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The Shape of Play-For-Pay in B2B Marketing

What would it look like if creatives and content were rewarded only for the traffic and revenue they generated? Read on.

Agencies have always gleefully facilitated client companies’ spray and pray marketing strategies. Creatives churn out work designed more to please their CMO masters than an audience. And the agencies were as happily ignorant of the end results as, in many cases, the marketers who employed them.

In theory, that’s all changed. With what Eloqua calls revenue management and Marketo revenue mastery, marketing spend can now be remorselessly linked to company revenue. Content actually has to move audiences, and generate cash. Hmmm, brutal.

CMOs in front of this curve gush about it. As any Central Asian despot will tell you, nothing shortens the path to power than control over a pipeline. At least nominally, these CMOs must meet clear targets, and there’s every reason they’ll start expecting their agency partners to live and breathe the new modus operandi.

This is what I call play-for-pay: agencies producing content, ideas and collateral not for an up-front sum and a pile of expectations, but for the promise of later reward for traffic, social shares and revenue generated. Not only would companies rather pay for performance than promises, but play-for-pay would allow them to retool their whole relationship with content partners.

Here are some observations on how that might work:

1. Agencies will resist. Talented professionals, they will say, aren’t going to want to do great work when they’re not certain they’ll be able to feed their kids. This is rubbish, of course. There are countless ways to mitigate performance risk. But a start by splitting up-front and post-campaign rewards makes sense.
2. Companies will need to set up a meaningful performance bar to measure against. Content for demand generation would provide small premiums based on click-throughs from search, social shares, downloads, backlinks, etc. Content for lead nurturing would reward all traffic that redirected to a product information page, or lead to a conversion.
3. Transparent and robust content-specific metrics need to be in place. Google Analytics could demonstrate a specific piece of content’s visibility and impact on site traffic. Marketing automation could link a sales prospects’ viewing of content with eventual revenue. A Klout-type of service could indicate the number and influence of social shares.
4. Affiliate marketing would be a significant influencer. A company might encourage content providers/agencies to develop content on their own platforms or in their own channels. Content that drives business could then be lifted up and incorporated into the company’s own site.
5. An infrastructure would have to be in place, in order for smaller companies to benefit. The big B2B brands could do this themselves. Some probably already are. But others are going to struggle getting attention from speculative content producers. With reliable content metrics and performance bars like those mentioned above, a B2B content e-marketplace for smaller brands would only be one entrepreneur away.
6. Brands rethink their marketing communications role. Eloqua’s Joe Chernov is already talking the publisher talk. Thousands will need to start walking the walk. This means shepherding and channeling the creative energies of formless masses, not agency lackeys. Think 20th century film production company structures.
7. Agencies become organized around home runs (and the sluggers who hit them), not account management chess. In other words, agencies may become talent development and management outfits, helping great creatives spread their performance risk, and nurturing new stars. Publishing houses or sports teams are the easy metaphors here.
8. Still no way to measure lift-off. With all the measurement in the world, there is still a degree to which great work creates countless immeasurable benefits. Content performance rewards should start steep, then taper off, then ramp up again to account for the kinds of indescribable brand benefits great work can create.

Anyone else see obvious ways such a process would work? Simply drop a comment. I see this post as a living document, edited and added to over time as experience grows. And I’ll circle back around later to go deeper into each of these points in separate blog posts.

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