There is a significant groundswell among B2B sellers in employing content marketing strategies to attract buyers. This has created a hyperactive environment in which B2B marketers feverishly crank-out content to compete for share of voice and fuel what they perceive to be an insatiable appetite for content among their target audiences.
However, according to the Edelman and LinkedIn 2021 Thought Leadership Study, despite how critical thought leadership content is to customer engagement, most buyers believe there is too much content and most of it is bad.1 This means that most B2B marketing content is a repellant to customers. The solution is not to create more content, but rather higher-quality content that attracts buyers.
But how is this done? Those of us who fashion ourselves as creative types prefer constraint-free environments when it comes to content development, but that isn’t what we need. We need a buyer-oriented philosophy, cross-functional collaboration, and a framework to identify the information intersection where what buyers care about meets what sellers can speak about with authenticity and expertise.
Adopting a Buyer-Oriented Philosophy
The common mistake that we B2B marketing communicators make is that we create content based on what we know without connecting it to something our target audiences care about. Consider how often we hastily create press releases about a new capability without ever mentioning the buyer, what issues they face that our new offer solves, and how it might improve their lives.
According to Ben Laws, Executive Vice President and Deputy U.S. Lead, Edelman Business Marketing, “content must be timely and relevant for the intended audience.” Every conversation about developing marketing content must begin with an understanding of what is important to our prospects and customers.
Keeping a buyer perspective top-of-mind and creating content that is timely and relevant for them sounds obvious, but not many of us are getting it right. 71% of B2B decision-makers surveyed by Edelman and LinkedIn said that less than half the content they read offers any valuable insights. Houston, we have a problem!
For Laws “there is no substitute for understanding your buyer’s pain points, opportunities and needs that are front and center for their agenda.” Marketers who don’t focus on these things won’t grab the attention of their target audience and won’t even have a chance to develop a business relationship.
While an orientation on the buyer is essential to getting started, Laws acknowledges that “determining topics that are both timely and relevant to our target audiences can be difficult.” That’s why he encourages marketers to create working relationships across functional areas inside and outside their organizations. And according to Laws, “marketers must be good at listening with intention” as they engage three important groups.
The first are those on the on the front lines of their own business: sales, customer success, anyone who engages customers daily. The second group are current customers, a challenging group to reach. Laws recommends organizing a customer advocacy board: a small group of loyal, enthusiastic customers. Meeting with them periodically to gain insights on what issues they face can inform marketers on topics that are timely and relevant.
The third group is comprised of prospects from your target audiences. This group may not be familiar with your company or value proposition but can eliminate any bias that the current customers may have.
Identifying the Information Intersection Between Buyer and Seller
Once marketers are satisfied they have a buyer’s orientation and have developed key relationships in and outside their organization, they are ready to listen intently. But what are they listening for?
Laws describes a critical “intersection of information that is authentic to one’s brand, something you have an expertise in and can speak about, and it is something your target audience cares about.”
Laws and the rest of the Edelman team use something they call a Thought Leadership Flywheel2 and he shared three key components that help marketers determine the information intersection between buyer and seller: white space, relevance, and vision.
White space is unoccupied, or lightly occupied, space in the information sphere that is an opportunity for marketers to own and lead conversations. These could be trends, customer pain points, or industry challenges. For marketers, Laws says “these are opportunities to illuminate and define challenges customers may not fully understand and offer advice on what they can do about it.”
Decision-makers want to know where their industry is going, and this is the vision component of the flywheel. This is information that explains the why of current trends, maps it back to their business challenges, and uncovers what may be next: over-the horizon thinking.
The third component, relevance, is something Laws cautions us to avoid, “the everything for everyone trap.” Instead, use information gathered from your three key groups and deliver insightful information that is specific to a narrow target audience.
Research painfully reveals to us that our B2B content is more of a repellant than an attractor of buyers. Creating magnetic content in today’s hyper-active information environment requires a different kind of framework. One that is oriented on buyers, employs collaboration, and helps marketers identify the information intersection where what buyers care about meets what sellers can speak about with authenticity and expertise.
When asked if smaller B2B marketing teams can do this, he says, that large budgets and headcounts aren’t necessary. He adds, for complex B2B buying and selling, “no one can afford not to invest adequate time and energy into creating quality content that engages buyers.”
Encyclopedia Brittanica: A heavy wheel attached to a rotating shaft so as to smooth out delivery of power from a motor to a machine.
Ben Laws is Executive Vice President and Deputy U.S. Lead, Edelman Business Marketing. He joined Edelman in 2006 and has led numerous integrated communications programs focused on strengthening corporate reputation, driving-business results, and managing critical organizational moments.
Ben has extensive experience developing and executing programs that center on crystalizing an organization’s story, sharpening relevance to specific stakeholders and ultimately driving real reputational and business results through nimble marketing and communications programs. His clients include Shell Aviation, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, Airbus, ITT, HP, eBay, and JDS Uniphase.
Ben has also provided crisis counsel to numerous Edelman clients, including a major multinational industrial company in the aftermath of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami, U.S. Airways following the 2009 emergency landing of flight 1549 in the Hudson River, an aerospace supplier managing an equipment recall and several top-tier U.S. universities.
Prior to Edelman, Ben worked with North Carolina-based strategic communications firm, Capstrat, a Ketchum agency. He also worked on several political campaigns, including a stint as the field director of a statewide race in North Carolina during the 2004 election. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina.