First, a tip of the hat to David Meerman Scott and Doug Kessler for inspiring some of the ideas in this blog. In Isaac Newton’s words, It is only by standing on the shoulders of such giants that I have been able to see so far. I only hope that I can add value to their thinking without tumbling to the ground in the process.
Content marketing has emerged as one of the key growth areas for B2B marketing in 2014. It seems like everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. And yet, as Doug Kessler so eloquently explains, we are in the process of drowning in a deluge of drivel masquerading as thought leadership. It’s just that Doug didn’t use the word “drivel”. More on that later.
Diverting the deluge of drivel
How can we avoid contributing to this deluge of drivel? David Meerman Scott - referring to a conversation with Greg Alexander at Sales Benchmark Index - highlighted the important linkage between content and context.
Context is about the individual salesperson tailoring, targeting and interpreting the content generated by the marketing department so that it resonates with the specific interests of the individual prospect. It’s what the authors of The Challenger Sale refer to as “tailoring for relevance”.
It’s a great idea, but there’s a potential obstacle. Your top-performing, most customer-empathetic sales people are probably doing this as a matter of course. But they only represent a tiny proportion of the total sales population. The rest are probably going to need some help.
Changing the marketing mindset
Your content creators are the obvious people to turn to. But it’s going to require a change in the traditional attitudes I observe in a lot of B2B marketing departments and their agencies. You see, the creation of content isn’t the end in itself, and its publication does not indicate that the job is done.
In the complex B2B sales environments most of my clients operate in, the purpose of content must to be to stimulate and provoke the target audience, to make them want to learn more - and to encourage them to engage in a sales conversation.
In fact, if content isn’t designed with this ultimate goal of engagement in mind, you’ve got to question what its purpose is. The engagement might not be immediate. It might require regular nurturing. But at the end of the day, content must stimulate conversation.
Content must stimulate conversation
The implications for content creators are profound. It means that no piece of marketing content ought to be created without a clear sense of the sort of conversation it is intended to stimulate - and that means that every piece of content ought to be accompanied by context-setting conversation guidelines that every sales person can use with confidence.
But this thinking brings a clear advantage - if we choose to only create content that is designed to stimulate an insightful conversation with a key stakeholder in a target prospect about an issue that’s important to them, we’d all end up generating (and consuming) a lot less crap. Dang it, I used Doug’s c-word. But it was in a good cause, wasn’t it?
Taking this conversation forward...
If these ideas resonated with you, who are you going to share them with? How will you tailor it for relevance to your situation? And what sort of direction do you want the subsequent conversation to go in? Assuming you’ll end up talking with someone with responsibility for content marketing, here are a few talking points to get that conversation started:
- What pieces of content have you got under development?
- What role in what sort of company are the pieces aimed at?
- What leads you to believe they might be interested in reading it?
- What are you doing to try and stimulate them to engage?
- What have you done to equip our sales people to have an insightful conversation?
- What do you expect to happen next?
I think (and hope) that bringing together content + context + conversation is going to represent the Holy Trinity (if not the Holy Grail) for B2B content marketers in 2014, but, as ever, I’m interested in your experiences and opinions...