Sometimes I think journalists have it easy. Their job is to produce content that informs and enlightens their audience; the story is all that matters.
But if you work in B2B content and thought leadership, you can’t rely on information alone. Yes, your content must be built around great ideas and tell its audience something they didn’t know, but that’s not enough. The best B2B content and thought leadership also influences the audience. It makes the reader think differently about the brand that’s produced the content, and creates a clear link between its message and the B2B purchasing process.
That’s a tall order, and it explains why so many companies find it difficult to do B2B content well. All too often, there’s a single-minded focus on the ideas, and not enough effort goes into how the audience will respond to them.
Four ways to craft influential content
In our experience, there are four key techniques that content producers can use to ensure they influence and inform.
1. Tilt your content to support your marketing objectives
Thought leadership campaigns have different goals. Some are geared towards building brands and enhancing reputations; some aim to shift perceptions of a business; and some have more direct revenue-earning objectives. And often, campaigns are trying to achieve a blend of all three – although to varying degrees.
Your approach to how you produce and serve up your content needs to reflect these objectives. So if you want to build reputation, you should add provocative stories and findings to the mix that will encourage journalists to tell your story. Or if you want to generate demand, use your story-telling to create a ‘burning platform’ – an urgent challenge that your business happens to be able to solve. Blending these ingredients together to achieve a harmonious mix is an essential part of any campaign.
2. Align your message with your USP
What’s unique about your business? Maybe it’s the depth of your talent, or the quality of your customer service. Whatever it is, be sure to align your messaging with your strengths and differentiators. In a crowded content landscape, with a cacophony of voices all shouting about the same topics, you need to stand out. Your ideas alone probably won’t be unique, but combine them with your business’s value proposition and you could come up with something special.
3. Don’t just focus on TOFU
According to the much-quoted statistic, buyers complete about 70% of the purchasing journey themselves – with no interference from a salesperson. They read and research themselves and, by the time they engage with anyone from your business, they are well on their way to making a buying decision.
Your content should support that self-directed approach. Thought leadership content can start them on the process, but it’s often top of the funnel (or TOFU). It’s vital that you also have middle and bottom of the funnel content (MOFU and BOFU), or your thought leadership will be a dead end in the buyer journey.
4. Remember that the buyer journey is non-linear
Although the marketing funnel is still the easiest way to describe the buyer journey, it’s simplistic. It’s farfetched to think that some audiences – especially sophisticated B2B ones – can be herded neatly through the stages of the funnel.
B2B buying behaviour is complex. First, the process involves multiple individuals. According to Gartner, the average B2B buying group contains between six and ten people – all, typically, at different stages of the buying process. They may progress down the funnel, only to step back up again in a process that Gartner calls “looping”.
That complexity has important implications. First, you need content that influences every individual involved in the purchasing process. This means it must be tailored to suit the needs of different roles – from IT to operations and procurement – and to different levels of seniority in the business. Some of these individuals might be influencers, and others might be actual buyers. So one-size-fits-all content will fall flat: if you try to strike a chord with everyone, you’ll end up reaching no one. Instead, you should adapt your message to suit the needs of different stakeholders.
Second, your buyers need support from you, so make it as easy as possible for them to find the information they need. Your content has to be accessible and readily available, and your sales and marketing people must work in parallel to ensure that your buyers are served up with the right content at the right time. This usually requires a combination of automation and more traditional tailored communication.
As any journalist will tell you, coming up with good stories is difficult. But add in the need to influence brand-building or the B2B purchasing process, and it’s easy to see why so much content marketing misses the mark.