Our latest ebook, Influence and Impact, provides marketers with a practical guide to creating influential content for B2B audiences.
In the book, we share theories and principles gleaned from the work of persuasion experts, storytelling specialists and behavioural scientists over the past several decades. We combine these important learnings with our years of experience in working with some of the biggest, highest-profile companies in business to explain how these ideas can be applied to B2B content.
Here, we list ten simple tips all marketers should take note of when it comes to creating influential content. Want to find out more? Download your copy of the ebook here.
- Focus on first impressions
You can’t influence anyone if you haven’t got their attention. But getting it is harder than you think. Visitors spend 15 seconds at most on a web page before moving on. To be effective, your content must stop people in their tracks. To secure reader attention, your message needs to be Simple, Urgent, Relevant and Eye-Opening. Spend time making your headlines stand out. Focus on layout to make the design accessible and inviting to audiences. And don’t bury the lead – put your biggest story first.
- Tell stories that hold the attention
Once you have someone’s interest, you need to keep it. This is where storytelling comes in. We are hardwired to follow a narrative, so make sure you use storytelling frameworks when designing your content. These are not just for Pixar, Disney or Star Wars films – they have just as much application in B2B content.
- Use the power of social proof
People tend to follow what others are doing. Social proof is a powerful behavioural concept and a key part of influence. Research that shows your peers are already making a change that someone at your firm has proposed instils a sense of urgency to follow suit. It triggers loss aversion – an important concept in behavioural economics whereby potential losses loom larger in people’s minds than potential gains.
- Keep it simple
When you’ve invested a lot of money in an extensive piece of research, it’s tempting to report every finding in your content. Resist this temptation. The more messages you throw at your audience, the less likely they are to understand them. Keep your message simple and make sure that your content can be distilled into a single narrative that your audience can grasp quickly.
- Be careful how you ask for change
Most of the time, we ask B2B audiences to make significant investments (for example, in new technologies) or changes (such as setting ambitious net-zero targets). Peter Salovey, president of Yale University and an originator of the concept of emotional intelligence, argues that messages should vary, depending on how the proposed change is likely to be perceived. If your audience is likely to think the change safe, then emphasise all the associated gains. But, if they view it as risky, focus on the dangers in doing nothing. Contextual framing of content is crucial.
- Remember the “curse of knowledge”
Many executives are so immersed in their corporate vision that they find it difficult to think from the perspective of those who aren’t. So, they communicate messages that the audience does not have the context or experience it needs to understand. This is known as the “curse of knowledge” and can be seen everywhere in B2B content. To avoid this trap, empathise and listen; put yourself in your audience’s shoes and frame your content around what they know, not what you know.
- Don’t overdo the data
B2B content often relies too heavily on data. It’s important to have evidence to support your message, but the challenge marketers face is getting people to remember it. Numerous studies show that people are much more likely to remember stories than statistics, so make sure you use narrative and anecdote to stir up some empathy and emotion in your audience, while getting your point across.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself
It takes time to secure influence. You may need to repeat yourself to create a strong association between your brand and your chosen message. Ideas are more often under- than overcommunicated. Harvard professor and author, John Kotter, has found that people trying to create change typically under-communicate their message by a factor of 10; that is, they speak about the change 10 times fewer than is necessary for the audience to process it. You might worry you are being boring but that repetition is essential to building the impetus for change.
- Apply the scarcity principle
The scarcity principle is the idea that opportunities are more valuable to us when their availability is limited. B2C marketers use the scarcity principle when making an offer for a limited time or, in online retail, showing that only a handful of items are still in stock. In a B2B context, marketers can apply the scarcity principle by creating exclusive content. Audiences who feel they are getting access to privileged information will value that content all the more highly than that which is widely available. That is why some companies hold back content from the mainstream to help build and maintain existing relationships with a small number of important clients.
- It’s all about reciprocity
One of the strengths of thought leadership is that it relies on the principle of reciprocity: the idea that we feel obliged to pay back gifts and favours. Reciprocity is baked into content campaigns as a marketing tactic, and is an example of what marketing expert Seth Godin calls “permission marketing”. These campaigns are usually anticipated and viewed by the audience as relevant, in contrast with traditional advertising, which is promotional and often referred to as “interruption” marketing. Thought leadership content, which has greater intrinsic value is, therefore, more easily regarded as a gift. When done well, it feels more like a dialogue than a sales pitch, further emphasising the principle of reciprocity.
We hope these tips inspire you to think differently about how to communicate your messages to your audience.
For more details and to see examples of the points above in action, download your copy of Influence and Impact here.