I come across a lot of studies, but this one really hit me.
Advertising Age claims that nearly 3/4 of surveyed marketers believe that content should frequently mention their company’s products and services. I struggled with this figure (to the point where I won’t offer the link), but for the sake of this article, I will take them on their word. We can only assume that this number would be the same (or worse) if we asked a larger sample size.
This fact contradicts what the Content Marketing Institute says customers want. Over 60% of respondents look unfavourably at content packed with salesy, repetitive messages.
So, at least 75% of us think that what we should produce is exactly what won’t work.
Alberta’s industrial marketplace is filled with businesses marketing themselves using direct sales messages and I can understand why. For years, this model not only worked, but it was one of the critical ways to successfully market to key buyers: straightforward sales messages dominated the marketplace.
And the market was tolerant.
But with the advent of today’s technologies like the interactive web—and especially mobile—the expectations of the marketplace have shifted. People are generally less excited to hear salesy chatter, especially online.
B2B customers and prospects are seeking valuable content and solutions that can help them move forward, and we have to consider customer expectations as we market.
So I’ve put together a cheat sheet that will help you navigate how to generate stellar online messages that will effectively reach your prospects—without alienating them:
1. Choose your direction. Market and communicate through online channels that work for your company.
Time and again, I encounter brands and B2B companies marketing in areas they have no business putting their spend in. A crane manufacturer probably doesn’t need a dedicated Facebook page, especially when they lack articles of depth, white-papers or case studies on their own website. Placing your marketing resources on short-lived posts on one social channel might not make sense. Perhaps having long-form articles or case studies written about your company would be more valuable, as it lends credibility and shortens conversions when prospects do find you.
2. Forget about promoting. People want value.
Shameless promotions isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, in fact it’s a critical part of quickening a business decision. But having this as your only content will not speed up conversions or improve your company reputation. Shamelessly plugging your product or service, especially on social media channels, could make you look noisy and uninteresting. At worst, it could deter early prospects from moving forward. They may still eventually get to you, but it may not seem worth the effort.
3. Link what matters. When you write articles that get uploaded, don’t shower them with links to your products or services pages. Your article is a treasured piece of real estate, and when your prospects put it in front of them, they will not want a hard sell. A CNC machining company that constantly links to itself in its articles winds up looking amateur to decision makers and their stakeholders, defeating other marketing efforts the company might have (like industry trade publications). Avoid these pitfalls by asking a few quick questions:
- Is the article spotting industry trends (authority and awareness piece)?
- Is it a how-to (trust builder)?
- Is it a shortened case study of a customer (product/service reveal)?
In any case, the reader of the article is there to gather valuable information, either about you or your process. It’s fine to link to other parts of your website (or other sites) when you are sure your readers will find value in your content.
4. Stay relevant. It might sound weird, but online content is the best way to give your brand a human touch, a flavour that people will want to connect with—and stay connected. As your prospects read, watch, and click your content (images, articles, social posts, e-newsletters, videos, etc), they create human relationships with your brand. Give them valuable experiences that illustrate expertise, but avoid being braggy or rambly about them. Instead, look to your core values and craft stories that demonstrate how you overcome challenges. It’s a great way to bake in your brand position by showing and not telling.
5. Look at your customers for stories.
I see so many marketers fall into a pit of creating content that is completely company focused. Retelling the same old story can drive staff crazy and drive prospects away. When generating content ideas, think about the key problem areas that stand out for your prospects.
- What complaints or issues do your customers talk about?
- What are the obstacles that lead a customer to research your solution?
- Are there seasonal or industry considerations that affect your customers?
- How many stages are involved in purchasing your product or service? Are there ways to address challenges for each stage?
6. Take time to get it. Content marketing strategy isn’t a short play loaded with quick wins and shortcuts to success. It’s an ongoing pursuit that creates avenues and funnels for your prospects while it creates a living archive of your expertise and thought leadership. For B2B businesses of any complexity, this is hugely advantageous. Prospects choosing to cycle through your funnel before buying your product or service still have places to wade that provide value—they may stay in your bucket instead of running to a competitor’s, even after they’ve looked at your competitor. Remember that nearly 70% of a person’s buying decisions are made before they even visit a conversion point on your website (NewsCred). Make it easy for them to choose you.
Creating content that gets results doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. By clarifying your business goals, as well as your prospects’ needs and values, you can move away from the self-promoting, heavy promotional noise that plagues the marketplace (and the Internet). Providing your audience with well-sourced content is the best way to prove credibility and expertise in a humanizing way that demonstrates your thought leadership and reputation—online and offline.
And with 3/4 of the world getting it wrong, you have an excellent opportunity.