As someone who’s been on both the writing and the operational sides of B2B content marketing, I’ve seen my share of successful content. I’ve also seen content at its worst. I’m not talking about typos and bad grammar (although there’s some of that, unfortunately). I’m talking about content that doesn’t do its job.
That, of course, raises the question: In content marketing, what is the content’s job?
There are many good reports available that offer insights into what formats for content work and when, and we’ll dive into that a little. This is great, useful information that’s readily available though sometimes ignored during campaign implementation.
But I haven’t seen much in the way of what makes good content and why it’s important to have good content.
Of course, anything that you put in front of a potential customer can be considered content, and it needs to look good — free of those pesky typos; crisp, interesting photos or graphics; a layout that’s easy on the eyes — whether it’s an infographic or an eBook.
What I want to see is what makes content effective. Having slogged through some rather gruesome white papers, I’ve noticed a few common shortcomings.
Who Are You Writing For and Why?
We’ve all heard it: A writer has to know her audience. That means more than checking off a list of demographics. Knowing your audience takes a little imagination.
Ann Handley, who has literally written the book (and articles and blogs) on creating content, says:
“When we speak with our customers with empathy, as their peers, we develop not just camaraderie but actual insight. They are no longer just ‘target markets,’ ‘personas,’ or ‘segments.’ They become real to us, and we understand their problems better — and that can help us to better engage with and nurture our audiences.” (MarketingProfs.com)
Creating good content is about asking questions. To understand your audience, imagine you’re the reader and ask this simple question: What do I need to know to solve my problem? Not what should I know, or what should I know about a particular product. What do I need to know right now to make my job easier?
The “Why” is a little more complicated. Yet how can we create something compelling if we don’t know why we’re creating it? Writing content for the sake of writing content is kind of a waste of your time.
Do you want to build brand awareness? Generate leads? Is the content to be used in a nurturing campaign — is it the first touch, last touch or somewhere in between? Why will your audience want to read your content? Is it intended to solve a problem? Explain a strategy? Is it thought leadership or a hard sell? How will the content be offered? Through dedicated email? Telemarketing? Social media?
Here’s a newsflash: All content is not going to appeal to all customers in all places at all times.
If you don’t know how and when your content is going to be used, you probably don’t know why you’re creating it. Which means you don’t know what format is going to work best for that particular campaign.
According to Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute, blog posts and articles are the most effective type of content used in the early stages of the sales funnel. But let’s be honest, it’s hard to generate a lead with a blog post. Rose also pegs white papers for the middle stage of the sales funnel, and case studies for the late stage. It’s important to note that the opposite holds true, e.g., case studies don’t work well in the early stages.
So why do marketers foist their content on unsuspecting potential leads at inappropriate times? Because they don’t have a content marketing plan that informs the development and release of their content.
I Love It When a Plan Comes Together
The most successful content marketers are far more likely than their less successful peers to have a documented content marketing strategy — 65% vs. 14% (B2B Content Marketing 2019 — Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends.)
Makes sense, right? As we like to say on the production side of things, it’s hard to build an airplane while you’re flying it.
A strategy includes timelines, benchmarks and measurable goals and all that other yucky stuff, and it is absolutely essential.
Here’s another newsflash: If you’re trying to use content marketing to close a deal, you will likely be disappointed.
That’s not content’s job. The top goals that B2B marketers can hope to achieve with content are, in order, (1) create brand awareness; (2) educate audiences; (3) build credibility/trust; and (4) generate demand/leads (B2B Content Marketing 2019 — Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends.) Notice that “make a sale” isn’t on the list.
But if your content isn’t going to result in a sale, what good is it?
Quite a lot, actually. Your sales team will have more success if your prospects already have a positive image of your brand. And nothing builds brand trust like quality, helpful content.
According to Conductor, immediately after reading a piece of content by a particular brand, consumers were 131% more likely to buy from that brand than consumers who did not read any content. Immediately after reading a piece of education content from a brand, 66% of consumers had positive feelings about the brand. Significantly, a week later, 74% had positive feelings. Yep — those positive vibes actually increase over time.
Content is powerful, and it should be used for good.
Tips to Make Your Content Succeed
Your marketing team is probably excellent at what they do. Which is marketing. They don’t develop content, right? That’s not their area of expertise.
According to the Chief Marketer’s 2019 B2B Marketing Outlook report, content marketing was named the most valuable technique for lead nurturing. Yet some 80% of marketers are charged with creating their own materials (i.e., not an editorial team.)
As CoreDNA puts it so bluntly and beautifully:
“You need writers, video producers, graphic designers, audio producers, content optimizers and distributors, communication experts, and analytics experts. Show me an organization that has one guy for all that and I’ll show you one that will fail in the coming years.”
Even if you go outside your company — and perhaps you should — that doesn’t mean you can shrug off all your content responsibilities. You’ll still have to define your audience and come up with a plan for how you’ll use the content. Otherwise, your writer will not only be trying to build the airplane, he or she will be flying it totally blind. That airplane will crash, right at the doorstep of your sales department.
As you begin to conceptualize what your content is going to be and how it’s going to be created, remember: There’s no better way to put off a potential customer than not to deliver what you promised — namely, relevant, practical content.
There are two words to home in on here. Relevant and practical. If you can’t describe your content with these two adjectives, it isn’t ready to be produced.
I’ve seen a number of B2B lead generation campaigns executed (poorly) using a marketing slick or a product description. In my experience, neither of these could be defined as relevant and practical. Unless you just happen to catch that one person at the right moment when he needs something on which to blow his nose.
The best and first tip I can suggest is to ask a question. The question can be asked in a variety of ways:
- If I have a problem with X, how can I use Y to solve it?
- How can Y strategy save me time and/or money?
- What does a blueprint or framework of a Y strategy look like?
- Why is Y a better solution than Z — in terms of saving me time and money?
- What are the steps to achieve X?
There are several valuable words in these questions — problem, strategy, blueprint, framework, solution, steps. These are useful words whether you’re creating a white paper or a webinar. Use them not only in your titles but also as a way to organize your content.
And if you have to talk about your product, which you usually do, tuck it neatly into the solution you offer. If your product is the only solution, then you should try to ask a broader question. Otherwise, you’ll produce a marketing slick. Which is neither practical nor relevant.
Is content important? According to LinkedIn, 71% of B2B buyers prefer to conduct research on their own, talking with a sales rep by phone or online chat only when needed.
So, ask yourself, if 71% of your potential customers come in contact with your brand via your content, will they research you further? Will you make the shortlist? Will it prompt a call or a web visit? Good content can cause all these things to happen if you know your audience, have a plan and ask the right question.
Need help creating and executing a B2B content strategy?
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