Houston, we have a B2B content marketing problem – or do we?

My business is not to sell content marketing as a term. My business – or mission – is to help marketers see clear, also when looking at content marketing in a connected and customer-centric perspective. And sometimes you just can’t ignore the facts.

Maybe you already read about the Content ROI study by the Chief Marketing Officer Council and NetLine. Let me quote from the press release: “B2B marketers annually invest an estimated $16.6 billion in digital content publishing to acquire business leads, influence customer specification and consideration, as well as educate and engage prospects”.

Impressive but what about the results? It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most respondents struggle with the best ways to use content – or content marketing if you prefer – to actually achieve a measurable result. OK, that means we have an opportunity to help marketers to do it better, what this community aims to be about.

However, before talking about content marketing strategy or providing millions of tips, let’s look at the core issues and challenges here.

I quote the press release again: “business buyers give vendors poor marks for the value and trustworthiness of their online content, rating content produced by professional organizations and industry groups as more usable and relevant”.

Buyers trust vendors but it depends: context matters

Now, here are some other research data on how B2B buyers inform themselves and use content in the buying journey, keeping in mind there are differences depending on, among others, the profile of the buyer, the industry, the ‘group of trusted advisors’ of the buyer (in B2B buying is mostly a group decision), etc.

Here is what the ITSMA (B2B ICT and services industry organization) says in the SlideShare below:

  • Solution providers are a credible and influential source of information.
  • Buyers rely on sales at all stages of the buying process.
  • When looking for solutions, buyers first of all go to the websites of technology or solution provider websites and next to subject matter experts.

Isn’t that in contradiction with what the CMO Council’s survey says? Well, first of all the questions and methodology are different. But there’s more.

Look at the chart below, also from ITSMA, on the information delivery channels and formats preferred by respectively the “traditional” B2B buyer and the so-called “B2B social buyer”. Also read how B2B buyers in Europe look for content and use it during their buying journey (Buyersphere report).

Information delivery channels and formats of the B2B Social Buyer- source ITSMA
Information delivery channels and formats of the B2B Social Buyer- source ITSMA (PDF opens)

On peers and buying stages

Trust and expectations change over time (and buying stage) and subject matter experts and sales people indeed are important. Furthermore, many B2B buyers go to the websites and other channels vendors have. And, finally, the role of vendor content differs according to the stage in the buying journey.

“Peer-powered organizations are the most trusted and valued sources of online content”, the CMO council’s report says. The role of peers is obvious and shows in the ITSMA and BuyerSphere reports I just mentioned, as well.

But when looking at vendor content the opinions seem to depend. Again, the stage of the buying journey plays an important role. Once a buyer is further in his decision and starts looking for product information details, for instance, it’s clear that he knows that what he will find and read is ‘colored’ and commercial.

However, in earlier stages of the buying journey and the beginning of the funnel (I know, the funnel is just a metaphor), in general they will be more suspicious of vendor content. That’s not just common sense, it’s also smart buying behavior. If you want to invest as a B2B buyer, you want to be as sure as you can.

So-called “native advertising” is not a solution for marketers in B2B buying in that regard. How often did you read advertorials in B2B magazines, for instance? In my days as a B2B publisher I (and the editorial staff) where relieved to get an advertorial that made sense and was actually worth reading and relevant for readers.

You can focus on making your content more suited for the stages in your customer’s buying journey but you will never fully succeed as different buyers are…different buyers and trust is hard to earn.

The subject matter expert and the corporate babble: it’s about the people, stupid

Furthermore, it’s not just about the relevance of the content. It’s about the ‘messenger’: the subject matter expert, the individual that can become part of that inner circle of trust of the B2B buyer, even if he or she works for a vendor and – indeed – essentially is in sales. But, in the end, the person matters at least as much as the content (even if both are connected).

To me, the main challenge of B2B content marketing is not about  and so on (although that all matters). The challenge is to cut down on the corporate babble.

Two more quotes from the CMO Council’s press release:

  • It’s all part of building an integrated marketing program.
  • B2B buyers are looking for content that’s original, consultative and highly pertinent to where they are in their decision-making process. Too many vendors are failing these buyers with overly promotional and overly technical content that doesn’t adequately address market challenges and customer needs.

There is a time and place to be promotional and technical. But that doesn’t equal corporate babble or jargon. This goes for all content.

Is that a B2B  challenge? I feel it’s an overall business challenge: adapt the narrative, tone of voice and message to whom you’re talking to. Or in other words: be more customer-centric, the eternal challenge in business since long before someone use the term content marketing and far beyond the scope of content marketing.

What is withholding you from having a good BS filter?

Even without working with buyer personas or developing nifty strategies (again, this doesn’t mean this isn’t important), that is something you can start doing right now before even putting out “original content’. Make it human and personal. Speak the language people expect you to speak. Drop the “look how great we are mentality” and focus on what folks want.

And let human beings do it. Yes, I mean your subject matter experts and sales too. That’s common sense and it’s easy to do. The perception and trust regarding your content is not just about the ‘content of the content’. It’s about 1) the language and personality and 2) about the people sharing it.

The best way to solve this so-called B2B content marketing challenge fast (which it really isn’t it). Have someone with a good BS filter reworking it.