services.  It is not a non-profit organization devoted to community. Make a connection... any connection.  Show me one piece of evidence that connects content to sales.  Make me a believer... I want to see the light.

  • Not Defending Just Saying

    Hi Jim, I don't have a dog in this Linkedin fight. But I am marketer that happens to focus on Social Media in the BtoB space.  Our Brand Tracking study shows that customers engaging via social media have a stronger purchase funnel (yes, we still use Awareness-Familiarity-Consider-Purchase), through matchback analysis we have seen that customers on one social network have a customer value that is significanlty larger than our average customer, we have found that pages on our website with reviews have a higher conversion rate...and I could go on.  When you say "Where's the Beef" exactly what type of proof of performance are you looking for?  Social Media isn't a single tactic.  Hence, not all programs are designed for the bottom of the funnel. But the ones that are, can have a positive ROI.  Maybe you haven't spoken to the right people or you are asking the wrong question.

  • recoveringhipster

    I get the impression that it's hard to connect content to sales in a direct way... which is a problem. There's evidence connecting brand recognition and reputation to sales, of course, and the purpose of content is to increase brand recognition and reputation... and I believe there is evidence that it does that.

    So - and I'm basically guessing here - I imagine that there is a connection between content and sales, but it's not a direct one.

  • Jim

     You may be right, but herein lies the problem:  You are guessing.  And that too is fine.  The scientific process involves making a supposition/theory (guessing intelligently).  But then the scientist has the burden of proving his or her supposition/theory. So maybe we should stop guessing and making stuff up and get to the business of proving.

  • recoveringhipster

    So would you argue that there is actually not a positive relationship between the engagement of consumers and their consumption?