What Are You Feeding the Content Beast?
“The internet is a content beast that must be fed.” – me.
It’s too late to call “content marketing” a buzzword. The marketing ecosystem, especially B2B, has been piling onto the content bandwagon for years now. That doesn’t mean its use is slowing, however. In fact, research by CMI within the last year found marketers increasing their spend on content creation by 56% over the previous 12 months.
Businesses have waged a content arms race, hoping to produce collateral that can satisfy any customer need along any place in the funnel. The problem is that much of this content fails to engage at best and is downright useless and counter-productive at worst. A December 2018 Forrester blog put it quite bluntly, titling the post, “Crap Content Continues To Describe B2B Marketing.”
That post pointed out that 57% of technology buyers strongly or completely agreed that most of the material they receive “is useless,” and 66% said they were provided with too much content to sort through.
That’s not by any stretch to say content isn’t a valuable marketing tool. Forrester has also found that six in 10 B2B buyers don’t want to interact with a sales rep at all, and 62% said they can finalize their purchase selection criteria based on digital content alone.
The translation here, if you need it, is that content is vital, but not if it’s crap. Yes, the content beast must be fed, but it needs a healthy diet of useful, relevant, targeted content. You need to know what that content should and should not include, and how to create that healthy diet.
What Buyers Want in Their Content
Not only has business selling evolved since the internet changed everything, but decision makers themselves have changed. Millennials are moving into key decision-making roles and their experiences are influencing the content you need to be developing.
Buyers want to see examples of how you’ve solved needs of other customers. Case studies have become the most valuable piece of content for influencing buying decisions. Decision makers can relate to the pain points of their peers and showing your success stories builds confidence that you can do likewise for them.
Buyers also want expertise. If you’re a well-known industry player, you have credibility built in. But what if the prospect isn’t familiar with you? How can you prove you possess the expertise they require? One way is to develop content that has the input, approval or collaboration with key industry thought leaders or analysts. According to a 2018 Demand Gen Report, 78% of buyers say they now put more emphasis on the trustworthiness of a content source than they did a year ago.
Buyers also want brevity. If you assume 3,000 words on a topic makes you look smarter than 300 words on a topic, you’re missing the idea here. Sure, a deeply researched and thorough white paper can take up 3,000 words (and it can still be useful), but if you can say it in 300 words, skip the fluff. Decision makers, especially younger ones, are looking for immediate solutions and don’t have the time or fortitude to wade through long-winded reports that might eventually tell them what they need to hear. Be concise, get to the point and show your value proposition.
What Buyers Don’t Want
Just as there a few things buyers want from content, research reveals there are a few things most prefer to avoid. One example is product features. It’s easy to get suckered into thinking a list of all the great things your product does will be useful and helpful. Indeed, it might actually be useful and helpful. But good content focuses less on your features and more on how it creates positive business outcomes. You can tell someone your widget is the fastest, strongest and most durable on the market, but what they mainly want to hear is how that widget makes their business better and helps them make their own customers happier.
Buyers also don’t want the heavy sales pitch. Buyers want to be educated, not sold to. This sort of builds off the previous point, but don’t make the content all about you; make it about them. You might be the best there is in your market, and while that may be impressive to the buyer, they want to know how you make them better.
Creating a Diet of Healthy Content
With an idea of what works and doesn’t work in B2B content, it’s time to go about creating it. This strategic side of the exercise can be summarized with a few basic steps to remember:
Be the buyer: Put on the proverbial shoes of the customer and understand (and better yet, sympathize with) their challenges, concerns and needs.
Be an authority: You’re an authority in your field right? Then show it, act it, and live it.
Show passion: About what you do and about helping them. Illustrate how important it is for you to make their business better. It’s often said that business is about relationships, and demonstrating your passion can help forge those relationships.
Be prolific: It’s important to see the long game. A lot of content marketing plans start with great intentions and bold ideas, but those seem to get lost in the effort it takes to follow through with them. Additionally, you may not see immediate bottom line results from a content marketing strategy. Don’t let that discourage you from seeing it through. It’s going to take work – a lot of work – but as the cliché says, hard word pays off.
Be strategic: Don’t just haphazardly disseminate content. Be tactful and plan out an approach that incorporates all these concepts. Just tossing out a random new blog post won’t do. To avoid adding to the crap content out there, build a fully strategic approach to getting your message across.
Set a high bar: Don’t settle for what you know isn’t your best effort. Complacency is a common enemy to a long-term content strategy. If you’re going to invest the time and effort to build a content marketing initiative, set high goals and push yourself to reach them.
The Next Evolution of Content
Some content marketers are starting to take aim at a different element of the monotonous continuity of the marketing beast. As the internet fills with mediocre and, in many cases, similar and repetitive messages, there’s a movement to tackle the content experience.
Randy Frisch, President and CMO of Uberflip, penned a book audaciously titled, “F#ck Content Marketing: Focus on Content Experience to Drive Demand, Revenue and Relationships.” The basis of the book is that “writing content and placing content within context to our audience are two very different things.” He asserts that there’s little point in developing content if we don’t focus on the experience.
Frisch’s ideas for creating content experience are probably worthy of their own post, but if you’d like to continue building on the ideas presented in this post, you can learn more about content experience in this Diginomica article.
Feed the Beast Wisely
Content has and continues to be an import arrow in the business marketer’s quiver. But in a rush to lead competitors, we’ve inundated the web with countless gigabytes of unexceptional and unhelpful drivel. The internet beast thirsts for content, but we’re stuffing it with a diet of crap. It’s time to put a deserved focus on what and how we deliver quality content to prospects.