Today’s best B2B marketing teams are dramatically more accountable for revenue than ever before. They don’t just make money, they prove it. (Which beats the hell out of the old days when the sales team called us things like ‘the arts and crafts department’.)
But somewhere along the line, for some (thankfully not all) B2B companies, content marketing and demand generation started to drive into quicksand.
A major cause of this is what we call buying friction. In our Buying Friction Series, we outline various passive marketing tactics many B2B marketers use that slow buyers down along their path to purchase. One such passive experience is the ubiquitous ‘content hub’ (a.k.a the place where engagement goes to die.)
A content hub is the dumping ground of a B2B website
We may dress it up in different clothes (we can call them things ‘Resources’ or ‘Knowledge Centers’ or…‘Content Hubs’) but just underneath the surface, the vast majority of these things are still just a virtual stack of unorganized (or poorly organized) content that leaves it to prospects to find their way around.
It’s like going into a shiny department store, taking a wrong turn, and ending up in a badly-lit storeroom with lots of brown boxes on shelves.
It’s content. But I’m not sure it’s marketing.
And I’m positive it’s not the best we can do with all of our high-quality content.
Why do hubs happen?
Content hubs happen because we need somewhere to put all the expensive, insight-rich, nurture-flow-progressing content we create.
You can’t just email it out or keep it on-call for a drip campaign (that ‘one and done’ approach also adds to the buying friction problem). You don’t want to lock it up on product pages where only some visitors will see it. So why not stick it in a content hub and let people come and browse?
When you think about it that way it makes sense. But what doesn’t make sense is thinking that your buyers will accept this passive browsing experience. Because they won’t. They can’t. Especially when they are treated to a wealth of on-demand, hyper-personalized, active content experiences in their B2C lives like bang-on Netflix recommendations and custom Spotify playlists. The bar has been set too high.
Content is a strategic asset. To make it part of a directed journey instead of an aimless friction-filled browse, B2B marketers must better enable their buyers. Meaning stop expecting them to find your content and, instead, help them buy by delivering the information they need at the moment they need it.
This is called buyer enablement and it is the key to removing buying friction and getting a return on your content investment. Not just when it’s first published but for as long as it’s still current and relevant to your audience.
6 ways content hubs cause friction
Content hubs are not only bad customer experiences but they also result in poor demand generation. Here’s why:
They’re entirely passive
All about browsing and poking around instead of targeted, goal-driven buyer education. Oh, and by the way, someone has to actually end up there! When you think about how most people find and consume information, heading straight to your content hub isn’t exactly at the top of the list. In this way, they don’t meet buyers in the places where they are actually seeking more information.
They treat all content the same
With maybe only the ability to pin your most recent or hottest content to the top, burying things that are far more relevant for most visitors.
Totally ignoring who visitors are and what they’re really interested in.
They tend to be badly organized
Some have basic buckets or some kind of filtering; the worst being by format (Our Videos/Our Case Stories/Our Blog Posts/Our eBooks… really?). But some don’t even do that. They’re simply stacked by recency.
They ignore what visitors just looked at
Making no relevant recommendations for continuing their self-education. (Maybe just ‘Other Recent Posts’ or ‘Popular Content’ — and that’s just kinda lazy).
They’re not instrumented
They can’t listen, telling you what the visitor is interested in and how deep or urgent that interest is. The hub may be covered by web analytics, but it isn’t building up prospect or account profiles that you can act on.
In short, passive content hubs are okay for casual web visitors who are happy to wander around — but terrible for motivated prospects who expect and deserve more from you.
They’re also terrible for demand generation teams that need to take prospects by the hand, give them the most relevant information to help them make a confident buying decision, then deliver them to the sales team when they’re actually qualified to buy. This linear, goal-directed activity may be mainly buyer-controlled, but it’d better not be random. And randomness is the essence of the passive content hub.
While few demand gen teams spend their budgets to drive motivated, engaged prospects into these tar pits, an awful lot of buyers are still groping around in content hubs as they try to educate themselves. The goal should be to get them out of browse mode and into a directed journey.
If not hubs, then what?
Here’s the ‘don’t get me wrong’ part: you do need some kind of content library or resource center on your website.
But that resource center needs to be a hell of a lot better at content merchandising than the typical content dumping ground.
Content merchandising is all about stealing the best ideas from e-commerce retailers. It treats content as a valuable, money-making thing (like Zappos treats a pair of shoes) — not as inert clumps of stuff some prospect may one day trip over.
Have you ever thought about merchandising your content the way Amazon actively merchandizes books (and…all non-book products)?
At best, even a well-designed, well-structured content hub is a kind of rest stop on the content marketing and demand generation highway. It’s a place to stop for a tepid hamburger, but it’s emphatically not a destination.
PathFactory has done away with the Resource Centre on our website altogether. Yes, our top nav still includes things like a Customer page and the Blog. But here’s the big difference: as soon as you click on any one of the pieces on those pages, you’re into a completely different kind of experience. You’re in a pre-defined on-demand content track that does some important things:
- Leads from the content you chose to the next logical piece for you, your interests, and your stage in the buying process.
- Registers the time you spend with each piece and with the whole content track.
- Responds to exit signals with a new, targeted content recommendation to keep you on-site, consuming.
- Asks for data once you’ve shown enough engagement to warrant that.
- Triggers the next best action to keep the engagement going.
This is about as far from a passive, content hub experience as the tasting menu at a Michelin star restaurant is from that rest stop hamburger. It’s about enabling buyers by serving up the tastiest content for every stage of their journey.
Buyer enablement is the solution to the buying friction problem
Buyer enablement turns otherwise passive content experiences, like content hubs, into active, on-demand experiences that drive demand and play a key role in your revenue operation.
At its heart, buyer enablement is about adapting to the way your buyers actually conduct their research — and eliminating any obstacles to the vital self-education process. In other words, it’s about helping buyers buy (rather than marketing at them.)
The idea is to connect buyers with the most relevant information, whenever or wherever they interact with you. It’s actively merchandizing your content the way Amazon actively merchandizes books (and…all non-book products.)
To truly enable buyers you have to have a very strong grasp of who they are and what they’re interested in. At PathFactory, we gauge our audience’s appetite or hunger for our content by measuring content consumption. We passionately believe time spent with content is the most reliable signal of sales-readiness for any B2B marketer. (And let me be very clear: demographics, such as job title, industry, or company size, do not signal buying intent.)
Content hubs are designed to cause friction and slow down our most interested buyers. They were designed to hold a bunch of content that was once created to do a thing somewhere else.
What they were not designed to do is even notice—much less act on—genuine hunger for content and buyer’s interest.
So, by all means, use a hub to give casual browsers a place to roam. And, by all means, make it as good as it can be. But make your real goal to lead your hottest prospects away from these passive, browsing experiences and enable them to binge on your content when and where they desire.
The Buying Friction Series reveals how B2B marketers end up preventing their buyers from getting the information they need to buy. They do this by creating various points of friction throughout their buyers’ journeys that slow them down along their path-to-purchase. The Buying Friction Series helps B2B marketers identify and remove these points of friction to better enable buyers to make smarter, faster purchase decisions.