Why B2B Content Marketing Themes Fail


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Themes for B2B marketing programs are not a new concept. They’re used to “organize” marketing programs and create a rallying cry around a market trend that will (hopefully) drive business momentum.

The problem with themes in marketing, as I see it, is that they’re used as temporary marketing constructs — generally for the term of a campaign or perhaps a quarter. Themes generally do not originate based on a context that resonates with buyers.

Themes should be used as umbrellas that tie together the brand story with unifying and dominant ideas or motifs. A theme should weave through all of your marketing programs in relation to the brand’s promise to customers.

What happens when themes are used as marketing constructs is that they:

  • Change — sometimes wildly, confusing our target markets’ perception about the company’s promise.
  • Lack Consistency — once your theme changes, those interested in your past theme may not follow along in your new one.
  • Become Repetitious — when themes are used as marketing constructs, they are often too narrow and the content and messaging becomes boring and repetitive because there’s no space for new ideas. Or not enough creativity to develop them.
  • Lack Relevance — because they’re focused on what the company wants to say rather than what the buyer wants to know.
  • Become Anti-Social — With the rise in social media, if you’re talking about your theme and then suddenly you’re not, you appear a bit schizo (technical term) to those who followed you and now can’t quite figure out who you are.

Here’s an example using common themes for Technology Companies:

Q1: Do More With Less

Q2: Green IT

Q3: Align IT with Business

Q4: Mobility

There’s nothing wrong with any of these. In fact the themes here can relate to many IT product offerings on the market today. The issue is the construct of sandboxing the ideas based on time periods.

Themes like this assume that prospects will only be interested in the theme during its assigned quarter. Well, unless you’ve got telepathic powers, this isn’t likely to be true. But, yes, it’s much easier to group your marketing efforts and programs based on ideas in a box than to think more holistically about building a storyline that engages prospects continuously and consistently.

Unfortunately, easy isn’t the goal. Progressive engagement is.

I hear a lot of reasons for using theme constructs:

  • It’s the only way to coordinate marketing and sales messaging.
  • We need something to present at the budget planning meeting.
  • Our CEO wants to know what the themes are for next year.
  • These themes match our product-launch roadmap.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

Here’s the question that must be answered:

Are any of the reasons for using themes based on what’s known about our target markets and what they care about?

I’m not saying to toss out the themes. What I’m challenging you to do is to weave them together into a story that builds a comprehensive business case to help your prospects solve their high-priority problems. It’s not whether or not you use them, but in how you do so.

Instead of thinking, “I need another content asset based on Theme 1” – you should be thinking, “Based on the content our prospects expressed interest in, what will they want to know next?” Think “pieces of the big jumbo puzzle” not “4 different puzzles.”

A story told over time focused on your prospects highest priorities will drive more pipeline velocity than the stop and start of themes based on what your company wants to say, when.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee is a B2B Marketing Strategist and the CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions, Inc. She helps B2B companies with complex sales create and use persona-driven content marketing strategies to turn prospects into buyers and convince customers to stay. Ardath is the author of Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results and eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale. She's also an in-demand industry speaker.


  1. Ardath,

    Your article is spot on…if there’s any flaw, it’s that you didn’t go far enough.

    As a battle-scarred veteran of marketing, when I hear “themes” I think “initiatives” or “this quarter’s campaigns.” In other words, a pidgeon-holing of miscellaneous ideas into groupings that make sense only when viewed on an end-of-quarter powerpoint summary.

    Themes are too often an inward-focused summary that makes no sense to the target audience. If there even is a target audience.

    The real issue about “themes” is message relevance, which means putting the audience first…instead of your boss. The only antidote for this kind of sloppy thinking is a boss or a board that asks *the right questions* of marketing:
    * instead of cost per lead, cost of customer acquisition
    * instead of themes, relevance to market segments
    * instead of focus groups or survey results, messaging that matches to what the customer values

  2. Hi David,

    I’m not often told I haven’t gone far enough! I agree very much with your antidote of improving the quality of executive questions. This being said, I’m not sure what that will take. They don’t seem to be so inclined from what I’ve seen. Perhaps if marketing can learn to speak the language of business and make points their bosses are interested in learning more about, that change in questions will happen. It will take elevating the importance and proving the contribution of marketing in their boss’ eyes, in my opinion.


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