If you spend any time looking at the bit of the internet focused on B2B marketing, you won’t be able to escape the hype and froth around content marketing.

For many, it’s the next big thing. In fact it’s the only thing.

In fact, if you’re not doing content, what are you doing?

For others, who’ve been around for a bit, content marketing is just a new name for some pretty traditional tactics. After all, they’ve been producing white papers, case studies and newsletters for years. So what’s the big deal?

Of course, many of the traditionalists are delighted to now call what they’ve always been doing content marketing. Why not? There’s more interest from management and more budget being assigned to content than ever before.

For their part, the new B2B content evangelists are happy to ratchet up the noise. Especially as they tend to make their money either teaching people how to do content marketing or selling systems that support the process.

The truth, as is so often the case, is somewhere in between.

Is content marketing old news?

It is absolutely true that a lot of B2B content marketing uses many of the types of content that have been regularly employed over the last couple of decades or so. However, it does so while addressing one of the major issues that generally plagues B2B marketing – value.

All too often, traditional B2B content is (just between us girls) simply commercial messages dressed up in a content wrapper. It’s spam in a nice tin.

You know the thing. It’s the case study that’s a thinly-veiled product punt. It’s the newsletter that’s simply about account wins and new product launches. It’s the white paper that’s just a long-winded product description in a dull format.

As such, customers (being the smart people they generally are) see through this pretty quickly.

Just as quickly (they’re busy after all) they move on to something more interesting and useful.

The real difference in today’s B2B content marketing

The real key to the success of content marketing is not about format. You can have the best ebooks, the most sublime videos and the punchiest of case studies and still see crappy results.

The reality is that all these will fail unless you shift your focus fairly and squarely onto your customers. Sorry.

B2B content marketing is not primarily about what you want to sell to customers, it’s about helping them get things done. This might involve teaching them something new or challenging their thinking or giving them the tools to actually get stuff done.

The point is: it’s all about the customer first.

But what about making sales?

Now, if you read some of the blogs, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that the move to content marketing means never trying to sell anything ever again.

They give the impression that sales will somehow magically happen while you’re having fun creating your latest groovy infographic. That customers, awed by your magnificent content, will beg you to take their business.

This is, of course, utter nonsense.

Strangely, some of the early blogs for companies who took this line are looking a hell of a lot more sales-focused these days. It’s amazing what staring down the pointy end of an empty sales funnel will do for you.

So to be clear: B2B content marketing is 100% there to help you sell stuff. By mapping your content to the various stages of the sales funnel, you should be able to attract more prospects, accelerate their progress and close more deals.

However, trying to do it with a tired old white paper that adds zero value to your customers’ thinking is going to achieve nothing.

So maybe the Emperor isn’t quite so buck-naked after all.