It’s often argued that content marketing has come to fruition in the past decade due to the rise of different technologies. The combination of the internet, mobile technology, cloud computing and social media has made it far easier for companies to communicate with their audience like publishers. But the success of content marketing is not due to the rise of internet technology. Its history goes way back, lets look at one example from 1672. In the Dutch Golden Age, just about 70 years after our discovery of New York, the power of B2B content marketing was demonstrated by a Dutch inventor.
Case history study from the Dutch Golden Age
In 1672, Jan van der Heijden and his brother, Nicolaes, improved the fire hose. Until then, rows of people with buckets of water were required for putting out fires. A hose was available, but pumping water wasn’t yet possible. When you tried to pump water, the force of the suction would cause the flexible hose to collapse on itself. The clever Jan and his brother came up with a suction pump with a suction hose reinforced with iron rings. Via a second linen hose, the water is subsequently transported to the hose and driven out of the nozzle via a pressure pump. Now the water would flow continuous and the nozzle could be better aimed at the flames to deal with the fire hazard. Like tech start-ups in Silicon Valley today, the brothers acquired a patent for their design in 1677.
But Jan van der Heijden wasn’t only a mechanical engineer; he was also a painter and clever business man. To introduce his invention to the masses, he used various modern marketing techniques, which brought him huge success. He combined the following formats in his content marketing program:
- White paper – A couple of years after their finding, in 1677, the brothers published a white paper about their invention. In the publication entitled “Message with regard to newly invented and patented fire hoses,” they compared their system with previous systems and demonstrated the functionality based on practical use.
- Book – In 1690, he wrote the standard reference work, “Description of the newly invented and patented firehose,” with his son. In this first book about the fire brigade in the world, he included detailed descriptions of fire hazards and developments in the organization and techniques of firefighting in Amsterdam. In the 21st century, Jan undoubtedly would have published an e-book version as well!
- Visuals – Jan van der Heijden was also an artist and presented his publications with rich print designs and even poems, which enhanced the readability significantly. Using only copy was seen by him as insufficient to engage his audience. His prints were reused well into the 18th century for material covering firefighting.
- Social sharing – Van der Heijden dedicated his book to one of his most important prospects, Nicolaes Witsen, who was mayor of Amsterdam 13 times between 1682 and 1706. The city was impressed and all 60 districts ordered new hoses. The price of a fire hose was 385 guilders; a fire hose on wheels would cost 435 guilders. Jackpot!
- Demos – “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Jan must have thought. He organized demonstrations at the Royal Palace on Dam Square and at the Westertoren.
- Consultative selling – Consultants know better than anyone that advising prospects can lead to the sale of new services and products. Based on his advice, Van der Heijden was asked to set up the volunteer fire brigade in Amsterdam. Each district had a chief, members and volunteers on hand to put out fires in an emergency. At the helm of this city-wide organization stood the fire department general: Jan van der Heijden himself. Conflict of interest?
The commercial success of Jan van der Heijden was unprecedented. Not only did the city of Amsterdam place a mega order, other municipalities got in on the act. Then the first stock listed and largest multinational in the world, the VOC (the Dutch East India Company), installed the fire hose on all its ships. In 1697, Jan van der Heijden even got a visit from Peter the Great. The Russian tsar wanted to lure him to Russia to organize the fire departments there.
Those who think the fire hose was a one-off for Jan van der Heijden’s content marketing strategy are mistaken. After his fire hose invention he developed the first street lighting and presented a lighting plan to the City of Amsterdam that would provide well over 2,500 oil-based lights. He was also the inventor, and the supplier, of these lanterns. This plan was also implemented. The crowning glory to his work was that he was named Director and Superintendent of City Lighting, for which he received an annual fee of 2,000 guilders (which would now be over $25,000).
Research shows that content creation is seen as one of the biggest challenges for content marketing. It’s not just authors who suffer from a ‘writers block’, complete organizations face this problem. Creating content in itself is challenging, however, due to the rapid growth of content marketing initiatives, distinctive content is becoming more and more important. When content becomes a repetition of previously published knowledge or facts, the added value is limited. Providing content of high quality, with unique characteristics, increases its appeal. Here is what to create and where to begin.
Which content formats can best be applied, is of course an interesting question. The Content Marketing Institute 2016 carried out relevant research on this subject matter. Approximately 1500 B2B marketers that took part in the survey, were questioned as to the effectiveness and the use of different content marketing tactics. The tactics that are perceived as most effective, are shown in the figure below.
The effectiveness of a format depends very much on the message and the audience, but also, of course, on the quality of the content and reach of the audience. It’s impossible to single out one format or offer advice on the best application thereof. It is possible however, to logically link content formats to the buyer journey. In order to stimulate the discovery process trend analyses, vision and infographics can be suitable. The consideration phase, however, lends itself to formats that can transmit more in-depth messaging, for example, whitepapers, checklists and demos.
Furthermore, the chosen content formats must be suited to the DMU (Decision Making Unit) member they are targeted at. When establishing the framework for the use of online messaging, the DMU members and the phases of the buying process should serve as the starting point. As such, downloadable research reports and vision documentation can be interesting for executive board members, and whitepapers about organizational issues for line managers.
Here, individual content items are not standalone entities, but rather combined in order to reinforce one another. In the example above, research can be combined with roundtable sessions. But that same research, can give rise to, among other things, blogs for blogsites and infographics to be applied on social media. The same basic content is then used in a different context, aimed at different DMU members.
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An essential characteristic of modern marketing, is that it’s always thought of in terms of the customer perspective. Naturally many organizations are used to communicating from their own context, resulting in messages from themselves or regarding the products or services they offer. This is exactly where modern marketing differs from traditional marketing.
In order to give some necessary structure with regard to issues arising from your audience and answers that can help people in forming their ideas, two commonly used marketing concepts can be applied: the buyer journey and the decision making unit (or one step further: the buyer personas).
The buyer journey
Commercial decisions are generally not made overnight. Decision makers undergo a process known as the ‘buyer journey’. Before making investment decisions, people generaly first arrive at an idea. The current situation, for example, is no longer sufficient, or external developments create the possibility for new opportunities, or threats, which need to be dealt with. Subsequently the possibilities are examined, for which improvements can be made and implemented. Finally, the various options are assessed and decisions are made. This ‘journey’ can be divided into five stages:
- Discovery: the starting point is recognition or acknowledgement of a problem or challenge. Followed by acceptance that a solution must be found.
- Consideration: subsequently it’s necessary to find solutions. Internally wishes and requirements are reviewed and externally all the possibilities are lined up. This search generally ends with the preference for one, or a limited number of, suppliers.
- Decision: finally you move towards the execution of a choice. Therefore the chosen option must be justifiable and give the ‘feel good’ factor.
- Implement: after the actual purchase the product or service needs to be implemented or taken into use. As supplier it’s key to optimize this process.
- Use: finally the service or product is taken into use. Now it’s essential to turn users into fans!
The phase in which the buyer finds himself within their journey, influences the type of messages he is open to. Someone busy forming ideas, is not necessarily open to the hard sell, or a message pushing your unique selling points. Messages that stimulate the discovery phase, could be more relevant. Think, for example, of content related to trends, developments and possibilities.
The phases that comprise the buyer journey, can be translated to suitable messages as displayed in the diagram below:
Content to raise inspiration is meant to activate the discovery process in a customer at an early stage of the buying process.
Informative content is aimed at supporting companies, or individuals, in the consideration phase. In this phase you can for instance help setting up the right requirements, identifying pitfalls and reviewing all potential solutions to a specific challenge.
Convincing content is used for the actual promotion of your own solution. It can be sensible to distinguish stimulating content from other content. This way, the reader perceives awareness content and informative content independent from each other. Independence is important to retain the reader’s attention.
The purchase or investment, is followed by installation or use. This first confrontation with the product or service is the moment to form the basis of customer satisfaction. Through assisting content, the organization can, at this stage, provide maximum service to the newly acquired customer.
The commissioning signals the start of the ‘permanent’ relationship with the customer. Content can play an important role in increasing customer satisfaction, brand engagement and customer loyalty.
The decision making unit
A smart marketing strategy doesn’t merely look at the buying process, but also considers the various members within the decision making unit (DMU). The DMU includes the group of people with an organization that influences the decision making process surrounding the purchase of products or services. Kotler, inventor of the term DMU, defines six different DMU roles:
- Initiator: The initial problem owner that went in search of the solution to his or her problem.
- Users: The actual users of the products or services, they influence the specifications. Customers’ customers can fall under the category of users.
- Influencers: They influence the buying process by setting preconditions. They are in every layer of an organization.
- Buyer: The person that actually conducts negotiations for contract terms with the supplier.
- Decision maker: The person that eventually decides on the supplier.
- Gatekeeper: The gatekeeper takes care of the information distribution within the DMU and can therefore significantly influence the decision making process.
The DMU members can fulfill any number of roles.
If we combine the buyer journey and the decision making unit, we can establish a framework. This framework provides an overview of the stumbling blocks and the motives involved in the buying process of more complex products and services. By analyzing and examining this framework on each item, we can establish the relevant communication messages. Figure 2.7. provides a basic illustration of a standard overview in such a framework. This framework can be set up for each product-market combination.
This simplified framework, for example, consists of a director, a manager and a user. In terms of discovery at executive level (director), his or her perspective is the starting point for shaping the relevant messaging. At this level, strategic aspects could be relevant. The executive board could question whether or not the organization is ready for the developments in the market. Furthermore, the executive board wants to have an idea of the relevant trends the organization should anticipate. However, if we look at the same phase (discovery) in terms of the user, aspects that could influence them to consider change are, for example, operational issues in the day-to-day functioning of the business.
The modern marketing plan
When it’s clear what messaging the organization will aim at which DMU members, or buyer personas, an important step has been taken. Based on this context, a tactical modern marketing plan can be established. The plan will contain a description of how the market will be approached, fed by the knowledge from the buyer journey and DMU.
The tactical modern marketing plan makes choices regarding buyer persona’s, messaging, content formats and media. This is not a one-time exercise, but a process that, based on the dynamics of the market and the response of, and interaction with, the target audiences, is continuously adjusted, expanded and developed. Forming the concept is the basis, the starting point of the tactical modern marketing plan. In order to further solidify the process and to provide the conversion from concept to market and organization shape and content, the modern marketing plan includes:
- starting points and preconditions
- choice in content formats
- production- and editorial planning
- (social) media plan
- conversion mechanisms
- organizational implementation
- technical implementation