There is a deluge of B2B content, every marketer is cranking the handle of the content sausage machine with the intent to grab every waking moment of the prospective buyer, yet often this content is ignored.
How do you stand out? Try these 5 R’s, with examples of organizations doing this well…
It’s too obvious to say this, but it’s never been easier to publish content, all you need is a platform and an opinion. The world is now awash with content and whatever B2B niche you are in, someone is writing about it, sharing their point of view.
So, how do you stand out, how do you elevate your B2B corporate blog from the sea of opinion to something useful and engaging?
This isn’t a blog post about catchy titles, search engine shenanigans, listicles or social media tricks. Yes, all these tactics attract eyeballs, the objective is to create a sustained relationship through content, to create ART (Awareness, Revenue & Trust) and specifically trust. And of course, if people like and trust your content, then the other tactics become more effective.
As Ann Handley, the Wall Street Journal best-selling author of ‘Everybody Writes’ and ‘Content Rules’ recently said:
“We don’t need more content, we need to ‘do less and obsess’”
So, where should we obsess?
#1 – Real experience
Who else has been here?
As content marketers, we are storytellers and we can build trust and empathy in the opinion or topic of the post through a character in the story that has been on the journey, that has the experience.
A fabulous example of this is Robert Rose on The Content Advisory blog, Robert seems to have an inexhaustible supply of client examples that support his articles. Some of the stories are good news, that a client achieved something, but many of the stories are about the challenges the client faced either as an organization or as individuals.
In most cases the client is anonymous, which makes no difference to their credibility as Robert writes with such authority.
These stories also describe what Robert and his team do, the problem his company solves and the kind of clients they work with, so the content not only works for the audience but informs potential clients (which is also why case studies are content marketing gold).
#2 – Research
Is this relevant to a change in the world?
On the theme of credibility, a great B2B blog is supported by research.
Not the often trotted out bullshit that is copied between blogs, that are impossible to attribute like “people have the attention span of goldfish” or something said in 2002 by a long-retired analyst, but something more tangible, relevant that you can attribute to the source.
There are some B2B companies that have a slightly unfair advantage here, like research, analyst and consulting firms like Forrester and Gartner who have research as part of their core business. The tricky decision for them is how much of the good stuff they should give away and how much to keep behind the subscription paywall. My favorite is the Sirius Decisions blog, they are quite generous (hopefully this won’t change now they are part of Forrester).
Even if it’s not your core business, if you have the budget, resources and audience ideally you (or your agency) should do some research into your category and create something new. Research should be a part of marketing discovery anyway, so why not share it?
The Content Marketing Institute are the kings of this, their research informs a point of view, not just on their own blog, but a community of content marketers take their research and remix it for their own, giving the CMI credibility, reach and delivering on their brand promise to “advance the practice of content marketing”.
Not every organization has the resources to create original research, but there is a lot out there you can use (there are some great ideas here on the Alexa blog), the important thing is not just to cut and paste from another blog, but to spend the time finding the source, checking it out and ensuring it’s current and relevant. Your reader might do that, you don’t want to be revealed as the fool referring to a non-existent 20-year-old goldfish.
An example of this is the “5 Hard Truths for Marketers” from Sitecore, this is more of a sustained content marketing campaign than a blog, that includes blog posts, eBooks and events.
The ‘5 truths’ that form the basis of this campaign come from a combination of four external reports and their own client research, this lends so much more credibility to their world view than if they’d simply pontificated. I commented on this when I interviewed their CMO, Paige O’Neill (for Rockstar CMO) after she presented this in a keynote, the data really popped.
#3 – Reward
What’s the reward for the reader?
There is an aspiration for content marketers to “create content worth paying for” or at least for there to be a quid pro quo – that in exchange for giving you some attention, hearing your opinion, that this is useful to the audience.
The best reward for a potential buyer researching content is to be the best answer to their question. A lot is written about how much time people are spending doing online research, how many items of content they touch before making a purchasing decision. Imagine giving the gift of time, of saving that potential buyer the need to scroll yet more Google results and bounce from site to site looking for the thing they need, probably for their boss.
It could be the research is the reward, they are looking for some data to support an internal initiative that will hopefully include your product or services, but maybe they are researching how to do something or the definition of the category.
Being the best answer means focusing on the “how-to”, “what is” and “why do” content.
A great (and often cited) example of this is the Hubspot blog and whilst this example is a bit obvious, I had this experience. I first started reading this blog, maybe 10 years ago, at the time I had no idea about or need for their product, in my head it was just this great, useful marketing blog. I was figuring out the craft, their blog was a constant in my RSS reader (remember those?). Since then, I’ve bought, used and recommended their product in multiple engagements.
A less obvious example would be Vidyard as a vendor in a relatively new category, video hosting, their blog is mostly educational, focusing on the how’s and why’s of the practice of video marketing
Those are product companies if you are a knowledge-based business, a consulting firm or agency this is tricky. What are you prepared to give away? Or possibly more negatively what are you prepared to educate your competitors on?
Two examples I like are from two quite different marketing agencies, the blog from TopRank Marketing and the Metia Blog. I’ve worked with Metia, super people, so I have a connection, but I’ve not worked with TopRank, however, in my twitter feed I am constantly sharing their stuff. Why? Because it’s incredibly useful and generous content.
It’s all very well being generous, but the reward in this context is also about a quid pro quo, will the audience know more about you, your products and services? Will they trust you more and do they show up and share? If a B2B blog does not deliver for the business, however great it is, it will die through neglect and starvation.
#4 – Relatable
B2B is not an excuse for B2boring, is this relatable?
Making a B2B buying decision, on behalf of an organization is highly emotional, the decision could affect their career, their standing amongst their peers, their boss and ultimately their ability to provide for themselves and their families. We need to lean into that, to demonstrate that we too are people, with empathy.
A good start to being relatable is to cut the bullshit, use direct language, with personality and opinion – avoiding the dullsville business-speak of your competitors.
Not only does this differentiate, but so often we assume that our audience knows all the gobbledygook terminology we sprinkle over everything we do in B2B. They may not, they just know their need or problem and don’t want to learn a new language.
The challenge is that using bland industry language offends nobody, but adding a little spice of some directness, personality and opinion will stimulate an audience’s opinion that may be shared and reinforce the connection or may turn them off. Because of this, this approach can meet internal resistance.It takes some confidence to do.
It’s way, way, way easier to just sound like everyone else in your market. So to pull it off, it must reflect the culture of the organization and the balance is to ensure that the right people, your kind of people agree.
A great example of personality is the Velocity Partners blog, a B2B marketing agency, that clearly have a good time with their content.
Are you good people?
Aside from the editorial style, featuring your people in your content makes your company relatable, not just for prospective clients, but partners and potential talent you want to hire.
When I was the CMO at censhare our marketing role in supporting growth was not just about revenue, but also attracting talent. We published an interview with a member of staff on video once a week (called Inside censhare). I talked to everyone from the CEO, to the developers and the marketing intern, this then extended to interviews with partners and clients – and became very popular.
Not just your people either, by featuring other people in the industry you are demonstrating that you are part of a credible tribe that your audience can join.
TopRank and CMI who I mentioned earlier do this and another good example is the Leadtail blog, a B2B social media services company that feature interviews with B2B marketers on a diverse range of topics
(full disclosure; including me).
Plus, as a bonus, people are naturally delighted to be written about and love to share that they have been and this extends your content reach.
#5 – Reason
Why are we doing it?
This circles us back to the Ann Handley quote about “doing less and obsess”.
To do less we need to say no, the best way to distill what is being done is to focus and ask why?
The previous 4 R’s should be a good guide; is this real, researched, rewarding and relatable? But also, is it useful, either to you as the marketer or the audience and does it add anything to the sea of content that’s already out there?
That’s it, some ideas and examples for creating something more than just a stream of opinion and hypothesis that your audience can find everywhere, but something valuable and useful.
I hope you found it real, researched, rewarding and relatable….