What is the Role of Content Marketing in Account Based Marketing (ABM)?

What is account based marketing (ABM)? How do content marketing and ABM work together? Account based marketing (ABM) is an established practice that has been getting a lot of attention as a new trend in B2B marketing. While most of the conversations have been around the marketing automation tools that help make this level of personalization possible, the participation of content marketers in the process has brought up a lot of questions and discussion of the practice.

How does content marketing fit into this new model and how can content departments keep up with the demand for content that is so highly targeted it only serves one potential client? Depending on the size of the marketing departments, some people are asking which practice is better as a way to decide where to spend their time and invest their resources.

In a recent Found Friday discussion, Steve Farnsworth, CMO The Steveology Group and Erin Robbins, President GinzaMetrics discussed the ABM and content marketing landscapes and how these two methodologies are both evolving to work together in the future.

Account based marketing (ABM) defined

What is account based marketing? SiriusDecisions recently defined ABM this way, “The strategic approach marketers use to support a defined universe of accounts, including strategic accounts and named accounts…ABM helps to evolve the role of marketing to reflect a stronger alignment with sales objectives and customer needs to deliver better execution and revenue outcomes.”

I think this definition helps marketers to understand their role in the process and sets content marketers up to understand that the assets they create in this type of approach will require understanding the organizations and decision makers within an organization individually and creating content with messaging and communication styles tailored for them.

As marketers already scrambling for enough resources to execute effective, strategic content marketing programs, we’re thinking this sounds expensive, time consuming, and requires a lot of data collection and analysis in order to make it work correctly. All those things are true, yet the popularity of ABM has continued to grow. While ABM is not a new idea, it has captured the interest of organizations with successful content marketing programs looking for a way to attract and engage an ever more elusive audience.

Steve explains the increased interest in ABM this way, “What has happened now is people we need to speak to aren’t giving their names to get content, they’re not providing their information, they’re not answering their phone, and they’re not answering their email so they’re really hard to reach and you have to figure out how to reach those people. ABM is really a response to the success of inbound marketing. It’s one of those ironies.”

The challenge for content marketing functions entering the ABM arena is the need for everyone in the marketing and sales departments to really work closely together, beyond just sharing some information. Account based marketing is truly a collaborative effort between all of marketing and sales and that’s a challenge for a lot of people.

But while it continues to have its challenges, ABM also presents opportunities for improved engagement, higher conversion rates, and lower churn rates.

“One thing that’s interesting about ABM is the potential for improving retention. If you’re targeting the right people and companies for your product or service in the first place, then those people will tend to be a better fit once they become customers,” noted Erin.

Is ABM only for large organizations?

Considering the growing popularity of ABM and the continuing evolution of marketing automation tools, how likely is it that account based marketing will become a practice for more than just larger, enterprise organizations?

Marketers from brands of all sizes are wondering if the rise in popularity of inbound marketing practices that make it harder and harder to get found by key audiences will pull them into the sphere of ABM. The large price tag and the required resources continue to be a barrier to entry into ABM for brands without large budgets and dedicated account based marketing departments. Marketers from brands with fewer resources are still questioning the viability of ABM for their organizations and looking for ways to make ABM a scalable marketing practice where medium sized brands can take advantage of the benefits without breaking the marketing bank.

Steve Farnsworth predicts that large enterprise size brands will continue to be the ones investing in ABM for the near future. However, he explains the cost benefit of establishing an account based marketing strategy this way, “Create a list of dream accounts and then ask yourself what those deals are worth. Go back and look at big deals and determine the average size of each one so you have an idea how much money you closed for those accounts and the lifetime overall value of those customers over time. Once you understand those numbers, you can understand how much budget or how much effort you want to put toward ABM.”

According to Steve, ABM can work for smaller brands as long as they know how much income the new customer would bring in and they set an appropriate marketing budget based on those numbers up front.

The conversations around account based marketing and content marketing have marketers trying to differentiate ABM methodologies from role-based, industry-based, or needs-based marketing. When looking at assigning resources to personalized content creation, marketers want to know just how specialized content needs to be if the target audience is even more specific than a role, an industry, or a need and if the content that already exists can somehow be used for ABM efforts.

Do economies of scale exist for content marketing and ABM?

As marketers we’re used to getting the most bang for our buck – creating one content asset and sharing it with the world, spreading it around and hoping it takes root and garners a certain level of engagement. One of the reasons marketers are having a hard time embracing account based marketing is the practice is exactly the opposite of other marketing practices.

“We have to shift the focus to look at each target company individually – you can’t pick ten companies and market to those top ten companies as a group. You have to have ten separate plans with demographic information on individual firms – the size of the company and the industry. Then, prioritize targets and start with the most important account on the list and determine their needs to begin creating content,” recommends Steve.

The most important tenet of ABM is creating personalized, individualized, and targeted content for a specific person in a specific company. That’s the first focus of the process. Once you’ve determined what content to create specifically for your targets, then you can look at other, existing content to see if there is anything that can be tweaked or repurposed to fit the needs of the targeted company. One place to look for content to repurpose for ABM is the industry-specific content you’ve already created.

Steve gives this example, “If you have an eBook or other content that’s written about a specific industry, revise it to include information about the target company. This references them in a positive way, quotes their CEO or some other influencer within the company, and gives them a little nod and puts them in a good light where you’re talking about an issue that’s going to be relevant and interesting to that company.”

Doing the research and gathering the data necessary to execute an effective ABM program actually gives marketers a great potential data source to help them understand the nuanced differences that exist between competitors in the same niche market.

Erin suggests that before you decide to create one piece of content and distribute it to a group of competitors in a niche market, you understand the differences between those brands and customize your content accordingly, “You’ve done all this research around a particular industry and within a specific vertical of the industry. You can take that information and understand the nuanced differences between what will work for one brand may not work for another due to differences in company culture, location, work style, or internal organization. If you’re doing ABM correctly, you’re forcing yourself to figure out those differences whereas the natural tendency of marketers is to create one content piece for an entire industry and shove.”

Although there may be some opportunities to use existing content in an ABM program, the initial focus and investment must first be to creating super personalized content and delivering that content to individuals in an organization that have been targeted as decision makers or influencers in the decision making process. In ABM, content creation and delivery must focus on quality over quantity.

To hear more about the evolution of ABM and content marketing, watch the full Found Friday episode here.

Categories: Marketing Strategy.
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