OpenView Participates in Content Marketing

As b2b marketers produce more custom content—from magazines to white papers and from webcasts to blogs—it’s getting harder to tell the marketers from the publishers.

“Custom content is about marketers as publishers and publishers as marketers,” said Joe Pulizzi, founder of Junta42, an online service that matches marketers with custom content vendors.

Pulizzi is a custom content evangelist. One of the true believers Pulizzi has influenced is Scott Maxwell, senior managing director of OpenView Venture Partners, a venture capital firm focused on software companies.

OpenView’s marketing consists almost solely of custom content, Maxwell said. “I think it is the single most important thing as a marketer that you can do—develop relevant, valuable content for your target segment,” he said.

Open View produces a blog, and every employee of the firm creates an entry for it at least once a week, Maxwell said. The firm has also introduced an e-newsletter that collects the best blog entries of the week.

Additionally, each of the VC firm’s 11 portfolio companies also follows a marketing program built on custom content. “People right now are starting to open their eyes to custom content,” Maxwell said. “There’s a huge opportunity. Whoever gets to the heart of their customers’ issues will have a huge advantage over their competitors.”


It’s clear that custom content is growing. A survey by the Custom Content Council found that spending on custom content in 2009 was higher than in any other year in the history of the survey, which was first conducted in 2003. The survey found that branded content accounted for 32% of overall marketing, advertising and communications budgets last year.

Additionally, a recent report by McKinsey & Co. found that traditional marketers, which in general have not yet embraced online custom content, typically spend about 60% of their budgets on paid media and about 20% on content creation.

At the same time, marketers that are embracing custom content—especially online—are shifting their spending. “Active digital marketers tend to devote about 30% of their marketing budgets to paid media and 50% to content,” according to the McKinsey report.

Custom content, of course, is nothing new. Companies have been producing their own magazines and other long-form content pieces for decades—especially in the b2b arena where long buying cycles are the rule.

So why is custom content growing and mushrooming into so many formats now? Why are so many b2b marketers embracing transparent, journalistic-style discussions of their industry’s issues and problems?

Pulizzi said three main changes are driving the custom content boom. First, search engines, which enable detailed online comparisons of products and services, have made it imperative that companies have worthwhile website content.

Second, social media’s popularity has forced companies to create content that can be shared via this vast network of connections.

Lastly, the current emphasis on lead generation in b2b marketing has prodded companies to produce content, such as white papers, that is offered to extract information on customers and prospects.

“It’s about getting engagement and dialogue with follow-up, but it’s a continuous, long-term investment,” said Scott Bieda, VP-custom solutions at Penton Media.

Matt Johnston, VP-marketing and community at uTest, a marketplace for software testing, agreed with Bieda’s assessment.

“We call it ‘conversational marketing,'” he said. “It’s taking the long view. It’s not only a conversation, it’s a multiyear conversation.”

For Johnston, the entire uTest marketing program revolves around creating useful custom content—such as blogs, videos and websites—for customers and targets. UTest focuses on creating content addressing the issues and problems in the industry from a customer perspective. The hard sell is absent. So when adding to his staff, Johnston took a new approach. “We didn’t go and hire marketers,” he said. “We hired former journalists and bloggers.”

Some of those hires are now at work on a site uTest developed called Johnston said the goal of the site is simply to create useful content for the market—not to immediately sell uTest products and services. “It’s not a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he said.

PureSafety is another b2b marketer that is deepening its commitment to custom content. “It’s all about thought leadership for us,” said Tom Gaudreau, PureSafety’s VP-marketing. PureSafety markets online training and software built around the idea of linking the health and safety aspects of a business and its employees. “We’ve had to be early evangelists,” Gaudreau said.

PureSafety produces two email newsletters that combined reach almost 70,000 readers who have opted in. Additionally, the company hosts a number of custom conferences around the country every year. The flagship event is its user conference, which takes place in October.

Gaudreau anticipates the conference, to be held in Nashville, will attract 200 attendees, each paying a $595 fee. Speakers include safety and health experts, and the spotlight is on customer needs, not the hard sell of PureSafety products and services, he said.

Gaudreau said PureSafety is considering adding a custom magazine next year.

Despite the growing role of the Internet, a survey conducted last year by the Custom Content Council found that a typical custom content budget allocated 51% for custom print publications, 27% for Internet media and 22% for such categories as video and audio.

Sherwin-Williams Co. has published a custom b2b magazine, Professional Painting Contractor Magazine, for two decades. The publication, which is produced by Northbrook Publishing, a division of Randall-Reilly Publishing Co., reaches 250,000 painting contractors.

“Aside from reaching the audience where they are, [it’s important] that we’re reaching the audience how they want to be reached,” said Terry G. Makowski, director of trade communications at Sherwin-Williams.

Even though most painting contractors have indicated a preference for print, Sherwin-Williams posts the magazine content online as well. It has also branched out into offering a mobile app for iPhone and BlackBerry devices. Called ColorSnap, the app takes a photo of real-life objects and matches them to Sherwin-Williams paint colors.


International Data Group is leading the charge into a new area of custom content related to social media. Charles Lee, senior VP-strategic programs and custom solutions at IDG, calls it “unstructured content.”

“Structured content” is traditional formats: custom magazines, webinars, white papers and the like. Unstructured content is, for example, monitoring chatter on social media networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and responding appropriately, whether with customized tweets, engaging in conversations on Facebook or LinkedIn or pointing people to existing white papers.

IDG’s Strategic Content Services began offering technology marketers this new unstructured content service earlier this year. Clients were saying, “We don’t know where to be. We don’t know how to say what we want to say. And we don’t have the resources to be managing all of these conversations in real time.”

Lee said the response to IDG’s new service has been extremely positive. “It’s ramping up much more quickly than we thought it would,” he said.

Lee is bullish about business media companies—many of which have been creating daily newsletters and posting hourly to websites for a decade or more—and their continuing role in this custom content revolution.

“It’s exactly in our wheelhouse,” Lee said. “This is what we’ve based our business on, building relationships through content.”