21st Century Content
The 2014 forecast study by the CIM reported that only “44% of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy”. The numbers suggest that thinking caps aren’t on – marketers are pushing out content to tick boxes but floundering when it comes to producing strategic material that helps to achieve real business objectives.
Marketers need a clear line of attack for planning effective content, and the best content planners around are, of course, publishers. Coca-Cola’s much praised “Content 2020” sang from exactly the same hymn sheet, noting that “the role of content excellence is to behave like a ruthless editor, otherwise [you’ll] risk just creating noise.”So marketers need to take a leaf out of publisher’s books in order to master what today is the forum of choice for engagement.
Taking a closer look at traditional marketing material versus customer magazines can really help shed some light on how to become that ruthless editor that Content 2020 refers to. Traditional marketing material, like a brochure, no matter how innovative in format, is still just that – a brochure. It’s selling – and in an obvious way. But newer approaches to educating a target audience, like a well done customer magazine, hold a lot of value.
Part of the problem is that marketers and their teams know they should be investing in something new – but they set out to create the latter, yet end up producing the former – either because of lack of skills and resources, or because internal pressures from senior management dumb down or ‘vanillify’ the potency and imagination of the project. So I’ve outlined the differentiators which can work as a checklist to help ensure marketers are creating what they need to be in order to get it right:
Written by marketing professionals and has company executives as major voices
Commissioned by marketing department but written by independent journalists with external experts as talking heads
Primary focus of the content is the brand
Primary focus of the content is the reader
Aim of the content is selling or telling
Aim of the content is informing or educating
Timing of the content is irregular or a one-off
Timing of the content is consistent and regularised
Content itself is expected or seen before
Content is new, inspiring and dynamic, looking at the big picture or zooming in on key issues
To put it frankly, marketing brochures are written by marketing professionals and tend to have one overwhelming focus: informing readers about a company’s products or services. Striving to create the most innovative, insightful, creative content, which is what readers value and come back for, is not their aim. Maybe that kind of content is fine when a prospect is halfway through a pipeline and wants to know more about a specific product before purchasing it – but it’s never the kind of content that will resonate if it’s disseminated widely to cold prospects, new audiences, or senior leadership. Ultimately, being a thought leader means creating a forum for thinking and learning to happen – creating a knowledge environment that provokes conversation with your reader. To do that, marketers need to get away from product stats, “about us” sections and even interviews with company leadership.
Head of Marketing at PWC Heidi Taylor calls for marketers to make their interactions more human: “we have to remember our customers are people, and even in B2B their buying decisions are emotional ones [...] we as marketers need to create content and campaigns that resonate and connect on that emotional level.” The credibility, authenticity and intrigue that an independent voice provides can push through the platitudes and mediocrity and foster the kind of long-lasting impact or grip that adds up to the right sort of brand building. That’s why, for example, commissioning independent journalists who are subject experts on the topic at hand, and who are practised at writing for a national audience, is really important. Being creative with your content allows you to be memorable because your content has added value – it was interesting, goddamit! And by commissioning thought leaders, industry gurus or expert journalists, you can be part of the bigger picture in your niche – indeed, by becoming a curator of such voices and dynamics, you are part of the bigger picture. Isn’t that the goal? Isn’t that how market share is gained?
Marketing Guru Joe Pulizzi reminds us that “Marketing is a marathon not a sprint”: it really is a matter of short-term vs long-term results. The short-term gains of hammering your brand undoubtedly pale in significance compared to the long-term quality relationship that develops when you impart knowledge. It’s just a much more high quality, classy, sophisticated and contemporary approach – yet one that even brands like John Deere have been pulling off successfully for years ( see The Furrow)
So what should brands aim for, aspire to? The Wealth Report 2014 by Knight Frank is probably amongst the best examples of B2B content marketing. And it’s so effective because Knight Frank think like publishers. Their infographics engage and inform time-stretched c-suites, and their articles (written by industry leaders and field experts) are stimulating – it’s highly engaging market-leading research and thought leadership. While brochures end up in the bin, their content ends up in board rooms.
Creating an engaging, independent and distinctive voice among a sea of content is no easy feat for marketers, but that’s the whole point. Content marketing is not about marketers - it’s not even about brands. It’s about what matters to the readers.