Most of the time, when I’m helping someone with their content marketing strategy for a B2B company, they’re thinking much too small.
For whatever reason, it’s hard for us to get out of the mindset that content should be about our brand or our products all the time in order to be useful and valuable content. But the opposite is actually true.
For a B2B company, you want to be thinking first and foremost a level or two above your brand, which is the level where most of your prospects and customers live.
If you’re using content as a top of funnel mechanism – and most companies still are, for the most part – to generate and capture top line demand, you have to be thinking about the problems, challenges, ideas and aspirations of the prospective companies and build your content to get at that.
Here’s a bit more about what I mean, broken into three buckets (there are surely many ways to categorize this, but this is the one that’s worked beautifully for me for years, so it’s the one I continue to use with my clients).
Educational content – the kind that actually unearths latent demand for your products or services – rarely talks about your company or product AT ALL. I know that feels counterintuitive to a lot of marketers, but what we’re doing here is demonstrating why there is a challenge, problem or opportunity, and encouraging the consumer want to know how they can solve it.
For example, if I’m a marketer in Europe right now, I’m probably wondering how I need to adapt my marketing practices to accommodate the latest GDPR legislation that passed, and ensure that my data collection and storage practices are not going to get me in trouble.
So a piece of educational content would likely talk to me about what the legislation is, help translate that into understandable terms, and give me some high-level guidance about what I need to be thinking about as a marketer. (You’ve probably seen a number of these pieces already).
This helps me learn more about a topic that’s directly relevant to my business, and is the underlying “why” for driving me to take an action, make an investment, change something, stop doing something…you get the picture. It teaches me something at a broad level that’s far above the trenches of my day-to-day marketing work but that has larger implications for my business and my work.
It works well at the top of the funnel, because it gets me to start a) understanding what companies both empathize with my business challenges and b) know which companies might have the answers I need, which improves their authority in my eyes (and we always want to work with the best and brightest, don’t we?)
The more nuts-and-bolts “How” content falls in this category. While educational content tends to unearth or expose a key business challenge or need, informational content helps illustrate the “how” and the “what” that can address that challenge.
Sometimes these two can come in the same package, like a video that reviews changing Google algorithms that can affect your SEO, and then walks through 6 changes I can make to my website in order to improve my results.
But informational content can stand on it’s own too, and it can be about your products, but doesn’t have to be. Ideally, it can illustrate the steps and pieces to solving a business challenge – say, translating your website for global audiences – but it also offers your proprietary methodology as ONE of the ways you might be able to solve that for your company, possibly along side other best practices or industry alternatives.
The goal here is to create an informed customer, equip them with some light tools to help them be successful, and to align yourself to the knowledge and the solutions enough that they know you’re informed and authoritative yourself about these kinds of solutions and may be more inclined to investigate your company as one of the ways to solve that problem.
Informational content can also be specific to your products and services, and it can run the gamut of helping explain what’s different about your marketing technology platform and why its technology is superior to others, or it can be pretty tactical explanations of the benefits of a function of your mobile app, or the specs on the camera on your phone.
Sales enablement content usually falls into this category, where you’re positioning your products and services in a way that helps prospective customers understand your offering, compare it to others, and get a feel for what the customer experience would be like working with you (including how much you can help them with industry insight and best practices).
I break this bucket out because I think there’s a place in the world of content merely to inspire people, to give them aspirational ideas, or simply to entertain them and show off a bit of your company’s personality.
Maybe that’s a video from your company’s last retreat that showcases your fun-loving culture and gives people a sense of your values and the personality of your people (which can be an important factor in deciding whether or not to work with you down the road).
Or perhaps it’s a story of how one of your customers overcame a major obstacle in life or at work, and your company was part of it somehow. Maybe it’s a funny caricature of work life, or an entertaining montage of photos of crazy, random celebrities using your product.
Contrary to popular belief there is a time and a place for content that’s not super serious, not at all about what you’re selling, and simply designed to give your prospects and customers a taste of what makes you tick.
In a world where so many products and services are highly commoditized, there’s a role for content that helps demonstrate the personality quirks that make your company special, because that can be the difference for a buyer who wants to work with people they like, not just a product that can do the job.
You Need A Little Of Everything
For the most part, I tell companies to pick a good chunk – maybe 20-30% – from column A, because that’s where thought leadership and industry authority come from.
The bulk of the investment is usually in column B, because it can address all stages of a customer journey from awareness to purchase decision, and because it offers a strong balance of high-level topical content and offering-specific content that can help a buyer really be armed with the information they need to choose you. That’s probably half or more of the content you’ll build.
Then I surprisingly tell people to leave at least 20% of their content undefined, so you can add in those entertaining and aspirational pieces, the ones that are timely based on current events or news in the company that’s important to communicate, and the occasional gem of the guy in the server room dancing to Bruno Mars that you can’t resist putting on the Facebook page.
Content isn’t an exact science. But if you aren’t sure where to start, my high level content breakdown here might help you think a little differently about the purpose of the content you consume, the goal of its existence, and give you permission to sometimes color outside the lines a little bit.