Have we reached peak marketing content? This is a question marketing bloggers have been asking at least since 2014, wondering whether the sheer volume of content being produced, combined with a lack of quality and usefulness, is creating a backlash and rendering the whole discipline of content marketing obsolete.
I’ve thought about this myself more than a few times lately as I face the daily deluge of blog posts, articles, advertorials, Tweets, infographics, white papers, e-books, and videos coming at me over every conceivable channel. Email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram—it’s relentless.
My take: There’s no getting around the fact that a large percentage of the content being produced by B2B Marketers today is bland, boring, uninspiring and often irrelevant. This is not a recipe for success.
Content marketing is alive and well
However, just because so many B2B marketers are producing reams of subpar content doesn’t mean the whole concept is dead in the water.
Quite the contrary. In a B2B context, buyers will always be seeking information and fresh perspectives on pain points, products, solutions, best practices and anything else that will address the complex business challenges their organizations face. They need a wide variety of excellent content that covers these topics at the levels of detail appropriate to each stage in their buyer journey.
Fortunately, the marketers doing it right are creating lots of outstanding content. It’s informative, thought-provoking, sometimes inspiring—and it’s the stuff that gets our attention and motivates us to act—by downloading a report or a white paper, following a company on Twitter, arranging a meeting with a salesperson, buying a product, etc.
Fives ways to improve your B2B marketing content
Our challenge as content marketers, then, is to up our content game and just say “no,” to so-so content.
But how? How do you improve your B2B marketing content, making it more relevant, more compelling, more useful and more targeted? How do you increase the chances that your prospects will find it and derive value from it, while helping you achieve your business goals?
While it will take time and effort, it is possible to improve your B2B marketing content. Here are some fundamental steps you can take that will set you on the path to content marketing excellence.
1. Develop an in-depth understanding of your audience
The first critical step—getting to know your target audience inside out—almost goes without saying. But it’s incredibly important, arguably the most important consideration for any content marketer.
Regardless of whether you’re producing a 30-second video, writing an 800-word blog post or developing a highly detailed white paper, don’t even bother starting until you’ve figured out who you are creating it for.
What is their role in the organization, what are their specific interests, needs, goals and pain points? For a complex B2B sale, many different people are typically involved in getting to a purchase decision.
Each of these will require different information and perspectives. A C-level executive, for example, will be looking for something very different than a highly technical software engineer, so your content must reflect the specific needs of the buyer you are targeting.
So, get educated about the people you’re trying to reach. If your organization has already invested in creating detailed buyer personas for your target audience, your job will be much simpler. If not, make this your number one priority as you build out your content marketing strategy.
2. Have a specific goal for any content you create
Another way to improve your B2B marketing content is to have a very specific goal for any content piece you create. For any new content, you must be able to clearly state why you are writing it, who will benefit from it (i.e. the audience or buyer you identified in step 1), and how it fits into your overall content strategy. This applies whether it’s a short blog post, a customer video, an in-depth white paper or a well-designed infographic.
B2B content goals are typically tied to where your target readers are in their buyer journey. Are they at the top of the sales funnel, just beginning to identify a need for the kind of solution your company provides? Or are they closer to the bottom of the sales funnel, near the end of their buyer journey and therefore closer to making a purchase decision?
To meet the needs of prospects at the top of the funnel, the goal of your content is typically to create brand awareness and position your company as a resource to help them address their specific business challenges.
For example, you might write a blog post that highlights some of the key pain points that your existing customers have experienced and suggests possible strategies for addressing these problems. Or you might create an infographic with a list of ten critical capabilities or features a product or solution in your space should provide.
As your prospects move from the top of the funnel towards the middle and the bottom, they will be looking for more information about your company and details about your specific solutions.
The closer buyers get to making a purchase decision (i.e. the bottom of the funnel), the more they will be looking for more detailed long-form content, such as white papers and e-books, that explains why they should work with your company and what features and benefits your solutions provide. These solutions will align with the problem space that you’ve identified and articulated in your top-of-funnel content.
Examples of this type of content include customer case studies (in video or text format), product demos, product or solution e-books, an in-depth white paper or an ROI calculator.
3. Tell a compelling story
One of the best ways to capture the attention of your audience is by telling them a compelling story. Even before the age of content marketing, good marketers excelled at telling a good story. Rather than just conveying useful information in your content, think of a way to communicate this information using the techniques and principles of storytelling.
If you’ve been following any influential B2B marketers in the last five years, you’ve probably read more than a few articles that talk about the benefits of using the principles of storytelling in your marketing content. They’re right. And their claims are backed up by neuroscience: research shows our brains are wired for stories. The more engaging and compelling the story, the bigger the impact.
There are many excellent resources that can help you improve your storytelling. One that I’ve read and can recommend is Winning the Story Wars, by Jonah Sachs.
One of the most powerful types of B2B marketing content is the customer case study. A key reason for this is the power of “social proof,” a term coined by psychologist Robert Cialdini is his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. According to Cialdini, the principle of social proof “states that we determine what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct.”
Before a buyer decides to purchase a product, therefore, he or she first wants to hear the stories and opinions of people who have already purchased the product. It’s one thing for you to tell them how great your products and your company are, but when they hear it from the people and companies you’ve helped, it becomes much more powerful.
At the most basic level, prospective buyers want to understand the challenges their peers experienced and how they overcame them and achieved success—with your help. So, as you look to improve your B2B marketing content, don’t underestimate the power of storytelling.
4. Use simple, conversational language
For your marketing content to be successful, you don’t need to use a highly formal or academic writing style. In fact, for most B2B marketing content, you want to do the exact opposite: use simple, conversational language that’s easy to understand.
The people reading your content are pressed for time, so if they have to work too hard to read it, they won’t. Research backs this up. In a study of business leaders conducted in 2016, 81% agreed with the statement “Poorly written material wastes my time.”
Source: WOBS LLC
Consider also that for some of your buyers, English is a second or third language. All the more reason to keep your writing simple, clear and free of confusing jargon.
There are some key guidelines you should follow to improve readability, including:
using shorter sentences
using simpler words with fewer syllables
reducing the use of industry jargon, acronyms and buzzwords
If you don’t have a firm grasp of how easy your content is to understand, there are tools that can help you measure its readability using standard assessments such as the Flesch-Kincaid U.S. grade level.
Many experts recommend that marketing content should aim for a grade-eight reading level. Readable is an excellent tool for this that I’ve used with clients before. If you use WordPress for your website, the Yoast SEO plugin includes a tool to assess the reading level of your content as you type, and makes suggestions on how you can make it easier for your audience to understand.
Apps like Grammarly, which bills itself as a “writing assistant,” can also be very helpful for polishing your prose, especially when you’re relying on the technical or product experts in your organization, who may not be experienced or enthusiastic writers, to create content.
5. Have a clear call to action
Remember the importance of knowing what you are trying to achieve with every piece of content you create? Part of that process is determining what your “call to action” will be. In other words, what specific action, if any, do you want the person reading, watching or listening to your content to take when they’re done.
For example, you might put a link to an e-book you’ve written at the end of a blog post and encourage the reader to click on the link to get more in-depth information. Or, for buyers further along in their buyer journey, you might tell them to contact your Sales department to set up a meeting or a product demo.
A call to action may not always be necessary. There may be times when you decide that it’s not critical that you provide your reader with other resources. Just make sure that you make this decision based on what you’re trying to achieve with your content and not just because you haven’t thought your call to action through.
If you apply these principles to your marketing content, it will improve. But it won’t happen overnight. To succeed at content marketing, you have the play the long game. In my experience, very few marketers get consistent results right out of the gate with their content programs. It takes creativity and persistence and involves a lot of testing, analyzing and re-tooling to get right.
And when you do take your content to the next level, it will provide more value to your prospective buyers. They will develop a deeper understanding of the problem space and the strategies, products and solutions that can help them succeed.
If you’re looking for help to improve your marketing content and get better results, contact us today and let’s start the conversation.