Content killers: mistakes and pitfalls in B2B content marketing

All articles | Content Marketing
Published Jun 11, 2013 | Written by Jeremy Knight
“A life spent making mistakes”, wrote George Bernard Shaw, “is not only more honourable, but more useful, than a life spent doing nothing.” True, but who, given the choice, would prefer not to have made them in the first place?

With this in mind, we researched the mistakes and pitfalls that, regrettably, often “kill” B2B marketers' efforts to produce compelling, brand-enhancing content – and how to avoid them. If you're a content killer, it's time to 'fess up to the crime and face up to the facts: you need to do things differently!

Shot dead in six – the categories of content failure

Broadly speaking, B2B content marketing tends to be most effectively “killed” by six unwitting traits:

1. “Oneversationalism”If your content is not speaking to customers' concerns, it doesn't mean anything to the customers at all. As Joe Pulizzi puts it: “Remember, customers don’t care about you; they care about themselves and theirproblems.”  This failure to connect means the reader can indulge none of the four key transactional impulses – viral, discussion, lead and sales – and the effectiveness of the content stops dead. So find out what keeps your customers awake at night – and turn that into content!

2. Timidity: An easy way to kill your B2B marketing content is not to vary it. You must have the courage to take chances with your content. This is not just to enliven the customer experience, but also because it will help to get your thinking out of a rut and boost the number of ways in which you find it possible to creatively engage with the customer.  Read about the guys who reinvented case studies as comic books, or the accountants who turned official letters into photo stories. Being brave with content can be a leap of faith, but observe a few basic rules to keep it helpful to your customers and it's pretty unlikely you'll get shot down.

3. “Playing at it”: Many businesses sadly still regard content writing as an aside, and so are unwilling to commit funding. This kills your content in two ways; firstly, the standards are set too low from the off, and secondly, to add insult to injury, both strategy and production are put in the hands of individuals without the necessary expertise and ownership. But it goes further than just your business. As Doug Kessler's well-shared slide deck explains, mathematically speaking, the proliferation of poor content is on the rise. Its sheer volume is likely to raise audiences' “marketing defence mechanism” levels across the entire marketing industry. Your content needs to be a beacon in a crapstorm (to paraphrase Kessler). Find the funding gland and press hard.

4. Orphaning – B2B content too often operates as an “orphan,” telling stories different to those told by the business's PR, corporate communications, email marketing, and so on. It's that age-old silo mentality again... Arguing one point cohesively, through different content channels, is a great way to convince an audience of your brand's authority and trustworthiness. But visible conflict between those channels is a quick way to disorientate customers and turn them off. As one writer put it, “the impact of each channel’s message drowns in the collective roar.” Have the same conversations everywhere; don't let an orphan bastardise your brand.

5. Missing bricks – Nothing kills content stone dead like the absence of any invitation to participate. Yet still we see content pieces that contain no discernible call-to-action, or those that fail to inspire or compel the reader to engage.  This is bricks-and-mortar stuff.  The reader, uninvolved, fails to gain any satisfaction from the exercise; the marketer fails to gain any measurable value from it.  As the Content Marketing Institute suggests, if you're writing content without a call-to-action, think again about why you're doing it at all.

6. Channel fetishism – Welcome to the sixth and final way to kill your B2B content: favouring one channel over all others. Pulizzi, once again, sums up the solution neatly: “Think about the problem you are solving for your customer. Then tell that story in different ways – and tell it everywhere your customers go to seek authoritative information.” The solution is rarely just an email or just a blog or just Facebook content – regardless of which of them you particularly enjoy writing.

And when “everywhere” just won't work?

It's fabulous if you can have some inflection of every content marketing message accessible through every channel, connecting with customers' deepest concerns at every turn. But sometimes you can kill content by trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole.

In these instances, pick a different hole or make a different peg! As online writing expert Helen Nesterenko says, Does that idea really warrant a blog article, or could it be better expressed in a simple infographic? Your blog content should be long enough to build authority, but a concept should never be stretched to the point of being hideously boring...”

So how am I doing?

Image by Flickr (Lightning-Rod Man)

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Published by Jeremy Knight June 11, 2013
Jeremy Knight