Quality Control: a 7-Point Checklist for B2B Content
That piece of content you’re about to publish… Is it any good?
It’s an important question, because B2B content marketing is in serious trouble.
Publishing agency Raconteur found…
only 6% of C-Suite execs thought that “subject matter experts in consultancies and vendors have an important contribution to make to thinking and knowledge in my industry or profession.”[ii]
Vendors – consultancies – listen up.
You’re giving B2B content marketing a bad name.
If CEOs don’t trust your writing, you won’t see a content ROI, you’ll be less likely to seek out my services, and that makes it harder for me to buy a nice car someday.
So in an act of unashamed self-interest, I’m saving your bacon.
B2B content often stumbles on one or more of seven major pitfalls – all of which are easily rectified if you know what to look for (here’s your exec summary):
- derivative introductions
- no relevant examples
- no supporting imagery
- no reputable data
- blogs re-badged as whitepapers
- bad metaphors
- sheer lack of style.
From now on, don’t publish anything without QC’ing it against these points.
Fix every one before your content sees the light of day.
1) Derivative intros (especially the “Yesterday’s News” intro)
Here’s a shocker[iii] from The Drum:
The correct way to open a blog is with a proposition or provocation.
To quote Velocity Partners’ B2B Marketing Manifesto[iv]:
There is nothing useful or entertaining (sorry, Drum) about being told that technology is changing our jobs.
What The Drum could have done instead is opened with a point of intrigue that delivers on the title – an example of what customers are actually doing, or of how experience is actually disrupting retail.
For a better example – in this piece, IBM plumped for being useful:
“Advancements in medical science and technology continue to reduce the time and cost of genomics sequencing…
If your IT infrastructure is slowing research and minimizing your ability to take the most informed decisions , there are some efficient ways to address this .
Adopting the right approach will allow your organization to analyze massive amounts of genomics data and easily achieve faster insights and cost savings .” [v]
Whether or not you’re entertained by genomic sequencing, this text is densely packed with exciting business prospects:
- reduce time and cost
- analyse massive amounts of data
- easily achieving faster insights
…not to mention, it terrifies you by suggesting you’re “slowing and minimizing” your business if you don’t read ahead.
Now that’s how you start a blog.
2) No examples (i.e., why should anyone believe you?)
Your content (if it’s any good) dares to tell business leaders how to do their jobs.
Trouble is, as a vendor, your opinion comes pre-soiled by commercial interest, so the need to show credibility is critical.
The marketing press sets a particularly low bar.
Take your lead instead from respected journalism – a CEO’s preferred source of reading material[vi], and businesses which depend entirely on credibility.
“American’s post office should be privatised,”
…says The Economist.
Oh really, Economist? And what do you know about privatising post offices?
“Since Germany expanded Deutsche Post in 1995, the firm has expanded massively.”[vii]
See? It’s that simple.
Kids learn how to do this in primary school, so quite how so much unsubstantiated piffle clogs up my LinkedIn feed is beyond me.
If you can’t back it up, you made it up.
3) No imagery
Your business is boring and complicated.
Sorry, but it’s true.
So while oodles has been written on the benefits of imagery in blog posts[viii], it’s worth relaying it here for B2B marketing.
That second “B” is a human being whose heart may sink at the sight of a 2,000-word block of solid prose.
However lazy you are, you can keep them entertained.
Content marketing specialists Moz, for instance, take screengrabs of their hand-drawn Whiteboard Friday presentations and dump them into the text body.
And I’ve always been a fan of talking-head-card things.
Here’s one from a previous article of mine.
They’re so easy, even I can do them (I have the Photoshop skills of… well, of a copywriter) and for an added bonus, you can add a call-to-action and repurpose them as social ads.
How’s that for efficiency.
4) No reputable data (ideally visualised)
For truly high-impact imagery, visualise some data.
Data visualisations bring loads of benefits in terms of influence, readability, memorability etc. which you can read about here.
For inspiration, my all-time favourite chart isn’t from a piece of marketing, but an 1843magazine article called “Where to Ski?”[ix]
Immediately, I see that Serre Chevalier is the best resort for my modest budget.
Imagine how long it would take to explain all this in prose.
Raconteur, which does great data visualisations, shows how simply it can be done[x].
Or, to show you’ve really done your homework, make it complicated.
I did this one when I worked at OLIVER[xi] – sourcing data directly from the brands’ financial reports.
The point here is that big decisions at big companies are driven by data.
There is, therefore, no excuse for failing to back up your argument with relevant stats from reputable sources.
Furthermore, if your data is really useful, your reader will probably brandish it during an argument one day, vanquishing an adversary and remembering the blogger that gave them the ammo.
That blogger could be you.
5) Lying about your format (i.e., wannabe whitepapers)
When I hand over my data for a “whitepaper” that turns out to be a blog reformatted as a PDF, I feel like I’ve been mugged.
So you got my email address?
Big deal. You’ve got my hopes up, tricked me, wasted my time and now you’re going to start emailing me ad nauseam.
Good luck selling to this lead.
For an example – this is clearly just a blog, and not a very good one at that.
To be worthy of a data-exchange, a whitepaper must reflect a high level of investment on the part of the publisher.
This might include:
- proprietary research: where you’ve worked hard to dig up groundbreaking insights for your target buyer’s benefit
- such dense, detailed, well-researched information that the multipage format (with chapters, a contents page, etc.) eases navigability
- big investment in design, because whatever you’re explaining is better conveyed through a crafted interplay of image and text, rather than continuous prose.
Research-led consultancies such as McKinsey[xii] set the bar on quality whitepapers, so use them for your inspiration.
Such heights might seem like awful lot of effort – and so it should be.
People perceive genuine value in their data, so as far as they’re concerned, that “free” whitepaper of yours has actually cost them something[xiii].
To handle this within your content budget, publish far fewer whitepapers.
Moz has a “philosophical bias” against content gating, and here is their very useful film about why they should be used sparingly.
More generally, B2B content marketing best practice lies in fewer, highly-quality publications.
Publish fewer, higher-quality whitepapers, and you’ll earn genuinely useful data from more, higher-quality fans.
6) Metaphors (seriously, get over yourself)
(Just so we’re on the same page – a metaphor is any attempt to describe one concept referencing another concept with which it shares attributes.
This means that similes and analogies are also metaphors – whatever your English teacher told you.
Now that that’s cleared up…)
In my whole professional writing career, I’ve pulled off one – one – successful analogy. And I know what I’m doing.
In untrained hands, bad metaphors risk alienating people.
Try this one for size (to get you started – it’s about marketing automation)[xiv]:
This author assumes that:
- I’ve seen Terminator (I haven’t, I actually hate action films) recently or frequently enough that I know what Skynet is (literally no clue)
- I’m sufficiently culturally tuned in to twig the Frankenstein myth comparison (I am, but your reader shouldn’t have to be in order to buy your services)
- I’ve seen these robot videos (nope)
- I’ve heard the Alexa story (okay, rings a bell but we’re at a pretty low hit-rate here)
- I’ve 1) ever seen an Adam Sandler movie 2) ever considered any of them any good 3) and that I agree his movie quality has diminished over time.
Granted, some metaphors are useful in business.
“The funnel”, for instance – eases the conveyance of a complicated, abstract idea in a way that’s familiar to almost everyone.
Very efficient; very businesslike.
But try too hard with metaphors, and you just seem like a wanker –
“the writer who is so proud of his newborn pun or metaphor that he fails to see how distracting it is from the story he’s being paid to tell.”[xv]
You’re only blogging because you want to work with your readers one day.
Nobody wants to work with a poet. We’d never get anything done.
7) A complete lack of style (i.e., no balls)
Okay – you’re about to reel off a whole list of renowned marketing blogs which break all the “rules” I’ve just listed here and yet somehow still have massive followings.
Like Seth Godin’s for instance.
Are you Seth Godin?
A small number of marketing celebs have earned the authority to run their blogs on style alone; but for most of us, the golden ticket is finding a way to channel that style while continuing to observe the basic principles of professional writing.
Marketing professor Scott Galloway does this pretty effectively.
In this video he openly declares (tongue in cheek or otherwise) that his procedure for getting a date used to entail obtaining “a shit ton of cocaine”:
…but he also jam-packs the film with examples, proprietary research and data visualisations.
Publicly declaring your own drug habits probably isn’t your golden ticket; and it’s probably also not the same as IBM’s when they wax lyrical about genomic sequencing.
But somehow or other, you need to find a way to take the useful knowledge that lurks somewhere in your business and give it a likeable, knowable personality that endears it to your target audience.
Quality in any art-form – be it written, audio or visual – will always have a certain je ne sais quoi that separates the good from the great.
But the problem with B2B content marketing isn’t a lack of great work.
It’s a lack of work that’s even any good.
That is why I wrote this blog.
Private business environments are hostile to good, long-form writing[xvi] – so on a balance, your own company is more likely to be contributing the dung-heap than paving the way.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
The factors that separate garbage from good-enough aren’t ephemeral artistry, but clearly identifiable elements which can be implemented – without the help of an expert.
The fact that you’re publishing at all shows that someone in your business has recognised that B2B content marketing is important.
If it’s important enough to publish, it’s important enough to make it good.
Still need help?
At your service.
Navigate helps B2B brands make money from superior content marketing – whether that’s by authoring original pieces, editing your own efforts up to scratch (great for tight budgets), or through professional writing workshopping for your team.
Click here to get in touch.