Creating content for B2B audiences isn't always easy. Along the journey that takes your content from idea to creation to distribution to results, there are a number of places where things can go wrong.
Let's take a quick look at some of the challenges facing content marketing in the B2B space today.
Message overload. In the B2B tech space, estimates put the number of marketing emails buyers and researchers see in a week in the range of 75 to 100.
Short attention spans. With so many messages thrown their way, buyers and researchers can give precious little time to the messages and content they receive.
Lack of focus. There's a shortage of personalized messages that address the real pain points your prospects are trying to solve.
Complex buying processes. In B2B, buying is a team sport. Identifying all of the roles involved in a purchase decision and sending them messages that resonate is a complex task.
Too many B2B marketers are missing the mark with their content today. You don't need to take my word for it. Forrester Research found that more than half of B2B decision makers find the content they receive from vendors to be "useless." One of the big problems identfied in Forrester's survey is that marketers have a difficult time keeping up with the audience's preference around content and experiences.
Here are some other common problems that hold back B2B content today.
1. There's Too Many People Involved
Quick experiment: Gather a group of six or more people and try to get them to agree on something. It can be something simple -- say, where you're going to order lunch. How many emails and face-to-face discussions did that take?
Many content programs suffer from the same problem. Here's the thing about the English language (and it probably applies to other languages too): There's no single, correct way to say almost anything. This isn't to say that team members shouldn't collaborate on the type of content, the high-level messaging, the budget, and all of the other decisions that go into your content marketing. But when it's time to create the content, too many people will stall the process and make it impossible to create a crisp, clear message in a timely manner. If you hire the right people, and you delegate accordingly, your content will come out just fine, even if you prefer to use the Oxford comma and your colleagues decide to leave it out.
2. You're Selling Instead of Building Relationships
There is a time and place to sell your products and services to prospects. That time comes when they're ready to buy, which as mentioned above, could be part of a pretty complex process. In the meantime, your content can help you build relationships. Time and again, surveys that examine the vendor-buyer relationship find that buyers don't want a transactional experience. Say it aloud: Your content is part of your customer experience.
In addition to demonstrating how your solution solves their pain points, how else can you provide value? Have you done original research? What other services do you offer? Do you host events for clients and prospects? Even if you're not selling, you still have something to say.
3. You're Creating One Piece of Content to Cover It All
Prospects see a lot of messages and they have precious little time to process them. If you're creating one piece of content that introduces your solution, talks about its features, demonstrates some case studies and use cases, brings in add-on services and plays up the merits of working with your business, you're doing way too much.
The way to get the attention of busy prospects is to engage with them with manageable pieces of content (or "moments") they can review quickly and use to develop a takeaway. Then send them another. And another. Along the way, you can track what they do and decide where to classify them as a lead.
No one has time for the "everything-under-the-sun" approach to content. It's too long, and too many parts of the message won't be relevant to where each prospect stands in their buying journey. You need readers to take away something of value, not skip a piece entirely because of its length.
4. You're Pretending the Reader Doesn't Know the Other Players in the Market
B2B markets are crowded places, and it's easier than ever to find out who the players are when you're researching solutions in areas like IT.
One of the goals of your content should be differentiation. Another worthwhile goal is helping prospects navigate a complex landscape of options. While no one expects your content to sing the praises of your competition, there's no need to avoid circulating content and news stories that discuss your firm and some of your competition. Guess what? Your prospects already know they're out there.
5. You're Addressing Your Needs, Not Your Prospects'
There are some rather strange goals we see marketers setting for themselves when it comes to content.
"We've committed to three whitepapers this quarter, so we need to get them started."
"We only do product demos as part of our monthly webcasts."
Goals are good, of course. And the above goals might actually make sense once more details are provided. Setting a whitepaper quota, for example, is fine as long as those papers are well planned and resonating with the audience. But what if the message works better in a different format? What if performance drops for the second and third paper? What if your prospects want to watch a quick product demo on your site or on YouTube instead of registering for a webcast?
Your prospects have goals too, and they almost certainly revolve around finding the right content at the right time. Don't let your goals get in the way of theirs.
That brings us to this:
5 1/2: Your Shiny Object is for You, Not for Your Prospects
There are a lot of interesting ways to deliver content today using interactive or visual formats. Many of these formats work well and provide interesting, informative experiences for readers – but others do not.
Several years back we saw a great deal of marketer interest in flipbooks, which were basically PDF papers or eBooks where users "flipped" the pages instead of scrolling down to read (as you would in a more traditional PDF file). But the experience wasn't great for readers depending on the technology behind the flipbook. You had to zoom in to read the text, for example, because the full effect of the "flip" was lost unless you could see most of the page in the window. Did they look nice? Sure. Were they easy to read? Not always.
We all like shiny objects that help us stand apart from the thousands of pieces of content in the market at any given time. It's important to ask, however, if your shiny object is meeting the needs of the audience. A shiny object that looks nice when you're showing off for colleagues and co-workers is only doing its job if it's helping the audience meet its needs and helping you, as a marketer, meet yours.
6. You're Not Asking 'Why?'
Marketers ask a lot of questions when they engage with their audiences, and those questions are most often focused on the usual suspects: Who are you? Where do you work? When do you plan on buying? What we don't usually ask is "Why?"
For centuries people have walked into businesses and been asked (one way or another): "Why are you here?"" And the answer usually has to do with fulfilling a need. "I need lunch." "I need a new smartphone." "I need to better understand how I can efficiently manage spikes in my transaction processing at busy times like the holiday shopping season."
If you're in the B2B tech space and you're looking for businesses interested in tapping into the scalability of cloud computing, that last one is something you can work with. When your content and lead gen are structured so you can gather maximum information with the least amount of effort on the part of the reader, you're getting to the heart of the problem.
People very rarely research products and services unless they have a need to address, a pain point to fix, or a problem to solve. Identifying that problem gets you closer to making the sale and makes it much easier to continue the conversation.