B2B marketing has a content problem: there’s more of it all the time… and the people we actually want reading it have started tuning it all out. We can’t exactly stop the content deluge (look, we’re even contributing to it right now!), so instead we’ve got to figure out:
- Why are decision makers tuning out content?
- How can we keep them from tuning out ours?
Why isn’t B2B content resonating?
LinkedIn-Edelman helped answer this first question in their 2021 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study. Their conclusions aren’t really all that surprising.
Decision makers can really appreciate good thought leadership content (64% said it was a better basis for assessing a potential vendor than marketing materials or product sheets), but…. only if it isn’t boring.
And, frankly, boring is usually exactly what it is: 71% of decision makers said less than half of the B2B content they consumed provided any valuable insight, and only 15% said they would rank any of the content they consumed in 2021 as “excellent” or “very good.”
Decision makers aren’t tuning out content because they don’t care about it or because their attention spans have been eradicated by the internet. They’re tuning us out because, when they DO stop to give us a shot, they don’t think we’re giving them anything they want. Which leads to question #2:
How can we make B2B content that actually connects?
Decision makers already told us what they want: insight. Our readers are looking for thought leadership that provides real guidance on how to navigate situations they find themselves in right now.
Don’t worry: that answer should be frustrating. After all, isn’t that what you’re already doing? Your audience would find all sorts of great insights in your content… if they would just READ IT!
The thing that’s stopping them from doing that must not be what you’re saying, therefore, but HOW you’re saying it. It doesn’t matter if you have the most earth-shattering, game-changing scoop in the history of your industry… if you talk about it exactly like everyone else talks about their listicles or industry awards. We’re all guilty of doing it, and it’s high time we stopped.
Next time you produce some B2B thought leadership content, keep these five guidelines in mind to ensure you’re presenting your insights in a way that actually speaks to the audience you’re trying to grab hold of. You’ll be surprised what a difference it will make — in terms of how fun it is to make and to read.
1 — Get Real
If there’s one hallmark of bad B2B thought leadership, it’s that it sounds like it wasn’t made from inside the industry. In fact, it usually reads like it was made by an alien poorly attempting to conceal themselves as both a human… and THEN an industry professional. That’s probably why, despite buyers consuming more content than ever, 79% report that the content they read is irrelevant to their actual needs.
The irony here is there’s no reason to speak that way! Your thought leadership probably is coming from an industry expert, and it probably is speaking to something they care about. So speak like it is! Tell your audience what you’ve got to say and why they should care as plainly as possible.
2 — Make It About Them
My teammate Josh has written extensively about the need for empathy in B2B content marketing, and it’s something I think about every time I sit down to write a piece. What does your audience want out of this? Why is it worth their time? What can it help them do, solve, understand, etc.?
The kind of B2B decision makers reading your content are, above all else, professionals with a job to do. Whatever content they’re consuming, they’re looking for how it’s going to help them do their job better. That’s where to start.
How will the insight you’re writing about affect your audience’s work? What should they do with this information starting right now? Your audience is already going to be “translating” your content into how it matters to them; do that work for them.
“The kind of B2B decision makers reading your content are, above all else, professionals with a job to do. Whatever content they’re consuming, they’re looking for how it’s going to help them do their job better.” — Harry Mackin Click To Tweet
3 — Dare to Express an Opinion
The old college essay cop-out is so well-known it’s a meme: “In conclusion, America is a land of contrasts.” If it doesn’t fly in college, why do we think it flies in B2B content marketing? And yet, how often have you read articles that come down to hand wringing or giving an audience “much to consider?”
Thought leadership isn’t journalism. It doesn’t have to be impartial, and it’s not coming from an outside observer. In fact, that’s its power. Your audience wants to know what you—a human being writing at a computer—thinks about a situation or development. That’s why they clicked on your byline. Whether they agree or disagree with what you conclude about all the evidence you’ve collected, at least they’ll remember enough to have an opinion! Honesty always interests; college term papers, not so much.
4 — Leave Them with Something New
Great thought leadership works because it doesn’t stand alone. It’s contextual, it’s engaged with the industry and moment in which it was written, and, above all, it’s actionable.
When your audience finds your content, it should help them reframe a relevant recent event or phenomenon in a way they haven’t considered. When they’re done, they shouldn’t just want to click on the next article or hit the “contact us” button; they should want to keep thinking about what they just learned.
In addition to writing on their terms and with their motivations in mind, try to position all of your thought leadership content as something new. Even if it’s not a particularly new insight or data-point, make it a new way to THINK about that insight or data-point. If you can give your audience something to bring back from your content with them, they’ll remember where they got it.
“Great thought leadership works because it doesn’t stand alone. It’s contextual, it’s engaged with the industry and moment in which it was written, and, above all, it’s actionable.” — Harry Mackin Click To Tweet
5 — Have some fun with it
I think this is ultimately where the B2B content problem started. Somewhere along the way, we all started thinking of “B2B Executive Thought Leadership” as such serious business that we forgot it basically amounts to writing about something we’re legitimately interested in.
In our efforts to “do justice” to the seriousness of the process, we lost the personal passion and voice that actually made thought leadership worth reading in the first place. You already care about your content — that’s why you started writing it, and that’s why you’re reading about how to make it better. Show how much you care in the content itself. Talk like yourself, be honest, and have some fun! It won’t just improve how much you like making your content; it will make it resonate with your audience much better, too.
If you need a little help rediscovering your voice to help make your content resonate with your audience, TopRank Marketing would love to help.