B2B's content marketing problem: readers aren't robots
What do B2B and The British Library have in common? An immeasurable amount of content (but not much else). For The Drum's Content Marketing Deep Dive, Transmission's Stuart Roberts suggests how to solve B2B's content problem.
Is B2B's preoccupation with closing sales to blame for the industry's lack of audience-first content? / Matthew Feeney via Unsplash
With over 14m books, an estimated 170m manuscripts, and other items dating back as far as 2000BC, the British Library is an ever-growing mountain of knowledge, wonder, and entertainment. Yet, no one ever says 'there's too much stuff in here'.
B2B content has the opposite problem. 82% of marketers are leveraging content marketing, creating god-knows-how-much content on an annual basis (it's impossible to measure accurately, but let’s estimate ‘a shit-ton’). All this work has created such an over-saturation that decision-makers can’t keep up. There is, undoubtedly, too much stuff. The question is: how can marketers cut through the noise and make an impact?
Knowledge, wonder, entertainment
I used those three words to describe the contents of The British Library up there. While the De Bellis Macedonicis – a first- or second-century fragment of a Latin Codex recording the Macedonian Wars – might not float everyone’s boat, there’s no doubting its unique value.
Now consider B2B content. What’s the last piece of work (visual, written or otherwise) that really made you think; that brought a different perspective to the way you approach your work; that was even remotely entertaining?
It’s as if we’ve forgotten the essence of real top-of-funnel, highly PR-able, awareness-focused content. That which forgets the sales message and instead focuses solely on the audience, their needs, and the value you can bring to them.
B2B audiences aren’t robots. They want to be amazed, entertained, and informed. Too often, B2B audiences churn out the same old PDFs and articles under the guise of thought leadership when it’s nothing of the sort. Quality over quantity is key.
Anyone who’s been alive recently might have noticed an atmosphere of mistrust in the air: of government, of media, of each other. While libraries aren’t immune to accusations of bias, they have a certain cache when it comes to trust. There’s quality control at hand. You trust that whatever you read has been vetted and it’s there for a reason.
The world wide web is the opposite of that. It’s a wild west of information. B2B brands are in a tough spot. Yes, brands have reputations that earn a certain amount of trust. But when you’re giving away state-of-the-industry insights, it’s tinged with a feeling that, well, you’re just trying to sell something. You need to earn trust through authenticity. By having honest conversations. By working with other trusted influencers, brands, or publications. Content marketing isn’t advertising, but too often great content ideas turn into ads. That ruins trust.
The beauty of content is that it works across the customer journey at multiple touchpoints. There is content that grabs attention, content that educates, and sales content that helps customers make a decision or reach out for more information.
The problem for a lot of B2B marketers (and a lot of clients) is that they try to do all three with one asset. So, you invest in a survey that reveals insights about your industry. But then you can’t help but crowbar in a jarring sales message at the end because ‘we’re here to sell stuff’.
Yes, you need to sell stuff. But content is an ecosystem. There’s not one book in the British Library that encapsulates the entirety of the human condition (although Andy McNab’s ‘Whatever it Takes’ comes close). It takes a body of work, 14m books (and counting), to tell that story.
The British Library is still pretty easy to get around. If you know what you’re looking for, you make your way to that section and dig in. Too often brands make it far too difficult for audiences to find what they need. Content and content experiences are often designed for the whims of the brand, not the audiences.
The reason decision-makers are struggling is that they can’t navigate content well enough. Proper content design has to be audience-first. It must have a clear idea of the questions buyers have at every touchpoint of the buyer journey. And they need to place that content in an easily-navigable way that makes sense to the people reading it.
If The British Library is the well-organized north star of information, B2B content is a massive pile of books with a sign next to it saying ‘good luck’. In short: content needs to be higher quality, better focused, and designed with the audience in mind. Only then can we start thinking about goals, results, and ROI.
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Transmission is the world’s largest independent global B2B marketing agency.Find out more