How to create B2B content for the “new normal”

When social distancing becomes BAU, what will that mean for your content? David McGuire suggests a few principles.

It’s hard to think about marketing when you’re living through an apocalyptic disaster movie. Every minute, there’s a new twist and another breaking news story sends you back to thinking about your loved ones, your colleagues, and your business as a whole. So much is changing so fast, how do you even keep track of what it all means for your marketing plan – let alone deliver it?

Things are pretty fucked up. It’s completely understandable if you want to take a pause to re-evaluate and change your plans. (If you were relying heavily on events this year, your plans might have already been changed for you.)

But that can’t last forever – and the chief medical adviser Chris Whitty has made it clear we’re “in for the long haul”. That means we’re going to reach a point where – as horrible as it sounds – this crap becomes business as usual.

Nobody knows what the “new normal” will look like, or how it will affect the B2B buying process. Some prospects might have more time to engage with what you create, while for others the background noise of panic might continue to drown it out. There’ll be a lot of testing to do.

While social distancing takes some kinds of marketing off the table, content remains something you can deliver pretty easily under the current conditions – you just need to be sensitive, and a little creative. The new realities of work could even give you some scope to try things you couldn’t have otherwise.

Make good use of your experts’ time

Having an event postponed is a headache for you as a marketer. But for a time-poor subject matter expert, a last-minute cancellation potentially gives them a day back. Bear that in mind when you tell your speakers, or the technical specialists who would have offered advice on your exhibition stand.

These experts still have knowledge your customers need – if they’re a speaker, they may already have crafted their presentation – and that makes for great content. So when you break the news about the event, you might want to choose that moment to ask for half an hour to brief a writer instead, or record a short Q&A. You already know they’re available, and they get to see some output and recognition for their preparation and expertise. 

Meanwhile, many experts are potentially facing a long stretch isolated at home. For some, this will be heaven – they’ll have plenty to do, and the time and space to focus. But others will find it hard to work remotely, or simply miss workplace conversation. 

If you struggle to get the input you need from your subject matter experts, this could be a moment to try again. They’re probably not working to their usual schedule, so they might welcome a briefing call or video conference to break up the day – and it’s much quicker than asking them to write something. 

If you ask good questions, a few input calls can lead to a mountain of smart, informed content. Whether you use it immediately or stockpile it for a favourable time is up to you.

Reach out to your customers

72% of B2B marketers say the customer’s point of view is an essential part of their content – but 78% say getting access to customers is a problem. Could social distancing change that?

This might seem like the worst possible time to ask your best customers for a favour. But with meetings cancelled and an endless stream of doom on the news, some might actually appreciate the contact.

Clearly, you need to tread carefully, and be sensitive to your customer’s issues and concerns. We’re all a little more vulnerable and open right now – that presents problems, but it also gives us the chance to have honest conversations, and maybe connect more personally than we ordinarily would. 

Done well, it could help you build a stronger relationship.

Dial up the “human”

The audience for your B2B content has always been made up of humans. But now they’re at home, in their slippers, surrounded by worries and a bewildering mass of information – and that makes them more human than ever. Try to reflect that in your content.

This is no time for long, complicated sentences or bland corporate speak. You need to cut through the noise and hold your reader’s attention by writing to them directly, human to human (much as I hope I’m writing to you now). 

People respond when they feel a connection. If you can, write in a way that’s just a notch warmer and more personal than you ordinarily would. 

At the very least, make it easy to scan. Look at your sentences, headings and vocabulary, to make sure it’s easy to get the information you need if you’re a little distracted – because, to be honest, they probably are.

Help, don’t sell

Profiteering in a crisis is a bad look. Your audience is worried about their family and their future, and they won’t react kindly if you use that as an excuse to pitch. Nonetheless, there are plenty of B2B products and services that can really come into their own, and solve real problems for people. That’s a tough balance to strike.

Now more than ever, it’s important to remember the content marketing mantra of “help, don’t sell” and make sure your materials focus squarely on your customer’s needs more than your own. (Maybe, go further and think about content that’s actively useful and practical, rather than just offering advice.)

It’s a difficult approach to fight for – especially if the lack of in-person events has left your pipeline dry – but if you get it right, your audience will be that much more engaged. Maybe they’ll already have experienced something of your brand, making them more likely to buy (how many pro licenses do you think Zoom is selling right now, to people who have found its free offering a lifesaver?)

Ironically, if you struggle to get approval for early-funnel content that’s not sales focused, this exceptional situation might actually give you the argument you need to test that approach: “We should maybe rein that in for the time being; we don’t want to look insensitive…”

And I don’t want to undercut the seriousness of the current situation with a glib “every cloud…” message, but that’s actually true of several of the common challenges B2B marketers face in making good content. This is a time when the normal rules don’t apply, so you might have an opportunity to do something different. And in the process, make life a little easier or more enjoyable for your customers.

Until we can meet again, please keep yourself safe and well.

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