In most B2B organizations, marketing is slowly making its way out of the secretarial or admin pool perception. You will still get the order of isolated sponsoring ad and stand alone sell sheet (with fries on the side) and in some cases even the dictation of a cover letter in your voice mail.
That's because many B2B organizations started life with a strong sales component, and now culture. Sales sees marketing as subservient, and not leading the charge when it comes to customer acquisition and retention.
However, in recent years, increased competitive forces and the faltering economy have opened the doors to marketing playing a key role in customer retention and acquisition efforts.
Thanks in part to the world wide web and organized content strategies that replace with scale the one to one initial conversations and check ins until a prospective customer is ready to buy.
Reasons for marketing to lead
- brand awareness -- yes, I know it doesn't sound as hard as generating leads. No awareness and you don't command premium prices over your competitors and often not even consideration. A brand earns the opportunity to have relationships with people after it means something to them.
- customer intelligence -- I know what you're thinking, it's the sales group that holds the relationships. It's marketing that takes the time to look at the big picture on trends and segment what is useful for whom by asking informed questions and listening.
- pay off in product development -- why is it that B2B organizations think of investment when it comes to product or service development and costs when associated with marketing? Any existing disconnect between marketing and product needs addressing.
- context building around product purchase -- this is how you become a preferred provider in the buyer's decision journey. By consistently offering valuable content and an experience around the delivery that is integrated with the customer/prospective customer needs.
Meaning and value
Before you have a chance to shake hands in the real world, they both derive from good content.
Consumer brands that are wrapping great content around the buying experience do that by helping people become more informed on how to use products properly. Even better, by helping people stay organized, keep their homes in top shape, etc., for example P&G's Home Made Simple, one of the case studies in my presentation last week.
What can businesses do to help other businesses with useful content?
There are tons of creative things you can do to empower buyers while they're thinking through the issues from different lenses, including value.
From interactive eBooks that involve the reader by putting her in the center, to dynamic presentations they can customize to sell the purchase internally, to everything in between -- a B2B content strategy that maps to the whole mind can give your business a sexy attractiveness by informing and educating.
Yes, business buyers respond to emotional appeals, too.Picking on the white paper
Why is it that white papers are still formatted to be the stock and trade of message push when they could be such a powerful pull medium? White papers should be used to educate readers and help them make decisions -- as guides on the issues.
Different people in the organization may have a different vision of what the output looks like even though they're both going for the same outcome. Persuasion works better when the information is offered from expertise within a context.
Customers research and evaluate with a full deck of information. Why not become the source of that information?I'm not the only one to have pet peeves about white papers. When I asked on Twitter what the biggest pet peeve were, the answers should not surprise you:
- They aren't written in a conversational tone. You don't have to be stuffy to be informative! [they're] more about selling than really teaching. @DrewMcLellan
- They don't talk to the average person, too academic. @OwerGreaves
- they are generally boring and just regurgitate something already been said @Dunkndisorderly
- The reg walls that are typically in front of them... What exactly is the objective of creating one? different reasons for different people? (not all are created equal) @mjayliebs
- Having to give contact information to access and then promptly receiving a sales call. @ShannonPaul
- When it's just a long piece of product marketing collateral. @dianekrose
- Biggest pet peeve about white papers is when they are thinly veiled product pitches. Need stats, analytics, biz case. @fransteps
I'd be interested in any examples you may have of interactive white papers. Do they exist? Or is the landing page with form and download still the only way they're offered?
Once you nail down your content strategy based on marketing working more closely on the construction of the sale vs. just the promotion, there are a few ideas you could use to reach your buyers. How the content is packaged will appeal to the people in the industry or vertical with whom you're trying to connect.Content can set you apart
You believe that's true, right? Why is it that business writing is so awful?
To me it's because there's no money in content creation -- yet. Businesses that invest in writers end up doing what Jason Fried describes in his excellent piece for Inc. magazine -- years of language dilution by lawyers, marketers, executives, and HR departments have turned the powerful, descriptive sentence into an empty vessel optimized for buzzwords, jargon, and vapid expressions.
Everyone edging the risk of sounding different, having a clear point of view, standing for something definite. Choose writers that get your voice, or write yourself. And resist the temptation to rewrite pieces for the sake of going to the middle. Go for everything, stand for nothing.
Your writing doesn't have to be boring just because it's for other businesses. Businesses have people who read stuff.
Do you want to do it right? Use the same words people search for in your content. There is no amount of optimized buzzwords that will be more attractive than compelling content that describes what someone is looking for.
Containers or vessels for your writing done right
If you're looking to reach professionals in the financial services industry, you might look at this list of tactics, in this order, and you might actually skip the last two, depending on the generational demographic you're going for:
- company Web site
- white papers -- yes, there are ways to make them interesting
- research -- not the gimmicky kind, pick a reputable research firm
- tools that enable people to try configurations or ballpark pricing
- email newsletters
- blogs -- packed with useful information
- a custom published eZine
- helpful checklists
What else? Are there other things that have worked for you?
Developing a content strategy for B2B can indeed be sexy.
© 2010 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.