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.
This is an abstract; read the full article on Currency Alliance.
Retail brands can be saved; but not by conventional retail strategy
In an economy where it’s no longer possible to profit off physical goods, the most successful businesses today are migrating their profit centers on to services and experiences.
The changing economics can be clearly seen in the UK’s RPI data, which shows services becoming progressively more valuable over time, whilst consumer goods remains flat[vii].
Agile technology businesses are making progress on this front – Amazon being the prime example, becoming an increasingly service-oriented retailer.
…whilst the retail establishment remains sluggish in embracing change.
Tesco, for instance, has failed to show any real growth in two decades – instead largely tracking the performance of the UK economy.
To synchronise their businesses with the changing economy, retailers must cease to view sale of physical goods as a raison d’être, and start viewing them as a passport to other, more profitable forms of trade.
This is an abstract; read the full article on OLIVER.
In 2017, big tech contracts will be won and lost on cybersecurity.
This is because the repeated instance of high-profile cyberattacks is being now taken increasingly seriously by brands.
PwC found that 53% of people across all sectors say they’ve become more fearful of cybercrime over the past two years, compared to 48% in 2014.
And when cyberattacks take place, heads roll.
JPMorgan reassigned their CSO Jim Cummings following a data breach off the back of a social campaign. Target fired its CIO and CEO after their own scandal in 2013.
This represents a big opportunity for B2B tech marketers.
Steve Morgan, founder and Editor-In-Chief at Cybersecurity Ventures, offers this tip on selling to a CSO / CISO / CIO:
“skip straight the pain”.
About 6 months back I met with a business whose product was warehouse management software.
They were convinced – unwavering – that their target buyer was really interested in warehouse management.
So interested, in fact, they wanted to hire full-time writer to blog about warehouse management.
Three times a week.
(Because SEO, obviously.)
Immediately, I knew what I was dealing with.
A grade IV malignant case of tumorous content marketing.
B2B content marketing is of a younger lineage than its B2C cousin.
You see the scale of the difference when you compare the search visibility of B2B and B2C firms.
I calculated the average search vis. of the top 10 B2B and B2C firms in the FTSE 250.
The difference is staggering.
The strongest performer in the B2B top 10 is security firm G4S with 2,323.
The strongest B2C firm is ASOS, whose whopping 341,283 puts them on par with some news organisations.
Now, those numbers in themselves are not bad news for B2B firms.
SEO is a lot less relevant when you sell via personal networks and nurture leads over dinner.
It only becomes a problem when you, as a B2B business, decide you want to evolve a new content marketing limb, and go looking for DNA…
Murky gene pool
Operationally, the difference between B2B and B2C content marketing is the trade-off between quality and quantity.
In B2C industries, quantity is paramount to an SEO-first content strategy.
Illustratively: ASOS is fully justified in paying a tribe of fashion bloggers to guest-publish and send back inbound links.
It costs nothing to send an influencer a dress to try on; and with thousands of direct competitors also flogging fast fashion, consumer goods marketing becomes a dizzying game of influencers and search rankings.
Crucially, even if the content is utter drivel (the “influencer” is probably a teenager with 200,000 Instagram followers), Google still records positive customer experiences.
That’s because the end-user – the B2C target audience – isn’t interested in quality content. They just want the dress, and seeing that it’s been worn and approved by their favourite Instagrammer is enough to cause them to:
- click the inbound link and arrive at the brand site/specific SKU page
- browse colourways/alternative products
- drop product into basket
- progress to transactional web space and complete purchase.
These multi-checkpoint user journeys are recognised by Google as a sign of a strong, well-organised website.
On this evidence, it pushes the vendor domain further up the SERP.
And that, folks, is how a B2C domain can deliver great ROI on high volumes of dull, repetitive, unedited product reviews.
In B2C content marketing, quantity is everything.
B2B content marketing is an altogether different animal.
You’re shooting for two or three big sales in a quarter. Maybe only one.
A single hot lead could turn out to be worth tens of thousands or even millions. All you need is for the right C-suite exec at the right target business to pick up the phone and make an enquiry.
C-suite execs do not read trashy blogs by bought influencers.
These people are middle-aged, well-educated and highly-paid.
Their pride themselves in their choice of reading material and they pay for quality.
So how will you compete?
Answer that question.
In your target buyer’s precious five minutes over a coffee between meetings, how will your reputation for quality cause them to set The Economist to one side when they spot your latest post on LinkedIn?
Figure out what your Class A1 piece of content looks like, and publish that.
Don’t settle for less.
In reality, a lot of B2B organisations do settle for less.
Or to be more accurate, they unwittingly splice B2C DNA into their content strategies.
This happens for two reasons:
- a lag in B2B marketing intelligence; and, consequently…
- an unhealthy dependence on quantitative metrics.
First, the lag in intelligence.
Most of the language used to discuss content evolved in the primordial soup of the early noughties, when B2C digital marketing began to flourish.
“Three blogs a week! Influencers! Inbound links! SEO!”
As B2B industries have developed, this same language has leeched across.
As a result, the processes which go to getting B2B content online – i.e., to hire a team, to fill out a job spec, conduct interviews, agree strategy and KPIs and record progress and growth – all take place in an unhealthy atmosphere of B2C language and intelligence.
This, in turn, has created the perfect conditions for bad metrics to proliferate.
Quantitative metrics can be enjoyed in moderation as part of healthy B2B marketing practice.
For instance: you might measure the percentage of your key targets who navigate from your above-the-line advertising content to your transactional landing pages, and how this figure changes quarter-by-quarter.
But this kind of measurement takes time, patience, investment in a decent marketing automation platform, and – crucially – buy-in and understanding from the person reading your reports.
Let’s say your marketing department budget comes under review.
The CFO has heard of content… but he also remembers earning his last million quid chatting shit over golf.
“One blog a month? You’re having a giraffe. There’s a company in Thailand who’ll produce one a day for half the fee…”
Qualitative factors make B2B content successful; quantitative quick-fix metrics keep it financed.
And so instead of focusing on producing Class A1 content, your B2B brand sprouts three ugly tumours a week.
This problem was astutely predicated back in 2013 by B2B content agency Velocity Partners.
Their Slideshare, entitled, “Crap,” warned that a kind of content marketing gold rush was leading to a deluge of worthless nonsense clogging up our newsfeeds.
It ought to be mandatory reading for anyone interested in B2B marketing, but this slide more or less sums it up.
I think we can all agree this has happened.
We’ve all been let down by click-baity headlines on LinkedIn leading to half-finished stumps.
Thankfully, Google taken steps to rectify the problem.
The Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird algorithms saved the day for B2B marketers, as evidenced by the continuing trend towards longer-form content.
To quote Google’s own engineer (and Panda creator) Pandu Nayak:
“…up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic. That’s why today we’re introducing new search results to help users find in-depth articles.”
To write your own in-depth articles, and to nurture C-suite audiences for high-value sales, I’d personally advise investing around 37.5 man-hours in a typical blog.
Remember, you’re trying to convince the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to put down his copy of the Financial Times.
Think about the work this takes, start to finish:
- Finding the story (i.e., starting and burning a couple of bad ideas)
- Research – examples, statistics, quotes, expert contributors
- Writing – Plan for an editing stage and at least two full redrafts
- Design – a couple of nice graphs, diagrams or inset statistics, and the creation of 4-7 pieces of creative to increase CTR and social engagement
- Publishing – formatting, checking on both PC and mobile, ensuring all your links work properly, search optimisation, etc.
- Marketing – social scheduling, maybe some paid advertising, distributing it your network etc
How you resource this really just comes down to budget.
With a fully-fledged content team – a Content Writer, a Marketing Exec, and a Designer, for instance – I’d venture you could produce your Class A1 blog once every three days.
Most B2B content operations, though, aren’t this well-resourced.
You’re more likely to have a Content Marketer who executes every stage in the process.
(And who’s also copywriting, managing your website, producing other content formats, managing social media, plus all manner of irritating distractions because this is business.)
Realistically, if you can publish one, jaw-droppingly excellent, well-marketed piece of content each month, you’re doing well for a B2B organisation.
A lot better than your competitor publishing 3 listicles a week.
A final word on SEO.
B2B Content Marketers: don’t publish for SEO.
Instead, focus on consistently publishing superior work.
If the quality of your content is lacking, Google will detect people showing up at your site, being disappointed, and bouncing off before you can say “audience attrition”.
Your search rankings will suffer accordingly.
If search really is important your B2B business, Google rewards regular publishing of content that holds people’s attention.
And at present, the immature state of B2B content marketing means you can do this at a low scale, with a limited budget, and still successfully outcompete other businesses.
Take G4S, for instance, with its search visibility of 2,323.
Its nearest competitor is Securitas with a search vis of only 21.
This is anything but an unassailable position.
An investment of a few hundred grand and 12 months of solid, well-strategised content marketing could easily put Securitas on a par with their nearest competitor.
This won’t happen by obsessing over SEO – and certainly not by blogging three times a week about security services.
It will happen by publishing great work which cultivates a superior customer experience.
If Securitas starts publish more healthily than G4S, they’ll grow an audience.
Site engagement metrics will increase.
Inbound links will start to proliferate, and inbound enquiries and lead generation will follow.
The business will make more sales.
Better SEO scores will be the icing on the cake.
Are you content marketing tumourously?
Could some B2B marketing intelligence give a health kick to your lead pipeline, and help you perform better in Google search?
(Are you Securitas?)
If any of the above are true I’d be glad to grab a coffee and explain how I can help.
Navigate helps B2B brands make money from superior content marketing.
Click here to get in touch.
 Find out what it means here, https://moz.com/help/guides/moz-pro-overview/rankings/search-visibility, or check your own business’s score here: https://suite.searchmetrics.com/en/research/domains/organic
This is an abstract; read the full article here.
The move to launch of Inside Ideas Group, a holding brand shared by Dare, Adjust Your Set, Aylesworth Fleming and OLIVER, was jointly masterminded by Milan Semelak, the Group’s Chief Disruption Officer, and Simon Martin, OLIVER founder & CEO.
Here they are with the reasons behind the rebrand, and what it means for the Group and its agencies…
Agencies rebrand all the time. Why should clients/prospective clients care?
Milan: “Because it represents an entire new dimension to what clients can expect from an agency.
When I meet prospective clients they always ask if the model is about saving time and costs.
And of course it is, partly, but cheap and fast isn’t unique.
What’s unique is having eyes and ears inside the world’s biggest brands, and knowing what they’re going to do next.
It’s about the boardroom creative. It’s about answering campaign briefs with new product propositions. It’s business-transforming.”
“The key emphasis for me is that it’s a totally unique proposition – and on that merit, our business will scale and grow because no other business can deliver the same kind of performance and results and change.
The Inside Ideas brand stakes our claim on that space.”